I’m sure all of us have heard comedians in the past start off with the catch phrase, ”Speaking of mother-in-laws, let me tell you about mine.” They then continue to tell some negative anecdote about them.
The book of Ruth, however, tells us a very different story. Before we start talking about the book of Ruth today I think it is important that we know the events recorded in the book of Ruth took place in what was considered a very dark time in Israel’s history.
It was a time when disobedience, idolatry and violence were the norm. Does this perhaps remind you of today’s world?
My NIV Life Application Study Bible gives a review at the beginning of each book of the Bible. It lists a purpose for each book being written. The book of Ruth’s purpose is to show how three people remained strong in character and true to God even when the society around them was collapsing. Those 3 people are Naomi, Ruth and Boaz.
Naomi Loses Her Husband and Sons
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
The famine in Bethlehem must have been quite severe in order to convince Elimelek to move his family to Moab because there was great tension between these two countries. Elimelek was moving his family into a hostile area. He must have felt totally desperate in order to make such a choice.
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
Because the people of Moab did not believe in the one true God and they worshiped many Gods, friendly relations were greatly discourages but not forbidden. But marrying someone from Moab was against God’s law. God’s chosen nation of Israel should have been an example of high moral standards for the other nations, and yet ironically Ruth, a Moabitess is who God used as an example of genuine spiritual character This shows just how bleak life had become in Israel at this time.
After her husband and two sons had died Naomi knew she was in a desperate situation. There was nothing worse than being a widow in the ancient world. Widows were either taken advantage of or they were ignored. Most became poverty stricken.
God’s law did provide that the nearest relative of the dead husband should take care of the widow, but Naomi was now living in Moab. She had no relatives in Moab to care for her and she didn’t know if her husband’s relatives in Bethlehem were even still living.
I am sure it was with much contemplation and hesitancy that Naomi finally decided she would return to Bethlehem. Naomi encouraged both Ruth and Orpah to move back with their families even though that would mean an even greater hardship on Naomi.
Naomi is setting a wonderful example for us here. Naomi was considering the needs of others before herself. When was the last time you considered the needs of others before your own?
Like Naomi we must consider the needs of others first. When we do, we will discover that others will be encouraged to do the same just by our example. In today’s world an example would be what is called “paying it forward”.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Naomi & Ruth packed up their possessions and headed back to Naomi’s homeland. When they arrived in the Bethlehem the women of the town exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
Now it had been many years since Naomi’s friends had seen her and I am sure during that time she had aged. But for her friends to be so shocked at her appearance, we can assume they were seeing a woman who looked as though her heart had been broken.
Naomi actually said to them, “Don’t call me Naomi any longer.” She asked them to call her Mara because her life had become so bitter from losing both her husband as well as her two sons. The word Mara means bitter.
Naomi had experienced severe hardships. When she left Israel she was married and she felt secure. Now as she returns she is so bitter that she has changed her name But…… Take notice, She never at any point rejected God.
When we face bitter times, God welcomes our honest prayers. It is ok to tell God exactly how we feel BUT don’t allow the bitterness, or sorrow, or disappointments in your life blind you from seeing the opportunities God has waiting for you.
You know there really is not very much said about Naomi in the Bible except that she loved and cared for Ruth very much. But Naomi’s life must have been a powerful witness to the reality of God. After all, Ruth was drawn not only to Naomi but also to the God she worshiped.
What about your witness? What about mine? Are we living our lives in such a way that the people around us would be drawn to not only love us but also be drawn into a relationship with our Lord and Savior? Are our lives a reflection of God’s love to others?
You have probably heard this statement, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words”. St Francis of Assisi is commonly quoted as having said this although it has since been debated if he ever said those words at all. But do you know what, to me it doesn’t matter who said those words. Do you see the power in those words?
Are we living our lives as the example of the children of God that he has created us to be? Will others be drawn into a relationship with Christ just by being around us and observing us? Just think about that for a second and let it sink in. Is my life truly a reflection of Christ?
Now let’s reflect a bit on Ruth. Ruth is a Moabite coming into Bethlehem. That means to the people of Bethlehem she is a foreigner, she is a second class citizen. She doesn’t belong there and on top of all that she is a widow. Remember earlier when we learned widows were often treated as an object to be taken advantage of? They were often ignored and looked down upon. So coming into this town of Bethlehem, there didn’t seem to be a whole lot for Ruth to look forward to.
But Ruth loved Naomi and she loved God and Ruth was faithful to both. Ruth and Naomi are beautiful examples of loyalty and friendship and commitment not just to each other but also to God.
Now here is where the story gets really interesting and I hope you will take the time to read the book of Ruth sometime this week. It is only 4 chapters long. I believe you will be blessed by taking time to do that.
When Ruth and Naomi arrive in Bethlehem it is spring. Because the climate in Bethlehem is quite moderate there are two harvests per year. One is in the spring and one is in the fall. The barley harvest took place in the spring. This was considered a time of hope and plenty.
And so when the barley was ready to be harvested, reapers were hired to cut down the stalks and tie them into bundles. Israelite law demanded that the corners of the fields were not to be harvested. Not only that but if any grain was dropped while harvesting it was to be left lay on the ground so that the poor could pick it up and use it for food. This was called gleaning.
Living in orchard country we all have seen and even perhaps helped to glean the orchards after the first fruits have been picked. But the purpose of the Israelite law was to provide a way to feed the poor and to prevent the owners from hoarding. The law was actually a type of welfare program. And so because she was a widow who had no other means of supporting herself, Ruth went into the fields to glean the grain.
Naomi learned that a relative from her husband’s side of the family was the owner of a barley field nearby. His name was Boaz.
So Naomi told Ruth to go to the fields of barley owned by Boaz and to glean barley there.
As Boaz was visiting his fields that day he saw Ruth gleaning grain. He noticed she was quite beautiful and so he asked the foreman who Ruth belonged to. The foreman told Boaz she was Ruth the Moabitess, widowed daughter-in-law of Naomi who had returned with Naomi to Bethlehem.
And so Boaz went to Ruth.
8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”
11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”
14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”
When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”
17 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah (a Hebrew unit of dry measure equal to about a bushel) 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.
Now Israelite law (If you want to look this up you can read about it in Deuteronomy 25:5-10) stated that when a woman’s husband died, that woman could marry a brother of her dead husband. But Naomi had no more sons for Ruth to marry. In such a case, the nearest relative to the deceased husband could become what they called a Kinsman Redeemer and he could marry the widow. The reason for marrying them was so someone was providing for them and to continue carrying on their name.
The law also stated the nearest relative did not HAVE to marry the widow. If he chose not to marry the widow the next closest relative could take his place. If no one chose to marry the widow then she would probably live in destitute poverty the rest of her life.
Naomi encouraged Ruth to return again to the barley fields Boaz owned. Ruth went back again and she realized Boaz was interested in her. She did her part to let Boaz know she was interested in him as well.
Soon Boaz realized he was in love with Ruth but he learned there was a relative that was closer in relationship to Ruth than he was. By law that man had first chance at marrying Ruth. I am not going to fill you in on all the details but instead encourage you to read the story of Ruth this week. But after a near calamity Boaz becomes Ruth’s kinsman redeemer and marries Ruth.
Just as Ruth had a kinsman redeemer, Boaz, we also have a kinsman redeemer, Jesus Christ. Though he was God he came to earth to live as a man in order to save us. By his death on the cross he redeemed us from sin and hopelessness and purchased us to be his own possession.
1 Peter 1:18-19
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Boaz married Ruth and she gave birth to a son named Obed. When Obed grew up he had a son named Jesse. When Jesse grew up he had a son named David. Through David many years later the true kinsman-redeemer was born. And of course the kinsman-redeemer of all mankind is Jesus!
All of us are like Ruth. Because of our sin we are outsiders. We are not able to be a part of God’s family because our sin separates us from Him. Our sin leaves us lost and destitute. Without a redeemer we will face death and the punishment for our sins. Jesus came to die in our place to pay for our debt of sin before God. He bought us back to be part of God’s family and saved from sin for all eternity.
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Ruth’s story reminds me of God’s promise in
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.
With God’s power working in and through us, God can do so much, much more than we could ever imagine.
We know how Ruth’s story turned out. None of us knows yet the end of our story. But one thing we do know, God can do so much, much more than we can ever imagine if we will allow him to be our Redeemer, our God and our King. This promise is for all if we will just follow Ruth’s example and put our faith in God.
Let us pray…
Dear Heavenly Father, We thank you for your word and for all that we can learn from it each day. Open our eyes and our hearts so that we might be redeemed by your Precious Son, Jesus. Amen.