What if the young Hebrew wife lost her husband by war or accident? What would happen to her? She was expected to remained within her husband’s clan and wed his brother or nearest of kin. This arrangement is the exception to the laws about incest (Lev. 20:17, 19-21) known as “Levirate Marriage” (when a brother was required to marry his brother’s widow and raise up seed for the deceased brother). The Levirate Marriage law is the basis for the account of Ruth and Boaz (Deut. 25:5-10; Ruth 3:13; 4:1-12).
After the death of her husband, Ruth deliberately chose a position as servant to her mother-in-law rather than stay with her own people and serve a false god (Ruth 1:15-17). God rewarded her for her sacrifice and courage by sending Christ through her lineage (Ruth 4:17, 22; Luke 3:32).
We may read of another example of this practice seen in the life of Judah and his daughter-in-law, Tamar (Gen. 38:6-31). Tamar’s husband was wicked and God slew him; therefore, another son was supposed to be given to her. When the second son also died because of his wickedness in refusing to give Tamar seed to conceive a child, Judah refused to give her his youngest for fear he also might die. At this point Tamar took it upon herself to force Judah to give her a husband.
Judging from the arguments the Sadducees used against Jesus’ teaching about the resurrection of the dead, one can see that the Levirate Marriage was still in force during the life of Christ (Matt. 22:23-28; Mark 12:19-23; Luke 20:27-33). It was in force until the church was established on the day of Pentecost and the Law of Moses was done away (Heb. 7:11-12; Heb. 8:7-8, 13).
- Naomi and her family from Bethlehem go into the land of Moab, where one of her sons marries Ruth. Naomi’s husband and both sons then die. (Ruth 1:1-5).
- Ruth 1:6-9 Naomi determines to return to Judah and tells Ruth and Orpah to return to their own families and gods because she has no more sons to give them.
- Ruth 1:14-18 Ruth determines to return with Naomi and is blessed there. But what we want to note especially is that throughout her life, Ruth proved to be one who was ever so faithful and trustworthy.
- Ruth 1:15-18 Notice when she was encouraged to return to her gods, she said, “Entreat me not to leave you, I will go where you go, your God will be my God. Where you die, there will I die; if not, the Lord do so and more to me…” She was stedfastly minded (determined) to faithfully serve Naomi and the true God.