Ruth was daughter-in-law to Naomi (Ruth 1:4). One may see Ruth’s devotion to Naomi (Ruth 1:6-18). Through Ruth’s statement one may understand that Naomi had indeed accepted Ruth as a daughter and had shared with her the deepest truths of her heart. Ruth gave up her country, her friends and her family to follow the faith in the God of heaven, whom she had accepted from Naomi’s teachings.
After the death of her husband, Ruth could have gone back home and perhaps married again within her own people, but she deliberately chose a position as servant to her mother-in-law rather than stay at home 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).
In today’s society, our belief in God can cause a separation between us and our natural family or those formerly close to us. We are told that true faith will bring separations and choices (Luke 12:51-53), which are part of our suffering for righteousness sake (Matt. 5:10; 1 Pet. 3:14).
Ruth’s lack of experience with anything outside Moab could have caused her to fear leaving home, family and friends. Ruth had only known Naomi for the short while after she and Mahlon married. Could she truly trust Naomi’s protection? Could she trust her God and the laws of her nation? With no skills, how would she make a living for herself and her elderly mother-in-law? These and many other doubts might have haunted Ruth, but instead of giving in to fear and doubt, she responded to God by faith?
Men generally owned property, not women. With no men left in the family, Naomi and Ruth lacked a means of support. Read Deuteronomy 24:19-22; Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22. Unlike the nations around them that made no societal provisions, God made special provisions for the future care of women in Israel. This law was intended to foster compassion within the community.
The book of Leviticus talks about the “Sabbath of the land.” Who was this for? “And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God” (Lev. 19:9-10).
Ruth qualified on both counts. She was both poor and a stranger (foreigner). (See also Lev. 23:29; Deut. 24:19-21). No doubt, Naomi would have told Ruth about this law before they arrived in Bethlehem, because Ruth immediately began to follow the reapers to gather grain (Ruth 2:1-23). She worked through two growing seasons. “So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest; and dwelt with her mother in law” (Ruth 2:23).
Ruth’s reputation for humility, modesty and chastity followed her. It was because the whole city of Bethlehem had heard of her dedication and faithfulness to Naomi that Boaz took notice of Ruth and was especially kind to her. The harvest seasons came and went, and Ruth was able to provide more than enough for herself and Naomi to live. “Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?” (Ruth 3:1). Ruth 3:1-4:12 gives details of how Naomi counselled Ruth to reclaim the land that had been in her family before the death of her husband.
The law of “Kinsman-Redeemer” is actually introduced to the Israelites in Leviticus 25:23-55. God’s purpose in providing this option was to assure that the land was to remain within the tribes it was given to. It helped to protect the poor from being exploited and the rich from taking property from one tribe to another. The redeemer had to be a near kinsman who was able and willing to redeem it. He was not obligated to do so, but it was expected of him. To refuse was to hurt the family and the tribe as well as his own reputation.
The terms “avenger” and “kinsman-redeemer” are translations of the same Hebrew word goel. Leviticus 25:25-28 talks about redeeming land and possessions. Leviticus 25:47-49 talks about redeeming a walled house that may have been sold when the owner needed money. Numbers 35:19-21 speaks of avenging the blood of the relative who was killed. Finally Deuteronomy 25:5-10 speaks of taking a brother’s wife to raise up seed to his brother if the brother died before his wife had a child. Notice that two of these laws applied to Ruth. Naomi told her how to go about gaining what she was due. Naomi introduced Ruth to the concept of “Kinsman-Redeemer” in Ruth 1:11-13; 2:20; 3:9-13 and 4:1-10.
What if a young Hebrew wife lost her husband by war or accident? What would happen to her? (See HEBREW MARRIAGE CUSTOMS: http://wp.me/p5F8g-F) 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, Lev. 20:19-21) known as “Levirate Marriage” (when a brother was required to marry his brother’s widow and raise up seed for the deceased brother). Even though Boaz is not an actual son of Elimelech, nor brother to Elimelech’s dead sons, he was a near kinsman and so the Levirate Marriage Law was applied to Ruth and Boaz (Deut. 25:5-10; Ruth 3:13; 4:1-12).
Earlier we read about two deeply depressing situations that faced the people of God in Habakkuk 3:17-18 and Daniel 3:16-18. What was the reaction of those prophets? Can that be yours? How was Ruth’s response ultimately like that? God loved Ruth and Naomi. He knew what was going on in their lives. Naomi voiced her grief over the death of her husband and sons but never stopped trusting Him to do something about her situation.
Ruth’s understanding of God started the same way many conversions do today. She came to know and value someone who knew Him well. That someone was Naomi. These women were not only God’s provision to each other but also a way for Him to make Himself known through their lives. One may face grief and seemingly overwhelming challenges in her own life, but just like Naomi and Ruth, she can count on the God of Heaven to protect and sustain if she is faithful to Him.
What lessons may we learn from the book of Ruth?
- Circumstances neither make nor destroy believers. Neither Ruth’s poverty nor Boaz’s wealth turned them from God.
- In the example of humble submission to God’s will, we see in Naomi, Ruth and Boaz that faith is the test of discipleship.
- We also see the great value of trusting God. He will reward the righteous (Matt. 25:46; 2 John 1:8).