The book of Ruth, sandwiched between Judges and 1st Samuel, is far more than just a nice story. It encapsulates God’s dealings with His people down through history and to this day. It is a story of faith, faith in a God who loves and cares for His people, who isn’t content with merely calling out one group of people as His own. The imagery is rich and its historical and theological significance is timeless.
Ruth has been understood to celebrate the following: (a) that a proselyte, even from Moab, can be faithful to the Lord and gain full-membership in Israel; (b) that qualities of loyalty and covenant faithfulness in a foreigner can be a model for Israel’s response to the Lord; (c) that the Lord as Redeemer will restore the exiled family of Israel to its land. In light of the epilogue (4:18-22), however, and assuming a date close to the time of David, the major purpose seems to include showing that David’s kingship is legitimate. The primacy of the tribe of Judah (the father of Perez; 4:12, 18) had already been established in Israel, in spite of Tamar’s strange act of desperation (Genesis 38). Now the primacy of David must be established, even though there is a Moabite in the line. Boaz is the model for a relative who redeems, while Ruth beautifully reflects God’s faithful covenant-love, claiming refuge under the Lord’s wings, and clinging to Naomi. If God has drawn together all of these disparate-strands so carefully to bless the line of David, is that not more reason to affirm David’s initially-fragile claim to the throne?
The Old Testament book of Ruth is often used as a women’s Bible study, and I can see why when it shows the amazing faith of a young widow named Ruth. Yet, I think it is even better as a study for men, since the male lead is a real man’s man; Boaz. Both characters show what faith looks like in action, both main characters demonstrate godly humility, devotion and service, and as I see it, the take away from the story is one that each one of us can learn from. What does a godly woman look like? Take a look at Ruth. What does a godly man look like? Take a look at Boaz… and guess what guys; Boaz didn’t have to turn in his “man card” to faithfully follow God.
Ruth is set during the time of the Judges before the monarchy. Israel has fallen away from God and has been punished with a famine. Naomi, one of the principal characters, and her family had gone to live in Moab where there was food. While we are not told specifically which judge was over Israel, these events took place shortly after Israel’s conquest of the Promised Land.
It is important for us to bear in mind that famines were not supposed to happen, and that if one did occur, there were more problems in the land than just a famine. In the Law, God linked His statues with blessings and curses; there would be blessings when the people obeyed the Law, curses when they did not, and one of those curses was famine. (Lev. 26:19) That there was a famine in the land is indicative of disobedience afoot. It would seem that the situation became so bad that people were leaving Bethlehem, headed for more favorable areas where they could find food. Understand that for a Jew to leave the Promised Land to live among the Gentile Moabites was a very big deal, and this family must have been very desperate to do this
Why study Ruth?
The “simple-answer” would be, “because it is in the Bible“, but there is more to it than that. As we have seen in prior-studies, God has preserved a line of faithful “God-followers” since right after the Fall because they were necessary in order for God to be able to send that promised “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), who would accomplish His plan of redemption. As we will see, these events, and the people in them, were to become important in the coming of King David, and thus his “Greater-Son“, the Messiah, Jesus our Savior.
Elimelech’s Family Goes to Moab
1 Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there. 3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4 They took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. 5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was bereft of her two children and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5)
The family lived in Moab for 10 years. During this time, Elimelech died, and then the two sons married local Moabite women, and in turn each of the sons died leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters in law. No reasons are given for the deaths of the men, but one thing is very clear: These events were disastrous. For a woman, or three women, to be left alone in the world without a man or an extended family in those days meant that one of three things would very shortly happen: The woman would find a man to marry, she would become a prostitute, or she would starve. Thus Naomi, Orpah and Ruth were in very deep trouble as our passage draws to a close. What will they do?
There are three principal characters, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz:
Naomi, Elimelech’s wife, was Ruth’s mother-in-law.
Ruth, a Moabite, was the widow of one of Naomi’s sons. She may have still been in her teens, so she was definitely a young-widow.
Boaz was a wealthy land-owner and farmer in Naomi’s hometown, Bethlehem.
“Types” are used throughout the Old Testament to point to something yet to be revealed in its fullness. There are two very-important “types” in Ruth, which we will look at in detail as they come up. Ruth and Boaz are those two “types“.
Though clearly an important historical document of its period, the narrative of Ruth is told with dramatic intensity and movement. The story moves quickly through its various stages, each part marked with irony and suspense, all contributing to a symphony of divine providential fulfillment. God inspires Naomi’s return, Ruth’s covenant faithful, and Boaz’s righteous adherence to the law. The book closes with a genealogy of King David, the descendent of Boaz the Israelite and Ruth the Moabite, a young woman who took refuge under the Lord’s wings (2:12) and was rewarded by God who “gave her conception” (4:13)
Ruth and Boaz are part of a longer line that often shows God’s grace combined with human-frailty. One of David’s ancestors was Perez, son of an irregular-union between Judah and his own daughter-in-law, Tamar, who was more “righteous” than the patriarch himself (Genesis 38:26). The final few verses of Ruth comprise a genealogy which may have been added later, however it wasn’t unusual for historical-accounts to end with a genealogy. Also, this genealogy highlights the value of Ruth, and reveals the mixed-ancestry of King David, and through him, of Jesus Christ. Even though she isn’t mentioned in this genealogy, Rahab was also in the line of David and of Jesus Christ. (Joshua 6:22-25, Matthew 1:5-6) Rahab was also Boaz’s mother.
Looking beyond this witness to the legitimacy of David’s kingship, we should note the significance of this book in the light of the Gospel. Ruth follows the faith of Abraham, as she leaves home and family to go to a foreign land under God’s care. The universal scope of the Gospel comes to light as Ruth, a Moabite, finds the blessings promised to all the nations in Abraham’s descendants. Finally, Ruth becomes an ancestor of Christ, who in Himself will reconcile to God such different nations as Moab and Israel, and indeed, all nations.
I. The death of Elimelech and his sons (1:1-5)
II. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem in Judah (1:6-22)
A. Naomi and her daughters-in-law leave Moab (1:6-7)
B. Naomi urges Orpah to go back home (1:8-14)
C. Ruth’s solemn promise (1:15-18)
D. Naomi’s bitter homecoming (1:19-22)
III. Ruth gleans in Boaz’s fields (Ch. 2)
A. Ruth goes out to glean (2:1-3)
B. Boaz meets Ruth (2:4-16)
C. Naomi’s assessment of Boaz (2:17-23)
IV. Ruth visits Boaz at the threshing-floor (Ch. 3)
A. Naomi’s plan (3:1-5)
B. Boaz discovers Ruth (3:6-13)
C. Ruth returns to Naomi (3:14-18)
V. Boaz redeems Ruth (Ch. 4)
A. The close relative excuses himself (4:1-6)
B. Ruth and Boaz are married before witnesses (4:7-12)
C. Their first child is welcomed and blessed (4:13-17)
D. Genealogy from Perez to David (4:18-22)
Historical note on place-names:
When the people of Israel conquered and settled the Promised Land, God divvied-up the territory among the twelve tribes, and each tribe’s territory was known by the name of its patriarch. Bethlehem was in Judah because it belongs to the tribe of Judah. Bethlehem was only about five-miles from Jerusalem.
By the time of Christ, Israel had been conquered and re-divided many times, and each conquering-empire redrew boundaries to suit them. The Romans had divided the territory into three parts, Judea, Samaria, and Galilee. Samaria was ruled from Jerusalem by the Governor of Judea.
We will join Naomi and Ruth next time as they leave Moab and journey to Bethlehem.
Sola Deo Gloria!