Studies in Ruth – Fulfilling A Promise

We have come to the “grand-finale” in our studies in Ruth. We have seen God’s hand of providence revealed in many of the details throughout this grand story, from Naomi and Ruth returning to Bethlehem at the “right-time“, to them living close to a close-relative, to Boaz’s kindness to Naomi and Ruth, and now, Boaz’s promise to bring their case to “court“.

We have explored the basis for some of their “customs” which probably don’t make sense to us, but which are founded on the Law of God. Yes, it seems like we are coming to the “end-of-the-line” for Boaz and Ruth, but their story won’t really be “complete” until Christ returns to take His “family” home to be with Him. This story is our story too, because as we are “spiritual-children” of Abraham, we are also “spiritual-children” of Boaz and Ruth through our great kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Some of “the rest of the story” is told in the Prophesies and Promises behind the Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas. Part of their story came before them, going all the way back to the Promise, given by God, in Genesis 3:15.

To get the background for this chapter, we need to go back to the Law of God as given in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. There will be one significant difference in this story; who goes to court.

5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. 7 But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’ (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)

Boaz goes to court…
4 Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” 6 The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.”

After Ruth left Boaz and returned to the place where she and Naomi were staying, Boaz went to town. He stopped at the town gates where the Elders were to be found, which was a customary place for them to conduct their duties. When the other kinsman-redeemer came along, he asked the man to sit with him in the hearing of the Elders to discuss the situation. You will no doubt recall that the night before, Boaz had mentioned to Ruth that there was a closer relative who was first in line as kinsman-redeemer, and this is the matter Boaz brought up that morning.

It would seem, from verses 3 and 4 that Naomi had inherited her husband’s property, so Boaz mentioned this to the man first. In an earlier study, we saw that a kinsman-redeemer would buy the land of the dead husband from the widow so that she would have money in her old age with which to live, since she probably wouldn’t be able to make a living from the land by herself, and this other kinsman-redeemer, whose name is never mentioned in the text, agreed to buy it. If he had the cash, then why not buy it? He could do his duty to the family, and add to his own income in the bargain; so far, so good. Then something strange happens:

Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” (4:5)

Oh dear, there’s a catch – that Moabite woman!

At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” (4:6)

Did you notice that as long as Boaz just mentioned Naomi and her property, the other guy was willing to redeem, but when he mentioned the Moabite woman was part of the deal, the other guy backed out? Why do you suppose Boaz mentioned that she was a Moabite, of all things?

Why would this unnamed kinsman have a problem with marrying Ruth? For an Israelite to have a Gentile in their household was problematic enough, but a Moabite woman was really too much; they had experience with Moabite women in the past; these women were trouble! It looks like there was something even deeper going on if we look at the man’s reason for declining the deal; “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate“. That begs the question; “Was he single, and thus didn’t have an heir, or was he married, but his wife was barren?” Evidently if he married Ruth, their first son would inherit both Naomi’s estate AND his estate. No way, the man was not going to redeem, even though it was his duty; Boaz could have the deal. Evidently, Boaz already had an heir, or he was content to have his legacy carried-on through a son, yet unborn, who would be born to him and Ruth. Would we even know anything about Boaz if Ruth hadn’t come along?

Making it legal…
7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another; and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. 8 So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.” 11 All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem. 12 Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

Thus, with all of the Elders as his witnesses, Boaz acquired the right to redeem, and bought the land and Ruth from Naomi, and Ruth thus became his wife. I know that to the modern reader, this transaction sounds pretty weird, but this took place a very long time ago, and was proper and binding. The Elders agree and gave their blessing to the arrangement: Done.

The blessing the Elders pronounce harkened back to Boaz’s own direct-ancestry and the beginning of the Twelve Tribes. Rachel and Leah were Jacob’s wives, and they, along with their maids, were the mothers of Jacob’s twelve sons. Perez was Judah’s son by his daughter-in-law, Tamar. (Genesis 38)

Boaz was a very sharp man; he knew how to get things done in this world. He did so with wisdom and intelligence, and by the rules of the day. In the process, he did his duty to his family, to Naomi, to Ruth and to their husbands’ family line, and he did it with justice for all concerned. In so doing, he provides all of us with an excellent example of what it means to be a godly man.

Here comes the bride…
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Had Ruth been barren prior to her marrying Boaz? This phrase, “And the Lord enabled her to conceive,” is used many times throughout the Bible when God intervened and gave a barren woman the ability to become pregnant. Could this be why she and her first husband didn’t have any children? Had God “saved” her for this point in her life, to accomplish His special-purpose?

Naomi’s friends understood the significance of Ruth having a son, because not only did Ruth and Naomi receive an heir, their kinsman-redeemer had redeemed them from poverty and hopelessness. Ruth, through Boaz, had accomplished what Naomi’s own sons were not able to accomplish, give her an heir and security in her old-age.

The women’s praises celebrate the fulfillment of God’s covenant-love to Naomi. Her daughter-in-law, Ruth, is more to her than seven sons would be. Moreover, Naomi in effect has a son in her grandson, Obed. He will become the grandfather of David.

The Line of David Began Here
16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Naomi had gone away “empty”, but her cup now overflowed with blessings.

18 Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, 19 and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20 and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21 and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22 and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David. (Ruth 4)

Why does the book of Ruth close with a genealogy? The closing genealogy shifts the focus from Naomi back to Boaz, and fulfills the larger purpose of the narrative. The genealogy begins with Perez, someone who could “break-through“, and whom the women in their blessing remembered as the vigorous son of Tamar. Like Ruth, Tamar became an ancestor of David in an unexpected way. For New Testament readers, David is not the end of God’s provisions for the people of His choice. But for her time, Ruth’s journey had reached its divinely-appointed goal.

After the scene that takes place in verses 1-12 of chapter four, Boaz and Ruth are married. There is not a single word in the text about their life together; other than they had a son named Obed. From what the text has told us, Ruth is humble and loyal, Boaz is kind, of high character and righteous, so we can infer that they lived happily ever after. Certainly there is nothing to cause this inference to be brought into question. It’s probably safe to infer that Naomi lived out her years in happiness as well.

The text mentions a son as the only specific about the lives of Ruth and Boaz because that son becomes a direct ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ, and that is a very big deal indeed. It places Ruth in that same lineage; a Moabite. Of course, she is not the only Gentile woman in that lineage, and I suppose that we should pause to clear up any confusion resulting from this point, since ultimately this line will pass to Jesus through Mary.

The Old Testament Law states that to be a Jew, someone must be of the seed of Abraham, a quaint old fashioned way of saying Abraham’s genetic descendant. This “seed” passes from the father, thus Obed is Jewish by birth even though his mother was a Gentile. The Father of Jesus was not strictly speaking a Jew; instead He was God. So how could Jesus be a Jew?

I hope you were sitting down when you read that; it is not a joke. You see, unless something happened first, Jesus would be the Son of God without being a Jew.

But something did happen.

During the captivity in Babylon, Jews began to intermarry with Gentiles. After the return from captivity, many Jews chose not to return, while others returned and continued intermarrying. It seems that men were much more likely to take a Gentile bride than women a Gentile husband and eventually, after much controversy and confusion, the Law was changed, so that descendancy from Abraham came through mothers instead of fathers. Thus, you could only be born a Jew if your mother was Jewish. If your mother was Gentile and your father was Jewish, you were considered to be a Gentile, and this is so to this very day. Thus, Jesus was Jewish because Mary was Jewish.

If you read this book again carefully, there would seem to be either a lot of coincidence or a lot of luck in the story. I think the biggest one of these took place when Ruth went out to work in the fields that first day, and somehow came upon the fields of Boaz. Why didn’t Naomi tell Ruth where to go? By all rights, shouldn’t she have directed Ruth to the fields of the other kinsman-redeemer, the one with first right of redemption? No, somehow Ruth just got lucky and stumbled into Boaz’ life!

You can be quite sure that there are no coincidences here, and no dumb luck either, for God was at work in the lives of these people. Now here’s a question for everyone to ponder: Why did God choose Naomi, Ruth and Boaz to be in this story, and thus to be part of the lineage of His Son?

Naomi, Ruth and Boaz Have Much to Teach Us
Looking at our adventure in the book of Ruth, it should be obvious to anyone that this story has much to teach us. I’m not going to say that the things I mention about them are an exhaustive and encyclopedic analysis, but I hope that what follows will give you a pretty good picture of the kinds of people they were.

Naomi
Here is woman who went through a terrible time; she can almost be compared to Job in her affliction. First there was the famine that tore her family away from their lands and lives in Bethlehem, forcing them to move to Moab just to try and survive. She was an outsider there, not knowing the customs or the people, being a foreigner in a foreign place. Thus, she had only her family to cling to; her husband and two sons. The sons then come of marrying age and they marry foreign women, a cultural problem that their parents had to deal with, and then her husband and two sons die leaving Naomi destitute with two foreign daughters-in-law. In this time of trial, Naomi becomes an embittered old woman, by her own estimation, and begins making drastic decisions.

She tried to do right by her daughters in law, releasing them from their obligations to her and urging them to return to their own, and one finally does so, while Ruth insists on being loyal to Naomi, and then Naomi returns to her homeland and her God and family. Upon her return home with Ruth, Naomi guides Ruth on several occasions, and even though some of her advice was risky, it turns out that Naomi was a very good judge of character and gave advice that can only be described as “harmless as a lamb and crafty as a serpent.”

Naomi, while she had her low points in a life marked with tragedy and adversity, overcame that adversity by returning to her God and making very wise choices. I’d say we can learn from her example.

Ruth
Whole books have been written on Ruth’s character, so I’ll keep it short; Ruth had the heart of a servant. She was loyal to the family of her husband, she was humble, she worked hard and without complaint, and she was submissive to her elders. In all of this, Ruth shows us what it means to deal with self, for there is no “self” on display in her story. To top it off, let us not forget the fact that Ruth made a conscious-choice to follow the God of Israel. How different she was from the way we are today, and great was her reward.

Boaz
Boaz was a leader of men, but he was not like many leaders of men, for Boaz was a servant-leader. Remember when, on Ruth’s first day in the fields, Boaz returned from town and “greeted” his workers? Maybe you recall that he told his men not to lay a hand on Ruth. Was there any mention of an incident taking place, or of any grumbling about that? How about when Boaz went to the village gate and asked the elders to come and listen to his discussion with the other kinsman-redeemer; did they say they were too busy? Did the tell him to buzz off? No! They immediately did as he asked because they respected him, just as his workers did. Yet in everything we know of Boaz, there is no indication at all that anybody’s respect was borne out of fear, for Boaz built relationships with other men that enabled him to lead them by gaining their trust.

Have you ever worked for a boss who was a “tyrant“? Have you ever worked for a boss who was a “team-builder“? I have worked for both types of bosses, and I will take the “team-builder” any day of the week. One time, I worked for both types in the same department. The day-shift-supervisor was a “tyrant“, but the night-shift-leadman was a “team-builder“. The night-shift worked like a “well-oiled-machine“. The day-shift could be chaos. Which type of manager was Boaz?

On that fateful night when Boaz awakened to find Ruth lying at his feet, how did he react? He reacted with mercy, kindness and gratitude for the opportunity to serve. That all of this must include a healthy dose of humility should go without saying…

Now, when you put the characteristics of these three people together, what do you have?

You have the type of person who is a disciple of Jesus Christ.

I would submit to you that this is why God chose to work through these three people, and why their story has resulted in their names being forever associated with the lineage of the Son of God.

Some Final Thoughts
Thinking about the story of Ruth, it’s hard to come away from it without the sense that God really does work in the lives of His people. He certainly did so in ancient times, and maybe we sometimes feel like they were more “special” than we are because of this. Yet upon reflection, we should know better. The Bible is full of stories of amazing men and women of faith, and it also has many stories of men and women who were ungodly in their lives and characters, and isn’t this really the same condition that we see around us today?

I would actually like to go a step further and suggest that there are more amazing men and women of faith today than there were in Bible times, since unlike those in the Old Testament, God’s people in our time are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and Old Testament Israelites were not. The problem we have today is that we aren’t having these people pointed out to us, and in the busy day-to-day we might not notice what is really going on around us. If nothing else, we might at least ponder the possibilities.

As for the specifics of the Ruth story, one thing is quite clear: Boaz was no ordinary man, for he was a “type” of Christ as a kinsman-redeemer. The fact that the text includes “redeemer” in it should bring this into focus for most readers. To review, a “type” is a term that comes from a manner of interpretation called “Typology”; a “typological interpretation”, and is a natural element of Old Testament writing since the Old Covenant itself is a “type” of the New, a fact brought out and referred to again and again in the New Testament book of Hebrews. Ruth is a type of the redeemed, which is to say of you and me. The humility that she demonstrates over and over is the behavior that is supposed to be seen in us, and when she lay down in total submission and humility at the feet of Boaz portrays our coming to Christ in humility and submission and receiving redemption from our sins and the gift of a new life in Christ.

The result of Ruth’s actions was that she was redeemed from widowhood and received a new life as the wife of Boaz, ultimately giving birth to a son in the direct lineage of the Son of God. For us, we are redeemed from sin and receive a new life in Christ, as I said, but we also join the family tree of Jesus as his brothers and sisters in the household of His Father… and our Father. While we remain on this earth, we are servants of His, but when we inherit this birthright, we have not only eternal life with Him, but that life is lived as His brothers and sisters in the Father’s house. It is because of this significance, we can say that the story of Ruth is much more than an inspiring tale of overcoming adversity and of godly role models, for it is a significance that leads us to the very source of life itself.

I hope that you have enjoyed our little adventure through this story, and I hope that you have found it to be an adventure that is worthy of more thoughtful contemplation. May all of us walk more closely with our Lord as a result of our adventures with Him.

Since we are approaching Christmas, we will spend the next few weeks looking at the Promises and Prophesies given throughout the Old Testament, leading up to when we will celebrate Christmas by reading the account of the birth of Christ from the Gospels.

Sola Deo Gloria!!!

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