THE BOOK OF RUTH
Our lesson today is taken from the Book of Ruth in the Old Testament. The Book of Ruth is one of two books in the Hebrew Bible that bears a woman’s name. (The other is Esther.)
It is one of the most beautifully written stories in the Bible, but the Book of Ruth never reveals the name of its writer. This book is traditionally ascribed to the prophet Samuel, but does not name its author, and is believed to be written somewhere around the fifth century B.C.
It’s named after its central figure, Ruth, the Moabitess, the great grandmother of King David.
This is one of the main points of the story; that a non-Jewish woman is the ancestor of Israel’s greatest dynasty of kings—from David to the King of Kings, Jesus.
It’s interesting to note that in Matthew’s Genealogy of Jesus it lists 4 women and Ruth is one of them.
Before we begin our story, we first need to look at Ruth’s background and history.
Ruth came from a people who had a scandalous and a turbulent history. After the destructionn of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah the incestuous relationship between Abraham’s nephew, Lot, and his daughters, resulted in the birth of the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites. When God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah off the planet, Lot and his two daughters ran to the near-by hills. and hid in a cave. The girls thought Lot was the last man alive in the area, so they got him drunk and had sex with him. They wanted his family to live on. When the older daughter gave birth to a son she named him Moab (Son of my kinsmen) He became the founder of the nation known as the Moabites; the land east of the Dead Sea, in modern-day Jordan.
Since Lot was Abraham’s nephew, and Abraham was the father of the Jews, the Jewish people considered the Moabites their distant relatives. But these relatives didn’t always get along.
What king would want to admit that his family got its start from a drunken old man who impregnated his daughter.
Here, we find that during the rule of the Judges, Israel suffered a serious famine. In our culture, their situation would be comparable to the story told by Steinbeck in “The Grapes of Wrath”, a book about people leaving Oklahoma during the dust bowl days trying to find jobs in California. In we see this was deemed to be one of the punishments visited upon the people when they had sinned.
A man named Elimelech of Bethlehem decided to emigrate with his wife, and his two sons, Mahlon and into the high land country of Moab.
In taking the initiative to go to Moab—a foreign country—from Bethlehem, Naomi’s husband stepped out of the will of God.
If the famine was a judgment upon the nation, Elimelech should have repented, and tried to have helped his countrymen back to God, and prayed for the removal of the scourge 34:9-10,
But instead, with his family, he went from a place where God was honored to another land so heathen in its ways.
Although the land of Moab may sound remote, it was only some 30 miles from Bethlehem-Judah. A long journey in those far-off days when they had no transportation.
The distance, however, was not “miles”, but of “mind”.
Distances in the Bible are not measured from one place to another, but from God. Thus Bethlehem to Moab measured the distance from God to the alien worship of an alien country.
It was not long before Naomi discovered the error in leaving Bethlehem, for in the new and heathen land, nothing but misfortune dogged her footsteps!!
(1) Her two sons forbade marriage outside of the nation.
(2) Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, died.
Bereft of her husband, Naomi loses all heart to live on in a land of foreigners
Old Proverb: When the stem dies, the leaf that grew out of its heart must perish too.
(3) To add to her desolation and grief, she also lost both of her sons and Naomi “was left of her two sons and husband”.
To all appearances, Naomi was:
B) Husband and children were gone.
C) In a land of strangers.
D) Her heart and spirit were broken.
E) Her conscience was up in arms; feeling guilty, she felt the God of her fathers had deserted her, and that she had deserted her God.
She felt she must retrieve the past! She must go back to the old soil, back to the favor of her God. Bethlehem was Naomi’s native land, and all her relatives and friends were there.
She had also learned that in “The Lord had visited His people in giving them bread”. The famine was finally over.
Naomi was determined to return to Bethlehem alone, but her daughters-in-law left with her. But on the journey back, Naomi paused and pleaded with Ruth and Orpah to return to Moab. She knew what it would mean for them as Moabites to cross the boundary line, stressing the point that in Canaan there would be very little prospect of their finding husbands.
Orpah kissed Naomi and then went back to her own people, but Ruth clinged unto Naomi and begged her to take her to Bethlehem.
This part of the story contains Ruth’s famous speech of loyalty to her mother-in-law
As Naomi and Ruth entered the city together, their arrival in the old community created a sensation, as everyone cried, “Is this Naomi?”.
The repetition of her significant name irritated her as she cried, “Call me not Naomi (pleasant), call me Mara (bitter): for the almighty has dealt very bitterly with me… .”
Ten years in Moab, with all its anguish, and also the loss of fellowship with God, and His people, had dried up her finer feelings.
Naomi was now sour and blamed God for the poverty and desolation she had endured.
Naomi failed to see that all her bitterness was the result of the act of disobedience when, with her husband, she left Bethlehem for Moab. The journey to Moab was a journey from God, and consequently her bitterness was the fruit of such an act of disobedience.
Both women were now widows. With no one to care for them, they must now find a way to survive on their own.
Ruth, knowing that her mother-in-law, whom Ruth surrounded with loving care, was too old to bend her back to work in the fields, Ruth goes out and secures work as a gleaner in the fields of
Gleaning was common practice in ancient Israel. It was a form of charity for the disadvantaged in society.
Under Jewish law, the poor were allowed to glean in any harvest field, and Ruth qualified for the weary, humble task of following the reapers and gathering up the gleanings for Naomi and herself.
We now get into the romance that followed between Ruth and Boaz.
So, we see Ruth going out to the field of Boaz, who is a rich relative of Naomi through her husband’s family. So Boaz was therefore connected by marriage to Ruth. Therefore, by Jewish custom, Boaz, as next of kin, could be regarded as Ruth’s rightful betrothed.
It was not long before Boaz came to the field to see how the harvest was going. There, he met Ruth. It was love at first sight. He fell over himself to help her, going to elaborate lengths to get extra grain for Ruth.
The other workers noticed and some of them reported back to Naomi.
Boaz’s mother was Rahab, a non-Israeli from Jericho, who’s story is told in 2 and Perhaps he was more willing to be kind to Ruth, an alien, because his mother was an alien.
Naomi soon took a lively interest in the kindness of Boaz to Ruth.
Naomi was a shrewd older woman who had seen a lot of life, and she devised a plan to prod Boaz into marrying Ruth. She knew men and gave Ruth specific instructions on everything she must do. Ruth had the good sense to listen.
Naomi, with her bitterness now subdued and her former pleasant disposition restored, and with a tender boldness, helps lift Ruth out of obscurity and poverty into marriage with a Godly man, as well as a mighty man of wealth.
We finally see Ruth propose marriage to Boaz. This part of the story takes place at the threshing floor, at a golden time of the year when the harvest had been brought in and the weather was still warm. When Boaz finally lays down to sleep on the threshing floor, Ruth approaches him.
Laying beside Boaz, Ruth suggests he should “Cover her with his blanket”, a euphemism for marriage. Ruth had the right to demand marriage, so she could have children that Israelite women longed for. Boaz happily agrees, but points out that another man had the right; a closer relative than himself. Boaz felt he had to square things with him before he could marry Ruth.
In Chapter IV, we see some complicated negotiations going on when Boaz went the next morning to the meeting place at the gate of the town. The negotiations were regarding a small parcel of land that Naomi either owned outright or had put up for sale.
As it turns out, Naomi and Ruth get their land back and Boaz takes Ruth as his wife. Ruth then gives birth to a son, Obed, who was the grandfather of King David.
In the end, the family Naomi thought she had seen parish, had been restored to the genealogies of Israel; for baby Obed lives to become the father of Jesse, and Jesse is father of the great King David.
And in the genealogical tables of Matthew, the Moabitess (Ruth) who left her people for love of Naomi, is duly named as an ancestress of the Messiah Himself.