The Book Of Ruth
A Love Story
I went to school in America when students were still allowed to open the Bible in class. In those days we even studied the Book of Ruth in English literature. It was considered an outstanding short story, with good characterization, plenty of emotion and a great ending – everyone lived happily ever after. A few years later when I began studying the Bible as a Christian, I learned that the Book of Ruth is far more than a good story. As part of God’s inspired Word, it illustrates God’s grace reaching those in need. It’s about a young Moabite named Ruth. She lived in an era of apostasy, war, famine and poverty. Yet her life beamed with the hope that only God can give.
There are at least four ways to look at the Book of Ruth. Historically, it begins with a family living in Bethlehem during the period of the Judges in Israel (about 1200 bc). When famine came, they decided to move to the country of Moab. There, tragedy struck again. The father, and his two sons died, leaving three widows – his wife Naomi and his two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah. Most of the book centers on the return of Naomi and Ruth to Bethlehem, and the unexpected turn of events awaiting them there.
Symbolically, the Book of Ruth portrays how love develops between Christ and His people, resulting in fruitfulness for the glory of God.
Doctrinally, it reveals the character of God in His gracious dealings with people, even those, like Ruth, who are born under a curse.
Practically, it shows how one enthusiastic person can turn around a grim situation. That’s what makes this story so contemporary. God’s still looking for “Ruths” who can bring sunshine to storm-drenched families.
Chapter 1: GOD’S GRACE
God’s grace triumphs in spite of human failure and hopelessness. It’s not difficult to find human failure in chapter one. Famine had struck the land because the people of Israel had departed from the Lord (Dt. 28:24). Sadly, Elimelech (his name means “my God is King”) turned to the enemy country of Moab rather than to the Lord in time of crisis. What a loss! Attempting to escape God’s discipline on Israel, he fell into Satan’s snare. The deaths of father and sons further illustrate human failure – people die as a result of sin (Rom. 6:23). Yet God caused their failure to work for good, for it was in Moab that Ruth entered the story.
Human hopelessness could find no better example than Ruth. First, she was from Moab, and therefore shut out from the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation according to the law (Dt. 23:3-4). Second, she was a widow, destitute and without resources. Third, her only contact with Israel, Naomi, did not give her a clear-cut testimony to the God of Israel. Although Naomi started to move in the right direction by going back to her homeland, she did not encourage her daughters-in-law to go with her. Furthermore she had a bitter spirit and blamed God for her problems.
God delights to triumph over human helplessness, and did so in Ruth’s case. She was not turned aside by Naomi’s insistence that she return to her people and her gods. Her sister-in-law, Orpah, returned, but Ruth moved with Naomi to Israel. Her beautifully resolute words addressed to Naomi also express her response to God’s grace: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go … your people shall be my people, and your God, my God” (Ruth 1:16). With these few words, Ruth chose a pathway to follow, a place to live, a people to join, and a Person to trust – the God of Israel. Along with Naomi, she arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Chapter 2: RUTH MEETS BOAZ
One of the first people Ruth met in Bethlehem was Boaz. Many things about him remind us of our Lord, Jesus Christ. First, he was a kinsman (relative) of Elimelech. This is important: for God to show us His grace, the Son of God had to become our “kinsman” by becoming a man (Heb. 2:14-15). Second Boaz is called “a man of great wealth.” Of our Lord’s grace it is said, “though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might be rich” (2 Cor. 8:9). Third, Boaz came from Bethlehem. Our Lord was born in that very village (Lk. 2:4-6). Fourth, Boaz spoke gracious words, reminding us of the beginning of our Lord’s ministry in Nazareth when all “marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth” (Lk. 4:22). Fifth, Boaz showed concern for Ruth, a poor stranger. All four gospels resound with the concern of our Lord for the poor. He came to “preach the gospel to the poor” (Lk. 4:18).
The unfolding relationship between Boaz and Ruth typifies the relationship between Christ and His people. He invited her to glean in his fields, assuring her of protection. When mealtime came, he welcomed her at his table. He even took care of her in ways of which she was unaware, instructing his reapers to “let some grain from the bundles fall purposely for her” (2:16). This reminds us of our acceptance in Christ (Eph. 1:6), of the fellowship into which He has called us (Eph. 2:19-22), and of His promise to meet our every need (Phil. 4:19).
No wonder Ruth was drawn to Boaz. The account says “she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz” (2:3), but it leaves no doubt that God directed her there. Notice that she did not sit idly at home lamenting her poverty and waiting for a handout. She knew she was poor, so she made the effort to “go and glean” – not an easy or respectable job. Then as Boaz began to take notice of her, she was overwhelmed both by his favor and her unworthiness.
The Book of Ruth teaches that the Christian life is both passive and active. It is passive in that we recognize that God’s divine power has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). Therefore we trust in Him, waiting patiently for His guidance and recognizing that we are totally dependent (Prov. 3:5-6). However, it is also active in that we need to go forward in the strength of the Lord, using diligence to add to our lives those things that will make us fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior (2 Pet. 1:5-8).
Ruth found refuge under the wings of the God of Israel, and Boaz recognized that and treated her accordingly (2:12). Her bright testimony included diligence (2:2-3,17), sharing with her mother-in-law (2:18-19), learning more about Boaz (2:20) and obeying without hesitation (2:21-23).
Chapter 3: DEEPER INTIMACY
God had marriage in mind for Boaz and Ruth. As the story moves in this direction, we begin to understand the kind of intimacy the Lord has in mind for His people. He wants not merely gleaners in His fields but a bride on whom to bestow His love (Eph. 5:25-27). He wants to take away our insecurities so that we find our rest in Him (Mt. 11:28-30). He wants to focus our hearts not just on His provisions but on Him (Phil. 3:8). Indeed, the Lord has far more in store for us than we ever realized when we first trusted Him. He wants us to enjoy a deep, intimate relationship with Him.
However, intimacy does not come cheaply. Ruth learned from Naomi that Boaz was their “near kinsman” – one who had the right to redeem Elimelech’s property and also the responsibility to marry and raise children in the name of his deceased relative. Therefore, at Naomi’s instruction she went to Boaz’s threshing floor to identify herself as one who needed his redemption in both aspects. But Ruth did not approach Boaz carelessly or casually. She washed and anointed herself and put on her best garments. Likewise, we need to approach our Lord “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). Our ways need to be cleansed by taking heed to His Word (Ps. 119:9-11). As those indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we need to exude the fragrance of His anointing (1 Cor. 16:19-20).
When Ruth came to the threshing floor, she lay at the feet of Boaz. Centuries later, a devoted woman named Mary sat at the feet of the Lord Jesus to hear His words (Lk. 10:39). This is the place for us also – at the Lord’s feet, to hear His words, as Ruth heard Boaz’s words of comfort and encouragement. But Boaz also said something to Ruth that wasn’t encouraging: there was a potential hindrance to their marriage in the form of a kinsman even nearer to her than himself. Meanwhile, Boaz acted to protect Ruth’s honor and his own. He also gave her a large supply of food.
Chapter 4: THE MARRIAGE
The next day, Boaz went to the gate where public matters were conducted. He wanted to publicly display his righteousness in redeeming Ruth, just as God displayed His righteousness in redeeming us (Rom. 3:21-22). I suggest that the “nearer kinsman” who stood in the way of the marriage of Boaz and Ruth represents the Law. Why? Because the law came first and seemed to be the logical way for man to draw near to God. Notice that the nearer kinsman refused to marry Ruth because that would spoil his own inheritance. How like the Law! It can only retain its distinctive character by condemning guilty sinners, not redeeming them. As Romans 7:12 says, “The Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” But all men are sinners and therefore the Law pronounces them “guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). The Law could show neither heart nor pity to fallen man.
It remained for Boaz to redeem Ruth just as it remained for our Lord Jesus Christ to redeem us. Boaz acted according to the ritual prescribed by the Law, and then proclaimed, “Ruth the Moabitess … I have acquired as my wife … You are witnesses this day (4:9-10). But here we must draw a contrast between Boaz and Christ. The redemption of Boaz was bloodless, requiring simply the spending of money. The redemption purchased by our Lord cost His life. We are “not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold … but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
As redeemed and married to Boaz, Ruth produced offspring to God’s glory. In fact, her son Obed was the forefather of King David, and eventually the Lord Himself, according to His human line. Likewise, those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ and brought into intimate relationship with Him can live fruitful lives for His glory. As Romans 7:4 puts it, “Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the Law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another, even to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.” What a contrast! We who were once destitute and accursed strangers can now bear fruit for God. That’s what the Christian life is all about.
By Grant Steidl
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org