The Book Of Ruth
From Rags To Riches
But Ruth replied, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16
A Cinderella story is always interesting and intriguing. But it is even more fascinating and attractive if we know that it’s true. Most exciting of all for Christians is when the story comes right out of Scripture. Here the story is not only true, but it is told to us by God Himself. The Old Testament Book of Ruth is an exciting rags-to-riches story. As we read this wonderful narrative let’s visualize ourselves as God’s children sitting at the feet of our Heavenly Father and listening to Him telling the story to us.
Ruth’s story takes place during the period of the judges in Israel’s history. Spiritual and moral conditions were not the greatest at this time. The nation of Israel had backslidden considerably since the days of the great leadership of Moses and Joshua, and now only periodically was a judge raised up by God to stem the downward spiral. We read that during the days of the judges, “everyone did that which was right in his own eyes” (Jud. 17:6; 21:25 NIV). It is against this dark background that the beautiful book of Ruth stands out in marked contrast – especially that of the characters of Ruth and Boaz.
The focus of chapter one is on the life-changing decision of Ruth. Ruth was from Moab – a Gentile, and an outsider to God’s covenant blessings upon Israel. Ruth had married into a poor Hebrew family which had migrated to Moab. But her husband had died and she had no children. Ruth was certainly experiencing “the pits” for that time and culture, as she was poor, bereaved and childless. When her widowed Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, decided to return to Judah, Ruth was confronted with a major life-changing decision. Should she stay with her own people in her own country, or burn her bridges behind her and go with Naomi to Israel? Ruth decided whole-heartedly to go with Naomi to Israel.
Note Ruth’s classic and inspiring statement of commitment at the time of her decision: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16). Naturally speaking, it was much more logical for Ruth to stay in Moab. Opportunities for re-marriage and family security were far greater there. For a Gentile girl to go to Judah with a poor old widow like Naomi held nothing but a rags-to-rags prospect. But Ruth was determined to go against these odds (1:18). Why? Because Ruth had come to put her trust in the God of Israel! Ruth loved Naomi, and she must have loved her own people as well, but it was the God of Naomi that made the difference. Ruth was confident that the Lord, whom she had come to trust, would take care of her future.
The Lord calls us to make significant decisions, too, in times of spiritual crisis. The choice to follow Christ, for example, was most important and may have been quite costly for some of us. To be estranged from family and ostracized by friends for the sake of Christ is not exactly the greatest feeling in the world. How much easier to be like Orpah in the story. Orpah was in the same situation as Ruth (1:4-5). Orpah started in the right direction (1:6-7). She was emotionally moved about the decision (1:9,14), and said she was going to go all the way (1:10). But she didn’t! She went back to her people, her country and her god (1:15). How true of many would-be followers of Christ today!
The Lord also calls growing Christians to make Ruth-like decisions. Choosing a life of service for the Lord may result in having very little earthly wealth or security. To say “yes” to God’s call to the foreign mission field, for instance, may involve leaving family and friends. As in the case of Ruth, only the Lord Himself can give us the confidence, courage and faith needed for making this kind of decision.
In chapter two we see Ruth’s dedication to the decision she had made to follow Naomi and “seek refuge under the wings of the Lord, the God of Israel” (2:12). As soon as Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, she went out to the fields and gleaned for herself and Naomi. Ruth had come to know that the God of Israel had graciously incorporated the “gleaning clause” into His Law as a means of providing for poor people. Any person in need could always go into any field and take the crop left behind after the harvest (Lev. 19:9-10; Dt. 24:19-21). Gleaning was a tedious task, but Ruth never complained or wavered in the commitment she made. Would we be so dedicated? Many Christians look and sound very dedicated at the altar calls for Christian service, but before long the “labor in the fields” identifies those who are truly committed.
To fully appreciate the spiritual lessons to be found in Ruth’s dedication, the place of Boaz needs to be understood. Boaz was not only the wealthy landowner and prince of this Cinderella story – he was a “kinsman-redeemer.” Just what this unique position involved will be explained shortly, but in summary it can be said that Boaz is a beautiful illustration of the Lord Jesus Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer. Thus the fields of Boaz, where Ruth labored, can represent the “field of the Lord” in this story God has written for us. To glean in the field of the Lord is to be occupied with God’s interests, separated from the “fields of the world.”
As Boaz told Ruth not to glean in another field (2:8), so our Lord tells us not to be drawn away by the temporal values and snares of this world (2 Cor. 6:17; 2 Tim. 2:4; 1 Jn. 2:15). As Boaz promised Ruth provision and protection in his field (2:9), so our Lord promises to provide for us and protect us if we stay in His field (Heb. 13:5-6). As Boaz served Ruth the fruit of his field which completely satisfied her (2:14), so our Lord ministers His Word to us – the food that alone can fully satisfy our souls (Jer. 15:16). As Boaz “sweetened” the rewards of Ruth’s labor in his field (2:15-16), so our Lord richly rewards our active occupation with His interests (Mt. 6:33; 11:28-29; Lk. 6:38). Let us not only learn and appreciate these lessons of the field, but let us also be dedicated gleaners who experience all these blessings from the Lord of the harvest.
In chapters three and four, our attention is drawn more and more to Ruth’s devotion to Boaz. It doesn’t take much reading between the lines to realize that by chapter three Ruth and Boaz are falling in love, and that her devotion is really a response to his love and kindness. The actions of Ruth and Naomi in chapter 3 may appear at first to be strange and even questionable, but some background knowledge of the role of the kinsman-redeemer should clear up any misunderstanding.
Certain stipulations of God’s Law were designed to care for extended family and kin. According to Leviticus 25:25, when an individual became so poor that he had to sell or forfeit his property, a prosperous relative was to redeem or buy back the property for the poor family member. The Hebrew word for this close relative is “goel” and is translated either as “kinsman” (relative) or “redeem” in the Old Testament. This person is thus called a “kinsman-redeemer.”
Another responsibility of a close relative is found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. If a husband died before having a male heir, an unmarried brother of the deceased was to marry the widow and produce the first-born son in his brother’s name. If there were no eligible brothers, the duty passed to the closest eligible male relative. In Ruth’s case there were no brothers available, so Boaz, as a close relative, had responsibility towards Ruth and the family property which Naomi was forced to sell out of poverty.
So Ruth’s behavior in chapter three was not some indiscreet escapade, but rather her legally proper initiative to tell Boaz that she was willing for him to take on his responsibilities as kinsman-redeemer (3:9). Naomi knew that after the harvest party, Boaz, along with his servants, would be spending the night at the threshing floor to guard the winnowed grain (Jud. 6:11). Naomi’s plan was just a sensible, logical (and also romantic) way for Ruth to communicate her wishes to Boaz.
The honorable behavior of Boaz in response to Ruth’s devotion, as well as his noble actions towards Naomi, the other close relative in chapter four, point out his character, and remind us again of our own Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord Jesus. As the wealthy Boaz willingly bought back the lost property and married Ruth, the poor Gentile foreigner, so Christ in His love has recovered all our “lost property” and taken us poor “foreigners” to be His bride (Eph. 2:12-13; 5:31-32). There were three prerequisites necessary for the kinsman-redeemer: he had to be a close relative, who was wealthy and willing.
As our Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord Jesus fulfills all three prerequisites perfectly.
Is He a close relative? Hebrews 2:5-16 makes clear that the eternal Son of God took on humanity precisely so that He would become our Kinsman in order to redeem us.
Is He a wealthy close relative? First Peter 1:18-19 emphasizes that Jesus Christ alone had the means to pay the infinite price of redemption – a perfect, sinless life.
Is He a willing close relative? Mark 10:45 tells us that the Son of Man gave His life as a sacrifice in order to redeem us.
What is our response?
Like all Cinderella stories, the Book of Ruth has a happy ending. The rags-to-riches aspect is emphasized at the end of chapter four where we learn that Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David. And when we realize that this poor woman from Moab is thus brought into the Messianic line (Mt. 1:5), we are further amazed at the riches of God’s grace – grace that is still available to take sinners from rags to riches.
By David R. Reid
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org