Part 9 of “The Tree” – a study of Jesus’ family tree.
Ruth Chapters 1-4
The story of Ruth begins with, “In the days when the judges ruled…” (v. 1a).
For context, Joshua was 110 years old when he died; he spent a lifetime of faithful service to Yahweh and Israel. Shortly before his death, he pleaded with the people:
Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” (Josh. 24:14-15)
However, Israel did not keep their promise to Yahweh. After Joshua’s death, God raised up regional judges such Gideon, Deborah, and Samson, to lead His people and rescue them every time they got into trouble. The beginning of the book of Judges explains, “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals. And they abandoned the LORD, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them” (Judges 2:11-12).
When one reads the book of Judges, although God can be seen moving among His people, it is as if He is not present, because He is not wanted. In fact, the final verse in the book of Judges reads like the epitaph on a gravestone: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The story of Naomi and Ruth takes place during this dark age in Israel’s history. With the time that we have together, I want to briefly focus our attention on four people in the story of Ruth
Naomi Suffered Loss
In chapter one, Naomi suffered the loss of her husband and her two sons, which meant that she was left with nothing. When she left her home with her husband and two boys, because there was a famine in the land (v. 1), Naomi left “full.” ). It seemed like a good idea for the sake of safety and family to live in Moab, but while in Moab, her husband Elimelech died. If that were not enough, not only did her two sons take Moabite wives (Orpah and Ruth), something that God commanded His people not to do (Deut. 7:2-3), but Naomi’s two sons also died shortly after, which left her with two childless Moabite daughters-in-law! Naomi had the three most important men in her life stripped away from her and she was left with absolutely nothing regarding lineage and property.
Considering Naomi’s circumstances, it is completely understandable that she asked to no longer be referred to as Naomi, which means “pleasant.” Instead, she wished to be called Mara, which meant “bitter.” She stated, “The Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty” (vv. 20-21). In part, Naomi was right. For her to assume that God was not behind the famine that caused her family to move to Moab would have been foolish, because she understood that God causes, “the grass to grow for the livestock and plants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth food from the earth…” (Ps. 104:14). When it came to the lives of her husband and two sons, she understood that God alone has the authority to give life and take it away, just as Job rightly responded to the death of his family: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD (Job 1:21).
What Naomi failed to see was the good that God was doing in the midst her pain. Admittedly, it is very difficult to see past the kind of grief and despair Naomi must have suffered from; she literally lost just about everything she held dear. Think, for a moment, on William Cowper’s lyrics:
Judge not the lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
There was a flower that was blooming in the midst of Naomi’s embittered life, and that flower was her young daughter-in-law. “Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.” As Naomi and her husband moved her their family into Moab, God’s smile could be seen in the life, courage, and love of Ruth; however, Naomi could not see it through the dark clouds of her despair.
Ruth Sacrificed Everything for Naomi
Naomi failed to see the gift she had in her Moabite daughter-in-law. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, she implored both Orpah and Ruth to return their Moabite people and to their Moabite gods; while Orpah decided to go, Ruth had other plans: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (vv. 16-18).
Naomi didn’t want Ruth coming back with her because she feared for her own safety. At the time, there was great animosity between the Moabites and the Israelites. This is evidenced later in chapter two when Ruth happened to go into a field owned by Boaz. It seems that everyone in the field knew who Ruth was, because when Boaz asked about her, the foremen answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.” Boaz then pulled Ruth aside and told her, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”” (Ruth 2:8–9).
Not only did Ruth run the risk of being ostracized as an outsider, but she risked much more because she was a Moabite. To ensure her safety, Boaz made sure she was looked after and protected. Understanding the risks of which Ruth willingly subjected herself by staying with Naomi, helps us understand the significance of what she swore to her mother-in-law. Ruth risked a lifetime of being ostracized, mistreated, a lifetime without any hope of having child, and the very real danger of a violent death.
Besides the fact that Ruth loved her mother-in-law deeply, we learn in chapter 3 that Boaz recognized her as a “worthy woman.” The word “worthy” means valor; in other words, Ruth was a woman of valor, whose love for Naomi caused her to forsake all that she had in order serve Naomi. The same word Boaz used to describe Ruth, is used to describe him in the beginning of chapter two: “Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.”
Boaz Was a Kinsmen Redeemer
Boaz is the third important character in the story of Ruth. He was the only one qualified to serve as Naomi’s kinsmen redeemer. The three qualifications of every kinsman-redeemer were the following:
- He had to be a family member.
- He had have the ability to redeem.
- He had to be willing to be a redeemer.
A kinsman-redeemer served for a number of purposes:
- He could reacquire property lost by family members who had lost it do to difficult times like a famine or a great debt (Lev. 25:25-30).
- He could also serve to redeem relatives who sold themselves into slavery due to severe poverty (Lev. 25:47-55).
- He could serve to avenge relatives who had died at the hands of another (Num. 35:12, 19-27; Deut. 19:6, 12; Josh. 20:2-9).
- A kinsmen-redeemer could serve to alleviate wrongs that relatives might not be able to accomplish for themselves.
Naomi lost everything when her husband and two sons died, and was in grave danger of living a life in poverty, slavery, or worse. The only person she had left was Ruth, and Ruth did not meet the qualifications of a kinsmen redeemer. However, Ruth was in the field that day gathering scraps, or gleaning, so that she and her mother-in-law didn’t starve to death. Gleaning was something the Old Testament Law allowed for the poor. Leviticus 19:9-10, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.”
We get a glimpse into Boaz’s heart when we hear his words to Ruth after he called her over to talk wither while she was gleaning from his field: “Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn’” (Ruth 2:8–9). After Ruth heard this, she fell down on her face and asked why Boaz showed so much kindness towards her; his reply serves as a pivot point in the story:
But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (2:11-13)
Boaz saw that Ruth was a woman of valor through her actions. He also saw that Ruth developed a love for the God of Naomi by seeking refuge in Him. As we will see in a moment, Boaz also saw a woman he could share a marriage with. In fact, they eventually did get married between the two in chapter 3.
After Naomi discovered how Boaz treated Ruth, she encouraged her daughter-in-law to do something that sounds presumptuous and immoral. She encouraged her to get cleaned and prettied up for the purpose of laying at Boaz’s feet only after he had finished eating and drinking. We are not told what Naomi’s motives were, and if it were not for Ruth 3:6-13 we could only assume that Naomi’s motives were only selfish. Any ordinary man may have taken advantage of Ruth, but not Boaz:
So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. (Ruth 3:6–11)
Earlier, Boaz recognized Ruth for seeking refuge in the God of Israel… something that we should assume Boaz admired and found attractive. Because Boaz was qualified to be a kinsmen-redeemer, Ruth sought refuge under the loving care of Boaz; this is why when Boaz found her at his feet, she responded, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Boaz, as a Kinsmen-redeemer was able and willing to fulfill such a role for Ruth.
Boaz took Ruth as his wife, which restored all that Naomi had lost and rewarded Ruth with both a man of great integrity and godliness, but also a child: “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son” (4:13).
So the story concludes with something much more than Naomi could have ever dreamed:
Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:14–17)
This leaves us with the fourth and final character in Ruth.
God Restores All that Is Lost
The story of Ruth is really a story about a God who restores and redeems. What Naomi saw as loss, God was planning for her gain. God caused the famine that led to Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons to move into Moab. God caused the death of Naomi’s husband and two sons. It was also God who moved through history like the dark sin of Lot’s oldest daughter who got her father drunk and then raped him—to arrange the marriage of Ruth (a Moabite) to Naomi’s son so that Ruth would become her daughter-in-law. God also moved through history by sparing the life of a Jericho, and brothel owner, by the name of Rahab so that she would eventually marry into the Hebrew tribe of Judah; she and her husband had a baby they named Boaz whose birth served to provide Naomi with a kinsmen-redeemer.
Boaz was not only Naomi’s kinsmen redeemer, he was a picture of one who would come through Boaz and Ruth’s bloodline. Jesus Christ is our kinsmen redeemer! “How so?” you ask. When Adam and Eve bit into the forbidden fruit, creation was cursed and mankind was lost. The glory of Eden was lost and Adam and Eve, like the rest of mankind, were removed from God’s presence.
The only way to restore what was lost in Eden, was for another Adam to be born who was related to the family, had the ability to redeem what was lost, and was willing to redeem it. Ruth and Boaz had a son, whom they named Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. Many generations after David was born, Jesus was born to Mary although she remained a virgin until after the birth of her firstborn son, which qualified Jesus to be the kinsmen redeemer for mankind. How was Jesus qualified to be a kinsmen redeemer?
- Jesus had to be a family member of humanity, and he was based on all those who were included in his bloodline.
- Jesus had to have the ability to redeem, which he had because of the virgin birth that allowed him to be both fully God and fully man. This dichotomy qualified him as having the ability to redeem creation.
- Jesus had to be willing to be our kinsmen redeemer. Jesus’ willingness to be our kinsmen redeemer led him to a cross where he became a curse and our sin for us.
Jesus didn’t stay dead; he arose on the third day! The Kinsmen Redeemer lived the perfect life we could not live, and he died as our curse and our sin although he was perfect! On the third day, Jesus defeated death! Now, all of heaven rejoices that the Kinsmen Redeemer who was slain, now stands on behalf of the likes of us:
And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.’” (Revelation 5:9–10, ESV)
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