March 26 Reading: Ruth 1-4 Commentary
“Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
From dark times and depravity in the period of the judges, comes a beautiful love story. It’s the story of a non-Jewish woman named Ruth. We don’t know the exact timeframe for her life but we do know it happened during the timeframe of the judges (Ruth 1:1).
Through a series of events and family tragedies, the widowed Ruth finds herself living in a foreign country with her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi. There was not much hope in those days for any woman who had lost her husband, let alone a foreign one in Jewish land. But God saw Ruth’s love and faithfulness in taking care of Naomi and did not abandon her. The story is a beautiful picture of God providing for someone who had nothing.
Ruth 1 – Naomi’s Story
Ruth 1:1 tells us that at some point during the period of the judges a famine occurred in the land. A man named Elimelech travelled from Bethlehem in Judah to Moab to escape the famine. He took his wife Naomi with him and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion (vv. 1-2).
In time, Elimelech died. But his two sons took Moabite wives. They lived in the land for ten years.
And then tragedy struck again in that Mahlon and Chilion both died. So now, three women in this family remain – Naomi, Orpah and Ruth (v. 5). Hardly an ideal situation for three women to prosper given the cultural norms of the time.
Naomi has had enough of Moab. She decided to return to her home country because the famine was over (v. 6). Her two daughters-in-law want to go with her but Naomi refuses. She encouraged them to return to their own people. The prospects of them finding a husband in Judah were slim (v. 8-9).
Besides that, Noami is too old to have sons who could then grow up and marry these women (vv. 11-13). Naomi is heartbroken about the situation and feels God’s hand is against her. She clearly was bitter at her circumstances (hard to blame her) and thought God was disciplining her for some reason (v. 13).
One daughter-in-law, Orpah, did decide to depart from Naomi. However, “Ruth clung to her [Naomi]” (v. 14). And in one of the most famous Biblical statements of loyalty and love, Ruth tells Noami this:
“Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever 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. The Lord do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
There was no deterring Ruth. So Naomi brought her to Bethlehem.
After ten years away, all the city is excited to see them (v. 19). But Naomi is not in an excited mood. In fact, she rejects any attempt at comfort. She declares to those welcoming her, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
At this moment, Naomi sees no hope. But God is about to provide hope that she never could have expected.
Ruth 2 – Ruth and Boaz Meet
Chapter 2 introduces us to a man named Boaz. There are some key details to note:
- He is wealthy (v. 1).
- He is from the family of Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband (v. 1).
- His occupation is either land owner or farmer (or both) (v. 3).
One day Ruth asks Naomi to go glean grain in the fields (v. 2). This was allowed in the Law of Moses for the poor to glean in the fields (see Lev. 23). Low and behold, whose field should she end up in but that of Boaz (v. 3).
Boaz has never seen her before and asks his workers, “Whose young woman is this?” (v. 5). The servants tell him that she is “the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab” (v. 6).
Boaz decides to talk with Ruth and encourages her to remain in his field to glean. It’s his way of protecting her from men who might want to take advantage of her (vv. 8-9). Ruth is stunned that a stranger would show her kindness and asks him why she has found favor in his eyes (v. 10).
And here is where her kindness to Naomi reaps a reward. Boaz tells her,
“It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before. The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” (vv. 11-12).
Ruth Reports to Naomi
Boaz is extremely kind to Ruth. Not only does he let her glean on the edges of the field, he gives her food to eat (v. 14). Additionally, he let her glean “among the sheaves” [the good part of the crops] and told his servants to purposefully drop grain for her to gather (v. 16).
Needless to say, Ruth returns with a haul of grain (v. 17). Naomi is stunned when Ruth returns with an ephah of barley (about half a bushel, which was more than would be expected for a day’s work). Of course she asks Ruth who took notice of her to bless her with so much food (v. 19).
When Naomi finds out it was Boaz (v. 19), she rejoices. But her joy is not in the man per se. It’s directed at the Lord: “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” (v. 20).
Naomi is hopeful again for two reasons. One reason is that survival looks possible now, as they should have food going forward. But additionally, she sees hope for Ruth. She tells Ruth that Boaz is “a relation of ours, one of our close relatives” (v. 20).
It’s unclear if Ruth knew what that meant. But Naomi knows. And soon she will explain to Ruth what the Mosaic Law says about relatives looking out for widows.
Ruth 3 – The Kinsmen-Redeemer Law
Some time later, Naomi approaches Ruth saying,
“My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.” (vv. 1-4)
What is all this about? Naomi is clearly looking for a husband for Ruth. And she is keenly aware of the laws God established for close relatives to take care of their family. It’s called the kinsmen-redeemer law.
The Kinsmen Redeemer Law
Part of this law comes from Leviticus 25:25-27:
“If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold. Or if the man has no one to redeem it, but he himself becomes able to redeem it, then let him count the years since its sale, and restore the remainder to the man to whom he sold it, that he may return to his possession.”
So this component of redemption was to keep land in the family. But there was another provision in Deuteronomy 25:5-6 which said,
“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.”
So this part of the redeemer law is about child bearing. To not have a child was considered a tragedy for the family. So God provided a way for a close relative to redeem the name of his brother so that the family’s name would continue on.
That is what Naomi is hoping for. Her circumstance clearly fits the parameters for this to happen.
A Marriage Proposal
Ruth does as Naomi instructs her (v. 6). When Boaz fell asleep in the field, Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet and laid down (v. 7).
At midnight, Boaz was startled by something and awoke to find a woman at his feet. When he inquires Ruth said to him, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative” (v. 9).
There is no mistaking what she’s asking. Boaz knows this is a marriage proposal.
What stands out to him is that Ruth has showed him honor by not going after younger men (v. 10). However, there is a catch. Boaz is not the closest relative. There is another who would have the first chance at redeeming her (v. 12).
But Boaz assures her that if that relative does not want to follow through on his obligation, that Boaz would honor her request (v. 13). He tells her to go home in the morning (v. 14) and blesses her with more food (v. 15).
Ruth 4 – Redeeming Ruth
The next morning Boaz appears at the city gate, the place where all business is conducted. When the closer relative comes by, Boaz asks him to sit down (v. 1). He gathers 10 men from the city as witnesses to their conversation (v. 2).
Boaz explains the situation to the man and offers him the first right to buy back the land of Elimelech that Naomi had sold (v. 4). At first the man agrees to buy it back. But then Boaz informs him that when he buys the land, he “must also buy it from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance” (v. 5).
Well, the man wants no part of Ruth. He doesn’t want to take care of Ruth and Naomi as well as his own family. Additionally, he is worried about his own inheritance, not wanting the land he was about to purchase to be an inheritance of Ruth’s future son (v. 6). So he declines the offer and passes it to Boaz to redeem (v. 8).
Boaz agrees to buy the land and redeem Ruth as well to be his wife (vv. 9-10). The people who gathered at the gate said “We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem” (v. 11).
Boaz took Ruth as his wife and she bore him a son named Obed (v. 17). This was not only a tremendous blessing for Ruth, but for Naomi as well. The women of the city recognize God’s blessing in all of this, saying to Naomi:
“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” (vv. 14-15).
God had brought a Moabite woman together with someone from the tribe of Judah. It’s a beautiful story of love and redemption that mirrors the redemption Christ has done for us. And once again, it points to God using people outside the Jewish nation to accomplish his plan.
How is that you might ask? The answer is found in the genealogy that concludes the book of Ruth:
“Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez begot Hezron; Hezron begot Ram, and Ram begot Amminadab; Amminadab begot Nahshon, and Nahshon begot Salmon; Salmon begot Boaz, and Boaz begot Obed; Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David.” (vv. 18-22).
Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David, the greatest king Israel would ever see. And that relationship also puts her in the Messianic line of Christ (see Matthew 1).
Questions to Consider:
Life can deal you a bitter blow. The road ahead may look bleak and lead you into a wilderness for a time. But God will always honor those who honor Him. Trust in Him even in the dark days.
The story of Ruth is a beautiful picture of redemption for a woman out of her pain and suffering. In that way, it mirrors what Jesus Christ did for us, in purchasing our salvation through his death on the cross. Remember your own redemption today. What about it was special?
What other points would you want to know about in our Ruth 1-4 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.