Ruth lived during the time of the Judges of Israel (Ruth 1:1). This was an unusually turbulent time with much war and bloodshed and ungodliness (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Yet the endearing story of Ruth stands out like an oasis of peace and calm in the midst of this desert of chaos. She stands out particularly for her great, abiding love, her strength of character and her humble virtue (Ruth 3:11). She was not a queen like Esther, nor a prophetess like Deborah, nor even a Jewess, and yet she possessed several characteristics which guarantees her place in the history of Salvation.
There were several periods of famine and want in these times, occasioned by either natural causes or by oppression (e.g., 6:1-6). Perhaps the story of Ruth falls into one of these periods when Israel had sinned and God had sent the famine as a warning (Deut. 11:13-17). In any event, it was during one of these periods when Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, fled to Moab to find food, presumably until the famine was over. While there, Naomi meets with the tragic death of her husband, followed by the untimely death of her two sons Mahlon and Chilion, who had both married Moabite women. The circumstances surrounding the marriages is unknown, but the family’s sojourn turned into a ten years’ stay (1:4).
Ruth and Naomi
The Moabites were descendants of Lot (Gen. 19:37). Since Lot was the nephew of Abraham, the Moabites were distant relatives of the Jews. Because of this connection to Lot, the Lord would not suffer Israel to distress them nor would He give their land as a possession to Israel because He had given it unto the children of Lot (Deut. 2:9). However, while they were from the same stock they were still very different. The Moabites are referred to in scripture as the people of Chemosh (Num. 21:29). The Moabites also, under Balak, attempted to curse Israel through Balaam and succeeded in causing Israel to sin at Baalpeor (Num. 25:1-3).
It seems somewhat strange, then, that Elimelech would seek refuge in the land of Moab. If the famine that hit the land was due to an enemy, perhaps they did not attack Moab and this was where the food was. Nevertheless it would appear that this Moabitess named Ruth had not only been a good wife to Mahlon (Ruth 4:10), but equally a good daughter-in-law to Naomi. Ruth, in spite of all the odds against her, was willing to accompany Naomi to her homeland, leaving her own people and culture and gods (Ruth 1:16). Back in Bethlehem, Ruth willingly worked with her hands to provide for and take care of her mother-in law Naomi and herself (Ruth 2:2,7). Her care for Naomi was known among the people for Boaz tells her that he has been made aware of all she had done for Naomi (2:11). Ruth’s love for Naomi was obvious, palpable and enduring.
Ruth and Boaz
Boaz was of the family of Elimelech and so was a kinsman to Naomi (Ruth 2:1-3). He was a successful man, described as a “mighty man of wealth” who had fields which his many servants worked (Ruth 2:1). Clarke mentions that some identify Boaz as one of the Judges of Israel, though this is never stated and is not suggested by any obvious fact. He was, however, a God fearing man for his greeting indicated his faith (Ruth 2:4) and his speech revealed a trust in Jehovah (e.g., Ruth 2:12). Not only did Boaz love the Lord, but he treated his workers fairly and with dignity. Boaz also followed the law for while he was a kinsman, he recognized that there was another kinsman nearer than he who would have first opportunity to perform the service (Ruth 3:12; Deut. 25:5-10).
Boaz noticed Ruth immediately (2:5). He was particularly kind to her, especially upon learning that she came back with Naomi, with whom he was related (2:6). He blessed her by allowing her to stay close to his workers and permitting her to gather whatever they left behind. He instructed his men to leave some behind on purpose (Ruth 2:13-18). Ruth’s seemingly unusual and forward method of approaching Boaz suggested that she recognized Boaz’s affection for her but saw that he was timid about making his own feelings known explicitly. The delicacy yet innocence of the situation permits us to surmise that the feelings each felt for the other were always just below the surface. That Boaz immediately accepted Ruth’s request further strengthens the notion that he was of a willing mind, if only the legal obstacles of another kinsman redeemer were removed (Ruth 3:11,12).
Ruth and Christ
The story of Ruth is beautiful in its own right and yet there is a deeper, more powerful purpose found therein. After Ruth and Boaz marry and conceive, Naomi’s companions exclaim: “Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman…and he shall be unto thee a restorer of life…” (4:14,15). The word “kinsman” is translated from the Hebrew word goel which means to redeem and implies to be next of kin. Under the Law of Moses, it was the duty of the nearest relative to redeem (goel) land that was an individual’s inheritance, if the individual could not do so himself (Lev. 25:25-28). The kinsman must redeem (goel) one who was sold into slavery (Lev. 25:47-40).
The child born to Ruth and Boaz was Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David (4:17). David’s seed is the Christ (Matt. 1:1,5; Rom. 1:3). Christ is our elder brother (Heb. 2:11; Rom. 8:29; John 20:17). He came to redeem His people (Luke 1:68) from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:13) and from all iniquity (Tit. 2:14) through His own precious blood (Rev. 5:9) that we might receive the adoption of sons (Gal. 4:5). He is the Angel which redeemed Jacob from all evil (Gen. 48:6). He is the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel (Is. 54:5). He is the Redeemer that turns ungodliness away from Jacob (Is. 59:20; Rom. 11:26). Job said long ago, “I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth” (Job 19:25). He is our Near Kinsman Redeemer.
Eric L. Padgett