This essay is a follow up to the Extraordinary Women of the Bible study. We recommend first completing your lesson and discussing it with your group before reading this post.
Who will you follow?
By: Cheri Haby
Ruth’s most famous passage is often quoted at weddings. “Whither thou goest, I will go, where thou lodgest I will lodge, thy people will be my people and thy God, my God.” A bride, speaking to her groom, makes a solemn, heartfelt vow. But Ruth spoke those words to her mother-in-law, not her husband.
During the time of the Judges, there was a man named Elimelech who was a descendant of Judah. He lived in Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. When famine came to Bethlehem, they traveled to Moab to wait it out. Moabites were detested by the people of Judah, as they worshiped pagan gods. Despite this, Elimelech chose to travel to Moab and then died. Mahlon and Kilion grew up and married Moabite women named Ruth and Orpah. It wasn’t specifically forbidden for God’s people to marry Moabites but it was clearly not the best idea for Mahlon and Kilion. And before either couple could have children, both sons died. Naomi was left with no means of support, no home, no prospects and two pagan daughters-in-law. Ruth was in a similar situation.
But Ruth’s story, while one of tragic circumstances, is a story filled with incredible, transformative love.
Ruth grew up in a spiritually corrupt society. Moabite worship was a sexually perverted and dark religion. But when given the opportunity to marry a man that is different, a man whose family and culture is opposite of hers, a man whose family worships the one, true God, Ruth takes it. She is drawn to this family who loves the Lord God. While life was difficult for Naomi, she must have shown Ruth that love; a love that transformed Ruth’s world. So, when Naomi was leaving to go back home, Ruth chose to go with Naomi instead of returning to her own family and culture. Back in Bethlehem, Ruth and Naomi are destitute. However, in Jewish law, God provided a way for widows and orphans to survive by allowing them to glean grain from other’s fields. Following behind the harvesters, they were allowed to pick up the remnants that were left behind. Stooping over all day long and picking up kernels of grain was difficult, back-breaking labor. Even so, Ruth volunteered to glean and provide for the two of them. She was humble and grateful. She acted sacrificially. Naomi expressed her bitterness while Ruth transformed Naomi’s world with her love and devotion. Ruth chose to do the difficult thing: humbling herself to do what is needed, serving another instead of waiting to be served. So, she went to glean.
Ruth depended on God to lead her, as she said “…let me go and glean ‘behind anyone in whose eyes I may find favor’”. She expected God to direct her to the right field. The next verse reads, “As it turned out…she was working in a field belonging to Boaz; a relative of Elimilech.” God led her to the man He would use to save Ruth and Naomi from their poverty. God guided Ruth to the place where He would provide. While Ruth worked diligently, Boaz noticed her. He noticed her hard work and her humility. He had heard of her willingness to serve her mother-in-law and her devotion to God. In response, Boaz insisted that she not go anywhere else to glean. He instructed his harvesters to make sure she had extra grain to glean, that she worked with his servant girls which provided protection and fellowship, and that she was treated with the utmost respect and honor. Boaz was a man of honor and integrity. He was a man of God who treated his workers with respect and generosity. He was filled with God’s love and he expressed that love to a young woman in need of provision and protection.
When Ruth returned home to Naomi with plenty of provisions, Naomi remembered that Boaz was a close relative. He was one who could purchase Elimilech’s land back and provide a home for Ruth. She told Ruth of her plan and at the end of the harvesting season, Ruth did as Naomi instructed. Ruth dressed up and went to the feast of the harvest, waited until the party was over, watched for Boaz to lay down to sleep, and then laid at his feet and covered herself with his cloak. While this sounds odd to us, it is actually a request that Boaz put God’s law into action.
Mosaic law prevented women from inheriting land. So, when Elimilech, Mahlon and Kilion died, there was no way for Naomi or Ruth to keep the family estate. So, God instructed a brother or close relative to marry a widow and the first-born son of that marriage would keep the name and estate of the husband who had died. He was called the kinsman redeemer and those instructions are found in Deuteronomy 25:5-6. Many scholars believe that Elimilech sold his land during the famine. But the law also provided the opportunity for the kinsman redeemer to purchase it back from the current owner (Leviticus 25:23-28). This would reinstate the estate of Elimilech and provide for his family line to continue.
Boaz knew these laws well. And when he awoke to find Ruth at his feet, he knew exactly what she was requesting. He knew that she was trusting in God’s plan to provide for Naomi and herself. He knew that she wasn’t chasing after someone younger or richer. He knew that she was being obedient to her mother-in-law. He knew that she was a woman of noble character and integrity.
Once again, Ruth’s world would be transformed by love. Boaz was willing and determined to be her kinsman-redeemer. He went to great lengths to follow the law. He was careful to protect her reputation. He blessed her abundantly with grain to take back to Naomi. It cost him money to purchase the land. He risked his own family’s estate by agreeing to redeem Ruth and Elimilech’s family line with his first-born son. Again, Boaz’s integrity, his belief in God and His law, his willingness to step up to do what was right, and his determination to protect and provide for both Ruth and Naomi exhibited his love for Ruth.
But perhaps the greatest example of love in this story comes at the end. Boaz married Ruth and had a son, named Obed. Naomi and Ruth’s circumstances have changed. They have a secure home, plenty to eat and a position of respect in the community. God took Ruth and Naomi’s sorrow and emptiness and turned it into joy and fullness. The last few verses in the book of Ruth show us the importance of her story. They tell us that Obed is an ancestor of David, the future King of Israel. And that Jesus Christ is a descendant of David. Ruth is only one of two Gentile women who are listed in the genealogy from Abraham to Jesus. This tells us of her importance in God’s story. Jesus Christ is our true kinsman redeemer. It is His love that purchased us from sin, redeemed our life from death and gave us eternal life with Him. It is Jesus’ love that has transformed our world.
Ruth’s story is a beautiful one. God gave us a wonderful example of how His love can make a difference in our lives and the world of those around us. But it’s not just a good story. All of God’s Word is designed to change our life. So, how can God’s love change your world today?