The Book of Ruth (By Lynne McCarthy)
Text: Ruth 1-4 (Ps 77)
Observe We begin with a short family history. Naomi and Elimelech of Bethlehem flee to Moab with their two sons during a terrible famine in Judah. The sons marry Ruth and Orpah, Moabites. The three men die, making the three women widows. Naomi begs her daughters-in-law to return to their homes, which Orpah does, but Ruth compassionately stays with her.
The two return to Judah. Naomi is bitter in her losses, but Ruth provides a gentle foil. She humbly gathers grain in the fields of Boaz, a relative, and a ‘kinsman-redeemer’ (Lev. 25:47-54). (Here is a glimpse into the culture -- if a man in the family dies leaving a wife (and children), the nearest male kin must marry the widow, claim his property and carry on her husband’s line, thus ‘redeeming’.) Naomi advises Ruth to stay in his field. Boaz, hearing of her kindness to Naomi, is moved; he invites her to glean only in his area, warning his workers to do her no harm. She provides for the two of them from his generosity.
Naomi, seeing in him Ruth’s (and her) future security, advises Ruth to seek him out at the threshing floor. Boaz, seeing her integrity and humility, will indeed be her redeemer. But there is another relative who takes precedence. Boaz visits him, and in the exchange learns the man is willing to buy Naomi’s property in Moab but will not claim Ruth as his wife (as part of the property). This clears the way for Boaz to redeem and marry her.
Ruth bears a son named Obed, bringing joy to Naomi whose life is restored. In the short genealogy at the end of the book, Ruth is the grandmother of Jesse and the great-grandmother of David. Such is the remarkable way God redeems.
Interpret This short, significant book in the Hebrew Bible is in Ketuv’im - “the Writings”. The Book of Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges, a bleak period of the history of God’s people, as we learned. The unfolding of the story is a gentle contrast to the lawlessness, violence and warfare of the scriptural record, speaking redemption and restoration.
Naomi’s sons broke the law in marrying women of Moab, Israel’s enemy (Deut 7:1-4). Yet the ‘enemy’, Ruth, remains with Naomi, accepting a new life, God, and people. God’s provision and care for the poor was fixed in the law of gleanings (Lev.19:9-10) which Boaz was careful to follow. A kind, honourable, older man (as in his remarks to Ruth about choosing him), Boaz confirms his status as kinsman-redeemer before marrying her. Ruth exhibits obedient, gentle humility, compassion, and family loyalty. She is one of the few women named in Jesus’ lineage.
Ruth’s story is a connector between the grim darkness in Judges and the often-equal grimness in Samuel and Kings. Her lineage offers hope, for King David is a descendant; further along in the entire story comes the King of all kings: Jesus -- Saviour, Redeemer, Hope.
Apply While God’s name is rarely spoken, (“…your God is my God”) His presence is throughout in His tender love for the poor and destitute, His desire to rescue and redeem, His justice. A descendant of Ruth and Boaz will ultimately rescue and redeem His creation, humbly giving His life for ours. We marvel at God’s placing people where they belong, His perfect timing, His redemptive work in the worst of times and circumstances, rising above culture.
Then, how do we apply ancient norms? As we look at our daily lives, we notice, often retrospectively, how God walked with us in our no-good horrible terrible times in Jesus our brother, our kinsman-redeemer. God reveals Himself in loving us, protecting and keeping us close to Him. His pure love is shown to us in the giving of His Son to redeem the world and deliver us from evil. Ruth is a window to God’s redemptive movements that run through the Hebrew Bible and beyond.
Ask Loyalty, courage, integrity, gentleness, obedience -- do I see these in my daily life? Where do my loyalties lie? How do I express love for others, especially ‘outsiders’, in deed and truth? How do I regard the poor and marginalized?
Prayer Father God, out of your great love You sent Jesus as Redeemer to bring new life, hope and joy in the midst of bleakness and sadness, setting my life aright. I say, “Where You have me go, I will go. What You have me do, I will do.” You are my Lord and my God in whom I trust.
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In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.