Even though history shows us that the era of the judges was a time of insidious rebellion, God also records for us examples of personal overcoming and righteousness. The history of Ruth is one such chronicle.
Ruth’s story is an integral part of King David’s history. She left her homeland and became a vibrant member of the nation of Judah. Ruth’s conversion and wonderful example of loyalty and obedience qualified her to become a mother of royalty (Matthew 1:5).
Ruth became David’s great-grandmother. Even more, her sterling character qualified her to share in the royal lineage of Jesus Christ. We must understand the vital lesson of Ruth’s life. It is phenomenal! God chose her to be part of the royal lineage that will last forever.
Ruth’s life embodies the gospel. She was elevated to royal status. This shows God’s incredible love for all mankind. It is His desire to give all human beings, which choose to follow Him, the royal status of being His own sons and daughters.
Death of Elimelech
“Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons” (Ruth 1:1). Some versions translate verse 1 as “in the days when the judges judged.” Israel’s nationwide sin caused the curse of famine to strike the land, including Judah (Deuteronomy 28:16-17, 50-57). Although Judges records the darkest time in Israel’s history, the book of Ruth shows there remained hope for the nation. God was orchestrating events to shine a bright light in the land. Even at the very beginning of the book, one gets the sense that a new era is about to dawn. We will see that Ruth’s love, loyalty and obedience stand out as a strong witness against the Israelites’ rebellion.
While the book of Judges describes events involving the nation as a whole, the book of Ruth is very specific. It gives us the history of one family. The book shows how the sins of the nation were harming individuals. Elimelech, a man of some wealth, had to move his family to Moab to provide for them. “And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem-judah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there” (Ruth 1:2). Although the Bible doesn’t say specifically, scholars tell us that these events took place some 80 to 100 years before the birth of David. Many scholars place the book at the time of the judge Ibzan. Since Boaz was a man of wealth, some scholars believe that Boaz may have been Ibzan.
Even though Elimelech moved his family to escape hardship, great tragedy befell the family in Moab.
“And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband” (verses 3-5). While in Moab, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi as a widow. The thread of the story shows that his was an untimely death. It is not hard to understand that God may have removed His blessing from the family. No one can escape the penalty of sin (Amos 9:1-5).
Naomi’s Fall to Poverty
Naomi was left to raise her two sons alone. Eventually, the sons married in Moab. The Moabite nation descended from Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Although related to the Israelites, the Moabites were not of the tribes of Israel. They developed into a heathen nation with pagan religious practices.
The much-abbreviated story continues by showing that after some 10 years, the two sons also died untimely deaths (Ruth 1:5). Then there were three widows. Orpah and Ruth were left childless. Without husbands, the women fell into poverty (verse 21). The Bible does not say how long the women suffered in poverty.
Hearing news from Judah, Naomi learned that the famine had subsided in Israel. “Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread” (verse 6). Obviously, the Israelites had turned their hearts back to God and were obeying Him again. Blessings were pouring out on the people. Naomi wanted to escape her own very bitter situation in Moab, so she decided to return to Bethlehem.
Both daughters-in-law wept at the thought of her leaving them. Both pledged their loyalty to Naomi and began the journey back to Bethlehem with her. Naomi encouraged the women to return to their local families and remarry. “And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people” (verses 8-10). Both women pledged their loyalty to Naomi, but she was adamant that they should remain in Moab.
Wherever You Go
The journey would be a difficult one. There would be many unknowns back in Bethlehem. With no husbands, their situation could grow worse. It is likely that Naomi was also unsure of how she and her two daughters-in-law would be received back home.
Naomi insisted, “Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to-night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me” (Ruth 1:11-13). Naomi’s final reason for explaining why the two women should not return with her was the Israelite law concerning the next of kin marrying a childless woman. If they returned to Judah, by law, the women would have to wait until a near kinsman claimed them for wives. Naomi stressed the extreme here. She asked, “Do you both want to wait until I have more sons?”
Naomi’s intense discourse had a great impact on the women. “And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her” (verse 14). Orpah decided to return to her people and customs. If she had been converted, her conversion was obviously shallow. Her name has an interesting meaning. It is a combination of Strong’s numbers 6203 and 6204 and can mean stiffnecked. Orpah decided to take the easy road and remain in Moab.
Ruth Remains With Naomi
However, Ruth would not leave Naomi. The name Ruth is #7327 in Strong’s and can mean friend or close associate. Ruth’s conversion was obviously very deep. She could not be persuaded to return to her homeland. Her own needs and wants did not matter. Naomi tried one last time to have Ruth return with Orpah. “And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law” (Ruth 1:15). However, Ruth desired God’s life more than the comforts and familiarity of home.
Ruth’s response to Naomi is one of the most poetic in the entire Bible. She implored Naomi, “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me” (verses 16-17). Ruth’s loyalty was exemplary. All members of God’s Philadelphia Church must strive to follow this example. We must cling to the truth and traditions taught by Herbert W. Armstrong, just as Ruth clung to Naomi. Orpah typifies today’s Laodiceans. When faced with controversy, they quickly returned to their former ways of life. Like Orpah, today’s Laodiceans have returned to their former ways.
Ruth: Led to Boaz
Ruth not only clung to Naomi spiritually, she desired to help Naomi physically. Ruth worked very hard to see to Naomi’s needs. “And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. And she went, and came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers: and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:1-3). Naomi was much older than Ruth. When they returned to Bethlehem, being without sustenance, Ruth volunteered to go into the field and glean after the reapers had harvested grain. It was a law in Israel that the poor be permitted to glean from the fields (Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 24:21). Gleaning would have been very difficult for Naomi. The scripture is clear here that Ruth’s loyalty and devotion were quickly rewarded. God led her to the fields of Boaz.
Boaz very quickly took notice of the beautiful maiden. He was not only struck with her beauty, he was deeply moved by her quiet and gentle spirit. “Then said Boaz unto his servant that was set over the reapers, Whose damsel is this? And the servant that was set over the reapers answered and said, It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab: And she said, I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued even from the morning until now, that she tarried a little in the house” (Ruth 2:5-7). Boaz’s servant praised Ruth for her diligent effort. She worked very hard to provide for her mother-in-law. Boaz’s respect and affection for Ruth began to grow significantly.
“Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter? Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens: Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn” (verses 8-9). Boaz placed Ruth under his personal protection. She was beautiful and in danger around his young male servants. Boaz, a true Israelite leader, took control and began to provide for Ruth and Naomi’s needs. He told Ruth that she should always glean in his fields. To protect her from harm, he commanded the young men not touch her. He also saw to it that she had access to plenty of water, since working in the fields was hot and difficult work.
With the deepest humility, Ruth expressed deep gratitude toward Boaz. “Then she fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger” (verse 10). Her noble appreciation toward Boaz would be considered a rare thing today. Our selfish way of life has taught us to expect to be taken care of.
Rewarded for Her Character
Why did Boaz reward Ruth as he did? “And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been showed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust” (Ruth 2:11-12). Boaz rewarded Ruth because of her character. He had done some investigation into her life. He learned of her love and devotion to Naomi. He learned that she had left her homeland. Boaz understood that God was working in her life. He recognized that she was worthy of blessings.
Study verses 13-16. Ruth’s constant humility was very impressive to Boaz (verse 13). He was so impressed with Ruth that he wanted to take even better care of her. He made sure that she had plenty of food (verse 14). He also worked out a plan where the young men who harvested the grain, were to allow sheaves of grain to fall in her path (verses 15-16). Boaz ensured that Ruth and Naomi had an ample supply of grain. When Ruth returned home with her day’s work, Naomi recognized that she had been richly and uniquely blessed. Ruth recounted the day’s events for Naomi. She excitedly discussed her contact with Boaz. She spoke of his offer of protection from harm and his willingness to give her food and water while she worked.
Naomi realized that Ruth had encountered her near kinsman. Naomi recognized the possibility that Ruth would not have to remain a widow much longer. “And Naomi said unto her daughter in law, blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. And Naomi said unto her, the man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen” (verse 20). More importantly, Naomi recognized that God was working out a plan for Ruth.
Ruth mentioned to Naomi that Boaz wanted Ruth to only glean from his fields (verse 21). Naomi assured Ruth that she should remain under Boaz’s care. She should not glean in any other’s field. Ruth obeyed Naomi’s suggestion. She continued to glean in Boaz’s fields through the spring harvest (verses 22-23). Ruth’s greatest reward was yet to come.
Marriage to Boaz
Naomi deeply appreciated Ruth’s devotion and loyalty. She desired the best for Ruth. Naomi devised a plan for Ruth to approach Boaz concerning marriage. Her plan displays a beautiful act of love toward her daughter-in-law. “Then Naomi her mother in law said unto her, my daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee? And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley to night in the threshingfloor. Wash thy self therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do. And she said unto her, All that thou sayest unto me I will do” (Ruth 3:1-5). Naomi planned for Ruth to dress in her best and then lay at Boaz’s feet after he had worked hard all day.
Ruth fully understood that she was approaching Boaz for marriage under Israelite law. Her willingness to follow Naomi’s plan shows Ruth’s wonderful ability to submit to those in authority over her (verse 6). As God’s Church, we must be of that same character. How well do we submit to Christ as He leads His ministry?
The romantic story of Ruth continues with Boaz laying down to rest after eating his meal. He had drunk some wine. The scripture relates that his heart was merry. It had been a great harvest. He was winnowing grain all day. He was comforted with the abundance of grain (verse 7). He had actually fallen asleep near a pile of grain.
At midnight, Boaz was startled from his sleep. He became aware of a woman’s presence. He inquired as to why she was there. “And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, Who art thou? And she answered, I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman. And he said, Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter: for thou hast showed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman” (Ruth 3:8-11). Ruth demurely explained why she was there.
Being a widow, she asked him to fulfill his obligation to her as a near kinswoman. Boaz couldn’t have been more impressed with Ruth’s request. She was beautiful and humble. Scholars tell us that Ruth was probably 20 years younger than Boaz. Boaz even mentions the fact that Ruth did not choose one of the young men. Boaz pledged to do all that Ruth asked. We need to realize that he did not do this just because she was young and beautiful. Boaz desired Ruth as his wife because she had the reputation of being a virtuous woman (verse 11). Boaz sent Ruth home early the next morning with her veil full of grain.
Birth of Obed
Study chapter 4 for yourself. It gives the details about how Boaz made it possible for Ruth to marry him. There was a kinsman nearer to Ruth than Boaz. Boaz followed the laws of accessing a kinswoman exactly. He made his relative aware of Ruth’s availability. But that relative could not redeem her. Ruth was free to marry Boaz.
All of the people of Bethlehem were excited about their marriage. “And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, we are witnesses. The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem: And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the Lord shall give thee of this young woman” (Ruth 4:11-12). All of the people prayed for Ruth and Boaz to be richly blessed.
There was great joy over their marriage. These verses show that Ruth was not considered as acquired property. The people understood that she was to have a significant role in building up the nation of Israel. Since she would be married to Boaz, who descended from Pharez, she was to share honor with some great women, like Rachel, Leah and Tamar. All of these women brought to birth and nurtured great leaders in Israel. Realize that Pharez was to share the kingly lineage of Judah with his twin brother, Zarah.
After their marriage, Ruth conceived and gave birth to Obed. “So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son. And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David” (verses 13-17). There was great joy among the women of Bethlehem. They all prayed that the new little boy would be famous in Israel.
The young baby was presented to Naomi. She became a nurse for the boy. Under the rules of kinship, the baby was considered to be like her own grandchild. It was a great day for Naomi. It was also a great day for Ruth. Look at how the women of the village respected her. As Naomi’s daughter in law, she was esteemed to be better than “seven sons.” But the greatest honor bestowed upon Ruth is the fact that she could give birth to a male child in David’s royal lineage. The final verses in Ruth read, “Now these are the generations of Pharez: Pharez begat Hezron, And Hezron begat Ram, and Ram begat Amminadab, And Amminadab begat Nahshon, and Nahshon begat Salmon, And Salmon begat Boaz, and Boaz begat Obed, And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David” (verses 18-22). What an incredible story!
A Pentecost Lesson
The Jews read Ruth annually on the feast of Pentecost. It represents one of the most beautiful love stories in the Bible. Through the person of Boaz, this story wonderfully portrays the prophetic type of Christ’s service and love for His future Bride, the Church. Ruth typifies the pure love, devotion and loyalty the Church must develop for our future Husband, Jesus Christ. Even though this book is one of the smallest books in the Old Testament (written on one scroll), it carries many big lessons for us today. The backdrop of the book is focused on the firstfruit harvest. The deep spiritual meaning of this book cannot be overemphasized. From Ruth’s example, we learn that holy character always produces great blessings.
The history of Ruth is really the story of God’s Church. The book begins with tragedy and hardship, but ends with great joy. The book opens with the sorrow of three widows, but ends with a happy marriage. But it is not just any marriage. Ruth ends with a marriage that produces royalty. When God’s Church marries Jesus Christ, we will do the same as Ruth. As a husband and wife team, Christ and His Bride will produce more royalty. Let’s realize that Ruth’s devotion, love, loyalty and conversion made her a mother of royalty. If we do as Ruth did, we will share in her joy for all eternity.