Ruth. A Love Story.

Key Notes: Dramatis personnae. Three dead men. A woman who loved her mother-in-law. Some breaks for the foreigner. The proposal. An eligible bachelor became the kinsman-redeemer. Ancestors of David.

Ruth is the short story of a woman's life during the time of the Judges. Israel had largely captured Canaan as a homeland and it was ruled by the elders of the twelve tribes. Periodically the nation fell into decay, was conquered by surrounding enemy nations and had to be rescued by divinely appointed judges. Eight cycles of decay and national salvation are recorded in Judges. The end of Judges is a horror-story. Ruth lived in a interim period of peace and spiritual vitality. The year would be around 1080BC, two generations before David unified and stabilized the nation about 1000BC and some 400 years after Moses (1500BC). 

The story can be read easily in 20 minutes, as a skit or stage-play with a narrator.  As an Old Testament story, it is an excellent way to introduce people to Christian ideas.

The time. Barley harvest in June and six weeks following.
The place. Bethlehem, later the home of David, and much later, the birthplace of Christ.
The characters:

Naomi, an Israelite widow in her early 50’s
Orpah and Ruth, her Moabite daughters-in-law, in their late 20’s
Boaz, a wealthy land-owner, bachelor, 40ish
A married man, near-relative of Naomi
Male reapers and harvesters;  female winnowers
Townspeople and gossips

1:1–2 There was a famine in Bethlehem, ironically, “the House of Bread”. Hundreds of years before, Rachel, Jacob’s wife, died birthing Benjamin and was buried here. (Gen.35:16–20). Elimelek, Naomi, Mahlon and Chilion went to Moab east of the Dead Sea to escape the drought.

Moab was named for the son of Lot, gotten by incest. (Gen.19:31–38). Moab became a traditional enemy of Israel after they refused to help Israel cross to freedom from slavery in Egypt. (Deut.23:3–6). No Moabite could enter the assembly of the Lord for ten generations after Moses. (1440BC). Ruth is identified as a woman from Moab repeatedly  (1:22; 2:2, 6, 21; 4:5,10) to impress us with the importance of the stigma, her special foreignness.  It was an invitation to rejection. No doubt ten generations had passed since Moses, and the curse was no longer in effect.

1:3–5 The deaths of Naomi's husband and her two sons are not explained. It was evidently not violent. The names of Naomi’s sons,  Mahlon (“sickly”) and Chilion (“pining” ) suggest that they were not healthy, even as children.

1:6–14 When the famine ended, Naomi resolved to return home. She begged her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab and remarry. Marriage was the only life for a young woman. It was their best opportunity to find rest, and make a home. Both women wanted to return to Israel with Naomi but Orpah finally gave in and returned to Moab. Ruth clung to Naomi. Naomi evidently did not have any desire to bring these women out of idolatry. Perhaps she feared that they would be rejected by Israelites.

1:15–18 Ruth’s intense and moving pledge of faith is quoted to this day in marriage ceremonies. She was devoted not only to Naomi, but to Israel and to God.  She had become a convert, leaving her homeland and the god Molech behind.

1:19–21 Naomi’s return stirred the women of Bethlehem. She had aged ten years. She said “Shaddai” (the Almighty) had afflicted her and brought calamity on her in the death of her husband and sons. She had gone out “pleasant” and come back “bitter”.

Shaddai (Almighty) is the name for God usually compounded with El. "El Shaddai" means God Almighty.  “Shad” is breast in Hebrew. El Shaddai is the God who gives overflowing blessing, especially of family and children.

El Shaddai was revealed to Abram first in Gen.17:1–2 when God promised him a son.
God revealed  the Name again to Jacob:  “I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you.” (Gen.35:11)
Jacob passed it on to Joseph: “…by El Shaddai who will bless you with blessing of heaven above, blessing of the deep that couches beneath, blessing of the breasts and womb.” (Gen.49:25)

So Naomi’s choice of this name for God is ironic and bitter because she came home childless, empty and dry. It was also unconsciously prophetic. The Lord will provide her a family blessing.

1:22–2:7 Ruth wasted no time in sorrow. With Naomi’s permission, she went to glean stray stalks of barley left behind the reapers. She lighted "by chance" on the fields of Boaz. The land-owner, Boaz, came to oversee the work and he and the workers exchanged a blessing. He found that Ruth was a Moabitess who came back with Naomi. The reapers commended her hard work.

2:8–16 Boaz encouraged her to stay with his laborers, drink from their water-jugs, and eat lunch with the crew. He assured her safety among the men. Ruth showed her utter humility as a stranger and foreigner and Boaz gave her a special blessing.
“Under His wings” is a shelter that God makes for His people. (Psa.17:8; 36:7).  Jesus wanted to shelter Jerusalem in this way. “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not.” (Matt.23:37)

Gleaning provided an income for the poor, protected by the law of Moses. They were entitled to the left-overs in grain fields, vineyards and olive groves. (Deut.24:19–22).  The reaper was instructed to leave the corners unharvested (Lev.23:22) and not to return to the fields a second time to get the left-overs. (Lev.19:9). Boaz went further and instructed his men to pull some grain stalks out of the sheaves for her to pick up.

Another right of strangers was to be treated as neighbors.“The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you and you shall love him as yourself. You were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Lev.19:33–34)

2:17–23. Ruth harvested and winnowed about 2/3rds of a bushel of barley that day. She also brought the rest of her lunch to Naomi.  Naomi was excited to hear that Boaz was the man Ruth had become acquainted with.  Three times “the living and the dead” have been mentioned.

“May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” (1:8) Naomi speaks of Orpah and Ruth’s kindness to her and her two sons.
“ Blessed be he by the Lord whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead (2:20). Boaz’ kindness to Ruth and the family is in view.
“ “…that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his inheritance and from the gate of his native place.” (4:10) Boaz is speaking of the responsibility of the next of kin to look after the family of a dead son.

Protecting the family name and inheritance was the basis of the agricultural and land-based economy.  If the family lost land, they automatically became servants or slaves in order to survive. 

Naomi had to sell her land in order to get money. It was the obligation of her next of kin  to buy the property and support her and her family.
“The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourner with Me.”
“ If your brother becomes poor, and sells part of his property, then his next of kin shall come and redeem what his brother has sold. “ “…in the jubilee it shall be released and he shall return to his property.”
Lev.25:23–55 covers this and more of the economics of slavery and property.

3:1–18 Naomi now instructed Ruth to propose marriage to Boaz by a pantomime. It was the end of the harvest and Boaz would be on hand to supervise. Ruth was to bathe, perfume, dress in her best clothes and lie at Boaz’ feet after he fell asleep lying on a pile of grain.  At midnight he woke up and she identified herself.  He was flattered by her attentions and promised to carry out his duty as the next of kin. She left the threshing floor before dawn with a gift of six measures of barley. Naomi was satisfied that her scheme was working.

4:1–21 As she predicted, Boaz went promptly to resolve the issues. He gathered ten men at the gate of the town, where official and commercial business was done. They acted as a kind of jury, overseeing and witnessing legal transactions. Boaz caught the closest of kin to Naomi and offered him the property. The man refused when he realized that marriage was involved and forfeited his rights to Naomi’s land. He and Boaz exchanged a shoe in token that Boaz would win the property, claiming Ruth in the bargain.

Ruth was legally right in her proposal of marriage. It was the obligation of the brother of the deceased to marry a childless widow and the right of the widow to claim a husband.  It is called “Levirate marriage”.
“If brothers dwell together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead shall not be married outside the family to a stranger; her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her, and the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his brother who is dead, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deut.25:5–10)

If he refused, his brother’s wife could take him to the gate to the elders and denounce him. If confirmed that he would not do his duty she was to pull a sandal off his foot and spit in his face to shame him.
This law preceded the law of Moses and is the basis of the story of Judah and Perez.  Judah was seduced by his daughter-in-law after he failed to offer her his youngest son as a husband. Gen.38

The birth of Obed was attended by a blessing to Naomi and the prayer that her grand-son would be renowned.

Imagine a mother-in-law and her daughter-in-law working together in loving harmony?
Imagine a Moabite widow being treated with courtesy and honor in a forbidding foreign country?
Imagine Israel in a period of political anarchy enjoying love, peace and friendship?
We tend to think of Israel only in terms of its woes and rebellions, but God was at work in the lives of people then, as He is now. We have a view of an almost idyllic spiritual community where the workers and the owner greet each other with the Lord’s blessing. It was a time of spiritual vitality. May God do so with us.

Boaz teaches us the concept of the Kinsman Redeemer--an extension of Levirate marriage. It was the obligation of a close relative to buy back lost property, redeem members of the family who were threatened with servitude and restore the family name. (Lv.25:47-) He must marry the widow and give her sons to care for her in her old age. But in this case, it is not mere obligation but love that motivated the transaction. Boaz is a picture of Christ, who came into the world to redeem humanity. He loved the World. He took our poverty and gave us His wealth. He gave His life that we might be freed from slavery to sin. The word “must” is used in Luke ten times with respect to Christ's sacrifice. He was under obligation to free us. He was the only One who could.

Here the kinsman redeemer is the great-grandfather of David, the King, the progenitor of the King of Kings. Boaz had no idea what his act of love and charity would accomplish. If you had asked him then, he would have shrugged and said he was attracted to a perfectly wonderful woman and married her.  God works so in our lives, doing things through us that we may never understand, and may not even know about.