Below is the rough and ready form of my complete notes on the character of Ruth. It comes as it is, but I hope it will serve as inspiration for your own talks or study, and encouragement as you continue your walk with God. Prefer to listen? Check out the recording here.
God has abandoned you. (well, it feels like that anyway).
When I was looking for jobs in my final year of university it sometimes felt a bit like that. Two examples. I applied for a role with Atkins a global engineering consulting firm and I got lost on my way to the assessment centre. I arrived at the location the sat nav said was right only to be presented with a field to my left, a block of housing to my right and some bollard in front of me. I then proceeded to visit 2 other locations before hitching a lift with the internal postman and arriving an hour and a half late. Why God?
Another I applied to PwC one of the big four accounting firms. I arrived on time to this one but only after practically no sleep the night before and getting up at 5 am to catch a train to London from Portsmouth. We had three different exercises on the day and I knew exactly what I needed to do for each. I sat down for the written case study and then proceeded to do exactly what I knew I shouldn’t and write notes on a separate page and spend all my time reading. Needless to say, I knew hadn’t done well I handed in the submission paper with virtually nothing written on it. Why!!!
In life, it can often feel like God has abandoned us. Left us to fend for ourselves and not intervene when we feel he should. Ruth and Naomi are probably feeling the same way.
This was a very difficult time for Israel in history.
The book of Ruth, written in the time of Judges, is the story of a young Moabite women who leaves everything she’s known to come to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law. She spends some time working in the fields to find food for them both and runs into Boaz who shows favour to her and helps keep her safe and collect food. Boaz turns out to be someone who, by law, is eligible to redeem Naomi’s husband’s property and provide her with an heir through Ruth. After agreeing with someone closer inline, he marries Ruth, redeems the land, Naomi, and her family; and shortly after Ruth has a son names Obed providing an heir to carry on the family name.
Today we are starting a new series looking at a number of these women, mentioned in the scriptures during this period of time. Today we launch with Ruth and then in the coming weeks we will look at Naomi (Ruth), Hannah, Samuel’s mother (1 Samuel 1:1 – 2:11), The Shunammite woman who God gave a Son to and then Elisha raised him from the dead (2 Kings 4:8-36) and finally Deborah (Judges 4-5) and ends with the verse “…Then the land had peace forty years.”
When a women was in charge it only took her two chapters to sort things out and then they had peace in the land for 40 years. I think we can certainly learn a thing or two from her!
So today is Ruth, and you may be wondering how relevant her story is to us today. Well Ruth was from the time of the judges, where:
Judges 17:6 – “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
I believe this reflects quite well on the time we live in now. Truth has become subjective and we live in a world increasingly where what is right is determined by what one feels is right. This isn’t what the Bible teaches and as Christians we must stand only on the solid foundation of a God who never changes and whose truth is defined in his Word.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NLT) 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.
On to Ruth, and let’s start with the end in mind. The final verses of Ruth show us that God is working and God has a plan, even though it wasn’t obvious to everyone at the time. By looking at this first, we can work our way back to see how God brings everything together.
If you have your bibles with you, please turn or tap to Ruth 4:21.
Ruth 4:21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
So there you have it. The author of Ruth, believed to be Samuel, was connecting this amazing story of God redeeming people, to the boy, to the man anointed to be king. Some commentators believe this may have been Samuels purpose for writing the book, to prepare the people for David’s Kingship now the time of judges was ending, and God’s spirit had left King Saul.
Now turn in your Bibles to Matthew 1:5
5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
And then we have Matthew, who opens his gospel with, I don’t think I would be far off in saying, the most skipped-over part of the book. He seeks to connect the Messiah, Jesus, back to David and from David back to Abraham. And on our way, we run into our character for today. One of the few women mentioned by name in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Ruth.
Ruth and her faith
Ruth is introduced to us as a Moabite (Ruth 1:4,22). She wasn’t an Israelite like Naomi or her husband.
Who were the Moabites?
The Moabites were descended from Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who worshipped a god named Chemosh, they are named as an enemy of the Israelites in the bible (Judges 3:28) and part of their worship included child sacrifice (2 Kings 3:27).
As a Moabite, Ruth wouldn’t have been welcomed with open arms in Bethlehem. In fact, we know from Ruth 2 that her life was at risk from being in Bethlehem:
Ruth 2:8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”
Naomi had nothing to offer Ruth, family was everything in that culture, you married for family, family supported you it kept you alive. She had no more sons and the place she was going offered nothing but danger to Ruth. Moab offered family, it offered a future and it offered safety Naomi couldn’t.
In Ruth’s story, we see a reflection of our own. For we too were:
Ephesians 2:12 “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers of the covenants of promise, having no hope without God in the world”
We are Gentiles brought into God’s family to share in the promises of his people through our faith in Jesus Christ.
And we see something similar happen with Ruth. Naomi’s example, or the example of her family, has changed her. To quote from one of the most common wedding verses, Ruth 1:16:
Ruth 1:16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Sadly we often stop too early and miss the best bit.
Ruth 1:17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
I want to pull out those last words of Ruth in each verse. 16 “and your God my God”. Elohim is the Hebrew word used here, God the creator, (in the beginning Elohim created). The word was also used for other ‘gods’ or angelic beings or even in reference to human beings. Then in verse 17 she switches “may the LORD (YHWH)…”.
Now this is important, the first is a commitment to the God that Naomi serves, the second is a confession of faith, of relationship with that God.
LORD (Yahweh), the proper name of the one true God; knowledge and use of the name implies personal or covenant relationship; the name pictures God as the one who exists and/or causes existence. (Kohlenberger/Mounce Concise Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament, paragraph 6858.)
Naomi’s friendship that changed Ruth’s life. She introduced her to YHWH. It wasn’t a sermon in church, it wasn’t an amazing worship song. It wasn’t the circumstances she found herself in, because the circumstances were bad. You see, we point people towards what or who we worship, by how we live our lives.
We point people towards what or who we worship, by how we live our lives.
This is my first challenge to you:
Have you transitioned from v.16 to v.17? 16 – someone else’s God or 17 talks of an intimate, personal relationship with God himself.
My second is this, who are you pointing people towards?
Ruth and redemption
The book of Ruth has three redeemers. Centre stage we have Boaz, Ruth’s ‘Kinsman Redeemer’, ‘Go-el’ in the Hebrew, but what exactly does that mean?
Outlined in the law was a provision for land to be returned to families if they had been forced to sell it. It centres around the year of the of jubilee, where at the end of 50 years the land is returned to the original owners. It’s similar to having a lease-hold property now. At the end of the lease period, the property is returned to the owners.
Pre-jubilee, the land can be ransomed or bought back by a Kinsman redeemer. A Kinsman-redeemer was
The closest living male relative who had the duty of preserving the family name and land. – ESV Gospel Transformation Bible
This could take several different forms including buying the land back after a poor relative had been forced to sell it; buying someone back who has been forced to sell themselves into slavery due to bad debt (Lev. 25:25, 47-49), or avenging the death of a family member (Deut. 25:5-10).
Now in Naomi’s case, the land belonging to her husband Elimelech was no longer in the family. The land could only be redeemed by a relative, and the cost of that land had to be paid. The land also needed to be kept in the family, so an heir had to be possible, or the land would again be lost.
So Ruth approaches Boaz. It sounds counter cultural, but this was her right and wouldn’t have been abnormal in this culture. She uncovers his feet and lies across them while he’s asleep. In the middle of the night he stirs and says:
Ruth 3:9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant [cover me with your garment], for you are a redeemer.”
Let’s unpack this use of the phrase “Spread your wings”, which can also be translated as “Cover me with your garment”. Ruth uses it in chapter 3:9, Boaz used it just before in chapter 2:12.
Ruth 2:12 The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
It’s also used by God himself, in reference to Israel.
Ezekiel 16:8 “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine.”
Cover me with your garment, spread your wings over me, marry me, redeem me, give my family a name, an inheritance.
A rather strange situation we find our two characters. I’ve seen some people suggest that something untoward happen at this point, I disagree with that interpretation.
The author tells us that Boaz was “a worthy man” (Ruth 2:1) which speaks to both his character, as well as his wealth (his ability to redeem). He also tells us that Ruth is “a worthy woman” (Ruth 3:10);
Ruth 2:1 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.
Ruth 3:10-11 10 And he said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.
Prov. 31:10 An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.
The text doesn’t tell us anything else happened, and what we know about the characters is that they were righteous and followed the voice of God. I think it’s a stretch to suggest anything else happened.
So that’s a lot about Boaz, in a talk that meant to be about Ruth. But understanding Boaz and his role is key to understanding Ruth and the role that God had for her. For it wasn’t just Boaz who was a redeemer, but Ruth as well.
Ruth’s choice to follow God and to follow Naomi back to Bethlehem, her choice to glean in the field and her obedience to follow Naomi’s advice. She was the means God used to redeem Naomi. Without her Naomi probably would have remained bitter (Ruth 1:20).
You see Ruth made the choice, she gave up safety and security. Her own flesh and blood, and simply life back in Moab to give Naomi a chance, small as it may have been. She then marries Boaz and gives Naomi a son. Restoring the land to her family, bringing in wealth and redeeming her name. That’s why the women say in Ruth 4:15:
Ruth 4:15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him [ref. Obed].”
Seven sons referred to a “perfect family”. Traditional culture says that sons were better than daughters. You just have to look at China and the one child rule that remained in place till November 2013, to see that it’s as much an issue these days.
The United Nations estimates that about 200 million girls are missing from the world due to this rampant genocide. (see: Lifenews)
This was mind blowing. This one daughter is better to you than the perfect family, than seven sons. The bible is breaking down cultural view, cultural values that are still such an issue in our society today.
Ruth and the providence of God
Where was God in all of this? Did God abandon Ruth and Naomi?
We are going to hear a poem by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie was in Dutch Watchmaker during the Nazi oppression of the Jews in WWII. She and her family helped many Jews escape from Nazi oppression and was eventually imprisoned for her actions.
During WWII I’m sure Corrie asked God where he was in all this? I expect Ruth and Naomi were asking the same question at the start of the book and I expect, like me, you ask this quite often in your own walk as well.
Where was God when Naomi’s, Ruth’s and Orpah’s husbands dies? As a widow, Naomi know she has nothing to offer her two children
Ruth 1:11-13 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”
Ruth 1:20 “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”
But God called them back, he called them home:
Ruth 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food.
Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”
God has been plotting for your joy. The book of Ruth is setback after setback, problem after a problem emerges in Naomi’s life but as we progress through the book from Weeping to Working, Waiting till finally, the Wedding. We can see God working through Boaz her kinsman redeemer and through Ruth who redeems Naomi which points us towards another. One more redeemer.
God has been plotting for your joy.
– Timothy Keller
Ruth 4:14-15 15 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
The law of the Kinsman redeemer doesn’t allow for a baby to be a redeemer, but here we have a child, born in Bethlehem who is given the credit for the redeeming role that Ruth and Boaz played. Does that remind you of anything?
Someone who, like Ruth, left his home, his father’s throne above, of his own free accord. He became the ultimate ‘alien’. Then like Boaz, he not only paid your debt but he reaches out and unites with you so that all his wealth becomes yours.
That of Jesus himself.
O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
O little town of Bethlehem, Sarah McLachlan=
And just as Boaz did for Ruth, God agrees to redeem us. To pay the price of our redemption, in His death on the cross. He gives us his family name – we are children of God part of the family of God, and we received and partake in the inheritance that is on offer to all God’s children.
He knows, He loves, He cares;
Nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those
Who leave the choice to Him.
Corrie ten Boom
Are you willing to be used by God like Ruth was? To put your trust in him, to turn down what easy, what’s comfortable and step out into something else?
Four years ago, the last place I wanted to be was working in London, the ‘big smog’. But God had other plans, and over the years leading up to that decision, he was working on my heart. To let go of what I wanted. What was easy, what was comfortable, what I thought was right, and let him lead me where he wanted me to go.
Some of you will already know God is leading or has led you to be there and he’s doing or about to do some pretty amazing stuff. I was preaching on a call just before Easter to 30+ Christians who work for IBM across the globe. Our UK group of Christians must have down by 20% since God connected me with it. I was telling my accountability partner just the other day how over the past few weeks I’ve just had conversation after conversation with people at work about my faith and about a God who loves them so much. If I had never let God lead me to London that would never have happened.
So I want to pray for those of you who already sense God is leading and shaping where you at. You might be at the very beginning of Ruth’s story or you might have started seeing the fruit like I have in the last few weeks. But importantly you on the journey.
Finally, I want to pray for the rest of you. That God would speak and either affirm what you’re doing at the moment or reveal the direction he wants you to go.
Everyone fits into one of those categories, so everyone is going to be prayed for, and everyone is going to be praying. I know this might be new to some of you but this is what God asks us to do (James 5:16, 1 Timothy 2:1, Ephesians 6:18).
While crafting my sermons I like to draw from a number of sources, some of which are creditable and rightfully deserve recognition for the hard work that has gone into shaping them. I include a few of those resources below that I used to build on my understanding of the book of Ruth, the context it was written from and to, and finally the meaning it has for us today as Christians.
Concise Hebrew-Aramaic Dictionary of the Old Testament – Kohlenberger/Mounce