The story of Ruth occurs during the time of the judges. This was a time of extreme spiritual depravity and moral decay. And this love story stands in stark contrast to what we have just read in the Book of Judges. There is a glimmer of hope in what was otherwise a bleak time for Israel. No one is certain of the author of this book though many believe it was Samuel. During Ruth's day the Israelites alternated between crying out to God for help during desperate times and living a life void of any indication they even knew the Lord. However, God was at work behind the scenes continuing His work of redemption. Once again, we see that God can and does use anyone who has a grateful and thankful hear, for His purposes. In this case it is Ruth the Moabitess. She is the widow of one of Naomi's sons who returns with Naomi to Bethlehem from Moab. Even though Ruth is a foreigner, God uses her to make an impact not only in Israel but ultimately, she plays a key role in changing the world through Jesus Christ. Ruth, through her marriage to Boaz becomes the great grandmother of king David.
There are some things to watch for as you read this short book. There is a theme of faithful love among God's people. We see Ruth's loyalty to her mother-in-law and the acceptance of Ruth by the residents of Bethlehem. There is Boaz’s kindness to both widows, Ruth and Naomi. God is at work in Naomi though she doesn't see it at first. She left Bethlehem with her husband and two sons. They sought refuge in Moab because of a severe famine. But over the years first Naomi's husband died and then her two sons. She laments she left Bethlehem full but is returning empty. God however has plans! Because of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, and her willingness to embrace the God of Israel, God blesses her with a husband and a son. Through her Naomi is once again filled. Ruth is obedient, not only in providing for her mother-in-law Naomi, but also with regards To Boaz. Uncovering a man’s feet and lying down was a customary, nonverbal means of requesting marriage. It seems rather bold, given that Ruth has no position in society in Bethlehem, but God's hand is at work in all of this. And Boaz is even flattered that Ruth would ask.
In Ruth we see that participation in the family of God is not based on nationality or birth but on faith and obedience to God. In Ruth and Boaz, we see how God's provision comes through the love and faithfulness of His obedient people. And finally, the theme of redemption runs throughout the book. Boaz redeems the land that had belonged to Naomi's husband and sons so that it stays in the family. He marries Ruth which is what the kinsman redeemer is called to do. The first child born to that union would carry on the line of the deceased husband so that his place in the clan would not be lost or forgotten. The son born to Ruth and Boaz would keep Naomi’s family line alive. All these actions are symbolic of Christ's redemption of His bride, the church and of His people.
There are some things that stand out for me in this story of redemption. The first of these is that Naomi was willing to travel back to Bethlehem from Moab by herself. Nowhere do we read she planned to attach herself to a group of people traveling. Traveling in a group was risky business at that time and in that place. For a woman traveling alone it would have been extremely dangerous. As it was Naomi and Ruth traveling alone was treacherous. It took courage and the protection of the Lord. He had plans for both women. Early in the book we come across very familiar words. Ruth is determined to remain with Naomi no matter what and she says exactly that. “Do not ask me to leave you or to turn back from following you for wherever you go I will go. And wherever you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.” These words are an amazing statement of loyalty and love.
They returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. That tells us two things. It is spring, April or May. And because there is grain to harvest, the famine that drove Naomi and her family to Moab, is over. One of the first people Ruth meets is Boaz. He is a wealthy, prominent, and well-respected man of Bethlehem. It is in his field Ruth is gleaning. To glean meant people went into the fields after the harvesters and collected the leftover grain. Jewish law dictated the edges of the field were to be left so that the poor, orphans, widows, and travelers would have something to eat. They were also required to go over the field once so anything the Harvesters missed was fair game as well. This is how Ruth and Naomi would survive since there were no men to provide for them. Ruth’s reputation preceded her, and Boaz is impressed with her loyalty to Naomi, her hard work, and her humbleness. You can almost see the light of Christ shine in her even though she would not know of Him. In return, Boaz is kind to Naomi through Ruth.
Threshing floors were in public places. They were hard, smooth, open places prepared either on rock or hard clay, carefully chosen for exposure to the winds that would come up in the late afternoon and early evening. Usually that meant the east side of a town or village. Sheaves of grain were taken to the threshing floor where they were spread out so that animals could tromp on them and loosen the heads of the grain from the stalks. From there winnowing forks were used to toss the grain into the air. The breeze would carry the chaff and stalks away and the heads of grain would then fall to the ground. It would be sifted, any foreign matter would be tossed away, and the grain bagged. Often landowners slept at or near the threshing floor so no one would steal their grain. This is what Boaz was doing. It was also not uncommon to eat there and celebrate as the harvest was being brought in. This is where we see the kinsman redeemer begin to work.
Kinsman redeemers played a big role in Israel. Family lands could not be sold permanently out of a family's possession. A destitute relative could sell inheritance land to pay off debts, but people without land were usually reduced to servitude. It was the role of the kinsman redeemer then to redeem the land and the family members by paying off the outstanding debts. The second role of the kinsman redeemer concerned levitate marriage. If a man died and left no heir, a surviving brother was obligated to redeem, I.e. marry, the widow and raise up an heir for the deceased. This involved both a financial and emotional commitment many were not willing to take on. The kinsman redeemer could seek legal action that would exempt him from the obligation but that was considered a dereliction of duty. While the first two duties of a kinsman redeemer might seem to be more than enough there was also a dark side to this role. We have read about the avenger of blood earlier. That is also the role of a kinsman redeemer.
By going to the threshing floor and uncovering Boaz’s feet, Ruth is asking to be redeemed. Boaz is honored to be asked but cautions he is not the first in line. There is another who is a closer relative. We see the challenge of being a kinsman redeemer here when Boaz meets with this man. The transaction happens at the city gate. The city gate was an important place in a city or town. Legal transactions happened there, kings held public audiences there, and prophets often chose that spot to share the message God had given them. The first in line redeemer was willing to redeem the land but he was not willing to marry Ruth and produce an heir. He relinquished his rights and took off one sandal and gave it to Boaz, a sign that Boaz was free to be the redeemer. The giving of a sandal was akin to handing over the keys or signing a document.
Throughout the Book of Ruth, we have seen God's hand at work. Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz were living their lives, going about their business. But God had plans. Big plans! Plans that would affect the lives of millions of people eventually. We may not always expect what happens in our lives, but they are what the Lord has for us. Listen to the words of Jeremiah the prophet: “For I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It was true for Ruth, for Naomi, and even for Boaz. And it is true for us today.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W