The Story of Ruth

“Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” —Romans 15:4

THE story of Ruth is laid in the time of the judges, before there was any ruler in Israel except Jehovah their God to enforce good behavior. Each man did what was right in his own eyes. This condition lasted for four hundred and fifty years. The Israelites, during that period, were perhaps the freest people the world has ever known, except when, from time to time, they were captive to other nations.

There was a famine in the land. God’s covenant with them was that if they obeyed he would bless them in basket and store, in bountiful crops and rain, and in freedom from their enemies. But, if they disobeyed, then lack of rain and famine would be their portion, and they would become slaves to their enemies. So this famine was a chastisement. It was evidently very severe since it reached even the well-watered region around Bethlehem, whose very name means ‘house of bread’. The ancient name given to the region was Ephratah, meaning ‘bearing’, or ‘fruitful’.

A certain man, named Elimelech (meaning ‘God is king’), went with his wife and two sons to sojourn in the land of Moab. The name of his wife was Naomi, with the significance of ‘lovely’, ‘pleasant’. One son’s name was Mahlon, the other, Chilion. God did not bless this move to Moab. The father feared he could not live in Bethlehem, and hardly had he arrived in Moab when he died. He had refused God’s instruction, by his leaving. Instead of crying out to God and trusting him in Bethlehem, they went to a land of idol worship. Seeking to avoid one affliction, they fell into a worse one; they escaped famine, but death overtook them in a foreign land.

Mahlon and Chilion did not go home, but proceeded, in violation of their covenant Law, to marry heathen wives. (Deut. 7:3) Now Naomi had no property, no husband, and soon after both sons died. Her happiness had turned to sorrow and bereavement; she stood alone in a foreign land. What should she do now?

Hearing that God had visited his people and the famine was ended, and because her heart had never been fully in sympathy with their going, Naomi again turned her face and heart toward her native land. She felt that her two daughters-in-law would be sacrificing too much to leave their kindred and friends to go with her to a strange land, sharing her poverty, so she urged them to return to their mother’s house. But they wept and told her that they loved her too much to desert her in her hour of need. They insisted they would go with her and share whatever lot came her way. Naomi replied, “Jehovah grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Jehovah deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.” (Ruth 1:8,9) They answered, “Surely we will return with thee to thy people.” This is indeed a scene of unparalleled love and tenderness. What has produced such love?

During the ten years of married life these two girls had entered an Israelitish family, and breathed a good atmosphere. Marriage and home life are the real mirror of religion and worship. Israel had distinguished itself, not merely by the name of its God, but by its life at home, and in the family by faithfulness and love to wife and child. These two girls were gratefully attracted to the home life of Israel. They requited the kind and tender treatment they had received with self-sacrificing love. They not only had heard the religion of Jehovah confessed in the land of Moab, they had seen it lived at home.

Now, gently and delicately, Naomi told them they could not hope for a husband and home in Israel, for what her sons had done in marrying foreign wives was against the Law and custom of Israel. In Moab, no doubt, the youthful widow would marry again, and find protection, safety, and honor in the home of her new husband. This was Naomi’s generous wish—“Jehovah grant you that you may find rest, … in the home of her [a] husband” in your own land. The word here translated rest has great beauty in its meaning. It has the thought of a permanent home, a hearth-home of love and understanding, rest of heart and mind.

Though she had deep love for Naomi, Orpha’s, Ruth’s sister, natural desire for a home was stronger, and she saw there was no hope of a husband or home in Israel. She counted the cost and felt it was too much. She was like many in the Gospel Age who delight in the Gospel message and love righteousness, but count the cost of becoming one of God’s people now, by consecration, too much, and so turn back. We wonder if in after years Orpha may have thought of Ruth and Naomi, or if she heard of Ruth’s good fortune, and that God had blessed Ruth’s choice.

But Ruth’s love was deeper. Naomi’s character, her loving, sunny, self-sacrificing disposition had won a similar love and gratitude in Ruth. Naomi had made Israel and Israel’s God lovely in the eyes of Ruth, so she wished to go to a people who were as amiable as Naomi and her family. A God who had such worshipers must be a lovely God!

Her answer to Naomi is the most beautiful and complete expression of self-sacrificing love found in any language: “Intreat 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: Jehovah do so to me, and more also, if ought by death part thee and me.” So when Naomi saw that Ruth was stedfastly minded to go with her, she protested no more. Ruth had made her decision; she was no longer a Moabite at heart.

Those who follow Jesus, giving up all of their earthly prospects, are very much like Ruth. Such is consecration. To these, however, God is better even than he was to Ruth, far better than we can fully know. It is to these that he says, “Hearken, O daughter, … and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy Father’s house. So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.” (Ps. 45:10) There is a deep lesson here for us.

“So they two went until they came to Bethlehem.” (Ruth 1:19) What a sad home-coming for Naomi! No home, no friends, only poverty; no family but this one daughter-in-law, who was a jewel! Naomi’s resources were exhausted, but God’s patience and lovingkindness were not. Already he had begun to order and arrange for her blessing as she turned toward Israel.

The town was stirred at her coming, and they asked, “Is this Naomi?” She answered, “Call me not Naomi, but call me Mara [bitterness] … for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.” (vss. 20,21) Naomi did not try to shift the blame to someone else, but accepted the weight of it herself. She said, “I went out full, and Jehovah hath brought me home again empty.” Yes, it was Jehovah who brought her back, even though she did not know he was watching over them. O, love that wilt not let me go! His love was drawing her back again into the right way.

God loves us too deeply to let us go astray without warnings and troubles that are intended to turn us back into the right path. The Lord said, “I drew them with cords of a man, with bands of love.” (Hos. 11:4) God in his love used trouble to bring Naomi back to him. So too he often does with the members of his church.

The neighbors did not help them much, but turned back to their own pursuits. Ruth volunteered to glean what she could of the barley grain in the nearby fields, as it was harvest time. It was no easy offer, but a miserable task for one who was formerly prosperous. Possibly she would be treated as a beggar, harshly spoken to, if not actually maltreated by rude reapers. She would have to pass the day in the heat and distress in order, at eventide, weary and hungry, to bring home a little barley. But her love for Naomi gave her courage and strength to make light of this. She did not idle or bemoan her lot, but with a good will did what she could with what she had.

The Lord had made laws in Israel to provide for the poor and the stranger, because the Israelites had once been strangers in the land of Egypt; see Deuteronomy 24:19-22. The corners of the fields, and some of the grain were to be left for the poor and the stranger to glean. So Ruth went forth into the fields, and Jehovah directed her steps, though she did not know it, “and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz” (Ruth 2:3), who was of the kindred of her dead father-in-law, Elimelech.

While she was gleaning, Boaz came from Bethlehem and looked over the harvest field. His greeting to the workers showed a fine, godlike character. He said to the laborers, “Jehovah be with you,” and they answered, “Jehovah bless thee.” (vs. 4) That this was not merely a polite greeting, but a sincere wish, is shown by his later talk with the overseer, who was of the same spirit as his master.

Boaz watched the workers, and noticed that one woman who gleaned industriously was serious, in deep earnestness, quiet and reserved. Her manner showed she was not a common maidservant. He asked the overseer who she was.

Like his master, the overseer knew his workers, the poor and needy also. She, who had so long been mistress herself, had not the manner of one grown bold in beggary. The overseer told Boaz that since morning the woman had not ceased to glean, and had rested but very little in the house. This praise induced Boaz to speak to her, and he asked her to remain gleaning in his field, where she would be safe. He told his reapers not to reproach her, though she was a foreigner. She answered, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?”—vs. 10

Note the manly behavior of Boaz. He did not take advantage of his position to interfere in any way with her right, nor to wound her self-respect by too much liberality. He was careful in his kindness to respect her, even though she was a stranger. He even instructed his binders quietly to drop a handful now and then while binding the sheaves so her gleaning would be more fruitful, and told her to glean closer to the maidens binding the sheaves.

At the noon hour rest, he invited her to eat with the others of the reapers and binders, and even passed her bits of parched corn, and invited her to drink of the sour wine used for refreshing the reapers. Boaz told her he had heard of how much she had done to help Naomi—how she had left her father and mother, and her native land to come to live among a strange people. His next statement is most beautiful. He did not say, “I will help you,” but rather, “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.”—vs. 12

Her sacrifice was too noble and too deep to expect man to give it full value. Jehovah can reach more deeply into the heart and life, and give more complete satisfaction. He wished that a full reward be given her, for she had come to seek shelter and trust under the protective power of the covenant-keeping God, amid a covenant people.

These words of Boaz were perhaps the first sunbeams that had broken through the grief and tears of many weeks. She had lived with the sense of loss of family and home and people. Now she was told about the God of Israel and his grace by an Israelite other than Naomi, and heard the voice of blessing from another of God’s people. Truly, she doubtless thought, this must be a great God and a great people. In gratitude she said, I have long been sad, and “thou hast comforted me.” I look for no reward, but thou hast spoken to the heart of thine handmaid, “though I be not like one of thine handmaidens.”—vs 13

Her answer raised her still higher in the esteem of Boaz. It showed a refined nature. Many people in her place would have said that in truth they were not accustomed to such labor, and then begin complaining. Ruth was unassuming and reserved, and not looking for any favors from others. She had youth and good health, and delighted to do what she could for herself. Boaz showed her kindness, not as a relative, but because of her excellence. A word of kindness coming to a loving heart like hers is like morning dew on a thirsty field!

Ruth went back to gleaning. She did not slack her hand, nor assume airs, nor take things easy, because the master had favored her. She worked diligently till evening, and even stayed over to thresh the grain. She had gleaned about an ephah of barley, which is about three and one-half pecks. She also took home to Naomi some of the food she had saved from dinner.—vs. 18

Naomi realized that Jehovah’s hand must be in all this—that he had guided Ruth to the field of Boaz and taken care of her. Naomi said, “Blessed be he of the Lord [Jehovah], who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead. (vs. 20) It is a kindness to the dead to look after their loved ones. So she advised Ruth to abide in that field throughout the harvest. Ruth reported Boaz’ words, “Thou shalt keep fast by my young men, until they have ended my harvest.” Note how the wise mother-in-law gently corrected that. “It is good … that thou go with his maidens, that they [anyone] meet [fall upon, Margin] thee not in any other field.” (vss. 21,22) Here was safety sent by Jehovah.

When the harvest was over and the heaps of grain were still on the threshing floor, Boaz himself came down to keep watch over them. Naomi said to Ruth, “Shall I not seek rest for thee [a hearth-home and shelter]?” (Ruth 3:1) What was now done was in accord with the laws of the land. See Deuteronomy 25:5-10. It rested on the desire to preserve not only the national spirit, but also the national body. The nation lived in its families, like a tree in its branches. If a man died without children, it was as if a branch withered. To remedy this, a new branch was grafted into the tree by the nearest male relative marrying the widow. Each family must take care that no branch died out. But no one who was not a blood relative could redeem anything for a family.

Does not this tell us why Jesus had to become not only a human being, but a human baby nourished with the blood of Mary, and born and brought up like other human beings, growing up to be a man? He was not to be created a full-grown, perfect human being as Adam was, but to have the blood of Adam in his veins, and, as a kinsman, to redeem the human race. How wonderfully God thus opens up to us more clearly the depths of his purposes, and thus by the study of the Old Testament increases our understanding of the New Testament.

Ruth was to go by night so Boaz could not see her, and after he retired and was asleep she was to gently clear a place at his feet, and draw over herself a corner of the covering without waking him. But, turning in his sleep, his feet came in contact with her, and he awoke with a start. Boaz said, “Who art thou?” She answered, I am “Ruth, thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.” (Ruth 3:9) What did she mean? The Massoretic, or standard Jewish text, defines the words “thy skirt,” to mean ‘thy wings’, that is protection, symbolized by the covering being spread over her. She was appealing to him to do what the Law commanded.

Here again, the innate nobility of Boaz shines out. He was a man of God, an Israelite indeed, not only before men, but before the Lord. He said, “Blessed be thou of Jehovah, my daughter: for thou hast shown more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followedest not the young men, whether rich or poor.”—Ruth 3:10

What did he mean? How was she showing more kindness in this action than when, at the beginning she forsook all to go with Naomi and engage in gleaning work? This was a harder thing for Ruth to do than to glean, for this was more delicate and more dangerous. To claim this right was more painful than the gleaning, for she was exposing herself to possible misunderstanding. But her deep love for Naomi and self-forgetfulness surround this action with a glow of purity.

In order to procure honor and love in Israel for her mother-in-law, and to save the name of her dead husband from extinction in Israel, she did what only a chaste woman, inspired by the obedience of love, dares to do, and what the polluted minds of impure souls can never understand. To a noble mind it is more of a martyrdom to face the possibility of appearing as a sinner than to suffer hardship for the sake of virtue. Naomi must have trusted God very deeply to have advised this step.

Boaz promised to call the matter to the attention of the nearest kinsman, as there was one nearer than himself; and if he would not do his part, then Boaz would take care of it. So she lay there till early morning, but it was still dark when she went away. Before she left, Boaz filled her veil with barley grain, up to six measures of barley.

Why six measures—why not seven, or five? It would give a hint to Naomi that in any event Ruth would obtain a resting place. Six is the symbol of labor and service, followed by seven, the time of rest. Men were to work six days, and rest on the seventh. Whoever served six years was released on the seventh. (Exod. 21:2,3) Thus Boaz was indirectly sending Naomi a message that the period of labor was past and the time of rest was at hand.

Boaz gathered ten men of the elders of the city, and had them sit in the gate by him. The gate was the place of judgment. (Gen. 19:1) When the nearer relative came by, Boaz accosted him, and laid the matter before him. At first the other relative said he would redeem the land for Naomi, but when Boaz called his attention to the Law—that he must many Ruth—he said he could not, for fear of marring his own inheritance.

How could he mar his inheritance? Evidently he feared to marry Ruth, because she was a Moabitess. He knew what had happened to Mahlon and Chilion, so he refused. But Ruth had become an Israelite in faith and had left behind Moab, its people, and had joined the covenant people. Boaz knew this, and did not press the matter. So the other relative took off his shoe and gave it to Boaz.

The shoe, or sandal, is first a symbol of motion and wandering, but also of rest and possession. See Deuteronomy 11:24. “With shoes on your feet,” meant a journey is ahead. (Exod. 12:11) The expression in Deuteronomy, chapter eleven, evidently refers to possession, something one actually had and could tread on with his feet at pleasure. So when this relative handed over his shoe to Boaz, it symbolized that he thus surrendered to Boaz all rights and claims to possession. Had he done his part, he would have set his shoe on Naomi’s inheritance and thus claimed it as redeemed. Ruth was the heiress of Mahlon, and must go with the possession. So Boaz redeemed the land, being a blood relative, and married Ruth.

In Deuteronomy 25:5-10 we have this law and custom described in detail. And in Psalm 60:8 and 108:9 we have an example of this custom: “Over Edom will I cast out my shoe,” which means that the Lord will claim Edom as part of the redeemed possession and inheritance, as shown in verses seven and eight to be true also of other tribes.

This story and procedure of redemption illustrates well the work that Jesus performed in redeeming Adam’s race. As there was no other redeemer, Jehovah furnished one in the person of his only beloved Son. (Isa. 63:5) But Jesus was to be blood-related to Adam, as well as to become a human being. He was the seed of the woman who would redeem mankind and bruise the serpent’s head. (Gen. 3:15) So, as Luke tells us, the life spark of our Lord Jesus was transferred by divine power into the womb of Mary, and in due time Jesus was born a perfect human baby. He did not inherit the death sentence, because God was his father, not Joseph. (Luke 1:35) When he was of full age, thirty years old (Luke 3:21-23), he offered himself as a ransom for all, and carried out the contract to the end on the cross. With this ransom price he bought back, redeemed, Adam and all his children, as well as Adam’s inheritance, the earth.

Also, he will marry a bride—one who was a daughter of Adam. This contract is witnessed by the elders, the ancient fathers and prophets, in the place of judgment—before the throne of God. Also, he planted his shoe upon the inheritance; for, as the Redeemer, he walked up and down over the possession for three and one-half years. Our Lord and his bride being spirit beings in the resurrection, will not need the inheritance, so it will be returned to the children of Adam.

Ruth pictures the Gentiles, who come into the family of God by a full consecration of their all, leaving behind their earthly hopes and lands and families, and, as new creatures, are taken into the family of God. They become the bride of the Prince, and are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God—Jesus—who gave his life a ransom for all. And, like Ruth, they will become the mother of kings.

Ruth gave up her home, and God gave her a far richer one; she gave up a husband, and God gave her a prince in Israel; she gave up children, and God made her the mother of kings, for she was the ancestor of David and of Jesus, the King of kings. She gave up her own people, and God gave her a place among the covenant people; she gave up the hope of land and country, and God gave her the inheritance of Naomi, and a share with her prince in his rich estate. So God deals with his church, and gives her a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”—II Cor. 4:17

Dawn Bible Students Association
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