The story of Ruth is a story immersed in great love –– love that ripples through time.
“Entreat me not to leave thee or to return from following thee; for whither thou goest, I will go, and whither thou lodgest I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die I will die and there will I be buried.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
How familiar the words are. Ruth, a Moabite, speaks them to her Israelite mother-in-law, Naomi. And that in itself is saying something, for the Israelite and the Moabite had so little in common.
The drama opens in Judah in the town of Bethlehem. The rains fail, the land becomes parched and there is no food. Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, had two choices; find food or starve.
In desperation, they chose to move to Moab. Israelites and Moabites had long suffered friction, and although there is no mention, the entrance into Moab was probably not without difficulty.
Extended hardship befalls when Naomi’s husband Elimelech dies. Her sons marry Moabite women — Chilion taking Orpah and Mahlon taking Ruth. During the next ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion die. The three women —Naomi and Orpah and Ruth — are now alone. The famine is over in Judah and Naomi chooses to return to Bethlehem. Orpah remains. But Ruth journeys to Judah with her mother-in-law.
In going to Judah with Naomi, Ruth makes important concessions. She gives up her own family in Moab. In a time and place where family is everything, this move is dramatic. Especially when Ruth is going into Israelite territory.
Ruth gives up her Moabite god, Chemosh. Naomi’s god was the God of the Fathers — Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Ruth went to Judah — as a foreigner — with the clear understanding that the God of Israel would be her God, too.
Ruth also gives up any claim of being buried with her ancestors. Where you were buried was nearly as important as where you lived. Where land, and God, and people were considered one, Ruth’s decision is a conversion of magnitude –– a great expression of great love for Naomi.
God honored her hard choices. It was the providence of God for Ruth to meet Boaz. Moabite and Israelite meeting in the middle of the barley fields! Boaz, a wealthy man, who owned the field where Ruth was gleaning grain, hears of her kindness to Naomi.
He is impressed and makes sure Ruth has enough grain for herself and Naomi. In one of the most profound and important statements, Boaz says to Ruth, “The Lord recompense 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.” (2:11-12)
It happened that Boaz was some kin to Elimelech, Naomi’s dead husband. The custom in those days was for the nearest kin to the husband of a childless widow to marry the widow and father an heir, who would have the name and inheritance of the dead man. If the widow couldn’t have children, the next of kin could marry the dead man’s daughter or daughter-in-law — anything to produce a son and keep the property in the family.
Naomi and Ruth devised a plan whereby Ruth would present herself to Boaz for marriage. “Redeeming the inheritance,” they called it. In a beautiful and delicate scene, Ruth proposed to Boaz. He was overcome by her gesture.
There was only one hitch — one other man had first refusal rights as Elimelech’s closest kin. Boaz calls ten town elders together to be witnesses. The kinsman wants the land, but not Ruth. He gives Boaz the option to purchase the land and yields any claim on Ruth. Boaz accepts.
“Then all the people who were at the gate, and the elders said… ‘May the Lord make the woman…build up the house of Israel… and be renowned in Bethlehem…because of the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman.’” (4:11-12)
There was great rejoicing when Ruth and Boaz had a son. They named him Obed. But the rejoicing was for Naomi as well, for the child was legally her grandson. “Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom and became his nurse.” (4:16)
Sons were thought more of than daughters in those days, and seven sons was considered an ideal number. Perhaps the highest compliment Ruth ever received was when the women of the town told Naomi that her daughter-in-law, who loved her, was worth more than seven sons.
And Boaz begat Obed, Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David, Israel’s greatest King. And 30 generations later, when another child was born in Bethlehem named Jesus, Matthew points out explicitly that Ruth was one of his ancestors, too.
From such great love comes the one and only Son of God. “For God so loved the world...”
My Thoughts is written by Michael C. Blackwell, BCH President/CEO