There is a lot we can say about the book of Ruth. Several years ago as a
church we spent six Sundays in a detailed study of Ruth verse by verse. Today we only want to review some of the most important points that will help us understand the book as a whole.
First, notice Naomi’s desperation. After losing first her husband and then both of her sons in Moab, she is left without financial support. At this time, a widow without children had very few options to support herself. Besides that, she has
grown bitter over her hardship to the point of changing her name to Mara (which
means “bitter”) and puts the blame directly on Yahweh (Ruth 1:20-21). As the Israelites in the desert came to the bitter waters of Marah (Exodus 15:22-26), they murmured about a truly desperate situation. Just like in the previous event, the lesson is found in Yahweh’s response, this time not for an entire nation (at least, not just yet) but for only one woman in her desperate need.
Second, notice the faith of Ruth the Moabite, a woman who by physical descent has no part in the covenant given to Abraham. Despite her exclusion from Yahweh’s promises (at least physically speaking), she says by faith, “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. 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” (Ruth 1:16-17). Her
faith in Yahweh is knit together with her devotion to Naomi to the point that her faith manifests itself in love (many centuries later, the apostle Paul will say, “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love”; Galatians 5:6). She presents an impressive testimony of faith in Yahweh to the Israelites, as Boaz observes in his blessing, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 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!” (Ruth 2:11-12) Naomi’s desperate situation will be relieved by Ruth, whose faith in Yahweh and obedience to His Word will bring about a resolution.
Third, notice Yahweh’s laws that apply in this situation. Naomi, Ruth and Boaz don’t act by their own ideas but are led by Yahweh’s law. Ruth asks Naomi for permission to glean in Ruth 2:2 because the law tells the Israelites, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner” (Leviticus 19:9-10). “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 24:19). Boaz blesses Ruth and Naomi in the barley field in agreement with and even beyond the Law: “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this” (Deuteronomy 24:22).
But the most significant laws for understanding the story have to do with the preservation of the family line of Naomi’s husband and the land inheritance that they left behind when they migrated to Moab. On the preservation of the family line, the Law says, “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man 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 dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). But Ruth’s brother-in-law has died, too. Therefore, the responsibility of giving a son to preserve the family line falls to the nearest relative, just like in the preservation of a family’s land inheritance: “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold” (Leviticus 25:25). As Boaz observes in Ruth
3:12, there is a closer relative to Ruth’s deceased husband than he, and he must
first request that the other fulfill his duty to redeem the land and have a son with Ruth.
When the other relative refuses to fulfill his responsibility, the Law says, “If the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me… Then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house’” (Deuteronomy 25:7, 9). It doesn’t happen exactly this way in the book of Ruth, but notice the shame on the relative that does not fulfill his part: his name is not preserved in the Biblical account. Boaz simply says, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here” (Ruth 4:1).
This brings us to the fourth observation, that all of these laws not only inform us of the actions and motivations of everyone involved but teach us about Yahweh’s grace, the grace of the God who in His glorious dominion provided for these kinds of needs specifically in His law. When the way is opened for Boaz to take Ruth for his wife, there is no doubt over who ultimately is responsible for Naomi’s redemption: “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son” (Ruth 4:13). Then the believers (directed by faith in Yahweh, obedient to His law and loving one another) declare praises to His name for His redemption: “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!” (Ruth 4:14)
Fifth, notice that all those who participate in the story and praise Yahweh are not even aware of the depths of His grace through this redemption. While they see and celebrate the redemption of a family, the narrator informs us of the future
genealogy of this newborn: “They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:17). In redeeming a widow, Yahweh also has put into place the redemption of the nation from the spiritual decline that dominated the book of Judges. If the women of Ruth’s hometown celebrate, how much more should the entire nation celebrate David’s genealogy and the arrival of their Redeemer!