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The story of
Ruth

 

 

The following lessons are
From a devotional Bible study on the Old Testament
'The Yearning of Yahveh'

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127. Preference and Providence

They emigrate and take foreign wives.

Ruth 1:1-5

From the national and religious viewpoints, it was treacherous for an Israelite family to move to a neighbor country. Although the patriarchs roamed as foreigners in the Middle East, the situation changed when God gave the Promised Land to Israel. Then Canaan was their God-given inheritance, and they had to stay loyal to their God and their country.

In those days, gods and country were closely linked. Moving to another country was equal to moving to the gods of that country. When Elimelech (My God is king) left Bethlehem (house of bread), he denounced both names by seeking bread from the god of Moab because his God had not provided bread in Israel. One mistake led to another. When his sons married Moabite women, the planned short visit became an unforeseen long stay.

Most likely, Elimelech and his family would have been forced by Moabite law to attend human sacrifices to their idols. Often the victims were small children. Every time they unwillingly attended such a senseless public killing, they got sick in the stomach and sad in the heart. “What are we doing in a place like this?” they asked themselves. However, these horrible scenes were later overshadowed by the personal grief of death in the family. As she stood at the graves of her husband and sons, Naomi wondered if they had been punished for coming to Moab. Their dreams had turned into nightmares.

From God’s viewpoint, the move to Moab resulted from lack of faith, and it exposed them to pagan worship. Nevertheless, Yahveh would weave it into His plan of salvation by bringing Ruth into the ancestry of the Messiah. Satan removed a family from the holy lineage; God replaced it with another.

Emigration is tough. Anxiety about the future is mixed with grief about the losses of the past. The culture shock in the new country—with foreign values, customs, rules, and language—makes immigrants feel alien and aggravates their yearning for the old country. Today the pain of immigration is alleviated by protections (like freedom of religion, social security, and health care) and by contacts (with expatriates, new friends, and family by visits, phone, and e-mail). When one realizes that the whole earth belongs to the LORD (Ps. 24:1) one can worship the true God anywhere in truth and in spirit (John 4:23-24).

As we try to steer our lives according to our goals, God is using the good and the bad in our lives to bring us to the place He has prepared for us.

A prayer: God, keep me on the course You have in mind for me.

A thought: Do I ask God to direct my path, and do I obey?

 

128. Loyal unto Death

Your God is my God.

Ruth 1:6-18

The three widows persevered in the same small house every day. They knew each other’s sorrows and struggles. Realizing their words did not really comfort, they supported each other with gestures and favors. Although Naomi felt that God had brought much bitterness into her life, she kept clinging to Him. After she had lost her husband and two sons, there was no one else to cling to.

When the night was at its darkest, the Morning Star rose. Naomi got the news that the drought in Israel had been broken. The harvests were promising. She decided to swallow her pride, return to her hometown, and admit that their emigration to Moab was a total disaster. When she shared her plans with her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, they decided to go with her. Having been married to Hebrew men, their future in Moab was bleak in any case.

Naomi must have been somewhat at a loss about this reaction. She allowed them to accompany her while she searched her heart and mind for the words to handle the situation. She did not expect a hearty welcome for herself in Bethlehem—but how would people react if she brought two Moabite widows with her? When they approached the border, they rested for a while, and Naomi spoke her mind while her eyes swam in tears.

She thanked Ruth and Orpah for their love and support, urging them to return to their land and culture. When this argument did not convince them, Naomi shifted to a personal and practical level: their chance for remarriage. Time was against them. Naomi was too old to have more sons, and even if she could, Orpah and Ruth could not wait for them to grow up. Orpah realized the truth of Naomi’s words, kissed her farewell, and turned back.

But Ruth would not give in. When Naomi encouraged her to follow Orpah’s example and return to her people and her gods, it brought Ruth to profess her loyalty to Naomi, her people, and her God: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.” Faithful unto death.

Naomi could not argue with Ruth’s devotion. They looked into each other’s eyes with genuine love, hugged, and proceeded on the long uphill road from the Jordan valley to Bethlehem. Although Naomi appreciated Ruth’s loyalty, she had no idea about the exhilarating events ahead of them. The flickering Morning Star would be followed by a brilliant dawn.

A prayer: Lord, I want to be loyal to You unto death.

A thought: Am I loyal to family, friends, and God?

 

129. Call Me Mara

Views determine attitudes and actions.

Ruth 1:19-2:2 

Naomi and Ruth moved slowly with their pack-donkey through the little town of Bethlehem. To the one, the scene was nostalgically familiar; to the other, it was scarily foreign. After some second looks, Naomi and the townsfolk began to recognize each other. They greeted with exclamations of excitement and amazement. Then Naomi was showered with questions about her family and their experiences. In the process, Ruth was introduced, and her support of Naomi adored.

Apparently there were no ill feelings about Naomi’s moving away ten years ago, only gladness about her present return. After all, who would trample on a poor widow who had gone through so much bereavement? But Naomi could not suppress her ill feelings about those hardships. She would not blame the dead—let them rest in peace. She would not blame herself either, so she put it on God: “Don’t call me Naomi, the lovely one, anymore. My skin is wrinkled and my heart is bleeding. Rather call me Mara, the embittered one, for the LORD has over-burdened me with terrible losses.” She blamed Yahveh.

Focused on her personal pain, Naomi didn’t notice the many blessings that Yahveh had already sent her way: the broken drought, the safe return, the welcome by old friends, and the loyal support of Ruth, who gave up everything to be with her. And more blessings were coming. We often stare with tearful eyes into the tomb, like Mary Magdalene, unable to recognize the risen Lord behind us who can change our sorrow into jubilation (John 20).

While Naomi and her friends shared and savored stories of the past ten years, Ruth gazed beyond the town to the surrounding hills and valleys. The barley fields were in golden brown attire, ready to be harvested, while the wheat was beginning to change color from green to yellow. It was shortly after the Feast of First Fruits. She got a plan. She had learned from Naomi about the gracious God-given law that farmers should leave some grain on the edges of their fields for the poor. She decided to start gleaning early the next morning. She would be part of the Gentile first fruits.

Naomi’s focus on the bad of the past made her depressed and embittered, unable to recognize the many mercies of the present. Ruth’s focus on the opportunities of the present made her hopeful about the immediate future. Naomi’s views and attitudes got her stuck in passive sulking; Ruth’s views and attitudes motivated her toward constructive action.

A prayer: Lord, lift up my eyes to see the ripe harvests.

A thought: How do my views influence my attitudes and actions?

 

130. Faith and Mercy Meet

The industrious Ruth meets the generous Boaz.

Ruth 2:1-17

Naomi returned to her neglected home. When Ruth wanted to go gleaning for the day, Naomi let her go without giving her any directions. Naomi would rather work through her emotional pain by cleaning up after ten years of absence.

Ruth set off without any clear plan in mind. She would test the attitude at each field until she found one where they would accept her. However, in a small town everybody knew everyone else, and news spread fast by gossip. So when she arrived and asked permission to glean, they already knew who she was. Without her knowledge, her goodwill toward Naomi had kindled the goodwill of the local population toward Ruth. Even more remarkable was the fact that she unknowingly came to glean at the field of Boaz, a relative of Naomi. Strangely, he had not yet come so far as to make up his mind about a wife. The almighty and all-knowing One let the paths of these two unlikely lovers cross in a sweltering barley field.

Even Boaz had heard about Ruth, though he had not met her yet. He enquired about the woman gleaning over there, and his foreman informed him. Boaz assured her safety by giving orders to his workers. He went to her and invited her to keep gleaning on his field. Ruth bowed gratefully and thanked Boaz for his kindness to a stranger. He responded by acclaiming what she had been doing for Naomi, and he expressed his hope that God would reward her.

During lunch break, Boaz extended courtesy to Ruth by offering her some of his food and drink. When she resumed work after a break, Boaz ordered his reapers to let some extra ears of grain fall for Ruth to pick up. Twice he warned them not to harass her. With this help from Boaz, Ruth did well. That evening she went home with several kilograms of barley.

This endearing love story directs our eyes to an even greater love story—the love of Jesus for each believer. As Boaz, the redeemer, was kind and merciful towards Ruth, the foreigner, so Jesus, our Redeemer, is kind and merciful toward us who have been foreigners to His kingdom (Eph. 2:12-13). He wants us to stay on His “field” where we will be protected. He commands his angels to drop some “ears of grain” deliberately for us, but we still have to make the effort to pick them up. At His table, He shares His bread and wine with us, reminding us that He gave His body and blood to save us and to make us children of the heavenly Father. Yahveh reaches out to us through Yeshua His Son.

A prayer: Thank You, my Redeemer, for Your kindness and mercy.

A thought: Do I go to the right field and pick up what God provides?

 

131. My Redeemer Lives!

Ruth learns about God’s merciful Law.

Ruth 2:18-23 

When Ruth arrived home, tired but excited, and showed the results of her hard day’s work, Naomi was amazed and curious. With grateful tears, Ruth shared her experience of the day. Naomi’s face lit up with a knowing smile. Sensing there was something she did not know, Ruth now became the curious one.

Naomi explained to her the family tree and those parts of God’s Law that deal with “redemption” when a family got into trouble and the clan came to their rescue (Lev. 25:25). This law ensured that tribes, clans, and families would not lose their land permanently (pages 78, 97). The Law also provided for family marriages to secure the survival of the family lineage (Deut. 25:5-6). Although Moses had not linked the two—redemption of land and levirate marriages—they probably were linked in the time of the judges.

Within this context, Boaz was a near relative who could both redeem Naomi’s land and marry her late son’s childless widow. Maybe Ruth looked at Naomi with big, puzzled eyes, and stuttered, “You mean... uh... Boaz and I...?” Naomi nodded with a smile.

Ruth followed the advice of Boaz and Naomi to keep gleaning on Boaz’s fields in order to prevent harassment by workers on other fields. When the barley harvest was done, she continued gleaning during the wheat harvest as well. As Boaz watched her and talked to her occasionally, God was preparing him for an important decision in his life. He liked her a lot.

In this book, we see the merciful side of God’s Law. Even in the time of the judges when cruel injustices sometimes occurred, God’s Law protected the less fortunate. They could glean on the edges of the fields, and clan members could act as redeemers to secure land and care for widows. Naomi said God had caused her much bitterness—yet compassion in the book of Ruth contrasts sharply with cruelty in the book of Judges. As they proceeded with their daily work, Yahveh turned sad losses into joyful gains.

Some people only see God’s wrath in the Bible and in real life, and they cannot make peace with such a “cruel” God. If they would read the Bible properly and look at life honestly, they would recognize that God showers us with many undeserved blessings. He uses the whip only when people have rejected and insulted Him repeatedly. Even then, Yahveh is quick to forgive if they turn to Him with wholehearted repentance (page 98).

A prayer: God, Your mercies are fresh every morning. (Lamentations 3:22-25).

A thought: Do I rejoice like Ruth and Job that my Redeemer lives? (Job 19:25).

 

132. The Risk of Faith

Ruth asks Boaz to be her redeemer.

Ruth 3 

Naomi knew that Boaz shied away from women. When she returned to Bethlehem after ten years of absence, Boaz was amazingly still unmarried. However, the way Boaz interacted with Ruth convinced Naomi that Boaz found Ruth attractive but that he just could not muster the courage to propose to her. Naomi took the role of matchmaker.

The sheaves of ripe grain were stacked at the threshing floor. When the wind was right, they spread some sheaves over the floor and let cattle trample it underfoot to release the grain. Then they flung the chaff into the air with winnowing forks so that the wind blew the chaff sideways onto a heap while the grain fell back to the floor from where it was scooped up into containers. In this time, men slept at the threshing floor at night to guard the fruits of their labor. They enjoyed food and wine before they dozed off on their chaff-beds.

Naomi’s plan would be tested in this harvest setup. Ruth waited until the men had finished eating and drinking and were all fast asleep. As master, Boaz probably slept some distance away from the others. Ruth sneaked up to him and crept in under his blanket at his feet. The wine made him sleep deeply, so it was already after midnight when he discovered with a shock—there’s a woman at his feet! They whispered their true feelings toward each other.

Ruth risked her reputation by going to Boaz at night and by asking him to be her redeemer. He or an observer might have seen it as an attempt to seduce him. Boaz honored her boldness by praising her support to Naomi, as well as her coming to him first. For her own safety, he let her stay till daybreak. Before the others woke up, he sent her home with as much barley as she could carry. We have a generous Redeemer too.

Arriving home, Ruth excitedly shared the romantic story with her mother-in-law. Naomi was sure that Boaz would address the problem of the other redeemer that very same day. They had taken the risk in faith and hope, and now they had to wait upon the Lord to show the way.

Have you laid yourself down at the feet of your Redeemer? When we come to Jesus and ask Him to save us, there is no risk of being rejected by Him for He promised that whoever comes to Him, He will in no way cast out (John 6:37). The risk of faith for us is when we proclaim Jesus as our Savior and when we change our lifestyle accordingly—then the world may reject us.

A prayer: Lord, help me to take the risks of faith wisely and boldly.

A thought: Do I passively wait for miracles, or do I do my fair share?

 

133. Servants of the Lord

The survival of the messianic lineage

Ruth 4

Being so close to Ruth that night brought Boaz in touch with his real feelings for her. This awakened in him the desire to marry her. He vowed that he would redeem her if the other redeemer would back off. When people started to proceed with their daily activities in Bethlehem that day, Boaz was already at the city gate where the town elders gathered on weekdays to conduct a people’s court.

At the right moment, the Lord led the other redeemer, as well as ten elders, to the city gate for an important encounter with Boaz. First, he presented the material side of business to them—the redemption of Naomi’s property. The other redeemer was quite willing to buy the land, or rather to buy the number of harvests left till the next jubilee year (Lev. 25:15-16).

Knowing his rival’s family setup, Boaz then played his trump: The redemption of the land is linked to the levirate marriage—buying the land will include marrying Ruth to provide an heir for her deceased husband. The other redeemer did not see his way open for this aspect of the deal. He gave his sandal to Boaz, thereby symbolizing that he gave up his right of ownership to both the land and the woman. The elders confirmed the contract and wished Boaz a blessed and fruitful marriage.

The cat was now out of the bag, and we can imagine that for several weeks the people of the Ephrathah region talked a lot about this unexpected romance between Bethlehem’s shy bachelor and Moab’s bold young widow. Everyone attended the wedding feast and showered the couple with their best wishes.

The author of this very human and romantic story could not leave out the fact that young couples celebrate their union by becoming one in body and soul. And from that, of course, usually comes a new generation. Ruth’s new friends called the boy Obed, meaning servant, because he would not only serve his mother and grandmother, but above all he would also serve the purpose of Yahveh. He was an important link in the messianic chain. He would be the grandfather of king David, and thus a forefather of Jesus, who was also called the “Servant” of the LORD (Isaiah 40:1-4; 53:11).

The bereavement of Naomi and Ruth was blended into God’s magnificent painting. The shadows in the painting highlighted the colors of the trees and flowers. We can trust the omniscient and omnipotent Artist to blend the good and the bad of our lives into His great plan for us and for His kingdom.

A prayer: Father, I trust You with every aspect of my life.

A thought: Do I yield to the hand of the heavenly Artist?

~~~~~~~