In Israel’s history, the time of the Judges is largely dark. Following the death of Moses and Joshua and before the days of the kings, the nation of Israel was stuck in a cycle of sin. The people of God stopped listening to the Lord, forgot the Lord’s commands and took on the worship of other gods. Their idolatry led to immorality and the depravity was dark and deep. God disciplined them in the form of oppression by other nations. In their oppression they remembered and cried out to God for mercy. God was merciful, raising up Judges who were deliverers. There would be a period of peace but then the people would forget again and the whole cycle would repeat itself. The people of God were living in the Promised Land but they were living like pagans. These were the days of the Judges – and in these days we find the story of Ruth.
There is light that shines even in these darkest days. The book of Ruth bears witness to the faithfulness of God and the points of light among God’s people even in the darkest of days.
Read Ruth. This is a story of famine and sojourn, assimilation and grief, return to Israel and redemption by grace through faith. The sovereign hand of God is evident in the life and story of Ruth.
The book of Ruth starts out with famine – which in the times of the Judges was evidence of the people’s unfaithfulness and God’s discipline. Now the family is from Bethlehem. They are Jews. But in order to seek a better life they have to leave the Promised Land. Consider that. In order to find milk and honey they have to leave the land that once flowed with milk and honey. They go as refugees to Moab. They settle there and the two sons of this Israelite family marry Moabite wives, the husband and the two sons die, and there are three widows with no children. The woman at the center of the story to this point is Naomi and she is described as being “without her husband and without her two sons.” She sees herself and her life as barren.
But there is another woman and her name is Ruth. She married into this Israelite family and is clearly a convert to the faith. She affirms that Naomi’s people are her people and that Naomi’s God is her God. And thus the ray of hope begins to shine.
Naomi and Ruth go to Bethlehem. The narrative upon their arrival is significant because it reminds us how narrow our vision is, how little we perceive of what God is doing, how short-sighted our understanding. Naomi’s assessment of the situation is this: “when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
But let’s consider God’s perspective on all this. Who is Ruth and why does God need her in Bethlehem? To answer that question, we need to turn to Matthew chapter 1. It reads, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king.”
See that?! God’s redemptive plan for all of human history, the incarnation, atoning sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ included a man named Boaz and a Moabite convert named Ruth to bear a son named Obed who would be the father of Jesse who would have a son named David. The Gospel according to Ruth is not only Ruth’s redemptive story but the role she plays in redemptive history.
Naomi could not see all that. From the vantage point of her grief she could not see the eternal faithfulness of God working itself out in days of the Judges.
There’s a relative of Naomi’s husband in Bethlehem and his name is Boaz. Boaz is described as “a worthy man.” Ask yourself, is anyone else in the days of the Judges described as worthy? A little bit like Noah, Boaz was living as righteous a life as he could in the context of a culture that was largely given over to idolatry.
Ruth is committed to taking care of herself and her mother-in-law and as a young widow she got up early one morning to glean in the fields. Gleaning was a legal practice proscribed by the Lord to support widows, sojourners and the poor. But it also put young woman at risk of assault. Remember, these are the days of the Judges when very horrible things were happening to women and children in Israel (read Judges 19-21).
Ruth has not heard of Boaz but Boaz has heard of her. Boaz’s first act of redemption is to extend the wings of his protection over her. He says “do not touch her. Let her glean all she wants and let her drink from the water we draw for our own employees.” Boaz then speaks to Ruth, “stay close. I can’t protect you elsewhere but I can protect you here. You have come under the wings of the God of Israel.”
Ruth later learns that Boaz is a potential kinsman redeemer. The kinsman redeemer was like a protector, provider and perpetuated the name and the lineage of the deceased man. God works out all the details and in the end “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. 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! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
And who is David? Yes, that David, the King of Israel who is called a man after God’s own heart, the man who wrote many of the Psalms, the one God covenanted with, promising that the Messiah (Jesus) would come from David’s lineage and would establish a kingdom that would endure forever.
In the days of the Judges, when there was famine in the land and the people of God had to leave the Promised Land as refugees and many of them died in foreign lands, a woman named Naomi returned to Israel with a daughter in law who, through the redemptive plan of God became the mother of Obed who became the father of David.
- Naomi experienced famine, the loss of her home, husband and sons. But God was working out His redemptive will for all humanity in her life. What grief and loss have you experienced that you may not see from God’s perspective?
- Boaz was identified as “a worthy man” in the days when everyone was doing right in their own eyes. How are we to live as people “worthy of the gospel” in days that sometimes feel like the days of the Judges?
- What does the story of Ruth remind you about God’s provision for the widow, the poor and refugee/sojourner? How might God be calling you to spread His wings over others through the abundance of your life?