All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:16-17
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Ruth
Based of Judges 13–16

During the times of the judges, a great famine occurs in Canaan that affects Elimelech in Bethlehem of Judah. His wife Naomi bares two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. These two sons are called Ephrathites because the old name for Bethlehem is Ephrathah.

To escape the famine, the family moves east of the Jordan to the prosperous tableland of Moab that is inhabited by the descendants of Lot. The two sons marry Moabite wives named Orpah and Ruth. During about a ten-year period of living in Moab, Elimelech and his two sons die—leaving three widows.

Naomi hears that the famine has ended in Judah, so she decides to return home. She starts her journey with her two daughters-in-law, who are bound to her by the custom of the ancients. However, on the way Naomi unselfishly thinks it will be better for them to return home, and says, “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” The Hebrew word rest has the meaning of settling down or finding a new home.

Naomi urges Orpah and Ruth to return to their mother’s house because the mother is considered the protector of the daughter, and the supervisor in matters of love, marriage, and sex. In contrast, the father’s house expression has the connotation of physical protection. Naomi is suggesting that a return home will provide a new family situation for her daughters-in-law.

She kisses them, and they all weep; then they say, “Surely we will return with you to your people,” but Naomi insists they return home, since she is not likely to have any more sons. According to Mosaic Law, the brother of the deceased husband is obliged to marry his brother’s widow and produce a male child in what is called a levirate marriage. This is to avoid the family name from dying out.

Again they weep, but this time Orpah kisses her mother-in-law and returns home, while Ruth refuses to leave. “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you,” Ruth pleads, “for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

Since the pagan gods are considered national and territorial, her decision requires more than just forsaking her Moabite god, Chemosh, while accepting Israel’s God. She must also adopt the Hebrew culture as her own. This she does, and pledges to care for Naomi for the rest of her life.

They arrive in Bethlehem in the spring at the time of the barley harvest, and the whole town is excited to see them.

“Is this Naomi?” the women ask.

“Do not call me Naomi (which means ‘Pleasant’); call me Mara (meaning ‘Bitter’),” she answers. Changing one’s name to reflect one’s circumstances is common practice for the ancients.

Boaz

Naomi has a rich relative of her late husband in Bethlehem named Boaz, who is harvesting his grain fields. Ruth asks Naomi to let her to go into the harvested area to glean heads of grain left behind, so they can have food. Naomi grants her permission, since by Israelite law, this is a means to help the poor, the fatherless, the widows, and the strangers (foreigners).

Ruth happens to glean in the area owned by Boaz, who comes to the field and asks who she is. His servant replies that she is the Moabite woman that returned with Naomi, and that she has asked to glean in his field—adding that she has worked diligently all day.

Boaz speaks to Ruth, insisting she glean only in his field, where he has commanded his young men to protect her and give her water. Hearing this, Ruth immediately falls on her face, following the oriental custom of deep respect.

“Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” she asks.

He replies that a full report has been given him about how she has left her home to help and accompany Naomi in a land that is foreign to her, adding the hope that God will repay her work and give her a full reward.

At mealtime, he invites her to come and share his food, which consists of bread that is dipped in vinegar and roasted grain. The bread is likely a flat grain cake that is cooked in oil and dipped in a mixture of oil and vinegar that serves as a dressing or condiment. Ruth saves some of her meal to take back to share with Naomi before she returns to the fields, while Boaz quietly orders his servants to let her glean among the bundles of grain, and purposely drop some of the stalks on the ground for her benefit.

After gleaning all day, she beats or winnows her grain by placing it on a hard patch of packed earth and beating it with a stick or a stone to separate the chaff from the wheat. Then she tosses it into the air, and the evening breeze blows the light chaff away. She soon discovers that she’s harvested about an ephah of grain—about five gallons or 30 pounds—enough food for several weeks.

When Ruth returns home and presents her gleanings, Naomi is surprised by the amount.

“Where have you gleaned today?” she asks, and Ruth answers that she’s been in the fields of Boaz.

“Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!” Naomi replies, adding that Boaz is their relative, and that Ruth must glean in his fields until both the barley and wheat harvests are ended—a period of about seven weeks.

Naomi’s Advice

Naomi now gives Ruth some advice, telling her to beautify herself by washing, perfuming herself, and putting on her best clothes. Then she is to go to the threshing floor that night where Boaz is winnowing, indicating her willingness to marry him in a levirate marriage.

Naomi further instructs her daughter-in-law to wait until Boaz lies down to sleep, which will be beside his winnowed grain, perhaps to guard it. Then, in the darkness, she is to uncover his feet, lie down, and wait for him to tell her what to do.

At midnight, Boaz awakes and is startled to finds a woman lying at his feet. “Who are you?” he blurts out, and she answers, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”

“Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter!” he responds, “For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request.”

It seems to have pleased Boaz that Ruth has turned to him, rather than to a much younger man for help. However, he informs Ruth that there may be a problem in fulfilling his redeemer role because legally there is a nearer kinsman than he. Boaz assures Ruth that he will contact the nearer kinsman the next morning to determine if he will accept his obligations to her. If he will not, then Boaz will.

In the morning before Ruth returns home, he requests her to hold out her shawl and places six ephahs of barley on it, amounting to about one and one-and-a-quarter bushels, or about 60 pounds—a major supply for a good long time.

Before the Elders

In the morning, Boaz goes to the city gate, a location that serves as a public forum for judicial and business matters. Often there are benches where one can sit and meet with others. The city gate is convenient for those who are engaged in agricultural pursuits, because they do not need to enter into the city proper to complete their business.

Boaz soon sees the man he is looking for. He hails him and sits down at the gate beside him. Then he calls together ten elders who will serve as legal witnesses to the settlement of the kinsman role. Elders exercise important administrative, business, and judicial roles. In disputed matters, they listen to the opposing parties, different witnesses, weigh evidence, and make their decision. However, in the case of Boaz and the other kinsman, they serve as witnesses, rather than jurors settling a dispute.

Boaz proceeds to set forth the case of Naomi, who has returned from Moab and is selling land that belonged to their relative, Elimelech. It is not revealed why she is selling—or literally leasing—the land.

One might wonder how she can sell land that has passed from a man to his son or kinsman, but no definitive answer can be provided. Property can pass from father to daughter if there is no son, but there is no specific provision for passing an inheritance from husband to wife. We do know that in Israel, the land is to remain within the family in perpetuity as their inheritance, and that this purchase is not a permanent transfer of property, but a temporary one we would call leasing, today. Naomi and Ruth might receive some income from the property during this period, but the land will eventually revert back to the original owners in the year of Jubilee, according to Mosaic Law.

Let’s remember that the issue here is whether the kinsman will buy the land as the nearest of kin, and seeing a great opportunity to increase his income, he decides to “redeem” the land.

To this point, nothing has been mentioned about Ruth’s part in this transaction, but now, Boaz reveals the fact that Naomi has limited the sale of the land by requiring the buyer to marry Ruth! This fact immediately causes the nearest of kin to reverse his decision, because marrying Ruth would affect his own inheritance.

Redeemed

Boaz now has the opportunity to redeem the land, so he immediately completes the transaction. The nearest of kin confirms the deal by removing his sandal and giving it to him. This taking off of the sandal is an ancient practice of taking possession of property by walking on it. This becomes a symbol of new ownership because another man’s foot walks over his new property.

Boaz then addresses the ten witnesses and all the assembled people, stating they are legal witnesses to the recusal of the kinsman to the property and his redemption of it. They all answer, “We are witnesses,” and pronounce a blessing of fertility on Ruth, followed by a blessing on Boaz.

Boaz marries Ruth and she has a son named Obed. Naomi takes the child and becomes a nurse to him—that is, a guardian, rather than a wet nurse. He becomes the father of Jesse, who is the father of David, who is an ancestor of Jesus. Both Boaz and Ruth become extremely important in Jewish and Christian history, because they are listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew.

Ruth, the Moabitess, becomes very important biblically because she, like Rahab, leaves her pagan god and her people to accept Israel’s God and become one of His people. Her kindness is portrayed as extraordinary to her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, and a whole book of the Old Testament is dedicated to her remarkable story.

Boaz is known as the Hebrew go’el (meaning “deliverer” or “redeemer”) in the story of Ruth. He is the redeemer figure that rescues both Naomi and Ruth from their plight of sorrow and poverty. He redeems Naomi’s property, saves Ruth from widowhood, and takes on the responsibility of caring for Naomi for the rest of her life. Humanly, Boaz truly exemplifies Christ—the Redeemer for sinful mankind.


Was I spinning? It must have worked.

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