The Book of Ruth
It’s a joy to be here with you. I’m so thankful for the impact this church has had on me and on my family. We have a ton of friendships here.
Turn to the Book of Ruth. I have been given quite the task. I hear you have been going through a series on the postcard epistles. Nigel started with 2 John, which has thirteen verses. Then Patrick taught 3 John–fifteen verses. Next Shawn had Philemon with 25 verses, and he took two weeks to finish. And last week John completed Jude with 25 verses.
Today I’ve been assigned Ruth—a total of 85 verses. This is a book that many people have a bias against. First, it is in the Old Testament. Next, it’s a weird story about farming and strange dating practices. And last, isn’t this a “girl book”? But I hope to convince you this morning that you need the book of Ruth–not just because it is inspired Scripture.
The book of Ruth gives us theology for real life. It shows us what it is like to follow God when life is hard–when the world falls apart. We will see what God’s care for His people like? And we will answer the question, can we continue to trust Him? You see, the book of Ruth isn’t about Ruth–it’s more about Naomi. And more than Naomi, it’s about God.
Ruth is a theology of God not in a textbook, but in a glorious story–a story about life and death. A story that moves from hopeless to hopeful to hopes fulfilled. You need to know this story, because you need to know the God who makes this story happen. Let’s read verses 1 to 5.
“Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to reside in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. So they entered the land of Moab and remained there. 3Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left with her two sons. 4And they took for themselves Moabite women as wives; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other, Ruth. And they lived there about ten years. 5Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.”
For each chapter, I’m going to give a key word to summarize the chapter.
Ruth 1 Struggle
Many of you know the story of Ruth chapter 1. Naomi loses her husband and her sons, and she is left with only her daughters-in-law. She returns to Israel (verse 6) and tries to send her daughters-in-law back to their home and families. Orpah returns, but Ruth strangely remains (verse 15 to 16). This amazing loyalty from a Moabite also shows loyalty to Yahweh Himself.
We pick up in verse 19 with the question from the women of Bethlehem, “Is this Naomi?” as they were reunited. Naomi says in verses 20 to 21, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara . . . I went out full, but he Lord has brought me back empty.” God has shattered me . . . God has done evil to me . . . call me bitter, because God has dealt bitterly with me.
Now some of you are hearing this and you’re ready to correct Naomi. You’re ready to throw down some truth and help her out. Naomi, don’t you know Romans 8:28—”all things work together for good”? Naomi, don’t you know Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always”? Naomi, don’t you realize how wrong your view of God is right now? And before you go to work on Naomi, stop . . . listen to her words and consider her plight.
First of all, have you thought at all about her suffering? This is tragedy. The loss of her husband, her companion, the one with whom she had built this family, the one who she left Bethlehem with–but she was coming back alone. She had lost both her sons. We don’t know how they died, but we do know parents aren’t supposed to bury their children. In verse 5, NASB says her children, her boys. These aren’t just two men–these were her sons who she bore, whom she raised.
And another concern—there would be no grandbabies. Ten years of marriage to Moabite women, and Mahlon and Chilion had failed to produce an heir. This meant the family name would die out, and their appointed land which meant so much to the people of Israel, would fall to another family. You see, it is not just Naomi’s past that has been difficult, but her future looks bleak. Without any men around, who would do the hard work to keep the family alive? There were no government programs to help widows. Naomi couldn’t start taking night classes at Bethlehem Community College to turn her life around. At the same time, who would protect these women?
This all occurs, verse 1 in the time of the judges. Have you read the book of Judges? This is a dangerous time for women to be alone–women are abused horribly in Judges. So let’s be careful before we jump to correct Naomi here–she was a mother and a wife, and now she’s neither. Now in the midst of this, I want you to consider Naomi’s view of God–because though it is not perfect, she’s not totally wrong.
She has no doubt that God is sovereign. Psalm 115:3, “But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases.” Isaiah 45:7, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things.” She believes God is punishing her (verse 13). Is God punishing her? We don’t know–but she believes He is.
But that’s not all—in verses 8 to 9a, “deal kindly”, or HESED is God’s loyal love, the kindness with which He deals with His people. Exodus 34:6 to 7, “He is abounding with steadfast love.”
She believes God deals kindly with people–not just in Israel, but in Moab as well (CHEMOSH).
Now let’s put Naomi’s beliefs together. She believes that Yahweh is sovereign. She believes that Yahweh shows hesed (He deals kindly). She believes that Yahweh has made her life very hard. And that’s the tension that she’s in right now.
Now look–I’m not telling you to be a Naomi. She’s bitter. But right now, she’s still clinging to God. She hasn’t given up on Him. It’s hard to believe what is true about God when you believe God has made your life hard. But clinging is better than the alternative. How many of you have friends whose lives fell apart? But because they kept clinging even when they didn’t understand, they now see the goodness of who God is.
What a reminder for counseling and discipling. Don’t demand that a person in trial immediately put a smile on—but remind them of the character of God. It is Naomi’s belief in God that will help her see His goodness in chapter 3. We have to keep moving. The rest of this story is the filling up of Naomi.
Ruth 2 Providence
The reality is God hadn’t really left Naomi empty. If she stuck out her elbow it would have bumped Ruth, her supernaturally faithful daughter-in-law. And they returned home, 1:22, “at the beginning of barley harvest.” So there is evidence of God’s care for her.
Verse 1—this is insider information about a kinsman redeemer
Verse 2—Ruth is proposing a dangerous mission for a foreign, single woman
Verse 3—”she happened,” as if it were by chance is good storytelling
Verse 4–Boaz is a godly man, inquiring about the identity of this woman, setting up a tension
Verse 6—Moabites were enemies
When he was told by his foreman who Ruth was, Boaz had a choice—he could have done little. Leviticus 19:9 to 10, “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.”
But his kindness goes above and beyond! Boaz tells Ruth in verses 8 to 9, “’Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but join my young women here. 9Keep your eyes on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have ordered the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.’”
In verse 10, Ruth is overwhelmed by this kindness. But Boaz isn’t done. He tells her to join him at his table to eat in verse 14. Then in verses 15 and 16, he offers her protection and abundant provision. Verse 17, 30 to 50 pounds of barley, as bread or roasted could feed 50 soldiers. This is enough to feed Ruth and Naomi for about a month. And he tells her in verse 21, there’s more where that came from. This is provision for the future for these two women—what generosity!
Now how should we interpret this kindness? We have to beware of the killer bees of bad Old Testament preaching–be like Boaz, or maybe don’t be like Boaz. So what we look at is how did Naomi interpret this? Verse 19, Naomi’s eyes must have been bulging as she asked where Ruth got all the barley. And then as she responded in verse 20, she sees this as God’s hand–as God’s hesed, His lovingkindness to her.
Lovingkindness to her family line (more next chapter on that). Naomi’s view of God’s sovereignty led to her bitterness in chapter 1. Now it leads her to say what we could only infer from verse 3–God is at work, showing His kindness behind the scenes, demonstrating His loyal love in the details. You know, typically our expectations for God’s kindness involve dramatic expressions–new cars falling from the sky. But Naomi understands God’s kindness to be visible in the ordinary details of life . . . Ruth going to the right field, an ephah of barley.
This leads us to one of the most important aspects of God’s dealings with His people. The providence of God consistently and affectionately directs the small details of our lives. He intervenes and gets involved in our life. There is a belief known as deism–God created the universe, but He does not intervene in the universe. He is detached. That is not the picture of the God of the Bible. He cares about and is intimately involved with the details of everyday life.
Ephesians 1:11, “In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will.” The hope of the believer is that God is at work in the details of their life for their good. Psalm 57:2, “I will cry to God Most High, to God who accomplishes all things for me.”
Psalm 37:25, “I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his descendants begging bread.” Psalm 23:6, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” There is never a moment in your life, never a triumph nor a tragedy, that has not been purposely and personally orchestrated by God for your good. This is what it’s like to be under the kindness of God. This is not just spiritual optimism. This is confidence in God’s consistent kindness, because that is who God has revealed Himself to be.
John Flavel, in The Mystery of Providence, said, “It is the duty of the saints, especially in times of straits, to reflect upon the performances of Providence for them.”
If you’re saying, “I’m not seeing God’s providence”–God is subtle. God is different in His desires than us. Perhaps you’re not seeing God’s providence because you don’t look back. If you want to see God’s providence, remember how you’ve seen God’s providence. This week I was so encouraged as I thought of some of the subtle ways God has worked for me.
When I was in 4th grade, my mom got her real estate license. So she met Jon Stead who said she could sell his house if she’d let me go to high school summer camp. I did and that’s where I gave my life to the Lord. I think back to September 2016 when we needed a high school intern at Grace, so I prayed and said, “Lord, let me find that short blonde guy.” And I was sitting on a bench and Dan said, “What are you doing there?” And I replied, “Looking for you.” Friend, do you ever meditate on God’s providential care in your life?
Before we wrap up chapter two, I have a question–why is Boaz so kind to Ruth? Is it because Ruth is pretty? Does this seem like it could be a Hallmark movie? She is a girl from nowhere who has nobody, with nothing but pain in her past. He has a lot of barley. Verse 11, you’ve come to Israel like Abraham, verse 12, may Yahweh bless you–you’ve come under His wings, His protection. May He bless you.
So Boaz does more than just describe God’s kindness–he becomes a conduit, a channel. His kindness is for all people, and it is abundant. Second Peter 1:3, “Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.” We also see it in Ephesians 1–oh the kindness and provision of God.
Ruth 3 Proposal
We will go quickest through this chapter, because now the plan is for the future. Naomi hatches a plot. Verses 1 to 2a is to seek a kinsman (a redeemer, or close relative) to provide security for her daughter-in-law. But don’t do this (verses 3 to 4). Now this sounds bad (biased from the story of Lot and his daughters/Moab)–yet the bias is purposeful, and the aim is to highlight the reality. Character is what counts verse 9–answer your own prayer.
Why this response in verses 10 and 11? Ruth listened to Naomi, and in doing so Ruth is asking Boaz to protect Naomi as well. Marrying Boaz is not about herself. At this point in the story we are thrilled–the music intensifies, it cuts to a cheesy romance song and a wedding montage. But–there’s a needle scratch in verse 12 . . . there is a kinsman who is closer.
But Boaz has a plan–theologians call it dibs, and verse 13 tells what needs to happen. Love is dead, it’s hanging by a thread—it’s the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers! Not exactly. Spoiler alert—verses 15 to 17, we’re already seeing that Naomi isn’t going to be empty.
Ruth 4 Redemption
Verse 1 Behold—shrewdness
Verses 3 to 4a Makes the deal sound really good and easy and immediate
Verse 4b Love is dead
Verses 5 to 6 Moabite
The man says no–why?
1) Moabite—Israel’s enemy
2) Jeopardizes his own inheritance
Verses 7 to 8–the drama
Verses 9 to 10–with gusto
Notice some things here from Boaz, because here we understand what a redeemer he is
1) He will take Ruth, even as a Moabite
2) He will take the land, thus promising to protect both women
3) He will perpetuate the name—raise up the name of the dead line
Here Boaz acts, understanding that what he is doing is not just for his own benefit, nor is it primarily for his own benefit. It is for Ruth, for Naomi, and in kindness to the family name. This is the only chapter where the word hesed doesn’t appear–but here is hesed.
Now I want you to think about the difference between the two redeemers. The first was a “nominal” redeemer, but not a true rescuer. Boaz was a selfless redeemer. The first didn’t want to risk. Boaz truly didn’t do much for his own name. And yet notice how they’re remembered.
Boaz is mentioned in the line of Christ
The friend in verse 1, in Hebrew is called Peloni Almoni, Mr. So-and-so. Boaz, by perpetuating the name, makes a name for himself (answering the prayer). Mr. So-and-so, trying to protect his family, has since been forgotten. Interesting–two completely different redeemers. We can be thankful for the example of Boaz, and we can also be thankful for where he points us—hope for redemption.
Let’s think about redemption—it’s the purchase of a slave, a rescue, to deliver. There are two truths about redemption. There is always a cost. The helplessness of those who needed redeeming. Lau in the Old Testament–powerlessness is a key condition of those requiring redemption. Those redeemed were formerly held under the authority or control of another, and in that state were not able to gain release under their own power.
And here we see Boaz redeeming two women who could not otherwise rescue themselves—so much like Yahweh. And much like the examples of Israel in Egypt, and again when Israel was in captivity. Is this not what we see in our great Redeemer?
You see, the reality is that every person sins–and every sinner is in bondage. John 8:31 to 34, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’ 34Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.’”
We see here a picture of redemption, friend. God approves of Boaz as a redeemer because Boaz demonstrates what kind of Redeemer He is. Now we need to finish the story. Notice How God provides for His people. A blessing is prayed in verses 11 to 12. Then in verse 13, Yahweh provides an heir–a son. And in verses 14 to 17a, we see Yahweh’s care for Naomi.
Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But there’s a dilemma here–would I be saying that if Naomi didn’t receive a grandbaby? This seems like a circumstantial truth. The answer is no! Our hope for God’s provision is not based on our circumstances—it is based in His Word. It isbased in His Word, in His promises.
Romans 8:32, “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?”
The ending–what do we do with the ending? This is terrible writing to end the book with a genealogy. Everybody loves ancestry.com, right? But look at three names that have been mentioned before–Perez (Genesis 38 in the story of Judah and Tamar, whose line was threatened to be cut short), Boaz (whose line should have been cut off), and David. All are in the line of Christ. God always does what’s best for His people to accomplish His purposes. He’ll never leave you empty–He’ll always lead you home.