In order to fully understand the story of Ruth there are some key cultural issues that must be made clear. First of all, we must remember, whether we like it or not, the 14th century B.C. in Canaan was a male-dominated society. Women were little more than property. This was not God’s intent for the male-female relationship, but the Israelites were still in the process of emerging from their Babylonian/Egyptian/Canaanite influences. God deals with us where we are, puts up with a lot of misguided thinking, and leads us to where we need to go. That being said, we must place ourselves fully in this male-dominated society to see the truly redemptive aspects of this story.
Ruth was a woman who, in an Israelite’s eyes, could not be any worse off. She was a Moabite (a cursed people), a widow, and childless. In those days, the only good, honorable, and lasting contribution that a woman could make to society was to provide a male heir to her husband so that his family name could live on and his real estate could stay within the family. A childless woman, or a woman who had no sons, was considered cursed and was to be pitied. Ruth was in bad shape. She had no husband, she was a foreigner, and she had no children. She was lost and destitute.
Ruth showed remarkable faithfulness in spite of her desperate condition. At first Naomi tried to convince Ruth to return to Moab, but Ruth was convinced that Yahweh was the one true God and that her covenant to Naomi’s family was a lasting one. As we follow the story, we can see that Ruth’s actions progressively stepped her up from a desperate state as an outsider of Yahweh into the center of Yahweh’s redemptive plan.
- Ruth’s first act of faithfulness was to commit her life to Yahweh. This Moabite woman was demonstrating more faithfulness to Yahweh than the Judges that He had called to lead Israel.
- Ruth’s second act of faithfulness was her commitment to Naomi. Here we see the importance of family commitments and the intimacy and love that holds this foundational relational unit together.
- Next, Ruth was willing to live as a servant of Boaz and glean from the left-overs of his field. If you will remember, in Leviticus, as a provision for the poor, the farmers were commanded to go through their fields only once to harvest and leave the left-overs for the poor in the community to glean. Ruth was simply acting as a poor, destitute woman, gleaning the left-overs to provide for herself and her mother-in-law.
Before we continue on with Ruth’s steps of faithfulness, we must look at Boaz and observe how he was an equally faithful man, full of integrity. In order to understand Boaz’ faithfulness we must grasp the concept of the Kinsman-Redeemer. As already mentioned, if a woman could not provide an heir for her husband she was considered cursed. Even worse, if she was a widow, she had no hope. In order to protect her from this disgrace, it was considered honorable for the dead husband’s brother to marry the widow and try to produce a male child with her. The was called Levirate marriage. He was a Kinsman-Redeemer—a family member who rescued her.
Boaz was faithful to the law of God, to the honor of his family, and to the honor of Ruth’s faithfulness. He did the right thing by going to the closest of kin first, even though he probably wanted to swoop in and snatch up Ruth for himself.
(As a side note. His attitude reminds us of how Jesus and James taught to not place yourself in the seat of honor, but to humble yourself until you are invited to that seat. It seems that this is what Boaz was doing. How many times do we dive in to grab hold of the credit, or the praise, or the choice cuts, only to be embarrassed later. God is the one who knows the true score of the game. Let’s let Him reward us in His time…even if that is after we are glorified with Him.)
Back to the story. Knowing Boaz’ character, we can now return to the steps Ruth was taking.
- She took a big risk when she lay down at Boaz’ feet. First of all, women were not supposed to be on the threshing floor. Secondly, what if he rejected her? That would have been emotionally devastating for her. Here we can learn a life lesson. We must be bold and take relational risks if we are going to experience the redemptive power and blessing of God. Ruth could have stayed a servant girl and eeked out a meager existence off the gleanings of Boaz’ field. Instead, she got bold, walked onto the threshing floor, and submitted herself to this man.
Where do we need to take risks? Is there a phone call we need to make to someone against whom we are harboring bad feelings? Is there a conversation that needs to take place with a spouse that will be a tough-love, truth-telling session that puts knots in the pit of your stomach? Is there a financial step you need to take in order to get out of debt or move to the next level of your business? Is there a new person in the church that you need to come alongside and get to know? The ultimate risk we need to take is that of facing God. Are we willing to lie down at God’s feet and let Him do with us what He will?
When Boaz saw Ruth, his heart went out to her and he “covered her with his cloak.” This phrase, all throughout the Old Testament, means that he took her in marriage. Covering her with his cloak was symbolic of providing shelter and protection for this vulnerable and helpless woman. It is much like a mother hen that takes her chicks “under her wing.”
Boaz’s beautiful act of protection is a picture of God in Jesus. It is not much of a stretch to draw an analogy between the story of Ruth and our own spiritual journeys. We begin our journey as a desperate individual, lost in sin, and a stranger and alien to God’s people. Jesus is our kinsman. He became human, He entered into the human family in order to become related to us, to be our kinsman. He knows our desperate situation and waits for us to make the move. We must first commit to God, commit to the community, and risk laying ourselves in absolute surrender before Him. When we do that, Jesus covers His blood-soaked garment over us and brings us into a life-giving, redemptive relationship with Him. Once we are “married” to Him, then we can enjoy the blessings of His full estate, which is the infinite glory of God. Isn’t that awesome?!
Notice in the chart that I have reconnected to the vessel, filling, and overflowing motif that we talk so much about. Ruth and Boaz were faithful vessels. God remains always faithful to His covenant and pours Himself into any vessel that willingly opens itself up to Him. Notice what the overflow of this vessel is. From Boaz and Ruth came Obed. Obed had Jesse. Jesse had David (a king to whom God promised an eternal throne), and ultimately, from the line of David came Jesus Christ, the supreme Kinsman-Redeemer. Isn’t it just like God to use a desperate, childless, Moabite widow to be an integral part of His redemptive plan for the whole world. If He can use Ruth, He can use you.