Our Sunday morning Bible class covered the four chapters of the book of Ruth today. I already knew many of the things that were said, but I learned some new things as well.
The book of Ruth is more than a study of ancient history. Its main point is to show how outsiders enter the kingdom of God. The title character is a citizen of Moab; by God’s own Law, she and her descendants should have been forbidden a place in Israel (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Instead, Ruth becomes an Israelite and turns out to be the great-great grandmother of King David.
Ruth learns about Israel and about its God from Naomi, her mother-in-law. Yet Naomi is dreadful at evangelism. Not only does she encourage Ruth to return to her people and to her gods (Ruth 1:15); she proceeds to blacken God’s reputation, saying, “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (Ruth 1:13). Naomi may believe that the deaths in her family were punishment from God, punishment for leaving the Promised Land during a famine and seeking help among foreigners. She may be trying to spare Ruth a share of the family punishment, or she may simply be trying to avoid this reminder of her time spent in Moab.
Either way, Ruth will not be deterred. In the most famous verses of the book, she declares, “Do not urge me to leave you or return from following you. For where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17). If Naomi believes that she is cursed by God, Ruth offers to share that curse, and Ruth calls down a curse upon herself if she is separated from Naomi.
Boaz is, of course, a foreshadowing of his great descendant, Jesus Christ. The frequent use of the word “redeemer” in the book of Ruth makes that conclusion inescapable. From the time he notices her, Boaz provides for Ruth and protects her from danger. Only gradually does the writer of the book reveal the risk assumed by Ruth when she offered to glean the fields near Bethlehem. Boaz keeps her safe from harm and he is generous to her, so that she brings home a bountiful harvest. When he awakes at midnight and finds her sleeping at his feet, he promises to be her redeemer. He protects her, not sending her home at midnight when it would be dangerous, but sending her home early enough in the day that no one would know where she had been. He provides her with six measures of grain already threshed; now that she has a redeemer, she needs to do no work, neither gathering nor threshing the grain.
An unnamed man has the right to be a redeemer instead of Boaz. Boaz calls a meeting of the town council for a legal discussion and hearing. He begins by saying that Naomi is selling land that belongs to her family. Needless to say, she needs money now, and an unplanted field has no value to her. The potential redeemer is willing to buy the land. Under the law of God, the land would not remain his in perpetuity—at the next Jubilee year, it must be returned to Naomi or her heirs (Leviticus 25:13-17). Since the land had been unfarmed for at least ten years (Ruth 1:4), the redeemer would need to work hard to reclaim the farmland, knowing that in time he would return that land and have no more benefit from it.
The unnamed man is willing to purchase the land, probably out of compassion for Naomi. He is then reminded of his responsibility to the widow—he must take her into her house and provide her with a son to inherit the property that belonged to the widow’s husband (Deuteronomy 25:5-6). The ties between family and land were important to God. He had made a triple promise to Abraham: Abraham’s family would become a mighty nation, they would own the land where Abraham wandered as a rancher, and from that family on that land would come a blessing for the entire world. Therefore, the land was carefully parceled to the tribes of Israel in the days of Joshua. Strict laws forbade moving stones marking property lines. Keeping inheritance within families resulted in the laws about Jubilees years and about providing an heir for one’s brother.
Because of this tie to the land, Joseph took Mary his espoused and pregnant wife to Bethlehem at the time of the Roman census. Most people living in the Roman Empire were counted and taxed wherever they happened to be at the time of the census. Joseph was a son of David, though, and he was determined to be counted as a citizen of Bethlehem, David’s hometown. Jesus, the ultimate Son of David, was therefore born in Bethlehem, and thus he was entitled to inherit David’s throne and kingdom.
Boaz seems to have been coy about which widow the men were discussing. He used Naomi’s name when discussing the sale of land and then mentioned both Naomi and Ruth when speaking of the widow who must be allowed to produce an heir for her late husband. Some English translations make it seem that Ruth is intended (Ruth 4:5), but the Hebrew is vague. The unnamed man may have thought, “To acquire this land, I must also acquire Naomi, that old bitter woman. It’s not worth it.” After all, Ruth is not even an Israelite. He declines the offer to buy the land, saying that it would complicate inheritance within his own family. Imagine his surprise and regret when he learns that Boaz intends to marry Ruth, not Naomi—and must have intended that all along.
The ceremony ratifying the sale of land and accompanying women involves taking off the sandal of the redeemer who declines to redeem. The original regulation about providing an heir for a childless brother also involved taking off a sandal if a man should refuse to produce an heir for his brother. In this case, the widow was to pull off his sandal and spit in his face, and his family was to become known as the Unsandaled (Deuteronomy 25:7-10).
“Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer!” (Ruth 4:14). If Boaz serves as a picture of Jesus Christ the Redeemer, then Ruth is an image of the Bride of Christ, the Church consisting of all who have been redeemed by Christ. Jesus pays the necessary price to make us his people. He protects us from evil and generously supplies us with all that we need. He cheats the devil out of the devil’s claim on our lives by taking our burden upon himself. All this is ours, not because we bought it or earned it, but because Jesus is loving and merciful. J.