The Lord repay you for what you have done,
and a full reward be given you by the Lord,
the God of Israel,
under whose wings you have come to take refuge.
— Ruth 2:12 ESV
Ruth is the third of the “Small Scrolls” in the third part of the Old Testament Scriptures that are called the Writings. The book of Ruth returns to the narrative part of the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. At the end of Kings, the storyline of God’s purpose came to an apparent dead end. The exile of God’s people from the Promised Land produced a very serious crisis in the faith and spirituality of God’s people. This crisis could only be endured through faith in God. Consider three points in this crisis:
- No descendant of David was on the throne. What had happened to God’s covenant promise to David (cf. Psalm 89)?
- The temple was destroyed. The place of worship was no longer available. How then could they worship God?
- The people were out of the land. What had happened to the promise that God had made to Abraham?
As the narrative is resumed in latter part of the Writings, the Holy Spirit provides help to believing people who had to live through that time and to cope with that messy situation.
The good news is that our Sovereign Lord worked through such crisis points to lead his people to Christ and his better covenant. The good copies of the law covenant, that God had put in place, were starting to be taken away to be replaced by the heavenly realities in Christ. But it was not easy to live through such an experience that we know lasted about six hundred years. The book of Ruth provided hope during that time, and it still provides hope to us when our lives are shaken. How did God do this? He told a love story, a romantic comedy, if you understand the meaning of that term. It gradually turns your frown upside down. Like any good love story, there are obstacles to be overcome, if the man and the woman are to be married. And when you reach the end, there is a very surprising conclusion!
Structure of Ruth – a love story in four episodes
- The return of two women from exile (1:1-22)
- A random meeting in a grain field (2:1-23)
- An awkward marriage proposal (3:1-18)
- Marriage and the baby carriage (4:1-22)
Ideas and features of Ruth
- Ruth shows that God is able to work out his purpose of salvation through his purpose of judgment. The book has a gloomy, dismal beginning, but it ends in joy and triumph.
- It provides a glimpse into the community life of the old covenant people (2:4; 4:11-12, 14-17). All is not right, but some righteous people share the joy of life together. Everyone who lives in the deathscape (yep, it’s a new word) of twenty-first century hyper-individualism needs to mediate on what is here.
- Without a reference to the tabernacle/temple, there are many prayer-wishes. People recognize God’s action in common human life. The Lord is in the thoughts of his people. (In Esther, we will see a different perspective.)
- Two important words are “return” (variously translated in the NIV) and the redeem/kinsman-redeemer complex.
The book tells of the inclusion of a woman from the nations (Ruth) into the covenant people. God’s covenant promises to Abraham are still being accomplished. She is taken in to lead to the Real Redeemer of people.
I. God kindly draws two women back to himself (1:1-22).
A. God works to accomplish his saving purposes even when we cannot perceive it.
1.At the time mentioned (1:1), Yahweh was breaking Israel down for their disobedience to him (Lev 26:18-20). A man and his wife, Naomi, ran from this and left the land of promise for Moab; in other words they exiled themselves from the land in order to seek an easier life. In God’s providence, Elimelech dies. Naomi is left a widow, a desperate position for any woman in ancient times, and her sons marry Moabite women. They broke the covenant law by doing this (Deut 23:3-6). Naomi’s two sons die after Naomi had been in Moab ten years (1:1-5).
2.God acted in kindness, as he promised he would (Lev 26:3-5), and helped Israel by providing them with food again. Naomi heard about God’s kindness and prepared to return to the Promised Land (1:6). Her daughters-in-law decided to go back with her. Next, Naomi had a strange discussion with them during which she urged them to stay in Moab. Whatever her reasons, this was a heart-breaking time for Naomi. She was willing to part from two women who had shown her kindness to her, so that she could return to Israel. She prays for the Lord to show kindness to them (1:8-9).
B. God draws outsiders to himself when we do not expect it.
1.The reality of sad parting makes the two Moabite women decide to go back with Naomi. She presented the hopelessness of such a plan and her perception that the Lord’s hand was against her. The other daughter-in-law decided to go back to Moab, but Ruth clung to Naomi (1:11-14).
2.Naomi next urged Ruth to go back to Moab also. This seems to be a very unlikely way to win converts! But the Lord did something in Ruth’s soul and gave her the gift of repentance and faith. Ruth boldly claimed a covenant relationship with God as her God (cf. Ex 6:6-7; Lev 26:12; etc.), though she was excluded by the law. How could this happen? Only through the promises that God made to Abraham, in which God preached the gospel in advance to him.
3.In her bitter anguish, Naomi could not see what the Lord was doing. She focused on her problems (1:20-21). What she failed to enjoy was that Ruth had returned with her (1:22). The Sovereign God had already started to change her life from bitter to sweet.
Point: Don’t be too quick to give an evaluation of your circumstances. It is better to leave such matters with God who is in charge of your life.
II. God kindly provided for Ruth and Naomi (2:1-23)
A. Ruth planned her course, but the Lord determined her steps (cf. Prov 16:9).
1.Ruth knew it was time to act. God blessed his people with a harvest, and Ruth knew it was her responsibility to claim a share of it, according to the Lord’s word (Lev 19:9; 23:22; Deut 24:19). At the same time, she respected her mother-in-law, which might have been hard to do, given Naomi’s bitter attitude.
2.God directed her to the field of Boaz, who “happened” to be Naomi’s relative and a godly man. He was humble, generous, compassionate, and kind. When he learned who Ruth was, he went to her, spoke kindly to her, and provided for her. He acted so that she might succeed in the work God had given her to do. He prayed for her success (2:12). This is what good men do for others.
B. Ruth told Naomi of that day’s blessings, but learned more of the mystery of God’s providence (2:17-23).
1.He was one of their kinsman-redeemers, which briefly means that he was in a position to help the two widows. Another man might have been able to help some, but Boaz would be able to do much more.
2.She was working in a safe place. All was not well in Israel (cf. 1:1; 2:9, 22). In a sinful world, those who are weak need protection from those that are cruel and evil.
III. The Lord kindly helped Ruth take a bold step (3:1-18).
A. Naomi acted to find a new husband for daughter-in-law (3:1-6).
1.When Naomi felt hopeless, she said that this was impossible. But loving-kindness had restored her confidence. She looked for help from a kinsman-redeemer. When we are hopeless, we must look out of ourselves for hope.
2.Naomi told Ruth what to do. She had to be taught the customs of her new people.
B. A marriage proposal (3:7-18)
1.Her request echoed his words to her (3:9; cf. 2:12). Ruth saw Boaz as the means that the Lord could use to provide for her.
2.Boaz accepted her plan but pointed out a problem. Another man had the first opportunity to redeem her and her land. But he reassured her of his good intentions by providing more food for her.
IV. The Lord kindly worked out his purpose for his king (4:1-22).
A. Boaz became the kinsman-redeemer.
1.The other man would not take the risk to help Naomi and Ruth. He was self-absorbed in his dreams and plans. The men of the town honored Boaz by praying for the Lord’s blessing on Boaz and Ruth.
2.The Lord blessed Boaz with a son through Ruth. Notice how the barren woman became fruitful by God’s power.
B. Ruth became the great grandmother of King David.
1.This is the point of the book of Ruth in God’s story. The book starts with a collection of insignificant people but ends with the names of significant people in the plan of God. Notice that this list contains ten names; compare it with two other important lists in Genesis. It tells us how God brought a hopeless exile home.
2.The book also teaches that there is hope for David’s line. God declares that he already acted in an amazing way to put David into the kingly line. If God can take a man and a woman without children, and make them parents in the lineage of the anointed king, he can also restore David’s son to David’s throne, even after exile.
Pastor Dave Frampton
The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are featured here at CMC. As a Bible teacher he excels. Teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.