This little book, set in the time of the judges, begins with a funeral and ends with a wedding. It starts with a famine but ends with ample provision. It is a reminder that, in the Lord, we can look forward to a happy ending!

But first let’s outline the story. Because of a famine an Israelite couple, Elimelech and his wife Naomi, leave Bethlehem with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, and end up in Moab, east of the Dead Sea. They stay there ten years, during which time their two boys marry Moabite girls: Mahlon marries Ruth—after whom the book is named—and Kilion marries Orpah.

Sadly, all three men die, leaving three widows. At that time, with the famine finally over, the older woman Naomi decides to return to her native Israel. Of her two daughters-in-law, Orpah chooses to stay in Moab, but Ruth declares her intention to go back to Israel with Naomi: ‘Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.’[1]

Back in Israel with no breadwinner, Naomi and Ruth are desperately poor, so Naomi makes plans to raise funds by selling off her late husband Elimelech’s land, while Ruth goes gleaning[2] to help support them in the meantime. She ends up gleaning in a field belonging to Boaz, a well-off farmer who happens to be a relative of the late Elimelech. Boaz clearly takes a shine to Ruth and treats her with kindness and generosity. Eventually she proposes that he act as ‘kinsman-redeemer’ (a technical term in Israelite law), buying Elimelech’s land and so stopping it being lost to the family.

Ruth’s proposal, however, doesn’t end with land-buying, because the ‘kinsman-redeemer’ role will also require Boaz to marry Ruth. But she has no problem with this aspect of the deal because, in the meantime, she and Boaz have fallen in love, in spite of his being a good bit older than her. So the whole deal goes through. Boaz acts as ‘kinsman-redeemer’ on both counts, buying Elimelech’s land and marrying Ruth.

There’s one thing more: Ruth in due course gives birth to a baby boy, Obed, who becomes the grandfather of the great King David. And since, much later, Jesus will be born of David’s line, Ruth the Moabitess, the foreigner, thus becomes, humanly-speaking, an ancestor of the Messiah. Wow, what a story!

A key message of this book is that, though the times of the judges were dark days, spiritually, morally, economically and nationally, godliness and good character are always around if only we will look for them. The Holy Spirit inspired the book of Ruth as a reminder to look for the positives. This is a timely message because our own days, too, are dark in many ways, but let’s be alert to the shafts of light that appear, often in the most unlikely quarters.

The pictures of salvation we have seen in the previous books continue in this one, where Ruth herself represents us as believers in Jesus Christ. As a Moabitess she was a ‘foreigner’ to the true God and to Israel the people of God, just as we ourselves were once ‘separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.’[3] But she became—as do we—part of the family of God, related to the Messiah, Jesus.[4]

Boaz represent the Lord Jesus. To see how, we need to grasp a couple of ancient Hebrew concepts that are vital to this story. The first is ‘levirate marriage’. Levir is a Latin word translating the Hebrew for ‘brother-in-law’. Under Old Testament law, if a man died without children, his widow could request his brother or another near relative to marry her. Hopefully she would then bear children who would perpetuate her dead husband’s family name and line.[5] The second concept is the ‘kinsman-redeemer’—in Hebrew the goel. The goel was a near-relative (‘kinsman’) of a disadvantaged person who would ‘redeem’ (buy back) the person’s property so that they didn’t have to sell it and see it lost to the family.[6]

Boaz fitted the bill all round. He was distantly related to Ruth through Naomi, her mother-in-law—the ‘kinsman’ aspect. He was willing to redeem (buy back) her land—the ‘redeemer’ aspect—and, as part of the deal, he was willing to marry her and give her a future. So he is a perfect picture of our Lord Jesus, who became related to us by leaving heaven and ‘being made in human likeness’ in his incarnation.[7] He showed his love and grace in redeeming us from an aimless existence, for, as Peter reminds us, ‘it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’[8] And he has chosen us as his bride (a picture developed in Ephesians 5) and we look forward to a glorious future with him at his return.[9]

Those, then, are the broad brush-strokes of the picture of salvation in this book. But there are fine details, too. Take, for instance, the incident in chapter three describing how Ruth requested Boaz to become the kinsman-redeemer.[10] To us modern readers it looks as if she was trying a spot of seduction, but in the culture of the day her behaviour was both normal and acceptable. What did she do?

It was the height of the harvest season, so she knew that Boaz would be sleeping out at the threshing-floor rather than at home. She washed and anointed herself, and put on her best clothes. Going down to the threshing-floor, she surreptitiously noted where Boaz bedded himself down for the night. Once he was hard asleep by the grain-pile after his long day’s work, she crept in and, lifting the blanket from his feet, lay down there. During the night, while turning over, Boaz discovered Ruth at his feet and the ensuing conversation settled the matter: yes, he would gladly serve as kinsman-redeemer. In the morning he made her a generous gift of grain to share with Naomi, to whom she returned as a happy young woman with exciting prospects.

Warren Wiersbe summarises the typological significance of this incident: ‘We can see in Ruth’s actions a beautiful illustration of the believer’s relationship to Christ. Certainly if we want fellowship with him, we must be washed, anointed (the Holy Spirit), and clothed (v3). Our proper place is at his feet. It is “night” now, but we fellowship with him until the morning comes (v13) and he claims his bride for himself! As the result of our fellowship, we ought to have food to share with others (v15–17).’[11]

But in addition to providing this salvation-detail, the book of Ruth teaches a more basic lesson: God is in charge. It has much to say about God’s providence, which is his sovereign control of the ordinary and everyday circumstances of life for the fulfilling of his purposes. When you drive into a busy car park and pray for a place, which appears, this is not so much a miracle as God’s providence. In such a case the benefits to you are obvious. But at other times they are hard to see, or are completely invisible. Like a friend of mine whose car was broken into, with damage to the glass and bodywork, and items stolen. There was no evident blessing in that at all, just a lot of unwanted hassle. But trusting God’s providence means seeing his hand in all your circumstances, both good and bad, and believing that, whether or not you eventually understand their significance, those circumstances are achieving his purpose and your ultimate blessing. It’s the truth of Romans 8:28, which assures us that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’

If we don’t take this ‘all things’ line we are being inconsistent, because either God is in charge or he isn’t. We criticise non-Christians for grumbling at God when bad things happen but never giving him credit for the good things. But we can be guilty of the opposite: thanking him for the good things and failing to acknowledge his controlling hand in the bad things. The book of Ruth shows us the need to recognise his sovereign control of all our circumstances.

Take a good thing, like the end of the famine in Israel. We read, ‘When Naomi heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.’[12] But she also saw God in the down-side of her life, like the premature death of her husband in a foreign country: ‘It is more bitter for me than for you,’ she said to her daughters-in-law, ‘because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!’[13] And when she arrived back in Bethlehem a broken woman she was even more explicit to her old neighbours there: ‘The Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty… The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’[14]

I suggest to you that it is a sign of Christian maturity to believe in Romans 8:28 and accept all that God sends with simple trust in him as a loving God, whether or not his love is circumstantially obvious. In this respect Job had some wise words for his wife who, seeing his sickness and misfortune, urged him to curse God and die. He replied, ‘You are talking like a foolish woman. Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?’[15] This wise attitude is summed up in his oft-quoted statement: ‘The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised.’[16]

‘But surely it’s the devil, not God, who brings bad things?’ you may be thinking. The devil is active, yes. But never forget that he is God’s devil. We are not dualists, believing that God and the devil are equals, like a couple of cosmic sumo wrestlers, with sometimes one in control, sometimes the other. The book of Job itself teaches clearly that the devil is unable to act without God’s express permission. So if he brings trouble your way it is only because the loving God who stands over him has allowed him to do so.

Not that we should credit the devil with all our misfortunes; sometimes these are simply the result of life in a fallen creation. But God is in control of these, too, and—though it is sometimes hard to believe—he is working through them for our immediate or ultimate blessing, or both. Hear what God himself says in the Song of Moses: ‘See now that I myself am He! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal…’[17]

And in case you think this is just Old Testament theology I draw your attention to the fact that the New Testament repeats the same message. ‘Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?’ asked Jesus, continuing, ‘Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care… So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’[18] Peter, talking about the ‘living hope’ that is ours, says: ‘In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy…’[19]

In the light of all this you may need to make a few tweaks to your concept of what God is like. That he is the sovereign controller of all things, good and bad, there can be no doubt. While we dare not accuse him of being the source of evil, he has the devil firmly under his control and allows him to afflict us only within strict limits, and those limits are governed by God’s love for us.

His love, however, does not make him a celestial sugar daddy, a convenient provider of nice feelings. This view, espoused by some who call themselves Christians, panders to our generation’s desire for comfort, pleasure, material wealth and ‘feeling good’. But parents who give their children everything they want and shelter them from all pressure end up with spoilt brats, and God is too good a parent to treat you that way. He is committed to your welfare and knows that you often learn best through challenges and difficulties, so he provides some, but he remains standing by, watching you as you find your way through the hard times, ready to help when needed.

Neither is he a weak God whom you can manipulate by the so-called ‘word of faith’ to achieve your own ends. He is not a heavenly snack-dispensing machine, where, provided you have the right coins and press the right button, that chocolate bar is yours. He is a living person to whom you relate, not a machine that you use, and you cannot bend him to your will be quoting the right Bible verses and offering strident enough prayers. He is concerned to achieve his ends, which are far more noble than yours, and it is your privilege to co-operate with him in seeing them worked out, often through tough times.

When those tough times come, how should you react? Begin by crying out to the Lord—specifically to him. This way, you acknowledge him in the situation first, as we saw Naomi did. It is both natural and acceptable to cry out to him for help. But don’t dress it up in pseudo-faith terms: ‘Oh, thank you, Lord, for this broken leg, for the fact that the dog got hit by that car this morning and that we’ve just had this massive bill from the vet at the very time my employer has gone out of business!’ That’s not faith, it’s just stupidity. Call to God for help, as the Israelites did in the time of the judges when oppressed by their enemies, and as Naomi no doubt did when left widowed in a foreign land. Say, ‘I don’t like this, Lord, and I don’t understand it, but I’m sticking with you, Lord, and it’s to you I’m calling now for help.’

Having done that, see if any action is needed on your part. The tough times may be the direct result of your own behaviour. That was the case in the time of the judges, and the Israelites needed to adjust their behaviour accordingly. If it is the case with you, admit it and take the appropriate action. Or your tough times may be a nudge to reach out and help somebody else. Some men were in a boat out at sea when one of them, a non-swimmer, fell overboard. Nobody made any effort to rescue him. They just looked at each other, shrugged and said, ‘It is the will of Allah.’ Well, maybe it was, but it was undoubtedly God’s will, too, that they stop the boat and throw the man a rope. Faith is not fatalism.

Once you have accepted your circumstances as God’s will, trusting his providence, you can enjoy the peace he will give you—even while the difficulties persist. ‘Do not be anxious about anything,’ Paul urges, ‘but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’[20]

When you have thus got your attitude right and done all you can, you can look forward to a happy ending. Naomi and Ruth ended up with smiles on their faces. Naomi, once widowed and destitute, had a grandson on her knee, food on the table and a supportive family group around her. Ruth had a good husband, a delightful child, material provision and a bright future. They and their story remind us that God specialises in happy endings.

Often we enjoy happy endings in the episodes of this life, but for us as Christians there is the prospect of the happy ending to cap them all. When the union of the Lord and his people is complete we will be together for ever in an endless life of unspeakable blessing: ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’[21]

Boaz will marry his Ruth. Christ will be united with his church. And we shall live happily ever after!

 

Copyright © David Matthew 2009

 

 

1. Ruth 1:16-17

2. Gleaning is scouring recently-harvested fields for leftover heads of grain.

RUTH

Trust God For A Happy Ending

 

This is one essay in the Windows On The Word series. Click the Next and Previous buttons to move through the series, and Up to go to the list. Footnotes appear in the right-hand column. Hover over Bible references to see the text.

 

Home.Previous.Up.Next.
Home.Previous.Up.Next.

3. Ephesians 2:12

4. See 1 John 3:1; Romans 8:29

10. Some wonder why Ruth had to propose to Boaz instead of vice versa. Being an older man, Boaz naturally didn’t see himself as in the running; he expected Ruth to marry a younger man. Note his words to her in Ruth 3:10.

Ruth

11. Wiersbe, W. W. (1993). Wiersbe's Expository Outlines On The Old Testament (Ru 1:1). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

12. Ruth 1:6

13. Ruth 1:13

14. See Ruth 1:19-21

15. Job 2:9-10

17. Deuteronomy 32:39; see also 1 Samuel 2:6, Hannah’s prayer after bad times (being barren and taunted by her husband’s other wife), followed by her joy at having given birth to Samuel.

20. Philippians 4:6-7

21. See Revelation 21:1-4

5. See Genesis 38 and Deuteronomy 25:5-10

6. See Leviticus 25:25-28, 47-49; Numbers 5:8

7. Philippians 2:6-7

8. 1 Peter 1:18-19

9. Revelation 19:7

16. John 1:21

18. Matthew 10:29-31

19. 1 Peter 1:6-8

The gist of this article

God, it seems, specialises in providing happy endings. The story of Ruth, set in the grim period of the judges, illustrates how people of faith and obedience to God can depend on his support and, more than that, emerge successful and triumphant.