The book of Ruth is a simple, beautiful, and poignant story of how a Moabite widow comes to be the grandmother of King David, and therefore a great grandmother of Jesus.
Chapter 1 opens explaining that a famine in Israel forced Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons leave their home in Bethlehem and go to the country of Moab. Things had to be really bad for an Israelite to move to Moab, a country with a long history of hostility towards Israel.
There may have been food there, but Moab did not end up being a happy place for them. After several years, Elimelech died. Naomi still had her two sons who married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. But after only a few more years, both Naomi’s sons died too. So there were three widowed women living together.
News eventually reached Naomi that the famine in Israel was over so she prepared to return to her home town of Bethlehem. Orpah and Ruth insisted that they go with her, but Naomi urged them not to, for she had no more sons to give them. She encouraged them to stay in Moab so they might marry again. Orpah listened to Naomi, but Ruth insisted on going with her. When Naomi again urged her to stay behind, this was Ruth’s reply:
Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me (1:16-17).
When Naomi saw that Ruth was committed to her, she let her come back with her to Bethlehem.
When they arrive, it’s clear that the famine is indeed over, but they have nothing but the clothes on their back. So Ruth determines to go into the fields to look for grain that was left behind or dropped while it was being harvested so they could eat.
The field she ended up gathering in belonged to a man named Boaz. When he came by to check on the work of the harvest in his fields, he noticed Ruth following after his harvesters. “Who does that young woman belong to?” (2:5). he asks them. His foreman answered, “She is a Moabite who came back with Naomi. She asked to glean behind the harvesters. She’s been in the field all day” (2:6-7).
The truth is, Ruth probably stood out like a sore thumb. Not because she was a poor person following the harvesters picking up after them, there were probably others; but because she was a Moabite.
The Moabites, as I alluded to earlier, were longtime enemies of Israel. They were the people who hired Balaam to curse Israel in Numbers 22. The Moabites seduced the Israelites into worshipping Baal by having their women invite the men to join them in temple prostitution in Numbers 25.
The Moabites were the enemy, and there was one picking up food in his field! When you have that context in your mind, it adds a whole new layer to Boaz’s question in 2:5, “Who does that young woman belong to?” Boaz didn’t seem to be bothered that she was a Moabite. He noticed a young woman and wanted to know her story.
Then he goes up to her and tells her to stay in his field and to gather as much as she can; that he would protect her and keep her safe. He praises her for her care of his relative, Naomi and for her willingness to leave her home and her country and her people to do it. Then he invites her to lunch!
When Ruth finally comes back to wherever she and Naomi were staying, she has 30 pounds of barley and a doggie-bag from lunch! Naomi asks the obvious question, “Where did all this come from?” When she hears that the field Ruth had been working in belonged to Boaz, hope starts to bud again in her heart.
“The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers” (2:20, NIV).
You couldn’t permanently sell your land in Israel. But if things got bad you could sell your land for the time between then and the next Jubilee year. The worth of the land was greater or less depending on how close the next year of Jubilee was. In the year of Jubilee, the land you sold reverted back to you. However, God set it up in His Law that a close family member could redeem it and give it back to you before the next Jubilee by paying the remaining value of the land off. Boaz was a close relative of Elimelech and could invoke that on their behalf.
So Naomi encourages Ruth to stay in his field and not go elsewhere lest she run into people who were not as kind. So she continued to work in his fields throughout the barley and wheat seasons. But nothing happens.
Chapter 3 opens with Naomi orchestrating a move to encourage Boaz to act as the guardian redeemer. Her plan was simple. Get Ruth all dressed up, made up, and beautified, and when Boaz is sleeping after “eating and drinking,” go in to wherever he was, uncover “his feet” and lay down with him. If that sounds suggestive, it is because it is! And it is very ironic. While the Moabite women were seducing the men of Israel to break God’s Law in Numbers 25, here Ruth is seducing Boaz in order to entice him to obey God’s Law!
And it works! Boaz is startled in the middle of the night and wakes up to a sweet smelling Ruth who is dressed to impress! His response says it all:
“The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character” (3:10-11).
Boaz promises that he will act as her guardian redeemer and will take her to be his wife. But there is a hitch that needs addressed first. Boaz wasn’t the closest relative. The only way he could act was if the closer relative refused to.
Ruth 4:1-10 tells us what happens the following day,
Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.
Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek.
I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”
“I will redeem it,” he said.
Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”
At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)
So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.
Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”
Ruth was rejected by the closest relative. While the prospect of getting the land was good to him, she was a deal breaker. Think about that.
Ruth was poor.
She was a foreigner.
She was a widow.
She came at a cost.
The point is that Boaz saw all that, and redeemed her anyway.
The lesson for us is that Jesus loves us and redeems us like Boaz loved and redeemed Ruth.
Like Ruth, we are not in a position to redeem ourselves. Ruth’s care for and commitment to Naomi was commendable, but it did not change the fact that she was destitute and dependent on the mercy of others to survive. Try as she might she would not be able to redeem herself.
We are in the same position are we not? We may look good when we compare ourselves to one another, but when we measure ourselves against God’s Law, we realize that no matter how good we may think we are, we aren’t that good. I hear people say, “I give God my best!” Well He isn’t getting much then is He! Like Ruth we are enemies. We are poor. We are in debt. If we are not redeemed we will die in that poverty and be held accountable for what we owe.
What Boaz was for Ruth, Jesus became for us. In order for us to be redeemed He became one of us so that He could act as the ultimate guardian redeemer.
We were enemies.
We were poor.
We had a debt that only God could pay it was so big.
Jesus saw all that, and redeemed us anyway.
The big difference being that we did not do anything to entice Him to do so. Ruth had the noble character to catch Boaz’s attention, but she had to seduce him in the middle of the night to get him to act.
Not so with Jesus. We didn’t do anything to catch His attention. We didn’t seduce Him to. Heck, not only did we not ask, but we didn’t want Him too. John says in John 1:10-11 (NIV), He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Isaiah says in Isaiah 53:3 (NIV),
He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Jesus acted as our guardian redeemer when we rejected Him. It was one-way love. It was all grace.
What should we take away from this?
First we should respond with joy and thanksgiving! If you are in Christ, if you have accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, you have been redeemed! Your debts have been completely paid. Be it ever so serious, no matter how grievous, your guilt has been expunged! Not only has your debt been paid and your slate wiped clean, you have been adopted as sons and daughters with full rights to Jesus’ estate. Heaven and earth are yours! The Father sees you, relates to you, and loves you with the same love and joy He has in His Son. And He has promised to love you, protect you, provide for you, and see you safely Home.
Or perhaps you have doubts about that. Maybe you’ve wondered away. Maybe you’ve said some things, or done some things, that you regret. And you wonder if Jesus still wants you. To you your Guardian Redeemer says,
I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you (Isaiah 44:22, NIV).
If that is you, take a moment to let that call sink in to your soul.
Perhaps you have not done so yet. Perhaps you say, “I’m too broken. I’m too damaged. I’m too far gone. I’ve done too much.”
Let me tell you something. I know that every person in here has done something that they are so ashamed of, that if I were to repeat it here in front of everybody you would most likely head for the nearest bridge. But you need to know, that the grace that Jesus can fit on the head of a pin is more than enough to redeem you ten thousand times over. His arm is not too short. His mercy has no limits. There is no sin, no guilt be it ever so great, that can stand even one second under the omnipotent force of His grace.
You have probably heard of John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
But have you heard of John 3:17? For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
Jesus is not out to get you. He’s out to redeem you.
Perhaps you have been told that you are hopeless. Perhaps like Ruth you’ve met people like the unnamed guardian redeemer who could have helped you out, but passed you up. Perhaps you have heard the equivalent of “I cannot do it, it would endanger my estate.”
The good news is, you don’t have to convince Jesus to redeem you. You don’t have to earn it. You don’t have to be good enough. You don’t have to get it all right. You don’t have to have all your ducks in a row first. You don’t need to prove yourself worthy. You just need to ask Him too. You just need to answer His call. He is not going to say “No.” He is not going to make you wait. He is not going to make you show what He gets by getting you.
That’s what the story of the lost sons in Luke 15 was all about. How did the Father respond when he saw his son who wished him dead and took his inheritance and blew it all walking on the road?
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him…the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate (Luke 15:20-24, NIV).
What is waiting for you is not judgment but celebration. You will not be rejected or turned away. You are not going to find Jesus too busy, or out of sorts, or in such a mess that He cannot help. If that is your picture of Jesus, you need to throw it out. It is not true. Jesus is not only able, not only ready, but is eager to redeem you. Go to Him. You’ll be glad you did.