This Easter I found myself reading the story of Ruth. Not because I chose it but because I’m reading my way through the whole Bible at the moment and that’s where I was up to. It’s actually a great part of the Bible to read at Easter. If you’ve read the story of Ruth you’ll know that it’s a story about a redeemer, who comes in the form of a good man named Boaz. Ruth is a beautiful story. It’s a story of love and grace. But have you read it after reading the last few chapters of the preceding book, Judges?
The contrast is stark. At the end of Judges things are looking pretty dark. God’s chosen people, the Israelites, have missed their mark. Ok, I’ll stop rhyming now, but the people were getting up to all sorts of bad things, things I don’t even want to think about (Judges 19). People were making idols, priests were serving people instead of God, people were stealing things, enemies were taking over, the streets were dangerous and sexual immorality and violence were at a level as despicable as in the times of Sodom and Gomorrah. The tribes were even warring with each other. Why did all this happen? Because they weren’t seeking God. We are repeatedly told, and the book of Judges also finishes with, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25 ) This is also the answer to many of the questions about bad things in the world today. Given free choice, many chose human ‘wisdom’ over God’s wisdom. “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
And then we get to the book of Ruth. It starts with sadness. A woman, Naomi, has lost both her husband and her two sons and is left with two daughters-in-law in a foreign country, to which her family had traveled to escape a famine in their homeland of Bethlehem in Judah. With the famine over and no-one to provide for her, Naomi heads back to her homeland and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, insists upon coming with her. Ruth could have gone back to her father’s house to be looked after and to find another husband, but she chooses to look after the needs of her mother-in-law. She forsakes comfort and chooses life in a different country with a different culture, serving a different God, being with a mother-in-law who was in a self-confessedly bitter state and having little hope of finding a husband as a poor foreigner; less hope of finding a husband than the Bennet girls of Pride and Prejudice. She chooses travel for two poor women on the roads in dangerous times. Life without a protector in dangerous times.
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. 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
Why? Love and kindness. Ruth had learnt how to love with God’s love, outside of feelings and self-centredness. That is the kind of love with which God loves us and with which he calls us to love others.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. – John 13:34
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. – John 15:13
Now Jesus literally laid down his life for us in a way that no-one else ever could. Sometimes people risk their lives to save others lives. But a lot of the time, we are required to lay down our way of life, laying down what we want to do, in order to love God and love other people. That is what Ruth illustrates so beautifully in this story.
But it gets better…
Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem as barley harvest time was beginning. Boaz is introduced as “a worthy man” related to Naomi’s deceased husband (Ruth 2:1). Ruth went off to glean barley in the fields, collecting what she could from behind the reapers. It was a God-ordained law that the poor and foreigners were allowed to gather grain that the reapers left behind (Deuteronomy 24:19-22). Boaz enters the scene. He probably wasn’t riding on a horse, but his greeting to his workers quickly establishes him as a man of good character and a man of respect: “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.”” (Ruth 2:4 ) And this is what he said to Ruth:
“Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” – Ruth 2:8-9
Boaz is the Mr Darcy of the Bible. Ruth was overwhelmed at his kindness and protection. Out in the fields was a dangerous place for a young woman to be in those times, but this grain was a major current food source for her and her mother-in-law. Boaz’s reason for showing her favour was this:
“All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 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 2:11-12
But it gets better…
Boaz fed Ruth with his workers at mealtime and gave her a doggy bag of leftovers to take home. He said she could now glean among the sheaves and told his workers to even pull out some and leave it for her to collect. At the end of the day, Ruth beat out the barley and took home about one ephah (22 litres) of barley. My chicken waterer bucket is 20L so I imagine that filled and overflowing with grains of barley. Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s fields throughout the barley harvest and then the wheat harvest.
Boaz was touched by Ruth’s love and now Ruth was being touched by Boaz’s grace. Ruth has taught us about God’s love and now Boaz is teaching us about God’s grace. What is grace? The most common definition of grace is the unmerited favor of God toward man. It is like God’s goodwill, kindness, mercy and patience all rolled into one ball – grace. I like this thought about grace: “Grace is the opposite of karma, which is all about getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don’t deserve.” (Justin Holcomb) Grace is not about us and what we do, it’s about God’s character. And here, Boaz is illustrating this concept of grace towards Ruth, a poor, widowed, foreign woman who hasn’t personally done anything to deserve this grace from him. It’s like Mr Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth Bennet despite her position in life being so decidedly below his own.
But it gets better…
Naomi puts on her matchmaking hat and hatches a plan to get Boaz to propose to Ruth because he is their relative and could continue the family line for both Ruth and herself (Ruth 3). Now that’s downright Pride and Prejudice! Mrs Bennet anyone? Throughout this plan, which sees Ruth innocently lying at Boaz’s feet in the middle of the night, Boaz continues to surprise us with his grace.
And he said, “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. – Ruth 3:10-12
In the morning Boaz goes to speak with the man who is a closer relative to Naomi than himself, the potential ‘redeemer’ for Ruth. This man is eager to redeem Naomi’s land (Leviticus 25:25) but not when the additional clause of marrying Ruth is set out, because he didn’t want to threaten his own inheritance. And so it was that Boaz married Ruth, as he said he would, and a son (Obed) was born to them. And the townspeople seemed pretty excited about it all too.
There are so many layers of redemption here: Ruth being redeemed by getting a husband and a son to continue her line and look after the family, Naomi being redeemed by getting a grandson who becomes like a son to redeem her family, further down the line the grandson of Obed was David, who helped redeem Israel and further down the family line was Jesus, who redeemed all mankind through sacrificing himself on the cross so that God’s grace can shine upon us. We don’t deserve God’s grace on any day, but we get it every day if we’ve chosen Jesus, because Jesus chose to redeem us.
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:8
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, – Ephesians 2:8
But, plot twist, do you know who Boaz’s mother was? Rahab. The prostitute. Earlier, in Joshua 2, she helped the two Israelite spies escape from the walled city of Jericho because she understood that God was going to help Israel conquer Jericho. The unlikeliest of female heroes, Rahab was busted out of the course of her ‘profession’ when God busted into her world. In return for her help and bravery, Rahab and her family were kindly and singularly spared when Jericho was destroyed. The last we hear about Rahab is that she lived in Israel from then on. (Joshua 6:25) But then the genealogy of Jesus tells us this:
and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, – Matthew 1:5
Rahab was the mother of Boaz. This man with amazing qualities, this Mr Darcy character, was raised and taught by a mum with a scandalous past, a foreigner whose city and people were destroyed. She evidently had quite a turnaround. Boaz was Rahab’s legacy, a testament to the grace that she was shown and the love and faith with which she raised him.
There are no questions today, just read the book of Ruth and ask God what he wants to say to you through this devotional. Dwell in the sweetness of both Ruth’s and Boaz’s similarities to the character of God: the way in which Ruth leaves and risks everything to look after her mother-in-law and the way in which Boaz treats Ruth kindly again and again, protects her and redeems her. Even in the midst of hard times, that’s how God loves you.
For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole earth he is called. – Isaiah 54:5
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits, who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, – Psalm 103:2-4
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. – Job 19:25
All Bible verses are from the ESV (English Standard Version), 2016.