Christian Churches of God
(Edition 2.0 20020216-20070202)
The Book of Ruth is a beautiful story about courage, loyalty, love and friendship between two women. We will also see from this story that there are important lessons and instructions for Christians.
Naomi and Ruth
We read about Naomi and Ruth in the Book of Ruth. The story is set during the time when the leaders of Israel were called Judges. This was before there were kings. Naomi was an Israelite woman of the tribe of Judah. Ruth was a young woman from Moab. She was a Gentile (that is, from another nation) and a stranger among the Israelites. The story is important in the history of Israel and the Plan of God.
With her husband and two sons, Naomi left her home in Judah and went to live in Moab. The family went there to find a better life because there was a famine in Bethlehem where they lived (Ruth 1:1-2). When the people of Israel obeyed the One True God they were blessed. But when they worshipped other (false) gods they were punished. Sometimes God let invading armies conquer them and steal their crops. Sometimes they did not receive rain to make their crops grow (Lev. 25). So this story was during a time when the people were not right with God.
Moabites were old enemies of the Israelites and there were frequent wars between them. But at this time Israel was at peace with Moab. The Moabites were descendants of Lot who was a nephew of Abraham (Gen. 19:30-38). So there was a distant relationship between the two peoples. However, they did not worship the same God nor have the same religious beliefs.
Naomi’s husband was named Elimelech and her sons were named Mahlon and Chilion. While in Moab Naomi’s husband died and her sons grew up and married Moabite women. Their names were Orpah and Ruth (Ruth 1:3-4). Israelites were instructed not to marry from the Gentile tribes living around them, but Moabite wives were allowed (Deut. 7:1-3). This was because when Israelites mixed with other tribes they would worship the pagan gods of other lands. However, no Moabite man could ever be included among the Lord’s people. The reason for this can be seen in Deuteronomy 23:3-4.
Ten years after her husband died Naomi had to face more sorrow. Her two sons Mahlon and Chilion died also (Ruth 1:5). There was possibly a history of sickness in this family and God allowed the men to die so they would not pass the sickness on to future generations. Later in the story we will see that in the future two very important people in the line of Judah will be born to Ruth. However, no children were born to either of Naomi’s sons before they died.
While in Moab, Naomi did not worship the foreign gods of the Moabites. She remained faithful to her own beliefs. Over time and through her good example Naomi would have taught her beliefs to her daughters-in-law. By keeping God’s Law and not worshipping the gods of a foreign land, Naomi was a witness to the One True God. She did not mind being different and neither should we in the Church of God today.
When Naomi learned that the famine in Judah had ended she decided to go home. She wanted to be with her own people who worshipped and believed as she did. Also her family had died so there was no reason to stay any longer in Moab. Naomi still had some family connections at home. Both her widowed daughters-in-law decided to go with her even though Naomi tried to talk them out of it. She managed to convince Orpah but Ruth could not be persuaded to stay in Moab (Ruth 1:6-15).
Ruth made a pledge to go with Naomi and accept her God and beliefs and way of life (Ruth 1:16-18). This meant she was prepared to turn her back on her people and their gods and beliefs. This is not an easy thing to do. It meant that she would go away from her parents, brothers and sisters, friends and the place where she grew up.
Adult Christians are expected to do this when they come to know the One True God and His Law. As adults we have to repent and be baptised into the Body of Christ, which is the Church (Kingdom) of God. After baptism we are not to go back to a life of sin. We must continually try to obey God’s Law and grow stronger in the faith (Rom. 6:1-6; Col. 3:3-10).
Ruth was obviously converted. God allowed her to come to an understanding of the truth through His Holy Spirit as He does with us. But Orpah decided that moving away from home and living a new life might be just a bit too hard (Ruth 1:15). She chose to stay with her own people and worship the gods of Moab. Some Christians are happy to obey God for a short time, but when they have to give up something or someone they love to do that, they would rather go back to their old way of life (cf. Lk. 9:62). God and Christ cannot use people like that to help them in the Kingdom.
So Naomi and Ruth went to Bethlehem and all the people were excited to see them. Naomi had changed a lot so her friends did not recognise her at first. She was older and sad and depressed at having lost her sons and husband. She was also poor. But her friends encouraged her and told her that things would be okay now that she was home. Even with all the things Naomi suffered while in Moab she did not stop worshipping her God or abandon her beliefs (Ruth 1:19-22).
Many of us also have to suffer things like this in our lives. Sometimes those we love get sick and die and it makes us very sad. We could easily get angry with God at these times and give up the faith and go home like Orpah. But if we trust and rely on God, we can become stronger from our trials. We must keep the faith and we must help each other through hard times. Everyone needs to be encouraged at some time.
Both Naomi and Ruth were poor because they had no husbands to provide for them. So they had to find a way to get enough food for their immediate needs and for the future. Both women were strong and brave and were ready to look after themselves. Soon they found a way to do that.
Gleaning was a common thing for poor people to do in Israel. It was not stealing. Under the Law, whatever was left behind after harvesting the fields, vineyards or orchards was to remain for the poor to gather (Lev. 19:9-10). Widows and strangers were also permitted to glean. It was the way that society looked after the poor people. God also expects those of us who have plenty to share with the poor.
Ruth offered to glean in the fields during the spring harvest to provide food for Naomi and herself. Through the mercy of God Ruth came to glean in the fields of Boaz who was a relative of Naomi's dead husband. Boaz was unmarried, very rich and a believer in the One True God. He made sure Ruth was safe while she gleaned in his fields. He also liked and admired Ruth very much (Ruth 2:1-16).
Ruth worked hard and brought home a plentiful supply of food. Naomi was pleased and she advised Ruth to stay and glean in the fields of Boaz and not to go in any other fields. Ruth agreed and stayed there until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest (Ruth 2:17-23).
God’s Feasts are called harvests. The barley harvest is the first harvest, which takes place at Passover/Unleavened Bread. The wheat harvest takes place at Pentecost. The last harvest is the general harvest, which takes place at the Feast of Ingathering or Tabernacles. We will learn more about this in the paper God’s Holy Days (No. CB22).
Just as Ruth continued to glean until the end of harvesting, so Christians have to remain in the Church of God until the end of the harvest of the Church. Once we are baptised and placed into the Church of God we must stay there and work until the work is finished and Christ returns. We are not to return to the ways of the world.
An interesting thing to notice is that the owner of the fields prepared the soil and then planted the seed and watered it. But a gleaner was allowed to share in the harvest without doing any of the preparation work. All this work of preparing the soil, planting the seed and harvesting the crop is similar to the preaching of the Word of God.
The parable of the sower in Matthew 13:3-9 explains this. Here the Word of God is called the “seed”. Christ is the one who prepares the soil (us) so the seed (God’s Word) can grow in our lives. This happens over a long time and mostly starts before we even know it. Not everybody can understand the Word of God at this time. God has chosen just a few people to give to Christ to help prepare the Church for the Kingdom of God. Christ works under God’s direction and we work under Christ’s direction.
So, let us continue with the story. Naomi could see that God was working out a plan in their lives. She also knew about the Law for the protection of women and families. She told Ruth to let Boaz know that she wanted to marry him. This was a rather bold thing for Ruth to do because she was a Gentile and unclean to the Israelites. She was considered lower than the servants of Boaz. But it was her right under the Law to claim marriage and protection through her husband’s family.
Ruth loved and respected Naomi and was willing to listen to the older woman. So under Naomi’s direction, one night Ruth crept into the shed where Boaz worked and found where he was sleeping and lay down at his feet. She then requested that Boaz "spread his skirt" over her. Boaz knew the meaning of this and was happy that Ruth loved him as he also loved her. This was not being sinful. This would be a very strange thing for women to do today, but it was the custom of that time (Ruth 3:1-10).
It simply meant that Ruth was asking Boaz to take her under his protection and perform his duty as a close relative under Levirate Laws (Ruth 3:1-18). She wanted him to marry her and father a child who would then be the offspring of her dead husband. This would also ensure that she and Naomi would be able to take up their inheritance within the tribe of Judah.
Boaz was very happy to do this for the women. He was a relative and had a legal obligation to help them. He was unmarried and wealthy, but there was another closer relative of Elimelech who had first right to claim Ruth in marriage under the Law. So, this matter had to be dealt with first (Ruth 3:11-18).
In our society today, a woman is free to marry again if her husband dies, and to whomever she wishes. But in ancient Israel a woman married into the tribe of her husband. That means her husband’s family had to look after her as long as she remained in that family. In those days families lived and worked together and shared whatever they had. Women did not work away from home in other jobs.
The father was the head of the family. If he died, then the oldest son took over as head of the family. This included looking after the property and the women in the family. Also if any man in the family died without an heir, the Law required a brother to marry his wife. The first son born of that marriage would then become the legal heir of the dead man. This was to make sure that his name was not forgotten in Israel. It was also the way families looked after the widowed wife (Deut. 25:5-9).
Naomi had some family property in Bethlehem, which she wanted to claim. So the man who would marry Ruth had to redeem (buy back or reclaim) Naomi’s family inheritance. Boaz said he would do this but he first had to invite the nearest relative to perform this duty for Naomi’s family. By now everybody knew and loved Ruth. They saw how she looked after her mother-in-law and worked hard, and that she believed and worshipped as they all did.
Boaz talked to the other relative about the situation and that man was keen to buy the land. But when Boaz told him that buying the land meant he would also have to marry Ruth and provide an heir for Elimelech’s name, he was not so willing. He removed his shoe, which indicated that he did not wish to perform his duty to Elimelech’s family (Ruth 4:1-10). Removing his shoe was like making a contract today.
So, Boaz and Ruth were able to get married. They had a son who was called Obed. Naomi was very happy with her grandson. Her friends rejoiced with her and told her that his name would be great in Israel. And so it was. Obed was to become the grandfather of King David (Ruth 4:11-22). Also about twenty-eight generations after David Jesus Christ was born in the line of Judah (Mat. 1:7).
We have talked about some of the things Christians can learn from this story and there are more things we will learn about later. Israelites were the chosen people of God. But it is possible for Gentiles (that is, those of a nation other than Israel) to become spiritual Israelites. This is possible when we turn away from worshipping other gods and begin to worship the One True God and keep His Laws.
We see this example in the story of Ruth, who was willing to leave behind her pagan beliefs and her home, family and friends and take up a new way of life with Naomi. She made a total commitment to the One True God. We all must be willing to do this when we are baptised and called into the Church of God.
For a more detailed study of the Book of Ruth see the paper Ruth (No. 27).