After having read about so much dysfunction in the first six books of the Bible, it’s nice to come to a story where virtue and good character permeate throughout. Ruth was likely written in the time of King David to tell of his lineage of the tribe of Judah, and eventually to Jesus as we read in Matthew 1.
Naomi, her husband and two sons lived in Bethlehem. There was a famine in Israel and they decided to leave for Moab on the east side of the Dead Sea. After Naomi’s husband died her sons married two Moabite women (Moab was a son of Lot after the destruction of Sodom when his daughters got him drunk and they slept with him–leave it to God to have the Savior of the world come through an incestuous lineage). The sons died as well after some years, and the women were left alone, not a good thing in the ancient near east.
So Naomi decides to go back home and tells his daughter-in-laws to go back to their own people, one does, but Ruth refuses in these familiar verses from the book:
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “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. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
There had to be a lot of backstory for Ruth to feel this way. She could easily have stayed with what was familiar in Moab. But we read in Deut. 23 that the Moabites though related to Israel through Abraham’s nephew, were not welcomed to the assembly of the Lord. She must have seen something different in Naomi and her sons (they were married 10 years before they died), and the God of Israel they worshiped. She wanted to live among the people of God and the God of Israel.
When they get back Bethlehem they are the talk of the town. Naomi tells her story and she’s bitter about losing her husband and sons. In fact she tells the people to call her Mara from now on, which means bitter. But she won’t remain bitter for long because Ruth brings her hope by meeting Boaz as she gleaning leftover grain in his fields. He’s an older man and obviously well off, but most importantly he’s a relative of Naomi through her husband, which means he can be a kinsman-redeemer. Ruth’s reputation has preceded her, and we see how important the religious angle is:
11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Boaz knows where blessing comes from, as does Ruth. In ancient Israel the custom was that if a man died and he had a brother, the brother or some other relative must marry the widow to keep the name of the family alive. Thus Boaz can marry Ruth because he is related to the family through Ruth’s husband and Naomi’s husband, thus a kinsman-redeemer. Ruth has a son, Obed, who is David’s great grandfather. Obed has a son, Jesse, and Jesse has a son, David.
God’s providence is awesome. His sovereign will accomplishes his redemptive purposes because he is all powerful. He can turn the events of peoples’ lives exactly the way he needs to get done what he wants done, be they good, bad or indifferent people. Our hope is in this God who can save us utterly to the very end.