THE BOOK OF RUTH
The author of this book of Ruth is unknown, and the time when it was written is likewise unknown. But the time when the events recorded in it took place is indicated to us in the very first words of the book. It was the time of the Judges. This rather broad expression is further qualified by the statement, “there was a famine in the land.” This statement has led many commentators to conclude that this story deals with the period of time before and during the rule of Gideon. This is not at all impossible and would also explain somewhat why Elimelech moved to Moab. For in Gideon’s day there was a great Midian-inflicted famine. By this we mean that which is recorded in Judges 6 where we read that the hordes of the Midianites came up to the land of Canaan and destroyed all the growing grain of the Israelites. Since the Midianites came from the south and destroyed the increase of the land as far north as Gaza (Judges 6:4), and since if you would draw a line straight eastward from Gaza through Hebron you would find Bethlehem, where Elimelech lived, to be a little more than twelve miles farther north. The destruction thus was very near where he lived, and this would easily explain why he suffered from the famine. It would also explain why in Moab there was plenty of food. We prefer to take this view of the matter. And then, presently we can also explain how Boaz could have been such a wealthy man and the nearest of kin of Mahlon could be eager to buy the land that Elimelech had left behind.
The judgment of God was upon the land, that is plain. Whether now we wish to consider the form of that judgment to have been a natural phenomenon so that He gave no increase upon the earth through a drought or whether He sent the Midianites to take it away, Israel was being visited by the hand of God. And we believe that the sin of Elimelech was that he sought to escape that judgment of God, not in the way of repentance and confession of sin but by fleeing to an ungodly nation that was an enemy of God’s cause. It was the bread question with Elimelech.
We hasten to add, however, that we do believe that Elimelech was an elect child of God, though very weak in his faith. In all fairness to him, we must say of him what God does, he went “to sojourn” in the land. His intention was to return when God lifted His judgments from off Israel. But he surely did try to live by bread alone. This he put before the living by the words which proceed from God’s mouth. Even the promises of God’s mouth he let go to a great extent, for he left the land of promise! His name means, “My God is king”, but he did not live that confession.
The family soon found out that God’s judgments were also in Moab. Elimelech dies in Moab. He dies outside the land of promise! Soon Naomi is to feel that judgment of God again, for He also takes her two sons away. Still more, He had withheld from these sons any seed. Neither son had as much as one child. God had truly shown His displeasure with their behavior. He spoke when He took Elimelech’s life away. The family remains yet another ten years in Moab. God speaks again in the barrenness of these son’s wives. The famine is over and they remain in Moab. God speaks again, and Naomi is left alone!
Points For Discussion:
- Elimelech leaves Canaan. Why was it sinful for an Israelite to leave the land of Canaan? Who else did this and fell into other sins in that land? But did Elisha not advise the Shunamitish woman to sojourn where she could because of the impending famine? She went to the land of the Philistines. And what does Genesis 26:1-3 say about this? To what action of men today would you compare this act of Elimelech? In how many ways do we try to live by bread alone today? Mention some of the chiefest ways?
- God’s judgments upon sin. Is every famine, every death, every case of barrenness a judgment of God? Is every one of these in every instance the evidence of God’s wrath upon all those who suffer? May we conclude that because Elimelech died before he could return to the land of promise that he died in his sins under God’s judgment? What then of his sons who married heathen wives, would you consider them to be reprobate and Naomi the only elect?
The Choice of a Marvelous Faith
Naomi may have been too weak in her faith to trust God in the midst of the famine, but in His mercy God did not let her go and even gave her the grace to instruct the Moabitish wives that her sons had married. He brought her, after taking the last of her sons away by death, to the conviction of her sin and to repentance. She was brought by His grace to hear and see His judgment upon the sinful way she was traveling. She confesses this in verse 21. We dare not explain verses 19 through 22 as a complaint of Naomi and a rebellion against His way. Her return to Canaan and her behavior there in the land is such that she reveals herself as a penitent child. And the fact that Ruth knows enough about Naomi’s God that she says that Naomi’s God is her God reveals that she was faithful in teaching these Moabitish wives of her sons the truth of God’s Word.
When she packs her things to go back to Canaan she makes sure that her daughters-in-law go with her in faith and for principle’s sake or not at all. The choice was too great for Orpah. Think what it meant! To go with Naomi meant separation from father, mother and all that for which blood ties cry. It meant further that they would enter as total strangers who would not be looked upon with friendly eyes since they were Moabites, descendants of a nation that had afflicted Israel greatly. They would enter as widows, though yet of marriageable age, being, no doubt, in their early thirties. The reluctance of the nearest of kin (see chapter 4:4-6) to marry Ruth to obtain the inheritance shows that she has “two counts” against her. She is not only a widow, but she was also a Moabitess. (See Deut. 23:3). Hope of marriage and living a normal life again was far greater if they remained in Moab. Then too Moab was of the world. In Moab only physical violence was condemned, but for the rest there was plenty that the flesh could enjoy, and no man would forbid it, rather all Moab’s citizens would help you practice it. While in Canaan there was precept upon precept, law upon law.
But Ruth chose to cast her lot with God’s people. And do not overlook the fact that the lot of Israel at this time was not a pleasant one for the flesh. God had visited His people and given them bread again, but the whole period of Judges was one when unless one had faith in God one would strongly question God’s love and power to save His people. It was a period of persecution by one nation after another. Unless one was ready by faith to acknowledge Israel’s guilt, this work of God was indeed hard to understand. But Ruth chooses to cast her lot with this people because Jehovah was her God. She is willing to suffer hardships and deprivations with Naomi. Where she lodges, Ruth is willing to lodge. If only she may be in the land of God’s promises, if only she may share in the blessings of Christ, the physical side, the blood ties with her mother and father etc. do not count. What amazing faith! Where Naomi with her husband had once failed and had put the material before the spiritual this Gentile convert shows her steadfast desire to do otherwise. Where Naomi left the land of promise so that she might have plenty to eat, Ruth leaves the land where she had plenty to eat, friends, home, father and mother and all she ever knew to go to the land of God’s promise where for the flesh the future for her is dark. And, beautifully, realizing her weakness in herself she pleads with Naomi not to tempt her any more. She does not want to be persuaded to let the cry of the material move her. And she stipulates no conditions. She does not agree to try it for a while, but until death she desires to remain in that land. Yes, she wants to die with the joy and comfort of the promises of God.
Points For Discussion:
- Naomi’s behavior. Why did Naomi put Ruth through such a severe trial? Was this a wise thing to do seeing that she is such a recent convert? Should we not be more lenient with those who have just come to the knowledge of God in Christ? Is it possible to be too strict in the church with the key-power God gives? Or do you think that Naomi did this simply to spare Ruth all the shame and reproach that a Moabitess would endure in the land of the Jews?
- Ruth’s Confession. What does she mean when she says, “Thy God is my God”? What is implied in saying that a certain person or even thing (see Philippians 3:19) is our God? Who were the Moabites? Was there any possibility that Ruth might have heard of and been instructed before this time in the God of Israel? What one thing above all else distinguishes the true religion from all others? How do you explain that Ruth believed while Orpah did not?
God’s Kindness to a Penitent Child
We called your attention in the last lesson to Naomi’s confession of her sin. In this lesson we see God showing His kindness and mercy to the penitent child. The heart of the chapter is found in verse 20 wherein Naomi acknowledges the goodness of God in leading Boaz to deal kindly with her.
It is well for us to remember that when Naomi came into Canaan again with Ruth she was in abject poverty. They had nothing. Indeed, chapter 4:3 indicates that the piece of land which Elimelech had left behind when he took his family into Moab was still Naomi’s possession and through her it was Ruth’s. But that did them no good that year. They came at the time of the harvest. It was too late to sow any crops upon the land, and anyway, how would two women undertake this difficult task? Besides they would need food to tide them over till their crops were ripe. To all practical purposes there is still a famine in Canaan for Naomi.
Ruth, who is overjoyed at being in the sphere of God’s promises, is not too proud to go and gather in the fields what the reapers had left behind. By God’’ providence she chooses the field of a wealthy man who was of the kinfolks of Elimelech. Boaz, this rich man, enquires of his reapers who this damsel is that gathers after the reapers. Being told that this is Ruth he approaches her, assures her of her welcome on his field, shows great kindness in supplying her with food and drink for her noontime meal, and instructs the young men to drop extra portions for her to find. His reason for all this, which he also tells Ruth, is that he has heard of her kindness to Naomi and of her great faith and joy in God’s promises. To him it makes no difference whether she is not of the physical seed of Abraham. What interests him is that the seed of regeneration has been implanted in her heart by God. When Ruth goes home at night she relates to her mother-in-law all that had happened that day and Naomi is also overjoyed at the things which had taken place.
Naomi now sees the hand of God as, being full of mercy and kindness. She had confessed that He had dealt bitterly with her because of her sin, but now she praises Him for His kindness. We must not overlook the fact that she once again sees God in this. She says in verse 20, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his, kindness to the living and the dead.” She has reference here to God showing this kindness not to Boaz, although it is Boaz through whom He performed it. What kindness and mercy of God we see here! While Naomi was in Moab He gave no evidence of mercy. He loved her then, and even though it required three deaths to bring her to the acute awareness of her sin, He did this all in mercy to bring her back to the place where He would show mercy. Now that she is walking again by faith, she sees His mercy again. God will never show His mercy to those who walk in sin, for He will never encourage His people in their sins. But He is always ready to encourage those who walk by faith, and now when Naomi is looking to Him for help He shows her His great mercy and kindness.
Points For Discussion:
- Ruth’s Inheritance. Because she was the wife of Mahlon this piece of land in Canaan became Ruth’s inheritance. That Elimelech had not sold it when he went into Canaan, does that make his sin any less or greater that he left Moab? Was, it sinful for an Israelite to sell his possessions? May we today sell anything we inherit, a house, a field or the like? Was Naboth not sentimental and foolish to refuse to sell to Ahab when he could have gotten a better vineyard or even sold at his own price? See I Kings 21:3.
- Kindness to the dead. Naomi speaks of Boaz and God showing kindness to the dead. How would you explain this? The Roman Catholic Church believes in doing things for the dead, but what does Naomi have in mind here? Does the matter in the preceding point for discussion give you any clue as to what she might have meant?
Boaz Redeems Ruth’s Inheritance
After the kind treatment which Boaz showed unto Ruth, Naomi immediately made up her mind to instruct Ruth in seeking to have Boaz redeem the inheritance which was hers as the wife of Mahlon. Look up Deuteronomy 25:5-10 to get the correct picture of what takes place in these two chapters which constitute our lesson for this week. The whole idea behind this practice as given by the Word of God is that the elect can never lose their part in God’s kingdom. Therefore a family in Israel considered it a terrible thing if a family would die out because no son was born to it to carry on the name and dwell upon the inheritance which God had given it. In Israel that happened occasionally, in God’s eternal kingdom there is no possibility that an elect will lose his part in God’s kingdom. As a type and shadow of this fact a brother-in-law or the nearest of kin was required to take the wife of his brother who had died and raise up seed for him so that there would be an heir of his land.
Now we may question the method which Naomi taught Ruth to practice in order to ask Boaz to do the part of the kinsman, yet Scripture does not speak one word of condemnation, and even after this Boaz still speaks of Ruth as being a “virtuous woman”. In a sense we may say that Ruth here proposed to Boaz. And the reason why Naomi suggested this procedure was that the first in line who should have married Ruth was an ungodly and unbelieving Jew and Naomi would have Boaz understand that therefore it was their desire that he do this which the ungodly kinsman refused to do.
This first in line never showed any kindness to Naomi and Ruth. He surely knew of their poverty and of his calling. See again chapter 1:19. And although he would have liked to buy the land or the produce of that land until the year of Jubilee (see Leviticus 25:25 ff.) he would not marry Ruth. Why he refused to marry Ruth we are not told except that it would mar his inheritance. He may have meant by this that he despised Ruth as a Moabitess. He wanted no Gentile blood to inherit his and Ruth’s land. It may be that he had planned on marrying some other damsel and this would spoil his plans. God’s laws must not stand in the way which he has chosen for himself.
Boaz, however, is ready to do that which this nearest of kin refuses to do. He has not lost faith in God. He has interest in God’s ordinances and, as we saw before, he is a man who puts the spiritual above the material. He does not see Ruth as a Moabitess. He sees her as a child of God, with the same life of Christ that he himself enjoys. And although the text and the passages in the law say nothing about this, we are convinced that Boaz had no other wife at that time. He may have had before, one that died. By we cannot conceive of this law of God as demanding that a married brother-in-law taking the wife also of his deceased brother. The seventh commandment is in conflict with any such arrangement. But God has here also prepared the way. He has brought Ruth to Canaan. Boaz has no wife and is qualified by God to take Ruth. And in the marvel of His wisdom and grace God has prepared the way for David and through Him for the Christ to come into our flesh.
A sad beginning there is to this book. Naomi because of the events would have her name changed to “bitter”, but how little she and we understand God’s works. He was preparing the way for Him to be born who took all Naomi’s bitterness away, and who brings joy and peace to all His people.
Points For Discussion:
- The Levirate Marriage. Does God not in this law of His, that a brother-in-law must take the wife of his brother who died, leave entirely out of the picture natural love, compatibility of natures, etc.? Or does this arrangement teach that there are times when spiritual realities overrule these natural things? Does this law in any way condemn divorce on the grounds of compatibility?
- The unnamed next of kin. To what kind of people today would you liken this next of kin? What was his root sin in this refusal?
- The purpose of this book. What main thought does this book teach you? What was the main lesson God taught Naomi? What did He reveal above all to Ruth? In the book of Esther God’s providence is on the foreground. What would you say is on the foreground in this book? For what purpose, would you say, did God include this book in the Canon of the Old Testament? Could we not get along without it?