Biblical Favorites by Jim Lewis
The four short chapters of the book of Ruth tell us one of the most beautiful love stories in the Bible. This book is unique in that there is no fighting recorded in it. It does have tragedy but that is turned into a great blessing and a happy, glorious ending.
There was a man named Elimelech who had a wife, Naomi, and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. They lived in Bethlehem of Judah. When a great famine arose they left their homeland and went to the land of Moab which is on the east side of the Dead Sea. Not long after their arrival there Elimelech dies and Naomi is left with her two sons. The sons marry two Moabite girls, Ruth and Orpah, and they live in the land for some ten years.
But tragedy strikes again and Naomi’s two sons die. She is very bitter over these losses and when she hears that the famine has passed in Judah she decides to return home. She advises her two daughters-in-law to stay in Moab with their families. But they both want to go with her to Judah, especially Ruth. Naomi further insists that they stay and Orpah consents to do so. But Ruth loves her mother-in-law so much that she pleads with her to let her return with her. Ruth says, “Entreat me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.” (Ruth 1:16) How could Naomi resist a love like that. So Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem.
Both of them are now widows and they are poor. Naomi took the loss of her husband and two sons very negatively. She tells her friends that she went away full but the Lord brought her back empty. She blamed her misfortune on God. She was so distraught with the Lord that she told her friends not to call her Naomi any longer but to call her Mara. Naomi meant sweet and Mara means bitter.
Since they were poor and had little in the way of food Ruth volunteers to go out in the fields at harvest time and do some gleaning. Naomi suggests that she go to the field of Boaz, a kinsman of her husband. While she is busy gleaning in the fields, Boaz arrives on the scene, probably to see how the work is progressing. He notices the beautiful Ruth out in the field. He asks his foreman who she is. The foreman tells Boaz that she is Ruth, the Moabite girl that returned with Naomi. Evidently Boaz is attracted to Ruth and tells his men not to molest her. They are to be kind to her and let extra grain fall so she will glean enough to tide her over. He then goes to meet Ruth and offers to take her to lunch. Boaz tells Ruth he wants her to glean only in his fields and that he wants to protect her because she has been so good to Naomi.
That evening when Ruth tells Naomi what happened that day, Naomi forgets her bitterness and begins to get excited about the prospects of a marriage between Ruth and Boaz. She gives Ruth instructions for developing a deeper relationship with Boaz. She tells her to wait until the harvest is over and Boaz has had his evening meal. She is to put on her finest dress and some perfume and go sit at his feet. Ruth visits him as suggested and we can imagine that the love and affection between them grew stronger. How could Boaz resist the charms of this beautiful Moabite girl. He wants to marry her but there is a problem. There is another next of kin in line to fulfill the family obligation before him. Boaz makes arrangements for this next of kin to take up his option. It was to purchase the property of Elimelech’s family. Boaz was hoping the man would not want to do so. But the man says he will buy the property. When Boaz reminds him that it includes marrying Ruth he balks and gives the option to Boaz. Boaz accepts it with great joy. He marries Ruth and they live happily ever after. Naomi also rejoices, for she is now well cared for, living in the family of her rich kinsman. When the first child is born they even say it is Naomi’s because she loved and cared for it so much. The child’s name was Obed. Little did they realize at the time how great the blessings of the Lord would be. Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of Israel’s great king, David.
What is the purpose this short book in our Bible? Why was it included in the- Bible? Is it just a love story? It does reveal the great love between Ruth and Boaz. It also tells of the great love of Ruth for her mother-in-law, Naomi. But there is a deeper story of love. It also reveals a love that goes beyond racial and religious and political barriers. Boaz actually broke the Mosaic law in marrying Ruth. For in Deut. 23:3 it states, “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord forever: Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia to curse thee.” Yet out of this relationship of Ruth and Boaz came one of Israel’s great kings.
The book is also important for Christians for out of this relationship came Christianity’s great king, Jesus.
However, it might be that the writer had an even greater reason for writing this story. The book was believed to have been written sometime after the Babylonian Captivity. When the captivity was over the Jews were given permission to return and rebuild the temple and the city Jerusalem. There were so many of them marrying foreigners that the Jews were forgetting how to speak their own language and they were worshipping foreign gods. It was during this time that the Jews came under the strict religious influence of Nehemiah and Ezra. Nehemiah said there would be no mixed marriages Those who had foreign wives had to give them up. The people were accused of not obeying the law. Nehemiah used very harsh methods to bring the people back in line. As a sample, here is a statement by him that is recorded in Nehemiah 13:23-25. “In those days also saw I Jews that had married wives of Ashdod, of Ammon, and of Moab: And their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language, but according to the language of each people. And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, ‘Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves.’ “
With this background knowledge of the times we can see that some wise, loving individual wrote the book of Ruth to protest against these harsh measures of Nehemiah. He tells this beautiful story of a Moabite girl, an enemy of Israel who is the grandmother of Israel’s great king. God is no respecter of race, color, political persuasion. This is a great advance over the particularism of Nehemiah. The Hebrews thought of themselves as being God’s chosen people. They wanted to keep themselves pure racially and religiously. But how pure were they? Their great king has Moabite blood flowing in his veins.
We are all God’s chosen people. We are all equal in the sight of God even if we have not caught this great vision personally. We may have judged ourselves by appearances and we may not realize this great truth about ourselves. There are many today in all religious groups who need to realize the great teaching of love in this simple book of Ruth. When religion is used to separate and ostracize people it is not a religion of love. In fact it should not even be called a religion. For many, religion is a religion of hate. Religious leaders even use this capacity to hate to control the masses. They claim they have a special revelation from God which is utterly false if their revelation is one of hate.
One day the religions of hate will come tumbling down. They may be around for what seems a long time but they will fall. Anything built on hate cannot last. We are not constituted to live a life of hate. Our minds and bodies cannot take the negative effects of hate. This is true also of nations that use hate to keep the people in fear and under control. It is true of personal relationships that are based on hate.
This precious book also raises many other questions. One could ask, “Why does God have to use tragedy to bring about His purposes?” The human part of us may question why God did to Naomi the things that happened to her, the loss of her husband and sons. But God did not do this to Naomi. She thought God did. We too have this same attitude today. When we do not understand why something happens, we attribute it to God. We do not know why people die so we automatically think that God causes people to die. The truth is that God causes people to live.
We might also ask, “Why did Naomi and her family leave Bethlehem in the first place?” All the people did not leave because of the famine. Is this just a literary technique to get them out of Bethlehem? Why didn’t they stay and trust God to care for them in spite of the famine? We might relate this to our lives today. What do we do when we are confronted with a famine, some problem or difficulty? Do we run around seeking solutions just by making changes in the outer? Many think if they only get a new wife or husband that things will automatically be improved. They may think that if they move to a new location that this will solve their problems.
The Lord did not do anything negative to Naomi. But the Lord used the problems she brought about in her life to bring forth great blessings. Many of us have not come to realize that we cannot simply improve our lives by changing things in the outer. We do not realize that we take the cause of our problems with us wherever we go. We do not do this always intentionally. It is mostly due to the fact that we are not as wise as we might think we are. The cause of all that happens in our lives is in our consciousness as some belief, attitude, or lack of understanding. If we have not learned to love as Ruth expressed love, a love that goes beyond human barriers, then we are likely to have some problems that will help us learn this great lesson in our spiritual growth.
The attitudes of love and commitment of Ruth toward Naomi is the type of love and commitment that we should have toward our own indwelling Lord. Many are so busy seeking for meaning and purpose and solutions out in the world of things that they do not take the time to search for real meaning within their own consciousness. Many know who and what they are as a physical being. This is good but it is insufficient. They may even know a little more about themselves as a psychological being. But they haven’t found that deeper relationship, that deeper realization of oneness with the Real Self. The greatest commitment we can make in life is the commitment to find and discover that Real True Self that is deep within our consciousness, to discover who and what we are as a spiritual being. With that discovery comes a realization of greater potential. With it comes new meaning and purpose for our lives, a meaning and purpose that far exceeds a mere human and physical existence. With this realization comes true spiritual growth that leads to peace of mind, happiness, health, and true security.
We should say to our Lord as Ruth affirmed, “Wherever thou goest, I will go.” Wherever the Lord leads we should be more than willing to follow. Just remember how great Ruth’s life turned out to be because she followed a heart filled with love.
© 1985, Jim Lewis
All rights reserved by the author.
Reprinted with permission.