The story of Ruth is one of my favorites. Ruth’s faithfulness to her mother-in-law and to God is really inspiring. There are many things we can learn from this short book.
Ruth’s story begins during a very dark time for Israel, the time of the judges. At some point during this time there was a famine in Israel. A man named Elimelech took his wife Naomi and his two sons to live in the gentile land of Moab. They stayed there many years. Elimelech dies and his sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Then his sons also die. Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah are left alone in the world in a time when having a husband and sons was crucial to survival.
Naomi makes the decision to leave the evil land of Moab and return home to Judah. Her daughters-in-law start the journey with her, but she urges them to return to their homeland and families. Orpah is easily persuaded to turn back, but Ruth is determined to stay with Naomi. So they continue on to the town of Bethlehem together. The statement Ruth makes to Naomi is beautiful and often quoted:
“But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back 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 I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse if anything but death parts you and me.” Ruth 1:16-17
Now, the only way Ruth could provide for herself and Naomi was by going into the wheat fields around Bethlehem and work behind the harvesters picking up what they leave behind. Luckily, Ruth finds herself in the fields of a man named Boaz. Boaz was a great man in Bethlehem. He was kind to his workers and people in general; he was a man of God. Boaz also happened to be a close relative of Elimelech’s family.
At that time it was the law that if a man died and left a widow and property behind the closest relative (kinsman-redeemer) was to marry the widow so she could bear and heir for her deceased husband; as well as redeem (buy back) any property that may have changed hands. Usually this duty would fall to a brother, but since Ruth’s husband had no surviving brothers it would become the duty of the next closest relative. Naomi remembered this law, and when she realized that Ruth had been working in the fields of Boaz she came up with a plan to have Boaz fulfill his duty as the kinsman-redeemer to redeem the property of Elimelech and his sons.
Naomi tells Ruth to visit the threshing floor, where they were processing the barley, at night to speak to Boaz. She instructs Ruth to wait until Boaz is asleep, then uncover his feet and wait for him to wake up and notice her. She does all that she is told. With one sentence she lets Boaz know the purpose of her nighttime visit.
“He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” Ruth 3:9
By saying this Ruth made known what she wants Boaz to do for herself and Naomi. He realized that he could be their kinsman redeemer. He was willing to redeem their property and marry Ruth. There was a problem though; Naomi and Ruth had a relative closer than Boaz. But Boaz promised to go to this relative as soon as he could in the morning to ask if he would like to do his duty as their kinsman-redeemer, or if he would let it fall to Boaz. Boaz then gave Ruth a gift of grain for Naomi, and told her to leave when it is still dark out that no one will see her, because we all know how people talk!
The next morning Boaz confronted the other relative about redeeming the property of Elimelech, the man was willing until he learns that if he wants the property he would also have to marry Ruth. He decides to allow Boaz to fulfill the duty of the kinsman-redeemer.
Boaz married Ruth and she bore him a son named Obed. Obed was considered a great blessing to his family, especially Naomi who nursed him and treated him like she would her own son. Interestingly enough, Obed becomes the grandfather of King David. Therefore Ruth has the honor of being in the lineage of Jesus Christ.
There are many elements that make this an awesome story. But the imagery of the kinsman-redeemer in Boaz is the most powerful. He decides to do the right thing and redeem (or buy back) the inheritance Elimelech had given up when he went to live in Moab. There was nothing Ruth could do to redeem the property herself, she needed to have faith that Boaz would act as their kinsman-redeemer. This is a beautiful picture of what Christ has done on the cross for us. The human race had given up their inheritance and had been living in sin apart from God, until Christ died to redeem us, buy us back, from the evil we were stuck in and bring us back to Himself through His power and none of our own.