If you have not read the earlier posts in this series, find the “Categories” list in the right-hand column of this page and click on “Christianity 101.” This will pull up all the previous posts so you can read through them in order. Start with the earliest one.
The story of Ruth and Boaz is a familiar one to most Christians and Jews, but why did God see fit to include it in His Bible? Was He just giving us a sideline story as a transition between the era of the patriarchs and that of the kings?
You may recall that Ruth, a native of Moab, married one of Naomi’s sons. After her husband Elimelech and both of her sons died, Naomi decided to return to Israel. When Ruth announced she was going with her, Naomi discouraged her, because Naomi knew Ruth’s dark complexion would immediately brand her as a Moabite, and they were considered sort of the scum of the earth by Israelites. Undaunted, Ruth made one of the most famous statements in the Bible: “. . . where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.” [Ruth 1:16]
When they arrived in Israel, they faced poverty. Neither woman had much in the way of worldly goods or income, so Ruth told Naomi she would go glean in the fields for food. When the farmers harvested their crops, they had to leave the corners of their fields so anyone poor and hungry could pick what was left, and this is what Ruth set out to do.
The field where she started belonged to a wealthy farmer named Boaz, who was a kinsman of her late father-in-law, Elimelech, and when she began to glean, Boaz noticed her. Even though her dark skin branded her as a Moabite, she was a lovely young woman, and Boaz was entranced by her beauty. He urged her to return to his fields for all her gleaning, and he instructed his men to leave extra grain wherever she worked, making her job easier and providing more food for her and Naomi. Seeing the extra grain, Naomi asked Ruth whose field she worked in, and upon hearing that it belonged to Boaz she explained that he was kin to them.
As the harvest drew to a close, Naomi knew Boaz would spend the night on the threshing floor with his barley, so she told Ruth to go to him. She had her dress her best and told her to slip into his blankets at his feet.
According to Mosaic law, when a woman was widowed, it became the duty of her late husband’s closest kinsman to redeem her, to marry her and provide for her. Naomi explained all this to Ruth in her instructions.
When Boaz felt Ruth crawl under his blanket, he asked who was there. She identified herself and said, “. . . spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” [Ruth 3:9]
Already enthralled with her beauty, Boaz was excited about her request and promised to fulfill it, but he said there was one problem. There was one man who was a closer relative than he, and marrying Ruth fell to this other man first.
The following morning, Boaz went into the city and into the space between the inner and outer walls where men met. Before long this other relative came along, and Boaz asked him to step aside so he could speak to him. Then he asked ten other men of the city to sit with them, and he brought up his business, reminding the man that he was Ruth’s closest kin and, under the law, obligated to redeem (marry) her.
The man recoiled at the thought. He knew nothing about Ruth except that she was a Moabite, and he was afraid marrying her might harm his reputation, so he declined. The law required that if the closest relative refused to redeem a widow, he had to remove his shoe and hand it to the next relative, so this man removed his sandal and handed it to Boaz, telling him to redeem her.
This was exactly what Boaz thought would happen and what he hoped would happen. Ruth would now be his. He didn’t care about her ethnic background, and he redeemed her in marriage, taking both her and Naomi into his household.
This woman was born an outsider. Not an Israelite, she was looked down upon and not considered fit to be treated as family. Her closest relative couldn’t redeem her, but because of the willingness of Boaz, she was adopted into the family of Israel and became the great-grandmother of David and a part of the lineage of Jesus.
What a beautiful picture of need and redemption!
We are like Ruth. We were all born as outsiders to the family of God. We all needed to be redeemed in order to become part of that family.
Like Ruth, we all have a close kinsman that could not redeem us. Our closest kinsman was the law. It preceded Jesus by hundreds of years, putting it first in line. But the law is impotent. It can show us our need for redemption, but it cannot provide it.
The law had to take its shoe off and hand it to Jesus. Where the law failed, Jesus stepped in and succeeded. He provided our redemption and our adoption into God’s family. Because of the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, we who submit to Him and believe are all sons of the Father.
Note that Ruth didn’t perform any rituals to “please” Boaz. She wore no talisman. She intoned no chants. She merely placed herself at his feet and submitted herself to him.
That’s all Jesus expects of us. No religious ceremonies. No lists of do’s and dont’s. He just wants us to place ourselves at His feet and submit ourselves to Him. He does all the rest.
How do you feel when someone tells you you have to do this or can’t do that in order to be a “real” Christian?
What do you think Paul meant in Romans 7:4 when he said . . . my brothers, you also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ . . .
If you abide in Me and My word abides in you, then you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.
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Contact him at dnwalkertx (at) gmail (dot) com or tweet him at @davidnwalkertx.
Very good explanation. I’ll be sending this to some people.
Thanks, June. I value your opinion.
I love the story of Ruth, but your exposition really opened my eyes to the tremendous importance of Ruth to Christianity.
Glad to hear that, Sharon.