Have you ever found yourself in an unfamiliar situation with a difficult decision to make? Have you ever suffered a loss that changed your life, or moved to a new place where you didn’t know anyone, nothing was familiar and you wondered if you would ever belong?
The book of Ruth in the Bible tells the story of a woman who found herself in this very situation, but through her obedience and faithfulness finds rescue and redemption.
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The Story of Ruth in the Bible
Ruth was a Moabite woman who had married Mahlon, an Ephrathite man from the tribe of Judah. When her father-in-law, brother-in-law and husband all died, Ruth was faced with an impossible choice: stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi, whom she loved, and follow her back to Bethlehem, or return to her own people in Moab.
This was a difficult choice because in those days, women relied upon having a husband and sons to provide for them. Ruth loved Naomi and didn’t want to leave her alone without a husband or sons to take care of her, yet if she returned home to Moab, she could marry again and have children of her own. Even though Naomi tried to talk her out of it, Ruth was determined to stay with Naomi and return with her to Bethlehem, Naomi’s hometown.
Ruth and Naomi’s return to Bethlehem was a humble and difficult one. With no husbands or sons to provide for them, Ruth had to go through the barley fields after the harvesters had finished for the day and scrounge for leftovers for herself and Naomi.
This is when she caught the attention of a man named Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s late husband, and owner of the barley field where Ruth had come to glean scraps of grain. Boaz was a kind and generous man, and after he invited Ruth to eat with him and his servants, he instructed his servants to protect Ruth, and allow her to work with them. He even instructed them to pull up and leave full stocks of grain for her to gather easily. When she returned to Naomi that evening with nearly 30 lbs of grain, Naomi was amazed at the generosity Boaz had shown them.
Now, according to the law God had given the Israelites, a kinsman redeemer was a male relative who had the responsibility to act on behalf of a family member who was in trouble, danger or need. This kinsman redeemer could deliver or rescue a property or person. Because Boaz was a relative of Naomi’s, Naomi recognized that Boaz could be a kinsman redeemer for her and Ruth. If Boaz was willing to marry Ruth, they would be rescued from their life of poverty.
Naomi instructed Ruth to offer herself to Boaz for marriage. Though this was a daunting and humbling act for Ruth, Boaz regarded it as kindness, because she could have chased after a younger man for a husband, but he was honoured that she would want him.
Boaz and Ruth married and had a son, named him Obed. Obed then became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, and through this line, the Messiah came.
What is the main message of the Book of Ruth?
The book of Ruth is a beautiful illustration of our relationship with our kinsman-redeemer, Jesus. It is a poignant picture of how our Savior delivers the weak and the needy who cannot rescue themselves. He restores and provides for us all we could ever need through our union with Him.
Characteristics of Ruth in the Bible
Boaz calls Ruth a “woman of noble character” (ch.3, v.11), and we see the truth of this through Ruth’s actions and the way she treats her mother-in-law, Naomi.
Ruth is Faithful
When Ruth’s husband, Malhon, died, she had the right to return to her own family in Moab to be remarried to someone from her own people. Yet, instead she chose to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi, and return with her to Naomi’s people, the Israelites. Ruth demonstrated her loyalty and faithfulness to Naomi when she made a pledge to her:
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. Ruth 1:16 NIV
Ruth is Obedient
Ruth trusts Naomi and obeys her instructions to offer herself to Boaz on the threshing floor. It must have been terrifying for Ruth to make herself so vulnerable, especially because she was a foreign woman whose people were despised by the Israelites, but she obeyed Naomi anyway.
Ruth is Compassionate
Ruth shows such love and kindness to Naomi through her faithfulness to stay with her. In chapter 1, verse 14, we learn that Naomi and her daughters-in-law “wept out loud,” and although Ruth’s sister-in-law did leave Naomi and return to her own people, Ruth “clung to her.” Ruth was also generous in her care for Naomi, when she returned with nearly 30 lbs of barley, and also gave Naomi the rest of the meal Boaz had given her. She didn’t hoard or hide a portion for herself, but shared all she had.
Ruth is Kind
When Ruth offers herself to Boaz on the threshing floor, Boaz calls her kind, and is even more endeared to her:
“The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. Ruth 3:10 NIV
Ruth is Humble
We see Ruth’s humility when she asks Boaz why he would notice her and be so generous towards her, a foreigner, recognizing that she had not earned nor deserved it:
“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.” Ruth 2:13 NIV
What Does Ruth Symbolize
The story of Ruth marks an important transition from the age of Judges to the age of Kings. The very first verse of chapter 1 states: “In the days when the judges ruled” and ends with the name “David,” who would be the king of Israel, and the bloodline through which the Messiah would come.
This is significant because Ruth was not an Israelite. She was a Moabite, a foreigner, a people God had forbidden the Israelites from marrying. But because Ruth left her people, both geographically and metaphorically, rejecting their way of life and spiritual practices and embracing the God of the Isrealites, Ruth was grafted into God’s people and into the lineage of the Messiah.
Ruth, a Gentile woman grafted into Israel, foreshadows for us how the work of Jesus, our kinsman-redeemer, grafts us into the family of God.
8 Lessons from Ruth for Our Lives Today
The Israelites were God’s chosen people, but not specially chosen for the sole purpose of salvation. They were the people God chose through whom to bring the gift of salvation to the whole world. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 tells us that:
“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
And 2 Peter 3:9 says:
“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (NIV)
Ruth was a Moabite woman, a wicked nation who did evil in the sight of the Lord, yet she was grafted in, not just into Israel, but into the direct lineage of Christ. This foreshadows how Jesus would bring salvation to every tribe and nation. All gentiles, (non-Jews), would be adopted into God’s family through their faith in the risen Christ.
God Values Men and Women Equally
Boaz as Ruth and Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer is a picture for us of Jesus, our kinsman-redeemer, and how he protects and provides for us. But even more than that, Boaz treats Ruth with tenderness and respect and esteems her, requiring his servants to do the same.
Boaz could have provided for her in practical ways only, with no kindness or regard for her dignity beyond that, especially given her low position as a widowed foreigner with no social, political or economic standing. Yet he esteemed and valued her nonetheless, as it was part of his character.
We see this same tenderness and value of women in the way Jesus treats and interacts with women in the New Testament, particularly women of low position and ill repute.
God Uses the “Least of These” to Accomplish Great Things
1 Corinthians 1:28-29 tells us:
“God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things- and the things that are not- to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (NIV)
We see this demonstrated so beautifully in the story of Ruth, how God brought a lowly, widowed foreigner into the family of his chosen people, esteemed her, valued her, and sent the Savior of the world through her line. She is not who men would have chosen for the lineage of the eternal King, and yet, the infinite God chose her.
God Has Provided a Gentle, Loving, and Generous Redeemer to Rescue Us
In the story of Ruth, Boaz is a picture for us of our kinsman-redeemer, Jesus. We see in Boaz’s character a reflection of the character of Jesus: gentle, tender, generous, attentive. He loves humbly, deeply, unconditionally, and provides abundantly more than we could ever earn or deserve.
Just like Boaz covered Ruth with his cloak, Christ covers us with his blood on the cross. His love and grace provide rescue and shelter that we cannot provide for ourselves, and he cherishes us, lavishing us with love, care, and esteem.
Our Inner Character is Important, Even if we Think No One is Watching
When Boaz first invited Ruth to work alongside his servants in his field alone, Ruth asked what she had done to deserve his kindness. He answered that he had heard about her, and what she had done for Naomi, the sacrifice she had made for her mother-in-law. Again, in chapter 3, Boaz mentions Ruth’s reputation for being a woman of noble character.
Ruth wondered what it was about her that caught Boaz’s attention. She was just being herself, a kind and compassionate woman, doing the right thing, working hard and caring for her aging mother-in-law. She didn’t know that anyone saw or cared what she was doing. But it wasn’t just her actions, but the spirit behind her actions, that people noticed.
God Can and Will Work All Our Circumstances for Our Good
It would have been so easy for Ruth to have looked at her circumstances and questioned God’s kindness and purposes towards her, or even to have rejected him altogether. After all, how could a good, loving and sovereign God have allowed so much suffering and hardship into her life?
But instead, Ruth chose to trust God and honor him in her choices. As a result, God was able to bless Ruth beyond what she could ever have imagined!
Following God Requires Sacrifice
It took an incredible amount of faith for Ruth to choose not to return to her own people and follow Naomi and her God instead. She had no way of knowing how this decision would impact her life. She could have, as her sister-in-law did, returned to her own people, where her future would have been more predictable and secure, but instead she gave up what was familiar and comfortable to follow Naomi’s God in faith.
In the same way, Jesus tells us that we must take up our cross to follow him. There is a cost to being Jesus’ disciple:
“And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple”… and “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:27,33, NIV)
We too must let go of what is comfortable, familiar and predictable in order to intrust our lives to the living God and his plans for us.
God Always Provides
The greek word for “provide” is “pronoeo,” and means “to see before” and “see to.” Boaz not only saw Ruth, but saw ahead to what she would need, and saw to those needs before she even asked.
God provides for us in the same way. Though, like Ruth, we may not know what our future holds, we can entrust our lives to a loving and generous God who sees us, sees our present and future needs, and sees to those needs before we even know them ourselves. What a beautiful truth and assurance to our faith!
Moral of the Story of Ruth
What can we learn from Ruth?
In Ruth we see a picture of ourselves, a penniless, desperate woman, unable to provide for herself, offering herself to a kind and generous kinsman-redeemer, asking him to cover her with his protection and provision. We also see in Ruth’s character the way in which we need to approach our kinsman-redeemer, Christ, with humility, reverence and willing obedience, understanding our need for him.
In the same way, Christ is our kind and generous kinsman-redeemer, rescuing us from our spiritual poverty and desperation where we cannot rescue ourselves. And he provides for us what we need most and what only he can give – love, protection, provision, and belonging.
The moral of the story of Ruth in the Bible is simple:
When we are faithful, humble, kind and diligent in service, God will bless the work of our hands and the state of our hearts for His purpose and glory.
The book Ruth, though a true, historical account, is also a beautiful allegory for the relationship our redeemer, Jesus Christ, wants with us. It not only illustrates the very nature and character of God, but his tender heart and generous love and provision toward us, his cherished bride, the Church.
By forsaking our own desires and plans for ourselves, and entrusting our lives to Him in faith, we stand to gain far more than we could ever sacrifice. Not only the deep love and provision of the One who made and cherishes us but eternal life through the sacrifice of his one and only son, Jesus.
Be sure to also read: 5 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Mara When Life is Hard