Ruth 1 – 4
When do we want God’s help? When do we come to God for his care? Is it true that we come when we can’t handle things, when life’s not going the way we want it to?
When things are great, what do we do? Do we continue to turn to God? Do we continue to seek his will and his purposes?
The fact is that when things are going well we find it easy to forget about God. Sometimes it’s just too easy to put God to one side and get on with just enjoying life.
The Jews were no different. Before they had kings to rule them, Israel was lead by judges – men and women raised up by God when they were needed. When they needed a great leader for war God would raise up and appoint the judge and they would deal with the situation. While the judge lived the Jews would be obedient to God. They would ‘remember.’ But when the judge and his generation died out, the next generation would forget what God had done, forgetting their special relationship with God and would start worshipping the fertility gods of Canaan. You can see the cycle in Judges 2 and it goes on for generations. When things were tough Israel cried out to God – and when things were great – they forgot about God.
This is when/where Ruth’s story is set – the period of Israel’s history when the judges were raised up as needed, and it’s a story that contrasts to the faithlessness of Israel. Ruth was a young Moabite woman. The Jews despised the Moabites as cursed by God (Deut 22:3) and Israel was forbidden from associating with them. Ruth’s Jewish husband moves to Moab with his parents during a famine in Israel and ends up marrying Ruth. He, his father and brother get themselves killed – leaving three widows. Ruth’s sister-in-law returns to her Moabite family, but Ruth travels with her mother-in-law Naomi, back to Israel.
Ruth and Naomi have a pretty raw deal. Their husbands are dead, they have no possessions, no money, no food, no children, no family or friends – this is a society where your social security came from your family. There are no government services and Ruth and Naomi are in deep trouble. They return to Israel on the slimmest of hopes – especially Ruth. She is a woman considered as nothing. Even Naomi sees her as simply a burden – Naomi left Israel with a husband and sons. She was secure and safe. She comes home not only empty, bereaved and injured but burdened by a daughter-in-law who has no home, family, friends, husband, children, no money, no property – no hope, no future, and no prospects – she is a desperate woman. They are both desperate.
But there is a lot more to Ruth. From the world’s point of view she’s had it – even her family doesn’t value her. She has little hope of finding a husband, no hope of producing an heir. She is going to a country she doesn’t know, without support. She leaves any family she has back in Moab. But Ruth has something that others don’t have. She has something that the Jews keep losing. Ruth trusts in God for her future. She places herself in God’s hands – under the covenant and promises of God. She says in 1:16 – “…your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.” These are covenant words – taken from the most important state,ent of Israel’s identity. Ruth has faith in God.
A Quick Detour
What skeletons are hidden in your family tree? Way back in ours we appear to have a convict. His crime?
He’d stolen women’s underwear off a clothesline. Somewhat embarrassing really. Not the sort of thing you bring up at dinner parties. We hide skeletons – we don’t expose them for all to see.
But when you have a look at Jesus’ family tree what skeletons do we find. Have a look at Matthew chapter 1 which gives us a genealogy of Jesus. It’s not a complete family tree – Matthew picks and chooses which is probably what we would do – choose the VIPs and ignore the underwear stealing convicts. Not Matthew. Rather than choosing all the really good ones – which to Jews would simply mean all the best men – Matthew picks 4 women as vital ancestors of Jesus. Not only are they women, they are Gentile women. Not only are they Gentile women, they are women who would normally be despised by any self respecting Jew and probably most Gentiles.
Rahab was a prostitute.
Tamar had sex with her father-in-law to produce a son.
Bathsheba committed adultery with King David and then said nothing when he arranged her husband’s murder.
And Ruth was the worst of all of them according to the Jews – a Moabite – she was the lowest – a woman cursed by God (dead husband, no social standing), from a nation cursed by God, the lowest most despised enemy of Israel.
If you were designing the family tree of the King of the Jews would you include these four women. If you were a good Jew (as Matthew was) you surely would include only good, faithful, Jewish, males in Jesus family tree, Matthew includes 4 women who normally would be hidden. But they share a common trait – faith in God. When all the ‘good’ Jewish blokes are showing zero faith, these Gentilewomen are placing their trust in God. Ruth sees one glimmer of hope in an otherwise desperate situation. She puts everything she’s got on God – she puts her life in God’s hands – whatever happens to Israel happens to her. Ruth has real faith in God even though she has no real reason to have faith. She sees her only chance of rescue from her disastrous situation in aligning herself with God.
What does God say to those who place all their trust and hope in him, who act with faith towards him. God says that’s what it takes. You might be the nicest, most perfect person on the planet – or you might be a Gentile woman, despised by the people of God, down and out, down trodden, in pain and despair. Whoever you are, faith in God is all that is required. We get exactly the same message in the NT.
John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but must endure God’s wrath.”
It doesn’t come any clearer than that. God required faith – which for us means faith in his Son, Jesus Christ.
What does Ruth’s faith lead to? Strangely enough it leads to marriage.
Why do we have the story of Ruth? It’s cute, sort of nice – in fact almost too nice. It’s like a tame romance story. If it had some sex and violence and some swearing then Hollywood would probably make it into a movie. It’s a boy meets girl story! In the end the bloke the girl, the son and the mother-in-law live happily ever after – perfect for Hollywood, complete with happy ending.
But Ruth is a ‘cute’ little story about redemption or rescue – something people living this side of the cross of Jesus need to understand. It’s a story about people in disastrous situations with no hope of pulling themselves out of their problems, being rescued. Boaz rescues Ruth – and Ruth rescues/redeems Boaz. Redemption… to redeem something is to buy it back, to rescue it. The kid redeems Naomi. Ruth redeems Naomi and God redeems Israel. Everyone is in on the act, except Naomi who seemingly doesn’t redeem anyone.
Take a step back. The picture is much bigger.
Ruth is the great grandmother of King David – the great nation-builder of Israel. All Jews see King David as the great redeemer. Even today Jerusalem is the City of David. They long for the days of King David.
Take another step back.
Move to Matthew chapter 1 and what do we see? Ruth is the great, great… grandmother of Jesus. Jesus doesn’t redeem a person. He doesn’t redeem a family. He doesn’t redeem a clan or a tribe or a nation – he is the one who offers redemption to all people.
Modern example – pawnshop – you take in your goods, get your money, go back a few weeks later, pay back the money plus interest – you have redeemed or bought back your goods.
Another example. Redemption is about helplessness, love and another person. During the East Timor crisis (2004?) Australians were caught in Jakarta, in a situation they could do nothing about. Literally helpless. No commercial flights available. However one of the advantages of living in Australia is that as a nation we take some responsibility for our citizens when they are in trouble. So the Australian government sent military transports to rescue, to redeem our people, to bring them out of that hopeless situation and return them to safety.
There was nothing Ruth could do to save herself. Boaz warns her not to go to other fields because the men there might rape her – Jewish society said she could be treated as worthless – that Jewish men could rape her or treat her as a prostitute or a sex slave with impunity. Bizarre – it’s always a little sobering to consider how the Jews have treated other nations – not just to consider how they have been treated.
Ruth lays down at Boaz’ feet – doing what a prostitute would do. She is desperate. She is willing to sell something so valuable so cheaply. We (men/people) tend to despise sex workers as we call them today, never considering how society has failed women to such an extent that they see this as their only viable option. Ruth’s basic need/desperate hope was that someone would rescue her and redeem her – as jarring as it is she couldn’t buy her own way out of her circumstances – she needed someone to do it for her, and maybe worse she had no hope that someone would.
Without blowing Boaz’s trumpet too much…simply put, he saves Ruth. He pays the price for Ruth’s redemption.There is no legal or moral (in Israel) reason for him to do so – he’s under no obligation, in fact society says he can do whatever he likes with this enemy of Israel. Clearly Boaz was an unusual Israelite. He was faithful. He trusted God and saw that this woman, this relative needed help. And for him part of faithfulness to God meant helping Ruth. So he does – he redeems her. Not out of duty but out of love – probably not love of Ruth but love of God. Every indicator would have screamed at Boaz to stay out of it. He goes beyond all the requirements of the law. Even Ruth doesn’t understand it. “Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner.” (2:10) But Boaz loves God and maybe Ruth – he shows us what it means to be truly faithful to God.
Ruth brings redemption not only to herself and those around her, but it is through her that David and eventually Jesus come. Ruth’s story is the salvation story of God bringing his plans to completion – she is a direct link in God’s plans.
You go right back in history – back to the beginning of Israel – God speaks to Abraham the father of Israel.
(Gen 12:2-3) “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
How does God use Abraham’s descendants to bless all the nations of the earth? Ultimately – by sending Jesus, to die for the people of the earth, to die for the sin of all mankind – a Son born of the line of David. His family tree includes a gentile prostitute (Rahab), an incestuous gentile daughter-in-law (Tamar) and a Moabitess, despised and hated (Ruth). God sends his Son to be born not of pure, upper class Jewish stock, but to be born of a line of notorious gentile sinners. The nations are to be blessed by Jesus because when all’s said and done, he’s as much a gentile as he is a Jew. God is the God of the whole earth. Jesus came not to give life to the Jews, but to give life to anyone – anyone – who would believe in him; have faith in him.
Ruth ultimately points us to what Jesus has done for us. Each of those women in Jesus genealogy sheds a little more light on salvation. At key moments in Israel’s history these gentiles – foreigners, despised by Israel – but received as God’s people, blessed and honoured in ways few Israelites ever see. God’s blessing is not handed out on the basis of race, sex, colour, beauty, language, intelligence or ability. When the world says “this person is important and this one is expendable,” God says “so what” – means nothing to God. The values of this world are foolishness against God’s values. The only thing God considers is faith – trust in Jesus. That is the criteria of salvation – the people God redeems are those who are willing to trust God, who respond to God’s offer, who willingly place everything in God’s hands and live on that basis. God’s people considered Ruth as nothing. God considered Ruth according to her faith – and he redeemed her.