How appropriate it seems, that the book of Judges, which I call the book of unfaithfulness, is followed in the Bible by the book of Ruth, which I consider the book faithfulness. What a beautiful portrait of the glories of faith, loyalty, love! I love it, it’s my favorite. In Judges, the description, “worthless fellows”, is repeated a number of times. But in Ruth, the hero, Boaz, is described as “a worthy man.” But greater than Boaz is the heroine Ruth. In brief, an Israelite named Naomi journeyed to the neighboring country of Moab with her husband and two sons, because there was famine in her country. Her sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. But her husband, then both her sons died. After awhile, Naomi heard that the famine was over in Israel and determined to return. She urged her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab, that they would find husbands from among their people, putting their welfare before her own. Both wanted to go with her, loving her that much, but she urged them to stay.
Finally, Orpah bid her a tearful farewell, “But Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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 will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’ And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.”- Ruth 1:16-18. Isn’t that among the most beautiful examples of loyalty and love? So Ruth accompanied Naomi back to Israel. But being a foreigner, and a widow, her prospects for marrying were slim, and she resolved to care for Naomi, who was old at that time. The way the poor were allowed to care for themselves in those days was gleaning the fields, picking grain and other food that was left behind by the harvesters. In fact, the Lord required the harvesters to leave food behind for gleaners. Gleaning was the way for the poor to be productive and work, rather than to beg.
But it wasn’t necessarily a safe thing for women to do, especially attractive women like Ruth. The Lord led her to a certain field, owned by the worthy man, Boaz; not a coincidence. “Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.’ Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’ But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge’!” Ruth 2:8-12.
In the New Testament, Paul exhorts young men to treat young women as “sisters”, but Boaz is apparently quite a bit older than Ruth, and being unmarried, he addresses her as “my daughter”. Was he sexually attracted to her? The text never says, but Naomi describes him as a close relative of hers. One of the customs of Israel in those days was that if a married man who died had a brother and left no children, it was the duty of the surviving brother to give his brother’s widow a child. Boaz was not a biological brother of Ruth’s dead husband, nor even his closest relative. He was in a line of succession to redeem Ruth, but not the closest, yet I read into the next passage that Boaz was not just doing his duty, but really wanted Ruth. He obviously admired her and was flattered by her interest in him.
“And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.’ And he said, ‘May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the LORD lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning’.” Ruth 3:9-13.
In the morning Ruth went back to Naomi and related what Boaz had told her. Naomi’s comment says a lot about Boaz. “She replied, ‘Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today‘.”- Ruth 3:18. He will not rest. That is one of the marks of a “worthy man”, or “worthy woman”. Take care of your responsibility NOW, not later. God had great things in store for these worthies. “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” Ruth 4: 13-17. From this line came Jesus Christ.