The book of RUTH – FNG – Friday Sept. 7, 2012Intro to the bookThis month we are in the book of Ruth and I hope you had a chance to read it,because it really is a little oasis after a book like Judges. In fact we are told thatthe events depicted in the book of Ruth took place during the time of the Judges.I have failed to track down any scholarly estimate of the historical time frame thatwe are looking at here, but working back from Saul’s coronation as king around1050 BC I would guestimate that the events in the book of Ruth take placeprobably somewhere in the 1100’s BC, maybe even early 1200’s BC.(show map) Geographically we are looking at two locations: Bethlehem in Judahwhere the family originates from and where Naomi and Ruth later return, and thecountry of Moab where the family lives for some 10 years. We are not told of aspecific place in Moab, so they could have lived anywhere in this SE corner ofthe Dead Sea.More recently the book of Ruth has gained a bit of fame for some 21 st century ADmarriage advice that has been circulating on the internet. You may have seenthis, but if you haven’t, here it is: “To all the girls who are in a hurry and want tohave a boyfriend or get married, a piece of Biblical advice: Ruth patiently waitedfor her mate Boaz. While you are waiting on YOUR Boaz, don’t settle for any ofhis relatives: Broke-az, Po-az, Lyin-az, Cheatin-az, Dumb-az, Drunk-az, Cheap-az, Lockedup-az, Goodfornothin-az, Lazy-az and especially his third cousinBeatinyo-az. Wait on your Boaz and make sure he respects Yoaz.”Ruth – A story of restorationIf you have read the previous book, the book of Judges, you may have wonderedif there was any point in continuing. The book is a testament to the horror peoplecan inflict on one another when each man does as he sees fit. The book endswith a story bearing such uncanny resemblance to Sodom and Gomorrah, exceptthis time there was no angels to blind the crazed masses. This time they actuallygot to carry through with their evil intentions. And all this happened among thosewho were supposed to be God’s chosen people! You could certainly be forgivenif you felt that the time was ripe for God to make a repeat of the Sodom andGomorrah inferno. After all, if the people who were supposed to testify of Godwere behaving so badly, what hope was there for the rest of the world?!But, as my father-in-law used to say: read on, it could get worse. Except in thiscase you turn the page and you come to a heartwarming story of Naomi, Ruthand Boaz. And right off the bat we are told that this too took place during the timeof the judges. This helps us to realize that while there were a lot of peoplebehaving badly during this period of time, there were also decent people living inthe land. So maybe we should hold off on the fire and brimstone for just now.
God is barely mentioned in the book of Ruth, but there is still a good deal we canlearn about God from this book. The story of Ruth is primarily a story ofrestoration, and ever since the fall of Lucifer and then Adam and Eve, God hasbeen in the business of restoration. What brings about the restoration in the bookof Ruth may even surprise you. Remember all those mind numbing rules andregulations that you read in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? It isthose rules that bring about restoration in the book of Ruth! It is even morecompelling when you juxtaposition the two books right next to each other. In thebook of Judges we see the destruction that intrinsically comes from failing tofollow God’s laws while in the book of Ruth we see the restoration thatintrinsically comes from following God’s laws.The scene is set up for us in the first chapter of Ruth. A fella by the name ofElimelek tries to escape the famine and so he takes his wife Naomi and two sonsMahlon and Kilion and moves from Bethlehem to somewhere in Moab. Elimelekdies in Moab, but the family continues to set down roots there as Mahlon andKilion marry local women: Orpah and Ruth. Unfortunately, both Mahlon andKilion also died and so the three ladies are left widowed. Now you have tounderstand that back in those days you couldn’t just fill out a form and get yourdeceased husband’s Social Security payments. There was no Social Securityand women were regarded more or less as property and if you did not have aman to provide for you, you were in a seriously tough spot. If your husband diedan adult son could and usually did fulfill the role of the provider, but Naomi wasnow in real trouble. Her husband died, both her sons died and she was in aforeign country with no relatives close by to offer any kind of assistance. Hearingthat the famine had passed in Judah, Naomi made the only sensible choice opento her – to return to her place of origin in the hopes that she will be able to getsome assistance from extended family.Orpah and Ruth, while in a similar situation, are in their homeland close to theirimmediate family. They are also young and could fully expect to be able toremarry and start again. All of this background is playing out in the conversationbetween Naomi, Orpah and Ruth. It is also this background that makes it all themore remarkable that Ruth chose to follow Naomi to Bethlehem, since this wouldtake her away from her own safety net of her family and Naomi had noguarantees that she would be able to get any assistance from her family.And so Naomi returns to Bethlehem and declares: “Don’t call me Naomi,” shetold them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. Iwent away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. (Ruth 1:20,21a)Naomi feels like everything in her life is gone, her life is bitter because she leftBethlehem full and has now returned empty, in other words, Naomi has hit rockbottom.
The first order of business is being able to survive. There was no food pantry,food stamps or a Meijer to go and get your groceries from. But there was aprovision that enabled those who had fallen on hard times to be able to put foodon the table. We find it in Leviticus 9:9, 10: “When you reap the harvest of yourland, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of yourharvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes thathave fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the LORD your God.”Boaz evidently respected this law because there were a number of peoplegleaning behind the harvesters in his fields and Ruth was also able to takeadvantage of this provision to feed both herself and her mother-in-law. Boaz tookinterest in the people who were working and gleaning in his fields. In such awarm and fuzzy story as this one you may find his admonition to Ruth to staywith his workers so she wouldn’t be harmed somewhere else a bit out of place.Do not forget – this is all happening in the time of Judges so the horrors of ourprevious book were very much a reality for them.What happens next is a bit unorthodox to say the least with Ruth showing up atthe threshing floor next to Boaz in the middle of the night. Once again, Boaz isrespecting the law and does not take advantage of Ruth, even going to somelengths so that there is not even an appearance of impropriety. But it is in thisbizarre meeting that Ruth invokes the guardian-redeemer provision.There are two ways this worked in Israel. The foundation of the Israelite economywas that the land was an inheritance from God and each tribe and each clanwithin the tribe had land that was allotted to them. They were not able to buy itand sell it in the way that we do today. At the year of Jubilee all land wasreturned to the original owner whose inheritance the land was. The only thing youcould do is essentially rent the land, buying the use of the land for however manyyears there were left until the next year of the Jubilee. Trouble is, the year ofJubilee only rolled around every 50 years. But there was a provision for this. “Ifone of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, theirnearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold.” (Leviticus 25:25).Should you be able to gather sufficient funds, you could redeem the landyourself, but this was not an option for Naomi or Ruth, who were barely puttingfood on the table and were essentially part of Elimelek’s property.There is also another provision, which Naomi had already alluded to in chapter 1.“If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widowmust not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her andmarry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bearsshall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blottedout from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 25:5,6). And of course, this has implications inkeeping the inheritance within the family. So in invoking the guardian-redeemerrules, this is what Naomi and Ruth were referring to.
Boaz once again follows the law, in giving the opportunity to the closest relativeto redeem the land from Naomi – which would have essentially increased hisown estate. Not surprisingly the man is eager until he finds out that a Moabitesby the name of Ruth comes as part of the property. This could seriously confusethe man’s own inheritance and so he declines. “Then Boaz announced to theelders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought fromNaomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruththe Moabite, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of thedead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his familyor from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!” (Ruth 4:9,10)The story ends with these words: “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.When he made love to her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birthto a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has notleft you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel!He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given himbirth.”Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living theresaid, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father ofJesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:13-17)Naomi, the woman who left full and returned bitter and empty, once again had alife full of meaning, purpose and joy. Her life, and that of Ruth, was restoredbecause of a good man who decided to follow God’s laws. And this is what wecan learn about God in the book of Ruth. God did not give all those laws to keeppeople under His thumb and grind them into a miserable, joyless existence. Hegave them laws that when applied can renew and restore. Last month in the bookof Judges we saw how failing to follow God’s laws brought nothing but terror anddestruction. This month in the book of Ruth we get to see how following God’slaws can renew and restore. Where there was death, now there was new life.And what a privilege – to be a direct ancestor to king David, and by extension, anearthly ancestor to Christ Himself!God longs to restore and renew our lives. He longs to bring new life that willspring from this place of death and despair. What we can learn from the book ofRuth is that if we follow God’s law, it will bring about restoration and renewal.Sometimes the law may seem like an imposition, maybe even absurd in itsdemands. But the results are undeniable. Looking at the book of Judges and thebook of Ruth side by side we can examine the evidence for ourselves and seewhat works and what doesn’t. We can see the final results of each path. Andthere is no doubt in my mind that in the book of Ruth God and His law come outon top.