Series: Thru the Bible
Message – Ruth & Naomi: God Provides a Covering
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Ruth & Naomi: God Provides a Covering
The book of Ruth is a little unique because it is only one of two books in scripture whose main protagonist is a female (though a case could be made for Song of Solomon’s love being a co-protagonist in that book). Contrary to popular thought this is NOT due to some form of slant against women, native to the Jewish culture. While it is true that God established the Jewish culture (and in fact the entire human race) as patriarchal, that is NOT the reason for this novelty.
The truth is that the Old Testament is a book of heritage and covenant. As such it follows bloodlines and that requires a patriarchal approach to the recording of their history. When women interact with or greatly influence the development and direction of that heritage and covenant they are mentioned without a hint of bigotry or censor. In fact, their contribution is celebrated.
Ruth is a real life story of a Moabite woman who forsakes her pagan god and heritage to marry a Hebrew son of a woman named Naomi. We know of the Moabites from the fact that they are the descendants of Lot & his two daughters and the fact that we encountered them along with the prophet Balaam back in Numbers 10 & 22-24.
What makes Ruth special and sets her apart as an example is the fact that as a pagan foreigner, she exhibits fidelity and devotion to God in a time when the nation of Israel at large was unfaithful to God.
God sees Ruth, sees her faithfulness and love and rewards her and gives her and her posterity an inheritance in Israel and in the Kingdom of God.
God uses this foreign woman to save Naomi who is convinced that God has cursed her, by arranging a meeting with Boaz, one of Naomi’s late husband’s closest of kin who was also a wealthy land owner and farmer in Judea. In doing so, God worked to orchestrate the redemption of Naomi and Ruth as well as the family name of their late husbands and placed her in a privileged position in the lineage of Christ (as the great-grandmother of King David).
The story of Ruth is a beautiful depiction of God’s sovereignty working together with human freewill choices in order to effect his redemptive purposes in our lives. It teaches us the great value of honoring God’s ways, honoring our mates (even after death) and trusting God with our circumstances and our futures.
In the end, Ruth’s story also brings into clear focus God’s redemptive love in for all of humanity through the redemption found only in Jesus Christ, our faithful Kinsman Redeemer.
Author: Possibly Samuel.
Time: Somewhere between 1250-1043 b.c.
“(1) During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to live in the land of Moab for a while.”
“(2) The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion (kilion). They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the land of Moab and settled there. (3) Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. (4) Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about 10 years, (5) both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband. (6) She and her daughters-in-law prepared to leave the land of Moab, because she had heard in Moab that the LORD had paid attention to His people’s need by providing them food. (7) She left the place where she had been living, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, and traveled along the road leading back to the land of Judah. ”
“(8) She said to them, “Each of you go back to your mother’s home. May the LORD show faithful love to you as you have shown to the dead and to me. (9) May the LORD enable each of you to find security in the house of your new husband.” She kissed them, and they wept loudly.”
“(10) “No,” they said to her. “We will go with you to your people.” (11) But Naomi replied, “Return home, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Am I able to have any more sons who could become your husbands? (12) Return home, my daughters. Go on, for I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me to have a husband tonight and to bear sons, (13) would you be willing to wait for them to grow up? Would you restrain yourselves from remarrying? No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me.” (14) Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. (15) Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. Follow your sister-in-law.” (16) But Ruth replied: Do not persuade me to leave you or go back and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. (17) Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD do this to me, and even more, if anything but death separates you and me. (18) When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to persuade her.”
Here we see Naomi’s conclusion regarding her circumstance. How many times we, as God’s people and children make the unwarranted assumption that God has turned His hand against us or at very least has forgotten us and left us to fin for ourselves. Naomi sees the loss in her life, which admittedly had been great, as God’s hand against her for evil.
Yet, she still speaks well of God and evokes a blessing upon her daughters-in-law of God’s faithful love in establishing their lives back in Moab with new husbands and security with safety.
Neither wants to leave Naomi. This says a lot about Naomi! They are both willing to return with her to her homeland rather than stay in Moab the place of their birth. In the end, Orpah gives in to Naomi’s request, but Ruth would rather die than leave her. Whether this is just out of love for Naomi or also out of respect for her late husband in watching out for his mother – no one can know, but faithfulness seems to play a part because of the rewards God gives her!
“(19) The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” (20) “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. (21) I left full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has pronounced judgment on me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” (22) So Naomi came back from the land of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.”
“(1) Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side named Boaz. He was a prominent man of noble character from Elimelech’s family. (2) Ruth the Moabitess asked Naomi, “Will you let me go into the fields and gather fallen grain behind someone who allows me to?” Naomi answered her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”
Again we see faithfulness on Ruth’s part as well as respect for her mother-in-law. Respect for asking permission and faithfulness in seeking to provide for them both.
In Israel, as we have learned, the gleaning of the fields was to be left for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. THIS is what Ruth was seeking to do.
If you remember, in Deut. 24:19 it said,
“When you reap the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the foreign resident, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
“(3) So Ruth left and entered the field to gather grain behind the harvesters. She happened to be in the portion of land belonging to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family. (4) Later, when Boaz arrived from Bethlehem, he said to the harvesters, “The LORD be with you.” “The LORD bless you,” they replied. (5) Boaz asked his servant who was in charge of the harvesters, “Whose young woman is this?” (6) The servant answered, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. (7) She asked, ‘Will you let me gather fallen grain among the bundles behind the harvesters?’ She came and has remained from early morning until now, except that she rested a little in the shelter.”
Notice the question reveals the “covering” which was a God ordained truth in Israel. Boaz wanted to know whose young woman this was – meaning, who is her covering?
Boaz speaks to Ruth
“(8) Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Don’t go and gather grain in another field, and don’t leave this one, but stay here close to my young women. (9) See which field they are harvesting, and follow them. Haven’t I ordered the young men not to touch you? When you are thirsty, go and drink from the jars the young men have filled.” (10) She bowed with her face to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind to notice me, although I am a foreigner?” (11) Boaz answered her, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death has been fully reported to me: how you left your father and mother, and the land of your birth, and how you came to a people you didn’t previously know. (12) May the LORD reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
Ruth replies in respect
“(13) “My lord,” she said, “you have been so kind to me, for you have comforted and encouraged your slave, although I am not like one of your female servants.” (14) At mealtime Boaz told her, “Come over here and have some bread and dip it in the vinegar sauce.” So she sat beside the harvesters, and he offered her roasted grain. She ate and was satisfied and had some left over. (15) When she got up to gather grain, Boaz ordered his young men, “Be sure to let her gather grain among the bundles, and don’t humiliate her. (16) Pull out some stalks from the bundles for her and leave them for her to gather. Don’t rebuke her. (17) So Ruth gathered grain in the field until evening. She beat out what she had gathered, and it was about 26 quarts of barley. (18) She picked up the grain and went into the city, where her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. Then she brought out what she had left over from her meal and gave it to her.”
Boaz orders Barley to be deliberately left behind – essentially ordering his workers to “don’t be TOO good at your job today. Without it being obvious, “accidently let small bundles of barley to fall behind you for Ruth to gather so she can have enough without feeling pitied.”
Notice that Boaz did NOT order the young men to gather it FOR her. SHE needed to do the work, he was only making sure her labors paid off well.
Ruth threshed her own barley, separating the grain, gathering it and brought it back to her mother-in-law. It amounted to about 30lbs! One lbs of flour goes a long way – so 30lbs is quite a lot!
“ (19) Then her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you gather barley today, and where did you work? May the LORD bless the man who noticed you.” Ruth told her mother-in-law about the men she had worked with and said, “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz.” (20) Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, who has not forsaken his kindness to the living or the dead.” Naomi continued, “The man is a close relative. He is one of our family redeemers.” (21) Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also told me, ‘Stay with my young men until they have finished all of my harvest.'” (22) So Naomi said to her daughter-in-law Ruth, “My daughter, it is good for you to work with his young women, so that nothing will happen to you in another field.” (23) Ruth stayed close to Boaz’s young women and gathered grain until the barley and the wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”
These all corresponded to Feasts in Israel. The barley harvest was the first grain harvest of the year immediately followed by the wheat harvest. The barley harvest is a warmer climate harvest and corresponded to Passover & First Fruits. The wheat harvest was in late spring and corresponded to the feast of weeks (which 50 days after Passover at what we call Pentecost).
“(1) Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I find security for you, so that you will be taken care of?”
Again we see the role of a male as the covering for a female. Both a provider, a lover and a heritage – a larger story to live in.
“(2) Now isn’t Boaz our relative? Haven’t you been working with his young women? This evening he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. (3) Wash, put on perfumed oil, and wear your best clothes. Go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let the man know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. (4) When he lies down, notice the place where he’s lying, go in and uncover his feet, and lie down. Then he will explain to you what you should do.” (5) So Ruth said to her, “I will do everything you say.”
This is a beautiful depiction of honor, trust and walking in the design of God for your life. Naomi was offering both cultural and common sense advise. She needed to get Ruth in a position to be noticed and to make a straightforward, but honest request of Boaz. To do this, she needed to pretty herself up. There is NOTHING wrong with a woman making yourself attractive for a man she desires to marry. In most cases, nothing comes more natural to a woman than this. NOTICE though, that this was not in an attempt to manipulate, only so that once she was noticed, to tilt the scales in her favor of being favorably noticed! Boaz was an older man and Naomi a younger woman. This is perfectly normal throughout history including today in many cultures. In fact, there has been a real surge in younger women gravitating towards older men in recent years almost globally. Naomi knew that Boaz might want to redeem her, but might also have been a little reluctant due to his age, yet, by Ruth gussying herself up for him, it might relieve any inhibitions.
As for uncovering his feet and laying down by or below them – this was a cultural representation of total submission, for such was the role of a slave. We cannot lose sight that In the culture of that day, this was understood as an act of total submission.
We should not lose sight of the intentions behind Naomi’s instructions. In Jewish culture, the rite of the kinsman redeemer was a right – one than needed to be claimed. As best of Naomi knew, Boaz was the closest of kin and therefore this was not only proper, but a legal right. Ruth had the right to expect Boaz to marry her and to attempt to impregnate her to raise of a child in her husband’s Elimelech name (at least for the first born).
Ruth was being counseled to come to obtain her right, but to do it in the attitude of a servant – with humility.
Her actions would have spoken respect to Boaz – a respect which showed abandonment in trust to the kindness of this man.
So far as they knew, Ruth & Naomi’s futures were in the hands of Boaz. Even though it was expected and culturally respected to play to the role of kinsman redeemer – it was not required. It had to be voluntary.
“(6) She went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law had instructed her. (7) After Boaz ate, drank, and was in good spirits, he went to lie down at the end of the pile of barley. Then she went in secretly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. (8) At midnight, Boaz was startled, turned over, and there lying at his feet was a woman! (9) So he asked, “Who are you?” “I am Ruth, your slave,” she replied. “Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.”
Here is perhaps one of the clearest pictures of a covering. It is being used here in both a symbolic and literal way.
“(10) Then he said, “May the LORD bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor. (11) Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say, since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character. (12) Yes, it is true that I am a family redeemer, but there is a redeemer closer than I am. (13) Stay here tonight, and in the morning, if he wants to redeem you, that’s good. Let him redeem you. But if he doesn’t want to redeem you, as the LORD lives, I will. Now, lie down until morning.” (14) So she lay down at his feet until morning but got up while it was still dark. Then Boaz said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” (15) And he told Ruth, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and hold it out.” When she held it out, he shoveled six measures of barley into her shawl, and she went into the city. (16) She went to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who asked her, “How did it go, my daughter?” Then Ruth told her everything the man had done for her. (17) She said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, because he said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.'” (18) “Wait, my daughter,” she said, “until you find out how things go, for he won’t rest unless he resolves this today.”
This is just an amazing section!
We have confirmed for us that Boaz was older and he considered this appeal as being honored by this young woman. She could have, in fact, attempted to allure a younger man who might also be rich, but she sought out the favor of this older man. Though the book never says so, there are several allusions to her being an attractive woman. Naomi wants to protect her from the younger men as did Boaz, something which would not have likely been too much of a concern if she had been homely or unattractive.
Boaz, is HONORABLE. He did not have to tell her that another kinsman redeemer was first in line. He could have proceeded and feigned ignorance if it later came to light, but he did what was right. He also sought to protect her image by sending her home before light – and it was an image worth protecting for even as a foreigner -she was well liked and viewed as an honorable woman! That is really saying something!!!
Also, notice the way things were done in Israel! Boaz would not let her return to Naomi empty-handed! I LOVE this about the Jewish people – but it was only true of them because it IS true of God as well. This entire story shows provision from every angle as well as God’s supervision and oversight in guiding the process towards his desired end which was blessing! FAR from being invisible to God or even worse – cursed by Him, Naomi was tenderly loved by God and even though He was misunderstood by her, He still sought only her good!
Finally, notice the relational trust Naomi has in Boaz. Not only did she believe in his character enough to attempt this whole thing in the first place, she tells Ruth that Boaz is of such a character that he will not rest until Ruth’s request can be properly answered!
This whole book screams of honor and integrity by all three major players.
The Rite of the Kinsman redeemer [Deut. 25:5-10]
“(5) When brothers live on the same property and one of them dies without a son, the wife of the dead man may not marry a stranger outside the family. Her brother-in-law is to take her as his wife, have sexual relations with her, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law for her. (6) The first son she bears will carry on the name of the dead brother, so his name will not be blotted out from Israel. (7) But if the man doesn’t want to marry his sister-in-law, she must go to the elders at the city gate and say, ‘My brother-in-law refuses to preserve his brother’s name in Israel. He isn’t willing to perform the duty of a brother-in-law for me.’ (8) The elders of his city will summon him and speak with him. If he persists and says, ‘I don’t want to marry her,’ (9) then his sister-in-law will go up to him in the sight of the elders, remove his sandal from his foot, and spit in his face. Then she will declare, ‘This is what is done to a man who will not build up his brother’s house.’ (10) And his family name in Israel will be called ‘The house of the man whose sandal was removed.’”
Boaz at the gates
“(1) Boaz went to the gate of the town and sat down there. Soon, the family redeemer Boaz had spoken about came by. Boaz called him by name and said, “Come over here and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. (2) Then Boaz took 10 men of the city’s elders and said, “Sit here.” And they sat down. (3) He said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has returned from the land of Moab, is selling a piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. (4) I thought I should inform you: Buy it back in the presence of those seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you want to redeem it, do so. But if you do not want to redeem it, tell me, so that I will know, because there isn’t anyone other than you to redeem it, and I am next after you.””I want to redeem it,” he answered. (5) Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you will also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the deceased man, to perpetuate the man’s name on his property.” (6) The redeemer replied, “I can’t redeem it myself, or I will ruin my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption, because I can’t redeem it.”
If you remember, a woman was only allowed to own land if there was no male heir to carry it – at which point, if she was young enough to seek a mate was to restrict her choices to the tribe of her late husband in order for the land to never leave that tribe. Here, Naomi’s land is being redeemed by a kinsman but this is only because no official proceedings had yet taken place to transfer the ownership away from her and in fact, no such transfer COULD take place until Redeemer could be found. You see, Naomi’s husband died in Moab BEFORE her sons, which if they had been in Israel, the land would have transferred in ownership to them, but since they also died in Moab, no such transfer took place. If all had followed normal proceedings, the land would be Ruth’s and Orpah’s because their husbands would have received their inheritance at the death of their father and it would have fallen to their wives at their death. But here we are with the land still “essentially” in Naomi’s name by default, and but attached to the land was Ruth, since all actually belonged to her late son. So, to purchase the land was to also assume the rite of the Kinsman redeemer. Notice also, that it was Naomi’s right to sell it rather than maintain ownership. Again, this is an example of God’s provision for his daughters.
This nearest of kin was willing to purchase the land, but not take Ruth since it would financially ruin him. This might seem confusing but it is most probable that this was true. You see, if this man was already married and he had to purchase this land AND receive another wife – we would have to support her and any children born from that union SEPARATELY from his current wife. That being so, you can see how it might be more than a man could financially take on and sustain over the long haul.
That being the case, it seems like it was not a dishonor to fail to redeem her. Beyond that, there was knowledge that she would be cared for since the task would not fail to be done, since Boaz was not only available but willing.
“(7) At an earlier period in Israel, a man removed his sandal and gave it to the other party in order to make any matter legally binding concerning the right of redemption or the exchange of property. This was the method of legally binding a transaction in Israel. (8) So the redeemer removed his sandal and said to Boaz, “Buy back the property yourself.”
According to Keil & Delitzsch,
“The taking off of the shoe was an ancient custom in Israel. The usage arose from the fact, that when any one took possession of landed property he did so by treading upon the soil, and asserting his right of possession by standing upon it in his shoes. In this way the taking off of the shoe and handing it to another became a symbol of the renunciation of a man’s position and property. But the custom was one of public disgrace in such a case as this, when the shoe was publicly taken off the foot of the brother-in-law by the widow whom he refused to marry.”
Many times a rejection to play the role of the kinsman redeemer was a shame and the woman would take the shoe of the man and cast it before the counsel and spit in his face with the words, “‘This is what is done to a man who will not build up his brother’s house.’”
Interestingly, spitting upon another person, especially in the face, is a global sign of anger, hatred, disrespect or contempt. This was her right and duty. Her right for her own dignity of having been refused care and a future, her duty to her husband who was also being denied a male offspring to perpetuate his name in Israel.
“(9) Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I am buying from Naomi everything that belonged to Elimelech, Chilion, and Mahlon. (10) I will also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, to perpetuate the deceased man’s name on his property, so that his name will not disappear among his relatives or from the gate of his home. You are witnesses today.” (11) The elders and all the people who were at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is entering your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built the house of Israel. May you be powerful in Ephrathah and famous in Bethlehem. (12) May your house become like the house of Perez, the son Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring the LORD will give you by this young woman.”
This lineage of Perez was well known to Boaz for it was his own as we will see in a moment. The crux of their blessing over Boaz and Ruth was essentially that their union would be blessed with children for many generations.
“(13) Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he was intimate with her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. (14) Then the women said to Naomi, “Praise the LORD, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name be famous in Israel. (15) He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
Notice that it fell to the son to sustain his widowed mother in her old age.
“(16) Naomi took the child, placed him on her lap, and took care of him. (17) The neighbor women said, “A son has been born to Naomi,” and they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (18) Now this is the genealogy of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron. (19) Hezron fathered Ram, who fathered Amminadab. (20) Amminadab fathered Nahshon, who fathered Salmon. (21) Salmon fathered Boaz, who fathered Obed. (22) And Obed fathered Jesse, who fathered David.”
To view the message where the Kinsman Redeemer was initially taught in our trek ‘Thru the Bible’ – please see “The Kinsman Redeemer“.
I hope this teaching will challenge you and encourage you to place your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
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