We come to the final chapter of Ruth, in which the only remaining obstacle (the presence of another kinsman-redeemer) is overcome. While important for the resolution of the story, there’s not a lot new to be said about this part. Again, it’s the story of God’s laws in action – the laws that were set up to protect family inheritance and the family name. Have a read of this section now:
Last week we paused in our series through Ruth to ask: what does this story tell us about God? We saw firstly that it illustrated God’s extravagant kindness to his people – and urged us to show that to others (like Boaz did).
The second thing I noticed story is the way in which both Ruth and Boaz behaved honourably; with integrity. In chapter 2 Boaz is introduced by the narrator as ‘a man of standing’ – a noble man. And in chapter 3, Boaz responds to Ruth’s actions by saying something similar about her:
Although we still have one chapter to go in our Ruth series (see this week’s previous posts), at the end of chapter 3 we stopped to ask what this ancient story of romance has to do with us. We don’t want to go down the Men are from Israel, Women are from Moab path (yes, it’s a real book), or turn it into a moral lesson about dating etiquette. So we asked the question: what does this story tell us about God? (After all, the Bible is primarily about him!)
The first thing that struck me about the story of Ruth was how it’s a great picture of how God intended his people to act. You know all those boring and slightly confusing laws in books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy? Ruth is the story of some of those laws in action.
Previously, in Ruth…
Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, had moved from the land of Israel to Moab, with her husband; but her husband soon died, and she was left with her two sons. While they were living in Moab, Naomi’s sons married Moabite women – Ruth and Orpah. But ten years later, her sons died, too. So Naomi and Ruth, her daughter-in-law, moved back to Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem, empty: no food, and no children.
But yesterday, in chapter 2, we saw how God graciously provided for them. Ruth went to glean grain in the field of Boaz, of one of Naomi’s relatives. There, she found incredible kindness – more than was required by the law. Boaz encouraged Ruth to remain under his protection by only gleaning in his fields; he even instructed his workers deliberately to leave behind some of the good parts of the grain for her to gather. And when it came to mealtimes, Boaz invited her to share in the meal with him and the other workers. Naomi spoted the potential, and encouraged Ruth to keep gleaning in Boaz’s field.
At the end of Ruth chapter 1 (see yesterday), Naomi has returned to her homeland, poor and childless. She is bitter, because she sees God’s hand as being against her. She is “empty” – without a man in her family to provide food for her, and without an heir. Yet the chapter ended with a note of hope. Two notes, in fact. One of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, has stayed with her – more than that, has aligned herself with Israel and Israel’s God, despite being a Moabite. And it’s the start of the harvest in Israel. What will happen next?
Yesterday we began a series on Ruth, and made a list of all the things that weren’t “right” in the first five verses. (You really need to read yesterday’s notes for today to make sense.) What did you come up with?1:1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. 3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
Right from the beginning, we see that it was in the days of the judges – which, as we learned from the very final verse of Judges, meant that there was no king and everyone did as they saw fit. Already off to a bad start.
Today, we begin a new series through the Old Testament book of Ruth. But we’re going to start a little bit before Ruth in our reading, in order to set the scene for what’s going on. (There’s a lot more bible-reading today, and less explanation than usual. You’ll see why later. Promise.)
First, let’s head back to a rather unsavoury incident in Abraham’s family tree: