#ThinkingTuesday – Change your thinking; Change your life.
This blog post is a simple commentary on the book of Ruth. It was written in plain style and is meant to serve as a guide for a later blog post on why the church should desist from using Ruth and Boaz as the narrative for modern day romantic relationships.
In this post, I share my thoughts on each chapter of Ruth and how it relates to the rest of the bible. Each chapter is viewed from an eternal point of view. I discuss the things we should actually be taking away from each interaction between the characters (Naomi, Ruth and Boaz), while simultaneously focusing on any ties to Christ and the Cross.
I sincerely hope this edifies everyone who comes across it, enjoy!
Naomi: A woman from Bethlehem, who moved with her husband Elimelek to the land of Moab – a heathen land – due to a famine in Israel. Naomi’s sons (Kilion and Mahlon) married Moabite women (Ruth and Orpah).
Ruth: A Moabite woman married to an Israelite man, with a God-fearing mother-in-law. A foreign woman who commits herself to the God of Israel.
After losing her husband and two sons in Moab, Naomi starts her journey back home to Israel once she hears that the famine is over. Naomi felt the Lord was against her due to her present predicament (vs 13, 20-21) and because of this, she urges her two daughters-in-law to return to their mother’s home (vs. 7-14).
*Note they were sent to their “Mother’s” not “Father’s home” which perhaps denotes that matriarchy was prevalent amongst Moabites. This would not be surprising considering that Moabites descended from the incestuous actions of Lot’s daughters sleeping with their father.
However, sending them back home was the right thing to do as Naomi could not do much for herself and they would only be burdens on each other. By returning home, they could re-marry as the law allowed them to.
After much weeping, Orpah ends up returning home (vs. 14). Ruth, on the other hand, pledges a fierce vow of loyalty to Naomi (vs. 16-17). This reveals the high level of influence Naomi had come to have over Ruth in the past decade they had spent together as mother and daughter in law.
Boaz: A man from the same clan as Naomi’s husband Elimelek and therefore her close kinsman (relative) and guardian-redeemer.
Upon arriving in Israel with Naomi, Ruth was hardworking and obedient to whatever Naomi asked of her (vs, 7, 17 – 18). Boaz took notice of her hardworking and virtuous character, she found favour in his sight and he called her “my daughter” – this was not a remark of age, but a term denoting the honourable nature of her actions.
Once Boaz found out she was related to Naomi, He realised his obligations (as a guardian-redeemer) towards Ruth and began to take action to that effect. He encouraged her to drink from the water drawn for his workers and further in vs.8 – 9: “I have told the men not to lay a hand on you” this applied both in a physical way (beating her) or a sexual way (rape). Boaz likely felt some responsibility towards Ruth due to her relationship with Naomi and he starts to show special favour to Ruth because of this. vs.10 – Ruth was right to ask why she was getting special treatment as she was probably unaware of the Israelite laws that made Boaz a guardian-redeemer. vs. 11 – again we see that it is for Naomi’s sake that Boaz shows her kindness, not out of any direct (sexual or romantic) interest in her.
Boaz likely felt some responsibility towards Ruth due to her relationship with Naomi and he starts to show special favour to Ruth because of this. In vs.10 – Ruth was right to ask why she was getting special treatment as she was probably unaware of the Israelite laws that made Boaz a guardian-redeemer. vs. 11 – again we see that it is for Naomi’s sake that Boaz shows her kindness, not out of any direct (sexual or romantic) interest in her.
Boaz remarks that Ruth “left her father and mother to live with an unfamiliar people”. This is reminiscent of being called/set apart to be holy. Israelites were called out of Egypt (the familiar) into the wilderness (the unknown). We are called out of the world, to be set apart from it! Ruth exemplified this while Orpah is like someone who returned to Egypt. vs.12 – there are blessings for being set apart from the world and taking refuge in God and Boaz blessed Ruth for her trust in Jehovah. As seen in the tale of Exodus, the blessing of enduring/overcoming the wilderness is getting into the promised land.
vs. 13 – Classic Jesus at the well, also classic prodigal son returns home to be a servant but gets treated like a son. Godly men elevate the status of women. Whereas Ruth may have previously worried about how Boaz would receive her conduct (because this same conduct would have gotten her harmed in another field, vs. 22), his manner of relating to her demonstrated His kindness and put her at ease. She was not treated as a slave but as a well taken care of servant – despite that not being her original standing as a Moabite woman. vs.14 – 16 also reveal how Boaz gave orders for OTHERS to treat her kindly too: “don’t reprimand her”, “don’t rebuke her”. Godly men are concerned with how others treat the women around them.
vs. 20 – Upon hearing of how Ruth had been highly favoured at the field and finding out that it was by Boaz, Naomi immediately recognised that Boaz was their guardian-redeemer, he was obligated to them as a relative to redeem them from their distress, and that explains all of His behaviour towards Ruth after He found out who she was! Nothing romantic, just responsibility.
vs.1 – It is nearing the end of harvest. Naomi wants to ensure that Ruth will be safe and provided for even after she is gone (she was likely getting older now). In those times, the best way to do this was marriage. It afforded women many protections and it was Naomi’s duty as Ruth’s mother-in-law and caretaker in a foreign place to look out for her.
Boaz as the guardian-redeemer ought to have married Ruth, but since he had not done this (we later find out that he did not do this because he was not Naomi’s nearest kinsman-redeemer), Naomi decides to take initiative by giving Ruth very specific instructions.
vs.3 – 4 contain very suspicious yet symbolic instructions.
- Wash and Anoint Thyself: Come washed (a sign of cleanliness and purity) and anointed (a sign of being sacred and set apart, being prepared). Matthew Henry’s Commentary notes that she was not to come painted like Jezebel or dressed in the attire of a harlot (with the intent to seduce).
- Go To The Threshing Floor: Like Eden, a place of harvest. The harvests were ended and they were winnowing – process of blowing air through the grain to remove chaff.
- Approach After Eating and Drinking: She could not announce herself until he was at rest, in good spirits. Remember Eve could not announce herself till Adam was put into a deep sleep (rest) after working in Eden. A further reason for this instruction by Naomi was to allow for privacy (there would be fewer people around Boaz) due to the intimate demand Ruth was about to make.
- Uncover His Feet: A reference to the law found in Deuteronomy 25:7–9. It was done to express her request that Boaz fully performs his duties as a guardian-redeemer through marriage. *Ruth 4:7 also explains why Naomi told Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet and lie there.
- Lie Down: This was an act of submission in faith. Placing herself at his feet was an intimate move recognising Him as Lord and Master, like the Syrophoenician woman at the feet of Jesus.
It would appear that Naomi, fully aware of the law gave Ruth specific instructions on how to go about making this delicate request from Boaz. Although it was suspicious and risky, Naomi had no doubt that they were both of godly character and would do their best to remain honourable in their actions towards one other. Both of them were trustworthy enough for the plan at hand and would not take undue advantage of each other.
Note that Naomi would never have instructed Ruth to do anything evil because she obviously didn’t want to jeopardise the good favour they had found with Boaz. By law, Naomi likely assumed Ruth was Boaz’s wife because He was their closest kinsman and guardian-redeemer (she was likely unaware that there was a closer relative than Boaz as she had been away from home i.e. Israel, for a long time).
The true meaning behind Ruth’s actions was as an example, for us to recognise that we must lay ourselves at the feet of our legal guardian-redeemer, to receive our next instructions (Acts 9:6). Ruth’s story is also a symbol of how we pass from one guardian (Naomi – a symbol of the law) to another (Boaz – a symbol of grace).
Ruth makes her request “spread the ‘corner’ of your garment over me” in vs.8 – 9. To spread the corner of your garment over a person was an act of covering or protection (such as gained through marriage in those days). With that statement alone, Boaz immediately understood Ruth’s request.
This statement also reveals an inference to “If I can but touch the hem of His garment” by the woman with the issue of blood in Luke. This woman also approached Jesus as quietly as Ruth did.
Their statements carry a similar desire, as they both wanted to be liberated from their ills – Ruth through marriage, while the woman with the issue of blood through healing. They both sought out their guardian-redeemer, in a place they shouldn’t be, risking everything for the sake of their freedom.
We see a further similarity in these two situations by way of the response these women received. Boaz and Jesus were both “startled” by the actions of these women and asked, “Who are you?”. Upon finding out who they were, they also both remarked “My Daughter” – again a remark to show that the substance of these women’s actions was honourable and pleasing in their sight.
In both instances, Jesus & Boaz were guardian-redeemers. If you are unfamiliar with the term, skip to the endnotes below to find out the meaning and importance of guardian redeemers.
vs. 10 – Boaz calls Ruth’s act one of kindness and remarks that she has done the right thing rather than chasing after “younger and richer men”. Boaz must have been quite older than she was (we can assume this from his wealth and influence at the town gate as an elder) but she still consulted her husband’s family in deciding her future (which is more evidence of her fierce loyalty to Naomi) rather than running off after her own fancies. So also, we must consult God in making our decisions rather than running after what we think is best for us.
As no precursor, forerunner or example of Christ is without weakness (else He would not be perfect) vs.12 reveals that Boaz was actually not the closest guardian-redeemer! Again, this is a fact Naomi was probably unaware of as she had been away for so long.
Jesus, on the other hand, is THE guardian-redeemer, not one of many options. He is the only way to the Father! Having put on flesh and taken upon himself our very nature, He became our closest kinsman – the flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone. He is the redeemer for all, no matter the earthly family they are from, they can be redeemed into God’s kingdom – the heavenly family!
Back to Boaz, his godly character is further revealed in vs.14 – 15: “No one must know”, he says this to protect her honour, to shield her from rumours that could destroy her reputation as a virtuous woman.
In the true fashion befitting of a man with the intent to marry, Boaz does not permit Ruth to leave without gifts for Naomi, her current guardian and mother-in-law (vs.17). This was likely a cultural sign of respect, and some would even call it a dowry!
However, you chose to see it, the gifts were a surety to Naomi that he had received Ruth’s request and would do his best to attend to it. Even in this day and age, it is expected to always come bearing gifts whenever you’re visiting the in-laws!
Naomi, upon receiving Ruth and her gifts, immediately knew that Boaz would definitely not rest till the matter was settled (vs.18), indeed it is the same with our Lord Jesus, who did not rest till our redemption was settled on the cross as He cried out “it is finished”.
Like superman, Boaz runs off to “the town gate” – a place where men of influence gather to discuss important issues (vs. 1-2). He gathers the elders as witnesses and makes a proposal to the closest guardian-redeemer. This kinsman was initially eager to accept Boaz’s proposal for He thought gaining the land would make Him wealthier, but upon hearing that it came with a widow who might endanger His entire estate, he is quick to turn over His responsibilities to Boaz.
This kinsman’s behaviour is described by Matthew Henry’s Commentary as “wanting heaven but refusing holiness”. Wanting the benefit but not the burden – the land would have been a blessing, but Ruth (and any children she would bear in her late husband’s name) would have been a burden. As such, this nameless kinsman missed out on the greatest opportunity – becoming the grandfather of King David, and a part of the genealogy of the messiah himself.
Boaz on the other hand, well aware that marrying Ruth was a risk to His estate, is willing to press on anyway with the responsibilities of a guardian-redeemer. This is the mark of true selflessness, displayed Christ on the Cross who endured the suffering for the sake of all those whom the father had given to Him (the elect).
For the sake of many Ruths (the elect), Christ endured the suffering and the burden of the cross. He considered that the blessing of redeeming Ruth back into His family was well worth more than any burden and endured the suffering with a smile. The elders were witnesses of this sacred transaction for Boaz (vs.9–11), just as they were witnesses at the crucifixion – Luke 23:48.
In the end, Naomi’s bitter life become sweet. God through His divine providence made up for her loss from the place she least expected. She had gained a daughter-in-law worth more than seven sons! and through Naomi, she gained a son as well (vs.17). As Matthew Henry rightfully comments, “The bonds of love prove stronger than those of nature, and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother; so here, there was a daughter-in-law better than an own child.”
Lessons on Marriage from Ruth and Boaz
1. Boaz and Ruth shared a commitment to the SAME God and acted with consistency, kindness and respect towards each other.
2. They were not interested in romance as a recreational activity, such as casual dating or dating just for fun. Neither of them flirted with expressions of romantic love or gave way to sexual desires.
3. Ruth defied conventional standards by going to Boaz at night, but she was still in line with the broader laws/customs of the land.
4. Boaz also defied conventional standards by letting Ruth remain beside him until morning but He did not disobey the broader laws/customs of the land by engaging in sexual immorality.
5. Boaz and Ruth set their sights on a lawful marriage in a godly community. Their choices were covenantal, not individualistic. They based their actions and decisions on the laws of the land, rather than passionate desires.
Throughout this book, nothing is said of Ruth’s beauty. All that is spoken of is her virtuous character which could not be hidden, even from the neighbours. This again speaks to 1 Samuel 16:7, where the Lord says: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
Now that we know what is really going on in the Book of Ruth, it is important to discuss why this book has been taken out of context and romanticised to fit an unrealistic and unbiblical 21st-century narrative. You can read about that discussion HERE.
What is a guardian or kinsman redeemer?
A guardian-redeemer was a close, influential relative to whom members of the extended family could turn for help, usually when the family line or possessions were in danger of being lost.
He was responsible for providing an heir for a dead brother, avenging the killing of a relative, buying back enslaved relatives or family land sold during a crisis and caring for relatives in difficult circumstances (see Leviticus 25:25, Leviticus 25:47–49, Deuteronomy 25:5–10, Numbers 35:19–21, Jeremiah 32:6–25).
The idea of the guardian-redeemer is also used at times to refer to God and his redemption of Israel (see Exodus 6:6–8; Job 19:25; Psalm 19:14; 69:18; Isaiah 43:1). In these passages, God is Israel’s nearest redeemer, stepping in to bring the nation back into his family when the people could not do it themselves.
Yahweh is Israel’s Redeemer, the one who promises to defend and vindicate them. He is both Father and Deliverer (Exodus 20:2). There are numerous Old Testament appeals to God as the rescuer of the weak and needy (Psalm 82:4; Daniel 6:27; Jeremiah 20:13) and preserver of the sheep of Israel (Ezekiel 34:10–12, 22).
The word guardian-redeemer finds its ultimate fulfilment in the coming of the Messiah (see Isaiah 59:20). Jesus is our near guardian who came to buy us back into God’s family. In the New Testament, the concept is reflected in the various words for “redeem”, which suggest paying a ransom, making a purchase or saving from loss. Christ is regarded as an example of a kinsman-redeemer because, as our brother (Hebrews 2:11), He also redeems us because of our great need, one that only He can satisfy.
In Ruth 3:9, we see a beautiful and poignant picture of the needy supplicant, unable to rescue herself, requesting of the kinsman-redeemer that he cover her with his protection, redeem her, and make her his wife. In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ bought us for Himself, out of the curse, out of our destitution; made us His own beloved bride; and blessed us for all generations. He is the true kinsman-redeemer of all who call on Him in faith.
– Biblegateway.com & GotQuestions.org