When a famine ironically caused a food crisis in Bethlehem (a house of bread), Elimelech packed up belongings and family and sought a better place to live. He and his wife, Naomi, and his two sons Mahlon and Kilion settled in the country of Moab, about 50 miles from Bethlehem. Tragedy struck the family when Elimelech died leaving Naomi a widow with little to no social standing or earning power. The task of finding wives for her sons also fell upon her, since her husband could no longer fulfill this traditional role.
Her sons married Orpah and Ruth. After ten years this family unit experienced even more sadness when both sons died, leaving no heirs. That’s when Naomi chose to return to Bethlehem, a city which had stores of food again because “the LORD had come to the aid of his people” (1:6). At first, her daughters-in-law planned to also go to Bethlehem, Judah. Obviously from the text, these women respected and loved each other. Barely out of town, Naomi stopped and urged these women to return and “find rest in the home of another husband” (vs. 9). Naomi kissed them, and the younger women wept. After more urging, Orpah returned to her family.
However, Ruth adamantly refused to go back to her childhood home, and instead stated her decision with passion. Her lyrical speech has become a celebrated pledge repeated by many: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth even made a forever-statement to enforce her promise: “Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (vv 16-18).
Upon their return, word spread quickly the kindness this foreign daughter-in-law showed in caring for Naomi. Their bond of love caused Naomi to refer to Ruth as “my daughter” (2:2). Under the law, if a man died leaving a widow, then a brother or the nearest kinsman (called a redeemer-kinsman) purchased their land and brought the widow into his household and the firstborn son carried the deceased husband’s name.
Enter Boaz. There was one redeemer-kinsman nearer than he, but after negotiations with that man and the city elders, Boaz accepted the responsibility of taking care of Naomi and Ruth. Boaz told Ruth that he’d heard about her kindness of leaving her birth family, of traveling with Naomi, and he saw her gleaning the fields day after day to find food. (The Lord had commanded farmers to leave the corners of the fields for the poor to glean. They only gathered other crops once, not a second time. Leftover were for the poor.)
Ruth didn’t seem to mind the stigma of being poor, of working hard. She did what she could to provide for Naomi and her needs. Today, we recognize her as marginalized because she was a woman, foreign, widowed, and poor. But God chose the industrious and kind Ruth to become the wife of Boaz, a prosperous farmer from the tribe of Judah. The Lord “enabled her to conceive” and she later presented Naomi with her first grandchild. Only grandparents know the incredible love that deluges their souls when those tiny babes are first placed in their arms.
In four short chapters the life stories of these two women unfolds – their stories a blip on the timeline of the greatest story ever told. They lived during the period in history when judges ruled the Israelites and when “everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25). But isn’t there always the exception to the rule. In the book of Ruth, we meet those exceptions as one after another, we learn more about Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. Naomi had fortunes and family restored, this female version of Job. At a time when women had practically no standing in society, God elevated to a place of honor, the obedient Ruth, her name forever linked in the lineage of Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:5).
Her story impacts us and will influence the world until the last day. When little Obed arrived, the women of Bethlehem showered Naomi with blessings, and they foretold how her little grandson Obed would sustain her in her old age. Their words mention the kinsman-redeemer. We also rely daily upon one born in Bethlehem, Jesus the Christ. Come, Bread of Life, allow us to place our feet beneath your table.
Index Card Scripture for Week Eight: Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer” (Ruth 4:14).