Today’s reading is one of my very favorite Old Testament book. There’s a lot of things to like about it: wonderful loyalty, God making something good out of something bad, the actions of an honorable man, the unlikely story of David’s roots, and great examples of the concept of redemption. There will obviously be much more in these 4 chapters than I’ll be able to comment on — it’s just too rich.
But I’ll start with the wonderful loyalty of Ruth. The story of Ruth is about ḥesed — family or covenant love and loyalty. In a culture in which family was everything and covenants really were the making of a family, the word ḥesed was supremely important. The word doesn’t sound pretty (you have to start from the back of your throat with this word) but its concept is beautiful, and Ruth’s story demonstrates it over and over again — and of all things, in the life of a foreigner.
It was demonstrated when all three of the men of Naomi’s family died in a foreign land, Moab, leaving three widows — two of them outsiders, foreigners, Gentiles. When Naomi decides to return home to Bethlehem (the famine is over), her daughters-in-law begin the journey with her. But Naomi and her daughters-in-law all knew the score; the likelihood is that Naomi took their accompaniment as a polite, but pointless gesture of respect toward one’s mother-in-law. There was no plausible hope that she would be able to “fix them up” with new husbands back in Bethlehem; and Naomi expresses this to them clearly in what she thought would be her farewell address to her daughters-in-law, dismissing them from any further obligation to her. And after a probably sincere expression of grief at their parting, Orpah does take her leave of Naomi to find a new husband, start a family, and go on with her life among her own people. But Ruth clung to her… and she expresses the beautiful words often repeated in wedding ceremonies to underscore the love and loyalty of the covenant just made between a new bride and groom:
“… ‘Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. “Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.’” Ruth 1:16, 17, NAS95.
Ruth then, of course, continues the journey all the way back to Bethlehem and begins to provide as best she could for herself and her mother-in-law. By God’s providence, it was harvest season, and by law Ruth could follow the reapers and glean (gather up the fall-out, or left-overs of the harvesters) to eat. She chose by accident (providence) the field of Boaz (a close relative), who appreciated Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law and hard work in the field. He kindly (ḥesed) made sure that no one bothered her (she was a young woman, a foreigner, and thus an easy target for harassment or even improper advances), and made sure that she received plenty enough to eat and share with her mother-in-law through both the barley and the wheat harvest.
Now it was Naomi’s turn to show ḥesed. Seeing the opportunity for both Levirate law and redemption, Naomi gave Ruth instructions on what she should do to possibly secure her future. Those instructions sound a little forward to modern readers, but the Levirate law was an actual obligation of near kinsmen to keep a family name from being eliminated. Ruth’s coming to Boaz was merely an earnest request for the fulfillment of the law and family duty, ḥesed. Notice that Boaz recognizes this Ruth’s “move” not as a sexual opportunity but as a demonstration of Ruth’s loyalty to her husband and family:
“Then he said, “May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness (ḥesed) to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich.” Ruth 3:10, NAS95.
Boaz, in deference to the nearest kinsman, promises Ruth a definite conclusion to the matter that day. But when the nearest kinsman dishonorably refuses to redeem Naomi’s land and obtain Mahlon’s widow (Ruth), because it would “endanger his inheritance”, Boaz honorably and kindly shoulders his family responsibility and marries Ruth to carry on the family name. Happily, Ruth and Boaz did have a son that they named Obed, who had a son named Jesse, who had a son named David.
So, next time your marriage seems too hard, next time family seems too hard and demanding, next time it would be easier to just chuck it all (in spite of all the promises you made that were supposed to last through good times and bad), the next time you think that nothing good will come out of you “grinding it out” in a bad marriage — remember Ruth; remember ḥesed; remember David. You never know what wonderful things your loyalty and love will ultimately lead to.
There’s so much more that could be said, but for now, see you tomorrow, Lord willing.