The Story of Ruth

THE STORY OF RUTH IS laid in the time of the judges, before there was any ruler in Israel except Jehovah their God to enforce good behavior. Each man did what was right in his own eyes. (Judg. 17:6) This condition lasted for 450 years. The Israelites, during that period, were perhaps the freest people the world has ever known, except during the time they were captive to other nations.

There was a famine in the land. God’s covenant with them was that if they obeyed he would bless them in ‘basket and store,’ in bountiful crops and rain, and in freedom from their enemies. But if they disobeyed, then lack of rain and famine would be their portion, and they would become slaves to their enemies. So this famine was a chastisement. It was evidently very severe so as to reach even the well-watered region around Bethlehem, whose very name means ‘house of bread.’ The ancient name given to the region was Ephratah, meaning ‘bearing,’ or ‘fruitful.’

A certain man, named Elimelech (meaning ‘God is King’), went with his wife and two sons to sojourn in the land of Moab. As an Israelite he should have esteemed the Divine covenant promises and protection so highly he would not have left the land of promise and the covenant people to mingle with strangers and idolaters. Paul tells us in Hebrews 12:5,6, “Despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him: For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Isaiah says about our God (63:9), “In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.”


The name of the wife was Naomi, meaning ‘lovely, pleasant.’ One son’s name was Mahlon, the other Chilion. Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, probably not long after his arrival in Moab, and before his sons married. God did not bless his move to Moab. The father feared he could not live in Bethlehem, and hardly had he arrived in Moab when he died. He had refused God’s instruction by his leaving. Instead of crying out to God and trusting him in Bethlehem they went to a land of idol worship. They sought to avoid one affliction and fell into a worse one; they escaped famine, but death overtook them; they had not trusted God’s love at home, so his judgments smote them in a foreign land. Mahlon and Chilion did not go home, but proceeded, in violation of their covenant law, to marry heathen wives. (Deut. 7:3) The sons founded their houses in Moab, and Moab became their grave. Now Naomi had no husband and no sons. Her happiness had turned to sorrow and bereavement; she stood alone in a foreign land. What should she do now?


She heard that God had visited his people and the famine was ended. Perhaps Naomi’s heart had never been fully in sympathy with their going, and now she turned her face and heart toward her native land. She felt that her two daughters-in-law would be sacrificing too much to leave their kindred and native land and friends, and go with her to a strange land to share her poverty. So she urged them to return to their own people, to their land and to their mother’s house. But they wept and told her that they loved her too much to desert her in her hour of need. They insisted they would go and share with her. She said, “The Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” (Ruth 1:8,9) They answered, “Surely we will return with thee unto thy people.” (vs. 10) This is indeed a scene of unparalleled love and tenderness. What had produced such love as both these women showed?

It is an honor to the dead that the sons had chosen such women as these, for they must have been somewhat worthy of the enduring love they had awakened in these two girls. Evidently the sons and father had not become Moabites. During the ten years of married life these two girls had entered an Israelitish family, and breathed its good atmosphere. Marriage and home life are the real mirror of religion and worship. Israel had distinguished itself, not merely by the name of its God, but by its life at home, and in the family by faithfulness and love to wife and child. These two girls were gratefully attracted to the home life of Israel. They requited the kind and tender treatment they had received with self-sacrificing love. They not only had heard the religion of Jehovah confessed in the land of Moab, but they had seen it lived in the home.

Now gently and delicately Naomi tells them they cannot hope for a husband and home in Israel, for what her sons had done in marrying foreign wives was against the Law and custom of Israel. Usually the youthful widow married again, and found an asylum of protection, safety, and honor in the home of the new husband. This was Naomi’s generous wish—“The Lord [Jehovah] grant you that you may find rest, … in the house of her [a] husband” in your own land. The word here translated ‘rest’ has great beauty in its meaning. It has the thought of a permanent home, a sanctuary of protection, safety, and honor, a hearth-home of love and understanding, sympathy and comfort, rest of heart and mind.


Though she had deep love for Naomi, Orpah’s natural desire for a resting place, a home, was stronger, and she saw there was no hope of a husband or home in Israel. But Ruth’s love was deeper. Naomi’s character, her loving, sunny, self-sacrificing disposition had won a similar love and gratitude in Ruth. Naomi had made Israel and Israel’s God lovely in the eyes of Ruth, so she wished to go to a people whose representatives were as amiable as Naomi and her family. A God who had such worshipers must be a lovely God also. Ruth was willing to give up the prospects of a home and family, and the heart joys which might be hers among her own people.

Her answer to Naomi here is the most beautiful and complete expression of self-sacrificing love found in any language. Let us note it particularly! “Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.” (Ruth 1:16,17) When Naomi saw that Ruth was stedfastly minded to go with her, she protested no more. Ruth had made her decision; she was no longer a Moabite at heart.

Ruth is like those who become Christians, giving up all earthly prospects. Such is consecration. To these, however, God is better even than he was to Ruth, far better than we can fully know. It is to these that he says, “Hearken, O daughter, … and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.”—Ps. 45:10


“So they two went.” (vs. 19) What a sad homecoming for Naomi! No home, no family, and only poverty; no friends but this one daughter-in-law, and she was a jewel. Naomi’s resources were exhausted, but God’s patience and loving-kindness were not. Already he had begun to order and arrange for her blessing as she turned toward Israel.

The town was stirred at her coming, and they asked, “Is this Naomi?” She answered, “Call me not Naomi, call me Mara [bitterness]: … for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.” (Ruth 1:19,20) Two widows were now alone in Israel without husbands to assist them. Naomi owned land in Israel which belonged to her husband Elimelech but it had not been farmed for many years. The Lord however, had made laws in Israel to provide for the poor and the stranger (see Deuteronomy 24:19-22), because the Israelites had once been strangers in the land of Egypt. The corners of the fields, and some of the grain were to be left for the poor and the stranger to glean. So Ruth went forth into the fields, and Jehovah directed her steps, though she did not know it, “She happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.”—Ruth 2:3, Revised Standard Version

While she was gleaning, Boaz came from Bethlehem and looked over the harvest field. His greeting to his workers showed a fine, godlike character. He said to the laborers, “The Lord be with you,” and they answered, “The Lord bless thee.” (vs. 4) That this was not merely a polite greeting, but a sincere wish, is shown by his later talk with the overseer, who was of the same spirit as his master.


Boaz watched the workers and noticed that one woman who gleaned industriously was not bold, noisy, nor too given to play. Her very manner showed she was not a common maidservant. He had never seen her before. She seemed serious, in deep earnestness, quiet and reserved. He asked the overseer who she was.

Like his master, the overseer knew his workers, the poor and needy also. She, who had so long been mistress herself, had not the manner of one grown bold in beggary. The overseer told Boaz that since morning the woman had not ceased to glean, and had rested but very little in the house. This praise induced Boaz to go and speak to her, and asked her to remain gleaning in his field, where she would be safe. He told his reapers not to reproach her, though she was a foreigner. She answered, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?” (vs. 10)

The Law of Israel provided this privilege of gleaning for the relief of the poor and unfortunate. Note the manly behavior of Boaz. He did not take advantage of his position to interfere in any way with her right, nor to wound her self-respect by too much liberality. He was careful in his kindness to respect her, even though she was a stranger. He even instructed his binders quietly to drop a handful now and then while binding the sheaves so her gleaning would be more fruitful, and told her to glean closer to the maidens binding the sheaves.

At the noon hour rest, he invited her to eat with the others of the reapers and binders, and even passed her bits of parched corn, and invited her to drink of the sour wine used for refreshing the reapers. Boaz told her that he had heard of how much she had done to help Naomi; how she had left her father and mother, and her native land to come and live among a strange people. His next statement is one of the most beautiful to be found in any language. He did not say, “I will help thee,” but rather, “The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.”—Ruth 2:12

Her sacrifice was too noble and too deep to expect man to give it full value. Jehovah can reach more deeply into the heart and life, and give more complete satisfaction. He wished that a full reward be given her, for she had come to seek shelter and trust under the protective power of a covenant-keeping God, amid a covenant people.

These words of Boaz were perhaps the first sunbeams that had broken through the grief and tears of many weeks. She had lived with the sense of loss of family and home and people. Now she was told about the God of Israel and his grace by an Israelite other than Naomi, and heard the voice of blessing from another of God’s people. Truly, she doubtless thought, this must be a great God and a great people. In gratitude she said, “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord”… “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.”—Ruth 2:13 New International Version

Her answer raised her still higher in the esteem of Boaz. It showed a refined nature. Many people in her place would say that in truth they were not accustomed to such labor, and then begin complaining. Ruth was unassuming and reserved, and not looking for any favors from others. She had youth and good health, and delighted to do what she could for herself. Boaz showed her kindness, not as a relative, but because of her excellence. A word of kindness coming to a loving heart like hers is like morning dew on a thirsty field.

Ruth went back to gleaning. She did not slack her hand, nor assume airs, nor take things easy, because the master had favored her. She worked diligently till evening, and even stayed over to thresh the grain. She had gleaned about an ephah of barley (about three and one-half pecks). She also took home to Naomi some of the food she had saved from dinner.—Ruth 2:18


Naomi realized that God’s hand must be in all this, that he had guided Ruth to the field of Boaz and taken care of her. Naomi said, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” (vs. 20) It is a kindness to the dead to look after their loved ones. She advised Ruth to abide in that field throughout the harvest. Ruth reported Boaz’ words, “Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain. Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, ‘It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.’ So Ruth stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”—Ruth 2:21-23 NIV


When the harvest was over and the heaps of grain were still on the threshing floor, Boaz himself came down to keep watch over them. The Scriptures say, “One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her [Ruth], ‘My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.’”—Ruth 3:1-3 NIV

Naomi owned land in Israel and she sought to use it for the welfare of Ruth. Israel had a levirate law recorded in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. It rested on the desire to preserve not only the national spirit, but also the national body. The nation lived in its families, like a tree in its branches. If a man died without children, it was as if a branch withered. To remedy this, a new branch was grafted into the tree by the nearest male relative marrying the widow. Each family must take care that no branch died out. But no one who was not a blood relative could redeem anything for a family.

Naomi gave Ruth careful instructions on how to approach Boaz concerning the fulfillment of this law. Ruth carried out Naomi’s instructions faithfully. And when she did what Naomi instructed her to do, Boaz responded, “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives, I will do it.”—Ruth 3:10-13 NIV


When Ruth returned home and reported back to Naomi as to what had transpired she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”—Ruth 3:18, NIV

Naomi knew Boaz well, indeed he did not let the matter rest. The Scriptures then say, “Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, ‘Come over here, my friend, and sit down.’ So he went over and sat down. Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, ‘Sit here,’ and they did so. Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, ‘Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.’ ‘I will redeem it,’ he said. Then Boaz said, ‘On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.’ At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, ‘Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.’”—Ruth 4:1-6, NIV

How would marrying Ruth endanger his inheritance? He owned other land and he was concerned that if he had a child with Ruth, this land would then become the property of Elimelech’s family. The Scriptures also say, “(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)” (Ruth 4:7, NIV) So the other relative took off his shoe and gave it to Boaz.

The shoe, or sandal, is first a symbol of motion and wandering, but also of rest and possession. See Deuteronomy 11:24. “With … shoes on your feet,” meant a journey is ahead. (Exod. 12:11) The expression in Deuteronomy 11 evidently refers to possession; something one actually had and could tread on with his feet at pleasure. So when this relative handed over his shoe to Boaz, it symbolized that he thus surrendered to Boaz all rights and claims to possession. Had he done his part, he would have set his shoe on Naomi’s inheritance and thus claimed it as redeemed. Ruth was the heiress of Mahlon, and must go with the possession. So Boaz redeemed the land, being a blood relative, and married Ruth. In Deuteronomy 25:5-10 we have this law and custom described in detail.

This story and procedure of redemption illustrates well the work that Jesus performed in redeeming Adam’s race. As there was no other redeemer, Jehovah furnished one in the person of his only beloved Son. (Isa. 63:5) But Jesus was to be blood-related to Adam, as well as to become a human being. He was ‘the seed of the woman,’ who would redeem mankind and ‘bruise the serpent’s head.’ So, as Luke tells us, the life spark of our Lord Jesus was transferred by Divine power into the womb of Mary, and in due time Jesus was born a perfect human baby. He did not inherit the death sentence, because God was his father, not Joseph. (Luke 1:35) When he was of full age, thirty years old (Luke 3:21-23), he offered himself as a ransom for all, and carried out the contract to the end on the cross. With this ransom price he buys back, redeems, Adam and all his children as well as Adam’s inheritance, the earth. Also, he marries a bride, one who was a daughter of Adam.


Ruth pictures the Gentiles who come into the family of God by a full consecration of their all, leaving behind their earthly hopes and lands and families, and as New Creatures, are taken into the family of God. They become the bride of the Prince, and are redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus, who gave his life a ransom for all. And, like Ruth, they will become the mother of kings.

Ruth gave up her home, and God gave her a far richer one; she gave up a husband, and God gave her a prince in Israel; she gave up children, and God made her the mother of kings, for she was the ancestor of David and Jesus, the ‘King of kings.’ She gave up her own people, and God gave her a place among the covenant people; she gave up the hope of land and country, and God gave her the inheritance of Naomi, and a share with her prince in his rich estate. God deals with his church, and gives her a “far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory.”—II Cor. 4:17

As the narrative continues of the story of Ruth, it says, “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. … And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’ Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him.”—Ruth 4:13-16, NIV

What a happy ending this was for Naomi as she held her grandson on her lap. As the women in Bethlehem had truly said, Ruth was better to her than seven sons, so it must be said of those that the Lord is calling as a people for his name—they must be better than seven sons—and be of noble character. Some may see in the story of Ruth only the preservation of the genealogy of Jesus. There are also many beautiful lessons of the character of the bride that the Heavenly Father is seeking for his beloved Son. As the people of Bethlehem all testified of Ruth that she was of noble character, so also must the world testify of the church that they were of noble character.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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