Ruth – A Loyal Daughter-In-Law
by John C. Westervelt
After the time of Joshua, the people of Israel, as recorded in Judges, failed to obey God’s laws for most of three hundred and fifty years. The writer concludes the book of Judges with the words “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This time in Israel’s history was not a pretty picture.
Ruth’s story takes place near the end of the period of the judges. Chapter one of the book of Ruth opens with Naomi, her husband, and their two sons leaving Bethlehem of Judah and traveling east across the Jordan River to the land of Moab to escape the throes of a famine. The Moabites, while not Israelites, were related to the Hebrews.
Nine hundred years before Naomi’s time, Abraham had followed God’s instructions to leave his home country and go to a land that God would provide. Abraham’s nephew Lot joined the caravan of family, cattle, and sheep. Both Abraham and Lot prospered in the new land. Each of their holdings of sheep and cattle grew so large that their herdsmen were quarreling over grazing rights. They agreed to part ways for the sake of family peace. Abraham let Lot take his choice of the land. Lot selected the green fields of the Jordan valley and the land of Moab to the east, and Abraham stayed west of the Jordan valley.
A few years after moving to Moab, Naomi’s husband died. As soon as her sons were of age, they married women from Moab. Not long afterwards, both sons died. Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem, so her own people could care for her in her old age. She encouraged her young daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to remain in their home country, remarry, and have children. Amid tears of separation, Orpah agreed to stay in Moab.
Ruth spoke up saying, “Don’t make me leave you, for I want to go wherever you go, and to live wherever you live; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God. Where you die, I will die and be buried there. Only death shall separate us.” Seeing Ruth’s resolve, Naomi acquiesced, and the two women traveled together to Bethlehem.
As Naomi and Ruth arrived on the outskirts of Bethlehem, they could see golden fields of grain. Barley harvesting had just begun. Ruth received permission from Naomi to go into the fields to glean the free grain missed by the reapers. Ruth found herself in the field of Boaz, who befriended her because of her loyalty to his relative Naomi. Ruth continued to glean in the fields of Boaz throughout the barley harvest, and subsequently the wheat harvest.
In those days, when a woman’s husband died, the custom called for her to marry her husband’s brother. If there were no brothers, then the lot fell to the closest relative. Naomi, seeing how kind Boaz was to Ruth, told Ruth that she should marry him. Naomi said, “Bathe, put on some perfume and your finest clothes, and go down to the threshing floor where Boaz sleeps during harvest. After he is asleep pull the covers off his feet and lie down there.”
Ruth willingly followed Naomi’s instructions. Boaz awoke at midnight to an aroma of a woman’s perfume and the sound of whispered breathing. As he stirred, he discovered Ruth lying at his feet. She asked, “Will you marry me as is the custom of your people?” Boaz, moved by this beautiful young woman’s willingness to marry an older man in order to give Naomi an heir, replied, “You go to sleep, and tomorrow I’ll handle all of the details.”
Early the next morning, Boaz talked with a young man who was an even closer relative of Naomi than he was. This man declined to marry Ruth because he felt it might endanger his own estate, so Boaz joyfully took Ruth as his wife.
Boaz and Ruth had a son, Obed. The women of Bethlehem said to Naomi, “Bless the Lord who has given you a grandson; may he be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and take care of you in your old age; for he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you so much, and who has been kinder to you than seven sons.” Obed’s grandson was David, who was chosen by God to become king of Israel.
In sharp contrast to the dark and depraved period of the judges, when each man did what was right in his own eyes, the book of Ruth is a beautiful picture of life among the people of the Ephraim tribe of Israel 1,100 years before Christ. Because of Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi, Joseph would take Mary to Bethlehem, the city of David, for the birth of Jesus, a descendant of Boaz and Ruth.
Copyright 2001 by John C. Westervelt
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