Lecture 14: The Promised Land: Ruth
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: The Promised Land: Ruth
At the same time now we have the story of Ruth going on. The Judges story is a tragedy; the book of Ruth is not. It is a very happy story. There is a real contrast here.
A. This book, thus, bears witness to God’s control of history, because even as bad as things are in one place, that is virtually all of Israel, things can be good in a little place like Bethlehem, a fairly small town, if people are godly there. In other words, you can always be an exception to the rule. That is one of the things the Bible teaches again and again. Sure the culture dominantly is going down the drain, going to hell fast, but you do not have to. That is what you got to do in a youth group; you got to tell the kids, “You don’t have to do it.” You can say, “I’m going to get my kicks out of being different.” It is hard for kids to do, but you can do it. That is part of what you will preach all the time; that is part of what you will do in counseling. You have to say, “Look, everybody else does it, but you don’t have to do that. In fact, you’re not supposed to do that, you’re supposed to be a different kind of person.” It bears witness to God’s control of history.
B. It confirms what is taught elsewhere in the Bible that God often allows miseries to come to righteous people and that is a very big truth. He also grants blessings to the wicked, by the way, we will talk about that when we talk about the book of Job and some other places. It illustrates what is taught elsewhere.
C. Obedience to God is faithfulness in actions toward others. It is part of it, not all of it, but part of obedience is faithfulness to other people. The way you treat others is part of the way you obey God. It is a great theme in Scripture.
D. In the days of the Judges, a bad time, a few people could be very different. We can be exceptions to what prevails.
E. The human lineage of the Messiah has in it, as would be expected of anyone’s lineage, both common and noble strands.
II. Overview of Ruth
Having said that let me draw your attention to what happens in the case of the story as it unfolds. Ruth is a woman from Moab who marries a guy from Israel whose family had come into Moab to try to make a living during a famine. There is a famine in Israel. They leave Israel because the word is there has been more rain in Moab and so on. They travel to Moab, relocate there, a guy named Elimelech and his wife Naomi and their two sons. Naomi in Hebrew happens to mean “sweetie”, that is the word Naomi. This guy Elimelech and his wife “sweetie” have a couple of kids. One of the kids gets married to Ruth. Then there comes a time when that kid dies, his brother dies, he was married to a woman named Orpah and Elimelech dies. This leaves Naomi, “sweetie,” and her two daughters-in-law on the family compound there in Moab.
A. Now that her husband and sons are gone Naomi says, “I’m going home, I’m going back. Maybe God will be good to me in the land of my ancestors, the land of my birth.” Orpah kisses her good-bye but it says, “Ruth hangs onto her.” And Ruth says, “Where you go, I’ll go. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” That is a conversion. That is a statement that in the Old Testament times was the way you said, “I accept your Savior as my Savior. I’m in, I’m with this, I’m going to be an Israelite and I’m gonna believe as an Israelite ought to believe.” This suggests that probably Elimelech and his wife Naomi were real witnesses to those daughters-in-law, certainly Naomi must have been, and their witness must have made a difference. This is family evangelism; it is a wonderful thing when it can occur. So then Ruth and Naomi are the two who arrive back in Israel and they come back to Naomi’s homeland in Bethlehem. What are they going to do? It is pretty hard to set up everything; they have been gone for years.
B. Ruth goes out and gleans. Ruth would have heard from Naomi that the Israelite law says that you can glean in the fields. In other words, this law from Leviticus and Deuteronomy says, “Israelites, you must be sloppy farmers. You cannot do a thorough job of farming. You must give it a once-over and you must leave the rest of it for the poor who will come and harvest it for you.” It is a built-in, insisted upon, caring for the little person, the needy, the poor. “You can’t do a good job of farming; you must be inefficient in your harvesting. I don’t mean you can’t do a good job of planting, but your harvesting has got to be inefficient.” That was the rule. Whether it was the grapes, whether it is the grain, whatever it is, you just must leave something for the poor and they have a right to just come into your land after you have given it your once-over harvesting and take whatever is left. They have a right to do it. Was it being done in most of the days of the judges? Probably not. Was it being done in this exceptional, little town of Bethlehem? Yes it was, especially by one guy named Boaz. In fact, he warns Ruth at one point, “You better not go to anybody else’s field, you might get molested but I’ll honor the law.” By God’s grace she comes in contact with someone who honors that law and keeps it.
C. Naomi immediately says, “Wait a minute, you’ve got a good person here.” As time develops, Ruth actually proposes marriage to Boaz and he accepts.
D. Interestingly, if you watch the action, the women make all the key, initial decisions. It does not mean that Boaz cannot make decisions but all the initiation, “Do this, do that.” Even with regard to the proposal of marriage, Naomi says, “He’ll know what to do.” They know that they can count on Boaz and he will respond and he does.
E. In his follow through he brings the matter of the land that Naomi technically owns to the public legal arena, because Naomi married someone, Elimelech, who had inheritance rights to a certain chunk of property near Bethlehem. Boaz stands at the city gate and he says, “Hey, you nearest of kin come here.” He assembles a little jury and he says, “I have some land you might be able to buy.” The guy says, “I’ll buy it.” You could only buy land from a relative so it is a big issue, you do not always get a chance to buy land. Then Boaz cleverly says, “By the way, in this deal you have to marry a woman.” The guy says, “No, I can’t do it, I’ll endanger my inheritance.” You might say, “What do you mean endanger your inheritance?” Here is the deal. If a man has a couple of wives he cannot assign his possessions to one over the other in terms of inheritance. He cannot disengage from the law that acknowledges the firstborn, he must give him the double-portion and everybody else gets a portion thereafter. It is all laid out there in Deuteronomy 21. How did this work out in practice? This guy is probably already married or he is a widower, so he has children. He is probably old enough that his children are already farming his land. Let’s say he has two kids, two boys, they are farming his land already. One of them has two-thirds and one of them has one-third. If he marries Ruth, who is a young woman, he might have eighteen more kids. He will then have to go back and redo the thing and his oldest son no longer gets two-thirds but he gets two-twenty-firsts. You can do the math and figure out how it would work. So he says, “I can’t, it will endanger my inheritance.” Then Boaz says, “If I am the next of kin after you so I’m moving in now.”
F. They do get married and their children then are in the lineage of David. That is the way the book ends, ends with a genealogy. Usually they begin with one, this one ends with one. But in that genealogy you find a wonderful truth. This is the final little thing I want to say tonight. In the case of Ruth, Boaz and Ruth a Moabite, a non-Israelite, have a child Obed who is the father of Jesse who is the father of David. I want to just title this more generally, “Interesting Junctures in the Lineage of the Messiah.” Doesn’t that sound good? It has a nice ring to it. The point is Jesus himself is here at the end of this list. There is some gaps but here is Jesus at the end of this list. You have got in there an incest. That is incest, Judah and Tamar, his daughter-in-law. Not a happy story at all. Does that prevent God from doing good and carrying out is promise? No. So someday when you minister to a family who has incest, do not say, “Well, there is nothing that can be done for you folks.” There is always something that can be done. There is no sin that cannot be forgiven; there is nothing that cannot be overcome. The worse scumbag can turn around and get converted and do good things. There is always hope. There are a lot of scumbags in the Bible, I assure you, you will find them as we keep reading. Boaz and Ruth, she is not an Israelite, it does not matter. David and Bathsheba, you know that story, it was not a very happy story, it was a terrible thing that David did, it is the great sin it is called, yet from that comes Solomon, the lineage of King David and, therefore, of Christ. Rehoboam and Naamah, Rehoboam, Solomon's son, marries an Ammonite woman. And the Judean kings, many of them are disasters. Then you have Joseph and Mary and then Jesus. Both Joseph and Mary are descended from this same lineage. Eventually it does not matter which “side of the family you go on” to come up with Jesus’ lineage. It is just interesting to see that God’s plan even for the Messiah involves working with and overcoming these kinds of things that might be thought improper, impossible, inappropriate, forbidden in some way. It does not bother God a bit, it is what he is well able to do.
Let’s conclude with a word of prayer if we may.
Thank you Father for what your Word teaches. As we move through it quickly we nevertheless pray that we may catch good, clear glimpses of the kinds of truths that will help us serve you and minister for your glory. We pray that in Christ’s name. Amen.