There Is A Redeemer

So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 10 And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. 12 And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” Ruth 3:6-13 ESV

As strange as Naomi’s counsel must have sounded to Ruth, she did exactly what her mother-in-law had told her to do. That night, when Boaz had fallen asleep, Ruth crept over to him, gently pulled back his cloak, and exposed his feet and legs to the cold night air. Then she lay down at his side and waited for him to wake up. And it wasn’t long before the uncomfortable sensation of having his limbs exposed caused Boaz to stir from his sleep, only to find a strange woman lying at his feet.

While the actions of Ruth may seem strange to us, there is nothing immoral or unethical about her behavior. In fact, it is likely that she was not the only woman sleeping at the threshing floor that evening. This was the peak of the harvest season and all the male and female servants of Boaz would have been working around the clock to harvest and thresh the wheat. Rather than go home, they would have slept on the site, ready to begin their work with the rising of the sun.

But Boaz was shocked to find this young woman sleeping in such close proximity. It was awkward at best and could easily be misconstrued by others. But the author reveals that this encounter between Ruth and Boaz took place at midnight, while everyone else remained asleep.

Boaz’s initial question had to do with the woman’s identity. While he had seen Ruth before, this was all taking place in the dark and he had no way of seeing who it was that was sleeping at his feet. So, he asked, ““Who are you?” And Ruth wasted no time in answering his question. “I am Ruth, your servant” she replied. But she didn’t stop there. Ruth immediately added, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9 ESV).

What in the world did she mean by this somewhat cryptic statement? And what possessed Ruth to use such a strange metaphor? We are not given any direct answers to these questions in the passage. But if we look at the Old Testament book of Ezekiel, we find a similar description used by God when speaking of His marriage to the people of Israel.

“When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.” – Ezekiel 8 ESV

It would appear that Naomi has brought Ruth up to speed regarding the responsibilities of the kinsman-redeemer. Which may explain Ruth’s rather bold confrontation of Boaz. It is readily apparent that Ruth is looking for a lot more from Boaz than a cash loan or the guarantee of long-term employment as one of his maidservants. The NET Bible chose to translate verse 9 in such a way that Ruth’s intentions are quite clear.

“Marry your servant, for you are a guardian of the family interests.” (NET)

The NET Bible study notes add: “Ruth’s words can be taken, in effect, as a marriage proposal.”

This young widow is asking for a long-term and costly commitment from Boaz. By making Ruth his wife, Boaz would not only be taking on her care but he would be making a binding covenant to be her husband. And all the way back in the garden, God expressed His intentions for a marriage to be a permanent union.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” – Genesis 24 ESV

It’s interesting to note that nowhere in the Old Testament is marriage listed as an obligation of a kinsman-redeemer. So, it would seem that Ruth is asking more of Boaz than the law required. She must have sensed that Boaz had an interest in her. For some reason, she interpreted his treatment of her as much more than an act of kindness. And she seems fully prepared to call his bluff. In essence, Ruth is telling Boaz to fish or cut bait. She and Naomi needed help. They were widows without a reliable source of income and no means of meeting their long-term needs. Boaz was the go’el, the kinsman-redeemer, and Ruth was demanding that he step up to the plate and do what needs to be done.

And Boaz has an interesting response to what he obviously understood as a marriage proposal from Ruth.

“May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. – Ruth 3:10 ESV

Rather than expressing surprise or shock at Ruth’s bold demand, Boaz lets Ruth know that he is flattered. He describes Ruth’s proposal of marriage as an act of kindness. He knew full well that she needed a husband, but probably thought she would prefer a much younger man. But Ruth had continued coming back to Boaz’s fields and was now expressing her desire to be his wife. That blew Boaz away. And this latest interaction with Ruth, on top of all that she had done to care for Naomi, further endeared her to Boaz. And he assures Ruth that he will do all that she has requested of him.

“Now don’t worry about a thing, my daughter. I will do what is necessary, for everyone in town knows you are a virtuous woman.” – Ruth 3:11 NLT

But first, they would have to do things the right way. Unbeknownst to Ruth or Naomi, there was someone else in Bethlehem who was a closer relative of Elimelech than was Boaz. In an effort to do the right thing and not rob this man of his right to fulfill his kinsman-redeemer responsibility, Boaz recommended to Ruth that this man be given the first right of refusal.

“…while it’s true that I am one of your family redeemers, there is another man who is more closely related to you than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning I will talk to him. If he is willing to redeem you, very well. Let him marry you.” – Ruth 3:12-13 NLT

But Boaz assured Ruth that, should this other relative fail to marry Ruth, he was ready, willing, and able.

“But if he is not willing, then as surely as the Lord lives, I will redeem you myself! Now lie down here until morning.” – Ruth 3:13 NLT

There is an unstated part of this whole transaction that will eventually come to light and provide much-needed clarification as to what is really going on. This is a far more complicated issue than a marriage agreement between Boaz and Ruth. As we will see, in the very next chapter, there are land rights involved. According to the Mosaic Law, land, which was apportioned by God to the various tribes, was to remain in the family at all costs. This required that a kinsman-redeemer purchase land that was up for sale or in risk of foreclosure due to unpaid debts.

In the case of Elimeleich, he had land that would have passed down to his sons, but they too were deceased. And as a woman, Naomi was legally prohibited from owning land. So, it was essential that a kinsman-redeemer step in and purchase the land. And it would come with the added responsibility of marrying Ruth, the widowed wife of one of Elimelech’s sons. All of this will be made perfectly clear as Boaz presents the full facts surrounding the case.

Eventually, Boaz and the other relative will appear before the elders of the city and determine which of them will take on the role of the kinsman-redeemer. But we have already seen how God has operating behind the scenes, orchestrating all the events so that the union of Ruth and Boaz might come to full fruition. He is not done yet. But, even without having read the story before, we can almost sense how all of this is going to turn out.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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The Woman Was Left

1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. – Ruth 1:1-5 ESV

The title for this little book stems from the name of its primary character, a relatively obscure woman who appears on the scene during the time in which Israel was under the leadership of judges. This 300-year-long period of Israel’s history ran from 1375 B.C. to 1075 B.C., and it is described in less-than-flattering terms in the latter part of the book of Judges:

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes. – Judges 17:6 ESV

The period of the judges was marked by apostasy and spiritual infidelity among the people of Israel. They were in the land of Canaan, the land that God had promised to give to Abraham’s descendants as their inheritance. Under the leadership of Joshua, the twelve tribes of Israel had waged war against the land’s occupants and had successfully displaced a large portion of their enemies, just as God had commanded them.

…the LORD said to Moses, “Give the following instructions to the people of Israel: When you cross the Jordan River into the land of Canaan, you must drive out all the people living there. You must destroy all their carved and molten images and demolish all their pagan shrines. Take possession of the land and settle in it, because I have given it to you to occupy.” – Numbers 33:50-53 NLT

But Israel had failed to follow God’s orders to the letter. They had made compromises and concessions, choosing to make alliances with the nations living in the land, rather than expelling them as God had commanded. And the book of Judges chronicles their partial obedience.

Manasseh did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shean and its villages, or Taanach and its villages, or the inhabitants of Dor and its villages, or the inhabitants of Ibleam and its villages, or the inhabitants of Megiddo and its villages, for the Canaanites persisted in dwelling in that land. – Judges 1:27 ESV

And Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. – Judges 1:29 ESV

Zebulun did not drive out the inhabitants of Kitron, or the inhabitants of Nahalol, so the Canaanites lived among them, but became subject to forced labor. – Judges 1:30 ESV

Asher did not drive out the inhabitants of Acco, or the inhabitants of Sidon or of Ahlab or of Achzib or of Helbah or of Aphik or of Rehob, so the Asherites lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land, for they did not drive them out. – Judges 1:32-33 ESV

Naphtali did not drive out the inhabitants of Beth-shemesh, or the inhabitants of Beth-anath, so they lived among the Canaanites, the inhabitants of the land.  – Judges 1:33 ESV

The Amorites pressed the people of Dan back into the hill country, for they did not allow them to come down to the plain. – Judges 1:34 ESV

And God had warned the people of Israel that if they failed to remove the Canaanites from the land, these pagan nations would become a snare for them.

“…if you fail to drive out the people who live in the land, those who remain will be like splinters in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will harass you in the land where you live. And I will do to you what I had planned to do to them.” – Numbers 33:55-56 NLT

Because the people of Israel failed to remove the Canaanites, they ended up worshiping the gods of the Canaanites.

They followed other gods—the gods of the nations who lived around them. They worshiped them and made the Lord angry. They abandoned the Lord and worshiped Baal and the Ashtoreths.

The Lord was furious with Israel and handed them over to robbers who plundered them. He turned them over to their enemies who lived around them. – Judges 2:12-14 NLT

Needless to say, this period does not represent a high-water mark for the nation of Israel. In fact, the book of Judges describes it in stark terms.

…there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. – Judges 2:10 ESV

And it in this milieu of apostasy and unfaithfulness that the book of Ruth finds its setting. Because of Israel’s persistent sin of idolatry, God is using the very nations they should have driven from the land as His instruments of judgment.

he gave them over to plunderers, who plundered them – Judges 2:14 ESV

But there was a method to God’s seeming madness. He had a purpose behind His divine judgment.

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the Lord, and they did not do so. Whenever the Lord raised up judges for them, the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the Lord was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them. But whenever the judge died, they turned back and were more corrupt than their fathers, going after other gods, serving them and bowing down to them. – Judges 2:16-19 ESV

Over the years, God would raise up the various nations that remained in the land to  use as His instruments of judgment. This included the Ammonites, MIdianites, Jebusites, and Amalekites. And each time they showed up, these enemies would steal, pillage, plunder, and destroy, leaving a wake of destruction in their path that left the tribes of Israel demoralized, intimidated, and striving to survive.

And the book of Ruth opens up with the description of “a famine in the land” (Ruth 1:1 ESV). The focal point of the story is a region known as Ephrathah, which was occupied by the Ephrathites. It is believed that Ephrathah was the ancient name of the Canaanite city that occupied the spot. But the name was later given its Hebrew name of Bethlehem, which means “house of bread.”

In this city lived a man named Elimelech who was married to a woman named Naomi. In an effort to escape the famine, this couple and their two adult sons relocated to the land of Moab, located at the southern border of the land of Canaan, and just east of the Dead Sea.

Moab was outside the boundaries of the land of Canaan, which gives the impression that the famine was localized. Elimelech did not attempt to go north, which would have kept them within the borders of the promised land and among their own people. It seems likely that the famine had impacted all of the tribal lands in which the people of Israel lived. This would indicate that the famine had been God-ordained and was another form of judgment from the land of God.

Elimelech, hoping to escape the ravages of the famine, relocates his family to Moab. But why did he choose the land of Moab? The logical answer would be that Moab had escaped the ravages of the famine. There would be pasture land for Elimelech’s flocks. Grain and fruit would be available for his wife and sons. It seems likely that Elimelech saw this as a temporary relocation, and that he had every intention of returning to his fellow Ephrathites as soon as the famine ended.

But God had other plans. Elimelech died – abruptly and unexpectedly, leaving his wife a widow living in a foreign land. In time, her two sons ended up marrying Moabite women. This is an important, yet easily overlooked detail in the story. Since these two young men were stuck in Moab and they had no access to Israelite women, they chose for themselves Moabite women to marry. And this would seem to be in direct contradiction to a command given by God years earlier through Moses.

“No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants for ten generations may be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. These nations did not welcome you with food and water when you came out of Egypt. Instead, they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the LORD your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the LORD your God loves you. As long as you live, you must never promote the welfare and prosperity of the Ammonites or Moabites.” – Deuteronomy 23:3-6 NLT

The Moabites were actually close relatives of the Israelites because they were the direct descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, the father of the Hebrew people. But the Moabites were also the result of Lot’s incestuous relationship with one of his own daughters (Genesis 19:30-38).

But here we have the two sons of Elimelech marrying two of the descendants of Lot, both citizens of the nation of Moab. And, almost as if expected, we read that, ten years later, the two sons abruptly die. Now we have three widows, Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth. One was a Jew, while the other two were Moabites. But in all three cases, their circumstances could not have been any worse. Their value as potential wives had dropped precipitously with the death of their husbands. In that ancient culture, widowhood could be a death sentence.

When Naomi had lost her husband, she found herself in a relatively stable condition because she had two adult sons to care for her. Her ability to produce any kind of income on her own was limited. And very few men would marry a widow, preferring instead to have a virgin for their wife.

And when Naomi’s sons died, she was left in a highly vulnerable and hopeless situation. Not only that, she now had two widowed daughters-in-law in her care. They were her responsibility. But she had no way of caring for her own needs, let alone theirs.

And so, the story of Ruth begins. A famine. An escape. Three unexpected deaths. Three unprotected widows. And the perfect opportunity for God to show up.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

The Wonderful Ways of God.

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. – Ruth 1:1-5 ESV

Like many of the Old Testament books, this one bears the name of one of the primary characters whose life makes up a great portion of the narrative. But while Ruth plays a significant role in the story, she was not intended to be the main focus of the story. The special honor goes to God. He is the silent, unseen protagonist of this book, moving behind the scenes and orchestrating events in such a way so that His divine will is accomplished and His plan for the redemption of mankind, developed in eternity past, would come to pass just as He preordained it. This story must be read with a searching eye, looking for the invisible hand of God. And it should be read with an understanding of the larger, overarching story contained in the Bible. Otherwise, it becomes nothing more than a story about a widowed Moabite girl and her somewhat serendipitous and fortuitous marriage to a well-to-do Hebrew man. But there is so much more going on here.

We are told that the story takes place, “In the days when the judges ruled…” This refers to the period of the judges before Israel had a king. In the Hebrew Bible the book of Judges and the book of Ruth were companion books. Many believe they were written by the same author: Samuel. But there is no solid evidence for the authorship of Ruth. All we know is that it chronicles a period of time when God was using judges to rule over His people. This was a period of extreme turmoil and instability. The book of Judges records the up-and-down nature of the Israelites and their relationship with God. Their faithfulness to Him ebbed and flowed. Their obedience was spotty at best and when they turned their back on Him, God would send judgment in the form of foreign nations. When the people cried out to Him in desperation, God would raise up a judge to lead and deliver them. This would result in a period of relative peace and spiritual solidarity. But in time, the people would rebel again and the cycle would repeat itself. It was during this rather unstable and spiritually volatile period that the story of Ruth took place.

The opening verses introduce us to Elimelech and provide us with an extremely important detail about his life that can be easily overlooked, but that would have been like a red flashing light to the books original Hebrew audience. We are told that Elimelech was “a man of Bethlehem in Judah” and he and his sons were “Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah.” This is an extremely important point and is vital to understanding the true import of this story.

On his deathbed, Jacob blessed each of his twelve sons, but gave the following blessing to his son, Judah:

The scepter shall not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet,
until tribute comes to him;
    and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples. – Genesis 49:10 ESV

His words carried a prophetic pronouncement of a king who would come from the tribe of Judah. While this blessing would be realized in the life of David, a descendant of Jacob, the prophet Micah, long after David was dead and gone, provided details regarding another king who would be born in Bethlehem just as David was, and rule over the nation of Israel.

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
    who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
    one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming forth is from of old,
    from ancient days.
Therefore he shall give them up until the time
    when she who is in labor has given birth;
then the rest of his brothers shall return
    to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord,
    in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God.
And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great
    to the ends of the earth.
And he shall be their peace. – Micah 5:2-5 ESV

The prophet, Jeremiah, would give further details regarding this future king:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. – Jeremiah 23:5 ESV

So when we read that Elimelech was a member of the tribe of Judah and a native of the city of Bethlehem, it should gives us pause. It should act as a warning sign that there is something going on in this story that is far greater than might normally be expected. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, are forced to leave their homeland because of a famine. The mention of this natural disaster should remind us of supernatural and sovereign oversight of God over His creation. This is not the only time in Scripture that a famine has played a significant role in God’s providential plan. A famine was the cause of Abraham’s flight into Egypt (Genesis 12:10). His son, Isaac, would also find himself facing a famine, but would be commanded by God not to go to Egypt (Genesis 26:1-5). Years later, Isaac’s son, Jacob, would be commanded by God to take his entire family to Egypt to escape the famine in the land (Genesis 46:3-4).

Now we find Elimelech and his family facing yet another famine and being forced to flee for their lives – this time to the land of Moab. The Moabites were close relatives of the Jews, since Moab was the son of Lot, the nephew of Abraham (Genesis 19:37). Moab was located to the east of Judah, on the other side of the Dead Sea. It was evidently a very fertile land. In fact, we read in the book of Genesis, that when Abraham gave his nephew, Lot, the father of the Moabites, the first choice of all the land, he chose well.

And Lot lifted up his ” eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. – Genesis 13:10-11 ESV

So Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, leave Judah for Moab and settle there, intending to wait out the famine in Judah. But Elimelech dies, leaving his wife a widow, living in a foreign land. In time, her two adult sons take wives from among the Moabites – “one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth” (Ruth 1:4 ESV). And then, ten years later, the two sons die, leaving Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws alone and without any source of provision of protection.

These opening lines are a divine setup for what is to come. This is not a case of fate or bad karma. This is not about three unlucky women and their series of unfortunate events. It is the story of God and His divine, supernatural, all-powerful and providential plan for the coming of the Messiah. In the middle of the genealogy of Jesus provided in the first chapter of the book of Matthew, we read, “Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David” (Matthew 1:5-6 ESV). Then it concludes: “Thus there were fourteen generations in all from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the exile to Babylon, and fourteen from the exile to the Messiah” (Matthew 1:17 ESV). Jesus was a descendant of David, but He was also a descendant of Ruth, a widow from Moab. And the book of Ruth provides us with a glimpse into God’s orchestration of His sovereign will and unstoppable plan for the future redemption of a list and dying world.