[NOTE: This is a much longer study than usual, but don’t let that prevent you from reaping the huge rewards of studying this 4-chapter book as a whole.]
In Leviticus 25 in particular, and supported elsewhere in the Mosaic Law, a legal mechanism for “redemption” was set forth by God. Ruth is actually a practical application of that portion of God’s Law to teach us not just how the Old Testament institution of redemption was supposed to work, but of the divine working of redemption throughout all of Scripture. It’s no coincidence that a key event in this story concerns a woman giving birth to a redeemer in Bethlehem, something with many parallels to yet another woman who will give birth to THE Redeemer in Bethlehem.
Q: Other than the tragedy of personal loss, what is the significance of Naomi being left without a husband nor sons nor even grandsons?
A: In the short-term this left Naomi without anyone to support her in her old age as would normally happen in the presence of an extended family. In the long-term, this was viewed as an even greater tragedy that a family line came to an end. The whole system of inheritance and the passing of the land was predicated on passing it along to children to sustain the family name and overall tribal unity. From a Jewish perspective, this wasn’t just about the loss of loved ones or land, but annihilation of an entire family forever going forward.
Q: Why might it be significant that Mahlon and Chilion are identified as “Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah”?
A: “Ephratha”—the root for “Ephrathite”—was the original name of Bethlehem going back to the time of Abraham. It has a powerful place in Jewish history even before becoming part of Israel proper and would in turn emphasize to Jewish readers the extraordinary depth of this tragedy in losing so precious a heritage as this family had brought for centuries until this abrupt ending. This is not just any family, but one of the founding families and therefore especially tragic.
Q: Wasn’t it against the Law for these Jewish men to take Gentile wives?
A: There is no mention in the Bible that it was wrong and the acceptance of everyone of Ruth as a legitimate family member resulting from the marriage seems to go contrary to Old Testament Law. However, the prevailing interpretation is that taking a Gentile wife was prohibited only while residing in Israel, and that it was probably technically legal since it took place outside of Israel while they lived in Moab. But even if it were wrong, biblical law would accept Ruth because the sin would not have been hers but the husband’s.
Q: What is the phrase in v.8 that describes the relationship between these women?
A: “May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” The root word for every variation of “kindness” or “kindly” used throughout Ruth is “hesed”, a Hebrew word often translated as “lovingkindness”. It is the most common Old Testament equivalent of “grace”.
Q: What might Naomi’s entreaty for God’s grace in return for the grace shown to her by her Gentile daughters-in-law teach?
A: Naomi sees God at work over all people, not just the Jews exclusively. She recognizes that God judges all people and in turn rewards accordingly to their deeds.
Point: We are seeing how God’s grace works on His behalf through people TO people and the greater accountability of each individual to the One True God.
Q: Is there a spiritual parallel or deeper teaching in the examples of the two Gentile women Orpah and Ruth?
A: They could represent two kinds of people that come to God and continue at different levels of faithfulness. Ruth is like those that come and, being permanently changed, remain forever faithful; Orpah is like those who follow faithfully for awhile, but eventually introduce false beliefs/teaching/worship from their old life, effectively returning to their gods.
Q: Are there parallels to other biblical teachings concerning brides?
A: Joseph had to take another bride (Leah) before he could get the bride he wanted (Rachel). This teaching replicates itself throughout Scripture to provide the basis for Christ who would have to take another bride (the Gentiles) before being ultimately accepted and able to possess the original bride (Israel).
Q: What about Naomi’s actions in leaving and then returning to Israel? How might this parallel greater teachings concerning Israel and Jews as a whole?
A: It represents the dispersion of Jews from Israel—living in Moab in this case—and their subsequent return upon hearing that things are going well in Israel. There are many parallels to why Jews are returning to Israel. But just like Naomi, the work of their return is incomplete until combined with the recognition and acceptance of the Redeemer to restore them spiritually. It’s not enough to just return physically.
The point of these things is that Ruth is a pattern that continues to be repeated even to this day
Q: List each of Ruth’s points in v.17-18 and describe how they illustrate the visible work of salvation in one’s life.
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you”. It’s not a one-time commitment but a way of life going forward forever.
“...where you go, I will go...” No longer seeking one’s own path but God’s alone.
“...where you lodge, I will lodge...” No longer living the old life but leaving it behind for new life in Him.
“Your people shall be my people...” Accepting a whole new family in the body of Christ.
“...your God, my God...” Putting away all other gods and interests to worship the One True God wholly and exclusively.
“Where you die, I will die...” Not a temporary whim or commitment but a decision for life up until the very last breath.
Q; What is the difference between the women’s treatment of Naomi in v.14?
A: Orpah was polite and even loving towards Naomi, but went her own way; Ruth clung to Naomi and would not let go.
Application: How does this speak of our own spiritual commitment? What are the parallels in your own walk with Orpah as opposed to Ruth?
Q: Why the change of names? What is actually being communicated?
A: “Naomi” means “pleasant” while “Mara” means “bitter”. Naomi is communicating the spiritual defeat she feels at the hand of God.
Point: Naomi is not happy with the results of God’s sovereignty over her life, but still acknowledges God as Ruler and Author of same. She recognizes that her life’s physical struggles parallel things going on in terms of her spiritual struggles. She is not going to recover hope for this life without provision of renewed spiritual hope.
Point: These verses are provided to place into the proper context God’s supernatural working on the behalf of Naomi, even though she wasn’t aware of it yet. This establishes that although Ruth did not know where she should go or whose field to glean, that divine leading would bring her in contact with a close relative of Naomi; in fact, the one through whom God would ultimately restore Naomi physically and spiritually.
Q: In chapter 1 we observed the working of hesed—that is, “grace”—in the relationships between Naomi and her daughters-in-law. How does this reoccur again here?
A: In Boaz’s response of why he is extending kindness (hesed/grace) to Ruth.
Q: What are the things that Boaz lists in v.11 as having been done by Ruth?
“All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband”.
“...how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth...”
“...how you...came to a people that you did not previously know.”
All of these combine to form a picture of the work of salvation: Forsaking the old life, loving and being devoted to the One True God alone, and loving others as one’s self. It’s a summary of the fulfillment of the whole Law in the practical application of Ruth’s life.
Q: What does Boaz expound in v.12 as the proper reward for Ruth’s actions? What is the greater teaching to which this speaks?
“May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord...”
“...under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
In recognizing great spiritual sacrifices, Boaz wishes for Ruth great spiritual reward. Boaz is speaking more like God might speak, recognizing and praising spiritual achievement. It’s a teaching about where truly lies our treasure, there is our reward.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
— Matthew 6:19-21
Q: What does Ruth acknowledge in v.13 that she has received? How does it fit in with the theme of hesed/grace so far discussed?
A: Ruth acknowledges that kindness (hesed/grace) has been returned to her in Boaz’s deeds and words. It continues to reinforce the work of God’s kindness (hesed/grace) in and through others to produce physical relief which parallels spiritual healing.
Q: How does Boaz’s instructions to his staff in v.15-16 mirror God’s grace to us?
A: The requirements of the Law were to allow others to glean from the corners of the fields and after all harvesting was done; simply following the workers through the field while they were working was not actually a legal right. Not only does Boaz allow this higher level of activity, but even instructs that an extra amount be purposely left for her which would normally not be found among “gleanings”. It’s a teaching about how God’s grace far exceeds our mere needs as He expresses His love for us here and now.
Application: Do we encourage others by reinforcing the spiritual principles at work in their actions? Do we look deeper than just the surface circumstances to try and see what God is actually doing? Do we consider that as God’s “hands of grace” that it’s our enjoyable duty to not just meet, but exceed, meeting others’ needs?
Q: Naomi states in v.20, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead”. In what ways might Naomi be considered “dead”?
A: For the remainder of her life she has no sons to care for her in her old age, something that would ordinarily decrease one’s overall life span as they would have to work to survive at a level very difficult for the aged. But as pointed out previously, the lack of heirs which means the end of the family name and heritage was a form of death that in many respects was even more unbearable.
Q: How do we know that Naomi is beginning to see that God is still perhaps working on her behalf and may not have abandoned her completely?
A: By the fact that in v.21 she identifies Boaz by what many Bible translations call her “kinsman-redeemer”.
Q: What is a “kinsman-redeemer”?
A: This is actually a legal term spelled out in Old Testament Law whereby a family member can:
Avenge the death of a relative
Seek restitution due a deceased relative for a wrong committed against him
Assist relatives in obtaining justice
Redeem a relative’s property/inheritance sold to another
Redeem a relative who has sold themselves into servitude
In other words, an earthly kinsman-redeemer can effect redemption and restoration in life situations in the same way our Great Kinsman-Redeemer can so accomplish.
Q: In 2:12 Boaz states, “the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge”. How is this connected with Ruth’s request in 3:9, “So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative”?
A: The words for “wings” and “garment corner” are the same. Ruth is essentially asking Boaz to answer his own prayer! Just as he wishes for the Great Kinsman-Redeemer’s protection for Ruth, so Ruth elicits the protection of her immediate kinsman-redeemer.
Q: What might Boaz giving the abundance of barley to Ruth in advance of completing his promise indicate as a greater teaching of God’s grace to us?
A: That God has promised to accomplish in eternity a great and lasting work in bringing us great joy and comfort and security in paradise, but a kind of down payment on that promise in the abundance of His kindnesses in this present life.
Q: So how do we know from these verses that land isn’t the sole important consideration in terms of the biblical laws of inheritance?
A: Because it was not just an obligation in order to keep the land within the tribe, but to ensure that each family’s name within the tribe was carried on. In this case, the obligation was not merely to pay money to Naomi for the land, but to take Ruth as a wife to father children as an assurance that Naomi’s family line would continue.
Q: How do we now know for sure that Mahlon’s marriage to Ruth—a Gentile—was accepted as legitimate?
A: It was not questioned in the least that a requirement of redeeming the land in Naomi’s possession was tied to taking her daughter-in-law Ruth as wife to continue the family name.
Q: The Old Testament institution of the kinsman-redeemer—in Hebrew called go’el—provided for a way to recover something or someone that was lost. How does this practical application of redemption go further to establish a greater work?
A: It not only recovered a family name and property, but saved them from annihilation. Or as Boaz states in v.10, “to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place”. The kinsman-redeemer has not just saved property but life.
Q: Ruth is mentioned alongside the names of Rachel, Leah and Tamar. What do all 4 women have in common?
A: They are all Gentiles. It’s a teaching that God’s plans have always been to include everyone and that when someone of Jewish birth doesn’t live up to His expectations, those that do will be used by Him to bridge the gaps.
Q: What is the confirmation for us that all of these events were driven and controlled by God to produce this outcome, that this isn’t simply a story of “chance” or “fate” or “good luck” that it turned out for the good?
A: Because according to v.13, “the Lord enabled her to conceive”. Human efforts to date had been not merely unsuccessful, but disastrous, bringing them to the brink of annihilation. God’s redemption effected restoration where none was thought possible.
Q: How do we know that the redeemer spoken of here is not limited to just the birth of Obed?
A: The genealogy indicates that David would be born a grandson of Obed, and through David would come THE Redeemer—the Messiah.
Q: What are the qualities of the redeemer provided in v.14-15?
He is provided by God. “Blessed is the lord who has not left you without a redeemer today”.
He is not a secret, but highly visible and publicly acclaimed. “May his name become famous in Israel”.
He restores where no one thought it possible. “May he also be to you a restorer of life”.
He provides and meets every need. “...and a sustainer of your old age”.
Q: What does Naomi now have which at the beginning of this book she had no hope of attaining?
Someone to provide for her in her old age.
Someone to carry on the family name, to prevent it from being entirely wiped out.
The coming of THE Redeemer who would do for her eternally what has been accomplished in this present life.
How do you see yourself in the earthly role of a redeemer in the application of “love your neighbor as yourself”? Do you see your obligations limited to meeting a temporary, immediate need? What are the boundaries of our responsibilities?
In the course of working with others, how aware are you of the greater spiritual work taking place?
Do you see that God may be doing something greater in the background than circumstances reveal?
Do you see the whole work of
Re-read Ruth and take the following into consideration:
“The book of Ruth is read in the Jewish Synagogue at the feast of Pentecost, which is the first day, as it were, of the Gentile church. It tells the story of a rich, powerful Jewish man who takes a Gentile bride and exalts her, the way that Jesus, on the day of Pentecost, raised up the Gentile church as the bride of Christ.”
-- Jacob Prasch