Two Widows and Their God
A great million dollar question for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” would be which of these books is not actually a book of the Bible,
A. Book of Abraham
B. Book of Haggai
C. Book of Lamentations
D. Book of Zephaniah
It would be great extra credit to double the money if the person could find the three correct books in a Bible in less than a minute.
There is nothing that brings a greater sense of embarrassment to a believer than to be given a Scripture reference in their Bible that they cannot find. I am going to bet that many of you will be using your Table of Contents page in your Bible a great deal during our new 13 week study. During this time we are going to look at the Old Testament books that are four chapters or less in length and the four new Testament books that are only one chapter long.
The purpose of our study is to mine some of the unknown treasures of the Bible. Most of these books are books that are seldom the study of a Sunday School class or Bible Study. Yet, they are part of the Word of God. They too are “profitable for teaching, rebuke, correction, and training in godliness.” During the next 13 weeks we are going to study just under one-fifth of the books that are in the Bible.
This morning we look at the book of Ruth. This is one of the most familiar Postcards from the Father. It is story written during the time of the book of Judges. The time of the Judges was a time when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”. These were years when the people of Israel were rather fickle in their faith. Israel would drift from God, get into trouble, and then cry to God for help. Then God would establish a leader (called a “Judge”) such as Gideon or Samson to lead the nation back to God.
In the midst of this inconsistency, Ruth is a story of consistent faithfulness. The story falls neatly into three sections: The journey into Moab, the journey back to Israel, God’s provision for Naomi and Ruth.
The Journey to Egypt
We are introduced to the main characters of the story at the beginning of the book. Naomi and her husband Elimilech lived in Bethlehem. They had two sons, Mahlon (meaning unhealthy) and Chilion (meaning “puny.”) We get the feeling that neither boy was particularly healthy. Because there was a famine in Israel, the family moved to Moab a non-Jewish town east of the Jordan river in what we would know today as Jordan.
The Bible does not make a judgment call on whether it was right for Elimelech and Ruth to go Moab. When other Biblical characters went to foreign lands it often got them into trouble. Perhaps no mention is made of the wisdom of the move because it isn’t important for the story.
While in Moab, Naomi’s husband, Elimelech died. Her sons married Moabite women. After living in Moab for a decade both sons also died. We don’t what the sequence of the events was. We don’t know why the sons died. We don’t know how much time existed between the death of Elimelech and his sons. We don’t know whether these deaths were a judgment from God or whether they were from natural causes. All we know for sure is that there were three widows in Elimelech’s household.
Naomi had not only lost her husband, she lost her sons. And with the loss of her sons she lost her hope of having descendants. And with the loss of descendants she lost any security for her old age since it was the practice for the children to care for their parents, as they got older. Her loss was devastating.
The Return to Israel
When word arrived that Israel was no longer locked in a famine, Naomi decided to return home. Jewish law had some provisions for widows and some of her relatives did live in Israel. Naomi graciously released her daughters-in-law from responsibility for her. She instructs Orpah (who inevitably makes one think of Oprah) and Ruth to return to their families in the hopes that they might be re-married and enjoy families of their own. She explains that living with her could be a miserable life.
Orpah reluctantly returns home (perhaps to consult with Dr. Phil). Ruth, however, refuses to leave her mother-in-law. She proclaims that she is willing to leave her home and everything she knows to go to a place she has never been. She is willing to worship the God of Israel and to consider herself a Jew.
God’s Provision for the Widows
Before we can understand God’s provision for these widows we need to understand three areas of law. The first is the law related to the care of widows and orphans. It was part of their welfare system.
Lev. 19:9-10 “When you harvest your crops, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. 10 It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners who live among you, for I, the Lord, am your God.
God provided for the hungry and needy by instructing harvesters not to get greedy in their harvest. They were to leave the edges of the field unpicked and not pick up what they dropped. The widows and other poor were allowed to come into the field and harvest what was remaining.
So, basically we are told that Naomi and Ruth were on welfare. The text tells us that Ruth “happened” upon the field of Boaz. There are no flashing lights, no visions, no audible voice from Heaven. There is nothing extraordinary about God’s guidance. In Ruth’s mind she was just going to a field where it seemed she could find some food. But God had other plans. God was guiding the girl to the field of a relative of Naomi.
While Ruth is scavenging for food, the owner, Boaz arrives at the field. We don’t know why he was late. Perhaps he had other business. Perhaps he had several fields. We are led to believe that Boaz was a single man who had never found the “right woman”. It seems that he was quite a bit older than Ruth, it is possible he was a widower.
Well, this particular day he arrives at work and immediately notices Ruth. He asks his foreman, “Who is that?” (He may have asked because in Bethlehem you noticed any strangers or he asked because of her beauty.) The foreman explained that she was a Moabite woman related to Naomi. She had asked for permission to work the field and the foreman had granted it. She had worked hard since she arrived.
At this point Boaz realized that he was related to this woman. She didn’t know him, but he had heard about her. He approached Ruth (the foreigner from Moab) and requested that she remain in his field. (It was not uncommon for an owner to ask someone to leave who was getting in the way, but never to ask someone to stay). He also extended protection to the Moabite woman. He invited her to get a drink from the water supply of his workers. He was obviously giving her “special treatment”.
Ruth is surprised and wonders if there is a “catch”. When she asks why she has been treated so kindly, she is told that her reputation had preceded her.
To understand that next part of the story we must understand another law in Israel, the law of the Kinsman-Redeemer. When God gave Israel the Promised Land, portions were given to every family. This land was to belong to the family forever. If one of the family members ran into financial difficulty they could sell their land. It was right and expected that one of the members of the owners family would “redeem” the land. The opportunity would be given to the closest relatives first (often a brother). If they declined or were unable to help, the next relative would be given opportunity. They would, in essence take responsibility for their “extended family”. If no one was willing to help, the widow would be forced to live in poverty and the family land would be lost until the year of Jubilee (which was to take place every 50 years) when the land was to revert back to the original owner.
Apparently Naomi still had land to sell in Israel. And she needed to sell her land to survive. It turns out (what a coincidence!) that Boaz was a relative of Naomi’s who could redeem the land. But there was more to this process. The law of Levirate marriage complicated the matter. In order to maintain the family line there was a law that stated that if a man died without having children, the woman was to ask a brother or a near relative to father a child in the name of the dead man. Apparently, she didn’t have to do this, but it was her right.
“If two brothers are living together on the same property and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Instead, her husband’s brother must marry her and fulfill the duties of a brother-in-law. The first son she bears to him will be counted as the son of the dead brother, so that his name will not be forgotten in Israel. Deuteronomy 25:5-6
We first see this in Genesis in the case of Tamar in Genesis 38. Tamar married the oldest of Judah’s sons. That son, (Er) died (we are told it was because he was wicked). The second son (Onan) was told to father a child in his brother’s name. Onan didn’t want to do this because this child (with his brother’s name) would receive the inheritance that he wanted his children to have.) The second son was intimate with Tamar but made sure he didn’t get her pregnant. This angered the Lord and Onan was put to death. Tamar was told to wait for the third son. There is more to the story but we are concerned with Ruth.
Ruth apparently had a right to request that a kinsman-redeemer father a child in her husband’s name. Since the family property had been passed on to the son (Ruth’s husband) she came with the property. Part of being kinsman-redeemer was to fulfill the Levirate marriage law. Boaz seemed to be well aware of the law. In fact, I get the impression that Boaz was somewhat smitten by Ruth.
So, at the time when the grain was being threshed (this was done on a high spot on hardened ground. The ox would trample the grain, and then when the wind came up the grain would be thrown in the air so the chaff could blow away leaving the grain to fall to the ground.) The men would gather at the threshing floor and thresh well into the night (as long as the wind was blowing). The men would then sleep around the threshing floor (to protect the grain) with their head facing the threshing floor and their feet coming out from the threshing floor.
Naomi told Ruth that it was time to make her move. I believe Naomi could tell that Boaz was interested in Ruth. She gave Ruth specific instructions. So Ruth toke a bath, put on her good clothes, put on some perfume and went out late to the threshing floor.
The men were sleeping and Ruth sat at the feet of Boaz and uncovered his feet. When his feet got cold he woke up and noticed Ruth (I wonder if he thought he was dreaming). Ruth asks Boaz to put his cloak around her (which was a way of saying “please be my kinsman-redeemer”).
Boaz is flabbergasted and delighted. He can’t believe that a beautiful girl like Ruth would ever be interested in an older man like him. He felt that she was certainly “out of his league”. This was a moment he had been dreaming of. How do I know this? It’s because he had already researched the facts. He knew that he was not the nearest kin. Apparently there was a certain order of succession that had to be observed. Boaz assured Ruth that he would take care of her.
The next day Boaz waited for the man who was the nearer relative. He offered him the right to redeem the land. The man was quite interested in increasing his land holdings and willing to support Naomi. He agreed to purchase the land. Then Boaz added, “Oh, by the way, did I mention that you also have to fulfill the Levirate marriage with Mahlon’s widow, a woman by the name of Ruth?” Suddenly the man was not interested. There are several possibilities for his refusal.
- He was already married and knew that his wife would not be happy
- He knew that the land he purchased would actually belong to the child he fathered by Ruth
- He didn’t want to jeopardize the inheritance of his own children by perhaps having to divide it with a child he fathered through Ruth.
The man formally gave up his right as kinsman-redeemer and Boaz and the man made everything legal so that Boaz could purchase the land and also marry Ruth with the understanding that the firstborn son would carry on Mahlon’s name.
Here’s where the story becomes reaches it’s climax. Ruth and Boaz got married and we conclude that they lived “happily ever after”. Their firstborn was a son. And he was the child that would replace the lost sons of Naomi. Grandma was thrilled. Her heartache had turned to joy. The one who felt deserted by God now felt enormously blessed. But the story doesn’t end here . . . . This child was named Obed (or worshiper). Obed grew and had a son named Jesse. Jesse had seven sons (the great-grandsons of Ruth and the Great-Great-Grandsons of Naomi). The youngest of the seven was a young Shepherd by the name of David who just happened to become the greatest King of Israel! King David was Ruth’s Great-Grandson! And if you follow the genealogy far enough the greatest descendant of David, was Jesus.
There are lots of lessons we can draw from this great story. Let me list just three. First, faithfulness always yields the blessing of God. In the time of the Judges unfaithfulness was running rampant. Yet, in the midst of all the sin we have the shining example of Ruth. Ruth was faithful. She stayed with Naomi when it would have been easier and seemingly more advantageous to go back home and start over. It wasn’t easy for a Moabite woman to be accepted in Israel. She was a foreigner from a land that had long been an antagonist of Israel. It would have been like a Palestinian moving into a Jewish community.
Everyone would have understood if Ruth chose the easy course. But she didn’t. She did what she believed was right. She tried to serve God even though she didn’t know Him well. She was willing to give up everything for the chance to do what was right.
You and I face these kinds of choices daily. Do we obey or take the easy road? Do we remain faithful or hide behind excuses? Do we do what is popular or do we follow in spite of the crowd? Ruth gives us an example of what happens when God’s people are faithful. It wasn’t easy and it won’t be for us. But, in the end, God blesses those who trust Him.
Second, we are reminded that even back in these days God was opening the door of salvation to all people. As you read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew and the bit of genealogy at the end of Ruth, you will notice that Boaz’s mother was Rahab a prostitute from Jericho. Ruth was a woman from Moab. If you study further you notice the name of Perez and Zerah the children of Judah and Tamar, children who were the result of an incestuous relationship.
The message is simple: all people are welcome in God’s family. Paul said, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” [Galatians 3:28,29] Jesus does not look at your history . . . He looks at your heart. He doesn’t see skin color, gender, or nationality, He sees a person made in His image. He is not impressed by income, but welcomes any who will turn to Him. His arms are open for you!
You may feel unworthy, but He loves you. You may feel you don’t belong but God is eager to embrace you. You may feel that you have nothing to contribute, but He can use you in ways that would stagger the imagination. All you need to do is trust Him. Like Ruth, you must turn to your kinsman-redeemer. You must ask Christ to take over your life. We must turn to Him to meet our need for holiness and purity. He is the one who can help us. Allow Him to be Lord in your life. You will not be turned away.
Finally, let us remind ourselves again that things are not always what they seem to be. Ruth and Naomi certainly felt abandoned by God. Who wouldn’t feel that way after losing their spouse and children in such a short span of time. Who wouldn’t feel deserted when it seemed they had no future. These women may have believed that God despised them. But they would be wrong. God was guiding them. We don’t know why Elimelech, Mahlon and Kilion died. What we do know is that God did not abandon Naomi or Ruth. He guided Ruth to the right field. He caused Boaz to take notice. He made Obed a part of the family, and placed these women in the line of the Messiah. He brought good out of heartache.
Friends, God will do the same for you. You may be going through a time of heartache right now. You may feel that God has lost track of you. You may believe that the Lord hates you. He does not. You may not know where the next bend in your life is taking you . . . but He does. You may not see what He is doing until you get to Heaven but mark my word . . . God has not abandoned you. God is at work in the life of everyone who trusts Him.
It is unlikely that Ruth ever saw David come to the throne. She may have never met her great-grandson. But can you imagine the look on her face as she stood in Heaven and watched the plan of God unfold? Can you imagine the tears of joy that flowed from her eyes? And as faithful as Ruth was, I bet she wished that she had trusted Him more.
The God of Ruth and Naomi is the same God who opens His arms to you. I encourage you this day to trust God fully and to witness His faithfulness in your own life.