Today is Purim, the holiday that the end of Esther explains (Esther 9:26), so we probably should be talking about her; but, we’ll regard Ruth instead. I’ve written on Esther plenty before, but traditionally, the whole book is read on this day.
Esther and Ruth are both part of the Festal Letters, the letters read at the five or so various feasts in Jewish tradition. They are collected together and called “The Five Scrolls” or “Five Megilot (which means ‘scrolls’).
- The Book of Esther is read in its entirety on Purim (this year March 12th)
- Song of Songs is read on the eighth day of Passover (March/April)
- Ruth is read on Pentecost (May)
- Lamentations (ninth day of Ab: July/August),
- Ecclesiastes (Sukkot: September/October).
This book, Ruth, is usually read on the holiday of Pentecost, Shavuot, in Jewish tradition, late April or early May. It’s when the barley would be cut; and don’t forget the significance of the name “Bethlehem”, which means, “house of bread.”
The narrative itself has multiple allusions to stories in Genesis.
There may be connections between Ruth and Genesis 12, the story of Abram’s call by God; between Ruth 1 and Genesis 12; 26; 4 7 ; and 2 Kings 4, recounting stories of famines that drive people from Canaan; between Ruth 3 and Gen 19:30-38, foe impregnation of Lot’s daughters by their father; between Ruth and Genesis 24, foe search for Isaac’s wife Rebekah; and between Ruth and Genesis 38, thee story of Judah and Tamar.
In a lot of ways it is a narrative commentary on Deuteronomy 22-25 and some various places of Leviticus. It’s like this book is a summary of half the laws in Deut. 22-25.
You don’t have to take my proposed date on the authorship of Ruth, but I think it was written around the time of Ezra-Nehemiah about the real story of Ruth, David’s mother, as an example of how to explain Deuteronomy 23:4 specifically, and some of the surrounding pericope.
- Law of Gleaning (Chapter 2) Lev 19:9-10.
- Law of Levirate Marriage (Chapter 3) Deut 24:19-21.
- Law of Redemption (Chapter 4) Deut 25:5-10, Lev 25:47-55.
- Law of the Tenth Generation (Deut. 22-23)
However, it’s not just a “once upon a time” story, but an “in the beginning” story.
The author makes his point with a touch so light as to be nearly imperceptible, but the import of that “beginning” is as weighty as anything in Scripture.“In the beginning” and “once upon a time” make rational sense as the beginning of a story. But recognizing a beginning on the other side of an end is an act of faith.
People don’t usually leave one country for another without the hope for a better life. There are exceptions of course, but almost every immigrant you ever talk to is hoping for a better life in the near future, if not the far future (for their children and so on). Elimelech and Naomi were when they moved to Moab. And Naomi, as bitter as she was in returning to Israel.
Every time Israel leaves and come back up to this point, they come back with more wealth: Abram in Egypt, Jacob in Haran; they always return with children and treasures. All except Naomi. She goes out to Moab and returns in poverty, having nothing, except Ruth.
Nothing – except Ruth. Which is enough. Ruth gives Noami a child and marries the wealthy landowner Boaz. Ruth is the plunder of Moab; she has the potential for fruitfulness.
Christians today often think that the church needs to be powerful and well-ordered to attract notice. This is nothing less than unbelief. There are two ways to immigrate. You can hope in the Lord, or you can trust in earthly circumstances, like Elimelech. What earthly opportunities awaited him I don’t know; but his name means “God is King,” yet he sure wasn’t acting like God was King, trusting and hoping for him in the place of redemption.
Mahlon and Chilion, Naomi’s sons, are Canaanite names, and so there is every indication that what Elimelech did is turn away from God to seek safety. He tried to avoid poverty and death, but found the very thing they were trying to avoid. They had to sell their ancestral land. Naomi’s sons are called ‘boys’ not ‘sons’; it’s one of the few times grown men are referred to in the diminutive and kind of reminds me of what I’ve discovered in these types of references over in the Book of Kings.
And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
- “…Naomi” – means “pleasant.”
- “…Mara” – means “bitter” (Ex 15:22-27).
Naomi is remembering her history, the scene of bitter water over in Exodus, but she is remembering it in a bad way. Remembering is funny because it is actually a present tense thing that interprets the past and shapes the future. How often are people’s memories more telling about who they are now than what happened back then?
Naomi says go to her mother’s house rather than fathers house, probably just to say that their first responsibility is to their own mothers. But Ruth sees her own mother relative to Naomi, the same kind of love Jesus demanded (Luke 14:26). Saying “mother” rather than “father” just might be a Hebrew way to emphasize what she should do is go get married, symbolic connotation of saying (Gen 24:28, SOS 8:2) “Go get married to someone else.” Orpah, the other daughter in law, kisses her mother in law goodbye, like Judas for Jesus.
Every immigrant leaves expecting a better life. But Ruth does not; she is one of the only immigrants that does not expect a better life here in the present, but she says it because she expects a better life in the future. She would never be making this vow unless she already believed.
She knows that if she stays, if she stays where her name is familiar, where she has prospects and suitors, and safety, her faith will die. She has to be with the people of God. She knows if she stays where she will be materially great, her faith will fade, but if she goes where she is poor.
She knows Naomi will die if she leaves her. But if they both go, there is a chance they both will live. She impoverishes herself so Naomi can eventually become rich. She leaves the familiar. We learn the spiritual dynamite of friendship. If you think I know about friendships, stop right there. It was not a government program that changed her life; it happened by nothing but a friendship. Naomi will certainly die if Ruth leaves her.
You cannot survive without a source of income, without economic hope. How will she survive?
- (a) You work in the field [but she’s too old to do that]
- (b) You marry (but she can’t have kids); People don’t marry solely for companionship back then. Children were everything, so this option is out of the question too.
- (c) You rent your land [but her land is gone]
But, there are three redeemers in this story
- There is a formal redeemer
- There is a surprise, a hidden redeemer
- There is a real redeemer.
This is so much like the actual Trinity, but in the story
- Boaz is the formal redeemer
- Ruth is the real redeemer
- the surprise redeemer is the one who is born in Bethlehem (Obed, whose name means ‘servant’) and leads to David and eventually Jesus.
- 1) For where you go, I will go;
- 2) Where you stay, I will stay:
- 3) Your people shall be my people,
- 4) and your God my God:
- 5) Where you die, will I die,
- 6) and there will I be buried:
- 7) the LORD do so to me, and more also, if but death part you
Oftentimes weddings say the first part of the verse, but cut off the second. (your people will be my people, your God my God) and the third (where you die I will die). A similar formula is used seven times in the Books of Samuel and Kings: 1 Sam 3:17, 14:44, 20:13, 25:22, 19:13, 1 Kgs 20:10, 2 Kgs 6:31.
- by Eli concerning Samuel
- by Saul of Jonathan’s execution
- of Jonathan’s friendship with David
- by David concerning Nabal
- by David concerning Amasa
- by Ben-Hadad concerning Samaria
- by the king of Israel regarding Elijah
And similarly, (I have already noted the wedding imagery in my sermon on the topic), Jesus says a really similar phrase to Mary when he is resurrected in John 20.
It is ironic that the same language of clinging is used when Ruth clung to Naomi (and though this isn’t literal marriage either [Mary and Jesus’s ‘marriage’ is not literal in the historical sense], it draws upon the same image of Genesis 2); the phrase of Ruth even uses really similar phrasing as Jesus does when he sends Mary away. Compare the two passages, first from Ruth, then from John.
“And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her….Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
“Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I ascend to My Father and your Father, and My God and your God.”
So, Ruth and Naomi venture back home, and Ruth ‘chances’ upon Boaz. ‘By chance’ means ‘by a stroke of luck’ but its not that we acknowledge that there is such thing as luck in the strickest sense, but that the hand if God defies purely rational explanations. How is it so randomly that not only Ruth encounters any man willing to bestow such grace, but one who happens to be related to Naomi and able to potentially carry out the possibility of Leverite marriage? I’m sure we all have had circumstances like that in our lives, but maybe not to this same degree?
The verse Ruth 2:7 is most difficult verse to translate in the book “This (masculine) her sitting/dwelling the house a little), rendered in the NASB as,
“Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.”
That’s our best guess I guess.
Boaz takes ordinary occasions and transforms them into extremely compassionate offers of genorosity.
Boaz provides food, gives and gives again, protects the vulnerable orphans and widows and cares for the poor and stranger, presides over a prosperous land, takes the bride, brings seed and a future for widow.
He is also instituting the first anti-sexual harassment policy in the workplace recorded in the Bible (2:9); and then asks, “Who is she?”, actually meaning “To whom does she belong?”
He not only assumes she is married, but that is the big question of the book, “To whom does she belong?” She is not really a Moabite, and not really an Israelite. She abandoned her family, but is not quite Naomi’s family either: close enough probably to count, but quite odd with no children or household.
Then Ruth fell on her face, and bowed herself to the ground, and said unto him, Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?
It’s a Hebrew play on words: “You have noticed the unnoticed.”
The wine in 2:14 could be more like sauce. A lot of translations render it vinegar, but it probably is something to go with the bread to make it tender, not hard. Nazarites aren’t suppose to have it (Numbers 6:3, Prov. 10:22), and it’s associated with poison in Psalm 69:21.
Eventually, upon discovering their circumstances, and after Ruth comes to him ‘at night’ at Naomi’s encouragement (see the significance of this phrase in my sermon on the topic), Boaz seeks out a way to redeem Ruth, there being one relative who was closer than he, who has first rights.
Initially, Boaz trembles (ויחרד) during the night and, waking to find a woman beside him (٧. 8), he asks, “Who are you?” Ruth and Boaz then discuss their future relationship (Ruth 3:9-12), and Ruth returns to Naomi early in the morning (Ruth 3:14), which prompts her question, “Who are you, my daughter?”
And that gives another angle from which to view to the nighttime scene on the threshing floor. Sneaking to the sleeping Boaz at night, Ruth reverses the incestuous origins of Moab (Genesis 19). She is also another Ham (Genesis 9) coming to a “father” (see Boaz’s repeated “my daughter,” Ruth 2:8; 3:10-11) who is relaxed by wine.
Unlike Ham, she doesn’t come to steal his robe of authority, but to seek refuge under it. Though a foreigner, she is not cursed like Canaan, but blessed: “May you be blessed of Yahweh, my daughter” (Ruth 3:10). And thus, though a foreigner, she is incorporated into the family of God.
An additional layer of typology emerges when we consider the widely recognized similarities between the story of Gibeah and that of Sodom. He notes that in both stories, someone offers women to the sodomites who are attacking visitors to a city, and in both instances the phrase “do whatever is good in your eyes” is used (Gen 19:8; Judg 19:24). Clearly, this is related to the larger issue of Judges, which records a time when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Ruth is a new Tamar, who was “more righteous” than Judah in securing a name for her dead husband(s). The difference in Ruth is that she finds a Judahite greater than Judah himself; Boaz volunteers to raise up seed for his “daughter,” and doesn’t need to be tricked into fulfilling his responsibilities. This is another sign that Ruth is about the redemption of the tribe of Judah.
Before that, in Ruth 3:6, scholars generally agree that מי את בתי is the best reading for the verse, but they continue to disagree over whether Naomi seeks Ruth’s identity or is asking about a new status. On this evidence, the majority position generally reads Naomi’s question idiomatically:
“How did it go, my daughter?”
There may be some allusions to Genesis 27 here as well.
To begin with the hard evidence, Genesis 27 and Ruth 3 share three locutions: two nominal clauses, and one verb. In Gen 27:18, Jacob comes to Isaac posing as Esau, and Isaac asks him, “Who are you, my son [מי אתה בני]?” Later, after Jacob has deceived Isaac and left, Esau arrives and approaches his father as well (vv. 30-31). Confiised, Isaac asks, “Who are you [מי אתה]?” (v. 32) and begins to tremble (ויחרד) when he realizes that it was in fact Jacob who had come earlier (vv. 33, 35). In Ruth, these same elements appear in reverse order in 8-9.
Then Naomi said, Sit still, my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall: for the man will not be in rest, until he have nished the thing this day.
“…will not be in rest”: How long did it take God to create the earth? Six days (Gen 1 and Ex 20:11). And on the seventh day He rested. When Boaz gives six measures to Naomi, she understands that he is saying that he won’t rest until the matter is resolved.
Boaz is a “mighty man”. Mighty men in Scripture are like Jepthath, Beneniah, and David’s whole host of mighty men”
When he is first introduced in the narrative of Ruth, Boaz is called a ‘ish g ibbor chayil , a “mighty man of strength.” “Mighty men” are usually violent warriors – the Nephilim who dominated the earth before the flood (Genesis 6:4), Nimrod (Genesis 10:9), Joshua’s armies (Joshua 1:14; 6:2), Gideon (Judges 6:12) and Jephthah (Judges 11:1). David’s mighty men are gibborim .
English translators don’t quite know what to do with this description of Boaz, because he never fights anybody. But, that is quite the point. Mighty men don’t have to be valiant warriors, but valorous men. Ruth is also, “a mighty woman” (see parallels to Proverbs 31). And her might is in her friendship.
We can only have a few friends in our lives. And so many people are so busy making the world a better place, that they don’t make friends, and don’t change the world. Time and constancy. It’s just like language learning. You’ll probably only have half a dozen opportunities to ever make friends like this in your life. So take them. Don’t neglect them. Naomi says at the end that Ruth is better than seven sons!
If you know anything about traditional culture you’ll realize the power of this statement). Ruth is breaking a cultural barrier. A daughter like this is better than a perfect family. Seven sons means the perfect family. That’s all it symbolizes.
The Bible says if God isn’t central in your life, you will be defined by culture. You’ll say you have to have a perfect family and you’ll kill yourself for it. Even if you’re in western individualistic culture, you won’t want a perfect family, but you’ll want a perfect body, social calendar, and you’ll scorn everyone who isn’t in your circle. It’s not a racial bias, but a thought bias. You judge people based on what they think.
- Use your friendships, they’re the only way to change the world
- Make God central and move outside your circles.
- Follow the radical imperative of discipleships…they’re worth it.
After all this Boaz goes to the gates to see what the closer relative wants to do, and he does not redeem Ruth, giving Boaz his shoe to symbolize giving him the right to marry her. Such is why we wear shoes in church.
I believe Martin Luther says something along the lines of, “You need the gospel preached to you everyday because you forget it everyday” “This is a gospel story, about…Bethlehem”: cf. Micah 5:2. “House of Bread” (of life!) The shepherds in the field in Bethlehem—were they in Boaz’s field? Like Ruth he left his father’s home above, and like Boaz gave all his wealth so it becomes yours.
(These notes are summarized from a few sources, prominently Jonathan Edwards, Tim Keller, Leithart, and others.)