Even though Matthew’s genealogy featured women, starting with Rahab the harlot, not all of the women mentioned in the Messiah’s line were prostitutes. Matthew’s genealogy refers next to a grieving widow, two destitute women, and the touching story of how a young woman’s stubborn loyalty led to surprising redemption.
The third woman mentioned in Matthew 1:5 is Ruth, a young woman from Moab who married a man from Bethlehem. Moabites descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot, so they were somewhat akin to Israel, even though they worshipped other gods and fought wars with Saul, David and Solomon. Despite their cultural differences, young Moabite women like Ruth were acceptable as brides to young Hebrew men.
The four Chapter book of the Bible bearing her name was set in the period of the Judges, sometime around 1200-1100 BC. When both her father-in-law and her husband died, Ruth faced the harsh reality of living in a somewhat primitive masculine culture without any male protection. Her sister-in-law Orpah’s husband also died, so the whole family was facing the same bleak prospects of life without male protection.
While the untimely deaths of two brothers and a father-in-law left Ruth and her sister-in-law in dire straits, it impacted their mother-in-law Naomi even more. She was now the head of a household without male protection or income. She (sensibly) told Ruth and Orpah to leave her and return back to their own people and their gods. Naomi reasoned that her own prospects for remarriage late in life were nonexistent (which certainly guaranteed her household a life of poverty), and so she told Ruth and Orpah that they should go back to their own people, find a husband, and make a new life. It was the practical thing to do.
Lamentation and Love
Orpah agreed with Naomi’s sad but practical advice and went home. But Ruth made a decision that changed everything. She decided to stay with Naomi.
Ruth’s statement to her mother-in-law after making this decision is one of the most oft-quoted Old Testament statements about love and loyalty:
“And Ruth said,
Entreat me not to leave thee,
or to return from following after thee:
for whither thou goest I will go,
and where thou lodgest, I will lodge;
thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:
where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried.
The Lord do so to me, and more also,
if aught but death part thee and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17, NKJV)
Rather than returning to her own people, Ruth expressed such love for Naomi that she was willing to stay by her side even though they faced hardship and a very questionable future.
A Turn of Events
Ruth’s story takes an amazing turn when she is gathering leftover ears of grain with other paupers. Generous farmers allowed poor people to follow the reapers and harvest the scraps they missed. Her industry (and probably her beauty) caused her to be noticed by Boaz, the owner of the field.
Boaz was a kinsman of Naomi’s deceased husband, and custom allowed destitute relatives to gather leftover scraps of the harvest in order to survive. Naomi seems to know something of Boaz, and she may have had more than a little bit of a scheme going on by getting Ruth into Boaz’ field. By the same token, Boaz is aware of Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, and very favorably impressed not only by this familial loyalty but by Ruth herself.
Redemption: from Lost to Loved
This love story has a beautiful ending. Ruth and Naomi are rescued from poverty when Boaz, acting in his role as a kinsman redeemer, pays the costs to secure the right to marry Ruth and start a family. The law allowed the nearest kinsman to rescue a relative from poverty. As Boaz observed Ruth, he was very favorably impressed with her work ethic as well as her beauty. He fell in love with her. Naomi actually exercised some feminine wiles to help facilitate the romance, but in the end it did work out for Ruth and Boaz. They were married and their son Obed was King David’s grandfather.
Let’s make a couple of observations: Naomi’s somewhat transparent scheming was not subverted or rejected by God. She thought about things, made decisions and took action, and yet still somehow found herself guided by the Lord’s hand. I would say that discovering God’s will does not always require us to sit passively by while we wait for Him to act. In fact, I think He even honors those who pursue His favor with passion in an imperfect way.
Second, the role of kinsman redeemer was apparently common knowledge to Naomi, Boaz, and the other people in their village. The women even sing about Naomi’s good fortune in having a kinsman in 4:14. We are going to take a deeper look at Boaz and his response as Ruth’s (and Naomi’s) redeemer tomorrow, but suffice it to say that this love story built on humility, loyalty, perseverance (and perhaps Naomi’s feminine wiles) is not put in Christ’s lineage by accident.
This series of events points to David—who obviously got some of his passion and love from his great-grandmother—and to Jesus the Messiah, who would both preach about and be characterized by these qualities. The inclusion of a Moabite woman points to the coming Messiah’s inclusion of people outside of Israel (which, as we noted, started with Rahab from Jericho). The story of her being rescued by a kinsman redeemer is a flashing neon sign announcing that the Messiah’s work will redeem the disadvantaged, the dispossessed, the downcast… If you’ve ever been in one of those categories, or are now, take heart: the Redeemer has come, and he wants to rescue you.
Naomi’s life was stripped of joys:
Her husband died, and then her boys;
She faced a future full of grief without much prospect of relief…
She told her daughters-in-law to leave
And build their lives; Yes, she would grieve,
But they should go and carry on while she remained behind, alone.
And one of them took the open door;
It just made sense. They’d be so poor,
And living would be a daily grind: but one of them remained behind.
Naomi had told the girls the truth, so now she really questioned Ruth:
She said she shouldn’t waste her youth
By living on a widow’s mite. It wasn’t good. It wasn’t right.
But Ruth could only shake her head. She hugged Naomi. Then she said:
“Please do not entreat me to forsake or ever leave Thee.
I’ll stay with you forever, though the valley be so low;
Though this life may break you, this my love will not forsake you.
I will love Thy God, and there is one thing you should know…
So listen to what I have to say: Whither thou stayest, I will stay,
And from this moment, come what may, whither thou goest, I will go.”
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