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Ruth 1:1-18: The Loyalty of Ruth Print E-mail
Ruth
Sunday, 13 November 2011

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In just a couple of weeks we will begin our Advent celebration. Each year at this time we glory in the fact that God chose to send us a Savior, Jesus Christ, who would come and die for our sins at the cross. During the Advent season we focus on the birth of Christ (His incarnation). But God’s plan to send us Christ did not begin at the manger. No, God’s plan began long before Mary and Joseph. In fact, Paul tells us that it actually began before the creation of the earth (see Ephesians 1:3-4). The Old Testament is the story of God preparing us for the coming of Christ. It is full of promises about the coming Messiah. As Christians we read and study the Old Testament looking for what it teaches us about God and His plan to redeem us through sending us Jesus.

God’s plan takes an interesting turn in the book of Ruth.  In one sense, the book is a simple story of the preservation of a particular Jewish family.  It is a great story in that regard.  Yet, there is more to what happens in the book of Ruth than just this family and the few characters mentioned.  The book of Ruth is about God’s working in the events of this particular family’s life to send us Jesus Christ.  It is a story that connects Moab and the manger.  In the story, we see that God is both sovereign over the big things in life (like the sending of Christ) and the small things, the good things and the bad things.  He is the One at work in this simple book.  Likewise, the three main characters of the book, namely Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, all demonstrate in their own ways how we can trust in God’s sovereignty over our lives.  We do not always understand His providence, but we can always obey with confidence, knowing that He is bringing about His purposes for His people.

It would be good to begin with a simple summary of the story before we look at the different characters over the next few weeks.  The story begins with Elimelech and his family (Naomi and two sons) leaving Bethlehem and moving to Moab (a people the Israelites despised) because of a famine.  While in Moab, Elimelech dies and after marrying two Moabite women (Orpah and Ruth) the two sons die.  Naomi then returns to Bethlehem, where the famine has been lifted and Ruth goes with her.  Ruth meets Boaz, a landowner and a possible candidate for marriage, who feeds and cares for the two women.  Naomi advises Ruth to seek a marriage with Boaz, but before that can happen, he must deal with the relative who has legal authority to marry her.  Yet, the relative refuses and Boaz and Ruth are married.  The Lord allows them to conceive a son who will be the grandfather of king David and in the line of King Jesus. 

The book is named after the character of Ruth, the Moabite.  Throughout the book we see that she is an example of ‘hesed’ (or kindness, love, affection, etc.).  This term is an important theme in the book.  It describes how God treats His people and how His people are to treat each other.  God is ‘kind’ toward His people and He expects them to be the same.  So then, how exactly does Ruth model this ‘kindness’ of the Lord?  The clearest way that Ruth evidences this trait is in her loyalty to others.  We see this loyalty demonstrated in several ways.

First, she remained with Naomi despite the circumstances (1:11-14).

Ruth’s experience with the family of Naomi was not a particularly good one.  In fact, the situation was bleak.  Elimelech had died, leaving Naomi a widow in a foreign land with no real hope of remarriage.  Both of her sons were dead, one of them being Ruth’s husband, leaving Ruth a widow.  Even though Ruth and Orpah had seemingly been married for ten years (see 1:4), they were both childless when their husbands died.  Thus, you are left with three women who do not have husbands or children.  It is not a good situation.  Thus, Naomi tries to convince Ruth and Orpah to let her go back to Bethlehem alone.  We read her arguments for them to stay in Moab in 1:11-13.  Look at those verses with me.  There is no logical reason for Ruth and Orpah to stay with Naomi.  Not only is the situation bleak, but Naomi feels that God has set Himself against her and that He will continue to do so.  So how do they respond?  Look at verse 14.  Orpah decides to go back and we cannot really fault her.  Yet, Ruth clung to her.  Ruth would not go back to Moab.  One commentator describes the contrast: “Orpah did the sensible, expected thing, Ruth the extraordinary and unexpected.  Thus, Ruth models an adventurous faith, one willing to abandon the apparently sensible and venture into unknown territory.”   In Ruth’s act of loyalty to Naomi despite the circumstances, we see a clear example of ‘hesed.’

Second, she believed in Naomi’s God despite the cost (1:16-17).

Even after Ruth clung to Naomi she still tried to convince her to go back.  Look at verse 15.  Ruth’s response to Naomi has become one of the more well-known passages in the book and all of the Old Testament.  One commentator notes: “The first words we har from Ruth’s lips alone are among the most memorable in all of Scripture.  Few utterances in the Bible match her speech for sheer poetic beauty, and the extraordinary courage and spirituality it expresses.”   So the, what does she say?  Look at verses 16-17.  In spite of Naomi’s pleas for her to return, she would not go back.  Rather, she was willing to forsake all that she knew to go with Naomi.  She was willing to leave behind her home, her people, and her gods, in order to remain loyal to her mother-in-law.  Not only that, but she was willing to embrace a new home, a new people, and a new God.  She would leave the gods of Moab to worship Yahweh, the God of Israel.  It is hard to overstate her sacrifice.  Is this a real confession of faith in the true God or just a blind following of Naomi?  It is hard to be certain at this point, but she does use the name of Yahweh in her oath (translated Lord) and the rest of the book evidences her faith in Him.  Thus, we see in Ruth a willingness to believe in the true God of Israel despite the cost. 

Jesus demands the same sacrifice from us to follow Him.  Listen to His words in Matthew 10:37-38.  Ruth is an example of such willingness to forsake all to follow after the Lord.  We must be willing to do the same.  God is not interested in half-heartedness.  He demands all or nothing.  Fortunately, He is overly gracious with us in our journey of faith, but that does not mean that we can take His kindness (His ‘hesed’) for granted.  Rather, like Ruth, may we be moved by His kindness to forsake all and follow hard after His Son. 

Third, she listened to Naomi’s plan despite the risk (3:1-6).

Ruth continues to display her loyalty and her belief in Yahweh throughout the story.  One way that she does that is her willingness to follow Naomi’s plan for her to propose to Boaz.  We read of this plan in 3:1-4.  Look at that with me.  We may not see it at first, but this plan was pretty crazy.  The chances of success are slim to none.  Ruth is a woman proposing to a man.  Ruth is a worker in the field proposing to the owner.  Ruth is a Moabite proposing to an Israelite of good-standing.  Ruth had to know that this was a risky plan.  Boaz very well could have thrown her out of his field, beat her, sent her back to Moab, or worse.  Yet, how does she respond to the plan?  Look at 3:5-6.  She obeyed Naomi.  She was willing to listen to her and follow the plan.  We see once again her loyalty to Naomi and the kindness (‘hesed’) of her character.

Fourth, she followed Boaz’s lead despite the difficulty (3:11-18).

Despite all the possible reasons for him to reject her, Boaz tells Ruth that he is willing to marry her and even views it as another ‘kindness’ since she is younger than him and could have pursued other men.  Yet, the story is not quite over.  A problem remains that must be solved.  Someone else is first in line for marrying Ruth.  Thus, Boaz tells her to wait for him as he goes and deals with the situation.  This part of the story ends with Ruth waiting with Naomi to hear how the matter turns out (3:18).  Of course, we now how the story turns out so it is not that tense of a situation for us.  But put yourself in the place of Ruth.  She has left her family and home to come and live among foreigners.  She has given up the obvious plan for remarriage (going back to Moab) to follow the crazy plan of her mother-in-law.  And just when she thinks she is going to be able to marry the man she wants, he informs her that someone else has a rightful claim on her.  It seems like this might have been an opportunity for her to say: ‘Look, I just want to marry Boaz.  I’m tired of taking risks.  I’m tired of following the rules.  I just want what I want.’  Of course, this is not her response.  Instead, she does exactly what Boaz tells her to do.  Some might see this as a weakness in her character (‘not assertive enough’).  But that is not how the Bible treats her.  Rather, she will soon be rewarded for her loyalty and devotion.  She trusts in Yahweh and His people, and she will not be disappointed. 

Thus, Ruth demonstrates to us ‘hesed’ by her loyalty and devotion in the story to Yahweh and His people.  She does this despite her circumstances, the cost, the risk, and the difficulty.  How can we do the same?  How can we be a people who demonstrate such ‘hesed’?  How can we demonstrate such kindness and devotion to God and His people?

One answer to this question is found in the book itself, for we see what happens to those who devote themselves to Yahweh.  Granted, our lives might not turn out exactly like Ruth’s, but the New Testament teaches us that faith in Yahweh will not go unrewarded.  God continues to show ‘kindness’ to His people and will do it ultimately by granting us to dwell with Him forever.

Another way that we can be devoted to God and His people is by remembering the larger story that the book of Ruth points us toward.  As we begin to think about Jesus’ coming, is it not amazing what God was doing in Moab and Bethlehem in the lives of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz?  He chose the most unlikely of characters (a Moabite women), in the most dire of situations (a widowed mother-in-law and a widow herself), to send us King Jesus, who would come and die on a cross for our sins.  Everything happened just as He had planned.  Do you fear that God has lost control of your life?  Do you wonder if He really knows what is best for you?  If that is you, then I encourage you to hear the message of Ruth this morning: He has a glorious plan to redeem a people!  And if you have turned from your sins and trusted in Christ as your Savior, then nothing can thwart His plan of making you more like Jesus.  No matter your circumstances or cost or risk or difficulty, you can trust Him and be devoted to Him and His people with everything you are.  Amen.

1 Robert L. Hubbard Jr., The Book of Ruth NICOT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 115-6.
2 Daniel I. Block, Judges, Ruth NAC, vol. 6 (Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), p. 640.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 22 November 2011 )

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