Real Love, the Story of Ruth

You probably all have heard Tina Turner’s song What’s love got to do with it? 

Oh oh 
What’s love got to do, got to do with it? 
What’s love but a second hand emotion? 
What’s love got to do, got to do with it? 
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken? 

Today we are going to talk about a story of Real Love and the difference that this type of love can make in someone’s life. As you read the book of Ruth, we should understand that the focus of the book is really not on Ruth, but on Naomi and God’s redemptive plan for her.

I would encourage you to read the entire book of Ruth.  It will only take 30 minutes or so to read and it is a wonderful passage of scripture.  While it is the only book that does not mention God directly, it is full of “types and shadows” of Christ and God’s love for us.   

As we study this passage we are going to see: 

  • Hopeful flight 
  • Afflictions and Trials 
  • Desperate Return  
  • God’s plan 

Chapter 1: Flight and Disaster 

As the story begins the land of Israel is experiencing a terrible drought.  Elimelech decided to move his family, his wife Naomi and two sons (Mahlon and Hilyon) from Bethlehem to the foreign land of Moab.  Ruth 1:1-6:

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.

In Moab, Elimelech dies, and the two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Ten years pass, and the sons die too.   This leaves Naomi in Moab with her two daughters-in-law working in the fields trying to survive.  While in the fields Naomi hears that there is food again in Bethlehem and determines to return to her home.  At first, her two daughters-in-law followed her, but she told them to go back to their country, their family, and their gods because she could not care for them. Orpha returns but Ruth stays with Naomi.   

We read Ruth’s plea to stay in Ruth 1:16-17

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  

After Ruth’s plea, Naomi allows her to return to Bethlehem with her. 

Let’s look at who the people are in this story: 

  • Elimelech – husband of Naomi from the tribe of Judah 
  • Naomi – wife of Elimelech  
  • Mahlon – Son of Elimelech 
  • Chilion – Son of Elimelech 
  • Ruth – a Moabite and wife of one of the sons of Elimelech 
  • Orpah – a Moabite and wife of one of the sons of Elimelech 

Who were the Moabites? 

The Moabites were the descendants of Lot.  Their ancestral founder was Moab, a son of Lot, who was a nephew of the Israelite patriarch Abraham. The Moabites had been in conflict with the Israelites throughout several centuries and were considered as enemies of Israel. 

Deuteronomy 23: 3- 6  

4 An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation shall none of them enter into the assembly of the LORD forever; 5 because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Aram-naharaim, to curse thee. 

The story of the book of Ruth occurred during the time of the judges: Judges 2:7-10 

“The people served Yahweh throughout the lifetime of Joshua and throughout the lifetime of those elders who outlived Joshua and had known all the great deeds which Yahweh had done for the sake of Israel. [..] And when that whole generation had been gathered to its ancestors, another generation followed it which knew neither Yahweh nor the deeds which he had done for the sake of Israel.”  

Let’s look at the meaning of the names of the characters as they give us some insight into the story. 

Elimelech means “God is King”. It is a name which emphasizes that God is Sovereign. 

Naomi means good, pleasant, full; changes her name to Mara which means bitter 

Mahlon means sickness 

Chilion means complete destruction, annihilation  

Children were often named to reflect how God was dealing with Israel.  Mahlon and Chilion appear to reflect the judgment that has been brought onto Israel for their sin and disobedience to God’s commands.  There was a great famine in the land which had virtually destroyed Israel.   

Let’s look at 2 Chronicles 7:14

If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 

God plainly says if His people turn to him, in humility and turn from their sin that he would heal their land. Yet Elimelech flees Israel instead of obeying God’s command to fall on his knees and repent for himself and his people.  After they fled to Moab, Elimelech dies and one of his son’s marries Ruth.   Ruth’s name means compassionate friend. 

Chapter 2: Despair to Hope 

In chapter 2 Ruth and Naomi arrive back in Bethlehem.  In ancient Israel, farmers were required to leave gleanings in their fields for the poor to collect. Ruth determines that she will go glean to feed herself and her mother-in-law.   

Ruth ends up gleaning in the field of Naomi’s relative Boaz who is described as a worthy man.   Boaz notices Ruth and inquires after her. When he finds out who she is he makes special arrangements for her to be able to glean safely in his fields.  He even invites her to eat with him and tells his workers to intentionally leave extra grain on the ground for her.

Ruth is overwhelmed by his kindness and asks him why he would do this.  Boaz answers her that he has come to know all that she has done for her mother-in-law, Naomi and he wants to bless her for her what she has done.   

Boaz’s then asks her to glean in his field for the entire harvest season so that she would be safe.  When Ruth returns home, Naomi is very pleased and happy that one of her “kinsmen redeemers” has chosen to care for Ruth and Naomi.   

In the Old Testament / Jewish culture the role of a “kinsman redeemer,” one whose responsibility was to “act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need.”  Boaz saw the need of these women and stepped in to help and provide for them.   

Normally women draw water. Men reap in the field and women gather. Boaz recognizes what Ruth has done for her mother-in-law. Boaz feeds her and givers her extra food – he heaps it up. He serves her even though men never served women. Boaz tells his servants to let her take extra grain to satisfy her and her mother  

Chapter 3: Obedience and a Future 

Naomi is concerned about Ruth’s future and seeing that Boaz, one of her kinsmen redeemers has treated Ruth so well, Naomi asks Ruth to trust her and tells her to go to Boaz and request his help as one of her redeemers.  When Boaz wakes up, he is surprised and doesn’t even   recognize her at first. But when she asks him to be her redeeming kinsman, he couldn’t be more pleased. He tells her that there is a closer relative who would have first priority to be her redeemer and her husband, but if that man does not wish to fulfil this role then he, Boaz, would redeem her.  

It is interesting to note that his occurred at the end of the Barely harvest – which occurs around the time of the month of Nisan in the Hebrew calendar or March.  The barley harvest also coincides with the festival of Passover.   Ruth needed someone to save her, to care for her, to keep her safe from harm.  She was a Moabite, an enemy of Israel, yet Boaz chose to offer himself as her redeemer.   

In the same way, Christ has forgiven us.  He has become our redeemer.  He forgives us of our sin and brings us back into a right relationship with God.  

Chapter 4: Boaz Claims Ruth As His Wife 

In this chapter, Boaz goes to the city gate and meets the kinsman who is closer to Naomi than himself and has first claim on Naomi’s property and Ruth’s hand. Cleverly, he talks the man out of claiming the land and Ruth. The kinsman formalizes the agreement by removing his sandal before witnesses. This signifies that he has abandoned his claim to Ruth and Boaz is free to marry her. 

Immediately, Boaz claims Ruth as his wife and declares that their children will carry on the name of Ruth’s deceased husband. And, indeed, Ruth conceives. She gives birth to Obed, who in turn became the father of Jesse, who in turn became the father of King David. The greatest king of Israel and the one from whose line the Messiah will be born. David, Israel’s greatest king and the Messiah will both issue from a woman whose own people, the Moabites, are the enemies of Israel. But when it comes to loyalty, no one surpasses Ruth. 

Hesed type of love mentioned in Ruth. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word most often used to describe this sacrificial love is “hesed love” (often translated as kindness or loyal-love). A Widow or orphan were some of the most vulnerable in that day and are also vulnerable today. After the death of her husband and her sons, Naomi had no one to take care of her.  She had no choice but to try and return to relatives in Bethlehem and hope that they might help her and Naomi. 

Real love, hesed love, guards the vulnerable. God showed Naomi that even when she and her family were disobedient and fled the famine that she was still loved. God brought Naomi and Ruth through a crisis of faith to return to Israel and their God. Naomi had no other choice to survive and had to throw herself on the mercy of God.

Boaz at the head of the clan and well respected in the land. He was at the top of the list of all the roles in the clan.  At the bottom of the list would be a foreign-born women.  

Ruth’s situation is that unless someone saves her, she will more than likely be harmed.  Naomi’s situation was that unless someone redeems Ruth, that both she and Ruth would likely not survive.

Deuteronomy 23:3 said Moabite’s should be shunned. Moabites were hated. Yet Boaz saw the virtue in Ruth and puts her under his wings. He was not required to do anything.  

Who are the “Naomi’s and Ruth’s” of our day. Drug addicts and alcoholics? Refugees? Immigrants? Poor? Widows? Neglected? Orphans? Abused?  The Naomi’s and Ruth’s of today are ordinary people that are having trouble in their lives.  They all need help.  They are dealing with big issues.  The question is who are the vulnerable in front of us and what can we do to redeem them?

It is easy to read Ruth and talk about love but sometimes it is difficult for people to really show love to those in need. Ruth asked Boaz why do you recognize the unrecognizable? We could ask the same question of God and Christ.  You may feel you do not deserve God’s love and forgiveness.   Why did God choose me or you?   

Boaz is a symbol/representative of what God does for us. Despite whom we are or where we are from Christ died for us and offers us eternal salvation, peace and inclusion into his family.   

Real love gives generously.  

Boaz gives Ruth even more than she asks.  By redeeming Ruth, Boaz saved Naomi and Ruth. Naomi had left Israel with a full and complete family. She returned broken. Yet God, through His mercy redeemed Naomi and Ruth and saved them. 

Deuteronomy 23 – Boaz chooses to meet her needs even though the Moabites would not feed the Israelites-when they left Egypt.  Jesus when feeding the 5000, did not just meet needs but gave an overabundance.  God protects and cares for us lavishly.  

Boaz does not tell Ruth she has to earn it.  She doesn’t have to work her way up. Instead, he heaps blessing upon her.  God changes us through his lavish grace that we can never deserve.  

Giving Abundantly  

If no one sees you, God sees you. He gave His only son for you.  He knows you completely.  There is nothing about your life and my life that He does not know, yet God loves us and gave His son for us.  God simply asks us to accept His gift of salvation.  We simply need to recognize that we are separated from God because of our sin and there is nothing that we can do to save ourselves.   

God chased Naomi and brought her back to Him through crisis and pain and He blessed her abundantly. Above all she could have imagined.

Thank you, God, for your great love for us.  You loved us even when we were in sin.  You loved us when we were disobedient to you and fled from you. Yet you continually seek after us, drawing us to you. You mercy and grace is overwhelming.  

We need to understand and accept that Christ died in our place for our sin.  If you have not accepted Christ as your savior what is stopping, you from accepting this amazing gift from God? 

If you know Christ and have asked him to forgive you of your sin, do your family members know Christ?  What about your friends and neighbors?  What is stopping you from sharing with them the most important news that they will ever hear in their lives?