The book of Ruth is a rich story of hesed, which means unfailing love and kindness. It is one I am sure will leave you in complete awe of God’s great plan. Let’s unpack this awe-inspiring story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz today.
First thing, I am not a Bible scholar. I am just a women chasing the love of God. I pray that if I say something incorrect, it will be quickly forgotten. My hope is to give clarity and hope in the Word of God. And unpack the sheer wonder of the Bible. Amen.
I use the S.O.A.P. method of Bible study. You can download a free worksheet here.
Back Story: Ruth’s story takes place during the time of Judges, which 400 years of oppression and anarchy for Israel. There was a famine, as we see in the opening line of Ruth. It is the period before Israel was to be ruled by kings. Israel was oppressed by foreign powers, including Moabites. Ironically, Ruth is a Moabite woman.
Scripture: Read Ruth 1:1-5, and color-code or highlight names.
Observation: Life for Naomi was hard. There was a famine, judges ruled the land, she, her husband, and two sons went on a sojourn, or temporary stay, in Moab from Bethlehem. Sadly, Naomi’s husband and both of her sons died leaving her alone with her idol-worshipping Moabite daughters-in-law.
We are not told how any of them died, only that now the women are alone as widows, and that is not a good fate for women in Biblical times.
Scripture: Continue reading Ruth 1:6-18. Highlight scripture that stands out to you.
Observation: Naomi decides the best course of action is to leave Moab to find food. She has heard rumors “that the Lord had visited his people and given them food” in the land of Judah. She tries to convince her daughters-in-law to go back to their families. Naomi even speaks over a blessing to them, “May the Lord deal kindly with you.“
The word “kindly” used here is one that speaks of “loyal love.” This suggests two things: Naomi worshipped the one true God, and she loved her daughters-in-law very much.
After many tears, Orpah does leave Naomi to return to her family. Her fate is unknown to us. Ruth, however, refuses to leave Naomi. We read she “clung to her.” Ruth didn’t want to leave her dear mother-in-law. “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go…Your people shall be my people and your God my God.” Once Naomi heard this, she relented and “said no more.”
Application: What a beautiful thing to have a daughter-in-law love her mother-in-law so much that she would chose her over her own family. The bond must have been strong. When we marry, we marry the whole family, not just our spouse. I loved my mother-in-law very much and it pained me every day to see her suffer in memory care. This love I can understand. We can also assume from scripture that Naomi and Ruth had a very special bond.
Scripture: Read Ruth 1:19-22. Note Naomi’s attitude during their travels.
Observation: Have you every been on a family trip that just leaves you in a bad mood? I imagine this is the state Naomi was in. Naomi is a faithful woman but in her despair of losing her husband, two only sons, one of her beloved daughters-in-law, and being on the brink of starvation she starts to lose faith. Once they finally arrive in Bethlehem, she should have sighed in relief but instead she was bitter.
When the town was abuzz with news of Naomi’s return she greeted the welcomers with bitterness instead of joy. The name Naomi means “pleasant” but in verse 1:20 she says “…call me Mara.” The name Mara means “bitterness.” She lost all her faith and pleasantness calling out the Lord for bringing calamity upon her. Oh no, she didn’t just call out God!
It also worthy to note:
• The women returned to Bethlehem which means “House of Bread.”
• They returned at the beginning of harvest time, the famine was over.
• Jesus (born in Bethlehem) calls himself the “bread of life.”
• God often uses food as a reminder that HE alone sustains us.
• Naomi and Ruth’s choice to return to Bethlehem sets in motion God’s great plan to protect Jesus’ lineage. Keep reading to see how this unfolds.
Application: When we think about faith, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. It’s easy to feel disheartened in times of great grief or turmoil. We are human, after all. Naomi has deep faith but when she let bitterness set in her heart is when she starts to blame God for her misfortune.
Have you ever blamed God when your life has gone sideways? We can have great faith and still let the harsh realities of life spoil our hearts and minds. Thankfully, we will see Naomi doesn’t stay in this state for long.
Scripture: Read and color-code Ruth 2. Think about this first meeting of Ruth and Boaz. What must have that been like? I picture a Hallmark movie scene. 😉
Observation: Family was very important in Biblical times. This was how God planned it. It is a way for the widows and the elderly to be cared for in many ways. Note Naomi’s late husband had a relative named Boaz. This is foreshadowing what is to come. We know from the onset that Boaz is “a worthy man.” Meaning he is honorable and good.
Naomi tells Ruth to go to the fields to glean, as they need food. In Biblical times, farmers would leave the outer perimeter of their fields for foreigners to glean or pick. This was a way to help those in need, leaving a little bit of their harvest for them to help themselves. Ruth just so “happens” on to Boaz’s field. This isn’t a coincidence. God always has a plan!
Notice how Ruth greets the reapers with, “The Lord be with you,” and they respond, “The Lord bless you.” Isn’t that lovely? Ruth has adopted the one true God at this point. Ruth’s God is her God. We are told Boaz is in the field with his workers. Interestingly, he probably didn’t need to be there. He most likely had a foreman but he was a hands-on kind of guy. He takes notice of Ruth and is quickly filled in as to who she is. We also learn Ruth is an extremely hard worker. Something, I am sure, Boaz values very much as it seems he is a hard worker too.
Boaz takes a liking to Ruth immediately. He instructs her, “do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.” He tells her she will be safe in his field if she does this. The men won’t touch her and she may drink from the vessels at anytime. Ruth is shocked at Boaz’s hesed, or what she feels is his undeserving kindness. She is a Moabite woman in the land of Judah, after all. She falls to her knees and questions him about it.
For Boaz has heard all about Ruth and her kindness to Naomi. So he answers,“The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:12)
Ruth works hard and takes home an ephah, or a week’s worth of food for her and Naomi. \Ruth tells her mother-in-law the story of the day. Imagine Naomi’s surprise and delight and when she hears it is Boaz’s field the food came from! I envision them talking and laughing about this over supper.
We learn that Boaz is “one of (her) redeemers.” A redeemer, or sometimes called kinsman redeemer, is a male relative who takes the widow of a family member as his wife. Such as, a brother, uncle, or cousin, or even a long distance relative.
Ruth continues to glean and work hard to supply for her and Naomi.
Application: What is the moral here? Work hard, have faith in God, and be kind? Kindness is definitely the feeling of the story. I think it is to set up the rest of the story and to show how “good” Boaz is. He is a believer in God. He works hard and values those who do too. He also has a soft spot for widows.
Scripture: Read Ruth 3. It is a bit of a PG-13 story.
Observation: Naomi hatches a plan for Ruth to capture Boaz’s heart and hand in marriage. This will set both Ruth and her up for life and have a man, which is critical, to take care of them. Naomi lays out the plan in detail and Ruth agrees to the plan.
The threshing floor is a place “to tramp or stamp the grain heavily with the feet and was later applied to the act of separating out grain by the feet of people.” At the time of judges, prostitutes would come to the threshing floor and pleasure the men. This instruction by Naomi to Ruth is very explicit and could lead us to think Ruth was to seduce Boaz in a sexual way. But, hold that thought a moment.
Ruth is told to bath and put on her best clothes, go to the threshing floor and hide and wait for Boaz to have his fill of food and drink. Only then is she to make herself known to Boaz by uncovering his feet and laying down next to him. Uncovering the feet is a symbolic act of asking for him to cover her in marriage and protection. “I am Ruth, you servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Remember what Boaz said to Ruth earlier in scripture about taking refuge under God’s wings?
Uncovering his feet isn’t a euphemism for sex. She is asking for him to spread his wings over her in marriage. The Hebrew word for “wings” also means “corner of a garment”, i.e. Ruth lifted the corner of Boaz’s garment to uncover his feet. Nothing suggests there was an immoral roll in the hay.
But, Boaz, being the moral man he is, says he is not the first in line to become her redeemer. He must speak with that man first. It makes me wonder what was in his head. Did Boaz fall in love with Ruth or was he just doing his redeemer duty?
Application: Boaz says to Ruth, “You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men…” (verse 10) The “kindness” used here is hesed. Boaz is flattered she didn’t run off after a younger man. In this situation, it would have been easy for Boaz to show dishonor to Ruth, take advantage of her, but he didn’t. He showed hesed to her and she returned hesed to him. Also, this makes me think Boaz was in love but thought Ruth was too young or out of his reach to marry.
Scripture: Read the rest of Ruth. Check out how Boaz, who wants Ruth as his wife, “tricks” the redeemer to get his way.
Observation: Boaz goes to the city elders and the first-in-line-redeemer to talk about this situation of Ruth and Naomi. He approaches the redeemer about Naomi, not Ruth, because it is Naomi who is in line for the redeemer first. Boaz is laying the trap. The unnamed guy says, “Sure, I’ll take her.” Probably thinking she is old, won’t be much trouble, and will probably die soon.
However, Boaz is keen. He says, “Oh, by the way, if you take Naomi you have to take Ruth as well.” (duh-duh-duh!) The unnamed guy responds (with shock, I am guessing), “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance.” You see, if he became Naomi and Ruth’s redeemer it would jeopardize his inheritance and the inheritance of his offspring, especially if Ruth were to have sons. Plus, caring for two women is too much for him.
This man is unnamed for two reasons: He is not that important to the story in namesake, and it was dishonorable to say no as a kinsman redeemer. So, his name is left out of the story.
Boaz is granted permission to become Naomi and Ruth’s redeemer! (yay!) To confirm the transaction, like a handshake, the two men exchange sandals. What if they wore different size sandals? Awkard.
We see a happy-ever-after to the story of Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi. I image them living in a house like one big happy family. We see Ruth give Boaz a son named Obed. Obed becomes the joy and light in grandma Naomi’s life.
Note it is said in 4:15 Ruth is, “more to you (Naomi) than seven sons.” Seven is symbolic in the Bible as completeness. This story completes the beginning of the end, which is Jesus, and Ruth completed Naomi’s happiness is so many ways.
Side Note: Ruth and Boaz’s son Obed will become the father of Jesse, who is the future father of King David. Ruth and Boaz are great-grandparents of King David. Boaz’s mother is Rahab, the prostitute and hero in her own story. I told you this story was going to be awe-inspiring! God planned this story the way He did because it is a perfect story.
Application: When Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem, they had no clue what God had in store for them. They couldn’t begin to imagine the journey or God’s micro-plan and how it would circle back to Jesus. No matter our situation, we don’t know what God is up to. He is always working behind the scenes and He has plans for us, even if we have no clue what that might be.
Prayer: Dear Lord, Please help me trust in You and Your plans for me. When life seems to be going sideways, I ask you to point me in the right direction. Don’t let bitterness set in my heart like Naomi, keep faith and honor flowing through my veins like Boaz and Ruth. In God’s name, I pray. Amen.
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