The book of Ruth begins like this: “In the days when the Judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.” (1.1) There is a lot of information conveyed in that introduction. If you look back to the end of the book of Judges, the key verse that describes the book and this period is Judges 21.25: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.” That sounds like a recipe for disaster. There was lawlessness and idolatry. There was disobedience and disorder due to a leadership vacuum. Then there was a famine in the land. When there was a famine in the land, someone was not obeying the Lord. To put it simply the Hebrew nation was in trouble and headed down a road that they didn’t want to be on. They needed a hero.
God had been raising up Judges to deliver his people from subjugation. There was Gideon and Ehud, Shamgar and Samson and many others. They each relieved Israel out of the hands of their rulers. But it wasn’t a permanent fix. It was always a temporary solution. They cycle would repeat itself and Israel would find themselves under foreign rule again. This is the world that Ruth lived and Israel needed a hero.
The story begins with the fleeing of a famine. Naomi, her husband, and two sons, fled the famine to Moab. While there, her two boys met women and married. Then all the men in Naomi’s life, died. Her husband and two son’s passed, leaving her and her daughter-in-laws alone in a male dominated society. Noami decided to head back to Israel. She told her daughter-in-laws to stay in their homeland. Orpah did so, Ruth on the other hand, refused to leave Naomi’s side. Her classic response:
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (Ruth 1.16-17)
Ruth refuses to abandon her mother-in-law. In that society and at that time it would have been nearly impossible for Naomi to support and fend for herself. Ruth though still a tough draw would fare better in taking care of her and Naomi. When Naomi is nin need, Ruth is there.
“She opens her arms to the poor
and extends her hands to the needy.” (Proverbs 31.20)
Ruth travels back to Bethlehem with Naomi. They arrived during the barley harvest. Ruth took it upon herself to provide for her and Naomi. She went to the fields to pick up the leftover grain. (Ruth 2.2)
She considers a field and buys it;
out of her earnings she plants a vineyard. (Proverbs 31.16)
The owner of the field comes to check on the harvest. His name is Boaz. He inquires about this woman picking up the grain behind the workers. Their description of her is very honorable: “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2.6-7)
She gets up while it is still night;
she provides food for her family
and portions for her female servant…
She sets about her work vigorously;
her arms are strong for her tasks. (Proverbs 31.15, 17)
Ruth works her tail off and she meets Boaz the owner of the field. Come to find out, he is their closest relative. He is the one who is supposed to be taking care of them in their time of need (Leviticus 25.47-55), called a Kinsmen-Redeemer. He had given her grain and water and food for home. But still there was more. So Ruth went to him at night and said: ““I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” She is challenging him to step up and be all that he is meant to be.
Her husband has full confidence in her
and lacks nothing of value.
She brings him good, not harm,
all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31.11-12)
Abigale challenged David to step up and be the man. Deborah did the same with Barak. Eve was sent as a reinforcing army as was the wife of noble character. Ruth is challenging Boaz to step up and fulfill his God ordained role in this world. By sleeping with him, that is the meaning of the idiom ‘spread the corner of your garment over me’, she he asking him to step up and live out who God had called him to be.
Boaz was a ‘man of standing’. (Ruth 2.1) He went to the city gates and redeemed Ruth and Naomi from another closer in line. (Ruth 4)
Her husband is respected at the city gate,
where he takes his seat among the elders of the land. (Proverbs 31.23)
He took her as his wife for this very reason. Their first night together, after she had asked him to cover her with the corner of his garment, Boaz had this to say to her:
“The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” (Ruth 3.10-11)
She was a woman of “noble character” [‘asha-chayil], the same word and title given to the woman in Proverbs 31.10. Her title and her activity show that she was a woman to be distinguished from others. She was the embodiment of Proverbs 31.
She bore Boaz a son and named him Obed (Ruth 4.13, 17) and if you skip to the end of the book, Obed is the grandfather of the someday King David.
There are those of us who are here today because of women of noble character. Women like Ruth and Abigail and Deborah and Priscilla. Mothers, Grandmothers, Daughters, sisters, and wives are the reasons that some of us have survived this long. Proverbs 31 makes it very clear that they are to Ben doted upon and celebrated. They are to be held in the highest regard. There should be no greater protector or celebrator of feminine nobility that the men of the church.
Jesus is the man downstream from David many generations and Ruth, the woman of noble character, was vital to the current.