As Judges ends, sin abounds, so it is not surprising to find a famine in the promised land. What is surprising is that Elimelek would leave the land, which seems to imply leaving the presence and protection of God. And while it appears Elimelek did not intend to stay long in Moab, his visit stretches out over several years. Unfortunately Elimelek and his two sons die, leaving Naomi and her daughters-in-law with no support. And so the book of Ruth begins with the story of Naomi in great sadness!
In many ways, Naomi’s confusion reflects the state of Israel in the period of the judges. We have had our exodus, Israel might think, and we are now back in the land–but we are not living in the abundance we had hoped for. We are widowed. We face death every day. Our food, our children, our land, and our dignity are being taken by our enemies. The Lord has dealt bitterly with us. The God of the exodus has gone quiet. Where is his might hand or his outstretched arm? How long, O Lord?Roberts, A., & Wilson, A. (2018). Echoes of Exodus: Tracing themes of redemption through scripture.
Naomi confesses that the Lord’s hand has turned against her. She urges her daughters-in-law to return to their parents’ homes because she will not be able to provide for them. Orpah follows Naomi’s advice, but Ruth persists and chooses to remain by Naomi’s side. Together they travel back to the promised land, to Bethlehem because Naomi has heard that God has intervened on behalf of His people, coming to their aid. Ruth 1:6 is the first of several verses that point to God’s sovereign control and direction, indicating again His relational presence with His people.
So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.Ruth 1:22
It is no coincidence that Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem, the city of bread, at the beginning of the barley harvest. This is a season of blessing from God. Ruth goes to pick up leftover grain in a nearby field, and meets Boaz. Boaz tells Ruth she is now under the shelter, the refuge of God, protected by His wings. The word picture of God having protective wings reoccurs in scripture and is a beautiful anthropomorphism representing God’s nearness, His protection, His comfort.
- God to Moses … This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. (Ex 19:4)
- God’s instructions … And make two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. … The cherubim are to have their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. … There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites. (Ex 25:17-22)
- Moses’ song … In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft. (Deut 32:11)
- Boaz to Ruth … “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:12)
- [Boaz] said, “Who are you?” And [Ruth] answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” Ruth 3:9
- How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36:7-9
The God whose wingspan provides protection until the raging storm has passed by is present to bless Ruth and deliver her, as he was with Israel as they left Egypt. Ruth gets the point, and in that famous scene when she asks Boaz to redeem her, she urges him, “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (3:9) Israel could have said exactly the same thing as they fled Pharaoh. The God of the exodus is back.Roberts, A., & Wilson, A. (2018). Echoes of Exodus: Tracing themes of redemption through scripture.
In this story, Boaz acts with kindness as a next of kin to redeem the land that Naomi is selling. In doing so, Boaz also acquires Ruth as his wife, a custom of that day. But it was not just a contractual agreement. Reading between the lines a bit, we can assume that Boaz loved Ruth, and was eager for her to become his wife. They have a child, who has a child, the future king, David. Spoiler alert … God’s redemptive plan continues! Ruth, a Moabite, of pagan heritage, is now in the lineage of the Messiah!
Like Ruth when she first meets Boaz, we are outsiders when we first meet Jesus: homeless, estranged, hungry, and empty. We come to him because we’ve heard that he is worthy, a man who blesses those in search of food and lifts the needy from the ash heap. He says to us, as Boaz essentially says to Ruth, “Don’t go anywhere else. Keep close to me, and I’ll make sure you’re looked after.Roberts, A., & Wilson, A. (2018). Echoes of Exodus: Tracing themes of redemption through scripture.
The story of Ruth is more than a sweet love story. It illustrates for us God’s sovereignty, working out His plan, His purposes. It is also a picture of what Christ has done for us. He came to earth as a human so that He could be our kinsman. And He paid the dear price of His life on the cross so He could be our Redeemer. And He was resurrected that we might have life in Him! Hallelujah!
“Oh, that my words were recorded,Job 19:23 – 25
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
redeemed through His infinite mercy,
His child, and forever I am.
Redeemed, and so happy in Jesus,
no language my rapture can tell;
I know that the light of His presence
with me doth continually dwell.
I think of my blessed Redeemer,
I think of Him all the day long;
I sing, for I cannot be silent;
His love is the theme of my song.
Redeemed, redeemed,Fanny Crosby, 1882
redeemed by the blood of the Lamb;
redeemed, how I love to proclaim it!
His child and forever I am.