Ruth And Redemption

by Kenneth J. Price

In the Scriptures the book of Ruth tells us how Ruth a Gentile, a Moabitess, was redeemed; it tells us about the deep meaning of redemption, about her being brought into oneness with her redeemer, and of the real rest which resulted from union with her redeemer.

The book commences: "Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled . . . " , and the last record in the book that precedes it, the book of Judges states: "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." This latter statement which is repeated at least four times in Judges, indicates that it was a time of apostasy, a time of neglect of the Lord's ways and laws. So God had to act to bring the people back to Himself.

Strife followed strife, for though God was ready to set His people on high and give them victory on victory, the opposite was necessary to bring them back to His ways, His statutes and His judgements.

And then came the famine.

So because of the famine in the land, Elimelech Naomi's husband went away with his family from the land God had given to them, and he went from "Bethlehem in Judah . . . to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons . . . and remained there" (1:1,2).

He took himself and his family to be among a people who were cursed, as the Bible states: "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the congregation of the LORD, because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Peor . . . to curse you" (Deuteronomy 23:3,4).

The story reflects the position they found themselves in in Moab, for "Elimelech, Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband" (1:3-5).

It was the bitter fruit of backsliding indeed, and on her return to her own land Israel, Naomi said: "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me." She had lost her joy, her peace and her insight into God's Word. " . . . the hand of the LORD has gone out against me" , she had said to her daughters-in-law.

She had blamed God for what had happened, but He is always ready "to comfort all who mourn, to console those who mourn in Zion, to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they may be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified" (Isaiah 61:3).

In spite of her bitter spirit, Naomi had been the recipient of a great blessing, and it was her daughter-in-law Ruth. Naomi "had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread" (1:6). This was good news, and so she decided to return to Bethlehem in Judah. But when she urged the two girls to return to their own families, Orpah did so, but Ruth replied: "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go . . . your people shall be my people, and your God my God" (1:16).

The two women returned to Naomi's country and Naomi was able to minister to her daughter-in-law. After the apostasy recorded in the book of Judges, we might expect to see God's judgements extended, but instead we see that God is working; that God is a covenant-keeping God; that He stands by His promises; that He blesses wherever He finds hearts that are willing to be blessed. So in the account in Ruth we see the peace, blessedness and redemption that God is now able to dispense to these two women.

When Ruth gleans in the fields of Boaz, and finds favour in his eyes and sustenance in plenty for herself and her mother-in-law, Naomi is able to tell her daughter-in-law that Boaz is a close kinsman of her family. "Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, 'Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken his kindness to the living and the dead! . . . The man is a relative of ours, one of our near kinsmen . . . shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you?'" (2:20; 3:1)

Naomi explains to Ruth that Boaz as a near kinsman has the right of redemption, that he can 'redeem' her and "the piece of land which belonged to Elimelech" (4:3). But Boaz informs them that there is a nearer kinsman who has first right of refusal, and so he confronts this near kinsman in the presence of witneses. "If you will redeem it (the land of Elimelech's), redeem it . . . and on the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must buy it from Ruth the Moabitess . . . to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance" (4:4,5), which he declines to do.

So the way is now open for Boaz to redeem Ruth, to marry her "to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren . . . " (4:10). The union of these two people, Ruth and her kinsman-redeemer, brought forth Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David, the ancestor of the Messiah.

There were four periods in the life of Ruth: as a Moabitess under the curse of God, an outcast, a stranger to the covenant of promise; married to an Israelite, now legally an Israelite and therefore acceptable to God had she not gone on living in Moab; a dweller in the land of Israel where she meets her redeemer and begins to know peace, joy and prosperity; and the climax of all – the best stage of her life – united with her redeemer, at one with him, belonging to him and he to her.

There is an interesting comparison between the three women: Naomi, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi at first had no conviction, no realization of backsliding, no realization of sin. Orpah starts to accompany her mother-in-law but then goes back to her people. She had no true heart to go on with Naomi. Ruth's heart on the other hand was steadfast. Three times she was urged to go back to her people; three times she may have been tempted to do so, but finally she overruled Naomi's objections with the earnest and joyous words: "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you . . . your people shall be my people, and your God my God."

That decision brought her to "the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge" (2:12). It was the place to be; it was the place of blessing; it was the place of redemption.

Redemption always means rest and peace, pure from all iniquity. We belong to God in the closest union, and we are zealous for Him as we are in oneness with Him. He abides in us by His Holy Spirit, and He dwells and works within us to conform us to His image. So the book of Ruth is all about redemption in all its fulness and blessedness.