But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 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 2:11-12 NIV)
We can fall into the trap of seeking reward over seeking God. That is, instead of desiring God with love as our motivation, we only desire what He can do for us. If I pray today, I’ll pass this exam. If I go to church every Sunday this month, maybe God will reveal my husband. If I read my Bible this week, I’ll find a new job. These thoughts might seem silly written down, but it’s funny how easily and often we slip into this thinking.
Instead of loving the Creator, we love things or people He created much more.
To kickoff the Love Series, we’ll be looking at the book of Ruth. When Ruth comes to mind, you might recall the “love story” of God bringing her and Boaz together in marriage. However, when we look deeper into her character, we see the life of an extraordinary woman whose love for God surpassed any other desire. Remaining loyal to the Lord in desolate circumstances, Ruth is led by Him to amazing redemption.
(Reference: Book of Ruth, Chapters 1-4)
The book of Ruth begins during a time of hopelessness. According to the end of Judges, we know that Israel is in a corrupted state:
In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
When the judges ruled, there was a sense of lawlessness as people disobeyed God and worshipped false idols. This lawlessness brought about much suffering to the nation. Then, a famine in the land brought even more suffering.
In the first chapter of Ruth, a man named Elimelech fled with his wife, Naomi, and his two sons to Moab, in desperation. Moab was known for being a dry, infertile land, but the famine was so severe that it was better to live there than in Israel (more specifically, in Bethlehem, Judah).
Tragedy continued when Elimelech died, but his sons (Mahlon and Chilion) married Moabite women. Here we are introduced to Ruth, a Moabite woman who married one of the sons. The other son’s wife is Orpah. However, even after the family sought refuge in Moab, more ruin came years later:
…After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. (Ruth 1:4-5)
There’s a lot to say about Ruth’s story, but keeping consistent with the theme of love, I will be focusing on two aspects of her character: her love for God and her love for others, both of which align with God’s commandments for us (see Matthew 22:27-29).
A Love for Others
Ruth’s character reflects willingness, diligence, friendship, and love. A love for others as God instructs us to have. God’s love restores, and through Ruth’s own love and loyalty, restoration comes as a blessing.
One of the ways we see her love is through her deep bond and friendship with Naomi.
After the devastation of loss, Naomi acknowledged that their situation seems quite unredeemable. She and her two daughter-in-laws were now widows in poverty. Naomi even expressed that they should leave her, since she was now old and had no sons (to offer them if they were to remarry) and thus nothing to improve their situation (Ruth 1:12-13). What’s interesting is that her daughter-in-laws were dear to her–especially now that she was widowed. For instance, Naomi often referred to Ruth as her own daughter. Yet, because she loved them, she was willing to sacrifice and let them go so that they could have a better life.
Despite this, Ruth refused to leave Naomi, cleaving unto her:
And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. (Ruth 1:14)
And later, Ruth added:
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: (Ruth 1:16)
Ruth accompanied Naomi to Bethlehem where there was a harvest (Ruth 1:22). The law allowed the poor to gather food left over during harvest times as a sort of provision. Ruth showed pure intentions and loyalty to her mother-and-law, having a willingness to care for her, taking an opportunity God provided for her needs to be met. In Ruth 2:2-3, she went to work in the field. She was a woman of action, not afraid of difficulty, willing to put in the work to access God’s provision.
A Christ-like Love
Ruth’s character didn’t go unnoticed by others–and most importantly, it didn’t go unnoticed by God.
In the second chapter of Ruth, we are introduced to Boaz.
And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter. (Ruth 2:1-2)
We read that Boaz was a wealthy man who had some relation to Elimelech. Boaz played a crucial role in this story, as he served as a figure of Christ. Through him, God provided redemption for Ruth.
Although Boaz was wealthy, what truly made him remarkable was the fact that he was a man of God, which was evident through his treatment of others and his acknowledgement of the Lord. For instance, in verse 4, he showed a concern for the well-being of his servants (as opposed to their work) through his greeting to them. Christ similarly has a deep care and desires such a relationship with us.
And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee. (Ruth 2:4)
Boaz took notice of Ruth when he found her on the field. It’s incredible that this meeting happened while Ruth was in the midst of her service, gathering food for her mother-in-law out of love, displaying her love for Christ with no other intentions behind it. In Ruth 2:3, Ruth “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz”–she didn’t try to arrange it herself. She didn’t even know Boaz existed!
This same humility Ruth had being on that field was what gave her a reputation that Boaz recognized later on:
And Boaz answered and said unto her, It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore. The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust. (Ruth 2:11-12)
As Boaz saw Ruth’s heart, the Lord recognizes our own hearts. He knows whether our service to Him and others is sincere or not. God honors a genuine heart–because it’s a heart that is actually willing to work with Him. This is exactly the case with Ruth. Her heart was willing, and it was used by God for His glory and to bless others.
A Love that Yields Obedience
Naomi and Ruth clearly saw the possibility of redemption through Boaz. Although Ruth (and Naomi) did not have any possessions or resources of her own, Boaz was able to provide for Ruth out of a pure love. So Christ is able to redeem us where we lack.
Ruth consulted Naomi about what her response to Boaz should be:
One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”
5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do. (Ruth 3:1-6)
The instructions Naomi gave Ruth was for her to show a willingness to Boaz for marriage. From our perspective, this gesture might seem strange, but it represented a larger symbol of willingness. As we continue reading and see Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet, we should lay at the feet of Jesus, showing our own willingness and submission to Him. And Christ will not let us return empty-handed.
In Ruth 3:10-15, Boaz responded with great kindness, and he made sure that Ruth didn’t go without blessing, giving her barley to take back to Naomi:
When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?”
Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ (Ruth 3:16-17).
Already through Ruth’s obedience, Naomi had been blessed. Our own obedience can be a great blessing to others–and similarly, our disobedience can be a great consequence to others.
This theme of blessings through obedience is seen in the marriage of Boaz and Ruth in chapter 4:
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (Ruth 4:13-15)
Other people were able to acknowledge and praise the Lord through the marriage (in verse 11) and the birth of Ruth’s son (in verse 14). Also, this newborn child was Jesse, the father of David, “a man after God’s own heart.” What a beautiful testimony God created through Ruth’s life and trials. He brought her through famine and loss to abundance that impacted future generations.
Again, while Boaz was a type of Christ, in terms of his Christ-like love and character, Boaz was not God. He was not Ruth’s god, her central desire and purpose, but he was used as part of the plan that God had for her. Plus, just as Ruth desired the Lord, Boaz did as well. So, bringing them together brought God glory and also gave hope to others around them.
“WHAT ABOUT ME?”
You have needs. I have needs. We have all have needs. Notice that Ruth’s needs were provided for. Our Father wants to bless us, but it’s essential that our source of happiness doesn’t come from things, which are passing away and temporary.
Think about this: when something doesn’t work out that you were banking on, what will be your response? Are you going to turn away from God and blame Him? Again, nothing is assured in this life on earth. Putting your hope in anything other than God will cause pain and emptiness. This is especially important to understand in our relationships. Nobody is perfect. People can make great company, but they are terrible gods.
So, examine yourself. First and foremost, do you have a relationship with God? It’s impossible to live for Him if you haven’t first accepted Him as Savior. Redemption for us comes in the form of salvation, a guarantee of eternal life in heaven and a reconciled relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life (Romans 5:10).
Second, is God your first love? Is He preeminent in your life? That is, does He come first before anything or anyone else? When we accept Christ as our Savior, God is present in our lives, but if we live in disobedience, against His Word, He is not preeminent–or reigns–in our hearts. So many of us who consider ourselves Christians de-throne the very God we claim to serve!
And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence (Colossians 1:17-18).
Naomi understood that God was sovereign over all else. After the loss of her family, she stated:
…Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? (Ruth 1:20-21)
When I initially read these verses, I thought these were complaints or accounts of bitterness from Naomi. However, after studying the book of Ruth, it’s clear that Naomi had reverence towards God, and here she acknowledged the fact that He was in charge and that her life belonged to Him. God reigns, and He is in control of everything. She feared God, meaning she had reverence, or respect, for Him. This included understanding His character and that He is loving. Though we may not know how God is working through situations (e.g. Naomi’s tragedy), He works things together for good (His redemption in the end).
Ruth was provided for, and most importantly, she was used by God mightily.
This is where love starts. With our relationship with Christ. This is a relationship that only exists between you and the Lord. Nobody else can fix it or grow it for you.
If you’re at a point where you are struggling with putting God first in your life, I encourage you to refocus and reorient your love towards Him. It’s not too late for you. He’s patiently waiting and wants to redeem you.
Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.
(2 Corinthians 5:20 KJV)