During the twelfth century, in the time of the judges, a severe famine struck the land of Judah. When the land had sufficient amounts of rain, the region produced fields of grains, vineyards and olive groves in abundance, but prolonged drought had devastated this agrarian society.
It was during this difficult time that Elimelech, a Bethlehemite, and his family were forced to leave their native land. They traveled to the land of Moab some forty miles away and settled there (Ruth 1:1–2). Some years passed and Elimelech died, leaving his wife Naomi alone with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah respectively. More time passed and Naomi once again was faced with tragedy when her two sons died leaving two young widows. This undoubtedly was a very sad and distressing time for Naomi and her daughters–in–law.
Faithful through the worst
Through all of these difficulties, Naomi had never forgotten God or the land of her birth. Having heard that the famine was past and that God had again blessed the land of Israel with abundant crops, she decided to return to Judah. Ruth and Orpah were so impressed with their mother–in–law’s wonderful example of faith, courage and obedience to her God in the face of trials and adversity that they decided to return with Naomi to her homeland. They dearly loved Naomi, were deeply concerned for her well–being and wanted to be with her. However, as they set out on their journey to Bethlehem, Naomi urged Ruth and Orpah to reconsider their decision and return to their families, saying that she did not have any other sons which could be husbands for them, and that no doubt God would bless them and they would find happiness and contentment in their own land (Ruth 1:6–13).
Orpah took her mother–in–law’s advice and tearfully kissed her goodbye and returned to her own country, but Ruth could not be persuaded to return and clung to Naomi saying, “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). With these words Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to follow her to the land of Israel and ceased trying to change her daughter–in–law’s mind. Ruth had such a deep and profound love for her mother–in–law that she could not bear to be parted from her. She preferred to leave the only life she had known, all of her family and her native land, rather than letting Naomi travel to Judah alone with no one to care for her along the way or after her arrival. For over ten years Ruth had lived God’s way and seen it produce blessings and a happy way of life. Furthermore, Naomi’s faithfulness to God and His laws was a powerful witness and example to Ruth. When the critical time of decision came, her love for and loyalty to Naomi motivated Ruth to sacrifice and put Naomi’s needs and wishes before her own.
They arrived in Bethlehem during the spring grain harvest. It was the law in Israel that the corners of the fields were left untouched by the threshers for the poor of the land to gather (Lev.19:9–10). To provide for her mother–in–law and herself, Ruth willingly went into the fields of grain and followed the reapers gathering there. It was hard and uncomfortable, but Ruth was prepared to endure the arduous work.
As it happened, the field where Ruth found herself working belonged to Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s late husband Elimelech. After meeting Ruth and knowing she was Naomi’s daughter–in–law, Boaz showed concern for her safety and protection, instructing her to only glean in his field, staying close to the other women (Ruth 2:8–9). Boaz was aware that Ruth showed great love and kindness to her mother–in–law and was willing to leave her father and mother and move from the land of her birth to live amongst strangers. No doubt Boaz was impressed by Ruth’s love and devotion to Naomi. He said to Ruth, “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 2:12). God was blessing Ruth for her willingness to obey Him and follow His way of life even though she was a Moabite and not an Israelite.
When Naomi saw the special favor Boaz was showing Ruth, she could see that God was working things out in their lives and urged Ruth to continue working in the fields of Boaz. Naomi wanted him to get better acquainted with her daughter–in–law and to see Ruth’s excellent work ethic and godly character.
An honorable lineage
In Israel in those days, it was customary to make sure a widow was not left destitute and friendless. When a man died his brother was to marry his widow. It was the responsibility of the closest kinsman to marry the widow if the deceased had no brother. There was a kinsman closer than Boaz to the family of Elimelech; however, this kinsman was willing to forego his right to marry Ruth because he was unwilling to jeopardize the inheritance of his own estate (Ruth 4:1–6). This decision enabled Boaz to take Ruth as his wife, which he duly did. He deeply loved Ruth and knew she would bring great honor and respect to his family. Their marriage was blessed with a son whom they named Obed meaning “serving”: “So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, The Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son. And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be The Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath borne him. And Naomi took the child, and laid it in her bosom, and became nurse unto it. And the women her neighbours gave it a name, saying, There is a son born to Naomi; and they called his name Obed: he is the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4:13–17).
In time God blessed Obed with a son named Jesse, the father of King David. So Ruth was the great–grandmother of Israel’s greatest leader. From this line of Judah came the legal genealogy of Jesus Christ.
The book of Ruth illustrates to us God’s desire for all people to follow the outstanding example of Ruth and Naomi in living God’s way, reaping the blessings that come from obedience to the Great Creator God. Ruth had such a deep love and respect for Naomi and her godliness that she willingly gave up her native homeland and moved to a strange country. She came to know the God of Israel through Naomi and saw that living God’s way of life and keeping His commandments led to bountiful blessings. This young Moabite woman stands out as a shining example of virtue, loyalty, devotion and selfless service to the true God—an example we should all strive to emulate.