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Ruth: Loyalty and Love

Ruth: Loyalty and Love


The Old Testament places a great deal of emphasis on the role of the goel. There was a significant redemptive aspect to this person’s function. Every kinsman-redeemer was, in effect, a living illustration of the position and work of Christ with respect to His people: He is our true Kinsman-Redeemer, who becomes our human Brother, buys us back from our bondage to evil, redeems our lives from death, and ultimately returns to us everything we lost because of our sin.

Boaz would become Ruth’s goel. He would redeem her life from poverty and widowhood. He would be her deliverer — and Naomi grasped the potential of this glad turn of events the very moment she learned it was Boaz who had taken an interest in Ruth. He was not only a kinsman; he had the means to be a redeemer too. Naomi strongly encouraged Ruth to follow Boaz’s instructions and stay exclusively in his fields. Ruth did this until the end of the harvest season (Ruth 2:21-23).

Naomi saw it as her duty as mother-in-law to seek long-term security for this faithful Moabite girl who had so graciously proven her loyalty, generosity, diligence, and strength of character throughout the hot and difficult harvest season. In a culture where arranged marriages were the norm, this meant doing what she could to orchestrate a marriage between Ruth and Boaz.

Because she was a woman, protocol forbade Naomi from approaching Boaz to arrange a marriage for Ruth. In fact, there was no suggestion that Naomi had spoken to Boaz at all about anything since her return from Moab. Yet from the very beginning, Naomi clearly had an intuition about Boaz’s interest in Ruth. Having watched and waited through the long harvest season, Naomi apparently decided Boaz needed some subtle help to get the ball rolling. The way things finally played out suggests that Naomi’s instincts were right on target.

If Boaz had ever been married, Scripture does not mention it. According to Jewish tradition, he was a lifelong bachelor. He may have had some physical imperfection or personality quirk that stood in the way of a suitable marriage arrangement. At the very least, he desperately needed prodding. Although he obviously took a keen interest in Ruth from the moment he first saw her, it does not seem to have entered his mind to pursue the goel’s role on her behalf. By his own testimony (Ruth 3:10), he was surprised that Ruth didn’t deem him unsuitable for marriage.

Naomi had sized up the situation correctly though, and she instructed Ruth on what to do. Naomi’s scheme was bold and utterly unconventional. Of course, Ruth, as a foreigner, could always plead ignorance of Jewish custom, but if Naomi’s plan had been known in advance by people in the community, the propriety police certainly would have been up in arms. Of course, the scheme did not involve any real unrighteousness or indecency. Naomi certainly would not have asked Ruth to compromise her virtue or relinquish godly modesty.

Still, what Naomi advised Ruth to do was shockingly forward. (Even to enlightened twenty-first-century minds, it seems surprisingly plucky.) Naomi’s plan, in essence, was for Ruth to propose marriage to Boaz! She told Ruth, “Wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do” (Ruth 3:3-4 NKJV). By the custom of the time, this would indicate Ruth’s willingness to marry Boaz.

It was the end of the harvest. The threshing floor was a site, most likely out of doors, where grain was winnowed. This involved tossing grain into the air in a breeze so that the light husks of chaff would be blown away. Boaz would work late, sleep outdoors at the threshing floor all night, then arise early and go back to threshing. Thus he both extended his work hours and guarded his grain through the night. He worked well into the night, had a short meal, and laid down next to the grain pile to sleep. Scripture says “his heart was cheerful” (Ruth 3:7 NKJV).

The harvest had been abundant. After years of famine, Boaz was exhilarated at his prosperity.

In accordance with Naomi’s instructions, Ruth “came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down” (Ruth 3:7 NKJV). Boaz was so fatigued that he did not notice her until he awakened at midnight and was startled to find a woman lying at his feet.

He said, “Who are you?”

She answered, “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a [goel]” (Ruth 3:9 NKJV). Ruth was borrowing language (“under your wing”) from the blessing Boaz had given her (Ruth 2:12). This was, in effect, a marriage proposal.

This came as an overwhelming and unexpected blessing to Boaz. According to Ruth 3:10-13:

Then he said, “Blessed are you of the LORD, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is relative closer than I. Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you — good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the LORD lives! Lie down until morning.” (NKJV)

Scripture doesn’t identify the man who was Naomi’s actual next of kin. (He would almost certainly have been either an older brother or cousin of Boaz.) Boaz knew immediately who it was, and he knew that custom required him to defer to this other relative. He explained the situation to Ruth, swore to her his own willingness to be her goel if it were possible, and urged her to remain at his feet through the night.

Nothing immoral occurred, of course, and Scripture is clear about that. But Boaz, being protective of Ruth’s virtue, awoke her and sent her home just before dawn. He gave her a generous portion of grain as a gift for Naomi, saying, “Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law” (Ruth 3:17 NKJV).

Naomi, of course, was anxiously awaiting word of what had happened. Ruth told her the whole story, and Naomi, whose feminine intuition was impeccable, said, “Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day” (Ruth 3:18 NKJV).

She was exactly right. Boaz went immediately to the city gate and found Naomi’s true next of kin. The two of them sat down in the presence of ten city elders and negotiated for the right to be Ruth’s goel.

That role involved, first of all, the buy-back of Elimelech’s property. In Israel, land portions were part of each family’s lasting legacy from generation to generation. Plots of family land could not be permanently sold (Leviticus 25:23). Real estate that was “sold” to pay debts remained in the possession of the buyer only until the year of Jubilee, at which time it reverted to the original owner’s family. This arrangement helped keep Israel’s wealth evenly distributed, and it meant that land-sale deals were actually more like long-term leases. Land sold for debt relief could also be redeemed at any time by the seller or his goel. As long as Elimelech had no heirs, the property he and Naomi had sold to pay their debts would automatically become the permanent possession of anyone who acted as Naomi’s goel by redeeming her property. This made the prospect extremely appealing.

Boaz said, “If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you will not redeem it, then tell me, that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am next after you.”

“I will redeem it,” the other relative replied (Ruth 4:4 NKJV).

But then Boaz explained that there was a catch. While Elimelech had no surviving heir, the man who would have been his rightful heir (Mahlon) had left a widow. Therefore, Boaz explained, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also buy it from Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5 NKJV).

This changed things a bit. Because if Ruth did remarry someone under the principle of levirate marriage, and she produced any heir in Mahlon’s name, rights to Elimelech’s land would automatically pass to Ruth’s offspring. The only way to eliminate that risk would be to marry Ruth. The unnamed close relative was either unable or unwilling to marry Ruth. And he didn’t want to take an expensive risk that might jeopardize his own children’s inheritance. So he told Boaz, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I ruin my own inheritance. You redeem my right of redemption for yourself, for I cannot redeem it” (Ruth 4:6 NKJV).

A formal contract was then publicly sealed in the customary fashion: the relative removed his sandal and gave it to Boaz (Ruth 4:8), in effect granting Boaz the right to stand in his stead as goel for Ruth and Naomi.

And Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Naomi. Moreover, Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead through his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brethren and from his position at the gate. You are witnesses this day” (Ruth 4:9-10 NKJV).

Everyone loves a good love story, and the people of Bethlehem were no exception. As word got out about the unusual transaction taking place in the city gate, the inhabitants of the city began to congregate. They pronounced a blessing on Boaz and his bride-to-be. “We are witnesses,” they told Boaz. “The LORD make the woman who is coming to your house like Rachel and Leah, the two who built the house of Israel; and may you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring which the LORD will give you from this young woman” (Ruth 4:11-12 NKJV).

The blessing proved to be prophetic. Boaz and Ruth were married, and the Lord soon blessed them with a son. At the birth of this child, the women of Bethlehem gave a blessing to Naomi as well: “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him” (Ruth 4:14-15 NKJV).

All of that came true as well. As Ruth 4:17 explains, “The neighbor women gave him 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” (NKJV). In other words, Ruth was David’s great-grandmother.

That is how Ruth, a seemingly ill-fated Moabite woman whose loyalty and faith had led her away from her own people and carried her as a stranger into the land of Israel, became a mother in the royal line that would eventually produce that nation’s first great king. Her best-known offspring would be Abraham’s Seed and Eve’s hoped-for Deliverer.

Ruth is a fitting symbol of every believer, and even of the church itself — redeemed, brought into a position of great favor, endowed with riches and privilege, exalted to be the Redeemer’s own bride, and loved by Him with the profoundest affection. That is why the extraordinary story of her redemption ought to make every true believer’s heart resonate with profound gladness and thanksgiving for the One who, likewise, has redeemed us from our sin.

Excerpted with permission from Twelve Extraordinary Women by John MacArthur, copyright John MacArthur.

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