This week Melissa continues with names from the Book of Ruth by studying the book’s namesake. Be sure to check out last week’s post on Naomi.
Ruth means “friend”, and what a friend Naomi had in Ruth! Her decision to show loyal love to Naomi and to trust in the Sovereign LORD is what most characterizes Ruth. One Hebrew word that is repeated to describe her is “hesed” meaning kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. It is used in Ruth 1:8 when Naomi is asking the Lord to return the kindness that Orpah and Ruth have shown to her.
“May the Lord deal kindly with you and you have dealt with the dead and with me.”Ruth 1:8
Again, in Ruth 2:20 Naomi asks the Lord to bless Boaz because of the loyalty he has shown to Ruth. But she proclaims here that God is the one “whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead.” God uses this word to describe his own character (Ex 34:6) and is the one word chosen above all others to describe God. Hesed is often demonstrated as assistance shown to a more vulnerable party, to one unable to help himself or others. It is a key theme in the Book of Ruth.
We know from 4:10 that Ruth was married to Mahlon. They were married for 10 years but had no offspring when he died. This left her in a position with no provider or protection. Naomi is telling her to go back, but Ruth clings to her mother in law. There was no separating her after she made the commitment to stay with Naomi. Naomi blesses Ruth in 1:8 by asking the Lord to provide security for Ruth in the house of a new husband. Little did she know that the Lord would do so for Ruth by his provision of a kinsman-redeemer from Naomi’s own family.
Ruth’s reply to Naomi gives a beautiful view into her heart and her devotion.
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”Ruth 1:16–17 ESV
Another name that is used to refer to her is “Ruth the Moabite.” (1:22; 2:2) But this title or association did not affect peoples’ views of her when they witnessed her character and devotion to Naomi. In 2:2 she asks politely to be able to gather grain. She doesn’t have to be told to find food, she is eager to do it. She just happens to end up in the portion of the field that belongs to Boaz and at the exact time that Boaz himself is coming from Bethlehem. Every step of theirs was established by the Lord.
Ruth’s Reputation Precedes Her
Boaz inquires who this woman is and his workman explains that Ruth came and asked to follow the gleaners and gather leftover grain. We see again, Ruth’s kindness and goodness. She is asking politely to be able to do what Boaz is required to allow her to do by the law. In Leviticus 23:22 God states, “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” (ESV) She has been working hard. He tells her not to go to any other field, but to walk with his women of the field and take home what she harvests. He offers her protection from the men of the field and drink for when she is thirsty. Ruth responds in humility and kneels before him with her face to the ground asking, “I am a foreigner, what have I done that you notice and care for me?”
Here we read that Ruth’s reputation precedes her. All that she has done for Naomi, leaving her homeland and family, and coming to a people she did not know has been made known to Boaz. She found favor with him and he fed her until she was satisfied sending grain home with her for Naomi.
Boaz Becomes Security and Rest for Ruth
At this point, Naomi seeks to find rest and security for Ruth through Boaz. She tells Ruth how to essentially propose marriage with him by sending her to the threshing floor. At his feet, Ruth tells Boaz she is his servant and asks him to spread his wings over her for he is a Redeemer. She is calling upon him to fulfill another of the Levitical laws as a kinsman-redeemer to Naomi. This also reminds us of Boaz’s words to her in 2:12.
“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!”
In 3:11 He calls her a worthy woman. The word worthy used here is “Hayil”, the same word used in Proverbs 31 meaning “excellent”. She waits patiently for him to fulfill what he has said he will do. More on that next week when we read about Boaz himself.
They are wed and it says “the Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son.” Knowing that she was married to Mahlon for ten years without having a child may indicate she was barren and here the Lord opened her womb like he did with Sarah, the wife of Abraham, or Elizabeth the cousin of Mary. As I wrote last week, Obed is the father of Jesse, the father of David. Ruth is only ever mentioned in one other book of the Bible and that is Matthew 1:5 in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. She is listed along with only 4 other women. Tamar, Rahab, the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba) and Mary, the mother of Christ. Tamar is another woman who exhibited great hesed going to great lengths to carry on the name of her husband. She is even mentioned in Ruth 4:12 as the witnesses bless Boaz and his union with Ruth. Rahab was the prostitute of Jericho that hid the spies and was saved by the Lord.
She also happens to be Boaz’s mother.
Ruth holds a special place in history with these women.
She shows loyalty, love, and willingness to put others first even though her circumstances were dire. It is only fitting that the Lord used her in the line of Jesus, who teaches us all such love, sacrifice, and redemption through his gospel. So today as your life may feel out of control are you putting yourself first, or are you showing hesed and caring for those who cannot care for themselves. This could be your children, your elderly parent or neighbor, or a friend who has been laid off. And many thanks to all the healthcare workers out there now, who are putting others before themselves each day. You are so appreciated.