The story of Ruth in the Bible isn’t just about a girl who was from Moab who landed in the genealogy of Jesus. It isn’t just the story of a foreigner who clung to an Israelite widow and found redemption.
The story of Ruth in the Bible is deep and wide and goes beyond who she was as a person. Yet that doesn’t negate the woman Ruth at all.
Hidden within the choices Ruth made, as well as her sister-in-law Orpah’s, is the breadth and depth of the story.
Ruth and Orpah were daughters of Eglon and Balak, kings of Moab. The Moabites were the descendants of Lot and his eldest daughter (Genesis 19:37) following the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.
The Moabites didn’t serve God and were the enemies of the children of Israel.
How the Story Starts
This is the biblical account of how Ruth came to meet her first husband.
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there (Ruth 1:1-2).
After moving to Moab, Elimelek dies leaving Naomi and her sons alone. The sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah, instead of going back to Israel to find wives. Neither of them has any children. After living there for about 10 years, both of Naomi’s sons die as well.
The Return Home
After the death of her sons, Naomi heard that God had provided food for his people and she prepared to return home. There’s no record of either sister converting to Judaism upon marriage so when Naomi sets off for home, she tells them to return to their homes.
Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband” (Ruth 1:8-9).
Naomi kissed them goodbye, a ritual of breathing into them something of her own spirit.* At first, they both replied, “We will go back with you to your people” (Ruth 1:10).
But Naomi urged them to stay explaining how she couldn’t provide them with new husbands and children.
The Two Choices
After Naomi urges them to return to their home, the women make different choices. Orpah kisses her mother-in-law goodbye, returning Naomi’s breath to her, making her choice clear.*
But Ruth wouldn’t let go.
Naomi urges Ruth again saying, “Your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her” (Ruth 1:15).
Ruth chooses covenant with these words.
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
The Two Directions
Choices lead us in a direction.
Orpah’s choice to leave Naomi and Ruth was followed by her becoming the mother of an enemy of Israel.
According to the Talmud (Sotah 42b), “Upon leaving Naomi, Orpah ran into a battalion of 100 soldiers. She willingly submitted herself to them all. From the lot of them, she became pregnant and bore the giant Goliath, whom the young David would later meet in battle.”
Ruth’s choice to stay with and serve Naomi was followed by a much more honorable story.
Ruth’s Story of Provision
Ruth loved her mother-in-law and humbled herself to serve and care for her. Upon arriving in Bethlehem, Naomi knew what to do for them to survive.
There were Jewish customs set up for widows and Naomi instructed Ruth. One custom was called gleaning. Farmers were to leave food on the ground as they harvested the grain so the poor could pick it up to feed their families.
Ruth followed her directions and went out to glean. While gleaning in a certain field, the landowner took notice of her. After learning who she was and her loyalty to Naomi, he responded to her with favor.
“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband — how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” (Ruth 2:11-12).
After this, he not only ensured her safety as she gleaned, but also made provision for her to take home an abundance.
Ruth’s Pathway to Redemption
Just as Jewish customs provided the way for Ruth and Naomi to feed themselves, there was a pathway for redemption as well.
The pathway to redemption unveiled in the Book of Ruth is twofold. It’s natural, in the case with Ruth, and spiritual, as it paints a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This pathway to redemption was called a “kinsman-redeemer,” or “guardian-redeemer.” This was a male relative (next of kin) who was permitted to act on behalf (be a guardian) of a relative in danger or need.
When a woman became a widow with no children, it was this man’s right and responsibility to take action. He was to purchase everything that belonged to the dead husband, care for the widow, and father a son who would become the heir.
The landowner, who took notice of Ruth was a close male relative. His name was Boaz. When Naomi discovered this truth, she instructed Ruth to approach him according to this custom. Following Naomi’s instructions precisely, when it was time, she spoke:
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family” (Ruth 3:9).
Boaz liked the idea. However, he knew of a closer male relative he would need to get permission from.
Redemption and Joy
Boaz secured the required permission from the other man. Soon, he and Ruth married, and a son was born. This son was named Obed, who was the father of Jesse, the father of King David who slew Goliath — the descendant of Orpah (as the Talmud depicts).
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! 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 4:14-15).
Two women who knew such sorrow came into great joy. Ruth’s faithfulness to her mother-in-law and her newfound faith bore historic results. There are only five women listed in the genealogy of Jesus. Each one has a historic story and Ruth is one of them.
Ruth is evidence that your past and ethnicity don’t need to define you, but it’s your power of choice that can decide your destiny.
*As Ruth Rabbah to this verse points out, this kiss was not a mere expression of emotion but constituted a ritual. Naomi breathed into Orpah something of her own spirit that would accompany her in her sojourn among the idols of Moab. When Orpah did ultimately leave, she gave that kiss back for she no longer wanted Naomi or her God.
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Danielle Bernock is an international, award-winning author, coach, and speaker who helps people embrace their value and heal their souls through the power of the love of God. She’s written Emerging With Wings, A Bird Named Payn, Love’s Manifesto, Because You Matter, and Compassion Was Born. A long time follower of Christ, Danielle lives with her husband in Michigan near her adult children and grandchildren. For more information or to connect with Danielle https://www.daniellebernock.com/