Ruth 1:11–13a, 15–18; 2:2–3, 11–12comment (0)
August 16, 2012
By Douglas K. Wilson
Related Scripture: Ruth 1:11–13a, 15–18; 2:2–3, 11–12
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Dean and Professor of Christian Ministries, University of Mobile
Ruth 1:11–13a, 15–18; 2:2–3, 11–12
We transition this week from a lesson describing self-autonomy to a lesson demonstrating self-sacrifice. Both passages come from the period of the judges (Ruth 1:1), yet they address significantly different perspectives on life and faith. The concluding lesson in Judges pointed to the apathetic attitude toward God-centered living by the Israelites, in which they ignored God as their King (Judg. 17:6; 21:25). By contrast the book of Ruth records a life characterized by self-sacrificing love in the midst of personal grief, financial bankruptcy and ethnic prejudice. Ruth’s commitment precedes the line of David the king and ultimately leads to Jesus, the ultimate Kinsman Redeemer.
Sacrificial Expression (1:11–13a)
From the time of the patriarchs, levirate marriage was practiced among the tribes of Israel (Gen. 38:8). Deuteronomy 25:5–10 codifies this practice of a younger brother marrying the widow of an older brother and the humiliation of one who chooses not to redeem his sister-in-law. Evidently, by the time of the judges, the concept of the kinsman redeemer had developed from the successive brother-in-law (Latin levir, hence levirate) to the next available male kinsman (Hebrew go’el). Ruth 4 describes the actual practice of rejection and acceptance of the kinsman redeemer role. Naomi urged her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth to return to their fathers, for there were no more sons born to Naomi. These widows had no brothers-in-law to redeem them. Naomi’s solution was for the women to return to their homes, break family ties with her and perhaps marry Moabite husbands.
Declaration of Commitment (1:15–17)
Orpah decided to go home. This gave Naomi incentive to encourage Ruth to do likewise. Instead Ruth confessed her faith in Yahweh and her commitment to Naomi. In fact, she invited Yahweh’s wrath upon herself if she did not live according to her confession. This declaration of commitment is often used in wedding ceremonies as a sentimental symbol of affection. Ruth’s statement, however, was a clear confession of Yahweh as the one true God, an expression of the family responsibility she felt for Naomi and a repudiation of her Moabite lineage. She had a new family, the true God, and an accountability that remained until her death. May Christian husbands and wives truly aspire to that kind of unselfish commitment to one another.
Demonstration of Commitment (1:18; 2:2–3)
The Mosaic Law contained provisions for the fatherless, the widow, the alien and the poor (Lev. 19:9–10; Deut. 24:17–21). Ruth fit all four categories. The edges and corners of fields were not to be harvested, but were to be left for these groups. Any sheaves dropped by the harvesters were also to remain where they lay.
Ruth demonstrated her commitment to Naomi by working diligently in the field from dawn until dusk. Though burdened with the loss of a husband to provide for her and the accompanying grief and loneliness, she committed to provide for her mother-in-law.
Rewards of Commitment (2:11–12)
Ruth’s commitment did not go unnoticed. Boaz paid attention, and he was of the same clan as Ruth’s father-in-law Elimelech from the tribe of Judah. Judges describes a period when Israel ignored their King, yet Ruth had married into the family of a man whose name means “My God is King.” This King shined His favor on Ruth, for He provided her a patron who protected her while she gleaned.
The story of Ruth is one of generous, self-sacrificing love. Love drove Elimelech of Bethlehem (“house of bread”) to personal humiliation, moving to Moab so he could provide food for his family. Love led Naomi to release her daughters-in-law from familial obligation. Love guided Ruth to commit herself to Naomi’s welfare and Israel’s God. Love guided Boaz to protect the young stranger who would become his wife. Love ultimately provided humanity with the Kinsman Redeemer.