I was chatting with a friend the other day. She told me that the story of Ruth is not a very good story for the independence of women. Here are some of the reasons she listed. I feel they are worth considering.
- Ruth needed to be “redeemed” because she was “used goods.” Men in those days liked fresh, unchewed, meat. And Ruth had borne another man’s children.
- Boaz, who by his own admission was “old,” praised Ruth for not going after younger men.
- The second right of redemption was his after another man turned it down since Ruth bearing his children might mess things up for his own kids.
- So, between the 2 men, they decided her future. One didn’t want her, the second one did—probably since he was older.
- This “redemption” setup was part of the Levitical laws—from God HIMself.
My friend’s reaction to this is that Ruth is an ugly story.
Is the story of Ruth the tale of servitude?
My reaction is quite different. I would like to share the beauty I find in this story.
The book of Ruth shows us what redemption looks like. It shows what God is like and what Satan is like. Here are the main players:
- Israel – There is famine in the land.
- Moab – There appears to be food there.
- Ehimelech, Mahlon and Chilion – The men of the story seek to escape famine in Israel only to die anyway in Moab.
- Naomi – The wife and mother follows her husband into a foreign land.
- Orpah – A Moabite woman marries one of the sons.
- Ruth – A second Moabite woman marries the other son.
- Boaz – A kinsman of Ehimelech who shows kindness to Naomi and Ruth.
- An unnamed kinsman – The rightful kinsman redeemer who refuses to be the redeemer.
First, let me say this. It is repugnant to the human heart to be told “You need to be redeemed.” We don’t like it. We are like Ehimelech with his sons. We prefer to solve our problems for ourselves.
In this story, the different characters reflect truths that will bless every Christian once they are grasped.
Israel (God’s church) is starving for a true understanding of God’s character. The Word is in the land, but it isn’t understood, and it isn’t being followed.
Moab (any other belief system) appears to have answers, so this family leaves the church and explores a different set of ideas.
The three men do not find what they are looking for in Moab. They die there, leaving three women widows.
Women are always symbols of a church in scripture. I would like to suggest that Naomi is the church who has lost it’s purity, yet wants to find that purity again. Orpah is that church who doesn’t feel a need to be purified. Ruth is that church which comes out of impurity to join the original faith restored.
So we see Naomi returning to her roots, bitter and disillusioned with her experiment with a different God. Ruth goes out to glean, seeking every ray of truth she can find.
Boaz is a pattern of Jesus in this story. He goes out of his way to reward her efforts. He tells his workers to make sure she has a generous amount of food to gather. He doesn’t care that she is a foreigner to the House of Israel.
Naomi sees this kindness and recognizes that Boaz is a next of kin. He can be their kinsman redeemer. She gives Ruth instructions to go to the threshing floor and mark where Boaz lays down. Ruth is to uncover Boaz’ feet and lay down there. Ruth does as she is instructed.
We also must recognize our need for a kinsman redeemer. Jesus is our next of kin. He is our “older” brother. We must find our place at His feet. Yet, we, like Ruth and Naomi, may be afraid to do so boldly. We come stealthily, in the night, unsure of the response we will receive.
Boaz’ response reflects the response we can expect from Jesus. Ruth asks Boaz to spread his garment over her. He praises her for not seeking after young men ( a symbol of foolishness versus wisdom). He agrees to cover her, yet he warns her that there is a kinsman who is closer than he is—the unnamed kinsman.
Who could be closer to us than Jesus? It is Satan. His very nature is implanted in every heart.
The unnamed kinsman is unwilling to redeem Naomi and Ruth for this would compromise his holdings. He has no interest in restoring the house of Ehimelech.
Boaz did want to see the name of Ehimelech lifted up. So a transaction takes place in the city gate. The unnamed kinsman relinquishes his rights to Elimelech’s inheritance.
A transaction took place to redeem us 2000 years ago. In the act of hanging upon a tree, Jesus became the kinsman redeemer for humanity. Satan had no desire to enable us to enjoy our inheritance—eternal life. He preferred his own path of rebellion.
All who like Ruth come to Jesus’ feet and ask to be covered with His garment woven in the loom of heaven will have their inheritance restored. They will begin to experience eternal life.
I’ll admit my friend’s argument for the ugliness in this story has merit. Many a man has used the Bible to justify treating his wife like a possession that’s worth less than some object, his automobile for example. He’ll glory in that car while treating his wife like a doormat.
Then again, there have been many men who have found inspiration in the Bible to empower their wives and daughters. I am blessed that my father was one of then. Many women have not been so blessed. For them, the thought of being a “prized possession” is degrading, for the word possession has been ruined. “Precious jewel” or “pride and joy” aren’t any better. All reflect this idea of “ownership.”
So in that respect, Ruth is at the same time an ugly yet beautiful story. It is ugly to be in a position where you need to be rescued. We recoil from owing anyone anything. We prefer our independence. We don’t want to be “owned” by anyone.
If only we understood what God’s idea of ownership is. It’s totally unlike our concept. Jesus doesn’t see us as used goods or damaged goods. He sees us as His new creation. Old things have passed away.
When God “owns” something, He grants complete freedom. He says, “Come let us reason together. Discover your calling.” He doesn’t say, “Agree with me, or else.” (Okay, I know I’ll have to discuss this at some point in the future, because “Hell” sure sounds like “Agree with me, or I’ll burn you.”)
Salvation is about stripping away our fear of death. It’s about restoring our sense of worth. It’s about feeling and knowing we are loved no matter what we do.
In the end, Ruth and Naomi feel loved. Their hearts are filled with joy. They are restored to their inheritance.
Do we want to be restored to ours?