The Book of Ruth: Ruth's Role and Responsibility
In earlier chapters, Naomi represents a sort of prodigal whose family left their homeland to search for sustenance elsewhere during a difficult time. She illustrates for us what happens when there is no King Jesus in our hearts and, in turn, we live by the dictates of our own feelings, wills, and intellect, especially when times get tough.
. . . they said, “That is hopeless! So we will walk according to our own plans, and we will every one obey the dictates of his evil heart.”
— Jeremiah 18:12
Naomi's daughter-in-law, Ruth, a Moabitess, portrays faithfulness, loyalty, and humility by clinging to her mother-in-law and her mother-in-law's God by returning to the house of bread in Israel in-spite of the fact that there appears to be nothing in it for her.
. . . wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God.
— Ruth 1:15
She not only expresses this in word but also exhibits this loyalty in action by returning with Naomi to Naomi's homeland, where she was most likely despised considering the animosity between Israel and Moab at that time. She loyally cared for and provided for her mother-in-law without much prospect nor provision for her future.
Ruth, who came from paganism, depicts for us the loyalty we ought to have towards our Lord Himself. She contrasts Naomi's family, who came from a people who knew God yet sought provision elsewhere.
Boaz, a "Kinsman-Redeemer," is the hero of this story and depicts our strong, willing, and able Kinsman-Redeemer, Jesus, who had rescued and redeemed us when it appeared that all was lost and we were without hope in this world. So it was with both Ruth and Naomi.
. . . our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
— Titus 2:13-14
This particular lesson will examine Ruth's role, responsibility, and response. It will give us some practicality to the whole story in our role and responsibility, and the response should be in terms of our relationship with the Lord Jesus.
Approaching the Kinsman-Redeemer
Beginning in Ruth chapter 3, after returning to Bethlehem (House of Bread), Naomi realizes that there is a possible provision for the futures of herself and Ruth through a relationship with Boaz.
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative?
— Ruth 3:1-2
Naomi gives Ruth a series of instructions on establishing this connection and relationship. These instructions reflect how we may approach and draw near to our Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, and boldly enter His presence as did Ruth with Boaz.
The first instruction is "Wash yourself."
. . . he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself . . .
The writer of Hebrews gives us a New Testament application.
Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,by a new and living way which He consecrated for us . . . let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
— Hebrews 10:19-22
We wash by a sincere and faith-filled heart in the precious blood that was shed to cleanse us.
. . . “Who are these arrayed in white robes, and where did they come from?” . . . “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
— Revelation 7:13-14
Paul also tells us in Ephesians that the Word washes and cleanses us.
. . . as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word.
— Ephesians 5:25
We are to begin to renew our minds (Romans 12:2) so that our thoughts begin to conform to His thoughts, as those in love do, hanging on one's every word.
Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.
— John 6:68
The second instruction is to
. . . anoint yourself . . .
— Ruth 3:2
This particular Hebrew word for "anoint" in this verse is not the most common term translated "anoint." The more common word is used mostly concerning oil being poured out and over to assign, empower, and heal. The Hebrew word used in this verse in Ruth refers more to perfuming. Incense and perfume are closely related in Scripture. The English term perfume derives from two Latin words. The first part, "per," means "through," and the second part, "fume," means "smoke." As we can see, our modern word perfume communicates a close connection to incense as well.
Aroma, perfume, and incense can all be an illustration of prayer and a way to draw near to God.
Let my prayer be set before You as incense . . .
— Psalm 141:2
. . . the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand.
— Revelation 8:4
The Altar of incense was the last piece of furniture the Old Testament High Priest would have been required to visit before entering the presence of God. The incense of prayer is a necessary element in drawing near to God.
"What poor starvelings some saints are who live without the diligent use of the Word of God and secret prayer!"
— Charles Spurgeon "Morning and Evening Devotional" January 2
Change your Clothes—Faith in Action
" . . . and change your clothes."
— Ruth 3:2
The phrase above was the third instruction given.
More than likely, Ruth, up until this point, was wearing a widow's garment. This type of clothing was more than merely a sign of her grief but a statement of her predicament. According to the "Jewish Virtual Library."
"The Hebrew substantive almanah, usually translated "widow," often does not simply denote a woman whose husband is dead, but rather a once-married woman who has no means of financial support, and is therefore in need of special legal protection."
Ruth makes an assuming move by taking off her widow's garments. Alfred Edersheim makes this observation:
"Ruth puts off alike her widow's garment and her working dress. Festively arrayed as a bride."
A.B. Simpson writes about Ruth's daring act of faith:
"It was a bold move on Ruth's part to claim rights under the Levirate law . . . but faith must always abandon itself before it can claim its blessing."
Ruth is about to stake her claim boldly. In this, we are reminded again of the instruction given to us in Hebrews 10:19 to be bold in entering the Holy of Holies (place of God's presence) by our faith in the redeeming blood shed by Jesus, the lamb of God. It is faith in this provision that gives us that kind of boldness and confidence to approach Him.
Put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city! For the uncircumcised and the unclean Shall no longer come to you.
— Isaiah 52:1
For Christ, our Redeemer has come to
. . . console those who mourn in Zion, To give them beauty for ashes, The oil of joy for mourning, The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.
— Isaiah 61:3
He has clothed us with the garments of salvation, He has covered us with the robe of righteousness.
— Isaiah 61:10
This "changing of garments" concept, from a practical standpoint, can be displayed by our conduct and how we live, just as clothing identifies us in various ways. When we come into a relationship with Jesus. Our hearts are changed, which should be evidenced by the way we live.
. . . let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
— Romans 13:11
. . . put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
— Ephesians 4:21-31
Our conduct does not save us, but it does provide a straight and unhindered path for the Lord to come in and do the work of transformation in us.
. . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.
— Philippians 2:12-13
Also, the changing of our behavior from sin to righteousness is evidence of our faith.
Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
— James 2:18
The Threshing Floor—Subjection to Santification
The next two instructions are very related in that they have to do with subjection and submission. The first of these final two is that Naomi tells Ruth.
. . . go down to the threshing floor.
— Ruth 3:3
A threshing floor in the Bible was a place where grain was separated from the useless waste material. It was a refining process. Threshing was most commonly associated with judgment and separating good and bad. In Matthew Chapter three, John the Baptist is describing the work that Jesus would do in us and with all whom He created by the power of His Holy Spirit.
. . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
— Matthew 3:12
I invite you not to recoil from this idea of judgment. It is not a bad thing—quite the opposite. Most of us have spent a good portion of our lives trying not to feel judged, and our first instinct is most generally to try to squirm off from underneath it. May I suggest that voluntarily subjecting ourselves to God's judgment can be the most liberating thing we ever do? Especially with the consideration that Christ bore the punishment part of that judgment on Himself.
The Psalmist invites God to do this work in Him. He doesn't run from it.
Examine me, God! Look at my heart! Put me to the test! Know my anxious thoughts! Look to see if there is any idolatrous way in me, then lead me on the eternal path!
— Psalm 139
He's a Safe Place to Land
This thought is very reminiscent of Jesus' discussion with the woman at the well in John chapter four. The woman squirms a bit as Jesus exposes the fact that she has had five husbands, and the one that she was living with wasn't her husband. She, interestingly, shifts the focus of the conversation to what is proper worship. It is a genius move on the part of Jesus to address her behavior, considering that the conversation exposed the real problem, which concerned who she worshiped.
"It is good for us to be told the worst."
— Matthew Henry
Exposure is good because we can trust that our Father in heaven provided us a Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. He has our very best interest at heart, and the purpose of dealing with God in terms of exposure is not for condemnation, which Christ bore Himself, but is instead intended to save us.
God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
— John 3:17
The word "sanctify" means to set apart and separate from the rest for a particular purpose. This separation is what the Lord does with and in us through the winnowing process.
Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
— Titus 2:13-14
Might we let Him do that perfect work in us that sets us apart for His exclusive use and purpose?
. . . you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
— I Peter 2:9
At His Feet—Submission
When viewed from above, the Old Testament tabernacle structure was in the shape of a cross. The entrance to this structure would be situated at the foot of the cross. This position depicts for us that place of submission.
In terms of judgment and subjection, it is in submission to Him that we humbly realize our sin's actual cost and weight and the priceless gift of the one who bore the judgment in our place. By placing ourselves at His feet, we entrust ourselves to His will.
"Ruth took up her position at his feet, the place of submission and waited . . . There was no hesitation in the response of Boaz. Ruth could let go of her fears for no rebuke was forthcoming. Instead, she received a blessing and acceptance as a daughter in the family. No longer a stranger and a foreigner."
— IVP New Bible commentary
Might we humbly submit ourselves and bow before the foot of the cross and entrust ourselves to His perfect, cleansing, and love-filled judgment.
Jesus humbly came and showed us the way. Let us follow Him.
The Covering of Covenant
Ruth then makes a request of Boaz that may seem culturally odd to us, in that she asks him to cover her with the corner of his garment.
. . . Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”
— Ruth 3:9
Under the Shadow of His Wings
Boaz understands that she is making a request to be covered by him and placed under the canopy of his provision and protection. According to Criswell Study Bible notes:
. . . wing is an emblem of protection as with young fowls which run under wings of their mothers to escape birds of prey. It is customary for a Jewish husband to cover his new wife with the end of his tallith (prayer shawl) to signify that she is under his protection. (Ezek. 16;8-14) Ruth is asking Boaz to accept his responsibility as kinsman and take her as a wife.
In Ruth 2:12, Boaz uses the same concept to describe Ruth coming to the Lord and His people as a place of refuge. This idea of refuge is a covenant concept where the privileges and protection are only available to those who qualify through relationship as described in covenantal and marital terms. The prophet Ezekiel communicates this in the context of the relationship between God and His people.
. . . I spread My wing over you and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine,” says the Lord God.
— Ezekiel 16:8
Ruth was seeking covenant provision and protection from Boaz, and the concept from 2:12 becomes realized and animated for us in this working relationship.
"Those who by faith come under the wings of the divine grace may be sure of a full recompense of reward for their so doing. The Jews describe a convert to be one who is gathered under the wings of the divine majesty"
— Matthew Henry
A Resurrection from the Dead
"She left the threshing-floor, bearing to her mother the gift of her kinsman . . . that her hope concerning the dead and the living would be realized."
— Alfred Edersheim
Ruth's hoped that her husband's name and family would be resurrected.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
— I Peter 1:3
Isn't that what is at the core of our beings, and we are desirous of—a life that is resurrected from the dead and to live eternally with Him?
I have seen the God-given task with which the sons of men are to be occupied. He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts.
— Ecclesiastes 3:10-11
Six Measures of Barley
The six measures of barley Ruth received is significant as it concerns the concept of rest in a relationship. Alfred Edersheim compares the six measures with the six days of work and then the Sabbath rest.
"symbolism in the number six of the measures of barley which Ruth brought with her, as if days of work and toil were done, and "rest" about to be granted."
Our rest is found in a relationship with God alone.
For we who have believed do enter that rest . . . There remains therefore a rest for the people of God.
— Hebrews 4:1,9
The gift was also one of great abundance.
"Boaz gave Ruth as large a gift as she could carry."
— IVP Bible Commentary
As with the "Prodigal Son," she is welcomed with more abundance than she could have imagined.
. . . to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.
— Ephesians 3:20
Chapter three ends with a bit of tension. Before Boaz can accept the responsibility of redeeming Ruth, the proposal must first be presented to one who is more nearly related than himself.
Ruth returns and presents the generous gift Boaz had given her to Naomi.
Then she told her all that the man had done for her. 17 And she said, “These six ephahs of barley he gave me; for he said to me, ‘Do not go empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ”
— Ruth 3:17-18
The gift was evidence of Boaz's willingness to fulfill the role of redeemer.
“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
This verse so profoundly speaks to us in all of our uneasiness concerning what we have entrusted to our Savior and Redeemer's care.
For further study on Ruth, please visit The Book of Ruth . . . And They Lived Happily Ever After. It will be the most romantic part of this story where Boaz, in a sense, fights for her to be his.
The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace.
— Exodus 14:14
As we renew our minds to His Will and His Word, as we pray and seek His face, as we conform our behavior to His ways, as we subject and submit to Him fully, we can be rest-assured our Hero and Redeemer, The Lord Jesus Christ, fights for us!
. . . having done all, to stand.
— Ephesians 6:13
. . . the battle is not yours but God's.
— II Chronicles 20:15
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