By Jack Kelley
As Ruth might have told it today…
My name is Ruth. The story I’m about to tell you is true. All of its characters are real people who really did the things I’ll describe. I mention this at the outset because over the generations my story has so clearly predicted the relationships between Israel, the Church, and the Messiah that many who study it forget that it really happened. That fact that my story was once included among the books of the Prophets of Israel and even today is read in synagogues around the world on Pentecost has added to its mystique. Like several other biblical events, it’s a true story that can also be viewed allegorically. Here’s how it happened.
I was a Princess, the great grand daughter of King Eglon of Moab (Jordan to you) when Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons moved across the river from Israel into our country. Elimelech had been the Mayor of Bethlehem, a small town in southern Israel when a protracted famine there forced them to move. It was just a couple of days walk from Israel to Moab, but our country wasn’t suffering food shortages the way they were. I heard that their God was disciplining them for their disobedience.
At first, they thought their visit to Moab would be a short one, but when Elimelech died and then Kilion and Mahlon, their two sons, both married Moabite women (I was one of them, my friend Orpah was the other) it seemed they were here to stay.
Ten years after they first came to live among us, both of Naomi’s sons also died leaving Naomi, Orpah, and me all widows. I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but in my day, widows had no standing in the community and were totally dependent upon the good will of their families and friends for survival. In Israel, it was the duty of the priests to look after widows and orphans (Deut. 14:28-29), but there was no such provision in Moab. So Naomi decided to move back to Bethlehem, where the famine had ended, and hope for the best. She encouraged Orpah and me to find new husbands among the Moabite men to care for us since we were still young enough to do so.
After much discussion and shedding of tears, Orpah agreed to return to her family home and look for a new husband but I, having come to know the God of Israel through Naomi, just couldn’t bear to leave her. “Where you go I will go,” I told her, “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 anything but death separates you and me.” So I went with Naomi to Bethlehem.
We arrived in Bethlehem, two rag-tag penniless widows, just as the barley harvest was beginning. Several people recognized her, saying, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she lamented, “Call me Mara. For the Almighty has made my life bitter. I went away full but have returned empty.” (Naomi means pleasant in Hebrew, while Mara means bitter.) On that sad note, Naomi had returned home.
Remember, I told you Naomi’s husband had been prominent in Bethlehem. It seems he had brothers who had remained there through the famine, and one of them had survived the hard times and recovered very nicely. His name was Boaz. He and his brothers were the sons of Rahab, the woman from Jericho who Joshua had rescued when the Israelites conquered that city, years earlier. Boaz was a man of standing among the elders of Bethlehem, with fields of barley ready for harvest.
One of the ways in which the indigent were provided for in Israel was to leave the corners of the fields untouched as the harvesters went through reaping the grain (Lev. 19:9). These triangular corner patches, plus any other areas the harvesters missed on their single pass through the fields (they were also forbidden from making a second pass) were left for widows and orphans like Naomi and me to harvest for ourselves. So the day after we arrived I went into the fields to get us some food.
As it happened (the Rabbis say that coincidence is not a kosher word) I wound up in the fields of Boaz, and being a young and attractive woman I soon came to his notice. When he learned I had just arrived with Naomi, he called me over, instructing me to watch his servant girls and learn from them. He told me to glean only from his fields where he had ordered the harvesters not to bother me. Then he offered me a drink of water from the supply he had brought for his workers.
Not yet knowing who he was, I asked how I had found such favor with him. He said he had heard of my kindness toward Naomi and was repaying my acts of kindness with some of his own. Then he blessed me, as was the custom of the day, and at mealtime gave me some lunch. Later, I learned that he even told his reapers to miss some sheaves on purpose so I’d have more to harvest for Naomi and myself. That night I brought home so much grain Naomi couldn’t help wonder whose fields I ‘d been working in. When I told her it was Boaz, she began praising both the Lord and him, telling me that he was not only a relative but one of our kinsman-redeemers as well.
This was another Jewish provision that was new to me. In Israel, if a man has a debt he can’t pay and has to sell his property, his next of kin is responsible to redeem it for him—hence the term kinsman redeemer (Lev 25:25). This way, the property given to each family when they first came into the Promised Land remains in the family. Since Boaz was one of Elimelech’s brothers, he was a kinsman redeemer for Naomi, responsible for helping her in her time of need.
But there was another even stranger law involving the kinsman redeemer that would benefit us, and when Naomi told me about that one, I nearly passed out. Also designed to help preserve the chain of inheritance, it’s called the Leverite Marriage Law and goes like this. If a married man dies without bearing children, his brother is supposed to marry the widow and make her pregnant, in effect giving the dead brother an heir (Deut. 25:5-6). If there isn’t a brother, then the responsibility falls to the deceased’s father or HIS brother. It wasn’t mandatory to do this, but it was a family disgrace to refuse. In both cases then, the kinsman redeemer had to be qualified, (only a next of kin was acceptable) capable (he had to have the means), and willing (it was his choice) to perform his obligation.
Since my husband, his brother, and his father, had all died leaving no children behind to inherit the family land, it appeared that Boaz, as my husband’s close relative, also had responsibilities to me under the Leverite Marriage law. Even though I’m not Jewish, their laws also applied to Gentiles living among them, especially those who had married Jewish men. The idea of marrying a prominent man like Boaz appealed to me, and he had obviously found me attractive as well.
Wow! One day I’m a destitute widow in mourning, a stranger in a strange country. The next I’m considering the possibilities of becoming the wife of a wealthy landowner. Things were getting interesting.
Since my time of mourning for my dead husband was at an end, Naomi helped me get bathed, perfumed and dressed in my best clothing. She convinced me to visit Boaz at the threshing floor where he was staying during the harvest to help guard his grain against theft. But she cautioned me to stay hidden until he had finished eating and drinking and had fallen asleep. Then I was to uncover his feet and lie down near him. In the middle of the night when his uncovered feet got cold he would wake up and see me. Naomi told me what to ask of him then, and said I should do whatever he said. This way no one else would see me there.
It happened just as she had planned, and when Boaz woke up, he was startled to find a woman there watching him. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant, Ruth,” I replied, “And since you are a kinsman-redeemer, spread the corner of your garment over me.” I meant nothing improper by this. Spreading his garment over me was to symbolize that he was taking me under his protection according to the provisions of the Leverite Marriage Law.
By now he was shocked and not a little flattered. He said that my kindness was overwhelming, implying that someone of my young age and beauty could have my pick of suitors, and that in choosing him I had paid him great honor. But there was a slight problem. The law required the closest relative to act as kinsman redeemer. Another brother was actually a closer kinsman and therefore responsible to redeem us. This brother had to refuse and thereby disgrace himself before Boaz could become our kinsman redeemer.
Early in the morning, after assuring me he would do all he could, Boaz sent me home with more grain. When Naomi saw the grain, she knew Boaz was still looking out for us and would not rest until he had settled the matter once and for all.
Meanwhile, Boaz went to the center of town and waited until the closer kinsman passed by. Gathering ten of the elders together in an impromptu court, Boaz explained to his brother the nature of the problem and asked him to redeem Naomi’s land by paying her debts. When the brother agreed, Boaz informed him that in doing so, he also had to marry me to maintain my dead husband’s estate. (Women normally couldn’t inherit land in Israel, so my husband was Elimelech’s legal heir, not Naomi. Since he died childless, there was no heir for the family land even after it was redeemed. The Leverite Marriage provisions were also required, and that’s why the kinsman redeemer had to marry me.) When Boaz told him that, the brother declined, saying it would endanger his own estate.
Immediately, Boaz informed the elders that he himself would redeem Naomi’s land and marry me. And so it was. That very day I became his wife, and not long afterward I conceived and bore him a son, who would become my dead husband’s heir and preserve the property of Elimelech and Naomi according to the law. We named our son Obed, and when he grew up, he became the father of Jesse who became the father of King David. When King David’s son Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, he named one of the two bronze pillars at its entrance after his great-great grandfather Boaz.
28 generations later, our fields were visited by a host of heavenly angels announcing the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds gathered there—all because Joshua had saved Rahab, and her son Boaz had married me, making Bethlehem the birth place of King David and requiring Joseph and Mary to journey there to be counted in a Roman census. And now when you review the Messiah’s genealogy, you’ll find my name there along with four other women, Rahab, my husband’s mother, Tamar mother of Perez, Bathsheba mother of King Solomon, and Mary mother of our Lord (Matt 1:1-16), the only women so honored.
Explain The Allegory, Please
First, let’s summarize the story. As a consequence of national disobedience, Naomi was driven from her home to dwell among the Moabites. Because of that disobedience, I eventually came to know the God of Israel. Though Naomi had left her home full, she later returned empty, alone, and impoverished, her only companion me, a gentile who had been grafted into her family through marriage. After I was introduced to him by an unnamed servant, Boaz gave me gifts, blessed me, relieved my thirst and fed me, though I had done nothing to prosper him. Naomi also benefited from the blessings I received from Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer. And in the process of paying Naomi’s debts and redeeming her land, Boaz took me, a Gentile, as his bride and our descendants became kings.
Now put Israel in the place of Naomi, the Church in place of me, and our Messiah in place of Boaz and read the summary again. As a consequence of national disobedience, Israel was driven from her land to dwell among the Gentiles. Because of that disobedience, the gentiles came to know the God of Israel. Though Israel had left the land full, she later returned empty, alone, and impoverished, her only spiritual companion the Gentile church who had been grafted into her family through marriage. After the Church is introduced to the Messiah, by the Holy Spirit Who remains unnamed, He gives her gifts, blesses her, relieves her thirst and feeds her, though she has done nothing to prosper Him. Israel also benefits from the blessings the Church receives from the Messiah, her kinsman-redeemer. And in the process of paying Israel’s debts and redeeming her land, the Messiah takes the Church, a Gentile, as His bride and their descendants become kings.
What About The Closer Kinsman?
Some say the close kinsman represents Adam, unable to redeem the land he lost to Satan (Planet Earth) and restore the inheritance of his progeny. Adam was created in God’s image, but after the fall, all his descendants were made in Adam’s image, inheriting his sin nature, making Adam our closer kinsman. Others say he represents organized religion, similarly impotent. In either case, you can see the problem. Adam would probably be willing to save us, but infected with sin himself, he can’t meet the standard. After all, God’s law requires the shedding of innocent blood to redeem what sinful man has lost and restore our inheritance. And organized religion even with all its systems of “righteous” works simply cannot redeem anyone, being neither kinsman nor innocent. And therein lies the dilemma. There just wasn’t an innocent man to be found, for all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. To resolve this dilemma without breaking His own laws, God Himself had to become a man, born of a woman and therefore kin to mankind. Then He had to offer His own blood since only He is sinless.
But there’s something here that should cause you to really stop and think. You can see God having the capability of becoming a man to redeem mankind and of course being God, He’s sinless and has the means to redeem us. But remember, it was the kinsman redeemer’s choice. He could refuse. Our God had the DESIRE to save us. He was WILLING to exchange His life for ours. For God so LOVED us that He gave His only Son, that whoever would believe in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. Through faith in the Son, we become children of the Father and inherit eternal life.
No wonder my story has been called The Romance of Redemption.