Going Against the Grain: the Courage of Ruth
by Stephanie Frelone
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The Book Of Ruth is set during the time of the judges (1380-1050 BC) where Israel was without a king and "everyone did as he saw fit" (Judges 21:25). This was a period of violence, apostasy and anarchy. In a time where murder and idolatry was the social norm, it would seem that other than the judges of Israel, there was no one that walked faithfully with the LORD. Ruth, however, tells a different story. It stands out against the Book of Judges like a lighthouse in a sea of corruption. It is the story of an unlikely worshipper of the living God who chose to trust Him in spite of circumstances. Within the short, four chapter Book is an amazing testimony of a simple woman whose courage caught the attention of a kinsman-redeemer, and helped pave the way for the ultimate Redeemer: Jesus Christ.
In the first chapter of Ruth, a famine in the land of Israel drives a man named Elimilech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Kilion to the land of Moab. Elimilech died and his two sons married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. Ten years later, Mahlon and Kilion died as well, leaving a trio of widows left to fend for themselves. After preparing to leave Moab to return to Judah, Naomi attempted to persuade her daughters-in-law to return to the home of their mothers. While Orpah was convinced and said a tearful farewell, Ruth clung to her mother-in-law, declaring, "Where you go I will go, where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God" (Ruth 1:16). Naomi relented and the two of them made their way to Bethlehem.
In the second chapter, Ruth decided to go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain as a means of providing for her mother-in-law and herself. While working in the fields she was noticed by Boaz, the owner of the field who just happened to be a relative of her dead husband. Being a kind-hearted man, Boaz took Ruth under his protection by telling her to work alongside his servant girls and giving the other men in the field strict orders not to harm her. He also went over and above the principle of common courtesty by inviting her to eat with him at mealtme. She returned to Naomi with plenty of barley--much more than she had expected to gather. When told of the kind treatment she had received from Boaz, Naomi revealed that he was, in fact, a kinsman-redeemer.
In chapter three, Naomi exhorted Ruth to appeal to Boaz to marry her, based on the fact that he was her kinsman-redeemer. This was in accordance with Jewish law that stated that if a widow did not have a brother-n-law that was willing to marry her, the nearest relative of the dead husband could marry her and thus carry on the name of the deceased (Deuteronomy 25:5-10; Ruth 4:5-10). Carefully following Naomi's instructions, Ruth put on her best clothes and went to the threshing floor, where Boaz had been eating and drinking. As he slept, she uncovered his feet, and lay down. When he awoke and discovered her, Ruth appealed to him to marry her as a kinsman-redeemer. Flattered by her request, Boaz stated that although there was a kinsman-redeemer nearer than he, he would marry her if the other man did not want to. The next morning he went her home with six measures of barley, insisting that she not go back to her mother-in-law empty handed.
In the final chapter, the focus shifts from Ruth to Boaz as he goes to the town gate to talk to the kinsman-redeemer. He cleverly begins the discourse by telling his relative of Naomi's land, which is up for sale. He failed to mention that buying the land would mean acquiring Ruth the Moabitess as a wife until after the man had agreed to buy the land. Upon hearing of that stipulation, the kinsman-redeemer declined the offer, not wanting to endager his own estate by taking Ruth as a wife. Boaz and his relative agreed that Boaz himself would acquire the property and the widow and, happy with that transaction, he took Ruth as a wife. Not long after, the LORD enabled Ruth to conceive and she gave birth to a son named Obed, who was the grandfather of King David, and an anscestor of Jesus Christ.
One of the most outstanding character traits of Ruth is her courage in the face of tough situations. This is first seen in the fact that she was willing to abandon her homeland and heritage in order to go to Bethlehem with Naomi. As a Gentile "dog," she knew that she was not choosing to live an easy life. Her home country was NOT on good terms with Israel. Founded on account of incest (Genesis 19:37), the nation had a heistory of bad dealings with the Israelites (Numbers 25, Judges 3:12-31). Israel was forbidden by Mosaic Law to have any dealings with the Israelites (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). However, in spite of all the hostility she was bound to face, Ruth was determined to make Israel her home and the LORD her God.
Her courage is also seen in the initiative she took. Once she had settled in Bethlehem with Naomi, she did not waste any time bemoaning her situation. Instead, she went to the fields to pick leftover grain. Being a foreigner as well as a woman, she had two strikes against her as she went to work in the fields amongst strange men. There was no guarantee that she would not be harmed by the workers, especially taking into consideration the dark and depraved time period in which she lived. Her sacrificial courage was rewarded when she found favor in the eyes of Boaz who ordered his men not to touch her and to also leave some extra grain for her.
Finally, she showed exemplary courage in her willingness to obey her mother-in-law's advice to go to Boaz on the threshing floor. How her heart must have pounded wildly as she approached the sleeping man! It was no small thing for a Gentile woman to ask a Hebrew man to marry her. She did this, however, not for her own merit, but to ensure that Naomi would be provided for. She was willing to risk rejection and having her own reputation marred to make sure that her mother-in-law was taken care of. She was most aptly named "Ruth" as this name means "female friend." Her courage enabled her to demonstrate this identiy over and over throughout the Book.
In Matthew 1:5, Ruth is listed in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, one of only five women whose names are mentioned. Ruth, a young, courageous Moabite woman, probably did not imagine the impact her faith and courage would have on history and eternity. She may not have even recognized the courage that God had given her. Her couraged was honored and as a result, she not only received a husband to provide for Naomi and herself, she received a place in a kingly lineage that paved the way for the King of Kings. Her courage in the midst of adversity has encouraged believers throughout the centuries and will continue to do so.
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