The story begins in chapter one with the basics of the back-story; the plot dilemma is established. There are three primary characters – the Widow Naomi, the Moabite Widow Ruth, and the Kinsman-Redeemer Boaz. Each one exemplifies the quality of loving kindness, loyalty, and faithfulness in the story. The last sentence of the first chapter foreshadows the coming season of harvest, plenty, and new life. The last three chapters of the story is spent on the telling of the redemption of the land, the lineage, and the household.
Bethlehem (Ruth 1.1-2). The story begins with a couple named Elimelek and Naomi from the little town of Bethlehem in Judah who had two sons – Mahlon and Kilion. They were Israelites from the tribe of Ephraim who lived during the days of the judges.
Famine, Death and Barrenness (Ruth 1.2-5). There came a great famine in the land so Elimelek decided to move his family across the Dead Sea to the land of their enemies in Moab, the descendents of Lot. Naomi’s husband died, and their two sons married Moabite women – Orpah and Ruth. After 10 years, Naomi’s sons died and she was left to fend for herself in a foreign land. Most likely the women were barren and childless because there is no discussion of grandchildren until later in the story.
Decisions to let go (Ruth 1.6). When Naomi heard that the Lord had come to the aid of his people, Naomi packed her bags and headed for home in Bethlehem of Judah. She had to release the memories of over 10 years of life – the home she and her family had forged as well as the burial site of her husband and sons to the land of Moab.
Key Characteristic (Ruth 1.7-13). After beginning the journey home, Naomi realized that she had to release her two daughter-in-laws so she sent them home to their people. The two women are commended for their behavior toward their husbands and Naomi, their mother-in-law. The word used is “kindness” but if we do not search the Scriptures we will miss the fullness of the meaning of this characteristic in the story. It is the Hebrew word hesed means loving kindness, loyalty, and faithfulness given of one’s own free will beyond the covenant expectations. It is the very nature and character of God himself expressed in mercy within the context of a relationship whether angels coming to the aid of Lot (Genesis 19) or the joining of Rebekah to Isaac (Genesis). God is often times understood to express his loving kindness because of his covenant with his people, a promise to keep the relationship going on his part no matter how we choose to behave toward him in the relationship.
However, Ruth refused to leave Naomi and clung to her (Ruth 1.14). The word “cling to” is the Hebrew word debak. It is used in the story of Adam and Eve… “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Gen. 2.24). Ruth proclaims her commitment to Naomi as a continuing marital vow that has joined her heart-to-heart with her mother-in-law. There is no indication as to whether Ruth’s family was of ill repute. We only know that Ruth had this amazing love commitment toward her husband and his mother. Ruth’s commitment was unto death.
Welcoming in Bethlehem. After arriving in Bethlehem, it seems that Naomi is welcomed with open arms and her daughter-in-law Ruth is accepted into the community as well (Ruth 1.19). The text says that the community was “stirred” at Naomi’s return unexpected home.
Bitter Response. But Naomi is quick to point out her deep bitterness at the loss of her family. Naomi had much to heal from. The storyteller tells us that the Almighty has made her very bitter through her suffering (Ruth 1.20-21).
Feed the Hungry. Ruth begins her role of caretaker for Naomi upon their arrival – gleaning grain behind the harvesters. Hope returns to the women in the story as food is plentiful and the laws of the land are merciful to the women.
Hope for the Future. The whole story turns as hope begins to fill Naomi at the prospect of Ruth’s life being restored at the hands of a merciful kinsman redeemer. The restoration was – land, household, and lineage. It is the restoration of a place, a people, process, provision, protection, prospect, and potential.
Role of the Kinsman Redeemer. The last three chapters are spent on the redemption or restoration of the family land, lineage, and household. Redemption came at a high price. The high price of redemption was the threat to one’s on livelihood. The Hebrew word for guardian-redeemer is go’el meaning the one who would by law purchase the land of a deceased relative with the obligation to ensure an heir the deceased widow. To redeem another’s property could threaten the well-being of one’s own land, household, and lineage (Ruth 4.6).
The land was the only means of survival – it was the family business. And in this tribal culture first-born males were the chosen descendents to inherit the property (Ruth 4.9-10). It was God’s merciful law to buy back the land. Mercy was built into God’s law for the Hebrew people. A household was the only means of protection. It was a place to rest their heads at night in peace from the wilderness and bandits. The lineage of a people – their name in history – was at risk of being wiped out. First-born males continued the family name and received a double portion from their father to make sure the survival of the family.
In many ways this is a birth narrative story of a baby boy who redeems a family from brink of extinction – he inherits the land, the household, and continues the family name. At the conclusion of the story we read the genealogy which points us to King David whose family would rule Israel forever. This baby, Obed, is included in lineage of the last kinsman redeemer, Jesus.
Jesus our Kinsman-Redeemer. Like Boaz who bought back the land, the widow’s inheritance, and her right to have a family, Jesus purchases all of humanity and gives us the opportunity to be adopted into the family of faith with an inheritance of a new name, a new family, and a new place to live. He fulfilled the law requirements to purchase us with his blood. It cost him his very life and his own earthly family tree. Jesus provides for us a household of faith where we can find rest from the troubles of this life. Jesus provides us a new family lineage that places among the esteemed of the faithful. He provides us with a land to call our own – a new heaven and a new earth are our inheritance.
Here in Bethlehem the story of redemption is played out with a gentile being grafted into the family of God’s people. And, here in Bethlehem Jesus would one day be born – the greatest Kinsman-Redeemer of all time. God has provided through Jesus a place for us to call home… a household that offers protection it times of trouble and provision in times of need… and a family we can call our own. The church is a glimpse of our inheritance that will be ours in heaven.
If our hearts have left the community of faith, we have the hope of returning home. If we have experienced the suffering of the loss of a loved one, we have hope of God’s unfailing love to restore us to new life. If we have lost hope in our family having a future because of brokenness, God opens pathways to restoration as only he can. If we long for protection and provision, God has given us the opportunity for a church family. Here in the place we call church we can experience the blessing of redemption.
The world around us longs for redemption as only Jesus can give. Yesterday we attended a children’s ministry training. The statistics we heard lead us to provide the opportunity for those in our community to experience the richness of loving kindness that you and I have found in the Body of Christ. There are many hurting people who struggle to connect to the culture of our church communities. Church is a place where those who have been saved understand as a way to hear from God, but hurting families struggle to hear from God through our welcoming attitudes and willingness to join them in their struggles.
When we look at the story of Ruth we can understand how the kinsman-redeemer provided – a place to call home, provision in time of need, protection in times of troubled, hope in times of despair, rest from the journey, and a faith family friendships in times of grief and loss. The community we call church provides the same. Join us in church next Sunday!