From Rags to Riches

Ruth 1:16 - But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God."

Read the whole book of Ruth.

A Cinderella story is always interesting and intriguing. The story is even more fascinating and attractive if we know that it's true. Most exciting of all is when the story comes right out of Scripture. Here the story is not only true, but it is told to us by God Himself. The book of Ruth in the Bible is an exciting rags-to-riches story. As we read this wonderful little narrative let us visualize ourselves as God's children sitting at the feet of our Heavenly Father and listening to Him tell the story to us.

The story of Ruth takes place during the period of the judges in Israel's history. Spiritual and moral conditions were not the greatest at this time. The nation of Israel had backslidden considerably since the days of the great leadership of Moses and Joshua, and now only periodically was a judge raised up by God to stem the downward spiral. We read that during the days of the judges, "everyone did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 17:6 and 21:25). It is against this dark background that the beautiful story of Ruth stands out in marked contrast--especially the main characters, Boaz and Ruth.

The focus of chapter 1 is the life-changing decision of Ruth. Ruth was from Moab--a Gentile, and an outsider to God's covenant blessings upon Israel. Ruth had married into a poor Hebrew family which had migrated to Moab. But her husband had died and she had no children. Ruth was certainly experiencing "the pits" for that time and culture--poor, bereaved and childless. When her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi, decided to return to Judah, Ruth was confronted with a major life-changing decision. Should she stay with her own people in her own country or burn her bridges behind her and go with Naomi to Israel? Ruth decided whole-heartedly to go to Israel.

The text above is Ruth's classic and inspiring statement of commitment at the time of her decision. Naturally speaking, it was much more logical for Ruth to stay in Moab. Opportunities for remarriage and family security were far greater there. For a Gentile girl to go to Judah with a poor old widow like Naomi held nothing but a rags-to-rags prospect. But Ruth was determined (1:18) to go against all these odds. Why? Because Ruth had come to put her trust in the God of Israel! Ruth loved Naomi, and she must have loved her own people as well, but it was the God of Naomi that made the difference (1:16). Ruth was confident that the Lord, in whom she had come to trust, would take care of her future.

The Lord calls us to make significant and crisis decisions, too. The choice to follow Christ, for example, was most important and may have been quite costly for some of us. To be estranged from family and ostracized by friends for the sake of Christ is not exactly the greatest feeling in the world. How much easier to be like Orpah in the story. Orpah was in the same situation as Ruth (1:4-5). Orpah started in the right direction (1:6-7). She was emotionally moved about the decision (1:9, 14), and said she was going to go all the way (1:10). But Orpah didn't! She went back to her people and country and gods (1:15). How true of many would-be followers of Christ today. The Lord also calls growing Christians to make Ruth-like decisions. Choosing a life of service for the Lord may result in having very little earthly wealth or security. To say "yes" to God's call to the foreign mission field may involve leaving family and friends. As in the case of Ruth, only the Lord Himself can give us the confidence and courage and faith that we need for making this kind of decision.

In chapter 2 we see the dedication of Ruth. That is, we see her dedication to the decision she had made to follow Naomi and "seek refuge under the wings of the Lord, the God of Israel" (2:12). As soon as Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, she went out to the fields and gleaned for herself and Naomi. Ruth had come to know that the God of Israel had graciously incorporated the "gleaning clause" into His law as a means of provision for poor people. Any person in need could always go into any field and harvest the leftovers. (See Leviticus 19:9-10 and Deuteronomy 24:19-21.) Gleaning was long and arduous toil, but Ruth never complained or wavered in the commitment she had made. Would we have been so dedicated? Many Christians have looked and sounded very dedicated at the altar calls for Christian service, but before long the "labor in the fields" determines those who are truly committed.

To fully appreciate the spiritual lessons to be found in Ruth's dedication, the place of Boaz in the story needs to be understood. Boaz was not only the wealthy landowner and prince of this Cinderella story--he was a "kinsman-redeemer". Just what this unique position involved will be explained shortly, but in summary it can be said that Boaz is a beautiful picture or illustration of the Lord Jesus Christ, who is our Kinsman-Redeemer. Thus the fields of Boaz where Ruth labored can represent the "field of the Lord" in this picture God has painted for us.

To glean in the field of the Lord is to be occupied with the interests of God and separated from the "fields of the world". As Boaz told Ruth not to glean in another field (2:8), so our Lord tells us not to be drawn away by the temporal values and snares of this world (2 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Timothy 2:4; 1 John 2:15). As Boaz promised Ruth provision and protection in his field (2:9), so our Lord promises to provide for us and protect us if we stay in His field (Hebrews 13:5-6). As Boaz served Ruth the fruit of his field which completely satisfied her (2:14), so our Lord ministers His Word to us--the food that alone can fully satisfy our souls (Jeremiah 15:16). As Boaz "sweetened" the rewards of Ruth's labor in his field (2:15-16), so our Lord richly rewards our active occupation with the interests of God (Matthew 6:33, 11:28-29; Luke 6:38). May we not only learn and appreciate these lessons of the field, but let us be dedicated gleaners and experience all these blessings from the Lord of the harvest.

In the last two chapters of the book our attention is drawn more and more to the devotion of Ruth to Boaz. It doesn't take much reading between the lines to realize that by the end of chapter 2, Ruth and Boaz are falling in love and that the devotion of Ruth is really a response to the love and kindness of Boaz. The actions of Ruth and Naomi in chapter 3 may appear at first to be a little strange and even questionable, but some background knowledge of the role of the kinsman-redeemer should clear up any misunderstanding. Certain stipulations of God's Law were designed to care for extended family and kin. According to Leviticus 25:25, when an individual became so poor that he had to sell or forfeit his property, a prosperous relative was to redeem or buy back the property for the poor family member. The Hebrew word that is used for this close relative is "goel" and is translated either as "redeem" or "relative" in the old Testament. This person is thus called a "kinsman-redeemer".

Another responsibility of a close relative is found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. If a husband died before having a male heir, then an unmarried brother of the deceased was to marry the widow and produce the first-born son in his brother's name. If there were no eligible brothers available, then the duty passed on to the closest eligible male relative. In Ruth's case there were no brothers available, and thus Boaz, as a close relative, had a responsibility towards Ruth as well as towards the family property which Naomi was forced to sell out of poverty. So Ruth's behavior in chapter 3 was not some indiscreet escapade, but rather her legally proper initiative to tell Boaz that she was willing for him to take on his responsibilities as kinsman-redeemer (3:9). Naomi knew that after the harvest party, Boaz, along with his servants, would be spending the night at the threshing floor in order to guard the winnowed grain. (See Judges 6:11.) Naomi's plan was just a sensible and logical (and also romantic!) way for Ruth to communicate her wishes to Boaz.

The honorable behavior of Boaz in response to the devotion of Ruth, as well as his noble actions towards the other close relative in chapter 4 point up the excellent character of Boaz, and remind us again of our own Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord Jesus. As the wealthy Boaz willingly bought back the lost property and married Ruth, the poor Gentile foreigner, so Christ in His love has recovered all our "lost property" and taken us poor "foreigners" to be His bride. (See Ephesians 2:12-13; 5:31-32.)

There were three prerequisites necessary for the kinsman-redeemer: he had to be a close relative, wealthy and willing. As our Kinsman-Redeemer, the Lord Jesus fulfills all three prerequisites perfectly. Is He a close relative? Hebrews 2:5-16 makes clear that the eternal Son of God took on humanity precisely so that He could become our Kinsman in order to redeem us. Is He a wealthy close relative? 1 Peter 1:18-19 emphasizes that only Jesus Christ had the means to pay the infinite price of redemption--a perfect life. Is He a wealthy and willing close relative? Mark 10:45 tells us that the Son of Man gave His life as a sacrifice in order to redeem us. What is our response? Like all Cinderella stories, the Book of Ruth has a happy ending. The rags-to-riches is emphasized at the end of chapter 4 where we learn that Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David. And when we realize that this poor woman from Moab is thus brought into the Messianic line (Matthew 1:5), we are further amazed at the riches of God's grace--grace that is still available to take sinners from rags to riches.
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