"...one of our family redeemers." Ruth 2:20c
In the days when Judges ruled the nation of Israel, there was a man named Elimelech who, because of a severe drought, left his home to live in a region east of Israel. He took his wife, Naomi, and his two sons. They were able to establish a life for themselves, though Elimelech died at some point, leaving his wife and two sons to carry on. The sons married Moabite women, but ten years later they died. (Ruth 1:1-5)
The Moabites were descendents of Moab, the son of Lot and great-nephew of Abraham. Moab was the result of Lot's incestuous relationship with one of his daughters who thought all civilization had been destroyed (remember, she had to flee with her parents and sister when Sodom and Gomorrah were annihilated). (Genesis 19:30-36) The Moabites, then, were related to the Jews, though seen as corrupt in origin and religious practice - though there have been discoveries that confirm the culture could write in Hebrew.
One of the Moabite wives was named Ruth. Through her life, God writes a wonderful story which reflects devotion, love, sacrifice, blessing, and redemption. You see, after the father and two sons had died, Naomi advised the young women to return to their mothers and seek out a new life for themselves. She must have loved them deeply for the concern she had for their future (knowing she could not provide for them). In fact, the story records a moment when she kissed them good-bye and they all three broke down and wept. (Ruth 1:8-9)
At first Naomi's daughters-in-law would not hear of it. They obviously loved her as they stated their desire to return to Judah with their beloved mother-in-law. (1:10) However, Naomi restated her reasons for the young women to return to their homes. One of them kissed her and departed for home. Ruth, however, was committed to the family she had grown to love, and she replied with one of the most memorable passages in scripture:
"Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people; and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!" (1:16-18)
Once they had returned to Judah, in the town of Bethlehem (you may have heard of this town before, as it is the birthplace of Christ, the Redeemer of mankind), Ruth took the initiative to glean in the barley fields, as it was at the beginning of the barley harvest. (1:22-2:2) Gleaning was most often done by the poor or destitute, who had to first get permission from the landowner to enter the property and work in the sections of the fields that had already been harvested. It was back-breaking work that required attention to detail in search for those stalks and fallen grains left behind by the harvesters. It usually took an entire day just to get enough for one person's daily meal.
Now, in order to understand the rest of the story, it is necessary to know the Hebrew culture of that day. You see, the kinsmen redeemer (in Hebrew, the Goel), was established in Levitical law to provide for women in the nation whose husbands had died. It was an effort to sustain the family inheritance as well as to provide a family heir if there was none. (For a more thorough understanding of this practice, go to this link that will give a short description with annotations: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/kinsman-redeemer.html)
As it happened, Ruth ventured into the field of a certain man named Boaz, who just "happened" to be a relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech. (2:3) In this account, the first recorded words out of Boaz's mouth were another simple five word phrase: "The Lord be with you!" Of course, it may have been a cultural norm to greet people in this manner throughout Israel, though it is significant to see Boaz as more than just the words he spoke.... he practiced what he preached. Boaz inquired about the new face in his fields and learned of the sad news brought back by Naomi and Ruth. He showed great benevolence to Ruth. In fact, he immediately approached her and informed her she would not have to go to any other fields, and to follow the young women harvesters (giving her a fresher yield). He also warned the young men not to harass her in any way. He even gave her 'carte blanche' authority to his workers' water! (2:8-9)
Ruth worked all day that first day, not knowing Boaz had arranged for his workers to leave extra behind for her gleaning, filling her basket! (2:17-18) She took it home to Naomi, telling her of the day's events. Upon seeing the great supply, Naomi remarked, "May the Lord bless him!" Naomi explained to Ruth that Boaz was one of her deceased husband's closest relatives, describing him with today's five simple words, "...one of our family redeemers."
So, you see, a story of bitter disappointment became God's story of devotion, love, and sacrifice displayed by a loving daughter-in-law; and a story of blessing and redemption to her for her faithfulness and courage. Ruth's story should remind us that God is working all things together for good to those who love God, and Ruth made the commitment to follow the God of Israel when she committed her heart and life to Ruth. (Romans 8:28)
Is there a family redeemer in your family? What opportunity is there for God to use you in a similar way as he did with Boaz? What traits can we learn from the life of Ruth in relating to our in-laws?
Thanking God for our Great Redeemer!