In our continued study of the Women in Christ‘s genealogy, today we come to Ruth the Foreign Woman found in the book of Ruth 1:1-4:22. Remember, we are seeking answers to the question why Matthew included five women in his genealogy of Christ because as we noted, it was not customary for Jews to include women in their records. Even more remarkable is the fact that Matthew included some women who had disreputable histories.
Summary About Ruth: She was a foreigner from the land of Moab. She was the widow of a Jew. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, also lived in Moab. Naomi journeyed to Israel after her family died. Ruth’s devotion was extraordinary. She left her own country to follow Naomi. While in Israel, Ruth was married to Boaz, one of Naomi’s relatives. Ruth later became the mother of Obed, the grandfather of David the King.
Ruth Story in detail: Ruth was born a foreigner. Not only that, she was a Moabite. According to Mosaic law, Israel was not to associate with the inhabitants of Moab (Deuteronomy 7:3; 23:3). It is therefore, remarkable that God saw fit to let this foreign woman become part of the bloodline of Jesus Christ, making her part of the Christmas story.
You can find the story of Ruth in the book of the Bible that bears her name. Hers is a great love story, not only between a man and woman, but between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. I encourage you to read it for yourself, but I will give you the highlights.
Naomi had left Israel with her family during a famine to live in the neighbouring country of Moab. While there, her sons married women of Moab. Naomi’s husband died…then her sons died. She was left alone with no family other than her daughters-in-law. In her despair, Naomi decided to move back to her home in Bethlehem. When she went to leave, the wives of her sons sought to join her. She encouraged them to turn back to their own families. One did. But one would not. Ruth begged Naomi to let her return with her.
The Bible shows us that somewhere along the line, Ruth had become a believer in the God of Israel. Ruth 1:16-17 states: 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. 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, Ruth joined Naomi and returned with her to Bethlehem, where a hard life awaited them. They were poor and had to work hard to eke out a living. Ruth loved Naomi and worked hard in the fields to supply for their needs. Everyone in Bethlehem saw Ruth’s hard work and concern for her mother-in-law (Ruth 2:11). Despite her ungodly heritage, Ruth became known as a virtuous woman.
Just as Ruth was concerned for Naomi, Naomi was just as concerned about Ruth. She wanted the best for her. When she noticed a budding respect between Ruth and Boaz, a long-lost relative that had shown kindness to Ruth by letting her glean in his fields, Naomi encouraged the match. (Note, part of the Hebrew law provided the landowners not harvest all their fields, but leave some grain for the poor and the foreigner to glean from so they could provided for themselves). Ruth, knowing that Boaz could provide for the aged Naomi, followed Naomi’s instructions to propose marriage to Boaz. Both ladies offer a beautiful portrait of selflessness. Each clearly wanted what was best for the other.
Now, don’t feel sorry for Boaz. He loved Ruth and jumped at the chance to marry her. And it appears from the Bible account that Ruth loved him too. They were married and had a baby, which was named Obed. Naomi was blessed by this child, having the opportunity to participate in his rearing. What a perfect end to the story!
But the story doesn’t really end here. Ruth was a woman of virtuous character. She married a man of virtuous character. The union of this noble couple continued the line of descendants who also loved God, leading up to the birth of the Christ Child on that first Christmas day.
The Character of Ruth
Ruth, the central character, is a symbol of friendship and fidelity as the meaning of the name implies. Although brought up in Moab on the other side of the river Jordan from Israel, she recognised the truth of Israel’s beliefs and she wanted to be a part of the hope of Israel, the people of God. Her declaration to her mother-in-law, when it was suggested that she return to the idolatry of Moab shows her allegiance to the God of Israel.
‘ 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.’ Ruth 1:16
She recognised that salvation is of the Jews, and like Abraham she showed her faith by leaving the land of her birth and her family ties, to become a follower of the God of Israel. Every follower of Christ has to emulate this example and get their priorities right.
‘And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life..’ Matthew 19:29
Ruth was indeed blessed for her faith and trust in God. Ruth showed not only fidelity in going to Israel with her mother-in-law but also humility and obedience. She went into the fields to glean according to the law and followed Naomi’s instructions.
Boaz, her kinsman recognised her virtues and befriends her, providing for her needs generously. Ruth followed the maidens of Boaz and worked to support her mother in law to the end of the harvest.
When the time came for the threshing of the grain Ruth prepared herself, and then went to lie down near Boaz. Boaz awoke at midnight, realised his duty to Ruth as the kinsman redeemer of her inheritance and promised to help her. The narrative concludes with Boaz declaring his purpose to the elders of the city and he legally married Ruth who bore him a son Obed. This son was the grandfather of King David so he was a royal prince of Israel. Naomi looked after her grandson and was comforted for the loss of her two sons.
It is a lovely story. The righteousness of Ruth is rewarded and there is a happy ending. However there is more to this book than the simple narrative. It is easy to recognise Boaz, the redeemer, as prefiguring the work of Christ. Ruth therefore represents the Gentile bride, justified through faith.
Boaz the Redeemer
Throughout the account there are many details that emphasise the relationship between Boaz and Christ. Boaz was a royal prince in the line of Judah and the Lord of the harvest. He exactly followed the law in every detail. He gave Ruth the water of life (Ruth 2:9) and promised her a reward. (Ruth 2:12) Like Christ to his disciples, Boaz gave Ruth bread and wine. (Ruth 2:14) In order to follow Boaz, Ruth had to separate from the rest of the women and she worked to the end of the harvest. Each of these aspects have a parallel in the disciples of Christ and are reflected in the parables like that of the sower, (Matthew 13:3-23 and vineyard. (Matthew 20:1-16) Ruth was purified with water and anointed (a type of baptism). She was judged to be a virtuous woman at midnight (Ruth 3:9-11) and Boaz redeemed her inheritance in the morning. Boaz paid the purchase price for the redemption of his bride, just as Christ paid the price for the redemption of the saints.
‘…Ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold But with the precious blood of Christ.’ 1Peter 1:18-19
These are a few of the details in the narrative that identify a beautiful type and point to the purpose of God in Christ. Boaz represents Jesus Christ and Ruth represents the bride of Christ, his followers.
So this simple story is not only historic but shows that God’s plan of salvation was determined from the beginning and can be seen throughout the Old Testament.
What about the other characters? Naomi represents the mother of Israel. She came from Bethlehem so we discern a link with Rachel who wept for her lost children and died at Bethlehem.
‘A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rachel, weeping for her children, refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not.” Jeremiah 31:15
Naomi lost her sons Mahion and Chilion whose names mean “sick” and “pining”. They were Jews who made alien marriages so were lost to Israel. But through the faith of Ruth, Naomi’s bitterness’ (Ruth 1:20) was turned to joy, just as the faithful remnant of Israel will rejoice at the coming of Christ and the saints. Just as the near kinsman in chapter 4 was unable to redeem Ruth’s inheritance so the Jews are unable to establish the Kingdom of God through the law. It required the work of Christ to redeem spiritual Israel and to raise up children of Abraham through faith.
‘Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; . . . for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband’ Galatians 4:27
In these things we see our own hopes. If we separate from the idols of the world and worship the God of Israel; if we are baptised into Christ and work in his vineyard to the end of the day; then when our Redeemer comes we, like Ruth, may be judged worthy of an inheritance in the Kingdom so soon to be established on the earth.