Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Messiah's Family Line

Ruth 1–4

If you were writing the history of the Messiah’s ancestors, you would probably have Jesus Christ descended from Israel’s blue-bloods—from the family that entered Canaan on the Mayflower and attended church without missing a Sunday from then on. But the Bible recounts less orthodox breeding, including a homegrown amateur prostitute named Tamar (Gen 38; Matt 1:3), a foreign professional prostitute named Rahab (Josh 2; Matt 1:5), and a questionable foreigner named Ruth (Ruth 4:18–22; Matt 1:5; see Deut 23:3).

Ruth in Moab

This story played out during the chaotic downward spiral “when the judges ruled in Israel.” Apparently Judah was suffering a time of divine judgment, because “a severe famine came upon the land” (Ruth 1:1a; see Lev 26; Deut 28). Even Bethlehem (“House of Bread”) had no food; so Elimelech1 left there and took his family southeast into Moab, which lay along the southeastern shores of the Dead Sea (1:1b–2). There his sons married and died, leaving behind childless widows, and leaving his own widow Naomi particularly bereft of hope.

About then years in Moab, Naomi heard, “the Lord has blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again” (1:5). So she told her two loyal Moabite daughters-in-law, “Go back to your mothers’ homes. And may the Lord reward you for your kindness to your husbands and me. May the Lord bless you with the security of marriage” (1:8–9). One daughter-in-law went home, but Ruth said no, “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” (1:16). And that last phrase was the key element of that commitment.

So Naomi took Ruth along, complaining, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty” (1:21). “Don’t call me Naomi (“Pleasant”)… instead call me Mara (“Bitter”) for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me” (1:20). She headed home empty and bitter.

Ruth in the Promised Land

Ruth in Boaz’s Fields 

When Naomi and Ruth got back to Naomi’s homeland, Ruth ended up gleaning behind harvesters in Boaz’s field. This was a provision for poor people (Lev 19:9; 23:22), and that’s what Naomi and Ruth were. But in that field, Ruth found the kind of favor that would move her from being “only a foreigner” (2:10), to being a servant (2:13; 3:9), to being “wife” (4:10), to being a matriarch in Israel’s royal line—to being a matriarch in the Messianic line. Boaz, a relative of Naomi’s former husband, had heard of this young Moabite lady’s loyalty to Naomi. He blessed Ruth for this familial loyalty, and he rightly interpreted this move as more than just family loyalty. The Moabite lady who had said, “your God will be my God” (1:16) had indeed “come to take refuge” under the wings of the Lord God of Israel (2:12). Rather than being empty, when she ate at Boaz’s table, “She ate all she wanted and still had some left over” (2:14). And so Naomi was no longer “empty”; “Ruth gave her the roasted grain that was left over from her meal” (2:18). When Ruth explained that it had come from Boaz, Naomi exclaimed, “May the Lord bless him!”; and she saw in Boaz the perfect family redeemer (2:20).

Ruth at Boaz’s Threshing Floor


Naomi was growing old and wanted to provide some security (“rest”) for Ruth (3:1). So she concocted an amazing high-risk plan to get Ruth and Boaz married (3:3–4). She told Ruth get yourself bathed, perfumed, and dressed and go visit Boaz. After he’s had plenty to eat and drink and dropped off to sleep, expose his legs then lay with him; he’ll wake up and…. Here’s where our imaginations run riot with romantic and perilous possibilities: Boaz, who would have been eating and had a little to drink, might wake up aflame with passion for the young woman laying with him. This could have sent Ruth home broken in body and spirit. Boaz, who was a righteous man, might wake up incensed to find a young Moabite woman of the night trying to seduce him and indignantly send her packing—home to Naomi or even home to Moab. But Naomi told Ruth, Boaz will wake up and “tell you what to do” (3:4).

Ruth responded, “I will do everything you say” (3:5). And she did (3:6–9a), but with one small exception. Rather than waiting for Boaz to tell her what to do (3:4), Ruth told Boaz what to do: “Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer” (3:9b). It’s interesting to note requesting Boaz to spread the “wing” of his covering over her echoed Boaz’s note that Ruth had come to take refuge under the “wing” of the Lord God of Israel (2:12).

Boaz’s response was all that Naomi and Ruth could have hoped for (3:9c). Rather than awakening to natural but dangerous passions, he awoke to the noble feelings of compassion for the young woman. Rather than awakening with outraged indignity at this potentially compromising scene, he awoke with a plan to preserve dignity, a determination to pursue redemption, and a generous concern to keep Naomi from ever being “empty” again (3:10–15). He blessed Ruth for her family loyalty, which had first led her to stick by Naomi’s side. Then he blessed her for looking to him rather than marrying someone else (3:15). Perhaps he had been watching Ruth, thinking, “It’s impossible, why would a young beauty like her want me?” He acknowledged Ruth’s reputation as a “virtuous woman” and made every effort to protect that reputation as well as his own (3:11, 14). The only other place in the Old Testament where we see this term “virtuous woman” is in the last chapter of Proverbs. It’s interesting that in the Hebrew Scriptures, Ruth immediately follows Proverbs, as if to depict Ruth as the exemplar “virtuous woman.”

Just about when we’re sure Ruth as going to marry Boaz and live happily ever after, Boaz comes out with a potential problem. There is a closer “family redeemer” who should have the offer before Boaz himself could take it up (3:12). Sounds like he’d already been thinking this through. “I am a potential ‘family redeemer’—but ‘So-and-So’ has right of first refusal”? Finally, Boaz didn’t send Ruth away “empty” but full, with a heavy bag of grain for Naomi (3:15, 17). She went home full and rejoicing.

The next mini-scene finds the excited Ruth and Naomi going over what had happened the night before and then waiting to hear what happened with Boaz’s plans. They had done all the planning and scheming they could; now it was up to the plans and schemes of Boaz (3:16–18).

Ruth as Boaz’s Wife

Boaz was certainly up to the task he had set for himself. He wasted no time but marched right into the ancient Near Eastern equivalent of family court and pressed for a decision on the redemption of Naomi’s property and daughter-in-law. He button-holed the nearer redeemer and notified him that Naomi would be making the land that had belonged to her husband Elimelech available to a family redeemer. Our hearts drop to here this anonymous contender say, “All right, I’ll redeem it” (4:4). We know that it’s a package deal with Ruth marrying whoever takes the land. Boaz had kept a little quiet about that though. Then Boaz said, “Okay, you get the land, but you get a Moabite lady for a wife, and you have to take care to sustain and pass along Elimelech’s family inheritance to any future heir (4:5). This was more than the anonymous potential redeemer felt like he could do (4:6). He might have felt a little racial squeemishness about a Moabite wife (Deut 23:3), he might have thought I’m not spending my money on someone else’s kid and then risking dividing my family properties with a relative’s kids. So Boaz said, “Fine, I’m marrying the lady.” He gladly accepted the responsibility for Ruth and thus he also accepted wider responsibility as a redeemer for the family line of Ruth’s dead husband. As it turns out, he saved the Messianic line from extinction.

He took Ruth home and slept with her, and this young lady who had not had any children during her years of marriage to Mahlon conceived a child, because “the Lord enabled her to become pregnant” (4:13). And she gave birth to king David’s grandfather!

Ruth in David’s Genealogy

It’s interesting to hear the town blessing Boaz’s promise to redeem and his desire to marry Ruth and raise up her offspring. Their language chimes with messianic tones: “May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended” (4:11a). These two woman had borne the forbearers of all twelve tribes in Israel, now Bethlehem talked like the entire future of Israel would depend upon the offspring of Ruth. They said, “May the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah” (4:12b). You can read the shameful story of the conception of Perez in Genesis 38; however, by God’s grace this pushy twin would carry forth not only the general Israelite line, but even the royal line of Judah (cf. Gen 49:8–10). Now Bethlehem was talking like the royal line depended upon the offspring of Ruth.

Indeed, it would. The son she bore Boaz was Obed, king David’s grandfather. Bethlehem acclaimed him as Obed (“servant,” 4:17), perhaps a bit of foretaste of the reputation his grandson David would gain as servant of the Lord (1 Sam 19:4; 25:41; 29:3, 8; 2 Sam 6:20; 7:5, 8, 26; 9:6; 16:1; 17:17; 1 Kgs 3:6; 8:24ff, 66; 11:13, 32, 34, 36, 38; 14:8; 2 Kgs 19:34; 20:6; 1 Chr 17:4, 7, 24; 2 Chr 6:15ff, 42; Ps 17:15; 35:28; 78:70; 89:3, 20; 132:10; 143:12; 144:10; Isa 37:35; Jer 33:21f, 26; Ezek 34:23f; 37:24f; Luke 1:69; Acts 4:25).

Obed “became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David” (4:17b). Unlike Lot’s daughters, who mothered the Moabite peoples (Gen 19:30–38), this young Moabite woman did not shame herself or the man she met after a night of eating and drinking. And like the plotting Tamar who plotted to seduce Judah into laying with her so her husband’s family line would continue (Gen 38), Ruth and Naomi plotted a rendezvous that would also continue not only the general line of the twelve tribes of Israel but even the royal line of David with it’s root and branches in the Jesse Tree (Ruth 4:18–21).

Questions, Reflections, and Commitments

  • Remember yesterday’s question about “rest” in the Bible, and notice the occasions it’s used in Ruth: for the security of marriage (1:9), for security among the laborers in the redeemer Boaz’s field (2:7), for the security of marriage (3:1), and for the “rest” that Boaz would forgo until he had completed the redemptive task (3:18).
  • What do you think of when you think of the plan that Naomi hatched? Can you imagine sending your daughter off on such an errand to assure her of an honorable future?
  • Notice the who is doing the blessing and who is the recipient of blessing throughout Ruth (2:4, 19–20; 3:10; 4:14).

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1. It’s interesting to contrast the name of Gideon’s son Abimelech (“my father is king”) with the name Elimelech (“my God is king”). The former may have implied dynastic intentions; the latter implied pious loyalty to God alone.

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