We come to this very special day—a civil holiday that began with a woman named Anna Jarvis who, at her mother’s memorial service, passed out carnations (her favorite flower) to all in attendance. Within the next few years, the idea of a day to honor mothers gained popularity, and Mother’s Day was observed in a number of large cities in the U.S. On May 9, 1914, by an act of Congress,
President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day. He established the day as a time for “public expression of our love and reverence for the mothers of our country.”
This week, I came across how some view and look at motherhood:
- for some, motherhood is an accident, and not always a welcome one;
- for some, biological motherhood isn’t possible;
- for some, mothers weren’t all that nice;
- for some, motherhood under the very best of circumstances is still less than abed of roses and a primrose path.
Underneath this is a quote that says, “To become a mother is not so difficult, being a mother is very much so!”
Today on this Mother’s Day, we visit with a woman that I pray we will become acquainted with in the weeks, months, and years ahead. A woman by the name of Ruth. Ruth is an amazing woman: as we work through this story, we will see a number of things about her. She is a widow, a foreigner in a strange land, she is poor, and she is homeless. We also see about her that she is loyal, devoted, a very hard worker, and—according to a particular man in this story—very attractive. She is one whose loyalty is news that has gotten around.
The book of Ruth is a wonderful story. In fact, Alistair Begg in one of his sermons on Ruth noted that Ruth has all the qualities of a great story. All of the characters in that story are imminently likeable. This story contains no villain. In fact, my music history teacher said that this would be a perfect three-act play!
But ultimately this story is not about Ruth, nor about the characters or the shape of the story, or whether we should try to make a play out of it. Ruth is amazing—but Ruth’s story is included here not to talk about how amazing Ruth is, but how amazing our God is. You see, all of us here are messed up! We are not only imperfect people, there is no part about us that is fully clean. But no matter how big our circumstances, how big our situation, how big our sin—God is bigger! Amidst the tragedy of this family, we see that God is in the midst, guiding all the way.
1. Christ will need to empty you of you, in order to completely fill you with Him (Ruth 1).
Our story begins at a difficult, morally bankrupt time in Israel’s history—the “days when the judges ruled.”
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
There was a famine in Israel, which may have been part of God’s judgment on the land due to their unfaithfulness. Again, as we look at the fact that this took place during the “days when the judges ruled,” we are reminded of the very last verse in the book of Judges: “And there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” During this time, we are introduced to a couple, Elimilech and his wife Naomi. Due to the famine, they entered into Moab. The citizens of Moab and the citizens of Israel were not on each other’s Christmas card list. You can read Genesis 19:30-38 to see their inauspicious beginning (I do not want to run ahead of the parents in what they share with their children). But as the people of Israel were entering into the Promised Land, the Moabites would shout curses at them and refuse to offer them help.
But go there they went because Elimelech wanted to provide for his family. You see, they also had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. And, against God’s command not to marry those from pagan nations who worshiped false gods, his sons married Moabite women: Ruth and Orpah.
The tragedy hits when Elimelech dies, then the sons die. In that culture, when a woman is widowed, life is rough. And we all experience tragedies in our lives, and our days may even be marked with disobedience. God uses tragedy to bring about a triumph in their lives—even in disobedience, God can bring delight. And we know that as in the case of Naomi, God is one who looks after and defends the cause of the widow, as we see the church should as well (James 1:26-27).
Naomi was in a pinch. So, she heard (as recorded in verse 6) that God was blessing them, so she decided to return, urging all the while that her daughters return to their families. She wanted them to have a life, to have a hope, to have a family. Orpah returned, but the Scriptures say that Ruth “clung to her” (v. 14).
Notice her response in Ruth 1:15-17:
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
So Ruth experienced a conversion. She surrendered, turning her back on her former life, her former ways, her former gods to serve the true and living God and to unite with His people. So she did not only exhibit loyalty to Naomi, but also to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob!
So they enter back into the land, and Naomi’s people recognized her. Naomi means ‘pleasant,’ but she requested to be called by a different name. Call me ‘empty.’ For, why? The LORD brought me back empty. “Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
Was she right? Yes, God brought all this about—if He is the Creator and Ruler of the universe. But God brings us to the end of ourselves to help us see our need for him! God sent the famine, and they reacted by not staying in the land as God commanded and being with their people. They did the pragmatic thing: whatever works and whatever we need to do, we will do it. But she is blaming God for her situation—how we react to situations speaks a great deal of how we view God!
2. Christ is sovereign over your circumstances—there is no such thing as a coincidence (Ruth 2)!
Join me in 2:1-7:
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. 4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”
The inspired writer includes for the reader an interesting tidbit that speaks volumes. Naomi had a relative of her husband’s named Boaz. He is deemed a worthy man—a man of strength, power, and wealth. But keep in mind, this anecdote is merely for those reading. Naomi and Ruth were in the middle of the situation, simply looking to start a life together, finding themselves a home and food and stability.
And notice the language here: “So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech” (Ruth 2:3). Recently, there was a story on the Today Show on NBC of a woman and her children who were on the edge of a precipice in their car, with the slightest movement bringing them into mortal danger. As she told her story to Matt Lauer, she would say, “As luck would have it, an engineer came by and just so happened to have some equipment that could move a car to safety.” Notice to whom she gave credit? Luck? It ‘just so happened?”
How often do we use this language? “Wow, were you ever lucky to have such a healthy baby boy?” “By chance, I received just enough money to pay my outstanding bills.” Now, do we fault the biblical writer for using such language? I think what happened was this: the writer informs his audience of the situation, then in verse 3 he repeats it again.
When Ruth returned home with the great amount that she had gleaned in the city, and that she had met the man who owned the field whose name was Boaz, Naomi exclaimed: “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” She continued, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”
Naomi had it just right, didn’t she? The Lord had not forsaken the living (Naomi and Ruth) or the dead (taking care of Elimelech’s family). God had provided a man in their lives to watch over them, to take care of them, provide for them, and to protect them.
Go back to Ruth 2:8-13:
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” 13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.”
Boaz heard of their plight and sought to take care of them, sending her over to collect with his women. There were strength in numbers. Naomi was grateful. “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted” (Ruth 2:22).
We see lengths that God goes to in protecting and rescuing His people.
3. Christ redeems us and rescues us from our situation by His compassion (Ruth 3-4)
Naomi wanted Ruth taken care of. When Naomi knew of Boaz, that gave her an idea of how to take care of Ruth.
Remember how Boaz was called by Naomi one of the redeemers? According to OT law, if a husband dies leaving his wife without children, then the brother of the man must marry the widow to help continue the line of that family (Deuteronomy 25:5-6).
But there was also an OT law that when a poor person in Israel had property to sell to make money on, the nearest relative could come and redeem what the family had sold (Lev. 25:25). Mark Dever gives the rationale:
This law ensured that nobody became landless and locked in a cycle of poverty. It was an inside-the-clan welfare system, where debts and obligations would be paid by one family member so that the poor family member could be freed, or restored.
Do we see how God works to provide and protect for His people? He provides ways for His people to stay out of poverty—but they have to do something with the strength he gave them in order to be of use.
So, Ruth dolled herself up (“Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor”) and, after his food and drink, she would go and lay down at his feet—and he would tell her what needed to happen from there. Notice what Boaz says:
May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the LORD lives, I will redeem you. Like down until the morning (Ruth 3:10-13).
Boaz will do all that he can to make sure that Ruth is taken care of. This redemption is what God will be for Israel. Boaz does exactly what he promises. Not only that, but right after in the morning, he gives her more food to take back to her mother-in-law. He was a gentleman, a true “worthy man.” He would settle the matter quickly.
But Boaz had a plan. He had affection for this woman Ruth. But again, there was one who was nearer a redeemer. He had to have a conversation with this man (we do not know his name) and would be very clever. He first mentions the piece of land. When he takes the bait, Boaz just happens to bring in another part of the deal: “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance” (Ruth 4:5).
Imagine the surprise! The man turns Boaz down, allowing Boaz to redeem it (Ruth 4:7-12) and to take Ruth as his wife (Ruth 4:13). Soon, a child was born, Obed!
Now, lest this be simply a story that makes us feel good about a happily ever after for them, we must recognize that the story does not end. Look at verses 17-22 of chapter 4:
17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, 19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David (Ruth 4:17-22).
David? This is King David! In Matthew 1:1-6, in the midst of the genealogies of Jesus, we see the same line as that at the end of Ruth. What strikes us is that Ruth, a Moabite, is in this family line of Jesus, but that by God’s sovereignty, he worked unbeknownst to those on the ground at that time to show that God would use this poor, homeless, hungry Moabite widow named Ruth to continue the line that would bring the Ultimate Redeemer, who would redeem His people from their sin!
How as this redemption accomplished? Look with me in Ephesians 1:3-10:
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
God has a plan. Even though we are messed up, imperfect people who are poor spiritually, God has blessed believers with every spiritual blessings that have been stored up before the foundation of the world.
So as you leave this place on this Mother’s Day, we can be grateful for God that he has given us mothers. Naomi and Ruth both exemplify two women who did work to take care and provide for and protect one another.
Mark Dever, Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2006), 237.