Raise your hand if you’ve ever watched the movie Speed.
Keanu Reeves. All hard stares and clenched jaws.
Sandra Bullock. All fast talking and superhuman bus driving.
In fact, it was one of the first movies I remember watching where I realized that Hollywood loves to throw two people together in an impossible situation, watch them try to survive, have them make snide remarks to one another while protecting one another someway or somehow, and, meanwhile, the two protagonists fall in love before the major conflict is solved.
We see this plot in so many great books and movies. Even though it’s predictable to think the hero and “damsel in distress” may fall in love, the setup gets viewers and readers nearly every time. We love to be swept off our feet right along with the characters.
We loved to watch and wonder when Clark Kent would reveal he was Superman to the swooning Lois Lane. As soon as Elizabeth Bennett realized Mr. Darcy was the one who had helped her sister out of her embarrassing situation, she helped us begin to look at him differently. The seed of love was planted. Who couldn’t have foreseen the attraction between Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard? When Jamie Sullivan saved Landon Carter from himself in A Walk to Remember and he gave back to her in return, our hearts were touched beyond measure. Even in the more modern dystopian novel Divergent, we root for Tris and Four’s relationship because he saw her through, showed unnecessary attention, and gave protective tips to her throughout her training. This story line even shows up in Disney movies like Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. It’s a thread to which every hopeless romantic clings.
This is the same story line we see in the book of Ruth.
If you aren’t familiar with the book, stop now. Open your Bible. It’s right after Judges and right before I Samuel. The book is not long, and you really will not regret having read it. In fact, while writing this post, I’ve been stuck at this point for so long that I felt I should tell you to just go read it for yourself. Whatever I have to say about it or glean from it pales in comparison to the actual Biblical account of this relationship. So, go ahead, take a break from here, and read. I’ll wait.
Okay, now let’s take a closer look through my prayerful eyes at these two.
As with any good story, the exposition begins with some background to understand the characters. We know that this story is set during the time of the the judges. During that time, we know that God’s people were often rebelling against Him and being brought back through the judges, and the cycle would start all over again. It is here that we meet the family of Elimelech.
Biblical names. They get me sometimes y’all. But, when you dig in and think about what those names mean and how their meaning enhances the narrative or contributes to the irony of the narrative, it truly is inspiring. The name Elimelech means “my God is King.” Elimelech lived with his wife, Naomi, whose name means “Pleasant,” in the land of Bethlehem. And, do you know what Bethlehem means? House of Bread.
So, here we are with a man whose name means my God is King and his wife whose name is Pleasant in the land known as House of Bread.
And, do you know what they did? They left. Yep, that’s right. They left the land God promised to them, the House of Bread, IN SEARCH OF FOOD!?!?!?! Not only did Elimelech leave Bethlehem in search of food, but he took his wife and two sons — we’ll get to their names in a minute — and ended up settling in the land of their enemies, the Moabites. In Judges, the Israelite people consistently went against God’s commands, and Elimelech was no different when he chose to leave Bethlehem to be more self-sufficient.
Their sons were Chilion and Mahlon, weak and sickly, respectively. With names like that, you can imagine how their story ended up. While in the land of Moab, Elimelech and both of his sons passed away. Naomi was certain this was punishment for their family not relying on God and searching their own way. As a stranger in a foreign land having heard how God was providing for His people back home, Naomi chose to return to the land of her family, to return home, to return to the House of Bread, to return to Bethlehem. As she set out, both of her daughters-in-law set out with her, Orpah and Ruth. However, Naomi urged both of them to return home and find husbands and happiness.
At this point in the story, we encounter one of Ruth’s most important decisive actions.
Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.
These verses are very well-known scripture. We see them painted in elegant script on wooden boards displayed prominently at rustic weddings and then transferred into beautifully decorated homes alongside Joshua’s words “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Ironically, however, Ruth’s aren’t words spoken between husband and wife as their display often suggests. Instead, Ruth fervently spoke these treasured words as a widowed woman to her mother-in-law. So much beauty, insight, and theological implication lies within these simple words.
Admittedly, when I read the words, the first thing I breathed in was the beauty. Here was Ruth, a Moabite widow, declaring her devotion to her mother-in-law.
Her mother-in-law was from a strange land with, to Ruth, a strange god. Ruth was declaring her determination to follow Naomi, to stick by her side, to reside with her, to provide companionship. This declaration, this plea, this promise from Ruth shows the rich beauty within her heart. In our society, we read article after article and watch show after show of the strained relationships between daughters and their mothers-in-law. Who could ever forget the tiffs between Debra and Marie on Everybody Loves Raymond? We loved to watch it because it painted the drama so many argue and fuss about in real life in a comedic and laughable light Everybody Loves Raymond allowed us to laugh at that relationship. A relationship that is often strained because one woman is wanting to start a new family with a man whom she loves. She desires to set up a household she has imagined for who knows how long. She has dreams that involve that man. Meanwhile, the other woman is trying to reconcile turning over the man she has loved and raised and nurtured and cared for since he was boy to a woman from another family who may run a household, cook meals, and care for that boy in a completely different way than what he had grown accustomed. In a way completely different from what that mother had thought was right.
Yet, here is Ruth. Death has completely freed her from Naomi. Naomi has given her blessing for both daughters-in-law to return home and remarry. More than that, Naomi wished for them both to find happiness in those new marriages. Orpah left and returned home. Ruth was free to do the same. However, Ruth vows to stay with Naomi. Perhaps she realized that Naomi, too, was a widowed woman, one whose sons had passed in addition to their father. Perhaps their relationship was nothing like the strained relationships we see glamorized in their strain in today’s society. Perhaps Ruth realized the downtrodden state of Naomi who felt the hand of God was against her making Ruth feel she shouldn’t leave Naomi alone. Perhaps, even in that downtrodden state, Ruth saw something special in Naomi and her relationship and devotion to God.
You see, when we read those verses closely, they are more than just a promise by Ruth not to leave Naomi. Instead, they are also a vow by Ruth to leave all that she knows and cleave to a new way of life. Ruth did not simply stop at “Wherever you go I will go.” No, she also added, “Wherever you live I will live. Your people will be my people.” Ruth was a Moabite woman. The Moabites, along with Ammonites and Edomites, were enemies of Israel, Naomi’s people. We see in Chronicles and Kings how God “smote Moab.” Likewise, during Judges, God strengthened the king of Moab against Israel because the Israelites “had done evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 3:12). These two women were from enemy nations. Nations who fought and warred against each other again and again. Still yet, Ruth was declaring to Naomi that the Israelites would also be her people. She was promising to leave the land she’d known her whole life and live in the land of her people’s enemy. She was saying that no matter the difficulties, the awkwardness, the estrangement from her own family and people, she would be with Naomi. Those words hold more weight when we dig into them. They make Ruth’s words mean so much more than a mere “I’m going with you.”
But, the beauty doesn’t end there. The last part of that statement holds so much more. So. Much. More.
Ruth also said, “…and your God will be my God.”
Those words are everything. You see, Ruth was a Moabite woman. The god of the Moabites was Chemosh (2 Kings 23:13), not Yahweh. For Ruth to promise to follow Naomi’s God, her complete devotion is made manifest. Yet, the real beauty is that we also see how God welcomes all people into His fold. Through Ruth, we see that Christianity isn’t only for God’s chosen people. God chooses us all. He welcomes each of us, even those who were once enemies of His people. The theological implications of Ruth’s words in that defining moment of her relationship with her mother-in-law are so far reaching. When looked at in this way, the words bring warmth and comfort for we see how clearly God loves and welcomes us all. Not just those of us who look a certain way, wear certain clothes, cook certain food, but ALL of us are welcome, EACH of us is welcome, to follow God. Like Ruth, though, we must make that unwavering commitment.
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Don’t go and gather grain in another field, and don’t leave this one, but stay here close to my female servants. See which field they are harvesting, and follow them. Haven’t I ordered the young men not to touch you? When you are thirsty, go and drink from the jars the young men have filled.”
By now you may be realizing that this particular Christ-centered marriage isn’t exactly like the present day ones I’ve detailed thus far. In fact, you’re this far into this post and Ruth hasn’t even met Boaz! Yet, that’s paramount to their story. Sometimes the courtship and the way the couple is brought together is where the Christ-centered relationship begins. We saw that in Billy and Teresa’s relationship. We see it again with Ruth and Boaz.
After Ruth gave her impassioned speech to Naomi, Naomi more or less gave in and continued on to Bethlehem with Ruth in tow. When the town was excited to see Naomi and asked, “Can this be Naomi” (Ruth 1: 19) she was distraught. She was so distraught in fact that she retorted, “Don’t call me Naomi; call me Mara…for the Almighty has made me very bitter” (Ruth 1:20). Remember, Naomi’s name meant “Pleasant.” However, she no longer felt that she and her circumstance lived up to that name. So, she wanted everyone to call her Mara after the water Moses and the Israelites tasted in the wilderness. Naomi felt her demeanor, instead of “Pleasant,” resembled that bitter water. How little did she know what God actually had in store. Their story, hers and Ruth’s, had a ripple effect that eventually led to Jesus, the Living Water. There’s nothing bitter about that.
In Leviticus, we see that God made provisions for the poor and destitute, like Naomi and Ruth. He ordered men not to harvest the edges of their field and to leave the fallen grain for the poor to glean. Once Ruth and Naomi made it into Bethlehem, Naomi granted Ruth permission to “go into the fields and gather fallen grain behind someone with whom [she found] favor” (Ruth 2:2). In scripture we read that Ruth “happened” to be in the field belonging to Boaz, one of Elimelech’s relatives. “Happened.” Ha! This, my dear friends, is what we call Divine Intervention. In Proverbs 16:33, we read “[t]he lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.” These words tell us that nothing, even casting lots, is left to chance. Every decision is from the Lord. Ruth did not “happen” to be in Boaz’s field. God directed her there.
While in Boaz’s field, we see him come home and greet the harvesters. Then, he inquired about Ruth and was informed that “[s]he [was] the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the territory of Moab.” It is in this moment we first see the kindness from Boaz that makes him the hero of the story.
Boaz bestowed kindness upon Ruth when he told her to stay in his fields. He implored her to follow his female slaves and continue gleaning from his fields. After a beautiful exchange in which Ruth acknowledges Boaz’s kindness, he goes on to invite her for supper where she eats and “was satisfied, and she had some left over.” In this way, he made provisions for Ruth’s, and thus Naomi’s, survival. This act was of God. There is no doubt. Naomi returned to Bethlehem to be cared for, to have food, and God used Boaz as a conduit for His own kindness. In short, Boaz possessed a godly love and generosity that he then poured out on Naomi.
Not only did Boaz bestow kindness upon Naomi by asking her to stay in his fields and be with his female slaves, but he also granted her protection. He told his men to leave her alone, which was a gift in and of itself for a poor and widowed woman in the fields at that time. While offering her physical protection, he also shielded her pride. After she ate with Boaz, he ordered his men to let her glean from the bundles, not just what fell and was left behind. He told them to let her have more and not to “rebuke her.”
Boaz took care of Ruth’s entire being. He ensured her physical needs were met by providing food and water. He ensured her safety by ordering his men to leave her alone. He ensured her emotional well-being by telling his men not to rebuke her. Boaz’s kindness was deep and all encompassing, and Ruth was grateful. Not only was Ruth grateful, but so was Naomi. Her response was, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (Ruth 2:20). That word that translates as “kindness” from Ruth is “hesed.” It actually means something more than mere kindness. It is more like grace. The kind that can only come from God. It is commonly used in the Bible to show God’s love for mankind. Boaz bestowed an other worldly kindness upon Ruth, and she and others took note of it and admired it.
But, you know what? This wasn’t a “love at first site *BAM* their world is right” kind of moment. Nope. Their eventual marriage still took time.
Let’s revisit Speed with Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock for a moment. If you recall, those two didn’t fall in love the moment Keanu made his way on that bus. In fact, it took the time in which Sandra dutifully drove the bus. It took the time that she continued obediently navigating through the turmoil of an uncertain future on that bus just hoping that it would all work out as she continued doing what she had to do to survive. While Sandra continued doing what she had to do, drive the bus, their relationship just fell into place.
Ruth 2: 23
So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law
In this simple verse, we see Ruth working. We see Ruth being in the moment and fulfilling her immediate purpose. We see Ruth not looking constantly to the future. We see Ruth not consumed with fixing her future by finding a new husband right away. Instead, we see Ruth working to take care of her own and her mother-in-law’s futures. We see Ruth being obedient to the task at hand.
You see, in Speed, Sandra Bullock’s character didn’t go out that morning looking for love. Instead, like Ruth, Sandra got up that morning and just did what she needed to do or was supposed to do. She then committed to helping the others on the bus by driving it, and she kept driving and following directions.
Sometimes, in this journey we call life, we all get so busy looking to God to figure out what it is exactly He wants us to do in the distant future that we don’t consider what exactly he wants us to do in the present. Sometimes we spend so much time wondering what our next move should be that we don’t consider our current move. Sometimes, when it comes to relationships, we spend so much time looking for that exact right person that we forget to just be. Just be in the moment with the people who are there with us. Just to do the task that is at hand in the moment at hand.
Ruth did not follow Naomi to find a man. She did not arrive in Bethlehem with an agenda. Instead, Ruth took action by asking to take care of her family, of Naomi. She wasn’t going to the fields to find the most eligible bachelor. In fact, she didn’t even know whose field she was even in. Still, when Boaz saw her and his field hands reported to him, they said, “….she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” Ruth was obedient in doing what she had to do. That obedience and diligence is part of what caught Boaz’s attention. When Ruth fell on her face in thankfulness wondering why Boaz was being so kind to her, a foreigner, he replied, “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. 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.” Boaz noticed everything Ruth was doing and had done, and he took note of how the Lord would reward Ruth.
It was the obedience and willingness to do what was necessary, to follow her purpose in those moments, that brought attention to her. Even then, though, it STILL wasn’t the right time for Ruth and Boaz. Even in the movie Speed, Keanu took notice of Sandra when she began driving the bus. Still yet, she drove that bus for some time before he realized how their relationship was progressing. Ruth gleaned in the fields for two different crops before Naomi sent her to the threshing floor to see Boaz. Even living here in rural Kentucky I don’t know exactly how long it would be between those two crops, but I do know that it was longer than a few days. Things do not happen in our time or what we consider the right time. It’s good to know, though, that God’s timing is always, unfailingly perfect.
This is just me and my musings, but…..
Imagine how this story would have turned out differently if Ruth’s sole objective was to “get a man and get an heir.” Imagine how this story would have turned out differently if Ruth had been consumed with what the next leg of her journey was supposed to be like. Imagine if she had grown frustrated with Boaz because he wasn’t actively seeking her. If she would have gone out to that field looking for a man, someone who was willing to pursue her, she may have ended up with someone other than Boaz. She wouldn’t have been the one to continue the line that would lead to Jesus. She wouldn’t be the Ruth we know about.
Thankfully, however, Ruth worked. She awoke each new morning and gleaned from the fields. She gleaned from Boaz’s kindness. From Boaz’s fields. She repeated this task over and over and over.
Being dutiful. Being obedient. Focusing on your immediate purpose. Each of these actions is individually and collectively important. They matter, period. We could all take a lesson from Ruth in obedience.
Ruth 4: 1,4
Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the [other] redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by….So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.”
In these verses we see a redeeming quality in Boaz that is to be admired. Honor. Boaz was an honorable man. He was a man who, regardless of what he wanted personally, wanted to do what was right. He wanted to do what was just. He wanted to do what was honorable.
Before Ruth and Boaz’s time, there was a custom called levirate marriage. According to this custom, if a woman was widowed, her widower’s brother would take her as his wife. From that union, the first son produced would be the widower’s heir, not the brother’s. Through the levirate marriage, the widow would be redeemed. The man who married her was known as her kinsman redeemer. This is the role Boaz wished to take in Ruth’s life though he was not Mahlon’s brother. Boaz wanted to purchase Naomi’s land to keep it within the family, per their custom, and take Ruth as his bride.
However, Boaz knew that there was another kinsman redeemer closer with a right to purchase Naomi’s land first. Having an honorable nature about him, Boaz wanted to make sure that everything was “above board” so to speak. When Ruth came to him on the threshing floor, he sent her back to Naomi with more grain. Meanwhile, he decided to meet with the other kinsman redeemer at the city gates with witnesses. He met with him in order to offer the right to purchase Naomi’s land first. The other kinsman was definitely interested in the land, but he did not wish to marry Ruth for it would “impair [his] own inheritance” (Ruth 4:6). In that moment, sealed with the passing of a sandal, the other kinsman redeemer gave up his right of redemption to Boaz.
Because Boaz chose to take the honorable route in acquiring Naomi’s land and Ruth’s hand, it is his name we remember. It is his name that was “renowned in Bethlehem” (Ruth 4:11) and beyond. Boaz, like Ruth, was obedient and followed the customs as they were written. For their obedience, they were both richly blessed.
Ruth 4: 13-17
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 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.
Ruth devoted herself to following her mother-in-law into a foreign land of enemies and following God. While in that land, Ruth was also devoted to doing what she had to do, living in the moment and for the purpose at hand. Boaz was a kind man who also was honorable. Because they both were committed to their individual tasks and doing what was right when it was right, they found themselves together. God was faithful in providing for Naomi and Ruth, but also in providing for Boaz. From their union, we see the line that led to David. We see the line that led to Jesus. A foreign woman – a woman who was once an enemy of God’s people who was widowed by a man whose family disobeyed God and left Bethlehem – wed and is part of the line of David. How much more richly blessed can a person be?
I know we do not see the actual marriage of Ruth and Boaz. We do not know how they treated one another, how they settled disputes, how they went about child-rearing, or anything really. However, what we know is exactly what we need to know according to the Bible. These two, in their marriage that was Christ-centered before Christ walked the Earth, epitomize how to be obedient in our current circumstance, how to be kind, how to be honorable, and how to devote ourselves to loving others and God. For that, God blessed them and all of us.