by Ruth the Moabitess - I Chr 2:12, Ruth esp 4:13-17
The commitment of Ruth to follow Naomi, her mother-in-law, was the reason for Ruth finding herself in the right place at the right time to be able to marry Boaz and, eventually, to give birth to a child, Obed, who became the father of David and, ultimately, in the lineage of the Messiah, Jesus.
It’s this commitment that we’ll now look at (Ruth 1:1-18). In part two, we’ll look at the legal disqualifications that rested upon Ruth which indicate a preclusion to being included in the Messianic line and further consider why God allowed her to be a part of it.
The significance of the six names
1. Elimelech - ‘God is king’. This is the conclusion to the story contained in the entire book of Ruth, that in God’s sovereignty He’s allowed a Moabitess, Ruth, to be a direct descendant of the Messiah. God’s choice of Ruth is a mysterious one when we consider the legislation concerning Moabites in, for instance, Deut 23:3-6 (a subject we’ll look at in part two) but it does show us that God’s sovereignty is at work, that His choice goes way beyond legalistic limitations.
2. Chilion - ‘Destruction’/’Failing’/’Pining’.
3. Mahlon - ‘Sick’/’Weak’.
Perhaps the names given to these two individuals are ‘nicknames’ intended to show the reader how the two sons eventually died. Whatever may be the truth of this, they seem to have been doomed from the outset!
4. Ruth - ‘(woman) Friend’. This is how Ruth turned out to be to Naomi - one who stuck to her through difficult situations and who had her best interests at heart.
5. Naomi - ‘Pleasant’/’Lovely’. Even though Naomi wanted to be known as ‘Bitterness’ (Ruth 1:20 - ‘Mara’) when she returned into the land, God had chosen her for a pleasant and happy conclusion to her life (Ruth 4:14-15).
6. Orpah - ‘Stiff-necked’ (though the exact meaning of the word has not been fixed). Again, maybe a nickname, but as her name so her character. She turned back from following Naomi when she saw that the path she was choosing for herself didn’t appear to be turning out for her own benefit.
These six translated names give us a good overview of the main characteristics of the story which then follows.
Naomi - a type of the Christ who brings His people into the Promised land.
In each of Naomi’s three speeches recorded for us in chapter one (1:8-9, 1:11-13, 1:15), we see her trying to encourage both daughters-in-law to return to their home land. The reason, says Naomi, is that with her there’ll only be hardship and suffering while back in the land of Moab they’ll be able to get a husband, a home and find some level of security. It parallels Jesus’ words in a few passages.
In Mark 8:34-38, Jesus turned to both the multitudes and His disciples to lay down the cost of following Him so they’d be under no illusion. Jesus was always truthful enough to tell the people what level of commitment was required of them (see also Luke 14:25-33).
In John 6:60 we see that Jesus spoke many ‘hard sayings’ to the disciples - not to put them off from following Him but to see if they were willing to follow no matter what He was to ask of them. He knew that the way of the cross that He’d come to experience was no self-indulgent action and that His followers would taste similar persecution in the not too distant future.
Orpah - a type of the christian who’s easily dissuaded from following Christ when the going gets tough.
The significance of Naomi’s kiss (Ruth 1:9) can be seen in two passages in the OT - Genesis 31:28 and I Kings 19:20. Naomi is giving her daughters-in-law a farewell kiss, expecting them to return to Moab to seek their own welfare and prosperity. Initially, Orpah says that she’ll go with Naomi but, upon reflection, she perceives quite rightly that Naomi cannot realistically give her anything and that happiness and security are back in the land of Moab. So Orpah, having considered her situation, returns her farewell kiss (Ruth 1:14) and departs for the land of Moab.
Although Orpah had begun to follow Naomi, when the realisation hits her of the level of commitment required to continue all the way to Naomi’s home land and then the hardship that will be there for her to endure, she can’t bring herself to follow through with her initial decision. Again, this characteristic is paralleled in a few NT passages regarding a believer’s commitment to Christ.
In Luke 9:62, we see what Jesus said to a would-be disciple that
‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God’
and, in Luke 14:28, Jesus spoke to the multitudes that followed Him, asking
‘...which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?’
Heb 10:38 (quoted from Hab 2:4) reads that
‘My righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him’
and Mtw 13:20-21 (the parable of the sower) notes that the seed that withered after a short flourish is that type of person who
‘...endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away...’
When the going gets tough then believers are called to be a people who persevere through difficulty because of their commitment to Christ. Orpah’s commitment to self-pleasure and self-fulfilment was far more powerful a force in her life than her personal commitment to Naomi.
Ruth - a type of the christian who perseveres in their walk with Jesus and makes it through into the Promised land.
Ruth 1:14 reads that
‘Ruth clung to [Naomi]’
The Hebrew word translated ‘clung’ in this verse is the same word that’s translated ‘cleaves’ in Gen 2:24 where it reads (my italics)
‘...a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh...’
Ruth’s friendship with Naomi was the same type of relationship that David (her son) had with Jonathan (I Sam 18:1), a unity that passed any attempt to divide it. Hence, Ruth refuses to give Naomi the final kiss of farewell (unlike Orpah - Ruth 1:14, and Judas (!) - Mtw 26:49). This union is paralleled in John 6:66-69 where we see the twelve’s commitment to be united to Christ no matter what the situation they find themselves in.
Ruth refused to let anything that Naomi said divide the union that was between them. Ruth was willing to be united to Naomi even in ‘bitterness’ rather than return to a life of ease in Moab. Moses also chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to die without them and, consequently, God (Heb 11:24-25).
When we’re willing to be united to Christ even in bitterness (Mara), despite all the persecution that we’ll receive because of our union with Him, He knows that we’re a true friend (Ruth) of His, one that He can trust.
The only response that Jesus ever requires from us is willingness in every situation - no matter what it appears will happen or what it appears it will cost us. Feelings of inadequacy for the task ahead are necessarily humbling, causing individuals to rely upon His equipping and provision that everything necessary may be found at hand as a gift, not as a natural resource.
Ruth took upon herself the role of a servant. In the Church today, we often say that wherever we go God goes with us but this is not Ruth’s theology here. She’s content to say (my italics)
‘Wherever you go, Naomi, I will go also’
and so changes her commitment round from one of leadership to one of servility. Likewise, we should be willing to say to Jesus that wherever He goes, we’ll go and not the other way round. Our lives need to be offered up to God as obedient slaves, willing to perform whatever the Master bids us, not as forward-pressing independents who expect God to tag along with us on our chosen journey.
Orpah is never recorded as having received either husband or home (Ruth 1:9), the reason that she decided to return to her own land and people. Whereas Ruth, who considered commitment to Jehovah a greater treasure than worldly gain, got both - YHWH Himself giving Ruth the power to conceive (Ruth 4:13).
When the deep desires of our heart are laid upon the altar of self-sacrifice, we find that they’re returned to us eventually, multiplied and of far greater worth than they ever could have been if we’d have clung vehemently to them (Mark 10:29-30 - notice that Jesus adds the clause ‘with persecutions’).
Notice the contrast in the stories of the book of Ruth and in Judges chapters 17-18 (see 17:7-8 - the idolatrous Levite) and chapters 19-21 (see 19:1-2 - the angry concubine). Bethlehem wasn’t an idyllic place to live (neither was its immediate neighbourhood - Judges 19:10-15ff) but, out of that, God brought the blessing of the Messianic line.