Ruth Lesson 1 - Once Upon a Time
Every good fairytale begins with that classic line, "Once upon a time," and is followed by lines describing a bleak context. Ruth's story is no exception. But what's so great about this story is that it really happened!
Once Upon a Time
Here’s a poem to make men blush and women sigh:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Daffodils cost thirty bucks,
Will dandelions do?
Perhaps that’s why so many women can identify with a single gal who had been dating a guy for several years. She had tried everything to get him to make a commitment but nothing worked and she had pretty much decided to give up. She placed an ad in the classifieds that simply read, “Husband Wanted,” and listed her phone number at the end.
The next day she received more than a hundred phone calls from women and they all said the same thing – “You can have mine.”
Ah, the damage of dandelions.
So what are kids picking up from older people about romance and love?
Two kids responded to the question, “How does true love happen?” with the following insight:
Nine year old Roger, the little philosopher, gave his opinion on love when he said, “Falling in love is like an avalanche . . . you gotta run for your life!”
Nine year old Janet replied, “No one is sure how love happens, but I heard it has something to do with how you smell.”
I’ll never forget when my youngest daughter was around 11 years old. We were riding somewhere in my pickup truck and I asked her if she’d ever been kissed?
She said, “No sir.” She was dead serious.
I said, “Honey, that’s just great.”
Then she added, “But after Sunday school a couple of weeks ago, a boy tried to kiss me.”
I said, “He did?” My initial thought was church discipline.
Instead, I asked her, “Well, what did you do?”
She said, “I punched him in the stomach.”
“Right there in the classroom?”
“You punched him in the stomach?”
I said, “That’s terrific, honey . . . way to go!”
That’ll redefine the right hand of fellowship.
No to worry – romance eventually catches up with age . . . it’s the stuff of girl’s dreams early on. Eventually they stop swinging.
Unless you’ve consigned fairytales to a cluttered shelf in the garage – next to your sack of dandelions – you’ve probably spent some time reading a few tales of romance and rescue to your girls.
I can remember my daughters sitting on my lap as I read them from the classics. They loved hearing the enchanted stories of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. Although they heard the same stories over and over again, their excitement never faded when Prince Charming finally showed up.
The truth is, we all enjoy a good fairytale, but we also know they really don’t come true, right? They’re just make believe . . . they never pan out
It has all the elements of an instant classic; a depressed and angry stepmother; a beautiful, poor damsel in distress and a wealthy prince who comes riding in to save the day.
J. Vernon McGee wrote, “The Book of Ruth reads like a novel, but it is not fiction.”
J. Vernon McGee, Ruth: The Romance of Redemption (Thomas Nelson, 1943), p. 14
That’s right . . . this one took place, long, long ago.
There isn’t any evidence of poisonous apples, wicked witches or glass slippers. All of that stuff truly is make believe.
But this one’s for real. God happened to record the story. And there’s plenty of evidence that God’s hand is at work behind the scenes, arranging all the details so that the damsel in distress will be rescued at just the right time, in just the right way, and by just the right man.
God didn’t just record the story . . . He wrote it.
And according to centuries of Jewish tradition, God used His prophet Samuel to record all the details for future generations to read.
A. Boyd Luter, God Behind the Seen (Baker Books, 1995), p. 14
The opening lines prepare us for a tale of romance and rescue. As the story opens, the first few words of verse 1, “Now it came about in the days when…” sounds a lot like, “Once upon a time . . . long, long ago.”
Before we turn the first page in this classic, love story, let me give you several reasons why God preserved this for us through the pen of Samuel.
First, the fairytale of Ruth and Boaz will beautifully demonstrate the gospel of grace.
You might miss the richness of this truth if you read the story too quickly.
In the Hebrew culture, Ruth was one of five scrolls that would be read annually at a Jewish festival. Other scrolls read annually were Esther – at the Feast of Purim; Ecclesiastes – at the Feast of Tabernacles and Ruth – at the Feast of Weeks, also known as Pentecost.
David Shepherd, ed. Shepherds Notes (Broadman & Holman, 1998), p. 3
It isn’t a coincidence that the love story of a kinsman redeemer winning his bride would be read at the Feast of Pentecost where, centuries later, the Kinsman Redeemer initiated the redeeming of His Bride as the church was created.
The perfect timing of divine love and grace become the backdrop in this tale of romance and redemption.
We’re about to be introduced to a Gentile girl, a descendant of Moab, condemned by God’s law and even forbidden worship in the God’s temple – “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of the Lord.” (Deuteronomy 23:3)
Boaz will eventually redeem her, paralleling our own redemption, not because she met the requirements of the law, but because of His grace and love for her.
The law said – Keep out! Grace invited – Welcome home!
The Fairytale of Ruth and Boaz will illustrate the love of Christ
The Book of Ruth provides the only detailed example in the Bible of the Hebrew goel – a kinsman redeemer.
The law of Moses allowed for a near relative or kinsman to marry the widow of their deceased relative in order to provide everything she needed, including an heir to the deceased’s estate.
Not just anyone could marry the widow. He had to be a relative of the family. And the closest family member had the right of first refusal, as we’ll discover later.
Boaz was related to Naomi’s husband and could legally redeem Ruth if He chose to do so. By this redemptive purchase, he would become an illustration of Jesus redeeming His beloved bride.
In this tale of romance we discover on often overlooked requirement met by virtue of the incarnation of God the Son. He became a human being – He became our relative – in order to qualify as our goel – Kinsman redeemer.
Paul emphasized this point as he wrote to the Galatians, “When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
Keep in mind, according to the Law of Moses, Boaz cannot be forced to take upon himself the responsibilities of Ruth’s bankrupt estate. Frankly, it isn’t his problem – unless he wants it to be.
Likewise, Jesus Christ was not responsible for the sinful bankruptcy of the human race, yet He accepted the responsibility when “He bore our sins in His own body, that we being dead to sin could live unto righteousness.” (1 Peter 2:24)
Consider also the fact that Boaz could have chosen to select a more eligible bride, untouched by sin and uncondemned by the Law of Moses. But he illustrates Christ, who chose to redeem a soiled and sinful bride, loving us while we were yet sinners. (Romans 5:8).
And just as Boaz had to be wealthy enough to buy the estate of Elimelech, so our Lord according to the riches of His grace, redeemed us through His blood. (Ephesians 1:7)
Boaz will redeem his bride with his own money. Jesus will redeem His bride with His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19).
Our redemption was no less an act of gracious affection and love than the redemption of Ruth. Both transactions were neither cold nor emotionless.
Jesus Christ isn’t saying, “Okay, I’ll take Stephen and Frank and Marsha and Susan and, well, alright, I’ll guess you’ll do, too.”
Not at all.
The redemption of one sinner is cause for celebration and joy among the hosts of heaven throughout the furthest reaches of God’s glory. (Luke 15:10)
When did the awakening of redeemed sinners and the calling of sinners to join the bridal party become some cold emotionless transaction by our Savior?
Perhaps our own church history has separated the romance and delight from the heart and passion of God’s bride-winning Son.
Puritans and early American theologians (e.g. Jonathan Edwards in, “The History of Redemption” and Stuart Robinson’s work on The Discourse of Redemption) omitted any reference to the Book of Ruth as they traced the history of redemption through the Old Testament.
The understood the concepts of redemption, but they often missed the romance of redemption.
J. Vernon McGee wrote, “Earlier treatments created a view that redemption was a rather cold transaction . . . a thousand times no! Redemption is the love story of a Kinsman who neither counted the cost nor figured up the profit and loss, but for joy paid an exorbitant price for one that He loved.”
McGee, p. 17
He went on to make this comment; “The Book of Ruth declares that redemption is not a business transaction . . . it is a love [story].”
Ibid, p. 18
The Book of Ruth not only demonstrates the work of grace and the love of Christ, but still further:
- The fairytale of Ruth and Boaz defends the lineage of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Ruth provides a clear line between David and Judah – the tribal line of the coming King.
In fact, the last Old Testament genealogy showing the descent of Jesus from King David is the genealogical table found at the end of Ruth.
Ruth’s genealogy will be borrowed and repeated by both Matthew and Luke in their genealogy of Jesus Christ.
So critical is the link that Ruth provides in her genealogical table, that Old Testament scholars Keil and Delitzsch believe it is the primary reason the Book of Ruth was recorded.
C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament: Volume 2 (Eerdmans, reprinted in 1991), p. 494
And for good reason.
It is the singular record in Ruth which provides Matthew and Luke with enough information to prove that Jesus Christ is indeed a descendant of the royal line of David.
Also discovered in the genealogical record of Ruth is the wonderful fact that Boaz’s Gentile mother didn’t just marry any Jewish man – she married a man from the High Priestly line of Aaron (Matthew 1:5).
Which makes Jesus not only the legal heir to the throne of David – making His bride truly eligible to reign with Him – Jesus is also the legal heir to the role of Israel’s High Priest.
He is truly our King, High Priest and Redeemer.
- The fairytale of Ruth and Boaz witnesses to the possibility of godly living.
This fairytale begins with the word And or Now. Ruth is a companion volume to the Book of Judges.
Ruth 1:1 begins, Now it came about in the days when the judges governed . . .”
What kind of days where they like? What was it like to live during the days of the judges?
All you have to do is look across the first page of Ruth to the last page of Judges to read the answer – In those days there was no king in Israel; and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. (Judges 21:25)
This immediately informs us that the beautiful love story of Boaz and Ruth will shine against the dark, troubled, sinful, anything-goes, immoral backdrop of their present generation.
One author wrote that the Book of Ruth is a pearl in the pig pen of the Judges.
McGee, p. 20
These are the dark days of the Judges when everyone did that which was right in their own eyes.
You might be tempted to read the Book of Ruth and assume it was a great time to be a follower of God; that all men were kind and godly toward women and women were discreet and respectful toward men. You might get the impression that all landowners cared about their employees and business owners were generous with their profits to help those in need.
Which makes the love story of Boaz and Ruth all the more remarkable.
What were days of the judges like? These days were the lowest points in the history of Israel – days of division, cruelty, apostasy, civil war and national disgrace.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed (Victor Books, 1993), p. 14
Many Old Testament scholars believe Boaz was a contemporary of Gideon. Some like to believe that Boaz served for a time under the command of this former judge – that they even knew each other.
We can’t be sure, but we do know that Gideon’s biography goes from good to ungodly. He eventually marries a number of women who bear 70 sons will eventually be assassinated in cold blood as soon as Gideon dies (Judges 9).
Perhaps Boaz lived during the days of another well-known judge named Samson. Samson’s biography was hardly better. He moved from one bedroom to another until he told his secret to his final mistress. Delilah cut off his hair one night and the Philistines captured this wayward Judge, putting out his eyes and trampling down the integrity of God and all who followed Him (Judges 16).
There was also that horrible event of the Levite who took a mistress from the town of Boaz to Ephraim where she was tragically gang raped and killed. The story spread throughout the entire Jewish world.
It would have been front page news in the Bethlehem Times.
These were the days of the judges.
Boaz and Ruth didn’t have many examples. They lived during difficult days when godly decisions were minority opinion.
Frankly, there are never easy times to do the right things.
Finding a spouse, raising a family, developing a business or ministry that glorifies God are always minority positions in life – perhaps even in the church.
And yet in the lives of Boaz and Ruth you have the encouraging witness of:
- the sanctuary of a godly home;
- the commitment to humble service to those in need;
- the description of godly manhood that shepherds a family;
- the presentation of godly womanhood that pursues a virtuous life;
- the sanctify of the marriage vow;
- the fidelity of marriage when mistresses were as common as wives.
These were the dark days of the Judges . . . and this is the shining testimony of Boaz and Ruth who witnessed to the possibility of:
- living a godly life in the midst of an ungodly culture
- staying pure when surrounded with impurity
- not allowing culture to rewrite your character
- allowing instead your character to influence a generation and beyond.
The Book of Ruth is a demonstration of the grace of God; the love of Christ, the proof of Christ’s lineage; the witness that godliness is possible even in ungodly times.
- Finally, the fairytale of Ruth and Boaz reveals the providence of God in the smallest of details.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the coincidental details:
- The patriarch of this family, Elimelech, in disobedience just so happens to move to Moab
- One of his sons, in his own rebellion, just so happens to marry Ruth
- Ruth just so happens to desire to follow after God and return with Naomi 10 years later
- Ruth just so happens to glean in a field which just so happened to belong to one of Naomi’s relatives
- And he just so happened to be riding his horse out to the field on the very day when Ruth just so happened to choose his field in which to forage
- And he just so happened to be a godly single man, the son of a Gentile woman who had also converted to Judaism years earlier
- And so it just happened that Boaz and Ruth got married and carried on the lineage of the Messiah – a lineage that now mixed Jewish and Gentile blood – ultimately bearing a Messiah who would win a bride among both Jewish and Gentile believers
Isn’t it amazing how that all just happened?
This Book will reveal that God is the Director in the symphony of life and He orchestrates everything to fulfill His purposes.
Some events make sense to us now and some of them will not make sense for generations to come.
At the outset of this dramatic tale:
- Boaz could be thinking, “Why doesn’t God give me a wife?”
- Naomi is asking, “Why did God take away my husband?”
- Ruth will be wondering, “What kind of God have I decided to follow?”
- And even Elimelech must have thought sometime before he died, “My faithlessness to God has ruined everything . . . everything is lost.”
They have no idea . . . truth is, we don’t either.
So as their story line begins and as the curtain prepares to rise, take heart my friend; God happens to be the One writing your story too.
The best thing to do is follow His lead . . . submit to each stroke of his quill as He crafts a tale that in the end will fit within His purpose and for His glory, giving you the greatest satisfaction and certainly the greatest ending of any story – a future glory with Him.
Our lives simply become the parchment upon which our sovereign Lord writes His purposes and His plans – His story line for us – His drama.
No failure is final; no fear is fatal. You are His story.
So let’s be like that college student I read about several years ago who stood up at the end of a missions conference and held up a blank sheet of paper in front of her peers and said, “This piece of blank paper represents my life, now dedicated to Christ. It symbolizes that I am open to whatever he wants to write into my life . . . I’m willing for anything.”
Then she added, “The only thing I’ve done at the bottom of the page is sign my name . . . everything is yet unknown, but I’ve already signed on . . . my life is His.”
Sounds a lot like Boaz and Ruth.
And so this Fairytale begins . . . Once upon a time. You may already know how the story ends – for them and for you –
And they lived happily ever after!
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