So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. Ruth 1.19-22.
Despite the focus of this morning’s text on a Jewish woman called Naomi, the beautiful little book from which the text is taken is not called the book of Naomi, as we might expect, but the book of Ruth. Ruth — a woman who, as the text tells us, was from Moab, a country south of the Dead Sea and generally hostile to the people of Israel. So what was Ruth doing with Naomi in the first place? Well, again, the text tells us: Ruth was Naomi’s daughter-in-law.
Over ten years earlier, famine had struck Judea and there was no food even in Bethlehem — which means “the House of Bread” — so Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, had taken her and their two sons south into Moab where they found food and settled. Some time later, Elimelech died, but the two sons married local girls and Naomi was cared for. But then both her sons died too; and with no-one left to support her, Naomi decided to return to her home village where she believed at least one of her relatives, Boaz, was still alive. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, stayed behind, but Ruth insisted on accompanying Naomi in those lovely words: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1.16).
So is that why Ruth has a book named after her in the Old Testament? No. She has a book named after her because of what happened next. Boaz, Naomi’s relative is alive and is a wealthy man. He becomes Ruth’s goel, her “kinsman-redeemer” (Leviticus 25) and marries her and Ruth gives birth to a child … but not just any child. “And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (Ruth 4.17). Amazing! Unbeknown to Ruth, she was to become the great grandmother of the great King David … and, as we now realise, an ancestor of Jesus himself – “great David’s greater son”.
What do I draw from this delightful story this morning? I simply draw fresh reassurance about the providence and purposes of God … about the way he sees the end from the beginning … about how he weaves everything into his cosmic tapestry to make it a wonder and a glory. Elimelech takes the renegade step of going to Moab. His sons marry gentile girls contrary to the law of God … and that should have been the end of that obscure Jewish family. But no; one of those gentile girls returns to Bethlehem with Naomi and, despite the fact that Moabites are banned from the assembly of the Lord to the tenth generation (Deuteronomy 23.3), Boaz, a righteous Jew, marries her. And then, contrary to all we might expect, God chooses her as an ancestor for his own beloved Son.
Was it an accident that Jesus’ ancestry included Ruth, a Moabitess … and also Tamar, another gentile, who enticed her father-in-law into an incenstuous relationship with her (Genesis 38) … and Rahab, a gentile prostitute (Joshua 2) … and Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife who was seduced by David? (See Matthew 1.1-17.) Surely not. There are all ancestors of one who came to die for the sins of the world — gentile and Jew alike. One who, like Boaz, would become the goel, the “kinsman-redeemer”, of the whole human race.
Father, I simply want to thank you that I, like Ruth, am chosen and loved and part of your purpose and plan. Help me to live this day in the light of that truth. Amen.