The book of Ruth is read in synagogues during the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost. Her story takes place in the time of the Judges during the barley and wheat harvests.
Ruth’s commitment to God and her mother in law, Naomi, is one of the most well known verses of the Bible: “…for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God" (Ruth 1:16).
Her story begins when there was a famine in Bethlehem. Elimelech, his wife Naomi and sons Mahlon and Chilion decided to cross the Jordan River to Moab, which was at that time a fertile region with plenty of rain. They settled there and were blessed to find food and shelter.
Then Elimelech died unexpectedly and both his sons took Moabite wives. Mahlon wed Ruth and Chilion married Orpah (Ruth 1:3-4). When misfortune struck again, and Naomi lost her two sons, she decided to return to Bethlehem as the famine had ended (verse 6).
At first, Naomi assumed her daughters-in-law should return with her, but she then realized they would have difficulty finding new husbands in Israel, and urged them to remain in their land with their kinsmen and religion. Ruth, however, chose to come with her even though her prospects of finding a husband were not good and she would live as a widow in a foreign land (Ruth 1:7-17).
When they arrived in Bethlehem the barley harvest and the wheat harvest that would follow were their best chances for finding sustenance. "The law expressly allowed the poor the right to glean in the fields (i.e., in the corners of the fields; Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22; Deuteronomy 24:19-21), but the owners of the fields were not always cooperative. A hard day's work under the hot sun frequently netted only a small amount of grain" (F.B. Huey Jr., The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 3, p. 527).
God guided Ruth to the field of Elimelech's kinsman, Boaz, who treated her with kindness saying: "...'It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law… and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth…The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge" (Ruth 2:8-12). Boaz instructed the men working for him to let Ruth glean not just in the corners but also among the sheaves, where she could gather much more grain. He even told them to drop some wheat on the ground for her to find.
Naomi also instructed Ruth how to claim her right of marriage to Boaz because Boaz was Naomi’s kinsman (Ruth 3:1-18). "Under the Levirate law…when a man died childless his brother was bound to raise an heir to him by the widow. This law extended to the next of kin…Ruth… was claiming this right" (David and Pat Alexander, Eerdmans' Handbook to the Bible, pp. 227, 228).
After another more closely related kinsman did not claim this right Boaz redeemed all of Naomi's inheritance, and agreed to take Ruth as his wife as well. God blessed their faithfulness and Ruth and Boaz had a son called Obed (Ruth 4:13), through whom Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David and direct ancestor of Jesus Christ.
These miraculous events were directed by God, with Ruth typifying the Old Testament prophecy to Abraham of the New Covenant Church, which would include gentiles and Israelites alike: "...and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" through Jesus Christ (Genesis 12:3). This is also aptly described by Peter in the New Testament when God gave the first gentiles His Holy Spirit: "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:34-35).
In Leviticus 23 God identifies two loaves of leavened bread offered during the Feast of Weeks: "You shall bring from your habitations two wave loaves of two-tenths of an ephah. They shall be of fine flour; they shall be baked with leaven. They are the firstfruits to the LORD" (Leviticus 23:17). These two loaves of leavened bread represent God's faithful disciples in both the old and new dispensations, and also the two separate and now fused races of people who comprise the Church: gentiles and Israelites.
The leaven signifies our human nature, in a general sense, and the sin that so easily besets us (compare 1 Corinthians 5:6-7 with Matthew 16:12 and Hebrews 12:1). The baked loaves show that all God's people, whether gentile or Israelite, whether part of the old or new dispensation, will have their faith forged through the fiery trials experienced in this life (1 Corinthians 3:11-15; 1 Peter 1:7).
Few examples can compare to Ruth's devotion to Naomi, and her redemption by Boaz attest to her humble obedience that transcends time, race and culture. Ruth's loyal devotion inspires us to remain faithful to God and His prophetic plan of salvation for all humanity.
The Good News Magazine (May-Jun 1996)