(Ruth 1; 3:1-14; 4:13-22)
God’s unusual blessings are not restricted to any race or gender of people. This fact is buttressed by the statement of Peter in Acts 10:34-35, while ministering to the household of Cornelius, where he said, “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism, 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” Last Sunday, we saw how God extended His unusual blessings to both Elijah (a Jewish prophet) and the Widow of Zarephath (a Gentile woman). This morning, we want to learn from the example of Ruth, the woman after whom the Book of Ruth in the Bible is named, how we can experience God’s unusual blessings. But who was Ruth? Ruth was from the country of Moab whose inglorious origin can be traced to Genesis 19 and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah by God. On that dreadful day, Lot, Abraham’s nephew, escaped Sodom with his wife and two daughters. His wife was turned into a pillar of salt, but Lot and his daughters found refuge in a cave. His daughters, who evidently had been badly affected by their time in Sodom, conspired to lure their father into sleeping with them. On successive nights, they got their father, Lot, drunk and slept with him. Both sisters got pregnant and gave birth to sons – one named Moab, the other named Ammon. Those two boys—born of incest—grew up to found nations that would eventually become both incredibly evil as well as bitter enemies of Israel. The Moabites were a pagan nation, meaning that they did not worship or revere Yahweh, the God of Israel. Their national god was Chemosh (Num. 21:29), but like all other pagan nations, the Moabites were polytheistic (Judges 10:6), and through much of their history, they were hostile towards Israel. Their proximity proved a continuous threat to the eastern borders of Israel, and the pagan religious practices they followed tempted the Israelites to commit idolatry. Also, the Moabites’ lust for power and conquest threatened Israel’s possession of the Promised Land. What is perhaps the height of their hostility towards Israel happened when the Jews, who were on their way to Canaan from Egypt, wanted to pass through Moab. Balak, the king of Moab, conspired with the Midianites and hired a false prophet, Balaam, to place a curse on them. When that did not succeed, Balaam gave Balak the evil counsel to get Moabite women to seduce the Israelite men into sexual immorality and idol worship. God judged the Israelites by sending a plague that killed 24,000 of them (Numbers 22-25). Because of this, Moses, towards the end of his ministry, gave the following command to the Israelites, in Deuteronomy 23:3-6, “3 No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. 4 For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. 5 However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. 6 Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.” Unfortunately, about 130 years later, in defiance of what God had said, it was to Moab that a man from Bethlehem of Judah named Elimelech relocated with his wife, and their two sons because of famine in Bethlehem of Judah. After a few years of their sojourn in Moab, Elimelech died, leaving behind his wife, Naomi and their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion who later got married to Moabite women named Ruth and Orpah. After ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion died, and Ruth and Orpah became widows. The entire family was reduced to three widows who had no one to take care of them or protect them. In the world of that day that was a very tragic and difficult situation to cope with. Therefore, when Naomi learned that the situation of things had improved in Bethlehem of Judah, she prepared to return home and encouraged her daughters-in-law to go back to their respective families and gods. After much persuasion by Naomi, and a bit of reluctance on her part, Orpah returned home to her family. But Ruth clung to Naomi, her mother-in-law, and uttered one the greatest statements of loyalty, commitment, and devotion ever made. When Naomi said, 15 “Look, your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” 16 Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:15-17). Ruth did not make this statement because she saw in Naomi someone who had anything to offer her. Indeed, the picture of the future that Naomi painted for herself and whoever would go with her back to Bethlehem was very bleak and discouraging. But Ruth did the unusual by choosing to go with her mother-in-law, Naomi. What are the unusual blessings that Ruth experiences from God? First, is the blessing of a new home where she could have rest. This is something she never thought was possible again for her to experience. Second, is the blessing of a son, an experience she never had in her first marriage. Third, Ruth is one of the four women who are mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:1-16). This is very unusual because when the Jews made a genealogy, they normally didn’t include women on the list. They just traced the family tree from father to son. But Matthew 1 includes five women in Jesus’ family tree. They are Tamar (v. 3), Rahab (v. 5), Ruth (v. 5), Bathsheba (v. 6), and Mary (v. 16). All of them are very unlikely people. For those who may be wondering, “What’s the big deal about being mentioned in a genealogy?” The Jews were very fastidious about and routinely paid close attention to questions of genealogy. For instance, whenever land was bought or sold, genealogical records were consulted to ensure that the land belonging to one tribe was not being sold to members of another tribe—thereby destroying the integrity of the ancient tribal boundaries. You couldn’t just put the money down and take the deed. You also had to prove that your ancestors came from the same tribe. Genealogy was also crucial in determining the priesthood. The law specified that the priests must come from the tribe of Levi. Genealogy also helped determine the line of heirship to the throne. This is possibly why Ezra 2 and Nehemiah 7 contain lengthy listings of the various people returning from captivity. As the Jews re-established themselves in Israel, it was crucial that they knew which families had historically held which positions in the nation. The genealogy of Jesus, in Matthew 1:1-16, establishes Jesus as part of the royal family of David. God had said 1000 years earlier that the Messiah must come from the line of David (2 Samuel 7). In the time of Jesus, He wasn’t the only one claiming to be the Messiah. Other men—imposters—claimed to be Israel’s Messiah. That’s why Matthew 1 begins this way: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” David is listed first, even though chronologically Abraham came first in history. Why? The crucial issue was not, “Is Jesus a Jew (a son of Abraham)?” but rather, “Is he a direct descendant of David?” In order for Jesus to qualify as the Messiah, he must be a literal, physical descendant of David. Finally, what are the unusual things that Ruth did? First, Ruth had faith in the God of Israel. Even though she was a Moabite, a foreigner, and of a people God had forbidden the Israelites from marrying, Ruth left her people, both geographically and metaphorically, rejecting their way of life and spiritual practices and embracing the God of Israel. Ruth was, therefore, grafted into God’s people and into the lineage of the Messiah. Second, Ruth was faithful. Ruth had the opportunity to rebuild her life. After her husband died, her mother-in-law, Naomi, gave Ruth permission to return to her home and her family. Naomi had no way to financially provide for her daughter-in-law. She had no other sons for her to marry, and no husband to provide for them. But, rather than return to her hometown, Ruth was steadfast in her love for Naomi. She sacrificed a life that she knew for a life of uncertainty. Naomi couldn’t promise Ruth a comfortable future with a husband or financial security. But still, Ruth went with her. She remained faithful to Naomi and pledged her faithfulness to the Lord. Ruth couldn’t have known that by following Naomi she would someday be blessed by being a part of the Messiah’s family. As Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. How often do we practice the kind of faith Ruth had? Third, Ruth was hardworking and obedient. Ruth trusted Naomi and obeyed her instructions to offer herself to Boaz on the threshing floor. It must have been terrifying for Ruth to make herself so vulnerable, especially because she was a foreign woman whose people were despised by the Israelites, but she obeyed Naomi anyway. Fourth, Ruth was compassionate and generous. Ruth showed such love and kindness to Naomi through her faithfulness to stay with her. Ruth was also generous in her care for Naomi, when she returned with nearly 15kgs of barley and also gave Naomi the rest of the meal Boaz had given her. She didn’t hoard or hide a portion for herself but shared all she had. Fifth, Ruth was kind. When Ruth offered herself to Boaz on the threshing floor, Boaz called her kind and was even more endeared to her: “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor (Ruth 3:10 NIV). Sixth, Ruth was humble. We see Ruth’s humility when she asks Boaz why he would notice her and be so generous towards her, a foreigner, recognising that she had not earned nor deserved it: “May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants”(Ruth 2:13 NIV). In conclusion, in Ruth, we see a picture of ourselves, penniless, desperate, and unable to provide for ourselves. We need to offer ourselves to a kind and generous kinsman-redeemer, who can cover us with his protection and provision. We also see in Ruth’s character the way in which we need to approach our kinsman-redeemer, Christ, with humility, reverence and willing obedience, understanding our need for him. In the same way, Christ is our kind and generous kinsman-redeemer, rescuing us from our spiritual poverty and desperation where we cannot rescue ourselves. And he provides for us what we need most and what only he can give – love, protection, provision, and belonging. When we are faithful, humble, kind and diligent in service, God will bless the work of our hands and the state of our hearts for His purpose and glory. The book Ruth, though a true, historical account, is also a beautiful allegory for the relationship our redeemer, Jesus Christ, wants with us. It not only illustrates the very nature and character of God but also His tender heart and generous love and provision towards us, His cherished bride, the Church. By forsaking our own desires and plans for ourselves, and entrusting our lives to Him in faith, we stand to gain far more than we could ever sacrifice. Not only the deep love and provision of the One who made and cherishes us but eternal life through the sacrifice of his one and only son, Jesus.
Your eternal salvation and spiritual well-being are our concerns. If you wish to receive Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour, you can pray the following prayer to God: “Dear God, I thank you for sending Jesus into the world to die for my sins. I repent of my sins right now and invite Him into my life to be my Lord and Saviour. Thank you, Jesus, for saving me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
If you offered this prayer to God, please write to let us know at the address below. You are also invited to join us in worshipping the Lord every Sunday in Yoruba language at 7.20 a.m. and in English language at 9.00 a.m.
Good News Baptist Church,
47/49, Olufemi Road, Off Ogunlana Drive,
P. O. Box 3781, Surulere, Lagos.