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A Woman of Loyalty

An in-depth character study
of a truly great woman.

By Ken Raggio

Real Christians love dramatic conversions.

They love to hear the stories of men and women who left the world behind to follow Jesus Christ. They love to pass around "before and after" photographs. They love to hear new converts give exciting testimonies of what God has done in their lives.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons why so many people love the story of Ruth. Ruth is one of the most notable Bible characters who converted from her pagan religion to follow the true and living God. Hers is a touching and emotional story of a woman who forsook everything to become a woman of God. Her experience and the subsequent blessings of God upon her life are better than any storybook tale.

Ruth's character is inspirational because in her we see so many of the excellent qualities that we know are necessary to make a genuine conversion.

1. She had the insightful discernment to recognize that Naomi's God and Naomi's people were more desirable than her own.

2. She had the fortitude and resoluteness to make the decision to forsake all and not be dissuaded.

3. She proved to be a wonderful daughter-in-law and outstanding devotee to both Naomi and her God.

Ruth's devotion to her mother-in-law was so profound that even modern dictionaries include the word "ruth" as a noun, meaning "compassion or pity for another". We will study this fascinating lady today and learn what we can from her.

Ruth - A Woman of Loyalty

We begin in Bethlehem of Judah, a city that would later come to figure prominently in several very important Bible stories. Ruth's father-in-law and mother-in-law were natives of Bethlehem. Elimelech and Naomi were their names.

The time frame of this story is the generation following Joshua's invasion of Jericho (Joshua 2). Rahab the harlot was a key figure in that story, and her son, Boaz is a key figure in the story of Ruth.

The learned Bishop Patrick of Ireland (fourth century) taught that Elimelech and Naomi probably lived in the days of Gideon, one of Israel's judges. This belief is based on the fact that Midianites invaded Israel at that time, and most of the south land as far as Gaza and including Bethlehem was impoverished. (See Judges 6:3-6.)

Take note of the migration of Elimelech and Naomi. They left Bethlehem because there was a famine in the land (Ruth 1:1). Years later, after Elimelech and both of his sons had died, Naomi returned to Bethlehem because "she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread," (Ruth 1:6).

It is noteworthy that Naomi was in Moab because of famine and impoverishment at home, and the reason for her return was its restored prosperity.

We can spiritualize that briefly, and observe that when apostasy occurs, people are forced to go begging the world's goods. Many of them die in their wandering. But when revival occurs, backsliders come home. And sometimes, their loved ones come with them.

Ruth was a remarkable fruit of an unfortunate scenario. Ruth's conversion to Naomi's faith was an unexpected dividend to what otherwise seemed to be an unprofitable venture.

Apparently, God Himself was impressed with Ruth's conversion, because He chose to send the Messiah through Ruth's offspring! What an exciting and inspiring example to everyone of us to think that God may have something very important in store for us, even though we have ungodly beginnings.

I. Ruth's Early Life

    A. Her Birthplace - Moab

Ruth was a Moabitess. Moab was the incestuous son of Lot. Genesis 19 tells the story of Lot's deliverance from Sodom and Gomorrah, and the evil scheme of his daughters to bear children by their father. Moab was born to Lot's oldest daughter.

The land of Moab was east of the Dead Sea. Bethlehem is situated only a few miles Northwest of the Dead Sea, so Naomi's family had migrated eastward across the Jordan River and settled only fifty or sixty miles from their native home.

    B. Her Family (Ruth 1:2-4)

We know nothing of Ruth's own family. She married Naomi's son, Mahlon (Ruth 4:10). Her sister-in-law, Orpah, was married to Chilion, the younger son. Naomi's family were Ephrathites. Ephrath was another name for Bethlehem. It is where Jacob's wife, Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin. She is buried there. When Ruth married Boaz in Bethlehem, the women of the city pronounced blessings on her that she would be as famous as Rachel and be worthy to build the house of Israel (Ruth 4:11). Miraculously, God was providing that Ruth, a former pagan, would be inducted into the lineage of Christ and settled into the same village where He would be born thirteen centuries later.

    C. Her Plight (Ruth 1:6-13)

Ruth's husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law all died. It is difficult to imagine the sorrow that must have clouded these women's lives. Naomi set out to return to Bethlehem. Ruth and Orpah went with her at first, but Naomi begged them to return to their mothers.

II. Ruth's Loyalty Toward her Mother-in-law

    A. Resisted Three Admonitions to Return (Ruth 1:8, 11,12)

Naomi's arguments were persistent. Verse 8, "Go, return each to her mother's house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me." Verse 11, "Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands?" Verse 12, "Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me." Orpah was convinced. With a tearful kiss, Orpah turned to go back to her family. But Ruth was not moved.

    B. Prompted Wise Decision (Ruth 1:16-17)

Naomi continued to argue for Ruth to go home. "Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law." But Ruth had already made up her mind. Moab held no attraction to her any more. Since marrying Naomi's son, Ruth had fallen in love with his family, his homeland, and his God.

Ruth's words are immortal. Countless poetry and prose have been written inspired by Ruth's impassioned plea.

"Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me."

A more beautiful consecration has rarely been recorded. In these word lies a pattern for every man and every woman who would choose to follow the way of righteousness. Ruth pledged herself not only to Naomi, but also to her destiny, her people and her God.

Saints of all the ages would do well to make such a thorough "sell-out" to the cause of God and his people.

    C. Rendered Moral and Financial Support (Ruth 2:11)

Ruth's loyalty to Naomi was impressive. Family and friends brought her kind deeds to the attention of Boaz, who later commended Ruth for all she had done in Naomi's behalf. "It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband: and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore."

III. Providence - God's Watchful Care

    A. Gleaned in the Right Field (Ruth 2:1-3)

It is wonderful to observe how Ruth's brave and wise choices earned her favor with men and God. "Her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech, " (Ruth 2:3). More than a stroke of luck, God's hand guided Ruth into the very field of the man who would become her benefactor. Boaz came out to her, and because it had been reported to him what a wonderful person she was, Boaz extended lavish benefits to her on their very first encounter.

1. Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens:

2. Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them: have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee?

3. When thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.

4. The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.

5. At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar.

6. He reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left.

7. Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not:. And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not.

There is a message for all times here. It is a message for the gleaners.

Gleaners are the poor and helpless who come into the fields at the end of the day to scavenge for a few morsels of food. All of us were gleaners at first.

Just as Boaz instructed his young men to leave the gleaners "handfuls of purpose", (by intentionally leaving grain behind in the fields), even so God in His mercy has left "handfuls of purpose" for all the poor and helpless who are lost in sin. Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," (Matthew 11:28). The Prophet Isaiah, in chapter 58, admonished the righteous to "deal thy bread to the hungry". God feeds even those who are not yet converted, but who are hungry. " Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled," Jesus said in Matthew 5:6.

    B. Met the Right Man (Ruth 2:4-7)

Boaz was no ordinary citizen. He was a mighty man of wealth. But he was also a near kinsman of Ruth's father-in-law. As such, Boaz was in the unique position of being able to redeem Ruth by taking her to be his wife, and to maintain the posterity of her deceased husband, Mahlon. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 sets forth the ordinances of a kinsman redeemer.

Deuteronomy 25: 5 If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. 6 And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel. 7 And if the man like not to take his brother's wife, then let his brother's wife go up to the gate unto the elders, and say, My husband's brother refuseth to raise up unto his brother a name in Israel, he will not perform the duty of my husband's brother. 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him, and speak unto him: and if he stand to it, and say, I like not to take her; 9 Then shall his brother's wife come unto him in the presence of the elders, and loose his shoe from off his foot, and spit in his face, and shall answer and say, So shall it be done unto that man that will not build up his brother's house. 10 And his name shall be called in Israel, The house of him that hath his shoe loosed.

Boaz called together Ruth's nearest kinsman and ten of the elders of the city for an official disposition of this matter. In the witness of the elders, the nearest kin heard Boaz describe the legal opportunity and obligation of taking care of Ruth. There was a further encumbrance of some family property that must be purchased. While the kinsman might have purchased the property, he was not interested in taking Ruth to wife, since it would have marred his current inheritance.

The nearest kinsman gave up his shoe as the elders of the city witnessed it. Boaz became the new kinsman redeemer. According to Matthew Henry's Commentary, he then took possession of Elimelech's estate that had been mortgaged, and took Ruth to wife.

"The House of him that hath his shoe loosed" became the epithet or scorn of any kinsman who refused to build up the house of his brother.

This accusing stigma points us typologically and prophetically to the coming of Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul compared the original sinful Adam to the second righteous Adam, Jesus Christ. "For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive," (1 Corinthians 15:22). No other man living could have redeemed our pitiful lost and estranged souls.

We would not have been redeemed if it had not been for Jesus Christ who paid the ransom for our souls. "The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many," (Matthew 20:28).

Another fascinating note pertains to Boaz's own lineage. His mother was Rahab. Rahab was a harlot who lived in Jericho when Joshua and the children of Israel came across Jordan to capture the Promised Land. Rahab showed remarkable kindnesses to the Jewish spies who came into Jericho. She hid them from the officials who came to arrest them. She acknowledged that God was with Israel, and that all men feared them, and prayed that the men of Israel would show mercy - not only to her, but to her father, her mother, her sisters and her brothers. (See Joshua 2.) They promised they would, and when Jericho fell a few days later, Rahab and her family were saved alive.

In short, Rahab's kindnesses to the Israelite spies, coupled with her protective love and concern for her family earned for her the blessings of Israel and the blessings of God. Rahab later married a man named Salmon, and they bore a son named Boaz.

Now, in this lesson, we see these same character traits in Rahab's son - love for the posterity of Israel and for his own family. He then married Ruth, who would also come to renown because of her love for Israel and her family.

    C. Loyal (Ruth 2:11-12)

We mentioned earlier that Boaz had already been told about Ruth's faithfulness and loyalty to Naomi. He certainly must have been influenced by that report.

Boaz immediately recognized that Ruth was a jewel - a virtuous woman as Solomon would later define. Boaz was a man of outstanding character and he recognized those traits in Ruth. It is not surprising that he wanted to marry her.

These two fine people, Boaz and Ruth, would beget Obed, whose son Jesse would be the father of David, the greatest Israelite king of ancient times, and ultimately the progenitor of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In all of this, we can readily see the hand and blessings of God upon those whose loyalties are to God and his people. Regardless of the pressures of modern society for us to lower our standards, and live compromising and questionable lifestyles, we should remind ourselves that God never fails to recognize a virtuous man or woman, and He will reward us in due time.

What greater honor could have been bestowed upon Boaz and Ruth than to make them the grandparents of the Messiah? There is only one way to improve on that proposition, and it is the New Testament provision of the new birth. Better than being ancestors of Christ, now we are the SONS of God!

"Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is," (I John 3:1,2).

In every way, the blessings and benefits of living godly in modern times far exceed the blessings and benefits of Boaz and Ruth's days. We are born of the Spirit of Jesus Christ!

John 1:12, "But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 13 Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God."

Romans 8:14, "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God."

    D. Wise Counsel (Ruth 2:22) (Stay in the Right Field; Admonition to Separation)

Boaz had instructed Ruth to stay near the young men who were bringing in his harvest. Naomi further advised her that it would be better if she stayed with the maidens. Above all, they were urging Ruth not to take up with workers in anybody else's fields.

If Ruth had not be a woman of due diligence, she might have wandered into different and less desirable circumstances. Can you imagine how insignificant Ruth's life could have become if she had lost her focus on the right and proper way to handle herself? If Ruth had only been a little careless, she might never have been redeemed by Boaz, and she certainly could have vanished into insignificance.

We should never underestimate the importance of carefully following the Lord's instructions for our daily living. It only takes one misstep to completely destroy a miracle. Ruth is our example of meticulous compliance to protocol.

This also translates into a lesson on separation from the world, the flesh and the devil. That is the sum and substance of our holiness teachings and standards. If we hope to win the reward of the righteous, we must abstain from all appearance of evil, be separate, holy and righteous in our living.

IV. The Reward of Loyalty (Ruth 2:8-9, 14-17)

    A. A Secure Family (Godly Husband; Godly Child; Naomi)

It is doubtful that Ruth could have found a more eligible bachelor, especially a godly man such as Boaz. Yet their relationship was divinely ordained. If God had not had a hand in their lives, everything would have been dramatically different.

We must teach our children the priceless benefits of depending on God for the selection of a mate. Boaz and Ruth had a marriage made in heaven. Their descendants included King David, King Solomon, and Jesus Christ. Boaz also blessed Ruth by honoring her former mother-in-law, Naomi, and providing for her welfare.

Godly marriages send a ripple effect of blessing in every direction. It blesses parents, and children, and grandchildren and relatives and friends for generations.

    B. Material Prosperity

Jesus said, "Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth," (Luke 12:15). Can anyone deny that a happy marriage with a happy home that is blessed by God is one of the most priceless gifts that anyone can possess? Boaz's "mighty wealth" would certainly have been wonderful to enjoy, and no doubt they did enjoy it. Unfortunately, many young couples spend their early years pursuing after the wrong priorities. They wear out their health, their nerves, their pocket books, looking for satisfaction, when one of their greatest sources of joy is right there in one another's arms -- loving one another and loving and serving God.

    C. Royal Genealogy (Matthew 1:5)

God had promised Abraham that he would become the father of a great nation and that kings would come from his loins. Surely enough, dozens of kings proceeded from his lineage. It is difficult to appreciate the stark poignancy of fathering a king. It would be difficult to find reliable statistics on the odds of an average human parenting a king, but it would certainly be one in many millions.

So for Boaz, the son of a pagan harlot, and Ruth, a pagan Moabitess to both find favor with God, and produce not only kings, but the Messiah - that is all too fantastic to comprehend. Yet by the goodness of God, it happened.

    D. Spiritual Legacy

Do cities make people famous, or do people make cities famous? Probable the latter. Rachel's tomb was the first famous story associated with Bethlehem. But the story of Boaz and Ruth introduced a new direction to its historicity. In just a few years, one of Israel's' best loved prophets, Samuel would come to visit, and would stand before Jesse's sons in Bethlehem. Young David would bow down as Samuel poured the anointing oil of kingship on his head.

The Prophet Micah would attach eternal significance to Bethlehem by prophesying, "But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting," (Micah 5:2).

God actually cherished the city of Bethlehem for some reason. He cherished it so much that he selected Bethlehem as the very place where He would first reveal Himself to all mankind in His newly born human body - Jesus Christ.

This all suggests that there is a spiritual legacy being perpetuated above all else.

Consider the touching and emotional occasion of Rachel's death in bearing baby Benjamin. Rachel gave her life to perpetuate Israel's (Jacob's) posterity.

Then Ruth made a consecration to God, leaving her old gods, and family and friends, and was redeemed by Boaz who was acting in godly obedience.

Later David risked his life for his sheep, killing both a bear and a lion. These three extraordinary stories seem to contain a common thread of sacrificial love for God and family.


An interesting aside to the story of Ruth is found in Naomi's words upon returning to Bethlehem. When the people saw Naomi for the first time, the wondered if their eyes were playing tricks on them.

"All the city was moved about them and they said, Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the LORD hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?" (Ruth 1:19-21).

Naomi was depressed for several reasons. Going to Moab had been an act of desperation for survival, but it had failed. Her husband and sons had died. She also had to say goodbye to one of her daughters-in-law. So she was returning to Bethlehem defeated.

"I went out full, and the LORD hath brought me home again empty," she said.

But Ruth changed the ending of the story.

Because of Ruth's exemplary choices and actions, Naomi found a reason to live again. Naomi was delighted that Ruth and Boaz came together. And Naomi was able to enjoy many benefits from her relationship to them.

All our choices carry with them the potential for blessings or cursings. When we make wrong choices, we condemn not only ourselves but many, many others who live with the circle of our influence.

God established the precedent with Abraham, by promising him, "I will bless them that bless thee, and curse them that curse thee, and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed," (Genesis 12:3). There is the principle of the ripple effect.

Let us never forget that by our godly obedience and sacrificial love for God and His people, we are setting in motion the promises of God to bless not only ourselves, but also many, many others.

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