“… for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.” Ruth 3:11
Tucked between the saber rattling of the Book of Judges and the power and panoply of the six books about the kings of Israel lies the quiet little Book of Ruth. It consists in its entirety of just 85 verses. It is the one book in the Bible which devotes itself to the domestic history of a woman —a foreigner in Israel, no less! In idyllic, pastoral scenes, it leads us in four short chapters from famine, poverty, and untimely deaths right up to the splendor of David’s throne.
The Book of Ruth, like all the other books in the Old Testament, does not speak primarily of men and women — although we will meet some memorable ones in its few, short verses. Its intent is not to promenade its noble people—although we will come to admire several spiritual blue bloods on its pages. Above all, this book speaks about God. In its simple, rural narrative, we catch a glimpse of the goodness of God as He remembers His covenant faithfulness in the midst of blatant infidelity. And on its pages we see Jehovah’s goodness as He reaches His redemptive arm across all nations, tongues, and tribes to save His own. In the Book of Ruth we see the goodness of God as He transforms children of wrath, Moabites, into the finest tradition of Israelite maidens.
The exemplary conduct of at least three of the leading characters in the Book of Ruth could well be the subject for the fruit of the Holy Spirit, goodness.
Certainly Boaz, who is wholly characterized by godly dignity, integrity, and benevolence, could depict this fruit of the Spirit. Christlike, he is willing to serve as the redeemer for the crumbling household of Elimelech by marrying Ruth (at her instigation and request) and thus return the parcel of land to Elimelech’s posterity. By Ruth’s own declaration, Boaz is the first in all of Bethlehem to speak “friendly unto thine handmaid’’ Ruth 2:13. (What a sad commentary on Israel’s refusal to show hospitality to the “stranger within thy gates.” Is this also a commentary on us today?) Every action and consideration of Boaz, even to the least of his employees, is exemplified by goodness.
We could even pay homage to Naomi, the saintly old woman in the account. For although it is true that she erred greatly in leaving the land of Israel with her husband and sons (as is marked by the judgment of God upon each step of her walk in the land of Moab), nevertheless, it must have been through Naomi’s instruction that Ruth had come to know and love Naomi’s God and land, her people and faith. And then, there is Naomi’s own solemn and humble confession, “I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty. . .call me Mara …” Ruth 1:21 and 20. What delights God more than acknowledgement of wrongdoing and confession of sin? Yes, Naomi was good.
But this particular book is not named the Book of Boaz, nor is it called the Book of Naomi, but it has come down to us in the holy canon of Scripture as the Book of Ruth. So let’s see, now, how Ruth the Moabitess reflects the goodness of God in her own life and stands in her simple piety as a wholesome example of the fruit of the Spirit called goodness.
Alone in her humble cottage with the hours stretching long and silent ahead of her, Naomi had much time to ponder and reflect. As she had done each morning since their return from Moab, Ruth had left in the early hours to begin her monotonous task of picking up the grain left behind by the reapers.
Naomi was disturbed that once the excitement of their return had settled down, no one in all of Bethlehem had done anything to make Ruth feel accepted. The two of them, poor and destitute, widows indeed, were left severely alone. Naomi did not mind for herself that she was kept icily at bay —for she knew she deserved the distance at which she was held —but her heart ached to see Ruth, a fledgling in the faith, subjected to the proud and scornful looks of her neighbors.
Naomi had tried to dissuade Ruth from returning to Bethlehem with her. She had told Ruth in no uncertain terms before their departure from Moab that prospects for anything pleasant in Israel were dim. She had plainly told Ruth that the widow’s plight in Israel was grim. With no sons or husband to provide, poverty would stalk them. She had even discouraged any hopes that Ruth might have of remarrying. She had warned both Orpah and Ruth that it was clear that the hand of God was against her (Ruth 1:13). So Ruth had been prepared for unpleasant physical circumstances; but how could she ever have been prepared for such open hostility as they faced in Bethlehem? Was this all there was to experience in the blessedness of choosing for Jehovah? Yet Ruth quietly went about her own business, seemingly untouched by the cold looks and inhospitable treatment of Bethlehem’s inhabitants.
Ruth’s primary concern was for the physical care of her mother-in-law. And no unneighborly attitude could stand in the way of what she considered to be her duty. Naomi was deeply touched by Ruth’s devotion to her. Ruth cared for Naomi’s earthly needs by gleaning from early morning until late afternoon in the hot, dusty fields of Bethlehem. Back-breaking work, it was, only compensated by the few stray strands of barley which she was able to gather in the corners of the field —but so necessary to keep herself and Naomi from starving. Yes, she and Ruth were hungry. She, Naomi, who had once been a wealthy landowner’s wife, faced each new day with the primeval need for food. Sometimes, it didn’t seem possible, such a longing for food as the two of them endured. But God had been good, for He had brought them home at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Naomi remembered with some embarrassment the day that Ruth had worked in Boaz’s field and coming home had taken parched corn and bread from her pocket, reserved from her own midday meal, to share with the hungry Naomi. Naomi recalled how that she could not even exchange pleasantries or converse with Ruth until after she had warded off the hunger pangs by quickly eating Ruth’s kindly- saved lunch (Ruth 2:18).
Ruth was certainly loyal to her bereft mother-in-law. Her love was deep and pure. Freely she gave of herself for the good and service of Naomi. Not once did she intimate by glance or word that caring for her aged mother-in-law was more than she had bargained for —bothersome, a distasteful chore for her.
Naomi was well-aware too, that not only was Ruth keeping them from virtual starvation, but that she heeded old Naomi’s counsel, as well, never chafing (as so many young ones did) under Naomi’s “old-fashioned” advice.
As a new convert, Ruth had many things to learn about Israel’s customs and culture. She listened intently to all Naomi’s wisdom and experience as they fellowshipped in the evenings. Ruth paid attention to Naomi’s gentle but urgent warnings that she stay in Boaz’ field to glean because she might be sexually molested if she went to work in another field (Ruth 2:22).
Often in the weeks following their return to Bethlehem, Naomi recalled Ruth’s eloquent and timeless confession as the two of them had stood near the bend of the stream which led from Moab to Bethlehem. Here Naomi had urged her two daughters-in-law to return to the land of Moab. Orpah had done so, but Ruth had clung to her and answered in ardency:
“Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee. . .”
Had Ruth known then the circumstances calculated to discourage her, would she have been so determined in her convictions? Is newly-found faith so strong that it can unflinchingly face up to ostracism, loneliness, poverty, and grief? Why hadn’t Moab been able to entice her or hold her back with its comfortable prospects of companionship, marriage, and the good life?
Naomi longed for rest for Ruth—a home and husband —but knew that this would be highly unlikely in the land of Israel. Yet Naomi had done all she could to warn this innocent one that her reasons for coming to Bethlehem had better not be thoughts of marriage. Old Naomi had no sons in her womb and had explicitly told Ruth that even if she did, it would be too long until they were grown up. And Naomi, who knew the law well, also assured Ruth that although her son Mahlon had married Ruth while their family had sojourned in Moab, no Israelite would wed a Moabite in his own land. Nor would there be any welcome for them in Bethlehem, for poor they would be and poverty was a sure sign of Jehovah’s displeasure.
Yet Ruth persevered in the face of many obstacles. She stood staunchly by her confession. She never wavered from it. She did not yet know this Jehovah intimately, but one thing was certain, she had separated herself unequivocally from Moab. She had chosen for Israel. She had denied Moab’s god Chemosh. She had embraced Jehovah, the one true God. She would not falter for her entire confidence was Jehovah. He would not fail her. In just a short time, she had come
to love Israel and its people. By grace, she would not forsake them either. In truth, she meant it: nothing but death would separate her and Naomi. Naomi’s own faith was strengthened by the goodness of her daughter-in-law who was willing to “count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. . .” Philippians 3:8.
And so, Ruth gives herself over to goodness. Out of goodness she requests permission to gather grain in the fields of Boaz, although the law clearly stated that the poor and stranger could glean in the fields at harvest time (Lev. 19:9 and 10). In humility, she places herself beneath Boaz’ most menial of servants (Ruth 2:13). Out of goodness, for Naomi’s sake and so that Elimelech’s name will not expire nor his inheritance be lost, she contracts a marriage with her late father-in-law’s kinsman, Boaz, to bear a child for Naomi in her old age when it was freely acknowledged that she would have made a God-fearing wife for any man in Bethlehem (Ruth 3:11).
Even Boaz praises Ruth’s essential goodness, her virtue, when he says, “You have shown more kindness in the latter end (to Naomi in agreeing to a marriage within the family of Elime- lech) than at the beginning (when you left Moab and chose for God, Israel, and the care of your mother-in-law)’’ Ruth 3:10.
Old Naomi’s ears would thrill to hear the confession of her neighbors that Ruth was better to Naomi than seven sons (Ruth 4:15), this being the supreme Old Testament blessing for a woman (see I Samuel 2:5).
Naomi’s heart was full. No longer did she want her friends to call her empty. Pleasantness would be her name once more. Truly Jehovah had changed her tears of bitterness into a well of joy.
Fondly she clasped Obed, the tiny son of Boaz and Ruth, to her bosom, and looking into his infant eyes, beheld down throughout he ages the Great Goodness of God, Jesus Christ.