Rth_2:11-12. And Boaz answered and said unto her, 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. 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.
THE book of Ruth contains only the domestic occurrences of one poor family: and it may well excite our wonder, that such trifling incidents should occupy the pen of inspiration, when the affairs of kingdoms and nations are overlooked. But there is nothing trifling that relates to morals: and still less, that relates to the Messiah. Were there nothing contained here but an exhibition of filial piety, it would not be recorded in vain; because a very principal intent of the inspired volume is, to rectify, in every relation of life, the dispositions and habits of mankind. But an attentive reader of this history will discover in it a fund of rich instruction. To assist you in this search, we shall set before you,
The general circumstances of the history—
Not having time to notice every thing, we shall confine ourselves to those parts which deserve our more especial attention. The famine that was in the land of Canaan “in the days of one of the Judges,” the consequent departure of Elimelech with his wife and children into the land of Moab, the marriage of his two sons with Moabitish women, the death of Elimelech and of both his sons, the return of his wife Naomi to her native land, when she heard that God had restored plenty to it: these and other circumstances we pass over in silence, in order that we may enter more fully into the things which relate to Ruth.
Ruth was the wife of Mahlon, Naomi’s son: and to her this history principally relates. Two things in particular are stated concerning her, and they are distinctly specified in the words of our text; namely,
[This was so conspicuous, that it was a matter of notoriety, and a theme of high commendation, at Bethlehem, almost as soon as she arrived there. On Naomi’s adopting the resolution to return to her own country, Ruth, though a Moabitess, determined to accompany her: and, though Naomi stated faithfully to her the many inconveniences that would attend it, she would suffer nothing to divert her from her purpose. She had been instructed by Naomi in the knowledge of the only true God, and had seen in her the beauty and excellence of practical religion; and she determined to participate Naomi’s lot, whatever it might be, and to give herself up a living sacrifice to Naomi’s God. True it was, that in order to this she must relinquish all her own relations, and abandon all hopes of ever receiving benefits from them: but she had counted the cost, and deliberately preferred an adherence to Naomi and Naomi’s God, before her country, her kindred, and all that the world could give her. The terms in which she expressed her resolution strongly marked the firmness of her purpose; “Entreat 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 [Note: Rth_1:16-17.].”
Here is a pattern of true piety, and particularly as contrasted with Orpah, the relict of Naomi’s other son. Orpah, as well as Ruth, was much attached to her mother-in-law Naomi; but she had not a supreme regard for the God of Israel: and therefore, when she saw what she must forego in order to accompany Naomi, she drew back, and returned to her own people and their gods. When the final decision was to be made, we are told, “They all lift up their voice and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth clave unto her [Note: Rth_1:14.].” Could Orpah have adhered to Naomi without making any sacrifices, she would have done it; but if she must give up all her prospects in life in such a cause, she will not pay the price. She parts indeed with much regret; but still she parts; like the Rich Youth that turned his back on Christ, because he could not bring his mind to the terms which were required of him [Note: Mat_19:21-22.]. O that we may learn justly to appreciate the characters of Ruth and Orpah; and instead of drawing back, like Orpah, through the love of this world, may we follow rather the steps of pious Ruth, and “cleave unto the Lord with full purpose of heart.” This is what our God requires of all; nor will our Saviour on any other terms acknowledge us as his disciples [Note: Luk_14:26-27; Luk_14:33.].]
[Though she knew not at all in what way God would requite her, yet she went forward, committing all her concerns to him, and “putting her trust under the shadow of his wings.” Nor was she long before she experienced the tender mercies of her God. On her arrival at Bethlehem, she went into a field to glean some barley for the subsistence of herself, and of Naomi, whose infirmities rendered her unfit for so laborious an employment. Immediately, beyond all expectation, she was treated with great kindness by the reapers; and speedily afterwards by Boaz also, the owner of the field; who gave his servants a strict charge concerning her, and not only recommended her to glean in company with his maidens till the end of harvest, but authorized her to take a portion of their food, and bade the reapers to drop handfuls of corn for her, that she might reap the richer fruits of her industry. On her expressing her astonishment at all this unexpected kindness, she was informed by Boaz that it was a reward for the piety she had exercised towards her afflicted mother-in-law, and towards the Lord God of Israel. Laden with an extraordinary quantity of corn, she went home at the evening to Naomi; who, finding on inquiry that this benefactor was Boaz, a near relation of her own, encouraged her to follow the advice he had given her, and to glean in no other fields but his. Moreover, when Naomi found that this kindness of Boaz continued to the end of harvest, she began to think that God might incline the heart of Boaz to execute the office which belonged to the person who was nearest of kin to one who had died childless, namely, to marry the widow, and “raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.” In the hope of this, she advised Ruth to adopt a measure, which certainly to us appears exceeding strange, and which cannot be satisfactorily accounted for, except we suppose Naomi to have been actuated by a divine impulse, or at least by a firm reliance on God, whose glory, in this matter, she principally consulted. The expedient, dangerous as it was, succeeded: and Boaz agreed, that if another person who was nearer of kin to Ruth than himself should decline the office, he would instantly take it upon himself. The very next morning Boaz made the proposal publicly to the man who had a prior right; and then, on his declining to fulfil his duty, openly avowed his determination to fulfil it himself; and called the elders of the city to attest his redemption of her inheritance, and his espousal of her for his lawful wife. Thus wonderfully did God reward her for all her piety. Still further, though she had lived several years with her husband, and had borne no child, yet now it pleased God to confer on her that which was the great desire of her soul, and to make her a mother in Israel: yea, so greatly did God honour her, that David, the greatest of all the kings of Israel, sprang from her, as the grandson of her child; and the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the Saviour of the world, was lineally descended from her.
How richly was now that prayer of Boaz answered to her, “The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given to thee of the Lord God of Israel!”]
Such being the principal circumstances of the history, we proceed to notice,
The light which it reflects on subjects of the greatest moment—
And here a flood of light breaks in upon us. Truly the history is replete with instruction: independent of the moral duties which it inculcates, such as those of parental care and filial love, or the religions duties, such as affiance in God and devotion to his service, it reflects a light on,
The ways of Providence—
[Little do persons think, when brought into great affliction, what good may be derived from it, or what are the ultimate designs of God in it. When Naomi first came to Bethlehem, and was recognised by her old acquaintance, she said to them, “Call me not Naomi, but Mara,” that is, not Pleasant, but Bitter [Note: Rth_1:20.]; but within a few weeks she was congratulated as the happiest of women [Note: Rth_4:14-15.]: so completely was that Scripture verified in her, “He raiseth up the poor out of the dust, and lifteth the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. He maketh the barren woman to keep house, to be a joyful mother of children [Note: Psa_113:7-9.].” The ways by which her exaltation was effected, appeared fortuitous; but they were all ordered by the Lord, who foresaw the end from the beginning. It is said in the history, that “Ruth’s hap was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz.” Thus, as far as it was her act, it was casual and undesigned; but as a link in God’s chain, it was entirely ordered of the Lord. The same must be observed in reference to every other part of the history: the minutest event in it, as in that of Joseph, was under the immediate control of God, who made use of the most contingent means to accomplish his own eternal purpose. Let not any then, however reduced, conclude that their case is desperate, or that God has brought them into such a state for evil: for, as the bondage and imprisonment of Joseph were steps to his highest exaltation, so may our heaviest afflictions be the appointed means of bringing us to the most exalted good. “God’s ways are in the great deep, and his footsteps are not known:” and he not unfrequently “makes the depths of the sea a way for his ransomed to pass over [Note: Isa_51:10.].”]
The wonders of Redemption—
[Two things were enjoined by the law of Moses for the express purpose of shadowing forth the redemption of the world; the one was, that the nearest of kin should have a right to redeem an inheritance which his relation had mortgaged [Note: Lev_25:25.]; and the other was, that the brother of a person who died childless should marry his widow, in order to raise up seed to the departed person, and to prevent his name from perishing in Israel [Note: Deu_25:5-10.]. These prefigured the Lord Jesus Christ as our kinsman, “bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh,” redeeming us by his own precious blood; and uniting himself to us, that we may bring forth fruit unto God [Note: Rom_7:4.]. Now both of these things were done in the history before us: Boaz, as the kinsman of Ruth, purchased her to be his wife; and also redeemed her inheritance, that she, together with himself, might have the enjoyment of it. When he called the elders to be witnesses of the transaction, these were his own words; “Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Chilion’s and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi: moreover, Ruth, the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife [Note: Rth_4:9-10.].” Both the one and the other he obtained by purchase, being entitled so to do by the special ties of consanguinity: and we are expressly told, that the Lord Jesus Christ assumed our nature for that very purpose, that, “being made of a woman, and under the law, he might redeem them that were under the law [Note: Gal_4:4-5.].” The words of the Apostle are, “Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage [Note: Heb_2:14-15.].” How interesting then does this portion of the inspired records become, when we behold what a mystery is contained in it!]
The call of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ—
[In common cases it was unlawful for an Israelite to marry one of the daughters of Moab: but Ruth was become a proselyte to the Jewish religion, and was therefore entitled to fill the privileges of a child of Abraham. Still as a Moabitess, taken into that line from whence the Messiah was to spring, and actually made an instrument of continuing the succession whereby he was brought into the world, she was a witness for God to the Gentile world that he had not utterly forsaken them; but that they in due time should be incorporated with his chosen people, and become partakers of his salvation. Previous to this period, she was barren; but now she bore a son, through whom thousands and myriads were born to God: and in being the lineal ancestor of Christ, she was instrumental to the happiness of all that shall be saved by him, even of us Gentiles, as well as of those that were of Jewish descent. To her therefore we may eminently apply those words of the prophet, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear! break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child! for more are the children of the desolate, than the children of the married wife, saith the Lord [Note: Isa_54:1.].” Let none then apprehend that they are so far off, but that they may yet be brought nigh by the blood of Jesus, and “sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God.”]
The procedure of God in the day of judgment—
[Rewards do not always accompany virtue in this world, because God has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness, and reward every one according to his works. But there are some instances wherein God appears for his people now, in order that he may give a specimen, as it were, of what he will do hereafter: and such an instance is exhibited in the history before us: Ruth’s love to Naomi, and her confidence in the God of Israel, were richly recompensed. And who shall ever fail of recompence, that devotes himself unfeignedly to the God of Israel, and surrenders for him all his worldly prospects and comforts? We must indeed bear in mind the difference between the conduct of Orpah and of Ruth: it is not by a profession of love, but by the actual manifestation of it, that we must approve ourselves to God: we must not be contended with saluting his people, but must adhere to them, deliberately braving all difficulties and trials, and determinately adhering to his sacred cause. Let us only act in this manner; and the whole universe, like the Bethlehemites on that occasion, shall soon witness our reward [Note: Mat_19:29 with Psa_45:10.].]