The Most Beautiful Short Story in the World Part 1
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Sunday, June 25, 2006
The Most Beautiful Short Story in the World
I think that everyone likes to read a love story, especially if it’s true. The book of Ruth is such a story. It’s got all the ingredients: there’s a beautiful young girl who met a young man from another country. There’s tragedy because the young husband died, as well as his brother and father. There’s a mother-in-law; one of the best you can imagine. There are tears on leaving their homeland, and there’s another man who brought the young widow happiness. Yes, it’s a good story. In fact, it’s been called “the most beautiful love story in the world,” but there must be another reason that God put it in the Bible. I believe that He put this story in His book, because in Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, we have a great illustration of our redeemer-Jesus Christ.
We are blessed to be living in the twenty-first century for many reasons, and one of those reasons is that we live in the Christian era, on the completed side of the cross. From here, we can see how God’s dealings with His people Israel were foreshadowing’s of His intervention in human history through the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let’s see what light the story of Ruth can throw on the purpose of Christ coming to earth. If we are to understand the meaning of the actions of the main characters in this story we must go back into Hebrew culture, because there we can learn about the laws of redemption. If you owed a debt and were unable to pay it, then you, your wife and children could be sold as slaves, and you would have to work off that obligation. Fortunately, there was another way out, because a member of your family could come along and pay the debt: he would be your “kinsman-redeemer” because he had paid off your debt and redeemed you from slavery.
This principle of redemption also applied to property.
Politicians talk about a “property-owning democracy”: well, in the early years of Israel it was a “property-owning theocracy”. It was an important feature in Jehovah’s provision for His people that property should remain within the family. Each family unit was given a portion of the land, and it was important that the family maintained that inheritance. So when a field was sold and the deed was drawn up, there was a clause added that said that in a specified period of time, the property could be brought back into the family; it could be redeemed. The person who accomplished this redemption was the kinsman-redeemer. The principles behind the actions of the kinsman-redeemer are derived from God’s redemptive action in delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage and bringing her into the Promised Land. It was an expression of His great love for His chosen people.
God had established a covenant relationship with his people, and He expressed the relationship with these words, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.” That was God’s plan and purpose for mankind, but sin entered the world, bringing with it a separation from God and a desperate need for a kinsman-redeemer. Thank God He made a provision for one in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7) He is our redeemer. Our redemption is In Him.
Here in the book of Ruth, there is a classic example of this law of redemption. In this familiar story, we find a beautiful illustration of a kinsman redeemer which points forward in time to the greatest ever kinsman-redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. But to understand the significance of what Boaz did for Ruth, we must sketch in a little of the background of the story. It happened like this. It’s the story of an Israeli couple living in Bethlehem, who fell on hard times because of a severe drought and they decided to move to the neighboring country of Moab, leaving behind them a field which they owned, taking with them their two sons who were quite frail.
The boys eventually married girls from Moab, a nation steeped in heathen practices. The move to Moab proved to be a disaster for the family, because first the husband Elimelech died, followed by the death of the two sons, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law. What was she to do? In the providence of God, Naomi heard from travelers from Israel, “that the Lord had blessed his people by giving them good crops again.” The famine had ended. She called her daughters-in-law to her and said, “My darlings, I’m going home, but you can return to your parents.” But they had such a great love for Naomi that they insisted on returning to Israel with her. Eventually, one of the girls, Orpah, left her, but the other, Ruth, simply refused to leave Naomi. She poured out her heart in words that have become famous: “Don't make me leave you, for I want to go wherever you go and to live wherever you live; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.”
Ruth was prepared to step out into the unknown future, having put her faith in Naomi’s God. That was the beginning of an adventure in trusting in God’s provision, but that didn’t mean that Naomi and Ruth could just sit back and expect gifts to drop down from heaven. Oh no, Ruth was willing to do whatever was necessary to get food. The two widows owned a field in Bethlehem but it may not have been cultivated and they had to find some other means of supporting themselves. So Ruth set out to glean in the fields. The work was menial and backbreaking, but she offered to do it as part of her commitment to Naomi.
There’s truth in the saying that, “heaven helps those who help themselves.” It so happened that they had returned to Israel during harvest time and Ruth was able to take advantage of the generous provision of the laws of Israel that concerned gleaning. The law required that reapers in the fields should leave a portion of the crops to be collected by the needy and if the reapers had missed a part of a field they were not to go back to it. It was all part of God’s care for the poor, God’s welfare system—something that we must constantly bear in mind when we rejoice in whatever life provides for us. A concern for the underprivileged is very much a part of the heart of God; it should be ours as well, both personally and through help given to the community out of our taxes.
So Ruth went out into the fields to glean. The story says she, “happened to come” to a field owned by a man called Boaz, but this was no accident. What to Ruth was a sheer coincidence was part of the outworking of God’s gracious care. The popular song puts it like this, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” The theologian would prefer for it to be expressed in the words of the apostle Paul: “For everything comes from God alone.
Everything lives by his power, and everything is for his glory. To him be glory evermore.” (Romans 11:36) Both are gloriously true. God’s gracious providence doesn’t over-ride human decision and action, but rather as we live our lives open to His leading, He works out His purposes.