The Story of Ruth
May 22nd, 1960 @ 8:15 AM
THE STORY OF RUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-22-60 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message, the early morning message, on the Book of Ruth. We are following through the Old Testament especially centering our attention on the characters, the personalities, the people around whom the story is built and through whom the revelation of God is given. The message this morning will be a following of the whole book, the whole story and then next Sunday morning, we shall in the following Sundays, look at some of the things more closely in the beautiful stories.
The Book of Ruth is actually a part of the Book of Judges. The Book of Judges closes with three incidents, one about the idolatry of Dan, one concerning the tragedy that overwhelmed Benjamin, and the third this beautiful pastoral poem entitled Ruth. Goethe, the incomparable German poet, said that the story of Ruth as it is here in the Bible is the most beautiful poem in human language. Several times in the course of my studies, several times I have run across an incident that happened in England, when a great literary figure took the Book of Ruth and to a little select group in a drawing room, omitting some of the identifying marks and characteristics and changing the name but following the story through very much as you have it here in the Bible, read it to the group. And they were overwhelmed and said, "Where did you find that marvelous gem of literature?" It is really one of the beautiful pastoral productions in all time and in all literature.
Now, of course, those things interest us: the beauty of it and the sublimity of its telling, the artistry of its presentation. But to us of course, as children of God and as fellow members of the church, to us we are interested in the holy manifestation of the providence and love and care of God, and then also as in all the Holy Scriptures, those overtones of truth and revelation that touch us and our children and our children’s children and speak of the ultimate consummation of all the providences of God as they move in the history of this world.
Now we could not begin, of course, this morning to follow them all. So we shall do just a beginning. Now, if you would like to turn to the Book of Ruth, you can easily follow the message. First, we’re going to follow the story:
It came to pass when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land of Judah, and this family of Elimelech and Naomi, his wife, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion, that family falling prey to the terrible scourge of the famine, migrated across the Jordan River and into the land of Moab.
Now, to us that’s not very far, but of course to them it represented a journey into a foreign country and into a strange land. So these Ephrathites of Bethlehem-Judah, the man, his wife, and his two sons, are now living in a strange foreign country, Moab. While they were there – and they lived there ten years – while they were there, the boys grew to manhood, and they married two Moabite girls. One boy married Orpah and the other boy married Ruth.
Now it came to pass in those years in that decade that Elimelech died – the father of the two boys and the husband of Naomi – Elimelech died and the two sons died, Mahlon and Chilion. So there in the land of Moab is the widow from Bethlehem, Naomi, and then the two daughters-in-law, the wives of Mahlon and Chilion; the three widows are there in Moab.
In those days, word came to Naomi, "how that the Lord has visited His people in giving them bread." So she resolved to leave the country and the land in which she was a stranger and to go back to her native land, to Bethlehem in Judah. So as she prepared to go, her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, proposed to go with her. "No," says Naomi, "you go back home, for this is your land and your people and your country. You turn back, my daughters, and find husbands in the land of Moab for you are young, and I will return back to Bethlehem alone."
So Orpah kissed her mother-in-law and turned back. But Ruth clave unto her [Ruth 1:3-14]. And when Naomi impressed upon her that she return, Ruth said – and this is one of the most beautiful pieces of poetry in this earth and one of the finest sentiments and one of the noblest dedications. I have never read in any literature – not in Greek, not in Latin, not in English, nor I suppose others could have read in any other language, anything more beautiful than this commitment of Ruth:
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: and where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.
Just to read it, if you didn’t know anything of its background or its meaning, would be to pause before so sublime a devotion. So when Naomi saw that Ruth was so dedicated, the two go on together. And Naomi comes after this decade into Bethlehem, "and the city was moved to see her and this strange girl from a foreign country, and they said, ‘Is not this Naomi?’ And Naomi said, ‘Call me no longer Naomi, but call me Mara.’" Naomi means "sugar pie," that’s what we’d say. It means "honey," "honeybunch." Naomi means, actually the Hebrew word means, "sweetness." That’s a beautiful thing. Naomi: "Call me not sweetness, call me Mara, bitterness, for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me" [Ruth 1:19-20]. So the two come to Bethlehem.
Now, the second chapter – in Bethlehem, of course, the two who have nothing – no property, all of that’s been lost – the two are faced with the problem of bread. "So Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn." And Ruth goes into the field to glean ears of corn, to gather the leavings. You know, according to the law, you could not harvest the whole field. But in the corners, according to the law, there was left for the poor, and in the hedgerows. And then, of course, as they glean, naturally some was dropped. As they harvested, naturally some was dropped. So a gleaner could come behind, and that was for the poor. A man by the law could not harvest his field clean. But what was left behind, the poor could pick up. So Ruth goes into the field to glean after the harvesters.
And in the providence of God, she came to the field of a kinsman of Naomi, a kinsman of Elimelech, and his name is Boaz. He’s described here in the second chapter and the first verse: "And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband’s, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz."
So in the providence of life and of God, Ruth gleans in the field of Boaz, and he sees her [Ruth 2:1-3]. Now the thing that he noticed about her was, and this is the thing where most girls are – no, let me say – this is the thing where a worldly girl will never be persuaded. You know, a worldly girl thinks, "I have to drink in order to call attention to myself, and I have to smoke in order to call attention to myself, and I have to be loose in my moral life in order to entice the interest of boys and men." So she goes out and she lives that way. She smells like, well, I can’t describe what cigarette smoke and perfume smell like, but it has an odor all of its own. She smells that way. And she has the look of a barfly, and her voice falls into that category. And she has the demeanor and the attitude of somebody who is loose. So she thinks by these worldlinesses to attract the attention of the opposite sex. Well, now I don’t deny that you do that. I do not deny it at all. All I have to do is just open my eyes and look down any street in the evening or on any Saturday night, just look and you’ll see. But I do say this: the kind of a man that you attract will be of a certain kind. The kind of a fellow that you will draw to you will be of a certain type.
There is also another type of a man in this world beside that kind of a man, and it is wonderful for a girl to learn that, and to know that, and to realize that. It’s not every kind of a boy that’s looking for a girl who is promiscuous. It’s not every kind of a boy that’s looking for a girl that smokes and drinks. Nor is it every kind of a boy that looks for a girl who likes to laugh at lewd and off-colored stories and likes to be loose in her moral life. There are lots of boys who would like to go with a girl who’s clean and pure and virtuous and given to God. And there are lots of boys that would like to build a home with that kind of a girl, and make a living for her, and protect her, and love her, and cherish her until death do them part. There are lots of young men like that.
Now the thing that drew the attention of Boaz to Ruth was this: that she, though a widow and young and apparently very beautiful and attractive, she was not after the young men. She was not turned that way, but she stayed with the maidens and was modest, and humble, and in all things attractive, clean and beautiful, and Boaz noticed that.
Well, as the story goes, she is invited by Boaz to glean in his field alone. Then Boaz instructs his harvesters to leave "handfuls of purpose," Ruth 2:16. And that’s one of the most beautiful phrases in the Bible. "Let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her." Handfuls of purpose: that is, apparently, they just dropped, but really Boaz was telling the harvesters to leave it there, drop it there for Ruth to pick up; "Handfuls of purpose." Oh, that great preacher, Joseph Parker, that great preacher has many, many presentations that he calls "Handfuls of Purpose," a beautiful turn. So Ruth gleans and Boaz notices her so very much.
Now in the third chapter, Naomi, her mother-in-law, knowing of the law of the Levirate marriage, instructs Ruth how to lay her case before Boaz, and we’ll speak of that in a moment. And Ruth obeys her mother-in-law, and Boaz resolves to do the part of the goel – the "kinsman redeemer." And in the fourth chapter, you have the story of the kinsman redeemer – which is something that I hope we have time for that you can see this morning. It has in it a marvelous, marvelous spiritual truth for us. And Boaz does the part of the kinsman redeemer and in that, of course, must take the widow of the son of Elimelech to be his own wife, which widow, of course, is Ruth, and they are married. And there was a son born to Ruth, and they called his name Obed, and he is the father of Jesse, and Jesse is the father of David [Ruth 4:21-22], and that’s the story.
Now, this morning, until I have to stop, let us look at what happened as these people shared in it. Now, this girl Ruth is a marvelous creature. She was truly one of the finest, sweetest girls that ever lived. Two or three or four things about her: one, her filial loyalty is amazing, it’s overwhelming!
Now, all of us hear jokes about mothers-in-law. That’s one of the sources of constant, constant ridicule and laughter is the mother-in-law. Now, if I were of a disposition just to name that, there’s a whole bunch of the stories that flock into my mind. Mothers-in-law, as though they were, you know, not to be really considered in the circle of the family, but they’re objects of joke, and scorn, and laughter. Well, it’s not true, and how we ever got that way is somewhat of a mystery.
Ruth was a girl of wonderful filial devotion, and that is a virtue in anybody. I love to see any daughter love her mother, and if she’s married, her mother-in-law. And I love to see that in a son; I love to see a son love his mother, and honor his mother, and love and honor his mother-in-law. It is a beautiful thing to look upon. It is commendable and fine in any house and in any home. And that is the first thing in the life of Ruth: her devotion to her mother-in-law.
Now the second thing in the life of Ruth is her industry and her energy. No small part of the story of delinquency in our time is that our children don’t have anything to do. Now, I never grew up on a farm, I grew up in a city, it had as a population of three hundred people, so I don’t know much about the farm. I lived on the farm when I was just a little boy – I remember a whole lot of things about it – I worked on it. But the little town in which I grew up, of course, was a rural establishment. And for a boy to work and for a girl to work was good, I think it was good in God’s sight.
The boy helped his daddy plow. He helped his daddy mend the harness. He helped his daddy with the crops. He helped his daddy with the milking. And the girl helped her mother. She helped her mother sweep, she helped her mother sew, she helped her mother cook, she helped her mother around the house; to spin and to weave. And you never had delinquency – juvenile delinquency – they never heard the word. That was good; it was good in God’s sight.
Now our children; it is a problem, a national problem, what to do with these boys and girls. The law says they can’t work, so they have to be employed in some other way. So they’ve got the yellow-bellied drag strip – I don’t know where or what that is, but I hear it on the radio – and they’ve got the hot rods a-going, and they’ve got all kinds of things, the jukes and the jives and the joints which are patronized by these youngsters.
Well, there are sociological and psychological problems involved in that that are sometimes overwhelming to me. If I were going by the book, I would say the best thing for a boy is that he work. I would think that it would be good for the boy to work. And it would be a wonderful thing for a girl to be taught how to cook, and how to sweep, and how to sew, and how to make her clothes, and how to be a marvelous helper. I don’t see anything wrong with that, for the life of me I don’t.
Well, this girl Ruth, that’s the second thing about her. She said, "Let me now go to the field and glean ears of corn that we might have bread to eat" [Ruth 2:2], and she was industrious, and energetic, and gave herself to those fine domestic devotions; helpfulnesses – it’s wonderful!
Now the third thing about Ruth: she was very devout. She was a pious girl. We don’t use that word "pious" much anymore, but it’s a good word, a good word. Now look at Boaz as he looked at her. As Boaz met her and watched her work in the field, Boaz said, "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" [Ruth 2:12].
The girl became a Christian in Bethlehem. Isn’t that what she said in her devotion to Naomi? "Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God." She became a Christian though she was a heathen girl, a pagan child. And when Boaz watched her, he said, "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" [Ruth 2:12]. No longer worshiping pagan gods, and sinful gods, and worldly gods, and idols of gold and silver and wood and stone, but the Lord God of Israel, "under whose wings thou art come to trust." Now you could preach a sermon on that beautiful phrase, "under whose wings," the wings of the Almighty.
Now the fourth thing, the last thing about Ruth: her personal character, what she was like. When Naomi spoke to her and told her how to present her case to Boaz, it took faith to do it, for what she did was this: she laid herself at Boaz’ feet, and Boaz could receive her or refuse her. He could accept her or reject her. He could take her or spurn her. Now it takes faith and humility to do a thing like that [Ruth 3:1-7]. That’s the same kind of a thing that Mary answered when the angel said, "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee," when Mary had observed, "But I do not know a man, I have no husband as yet." Now, that takes devotion and faith for a girl to say, like Mary did, "Be it unto me as thou has spoken. Behold the handmaid of the Lord" [Luke 1:30-38], same kind of a thing here. So she lays herself at Boaz’ feet, and Boaz took the challenge as of God and did for the dead – for Elimelech, and for Ruth’s husband [Mahlon] who’s dead, and for Naomi – the part of a kinsman [Ruth 4:1-10].
And a wonderful thing that I want to speak of now: let’s look for a moment, until the time is passed, at one of the marvelous, spiritual, spiritual meanings of this pastoral poem. What does Ruth represent in truth? Ruth represents us, us. Ruth was a Gentile, Ruth was a pagan, Ruth was a stranger outside of the covenant. The law said, "No Moabite shall ever stand in the congregation of the Lord" [Deuteronomy 23:3]. Ruth represents us; she was outside of the covenant, outside of the fold. She was a pagan and a heathen. Ruth belonged to that family that was produced by the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter. And Ruth not only was a stranger, and a heathen, and a pagan, and a sojourner; she was a widow. She had nobody to protect her and to see her through, and the nearest of kin to the husband she had married refused to do it! [Ruth] is we in our lostness, shut out from God, born in trespasses and in sins, a Gentile, a pagan, outside the fold of God. Ruth is the church. Ruth is the Gentile. Ruth is you and I.
Who is Boaz? Now, let’s look at this Levirate marriage and the goel, the kinsman redeemer. In order that a name not perish from a tribe in Israel, the law said if a man dies and he has no offspring, no seed, he’s childless – course, when the man dies and he’s childless, his name perishes and the family line stops – in order for the family name not to die in Israel, and in order that the family not perish among the tribes of the Lord, the levirate marriage was this: the law said that the man’s brother is to take the widow and the inheritance, and raise up children to the man that died [Deuteronomy 25:5-6]. But in order to do that, the brother has to renounce his own name and his own inheritance, and the family that he raises does not bear his name, nor does it bear his inheritance, but the family that he raises is the family of the brother that died, and he’s raising up seed to his brother. The man that does that, the kinsman redeemer, renounces everything of himself, gives it up, and he becomes, having been divested of all things himself, he becomes the servant and the minister and the substitute for that one in whose name he is bringing up the family and taking care of the inheritance.
So when this thing was brought to the closest of kin of Naomi, here in the fourth chapter and the sixth verse, and the kinsman said, "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance" – I have my own name, and my own family, and my own destiny, and I am not going to give it up – you do it, Boaz, "redeem thou my right to thyself, for I cannot redeem it." So Boaz gives up everything in order that he might be the kinsman redeemer of Elimelech, and raise up children to Elimelech in the name of his kinsman.
Well, just exactly what does that bring to your mind, this goel, this kinsman redeemer? What did our Lord do for us? In the second chapter of the Book of Philippians, it says that our blessed Lord, though He was equal with God, in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be held onto, to remain in that form of equality with God, but He emptied Himself, and poured Himself out, and became obedient unto death in the form of a servant [Philippians 2:6-8]. And that’s what Jesus did for us. All of those prerogatives that He Himself possessed, He gave them up, all of them, in order that He might be our Kinsman Redeemer. He was rich; for our sakes He became poor [2 Corinthians 8:9]. He was a Prince of heaven; for our sakes He became a servant of men. All majesty and glory were His in heaven. He was despised and spit upon and rejected for us. He gave up everything, the Book says, that He might be our Kinsman Redeemer. Oh, it’s a beautiful thing, and a meaningful thing, and a blessed thing. And how God sanctified what Boaz did, the kinsman redeemer; gave him a son. And the son of that son was David, the king of Israel [Ruth 4:21-22]; and better still, upon a day, God gave him the Son of God; that’s the line [Luke 3:31-32].
He never fails us. He never lets us down, and any commitment we make to Him and any providence of God that we follow is infinitely blessed and hallowed and sanctified of the Lord’s Holy Spirit Himself.
Now in this moment that we sing, somebody you give his heart to Jesus. Somebody you put his life in the fellowship of the church; in this balcony round, on this lower floor, as the Spirit of the Lord shall speak to your heart, shall lead the way, would you come and stand by me? Is there a family this morning to put your lives with us in the fellowship of the church? As God shall say the word and lead the way, would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?
THE BOOK OF RUTH
W. A. Criswell
Orpah, Ruth in Moab
returns to Bethlehemjudah with Naomi
Beautiful story of divine providence
A type of redemption
of King David