The Romance of Ruth
September 25th, 1983 @ 10:50 AM
THE ROMANCE OF RUTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-25-83 10:50 a.m.
Welcome, the multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television. This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor, bringing the message entitled The Romance of Ruth; the world’s sweetest love story.
There is nobody in the earth but that is enthralled with a love story. And the tremendously gifted German poet, Goethe, said that the greatest love story in human speech is Ruth, here in the Old Testament. And if you will turn to it, there will be the latter half of the sermon that you can follow by looking at the story in the Bible.
When I read it, and when I carefully follow it, I am amazed and overwhelmed and astonished that such a book is in the Bible. It is so different from what we might think. And there are three categories in which this Book of Ruth is astonishing and amazing. The first is this: what the love story is about. There are many love stories in the Bible. There are many love stories in secular literature. But I do not know of a love story like this. The love stories we read elsewhere usually concern a man and a maid, or a mother and a child, or a brother and a sister, or a David and a Jonathan, or God’s love for His people. But the love story recounted in the Book of Ruth is unique and separate in all the literature that I’m acquainted with in the world. This is the love story of a daughter-in-law for a mother-in-law. And fourteen different times that nomenclature is used in these brief chapters: “mother-in-law” and “daughter-in-law.” And in all literature—that includes the Bible—there is no confession of love in human speech that begins to rival the marvelous confession of love of Ruth for Naomi, of the daughter-in-law for the mother-in-law. This is eloquence, unteachable and untaught. This is eloquence that arises out of the depths of the human soul. There is nothing like this, when Ruth says to her mother-in-law:
Entreat me not to leave thee, nor 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, I will die, and there will I be buried: God do so, and more also unto me, if aught but death separate between me and thee.
There is nothing like that in human speech in any love story, either in the Bible or in the literature of the world. Even the Bethlehemites, in the last chapter, said of Ruth to Naomi: “Thy daughter-in-law loveth thee better than seven sons” [Ruth 4:15]. The whole world is familiar with the stories of satire and contempt and lampoon and snide obloquy concerning mothers-in-law. Yet, this is a story of incomparable affection and devotion between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law.
I said there were three things that astonished me about the book. That’s the first one: it’s about a mother-in-law. The second one concerns the negation and defiance of the Mosaic legislation. This girl is a Moabitess. Now you listen to what Moses’ law says about the Moabite. Deuteronomy 23:3: “An Ammonite or a Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation they shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever.”
Incestuous Lot had two daughters. And by each one of them he had an incestuously born son. One was named Ammon and the other was named Moab [Genesis 19:30-38]. And God said the Ammonites and the Moabites are never to be included in the congregation of the Lord forever [Deuteronomy 23:3].
Now I read one other. In Nehemiah, the last chapter, chapter 13 [Nehemiah 13]: “On that day they read in the Book of Moses in the audience of the people; and therein was found written, that the Ammonite and the Moabite should not come into the congregation of God for ever” [Nehemiah 13:1]. “And I, and in those days I saw Jews that had married wives of Moab” [Nehemiah 13:23]. “And I contended with them, and reviled them, and smote them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves” [Nehemiah 13:25]. I think anybody could understand that.
The Mosaic legislation says, “There is not a Moabite to be included in the congregation of the Lord for ever” [Deuteronomy 23:3]. But this is a story about a Moabite. Her name is Ruth. The law excluded her. The amazing grace of God included her. “For the law came by Moses, but grace and truth comes by Jesus Christ” [John 1:17]. That’s the second astonishing thing about this story; it is the story about a Moabitess that by the legislation of Moses, was excluded from the house of God forever. She’s our kinswoman. She belongs to us and we belong to her. She’s a Gentile and an outsider. But, she’s in the household of God [Matthew 1:5].
The third thing that astonishes me about this book; not only that it is about a mother-in-law, a love story about a mother-in-law; and not only is it a story about a Moabitess; but I am amazed at it being tucked here in the Bible between two endless chronicles of violence and bloodshed and war. On one side are the wars of Joshua and of the judges; and on the other side are the marching conquests and confrontations of the kings of Judah and Israel and the rise and fall of the nations. And then, tucked in between—just wedged in between that endless story of violence and bloodshed and war—is this quiet, humble, idyllic story of love and home and child. It’s an astonishing thing that, as we read through the pages of these terrible conflicts and wars, suddenly, there should be in the story this precious little Book of Ruth. Well, there must be some reason for it. And when you prayerfully consider it, it becomes very obvious. And I think, among others, two reasons why the little Book of Ruth.
The first one is this: that we might know God, who is not only the God of the infinitude above us, but He is also the close, precious Lord God of the humble, and the sweet and the quiet of daily life and daily experience. Not only the Lord God up there, who guides these planets in their orbits and sends these stars out into space, but He is also the Lord God who lives with us and guides us in our daily experiences of life. He is here, in every experience that we know.
It’s a wonderful thing to have something like Ruth in the Bible. There are many who can follow the story of Ruth who never are able to enter into those prophecies, and wheels upon wheels in, say, Ezekiel [Ezekiel 1:15-21], just as there are many who can follow the story of the prodigal son [Luke 15:11-32] who are never able to enter into the deep mystery of the Apocalypse [Revelation1-22]. The Lord is not only the God of all time and history and creation, but He is also the Lord God of the humblest experiences that we know in life.
A second reason why I think the Book of Ruth is in the Bible: because we are to learn that God does not evaluate human beings, and human history, and human events as we are prone to judge them and to evaluate them. A historian will note the crowning of a great king, but the Lord God will note the fall of a tiny sparrow [Matthew 10:29]. A historian will chronicle the marching of armies and the conquests of nations, but the Lord God will note the tears of a humble, poor peasant woman like Naomi [Ruth 1:1-21].
Why are there so many obscure in the world? Why are there so many humble and poor? Why should children ever be accounted of? Why should there be any place in history for anyone beside the great marching soldier or the reigning monarch? Why should there be a Book of Ruth in the Bible? Because the Lord God would teach us there is more meaning to history and to human experience than the dazzling, and the overwhelming, and the earth-shattering, and the catastrophic.
There is also meaning in the poorest and the humblest of life and living. It could be, it might be, that the Lord God is more interested in the birth of a little Baby in a stable [Luke 2:7-16] than he is in the birth of Prince Archelaus in the palace of Herod the king. It just might be that the Lord God is more interested in the Jewish Christian couple, Aquila and Priscilla [Acts 18:2-3], than he is in the Roman emperor, Claudius, who drove them out of Rome [Acts 18:2]. It just might be that the Lord God is more interested in a hated, despised Christian apostle Paul, who is in the Mamertine dungeon, than he is in Nero, who beheaded him. It just might be that the Lord God is more interested in that final letter, a letter of sobs and tears that the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy [2 Timothy 1:1-4:22]—that God’s more interested in that than He is in all of the philosophical platitudes of Seneca, who was Paul’s compatriot and contemporary.
Isn’t that strange how God is? He just might be more interested in a Mary and a Dorcas than He is in a Herodias and a Salome. That’s the Book of Ruth: that we might know how God evaluates human experience and how God judges the world. We also have a part, the humblest and the poorest among us.
Now let’s look at the book, at the story. The opening of the book is sad, sad. It opens in famine, and in hunger, and in need, and necessity, and heartache, and death, and widowhood thrice. It opens in Bethlehem Ephratah in Judea. And a famine has driven this family away, seeking life and livelihood [Ruth 1:1-2]. The earth is scorched and the fields and the pastures are parched. The sheep are dying in the glen and the cattle are dying at the water hole. The sky, the heavens are brass and the earth is iron.
And that family in Bethlehem, Elimelech and Naomi and their two boys, Mahlon and Chilion, leave the home and seek a life in Moab. But in Moab, Elimelech finds not a house or a home but he finds a grave [Ruth 1:3]. And the weeping Naomi lives to see two other sepulchers by the side of that of her husband. Her two boys, Mahlon and Chilion, also die and are buried there in Moab [Ruth 1:5]. She changes her name from Naomi which means “pleasantness, brightness, happiness”—she changes it to Mara, which means “bitterness” [Ruth 1:20].
So as the days of widowhood and loneliness and sorrow pass, Naomi decides to return back to Bethlehem, for she heard that God had blessed them in giving them bread [Ruth 1:6-7]. They walked therefore, the three—Orpah, Ruth, the two daughters-in-law, with the mother-in-law Naomi down to the Jordan. The Jordan separates between Moab and Judea, between Chemosh and Jehovah, between the world and the world to come.
And there at the Jordan, the great decision is made. In the first chapter and the eighth verse, Naomi says to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return, and the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead, and with me” [Ruth 1:8]. And I can just see when Naomi speaks of the dead, her throat chokes, and unbidden tears flow from her eyes. And the next verse: “Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept” [Ruth 1:9]. After all, death is the separation, it’s the sundering, it’s the leaving, it’s that final and ultimate goodbye. She kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept [Ruth 1:9].
Now verse 14: “And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law” [Ruth 1:14], and went back to her people. We don’t censure her for that. It seemed the reasonable thing to do. Even Naomi suggested it to both of the girls: “You go back. You return” [Ruth 1:8]. And Orpah returned, for her heart was in Moab [Ruth 1:14-15]. It is very difficult to take a heart in Moab into the Promised Land. So she returned back to her god, Chemosh, and back to her people and the world and the old life in Moab. But standing there at the Jordan, verse 14 says: “But Ruth clave unto her” [Ruth 1:14], and repeated that marvelous confession of love and devotion: “Where you die, I will die. And your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. I will never leave you” [Ruth 1:16-17].
Oh, oh, the length, and the sacrifice, and the depths, and the devotion of a true love, and that includes a love for our living Lord. Intellect will turn away. Worldliness will turn away. Paul wrote, “Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this world” [2 Timothy 4:10]. Respectability will turn away. But true love will never, ever turn away—never.
Paul wrote of it in the most beautiful passage in 1 Corinthians 13: “Love never faileth: whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. But there abideth faith, hope, love, these three; and the greatest of these is love” [1 Corinthians 13: 8, 13]. Love will never fail. It will never turn away; true devotion.
And there at the Jordan, the Moabitess Ruth passed through and passed over [Ruth 1:22]. The waters of the Jordan separated between Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, and Jehovah God, the Lord of the people of Christ. That Jordan separates between the old life and the new life, between the old world and the new world. That Jordan separates between our devotion to the things of this earth and the things of the people of God. It separates between Moab and Canaan, between the old life and the new life, and Ruth passed through. She went through the waters of the Jordan. She went through the waters of baptism. She was buried and dead to the old life and raised to the new life in Christ. So these two, Naomi, of the people of God, and Ruth, a stranger and an alien and a Moabitess, make their way to Bethlehem [Ruth 1:22].
In the second chapter, verse 3: “And Ruth came, and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech” [Ruth 2:3]. When you read that in Hebrew, translated here, “and her hap was,” the Hebrew has one of the strangest constructions there: “Her hap happened to be”—as though the author is trying to emphasize the accidental nature of what the experience came into Ruth’s life. “Her hap was, her hap happened to be”: it was a happenstance that she was there, gleaning in the field of Bethlehem’s Boaz. It just happened. It was an accident. That is, it appeared to be an accident; ostensibly, it was an accident. But back of it was the will and decision and direction of Almighty God.
Now I want to read the story backwards. Ruth stands there gleaning in the field of Bethlehem [Ruth 2:2-3]. Why, that is the place where the Savior is born [Matthew 2:1], a member of the family of Ruth [Matthew 1:5]. And there Ruth is, standing in that place—her “hap” was [Ruth 2:3]. That is the place where Rachel died, and where she lives again in a newborn babe, not his name, Ben-oni, “the child of my sorrow,” but Benjamin, “the child of my right hand” [Genesis 35:18]. That is the place where Ruth stands: where David, the sweet psalm singer of Israel, is born; where he played on his harp and sang to the sheep. He belongs to the family of Ruth. She stands there. Her “hap” was in the field of Bethlehem [Ruth 2:3]. That is the place where Micah, the prophet, spanned the centuries in his great, great prophecy of Micah 5:2: “But thou, Bethlehem… though thou be little among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall rule My people Israel; whose goings forth were of old, from everlasting.”
He who is forever and ever is incarnate in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:20-2:1]. And Ruth stands there [Ruth 2:3]. That is the place where the magi followed the star, and it shown over Bethlehem [Matthew 2:1-2, 8-11]. And the angel chorus sang, “Glory to God in the highest!” [Luke 2:13-14]. She stands there, and the story says, “And her hap was” [Ruth 2:3]. She happened to be there. Oh, the mercy and the grace of God in our daily lives! God is in it.
Look at the godliness of the home of Boaz, the next verse: “Boaz came from Bethlehem into the field, and said to the reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee” [Ruth 2:4]. Can you imagine a thing more precious than that, the greeting, “The Lord be with you”? And they answered, “The Lord bless thee.”
Look again in verse 12. When Boaz speaks to this Moabitess, he says: “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]. Isn’t that a beautiful way to say it: “Under whose wings thou art come to trust”? That comes from Israel’s mercy seat and the cherubim, with their wings overspreading it, looking full down upon the propitiatory, upon the mercy seat [Exodus 25:17-20], where we find acceptance in the blood of Christ. “Under whose wings thou art come to trust” [Ruth 2:12]; you know, that’s one of the most beautiful symbols in the Bible of the grace and mercy of God. Wherever, wherever in the Bible cherubim are presented, or are woven into the curtain [Exodus 36:35]—wherever the cherubim are named, it is always, they are always emblems of God’s grace and God’s mercy. It was the cherubim, placed at the eastern gate of Eden, teaching the fallen humanity the way back to God [Genesis 3:24]. There were cherubim who were woven into the curtains of the tabernacle at the gate, at the door and in the veil [Exodus 36:8]. And those cherubim were so much in the thinking of Israel. For example:
- In the seventeenth Psalm, 17:7-8: “O thou that saveth by Thy right hand… hide me under the shadow of Thy wings.”
- Look again, in Psalm 61:4: “I will abide in Thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert, in the shelter of Thy wings.”
- Look again, in Psalm 91: “He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shall thou trust” [Psalm 91:4].
What a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful imagery! Under the wings of our Lord we find shelter and a hiding place.
- And Boaz says to Ruth, “The Lord recompense thy work—reward thee, for under His wings thou art come to trust” [Ruth 2:12]. Under the wings, the sheltering wings, of God, do we live.
Look at verse 16, in chapter 2: he says, “Let fall some of the handfuls of purpose for her” [Ruth 2:16]. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase; “handfuls of purpose—handfuls of purpose?” You could write a book about “handfuls of purpose,” things that are done with a beautiful meaning; “handfuls of purpose.”
Finally, and we must hasten—finally, we come to the third chapter. And in verse 5, she answers her mother-in-law, Naomi: “All that thou sayest unto me I will do” [Ruth 3:5]. Last Sunday night, I spoke of Mary, the Virgin Mary. “Be it unto me, whatever thou hast willed” [Luke 1:38]: the yielded surrenderedness of that beautiful virgin girl. Ruth the Moabitess has that same spirit of humility and obedience: “All that thou sayest unto me I will do” [Ruth 3:5].
And this is what the mother-in-law said: “Our inheritance is lost, but we have a goel, a kinsmen-redeemer. Go lay yourself down at his feet. And cast yourself upon his mercy. It may be that, in his grace and pity, he will redeem for us our inheritance” [Ruth 3:1-4]. Dear me. That word goel is the Hebrew word for “to buy back, to redeem, to recover.” And Israel was taught that they were a redeemed people, a bought people—a blood-bought people. Gaal, the participial form of it is goel—the goel: “the redeemer, the buyer-backer.”
Job cries, in Job 19:25:
I know that my goel—I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that in the latter day He shall stand upon the earth:
And though, though my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:
Whom mine eyes shall behold, and not another . . .
Our goel, our kinsman Redeemer who buys for us our inheritance [Ephesians 1:7, 14].
This is Naomi’s word to Ruth, the Moabitess: “Go, lay yourself down at his feet. Cast yourself upon his grace and mercy. Then it is up to Boaz whether he will do, respond as a goel, as a kinsman redeemer” [Ruth 3:4-5]. And, of course, the story closes in the response of Boaz, who receives her appeal, who buys back the inheritance, and the family continues in its story [Ruth 4:1-16]. She is the great-grandmother of David, for Boaz begat Obed; and Obed begat Jesse; and Jesse begat David, of whom Christ was born [Ruth 4:18-22].
That’s we. We cast ourselves as strangers and aliens at the feet of our Lord, our goel, our kinsman Redeemer. We have no right. We have no inheritance. We’re outsiders. We are strangers. We are aliens. But we cast ourselves at the feet of our dear Lord. Sinners as we are, outcasts as we are, unworthy as we are, we cast ourselves at Thy dear feet [Ephesians 2:12-19].
In John 6:37, our Lord says, “He that cometh unto Me, I will in no wise cast out.” And the apostle Paul writes of that grace in the most beautiful way in Ephesians:
Remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh . . .
That at the time you were… aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world;
But now in Christ Jesus, ye who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of our goel, our Redeemer, our Lord . . .
Now therefore you are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God;
[Ephesians 2: 11-13, 19]
We are adopted. We are welcomed. We belong to the family of God. Ah the grace [Ephesians 2:8] and the love [John 3:16] and the mercy [Titus 3:5] that is reached down to us, even to me—write my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12,15, 21:27]. Number me with God’s dear family, a joint heir with Christ, God’s Son [Romans 8:16-17]. Who could but rejoice and praise the Lord for His wonderful goodnesses toward us? Now may we stand together?
Our Savior, there are not words to commend, to express to Thee the infinite depths of our gratitude for the grace and mercy extended toward us. What a marvelous thing, contrary to the Mosaic legislation, this Moabitess is a member of the family of God, in the line of David and Jesus. Oh, the grace, the love, the mercy of God that reaches down even to us!
And in this moment that our people pray and wait, a family you, a couple, a one somebody you, to give your heart to Christ [Romans 1-:8-13], to come and to be a member of the family of God, to join us in this dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25],; make that decision in your heart, and when we sing our appeal, come, and welcome. There’s time and to spare, from the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the throng on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, today I’m giving my heart and life to the Lord.” Or, “We’re all coming, the whole family.” Even a friend, you and your wife, or just you. And our Lord, bless those who, this precious moment, either go through the Jordan, the waters of baptism [Matthew 3:13-17, 28:19], of dedication and decision, giving their lives to Thee, or who, having known Thee and loved Thee, now come to be with us in our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]. Thank Thee for the harvest You bestow, in Thy precious name, amen. A thousand times welcome, while we sing our appeal.
ROMANCE OF RUTH: SWEETEST LOVE STORY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Ruth is astonishing and amazing
Why such a book as Ruth?
The opening of the book
B. Sorrow of Moab
Decision at the Jordan
God’s purpose of grace