John A. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
Naomi had seen the grace of God break through the dark clouds that had been over her head for many, many years. Her husband died and left her with two sons. These sons died and left her without any grandchildren and with two daughters-in-law who were Moabites.
She herself was too old to get married and have children who could inherit the land of her husband and continue his name in the promised land, which was a shadow of the kingdom of heaven, which is coming in the day of Christ. Her two daughters-in-law might not, according to Deuteronomy 23:3, be taken as wives by kinsmen and fulfill the calling in Deuteronomy 25:5, 6, so that a child would be born and so that Naomi’s husbands name would not be “put out of Israel”.
One daughter-in-law refused to go back with her to Canaan. Ruth did go with her and was a very kind and loveable daughter-in-law who confessed her faith in God and declared that the people of Israel were her people. Yet, because she was a Moabitess, the branch of the tree of Judah, which was Elimelech, was cut off and would never bring forth shoots and branches. And Naomi had no hope at all of her husband’s name being continued in the promised land in the genealogies to come.
Naomi’s relatives and neighbors from the same tribe of Judah could hardly believe that she was the same Naomi who left them ten years ago. There was even a touch of sarcasm in their speech, for they hinted that she did not look like, or have the experiences that indicated that, she was Naomi, that is, the Pleasant One. And indeed her life had not been a pleasant one these last ten years.
But now God showed His grace by leading Ruth to the field of Boaz and to be treated very kindly by Him. Naomi knew that Boaz saw that Ruth was not a Moabitess, but a Jewess. No, not physically and outwardly. But as Paul wrote in Romans 2:28, 29, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly . . . But he is a Jew who is one inwardly.” And Boaz treated her as a Jewess, that is, as a believing child of God.
Amazingly enough Ruth, the novice, saw that one is not a Jew if one is such only outwardly. For she confessed emphatically to Naomi that her, Naomi’s, people were her people. From a spiritual point of view this was true. And how marvelous is then the grace and the power God by His spirit to cause this novice, this woman with such a limited instruction in the truth concerning Him, and who had not yet seen the types and shadows of Christ to cause her to know that though by natural birth she was a Moabitess, by a new birth she was a true Jewess, a child of God as surely and as really as Naomi was. Naomi, the experienced child of God, did not see that, when Ruth refused to go back with Orpah; but Ruth saw it and confessed it. Boaz also saw it in her works and said, “Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter; for thou hast shown more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followest not young men, whether poor or rich,” Ruth 3:10.
Naomi did later on see the possibility of marriage for Ruth and for her husband’s, Elimelech’s, name to be continued in the promised land. And so she sets out to find rest for Ruth. Orpah had gone back to her parents and fellow Moabites to seek the rest her flesh wanted. Ruth had come with her to Canaan and confessed by that deed that she was a Jewess inwardly.
We may believe that Naomi did some investigating in regard to Boaz. She knew and told Ruth that he was one near of kin to Ruth’s husband and thus to Elimelech. But being gone from the region around Bethlehem for ten years, when there were no telephones yet, no mailmen and post offices, and no newspapers that carried obituaries and marriage announcements she could have been ignorant of this next of kin whom Boaz sought. Or she may have been very sure that, because of the law which forbade marrying a Moabitess, only Boaz would do that, because he had shown clearly that he considered Ruth to be a Jewess inwardly. But she did know that the barley harvest had all been gathered, and she even knew what night Boaz would be winnowing that barley, and sleep there in the threshing floor.
To Ruth Naomi said, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?” Now rest, strictly speaking, is entering into and enjoying the benefits of a finished work. We so often consider rest nothing more than a cessation of work, so that we may return to it refreshed and strengthened. Or we label it as an opportunity to indulge in sports, entertainment and amusements for the flesh. But let us take hold of the fact that rest here, too, when Naomi says to Ruth, “My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee,” is enjoying a finished work of God.” God’s rest on the seventh day after creating the heavens and the earth and all that they contain was an entering into and enjoyment of His perfect work. It was all finished, and He saw that it was very good, and on the first Sabbath day entered into the enjoyment of it.
Then, too, Jesus said, according to Matthew 11:28: “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This He could say because He was going to His cross and would triumphantly cry out, “It is finished!” And we can now enter in and enjoy that perfected salvation.
The rest that Naomi has in mind for Ruth is that salvation. In that day of types and shadows that rest was for those who belonged to the nation of Israel. Its citizens were God’s people. And through marriage to Boaz Ruth would become such a citizen, and no longer be a foreigner living in the land of God’s people. For that land which belonged to Elimelech, and to her Jewish husband, Mahlon, would become hers, so that she had a name and a place in Israel and could enjoy the blessings, God had for His people in Israel.
It was by no means in Naomi’s mind a rest that consisted in Ruth no longer toiling as one who would provide food and earthly requirements of her and for herself. It is true that Boaz was a very rich man, and marrying him would bring earthly riches to Ruth and Naomi as well. But that is not what Naomi has in mind. And when she (adds “That it may be well with thee”, she not only excludes herself from this rest and good, but clearly shows that she has in mind for Ruth a name and a place in the coming kingdom of heaven.
Go back again to Deuteronomy 25:5. There we read: “If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband’s brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband’s brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth him shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.” This is what Naomi had in mind, even though Boaz was much older than Ruth. Spiritual things counted, not material, physical realities. And she is interested in it not simply for Elimelech’s and Mahlon’s sake but for Ruth’s.
No one Israelite, except Boaz, accepted Ruth. All there in the region around Bethlehem knew that she came from Moab and looked on her as a Moabitess, not one who is a Jewess inwardly. No one seemed to want any fellowship with this “outsider.” And, as Boaz stated to Ruth, she did not in any way and at any time try to chase after young men of her own age. Striving to keep the letter of the law rather than the spirit of it, the residents in that area made life for Ruth very lonely. Openly they excluded her from membership in the Old Testament church. And surely it was the grace of God in her that kept her there and did not let her run back to Moab.
The question does arise as to whether Naomi did not know that there was a closer kinsman than Boaz. But one thing is plain: Naomi was sure, after Boaz told her that there was a nearer kinsman, that Boaz would “not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.” For her the grace of God had broken through the clouds and was shining very brightly.
We are not to believe that Naomi suggested and wanted Ruth to commit fornication. That would have been the case, if she knew a nearer kinsman. Nor did she want to try to violate that law of God in Deuteronomy 25:5. Indeed, devout children of God can and do slip and slide into grievous; sins. David did. Solomon was by no means free from this. And Paul writes in Romans 7:19: “. . . the evil that I would not, that I do,” But there is no suggestion even that Naomi was here trying to1 break God’s law in order to find rest for Ruth.
Naomi was aware of the fact that Boaz was much older than Ruth, far more so than Abraham was than Sarah. She was also aware of the fact that he was not married. And, indeed, it all is so wonderfully worked out and planned by God in His wisdom and grace that Boaz could legally marry Ruth, when the nearest of kin refused. All things do work together for good to those who love God. And do not forget or overlook the fact that this book of Ruth reveals so clearly and beautifully how all works together for our good as well as Ruth’s. This is the way God arranged the coming of Christ in the line of Judah, as Jacob also prophesied in Genesis 49:8-10. The sceptre did not depart from Judah, nor the Lawgiver from between His feet. And Ruth, the spiritual Jewess and physical Moabitess, was used by God to bring forth David, Solomon, and Christ, Who now has dominion over all things at God’s right hand.
Now it is true that Naomi warned Ruth to be very careful so that no one would see her “proposing” to Boaz, for that is what Naomi did send her to do. But notice that she instructs her to put off all the drab working clothes, which were also clothes of sadness. Now she must put on her best and most attractive raiment, anoint herself with some sweet smelling perfume, and wash away all her past actions. Now she is not to do something wholly different from what Boaz said of her and to her, namely, “. . . thou followest not young men, whether poor or rich.” Now she was to follow a man much older than she and certainly seek marriage with him.
Ruth had by no means and in any way behaved as a flirt. She had done absolutely nothing in the line of seeking a husband. She in no way tried to make herself attractive to men, young or old. And it was not because she still felt so very sad about the death of Mahlon. No, as a believer she took hold of the word of Naomi. In Ruth 1:9 she had said to Ruth and Orpah: “The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” She meant a Moabitish husband. Quite plainly she had told them that in Israel such rest would not be obtained; and Ruth took her at her word, knowing that this big difference existed between what were Jehovah’s people and those of Chemosh, the Moabite’s idol. We can be sure that Ruth had no hope of marriage with an Israelite and never dreamed of a marriage with Boaz. She may also have been completely ignorant of the law, that the nearest of kin to Elimelech and Mahlon had a calling to marry her. Naomi had to teach her that. And she did not lift one finger, and one smallest drop of perfume, or even for an hour wear her most attractive raiment to entice anyone.
The neighbors and relatives there in that area had snubbed her and made her feel as an outsider. They had asked, “Is this Naomi?” But they spoke not one word to Ruth. That silence spoke loudly. And their failure to help Naomi and Ruth with food, making it so necessary for Ruth to follow the gleaners, also revealed that they wanted nothing to do with her nor with Naomi for having brought this Moabitess into the land which God gave the Israelites. They did not see Ruth as one who was a Jewess inwardly.
Marriage to a kinsman would make quite a difference. That would bring her rest. Then it would “be well” with Ruth. And that tremendous difference we have revealed to us after the marriage and birth of a son. Then these neighbors and relatives said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter in law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.”
Ruth reached the rest Naomi sought for her, and these women even commended her for her love which she showed to Naomi, and called her better than seven sons. Ruth was now considered a Jewess inwardly, a child of God, one who had a name and a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.