In the world of women’s Bible studies, the book of Ruth seems to be a favorite topic. Most studies of this book focus on the love story between Ruth and Boaz, and specifically on how a Gentile woman became a part of the bloodline of Jesus. Admittedly, this illustration of God’s grace to the Gentiles is an important part of the history of redemption, and it’s one for which I am truly grateful, given that my ancestors painted their faces blue and ran wildly into battle to the sound of bagpipe music.
The problem is that many study authors try to turn these two living, breathing human beings into biblical types—so much so that when we look at Boaz, we should see only Jesus Christ, and when we look at Ruth, we should see only the Church, the (Gentile) Bride of Christ. Here are just a few of the titles that I found when I began researching for this study:
- Ruth and Boaz: A Romance That Models God’s Love for Us
- Ruth and Boaz: A Real Story of Covenant Love
- Ruth, The Story of Right Man/Right Woman
- Boaz as Type of Jesus Christ
- Ruth: Romance and Redemption
- 10 Ways Boaz’s Redemption Parallels the Gospel
Granted, Ruth and Boaz are the main characters of this book, and their story is the main story. Certainly, there are many parallels between their story and the history of redemption. But the story of salvation is much bigger than a Ruth-and-Boaz romance. The Bride of Christ includes all sorts of people. Of course, married couples have a place in the church, but so do those who are no longer married, never been married, old, young, middle-aged, all races—the Church comprises every nation and every station of life. It also includes those like Naomi who have lost much but gained Christ, those whose very existence is a testimony that God is good all the time.
Naomi’s story is entwined with the story of Ruth and Boaz, and like them, we must see her as a very real person. She may seem like a minor character, but she played a vital part in their “happily ever after” story because it was her faithfulness that brought Ruth into the covenant. In some ways, Naomi could be viewed as the protagonist of this story, and that is why she will be the primary focus of this study.
The first few verses of the book summarize Naomi’s life up to her departure from Moab. Several years before, her husband Elimelech had taken her and their two sons from Bethlehem into Moab because there was a famine in the Promised Land. In our next session, we’ll look at the significance of his choosing Moab, but for now we can summarize Elimelech’s decision as a failure of faith. But he was no different from his fellow Israelites in that regard.
After spending 400 years in bondage in Egypt, the children of Israel received God’s blessing of freedom, and he miraculously provided for them in the wilderness for 40 years. Then when they entered the land of Canaan, they promised Joshua that they would serve the Lord. But very soon that promise began to fade. They didn’t complete God’s mission to overthrow all of the pagan religions; in fact, they made deals with them. So the second chapter of Judges opens with the Angel of the Lord chastising them for their faithlessness. Although they wept and repented, the next generation was disobedient, and God sent His judgment to call them back to himself.
That was the pattern of life during the days of the judges. The people went through cycles of disobedience, judgment, and repentance, swinging from faithfulness to faithlessness with astounding ease. Judges 17:6 is a perfect summary of what life was like during that time:
In those days there was no king in Israel, but every man did that which was right in his own eyes.
So it was no wonder that Elimelech moved his family outside the protection of the covenant community to look for greener pastures. From a human standpoint, we might want to applaud the great love of his family that caused him to take such great measures to provide for them. But he had forgotten that nothing in Moab could match the providence of God.
By leaving the promised land and not even trying to return, Elimelech put his family in spiritual jeopardy. He took his wife away from the comfort of her friends who knew the covenant. His sons married women who were outside the covenant. His death, followed closely by the death of his sons, completed the desolation of his wife.
Left without anyone to provide for her, Naomi had only one option, and that was to return to the land where God’s covenant made provision for everyone. I’m sure you’ve heard people who talk about the angry, judgmental God of the Old Testament and his strict and exacting law. But consider the law that allowed for poor people to eat if they were willing to glean in the fields. How gracious God was, not only to ensure that they could eat but also to provide for them in a way that maintained the dignity of work!
Knowledge of the covenant principles of the law was what saved Naomi’s life and secured a future for Ruth. By returning to Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” she found barley for her physical hunger and the Bread of life for her soul.
Thy Son Liveth
Hot breath of famine dried the brook
That once had quenched Elijah’s thirst,
And so God sent him on to look
For one whose fate seemed doubly cursed.
A widow and her one beloved son,
With oil and meal barely enough for two,
Faced certain death, for hope and bread were gone.
One final supper ere they bid the world adieu.
But when the prophet came, the widow fed
Him with the first fruits of her scant repast.
And from that day, she never lacked of bread;
Her faith was blessed with food enough to last.
So when her child fell ill and met his doom,
She felt betrayed by all the prophet said
Until Elijah took him to an upper room,
Entreating God, who raised him from the dead.
Outside the gates of Nain a widow walked
In sad procession with her only son.
Her hopes lay dead, her footsteps balked,
To stay the moment when goodbyes were done.
Another widow’s Son noticed her there,
And in compassion bade her weeping cease,
He raised her son and lifted all her care,
Restored her child to live in perfect peace.
But soon this Son would in procession go
Outside the gate to die as though a thief.
This perfect Son offered Himself to bear our woe,
Dying and rising, He would end our grief.
Though evil may beset our souls with strife,
Though brooks dry up, and meal and oil decay,
Treasures of Living Water, Bread of Life,
Are spread for us in His new Eden day by day.