When the road up ahead splits into two, the path we choose often says as much about our character as it does about our destination. In the book of Ruth, the titular heroine finds herself at such a crossroads—should she go forward with her destitute mother-in-law to an unknown land or backward with her sister-in-law to home and security?
To get the most out of this Bible study, read the entire book of Ruth, preferably in one sitting. Before you read, pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in this book. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. And above all else, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.
Key Passages: Ruth 2:5-23; Ruth 3:6-11
During the rule of the judges, the land of Israel suffered from a literal famine as well as a spiritual one. (See Judg. 21:25.) Seeking relief from the harsh agricultural conditions, Elimelech took his wife and two sons to Moab. Their intended visit stretched into a decade, during which the father died. Then both sons took local brides who, tragically, were soon widowed.
In Ruth 1:11-13, Naomi confronts her daughters-in-law with the bleak reality of returning to Bethlehem with her. Naomi is beyond the age of childbearing and can offer no hope for new husbands to these two widows. She urges them to return to Moab because there they could stay with their own families until they remarried—a considerably more secure prospect than remaining with Naomi. Orpah turns back, but Ruth refuses to part ways with Naomi.
Without sons or a husband (and no hope for either), Naomi is the most vulnerable person in this story. She knows that to stay with her, Ruth must not only forfeit security; with no means to take care of even herself, the foreigner would also incur the burden of caring for an elderly widow. Why do you think Ruth chose to stay with Naomi?
Ruth 1:14 tells us that Ruth “clung” to Naomi. The Hebrew word is dabaq, meaning “to cleave or adhere”—it’s the same verb used in Genesis 2:24 to describe the union between husband and wife. In light of that, reread Ruth’s vows to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17. How does this perspective inform how you view the younger woman’s level of commitment to her mother-in-law?
Continuing the Story
Fifty miles and several days later, Ruth arrives in a foreign land with her bitter mother-in-law in tow (Ruth 1:20). The situation is far from ideal, but Ruth takes advantage of the Levitical law permitting the destitute to glean grain left behind by the harvesters. Ruth’s diligence in this backbreaking task earns her the reputation of a selfless, hardworking immigrant—which grants her favor in the eyes of Boaz, the field’s owner (Ruth 2:6-12).
With no means to take care of even herself, Ruth would also incur the burden of caring for an elderly widow.
Boaz honors Ruth at dinner that night (Ruth 2:14) and conspires with his workers to ensure she gleans more than enough grain (Ruth 2:15-16). But this Boaz isn’t just any random man favoring just any pretty woman. Naomi explains: “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives” (Ruth 2:20). What appears to be happenstance—Ruth gleaning in his field—is actually divine providence. As a kinsman-redeemer, Boaz can fix the pair’s problems in one fell swoop by marrying Ruth and providing an heir for Naomi’s deceased husband, thus preserving the family’s land in their name.
Under Naomi’s direction, Ruth makes an after-hours appeal to Boaz, requesting that he spread his garment over her—a symbolic gesture signaling his agreement to be her kinsman-redeemer. Boaz responds with enthusiasm, blessing Ruth, “May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich” (Ruth 3:10). Boaz agrees to redeem her, and after he settles the issue at the city gate (Ruth 4:1-10), the two are wed.
In Ruth, lovingkindness is more than a good disposition or even a set of generous actions—it’s a catalyst for each of the story’s three acts.
Look at Ruth 1:8, Ruth 2:20, and Ruth 3:10. What role does lovingkindness play in each scene, and how does it move the story along?
Ruth’s lovingkindness toward Naomi positioned her for favor and, ultimately, for redemption. Look at your own journey—how do you practice lovingkindness? When has the lovingkindness of another person brought about a distinct change in your life?
Compare Ruth’s actions with the love checklist that’s presented in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. Pay special attention to “[love] does not seek its own.” In what ways did Ruth exemplify that particular attribute? What might “not seeking your own” look like in a circumstance facing you?
REMEMBER Love redeems.
Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.
In Ruth, lovingkindness is more than a good disposition or even a set of generous actions—it’s a catalyst.
Lovingkindness takes effort—the sort that can eventually wear you down, leaving you sore and tired. It can mean leaving comfort and security to live among strangers in a strange land. It can involve getting there and serving instead of waiting to be served. It often requires laying yourself down, at the mercy of someone else, for the benefit of your beloved. It’s what Ruth did for Naomi. And it’s what Jesus did for us.
Love does not seek pain—but doesn’t run from it, either. Whether scars from iron nails or callouses from coarse barley stalks, love always leaves a mark. And those marks are our evidence that we loved boldly, vulnerably, and without selfish reservation. What scars and callouses do you bear from loving others? Does recalling these make you mindful of ways that others have sacrificed or inconvenienced themselves for your benefit?
Think back to the beginning of the story. The whole downward spiral began with a famine. Consider your own life—are you facing any “famines”—whether these relate to finances, career hopes, relationships, health issues, or other dearths or disappointments? Knowing the pain that Naomi and Ruth faced, how does that change your strategy for dealing with these struggles?
Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:18-22) and was even listed in the genealogy of Jesus (Matt. 1:5). Knowing that her story began with a dead end and concluded with new life, how might you view the dead ends in your own life differently? What counterintuitive steps might God be asking you to take toward new life? Even if you feel it’s the wrong direction, redemption could be right around the corner.
Illustration by Adam Cruft