The story of Ruth and Boaz is a beautiful story of redemptive love and devotion. It is a story that demonstrates the redeeming power of love, devotion, and obedience. The story of Ruth is commonly read during Shavuot for several reasons. The first reason is the physical harvest that occurs in story. The “courting” of Ruth and Boaz takes places during Shavuot. The second reason is the spiritual harvest that takes place in the story. This is demonstrated when Ruth accepts and joins herself to Torah, and simultaneously the God of Israel, and becomes grafted into Israel. Through the union of Ruth and Boaz, not only did we receive Messiah Yeshua, but we can also glean much insight into the season of counting the omer and Shavuot.
A Few Things from Torah Before We Begin
Before we begin, there are a few things we need to first understand from Torah.
- Laws of redemption (Lev. 25:32-55)
- Laws of Shemittah and Jubilee years (Lev. 25:4, 10, 23)
- Laws of family inheritance (Num. 27:8-11): if a man died without a son, the inheritance would be transferred to the daughter, and since Ruth was the widow of Machlon, she was the legal heir of the line of Elimelech. In other words, if Boaz could be persuaded to marry Ruth, then he could redeem the land and save the family from being obliterated in Israel.
- Laws of yibbum or “levirate marriage” (Deut. 25:5-10): Naomi understood that Boaz was a “near kinsman” to her husband Elimelech, and therefore he was qualified to redeem her land from those who presently were leasing it. Recall that the Torah allowed for the redemption of land based on its pro rata value before the year of Jubilee. The “law of redemption” required that a next of kin had the duty to redeem (buy back) the land of their close relative if the relative was in such financial difficulty that he was forced to sell it: ‘If your brother becomes impoverished and sells some of his property, then his near redeemer shall and redeem what his brother has sold” (Lev. 25:25). Since Naomi was destitute, she needed to persuade a close relative to redeem her land for the legacy of her family’s name in Israel.
- Various farming laws regarding leaving food for the poor and the stranger (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Deut. 24:19)
- God’s repeatedly stated commandment that Israel must be holy and not assimilate with surrounding cultures (Exod. 34:12; Deut. 7:1-6; 14:2, etc.). This restriction applied not only to the seven Canaanite nations (Deut. 7:1; 20:17-18), but also to the descendants of Lot (i.e., Amnonites and the Moabites), since they showed enmity to Israel when they first came to the land (Deut. 23:4-6).
The story of Ruth provides a strong message to believers: to understand the story of redemption, you must first understand the Torah and its commandments!
The Story of Ruth
The story takes place during the time when judges ruled Israel, before the monarchy was established. In Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, there was a man named Elimelech who lived with his wife Naomi and his two sons Machlon and Chilyon. There came a great famine in the land and Elimelech decided to lease out his land and move his family to the land of Moab, where he died shortly thereafter. His sons each married a Moabite woman; Chilyon married Orpah and Machlon married Ruth. Soon, Elimelech’s sons died too, leaving Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth as widows.
Naomi decides to go back to the land Israel and urges her two widowed daughters-in-law to return to their fathers’ homes. Orpah returns to her people but Ruth remains devoted to Naomi. Despite Naomi’s warning that Ruth would be regarded as an outcast in Israel who would likely remain a perpetual widow, Ruth refused to be dissuaded. Once Naomi understood Ruth’s heartfelt resolve, she accepted Ruth’s decision, and the two women arrived in Bethlehem in the early spring, during the time of the barley harvest in Judah.
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” Ruth 1:16-17
Naomi sends Ruth to glean in the fields. Boaz sees Ruth while she is working and is immediately drawn to her BUT he doesn’t yet know if he has a claim to her…..that will be revealed to him later. But he does decide to keep her close to him…and good thing he does because YHVH eventually reveals to him (with a little help from Ruth and Naomi) that he is, in fact, the kinsman redeemer for Ruth!
Boaz and Ruth have a type of courtship during weeks of the barely harvest – during the counting of the omer. Boaz was a “near kinsmen” to Naomi’s late husband Elimelech (perhaps the son of Elimelech’s brother), so he had a legal claim to redeem the land. Moreover, Boaz had a legal entitlement to marry Ruth, but he needed to be persuaded to do so.
Ruth also had a legal right to ask for Boaz to perpetuate the family line in Israel by marrying her. Before Boaz could do so, however, Ruth had to express her “legal intent” by claiming him as her “near kinsman.” In preparation of this significant event, Naomi instructed Ruth to beautify herself and present herself before Boaz at the end of the harvest, when the harvesters would be joyfully celebrating God’s provision – during the holiday of Shavuot. After the feast, Ruth was told that Boaz would sleep at the threshing floor and was instructed to lay at his feet and pull his covering over her feet to symbolize her claim.
And Boaz ate and drank, and his heart was glad, and he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. And she came softly and uncovered his feet, and lay down. And it came to be at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself, and saw a woman lying at his feet! And he said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your female servant. Now you shall spread your covering over your female servant – for you are a redeemer.” And he said, “Blessed are you of YHVH, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, not to go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. All that you say I do for you, for all the people of my town know that you are a capable woman. And now, it is true that I am your redeemer. However, there is a redeemer nearer than I. Stop over tonight, and in the morning it shall be that if he does redeem you, good – let him do it. But if he is not pleased to redeem you, then I shall redeem you, as YHVH lives! Lie down until morning.” Ruth 3:7-13
Boaz then discusses the matter with the man that is the nearer kinsman redeemer in the presence of the town elders. The nearer kinsman redeemer refuses as it would jeopardize his own inheritance. And Boaz said to the elders and to all the people,
“You are witnesses this day that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, and all that was Kilyon’s and Mahlon’s, from the hand of Na‛omi. And also, Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, I have acquired as my wife, to raise up the name of the dead on his inheritance, so that the name of the dead should not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his place. You are witnesses today.” And all the people who were at the gate, and the elders, said, “Witnesses! YHVH make the woman who is coming to your house as Rachel and as Leah, the two who built the house of Israel. And prove your worth in Israel and proclaim the Name in Bethlehem. And let your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, of the seed which YHVH does give you from this young woman. And Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife.” Ruth 4:9-13
The blessing given to Boaz suggests that God’s plan of blessing overcame the weakness and frailty of all the people involved. Isn’t it encouraging that no matter what your struggle, no matter the battle that wages all around you, God is more than able to accomplish the promises He has made?
Lessons About the Counting of the Omer and Shavuot
As you can see, there are many things that the story of Boaz and Ruth reveal to us about this season of counting the omer and Shavuot. Here are just a few:
Joining Ourselves to YHVH, Israel and Torah
It is a time to leave our old ways behind us and join ourselves wholeheartedly to the God of Israel…to YHVH. It was through Ruth’s obedience to the laws of Torah that allowed her to find life, love, and blessings beyond that of anything she could have imagined. Once Ruth vowed to join herself to YHVH, the ways of Torah, and to the people of Israel, she was able to fulfill her destiny of bringing forth the line that would bear the Savior of the world. In the same way, we too will never be able to fully walk out the calling on our lives until we join ourselves to YHVH and His ways.
Care and Provision
Once we fully and completely join ourselves to YHVH and walk in His Torah, the blessings and provisions that YHVH promised would follow can now freely flow forth. Ruth was obedient not only to Naomi and Boaz, but also to YHVH. Through her obedience and servitude, YHVH’s care and provision were afforded to her. She was obedient in her time of mourning and her time of waiting. She didn’t jump the gun and she didn’t question the instructions given to her. She was obedient and was richly blessed because of it.
Shavuot is a season of rejoicing in YHVH’s provision and guidance. Through Ruth’s story, we see that the counting of the omer is a season of waiting. Shavuot is the subsequent celebration and fulfillment of the promises we have anticipated and prepared for.
Finding Favor with Our Bridegroom
Ruth did not go after other lovers – even in her precarious situation. She had dove’s eyes for Boaz. We too need to have dove’s eyes for YHVH. We cannot go after other lovers but instead seek to please YHVH and find favor with Him alone.
Redemption Through Our True Kinsman Redeemer
When we think of redemption in the story of Ruth, we tend to focus on Ruth alone being redeemed. However, there were actually several things that were redeemed in this story. The land that belonged to Elimelech’s family – to include Ruth and Naomi – was redeemed. Naomi’s family line and lineage was redeemed – and even produced King David and Messiah Yeshua! Last, but certainly not least, both Naomi and Ruth were redeemed from a life of widowhood. They were taken from a season of death and mourning to a season of life and rejoicing! So you see, redemption of persons was not the only thing that needed to be redeemed by Boaz. Through Boaz’s willingness to be the kinsman redeemer, we see that property, family lineage, and people were all redeemed. This shows that YHVH is not only concerned with our spiritual welfare but our physical as well. In the end, everything we have is His and YHVH will not let His treasured possessions be lost forever; He will redeem what is His and restore all things.
Ultimately, the story of Ruth provides a powerful message to believers: to truly understand the story of redemption, you must first devote yourself to YHVH and His commandments!
Part 3 of 5 in the Shavuot series.