Ever watch a movie or theatre production where someone in a supporting role actually outshines the main character? It doesn’t happen very often but when it does, its noticeable. That’s sort of how I feel about the book of Ruth. In case you are not familiar with the story of Ruth here’s a quick overview.
During the period of the Judges Elimelek and his wife Naomi, along with their two sons, leave Israel to escape a famine and relocate in the land of Moab. Elimelek dies, their two sons marry Moabite women and then 10 years later they die. Naomi is left with two daughter-in-laws in a foreign land. She returns to Israel with Ruth who refuses to leave her side.
Life for widows at that time was very, very bleak! Out of love for Naomi, Ruth gleans (collects leftover grain) from a local field belonging to Boaz. Knowing of Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi, Boaz acts favorably towards Ruth not only protecting her but providing extra grain for her to collect. Upon learning of this, Naomi instructs Ruth to make herself available to Boaz for marriage. They eventually marry and everyone lives happily ever after. Honest!
But there’s more!
The loyalty Ruth demonstrates for her mother-in-law Naomi is admirable; especially considering that Israel and Moab had a history of being bitter enemies. But what Boaz does is even more amazing.
As God’s holy people, Israelites were to reflect the heart of God by trusting Him enough to act as His hands and heart toward the less fortunate within their community. Much of the Law was designed to provide opportunities for Israel to trust God, to be generous like God, to demonstrate the love and the justice of God. God’s means of taking care of the poor, the widow and the orphan was through His people.
The levirate marriage was one such custom. The term levirate means “husband’s brother.” It was employed when a man died without a son to inherit his land and carry on a family line. When those circumstances arose, the husband’s brother was responsible to take the widow as his wife and produce a first-born son who would bear the dead brother’s name. This son would be the rightful heir to his dead “father’s” estate and would carry on the deceased’s family name. The following children born to the union of the widow and her new husband would belong to the new husband and bear his name. (Deut. 25:5-10).
Any man who took on this responsibility was known as a Kinsman-Redeemer. Taking on this role was optional and when another relative declined to accept it, likely because Ruth was a Moabite, Boaz willingly stepped in. He had to give his resources to buy the land owned by Naomi/Ruth but would not keep it as his own. Their first-born son would receive it to carry on the lineage of his grandfather/father.
Boaz had nothing to gain from this arrangement other than the company of Ruth as his bride. His selfless act of compassion is remarkable; and it is a foretelling of Jesus’ role with all of humanity.
Jesus gave up His very life to pay our debt of sin, something we could not do, and purchase for us new life and an eternal future with God. Just as Boaz reflected the love and justice of God, we who follow Jesus are called to reflect it as well among those we encounter daily.
© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.
If you’re following along in The Story read chapter(s) 10 this week. To learn more about The Story click on the page tab above.