4 Reasons You Should Preach through Ruth

Article
07.20.2018

Approximately 0% of pastors invited to speak at a men’s conference would choose the book of Ruth. If I had to guess it’s because Ruth is perceived as a woman’s book. After all, it’s named after a woman, focused primarily on women, and therefore gains the reputation for being a sanctified romance book fit only for ladies Bible study.

This is a real shame because it results in neglecting a book that would otherwise be a tremendous blessing to the whole congregation. After all, could just as easy call the book Boaz, and make it a book for men. He is one of the central figures in the story, and without him the genealogy at the end would not be there, ending the line that brought you David, and eventually the Lord Jesus Christ. Furthermore, Boaz is one of the best examples of trust and cool-headedness in the Bible. He’s one of the only heroes that doesn’t get any bad press—he doesn’t disappoint. He doesn’t fumble even once while he’s on the pages of Scripture.

There are dozens of reasons to preach through Ruth, but I’ll limit it to four.

1. It teaches us to obey God’s Word.

The first chapter of Ruth is bleak. The eventual story of redemption and joy is set against an ever-expanding backdrop of pain and suffering. During the period of unfettered self-determinism when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25), one man chose to make his family sojourners in a pagan land.

Instead of staying with his own people and enduring the famine, Elimelech became a refuge in the land of Moab, a nation founded by the offspring of incest between Lot and his oldest daughter. In this land of voluntary sojourning, his sons married pagan women, and his loyalty to God appears to have faltered.

Ultimately, this illuminates the eventual deliverance of God. It also depicts the consequences of leaving the place God has for you in search of better opportunities. God ordained this move, but it was in this land that the whole family is almost extinguished. By preaching Ruth, you have an occasion to remind believers of their responsibility to obey God in how we raise our families, and that parents are to be an example of biblical faithfulness. There will be tests and trials, but the faithful persevere.

It also means you preach the providence of God and his way of using sin and evil for good purposes (cf. Genesis 50:20). If Elimelech’s family hadn’t left Israel, there would be no marriage to Ruth, and no reason for her to follow Naomi back and eventually marry Boaz. Ssweet expressions of grace in the face of weakness are woven beautifully between scenes of sin and judgment. There is therefore tremendous hope in Ruth for both strong and hurting families.

We need to preach Ruth because it shows us that disobedience has consequences, but that consequences have purposes leading to hope on the Last Day.

2. It teaches us about divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

Ruth was in a very difficult situation both at home and back in Israel. Desperate single women living in a time of lawlessness have few options when it comes to work. In those dark ages, they weren’t educated, didn’t engage in commerce, and were often relegated to servitude or prostitution. One of the key lessons we learned as a church is that providence is often painful. But God is not to be judged according to our standards. He must be preached as the sovereign King, and we are his subjects. He will do what he pleases, and we will rejoice because it brings him glory.

The book of Ruth reminds the church (and especially godly men) of the opportunity to alter the life of people at risk of exploitation. It’s a wonderful responsibility for any healthy believer. Ruth chose to leave the city, where much of the immoral industry went on, and work very hard in the open country. However, were it not for men like Boaz who noticed, protected, and cared for her, the entire situation would have remained impossibly difficult.

We also see the sweet providence of God throughout the book. In Ruth 2:3, the author tells us she “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz” who just happened to be a relative, and just happened to be single and willing to marry a woman perceived to be an older, widowed, barren, immigrant outsider. As the hymn writer put it:

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

We need to preach Ruth because it shows us how to better understand the providence of God, and the way he uses us to do his will.

3. It teaches us to consider the poor and vulnerable.

We live in an age of unprecedented exploitation of women. However, the situation may have been just as bad or even worse in the time of Ruth. Women were property, and if they couldn’t produce male offspring, they were often discarded or at least supplemented with other women who could.

Ruth was barren. To make matters worse, she was also a foreigner and poor. This is critical to remember because in the ancient world, wealth and nationality were the primary contributors to quality of life.

In other words, Ruth would have been an easy target for exploitative men, but instead God showed his mercy through a benevolent, wealthy, Jewish man named Boaz. He generously gives her ample opportunity to get what she needs, guarantees protection, and ensures that her needs are met the same way the needs of his own workers are (Ruth 2:8–9).

When Boaz finally speaks to Ruth directly, he shows no indication of social superiority. He’s very kind and respectful, calling her daughter and acknowledging her distress. Even though Ruth is an immigrant, he plows a pathway for her to succeed in the land. This manifestation of God’s love and compassion is a model for us. Boaz didn’t help everyone, and he didn’t divide up his wealth in an effort to make things fair. Instead, he treated everyone with fairness and respect, bestowing a special measure of grace on one who needed it most.

We need to preach Ruth because it shows us how to protect the weak and vulnerable who bear the image of God.

4. It teaches us about our true Redeemer.

Around midnight, the dropping temperature causes Boaz to shiver and roll over. He’d been sleeping by his harvest as a way to protect it and be ready to start work early the next day. Reaching down to cover his feet he finds a woman and asks a reasonable question, “Who are you?” (Ruth 3:9).

This is one of the greatest conversations in the Bible. When she asked to be cover, Ruth essentially proposes a marriage that would rescue her (cf. Ezekiel 16:8; Deuteronomy 23:1; Malachi 2:16). It’s a humble but confident appeal for a redeemer.

This conversation gives preachers an open stage to display the glories of the gospel in the lives of two regular people.

Boaz responds in a way that answers his own prayers for Ruth’s protection (cf. 2:12). God is working through the actions of a righteous man to accomplish his plans for a faithful widow. The book of Ruth shows how divine providence and human ingenuity often work together in redemptive history. There will be some dramatic twists along the way, but in the end he gets the girl.

During this tender exchange, Boaz calls Ruth her daughter, and then uses a common Hebrew formula that intended to put her mind at ease. He says, “Do not fear.” He knows Ruth is a virtuous woman, and someone will redeem her. This is gorgeous language, better than Shakespeare or Milton, and the scene ends with a Moabite woman resting her head again at the feet hope personified.

We need to preach Ruth because it shows us a picture of the redemption and adoption we have in Christ.

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