Yesterday marked the celebration of the fourth of seven prophetic Feasts mentioned in the 23rd chapter of the Book of Leviticus. This feast, known by different names, both biblical and rabbinical, is called “Shavuot” in Hebrew, meaning “weeks,” and Feast of Weeks in English. It falls on the seventh Sabbath after Passover, encompassing seven full weeks plus one additional day. According to Deuteronomy 16:12, the purpose of this feast is to rejoice, to celebrate and remember the liberation of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt.
In the Newer Testament, Shavuot holds great significance as the day when the Holy Spirit was given. It was on this day that 3,000 people came to faith in Messiah Yeshua, having their sins forgiven and marked the beginning of a new age.
One of the traditions associated with Shavuot is the reading of the Book (actually Scroll) of Ruth. There are several reasons for choosing this part of Scripture, including its connection to the end of the Spring harvest and its themes of giving, kindness, and selflessness, which align with the belief that God gave the Torah, the Law, to the Jewish people on the day of Shavuot. The story of Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges, a period that highlights human failure and God’s enduring mercy.
The Book of Judges reveals the consequences of compromise and the escalating effects of uncontrolled evil. The principle underlying Israel’s repeated failures is summed up in the final verse of the book: “In those days, there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) While the Israelites were not inherently rebellious against God’s desires, they pursued their own subjective understanding of right and wrong, leading to disastrous outcomes.
The message of Judges is relevant to our present time. The prevailing winds of self-centeredness and the “me, myself, and I” mindset bring with them the dangerous virus of relativism. The prevalent “do your own thing” attitude has become a societal lifestyle, infecting every aspect of life, including spiritual truth and moral absolutes. Our society has become increasingly secular, pagan, and resistant to a message that points people to the Creator God of the universe. The Book of Judges begins with compromise and ends with confusion—a pattern that repeats when lives remain unsurrendered. Israel’s history, chronicled in the Bible, serves as instruction for us, who live in the culmination of the ages.
In contrast to the somber backdrop of the Book of Judges, the Book (Scroll) of Ruth shines like a jewel, radiating brilliance. While the Books of Joshua and Judges primarily focus on Israel’s connection to the land, Ruth places greater emphasis on the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant’s promise, particularly concerning the lineage of King David. It acts as a link between Deuteronomy and Samuel, bridging the anticipation of a king in Israel with the divine selection of a monarch. It accomplishes this by showcasing the remarkable display of God’s sovereign and elective grace, which worked providentially among His covenant people even during the troubling days of the Judges. This grace blessed their obedience driven by faith and prepared the way for the fulfillment of God’s predetermined purposes for the world.
The Bible accurately reflects the complexities of life itself. God’s dealings exhibit a pattern found both in nature and history: light follows darkness; emerge from valleys; repentance is accompanied by forgiveness, and so forth. So, in the Book of Judges, we encounter war and turmoil. In the Book of Samuel, we encounter even more conflict and unrest, hatred, theft, lies, and murder, an ancient world ravaged by sin. Sandwiched between these two books that are replete with war, conflict and unrest is the Book of Ruth. – a captivating tale of love and virtuous character that stand in stark contrast to its place in the historical time line.
The story itself is simple, composed of ordinary elements of human life. Its characters are everyday people. As the narrative unfolds, the beauty of Ruth’s character gradually emerges. From the moment she affectionately decides to accompany her widowed and grieving mother-in-law, she becomes the central figure of the story. The background: Famine in the land caused Naomi, her husband Elimelech, and their two sons, to decide to leave Bethlehem, in Judah, and to relocate to Moab (in Jordan). However, within ten short years, Naomi became a widow facing dire circumstances. Both of her sons married Moabite women, but her sons also passed away. Naomi, bereft of husband and children, living in a foreign land, facing extreme poverty, was broken and felt that God had forsaken her, because of her desertion of Him. She decided to return – back to her ancestral soil and back to her God.
Decision time. Would her daughters-in-law accompany her, knowing that they might not find a favorable welcome in Bethlehem? The pull to remain in Moab was strong for both of them. One daughter-in-law , Orpah (meaning turned away), after originally refusing to leave Naomi, opted to remain in Moab. She shared her mother-in-law’s sorrow of widowhood and did not see a favorable prospect on the horizon if she were to accompany her to Bethlehem, a foreign land for her. Naomi encouraged Ruth to do the same.
Ruth’s life had now reached the decisive moment—the moment that hinged on a monumental choice, determining her fulfillment of God’s purpose. It was a crisis that left her isolated and seemingly alone. Until this point, she had walked alongside Orpah. However, now Orpah, her sister-in-law, with whom she had accepted the hand of an Israelite husband, who had shared in the sorrow of widowhood, and who had begun the journey with Naomi back to Bethlehem, had departed.
Behind Ruth lay Moab—the land of her childhood, her parents, her friendships, and her interests. Before her lay Israel, with its unfamiliar territory, unfamiliar faces, and unknown trials. Outwardly, there appeared to be little, if anything, that would encourage her to move forward. Comfort, pleasure, and even common sense, as Naomi pointed out, all encouraged her to return to her homeland, where family, familiarity, love, and hope awaited her.
However, Ruth discerns a voice that resonates uniquely within her. It is the gentle voice of compassion, faith and love that won’t let her go. As she stands before Naomi in that momentous farewell, she sees more than just her mother-in-law—she sees the mother of her deceased husband and she perceives the faith and the God of her departed spouse. Can she embrace them as her own? Ruth adamantly refuses to leave Naomi’s side. Her words of determination constitute the most resolute, unequivocal declaration of love found in all of literature: “Do not urge me to leave you or to turn back 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 I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Ruth emerges victorious. Despite Naomi’s extraordinary nobility of heart and self-sacrificing love, she now assumes a secondary role in the narrative. The heroine of the tale becomes the younger woman. Leaving Moab behind, they cross the Jordan – a journey that God calls each of us to undertake. They press forward and eventually arrive in Bethlehem.
Ruth’s impassioned expression of tenderness transcends time. It encapsulates the deepest sentiments of loving hearts and reaches us across the centuries with undiminished warmth and vitality. It embodies the fusion of the two most powerful human emotions—love and faith. To love is to give oneself completely, and when Ruth throws herself upon Naomi’s frail bosom, pouring out her fervent resolve, she speaks the timeless language of love, simultaneously claiming Naomi as her own while surrendering herself to her. You can give without love, but you cannot truly love without giving. Ruth’s words also convey the abandonment of all things that lies at the core of genuine faith. Her declaration culminates in a vow to the God of Israel.
In Ruth’s embrace of the faith relationship between Israel and God, we witness a representation of what was meant to be the impact of Israel’s connection with the Gentile world.
The rest of the story reveals how God blessed both of these women upon their arrival and residence in Bethlehem. Ruth humbly embraces honest work gleaning in the fields of one of Naomi’s relatives, Boaz, who ends up marrying Ruth, who gives birth to their son, Obed, the grandfather of King David.
In their congratulations to Naomi upon the birth of her grandson, Naomi’s neighbors express a glorious tribute to Ruth’s character and her qualities of both intellect and compassion (Ruth 4:14-15): “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
Thus, the story concludes, not only with these two courageous and noble women finding happiness in each other, Ruth’s husband Boaz, and their son Obed, but also with an everlasting crown of honor bestowed upon them for their close connection to King David and to the One who is both David’s Son and Lord.
Ruth’s voluntary and remarkable attachment to the people, land, and God of Israel—an attachment demonstrated during the most severe trials when hope seemed lost and she had only an elderly, childless, homeless widow to cling to—received a corresponding reward that matched Ruth’s intense love and devotion.
Boaz was not only captivated by Ruth’s beauty, but also by her reputation. People spoke of Ruth’s life, her love, and her loyalty to Naomi. They marveled at how she left behind her Moabite lifestyle and committed herself to Jehovah. Ruth’s godly reputation was her most valuable possession. Though she was materially poor, her reputation for righteousness held great worth. Proverbs 22:1 states, “A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, favor is better than silver and gold.” Whether we like it or not, people observe our lives and how we live.
The theme of the last chapter in the Scroll (Megillah) of Ruth is redemption. This post is not intended to be a sermon, but a word of encouragement. God redeemed Ruth, who made a decision to honor the God of Israel. As a result, God raised her up to His level of honor! It doesn’t matter what you may be facing today. God always writes the last chapter of our lives. He calls us to a love relationship with Him with accompanying privileges. If you face famine, He can place before you a feast. If you are facing sorrow, He can enable you to overcome and rejoice. If you are facing death, He can give you eternal life. He will honor those who honor Him.
Indeed, at Shavuot, Feast of Weeks, Pentecost. there is much reason to rejoice!
Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.
Have a great week.