Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
THE CHARACTER OF RUTH
Ruth 1:15-17. She (Naomi) said, Behold, your sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return you after your sister-in-law. And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after 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, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part you and me.
THE study of Scripture characters is very instructive: for, in them, we see human nature in all its diversified conditions, not as artificially delineated by a brilliant fancy or a warm imagination, but as really existing, and exhibited to our view. For subjects of public discussion, too, they are peculiarly favorable; because, in presenting real scenes, they bring before us circumstances which are of daily occurrence, or which, at least, are well adapted to show us how to act, when such circumstances occur. The partings of friends and relatives are common: and, inasmuch as they give birth to a great variety of emotions in the mind, they elicit the inward character with great fidelity. Such is the incident which we are now about to consider, and which will reflect peculiar light on the dispositions of one, who, though a Moabitess by birth, was one of the progenitors of our blessed Lord.
From this farewell scene, and the distinguished excellence of Ruth's behavior, I shall be led to mark her character,
I. Simply as here depicted—
In the circumstances before us, she approves herself a pattern,
1. Of filial piety—
Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had long endeared herself to her; and now was about to part with her, and to return to the land of Israel. But Ruth would not suffer her to depart alone, but determined to adhere to her to the latest hour of her life. Nor in this determination was she biased by any selfish hopes of future aggrandizement. Her love was altogether pure and unselfish. She well knew, that, though Naomi was once possessed of opulence, she was now reduced to poverty: nor had Naomi any surviving son, who might be united to her, and raise up seed to his departed brother. All this was faithfully represented by Naomi, both to her and to her sister Orpah, in the most affecting terms: "Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will you go with me? Are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters; go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have a husband also tonight, and should bear sons, would you tarry for them until they were grown? would you stay for them from having husbands? Nay, my daughters; for it grieves me much, for your sakes, that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me. And they lift up their voice, and wept again verse 11–14." But nothing could shake the resolution of Ruth: she determined to renounce all her old relatives, and the prospects she might have in her native land, and to cleave steadfastly to Naomi, even unto death. And the manner in which she refused to acquiesce in her mother's proposal was tender and affectionate in the extreme: "Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you." This, in other words, was as if she had said, "You know that any request of your, however difficult or self-denying it were, would be obeyed with the utmost alacrity: but to ask me to forsake you, this is too much: it would break my heart: I could not do it: I pray you to forbear putting me to so severe a trial: 'Entreat me not to leave you;' for the alternative, of parting with you or disobeying your command, is as a sword in my bones, a wound which I cannot possibly endure. Be the sacrifice ever so great, I am ready to make it; I shall delight in making it."
Thus did this duteous female, from love to her mother, make, in effect, the very reply which Paul, many hundred years afterwards, gave, from love to the Savior, and on an occasion not very dissimilar: "What mean you to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem, for the name of the Lord Jesus Acts 21:13."
2. Of vital godliness—
This was at the root, and was the true spring of her determined resolution: "Your people shall be my people, and your God my God." She had been instructed by her mother in the knowledge of the true God; and she determined to consecrate herself to his service, and to take her portion with his people. This was very particularly noticed by Boaz, as no less conspicuous than her filial piety: "It has fully been shown me all that you have done unto your mother-in-law since the death of your husband; and how you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your nativity, and are come unto a people which you knew not heretofore: the Lord recompense your work; and a full reward be given you of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to trust Ruth 2:11-12." Her desire after God was paramount to every other consideration under Heaven. She believed that his people were happy above all other people: and, whatever she might endure in this life, she determined to unite with them, and, as far as possible, to participate their lot. Her views of religion might not be clear: but it is evident that a principle of vital godliness was rooted in her heart, and powerfully operative in her life. In fact, she acted in perfect conformity with that injunction that was afterwards given by our Lord, "Whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple Luke 14:33."
But her character will appear in yet brighter colors, if we consider it,
II. As compared with that of Orpah and Naomi—
Compare it with that of Orpah—
Orpah loved her mother-in-law; and, at first, determined not to part from her. In answer to the suggestions of Naomi, she joined with Ruth in saying, "Surely we will return with you unto your people verse 10." But, when a faithful representation was given her respecting the sacrifices she would be called to make, she repented of her good intentions, and, taking an affectionate leave of her mother-in-law, "returned to her own people, and to her idol-gods verse 15." Like the rich youth in the Gospel, she departed, reluctantly indeed, yet finally and forever Matthew 19:21-22. "Orpah," it is said, "kissed her mother-in-law: but Ruth cleave unto her verse 14." Happy Ruth! "you did choose the better part: and never was it taken from you Luke 10:42," nor ever had you reason to regret your choice. It was wise as that of Moses, when he "chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season Hebrews 11:25." We congratulate you on the strength of your principles, or rather, on the grace given you of the Lord. Unhappy Orpah! we know not what was your condition in after life: but, whatever it was, do you not now bemoan your instability? Do you not now wish that you had been faithful to your convictions, and had cast in your lot with God's chosen people? As for you, Ruth, you favored saint, even if you had been as miserable in after life as you were happy, we should have pronounced you blessed: but doubly blessed were you in the distinctions conferred upon you in this world, as earnests of the glory which you inherit in the realms of bliss, even in the bosom of your descendant, your Savior, and your God.
Compare it, also, with that of Naomi—
That Naomi was a pious character, we have no doubt; and amiable too: for by her conduct she conciliated the regard of both her daughters-in-law, who, though Moabites by birth, were through her convinced of the superior excellence of the Jewish religion, and the superior happiness of those who were imbued with it. And we cannot but earnestly call the attention of Christian parents to this trait of Naomi's character. For there are too many, who, while they profess godliness, make it odious to all who come in contact with them, and especially to those who are dependent on them. Their tempers are so hasty, so imperious, so ungoverned, that their very daughters are glad of an occasion to get from under their roof. I must tell all such professors, that they are a disgrace to their profession; and that if religion do not make us lovely and amiable in all our family relations, it does nothing for us, but deceives us to our ruin.
Yet I cannot think very highly of Naomi's character, when I see the advice which she gave to her daughters. She loved them, it is true: but her love was of too carnal a nature: for she had more respect to their temporal welfare than to the welfare of their souls. Some would offer an apology for her; that she only intended to try the sincerity of their love. But, supposing she had done this in the first instance, which yet she had no right to do, especially when they had both said, "Surely we will return with you unto your people:" (I say again, she had no right to "cast a stumbling-block in their way," and by repeated entreaties to urge their return to their idolatrous friends and their idol-gods:) but when she saw, unhappily, that she had prevailed with Orpah, had she any right to urge Ruth to follow her sad example? Should she not rather have rent her garments, yes, and torn the very hair from her head with anguish, at the thought of having so fatally prevailed to ruin her daughter's soul? Should she not rather have striven to undo what she had done to Orpah, than continue to exert the same fatal influence with Ruth? Should not the advice of Moses to Hobab have been hers to both of them, "Come with me, and God will do you good Numbers 10:29-32." Naomi, you have given us a picture too often realized in the present day: in you we see a mother more anxious about the providing of husbands for her daughters, than the saving of their souls. You did love your daughters, it is true; but your concern for their temporal welfare overpowered all other considerations, and not only kept you from leading their minds to God, but actually induced you to exert your influence in opposition to their good desires: you were a tempter to them, when you should have done all in your power to keep them from temptation, and have had your whole soul bent on securing their everlasting salvation. Beloved Ruth, we bless God that you were enabled to withstand the solicitations given you, though from so high a quarter: for we are told by our Lord and Savior, "He who loves father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me Matthew 10:37." You did well, in that your refusal was so tender, so affectionate, so respectful: but still you did well, also, that you were firm. Your firmness has reflected a luster on your character: for while it detracted nothing from your filial piety, seeing that "we must obey God rather than man," it has shown how much more pure your love was than that of your mother, and how much more rigid and firm your piety.
1. To parents—
Learn, I pray you, from Naomi; learn to instruct your children and dependents in the knowledge of the true God, and to conciliate their regards by the most unwearied efforts of tenderness and love. But beware how you discourage in them any good desire. I will grant that there are in Scripture other instances of persons laboring to counteract the movements of personal affection. Ittai, the Gittite, when following David in his flight from Absalom, was urged to leave him 2 Samuel 15:19-21; as Elisha also was repeatedly by Elijah previous to his assumption to Heaven 2 Kings 2:2; 2 Kings 2:4; 2 Kings 2:6. But there was no positive duty lying upon them, or, at all events, none which David and Elijah were not at liberty to dispense with. But Naomi had no right whatever to discourage the pious purposes of her daughters: if she had chosen to dispense with their attendance on her, she had no authority to dissuade them from devoting themselves to God. Remember, then, the true limits of your authority: it may be, and should be, energetically used for God: but it must not, even in advice, be used against him. Your influence is great; and on it may depend the salvation of your offspring. Oh, what a grief must it have been to Naomi, in after life, that she had given such fatal counsel to her apostate daughter! And who can tell what cause you may have to bewail the discouraging of pious emotions in your children, even in one single instance? And think not that even piety renders this caution unnecessary. Rebekah was pious; yet when she feared that her beloved Jacob would lose the birthright, what a device did she suggest, and with what horrid impiety did she urge him to adopt it Genesis 27:12-13. Beware, I say, of following Naomi in this respect; and rather use your influence, like Lois and Eunice, for the training of your Timothy to the highest attainments of piety and virtue 2 Timothy 1:5.
2. To young people—
Cultivate, to the utmost, an affectionate and obediential spirit towards your parents. This is a frame of mind peculiarly pleasing to God. When he enjoined it in the Decalogue, he wrote it with his own finger on a tablet of stone: and it is distinguished above all the other commandments by this, that it was "the first commandment with promise Ephesians 6:2." The exercise of this spirit pre-eminently characterized our blessed Lord in his early days: "He went down with his parents to Nazareth, and was subject unto them Luke 2:51." This is the best return that you can make to your parents for all the care which they take of you, and all their labors for your good. Especially, if, like Naomi, they be brought into affliction and poverty, forsake them not then; but rather redouble your attentions to them; and account no sacrifice too great to make, if by any means you may be a comfort to them in their declining years.
At the same time be attentive to the concerns of your souls. Embrace the God of Israel as your God; and worship him, and serve him, and "cleave unto him with full purpose of heart Acts 11:23." And let no hopes of improving your temporal condition, either in marriage or in any other way, draw you aside from him. Renounce all for God; and "count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus your Lord." If others turn from the Lord, and go back unto the world, do not you follow them. Even though they be your near relatives, with whom you have been bound in ties of the closest amity, let them not prevail: yes, though their prudence be proposed to you as the fittest pattern to follow, and the proposal come from the highest authority, still be faithful to your convictions; and be faithful to your God. This will issue most to your satisfaction; this will bring you peace at the last: for so it is written; "Hearken, O daughter, and incline your ear: forget, also, your own people, and your father's house: so will the King greatly desire your beauty; for He is your Lord; and worship you him Psalm 45:10-11."
THE CHANGES MADE BY TIME AND CIRCUMSTANCES
Ruth 1:19. It came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi?
TO seek the applause of man is wrong: but to merit it, is most desirable. A man of worthless character creates no respect in the minds of others; so that, if ill befall him, he finds but little sympathy in the bosoms of those around him: whereas a good man under misfortune, excites a general commiseration; and every one takes a lively interest in his affairs. This is beautifully exemplified in the history before us. Naomi was certainly a woman of piety, and much esteemed. In a season of dearth she had left her country with her husband and sons; and, after ten years' absence, she returned in a bereaved and destitute condition, having lost her husband and her two sons, and having no attendant but a daughter-in-law, as poor and destitute as herself. Yet, behold, she no sooner reaches the place of her former abode, than the whole city is moved with her misfortunes, every one feeling for her as for a sister, and with tender concern exclaiming, "Is this Naomi?"
The circumstance here recorded will lead me to show you,
I. What changes take place in life—
This is altogether a changing scene; every day bringing with it something new, to elevate or depress our minds. Some changes are of a favorable nature, such as the growth of our children in wisdom and stature; the advancement of our friends in wealth and honor; and, above all, the conversion of the mirthful and dissipated to the knowledge of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ. These things sometimes occur so suddenly and beyond our expectation, that we scarcely know how to credit them; and we are ready to ask, with pleasing surprise, Is this Naomi, whom I remember not long since under such different circumstances?
But it is rather of afflictive changes that our text leads us to speak: and we shall notice them,
1. In relation to temporal matters—
What effects are wrought by disease or accident in the space of only a few days, we all are well aware. The person who but as yesterday was flourishing in health, vigor, beauty, is become enfeebled, emaciated, yes, a mass of deformity, so that you exclaim, with almost incredulous surprise, Is this Naomi? Nor are changes less quickly made in the outward circumstances of men, one day living in affluence and all the splendor of wealth; the next, reduced to poverty and shame. The age in which we live has been fruitful in such examples, princes and nobles having taken refuge, and found subsistence from the hands of charity, in our happy isle During the French Revolution; and, since that period, multitudes of our most opulent merchants having fallen from the highest pinnacle of grandeur to insignificance and want. Nor is it uncommon to behold a man, who by his talents has commanded universal admiration, brought, through disorder or through age, to a state of more than infantile fatuity; so that he can be no longer recognized but as a wreck and ruin of the former man.
The circumstances of Naomi lead me to mention yet another change, namely, that of family bereavements. We have seen persons in the full enjoyment of domestic happiness, with children, numerous, healthy, playful, the joy and delight of their parents, by successive strokes brought to a state of widowhood and desolation. Behold the disconsolate widow, "weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted, because they are not;" and because the husband, who was her stay and her support, is either languishing on a bed of sickness, or wrested from her by resistless death! In a word, see Job encircled with his family, and in the fullest possession of all that the world could give him: Ah! how fallen! how destitute! What a complete picture of human misery, and of the vanity of all sublunary good!
2. In relation to spiritual concerns—
The most distressing sight is that of one who once was hopeful as to the concerns of his soul, but has "left off to behave himself wisely," and launched forth into all manner of dissipation: or, if a more pitiable object can present itself to our view, it is that of one, who, after attaining an eminence in the Christian life, has fallen into a state of willful and habitual sin, and brought public disgrace upon his holy profession. David will here naturally occur to our minds. Look at him: "Is this David?" the man so abhorrent of evil, that he would not suffer a person who should utter a falsehood to dwell in his sight? Ah! how fallen! how unlike this murderer is to "the sweet singer of Israel," "the man after God's own heart!" And Solomon, too; Is this Solomon? that perfection of wisdom, whom all proclaimed as the wisest of the human race, now so infatuated, as to seek his happiness in a number of wives and concubines; and so impious, as both to gratify them, and to unite with them, in the most abominable idolatries 1 Kings 11:1-10? Is this Solomon? I say: Who can believe it?
But must we go back to those distant ages for instances of human frailty and depravity? Would to God that they were of such rare occurrence, that none had ever arisen in our own remembrance. But wherever the Gospel is preached, instances will be found of persons who "ran well for a season only," and who, though they "began in the Spirit, have ended in the flesh." Look at any such persons now, and see how unlike they are to their former selves! "How is the gold become dim, and the most fine gold changed!"
But, that we may duly improve these occurrences, let us consider,
II. What feelings the contemplation of them should inspire—
We should not be uninterested spectators of such events: they should excite in us,
In no case should we exult over fallen greatness. We read, indeed, of the triumphant utterance of joy at the fall of the Babylonish monarch, agreeably to the predictions respecting him Isaiah 14:4-11. Almost this whole passage should be cited; And similar exultation was felt at the destruction of Jerusalem; as it is said: "All that pass by clap their hands at you; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth Lamentations 2:15." But though these gloryings were permitted by God for the punishment of his enemies, they are not recorded for our imitation. We, like our blessed Lord, should weep over the desolations even of our bitterest enemies Luke 19:41-42. We should "bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ Galatians 6:2." The sight of misery, wherever it is found, should call forth our tenderest sympathy, and cause us to "weep with them that weep Romans 12:15." This is particularly suggested by the conduct of the people at Bethlehem: "The whole city was moved" at the sight of this poor widow, whom they had not seen for the space of ten years; and one sentiment of compassion filled all ranks of people, saying, "Is this Naomi?" So let it be with us, whether we be able to relieve the sufferer, or not. The very feeling of compassion will be pleasing to our God; and will assimilate us to that blessed Savior, who pitied us in our low estate, and "who, though he was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we, through his poverty, might be rich 2 Corinthians 8:9."
In such a changeable world as this, what is there for us to covet? Shall we desire riches? How soon do "they make themselves wings, and fly away Proverbs 23:5." Shall we affect honor? How soon may our Hosannahs be turned into, "Crucify him, crucify him!" As for pleasure, of whatever land, so vain is it all, that "even in laughter the heart is sorrowful, and the end of that mirth is heaviness Proverbs 14:13." Indeed, the whole world, even if we could possess it all, is but "vanity and vexation of spirit." If we "have wives, our true wisdom is to be as though we had none; if we weep, to be as though we wept not; or, if we rejoice, as though we rejoiced not: if we buy, to be as though we possessed not; and, if we use this world, as not abusing it: because the fashion of this world passes away 1 Corinthians 7:29-31." If changes of the most calamitous nature occur, we should remember, that "nothing has happened to us but what is common to man," and nothing but what may issue either in our temporal or eternal good. There are not wanting instances of the deepest reverses being themselves reversed: for Job's prosperity, after his distresses, far exceeded anything that he had enjoyed in his earlier life Job 42:10-16. Naomi, too, found, in the issue, that she had no reason to "adopt the name of Mara verse 20;" for her subsequent connection with Boaz soon dissipated all her sorrows, so that she could "put off her sackcloth and gird her with gladness." But, if this should not be the case, we may well be satisfied that "tribulation works patience, and experience and hope," and that our light and momentary afflictions work out "for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory 2 Corinthians 4:17-18." In the view, then, of all these things, we should "learn, in whatever state we are, therewith to be content: we should be equally ready to be abased or to abound, and to be instructed everywhere, and in all things, both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need Philippians 4:11-12."
This will never fail us. If we have much, it will sanctify our prosperity, and keep it from injuring our souls. If we have little, it will supply the lack of everything. View the rich man in all his abundance, and Lazarus in all his destitution. The eye of sense will look with envy on the one that is reveling in plenty: the eye of faith will form a far different estimate, and congratulate the sufferer in the midst of all his distresses. The wealth of this world brings with it many cares and troubles: but "the blessing of God makes rich, and adds no sorrow with it Proverbs 10:22." Even while the two were here in this world, no doubt the poorer was the happier man. But at the moment of their departure hence, what different feelings would have been expressed, if they had still been subjected to the sight of man! Is this the rich man—now destitute of a drop of water to cool his tongue? Is this Lazarus—now in the bosom of Abraham, at the banquet of the Lord? So, then, shall it before long be said of you, you sons and daughters of affliction, if only you improve your trials for the furtherance of your spiritual welfare. How soon shall all "your tears be wiped away from your eyes!" How soon shall "joy and gladness come forth to meet you; and sorrow and sighing flee away for ever!" "Be patient, then, unto the coming of your Lord:" and you shall soon find, that "the sufferings of this present life were not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us Romans 8:18."
BOAZ AND HIS REAPERS
Ruth 2:4. And, behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said unto the reapers, The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless you.
EVERY season suggests to us some appropriate considerations: and even the most common incidents of life are capable of affording us very important instruction. Certainly, at first sight, a man's fellowship with his reapers would not promise much for spiritual edification: but the address of Boaz to his people, and their reply to him, were altogether so different from what is usual in our day, that we shall find our time not unprofitably employed in the investigation of them.
I. Their mutual address is the first thing to be considered—
It may be understood in a two-fold view;
1. As a friendly salutation—
It seems probable that, if not at that time, yet in after ages, this kind of address was common in the time of harvest Psalm 129:7-8. But, as used on this occasion, it deserves peculiar notice; both as expressing great condescension and kindness on his part, and as evincing much respect and gratitude on theirs. Boaz, it must be remembered, was "a mighty man of wealth verse 1;" and therefore any notice from him might be deemed an act of condescension, and more especially this, which conveyed to their minds such a sense of paternal love. And their reply argued a becoming feeling of filial respect. Into how many fields might we go, before we heard such greetings as these! How much more frequently might we hear complaints respecting the work, on the one part; and murmuring concerning the wages, on the other part! Notwithstanding the superior advantages we enjoy, and the higher attainments which, in consequence, we might be expected to make in everything that was amiable and praiseworthy, how uncommon an occurrence should we deem it, if we chanced to witness such greetings in the present day! The true picture of modern life may be drawn in those words of Solomon, "The poor uses entreaties; but the rich answers roughly Proverbs 18:23."
2. As a devout blessing—
From the piety evinced by Boaz, we may well suppose that these benevolent expressions, on both sides, were not a mere customary form; but a real desire, in the bosoms of them all, for their mutual welfare in reference to the eternal world. How lovely was the address, how suitable the answer, in this view! It is remarkable, that the Apostle Paul begins and ends almost every epistle with prayers and blessings, expressive of his love for the souls of men. And such ought our correspondence to be, even when the main subject of our letters refers to temporal concerns. Such, too, should be our daily fellowship with friends and servants, in the house, or in the field. Who does not admire this interview between persons so distant in rank, yet so allied in spirit? Let us, then, cultivate the spirit here manifested: for, truly, if it universally obtained, we should enjoy almost a Heaven upon earth.
II. The next point for us to consider, is, What instruction we should gather from it—
We may learn from it,
1. That the blessing of God is our chief good—
This, under any view of their expressions, is evidently implied. The wealth of Boaz, if he had possessed ten thousand different estates, would have been of no real value without the blessing of God; and with that, the men who labored in reaping down his fields were truly rich. It is the light of God's countenance which is the only solid good Psalm 4:6; "In his presence is life; and his loving-kindness is better than life itself Psalm 30:5; Psalm 63:3."
2. That religion then appears in its true colors, when it regulates our conduct in social life—
It is in vain for a man to pretend to religion, if in his daily converse with the world he do not manifest its power to transform the soul. What is the knowledge even of an angel, without love? What the faith that could remove mountains? What the zeal that could give all our goods to feed the poor, or even our bodies to be burnt for Jesus' sake? We speak advisedly when we say, that in the full possession of all these excellencies we should be no better than "sounding brass and tinkling cymbals," if we were not under the habitual influence of love 1 Corinthians 13:1-3. Know you, Brethren, that your religion must be seen, not in the church or in the closet only, but in the shop, the family, the field. It must mortify pride, and every other evil passion; and must bring forth into exercise "all the mind that was in Christ Jesus Philippians 2:4-5." Try yourselves by this standard: see what you are, as husbands or wives, parents or children, masters or servants. See whether you possess the courtesy of Boaz, or the respectful love of his reapers. It is in this way that you are to shine as lights in a dark world. It is in this way that you are to put to shame the specious pretenses of politeness, and the feigned humility of those who are candidates for earthly honor: your courtesy must be the genuine offspring of Christian benevolence; and your whole deportment, a visible exhibition of your Savior's image.
And now, not as a master to his servants, but as a father to his children, I say, "The Lord be with you!" And may there be in all of you a responsive voice, imploring the blessing of Almighty God on him, who truly, though unworthily, seeks your welfare.
"The Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen."
RUTH'S PIETY AND REWARD
Ruth 2:11-12. And Boaz answered and said unto her, It has fully been showed me, all that you have done unto your mother-in-law since the death of your husband: and how you have left your father and your mother, and the land of your nativity, and are come unto a people which you knew not heretofore. The Lord recompense your work, and a full reward be given you of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you are come to trust.
THE book of Ruth contains only the domestic occurrences of one poor family: and it may well excite our wonder, that such trifling incidents should occupy the pen of inspiration, when the affairs of kingdoms and nations are overlooked. But there is nothing trifling that relates to morals: and still less, that relates to the Messiah. Were there nothing contained here but an exhibition of filial piety, it would not be recorded in vain; because a very principal intent of the inspired volume is, to rectify, in every relation of life, the dispositions and habits of mankind. But an attentive reader of this history will discover in it a fund of rich instruction. To assist you in this search, we shall set before you,
I. The general circumstances of the history—
Not having time to notice everything, we shall confine ourselves to those parts which deserve our more especial attention. The famine that was in the land of Canaan "in the days of one of the Judges," the consequent departure of Elimelech with his wife and children into the land of Moab, the marriage of his two sons with Moabitish women, the death of Elimelech and of both his sons, the return of his wife Naomi to her native land, when she heard that God had restored plenty to it: these and other circumstances we pass over in silence, in order that we may enter more fully into the things which relate to Ruth.
Ruth was the wife of Mahlon, Naomi's son: and to her this history principally relates. Two things in particular are stated concerning her, and they are distinctly specified in the words of our text; namely,
1. Her piety—
This was so conspicuous, that it was a matter of notoriety, and a theme of high commendation, at Bethlehem, almost as soon as she arrived there. On Naomi's adopting the resolution to return to her own country, Ruth, though a Moabitess, determined to accompany her: and, though Naomi stated faithfully to her the many inconveniences that would attend it, she would suffer nothing to divert her from her purpose. She had been instructed by Naomi in the knowledge of the only true God, and had seen in her the beauty and excellence of practical religion; and she determined to participate Naomi's lot, whatever it might be, and to give herself up a living sacrifice to Naomi's God. True it was, that in order to this she must relinquish all her own relations, and abandon all hopes of ever receiving benefits from them: but she had counted the cost, and deliberately preferred an adherence to Naomi and Naomi's God, before her country, her kindred, and all that the world could give her. The terms in which she expressed her resolution strongly marked the firmness of her purpose; "Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after 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, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part you and me Ruth 1:16-17."
Here is a pattern of true piety, and particularly as contrasted with Orpah, the relict of Naomi's other son. Orpah, as well as Ruth, was much attached to her mother-in-law Naomi; but she had not a supreme regard for the God of Israel: and therefore, when she saw what she must forego in order to accompany Naomi, she drew back, and returned to her own people and their gods. When the final decision was to be made, we are told, "They all lift up their voice and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law; but Ruth cleave unto her Ruth 1:14." Could Orpah have adhered to Naomi without making any sacrifices, she would have done it; but if she must give up all her prospects in life in such a cause, she will not pay the price. She parts indeed with much regret; but still she parts; like the Rich Youth that turned his back on Christ, because he could not bring his mind to the terms which were required of him Matthew 19:21-22. O that we may learn justly to appreciate the characters of Ruth and Orpah; and instead of drawing back, like Orpah, through the love of this world, may we follow rather the steps of pious Ruth, and "cleave unto the Lord with full purpose of heart." This is what our God requires of all; nor will our Savior on any other terms acknowledge us as his disciples Luke 14:26-27; Luke 14:33.
2. Her reward—
Though she knew not at all in what way God would requite her, yet she went forward, committing all her concerns to him, and "putting her trust under the shadow of his wings." Nor was she long before she experienced the tender mercies of her God. On her arrival at Bethlehem, she went into a field to glean some barley for the subsistence of herself, and of Naomi, whose infirmities rendered her unfit for so laborious an employment. Immediately, beyond all expectation, she was treated with great kindness by the reapers; and speedily afterwards by Boaz also, the owner of the field; who gave his servants a strict charge concerning her, and not only recommended her to glean in company with his maidens until the end of harvest, but authorized her to take a portion of their food, and bade the reapers to drop handfuls of corn for her, that she might reap the richer fruits of her industry. On her expressing her astonishment at all this unexpected kindness, she was informed by Boaz that it was a reward for the piety she had exercised towards her afflicted mother-in-law, and towards the Lord God of Israel. Laden with an extraordinary quantity of corn, she went home at the evening to Naomi; who, finding on inquiry that this benefactor was Boaz, a near relation of her own, encouraged her to follow the advice he had given her, and to glean in no other fields but his. Moreover, when Naomi found that this kindness of Boaz continued to the end of harvest, she began to think that God might incline the heart of Boaz to execute the office which belonged to the person who was nearest of kin to one who had died childless, namely, to marry the widow, and "raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance." In the hope of this, she advised Ruth to adopt a measure, which certainly to us appears exceeding strange, and which cannot be satisfactorily accounted for, except we suppose Naomi to have been actuated by a divine impulse, or at least by a firm reliance on God, whose glory, in this matter, she principally consulted. The expedient, dangerous as it was, succeeded: and Boaz agreed, that if another person who was nearer of kin to Ruth than himself should decline the office, he would instantly take it upon himself. The very next morning Boaz made the proposal publicly to the man who had a prior right; and then, on his declining to fulfill his duty, openly avowed his determination to fulfill it himself; and called the elders of the city to attest his redemption of her inheritance, and his espousal of her for his lawful wife. Thus wonderfully did God reward her for all her piety. Still further, though she had lived several years with her husband, and had borne no child, yet now it pleased God to confer on her that which was the great desire of her soul, and to make her a mother in Israel: yes, so greatly did God honor her, that David, the greatest of all the kings of Israel, sprang from her, as the grandson of her child; and the Lord Jesus Christ himself, the Savior of the world, was lineally descended from her.
How richly was now that prayer of Boaz answered to her, "The Lord recompense your work, and a full reward be given to you of the Lord God of Israel!"
Such being the principal circumstances of the history, we proceed to notice,
II. The light which it reflects on subjects of the greatest moment—
And here a flood of light breaks in upon us. Truly the history is replete with instruction: independent of the moral duties which it inculcates, such as those of parental care and filial love, or the religions duties, such as affiance in God and devotion to his service, it reflects a light on,
1. The ways of Providence—
Little do persons think, when brought into great affliction, what good may be derived from it, or what are the ultimate designs of God in it. When Naomi first came to Bethlehem, and was recognized by her old acquaintance, she said to them, "Call me not Naomi, but Mara," that is, not Pleasant, but Bitter Ruth 1:20; but within a few weeks she was congratulated as the happiest of women Ruth 4:14-15; so completely was that Scripture verified in her, "He raises up the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the dunghill; that he may set him with princes, even with the princes of his people. He makes the barren woman to keep house, to be a joyful mother of children Psalm 113:7-9." The ways by which her exaltation was effected, appeared fortuitous; but they were all ordered by the Lord, who foresaw the end from the beginning. It is said in the history, that "Ruth's hap was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz." Thus, as far as it was her act, it was casual and undesigned; but as a link in God's chain, it was entirely ordered of the Lord. The same must be observed in reference to every other part of the history: the minutest event in it, as in that of Joseph, was under the immediate control of God, who made use of the most contingent means to accomplish his own eternal purpose. Let not any then, however reduced, conclude that their case is desperate, or that God has brought them into such a state for evil: for, as the bondage and imprisonment of Joseph were steps to his highest exaltation, so may our heaviest afflictions be the appointed means of bringing us to the most exalted good. "God's ways are in the great deep, and his footsteps are not known:" and he not unfrequently "makes the depths of the sea a way for his ransomed to pass over Isaiah 51:10."
2. The wonders of Redemption—
Two things were enjoined by the law of Moses for the express purpose of shadowing forth the redemption of the world; the one was, that the nearest of kin should have a right to redeem an inheritance which his relation had mortgaged Leviticus 25:25; and the other was, that the brother of a person who died childless should marry his widow, in order to raise up seed to the departed person, and to prevent his name from perishing in Israel Deuteronomy 25:5-10. These prefigured the Lord Jesus Christ as our kinsman, "bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh," redeeming us by his own precious blood; and uniting himself to us, that we may bring forth fruit unto God Romans 7:4. Now both of these things were done in the history before us: Boaz, as the kinsman of Ruth, purchased her to be his wife; and also redeemed her inheritance, that she, together with himself, might have the enjoyment of it. When he called the elders to be witnesses of the transaction, these were his own words; "You are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi: moreover, Ruth, the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife Ruth 4:9-10." Both the one and the other he obtained by purchase, being entitled so to do by the special ties of consanguinity: and we are expressly told, that the Lord Jesus Christ assumed our nature for that very purpose, that, "being made of a woman, and under the law, he might redeem them that were under the law Galatians 4:4-5." The words of the Apostle are, "Forasmuch as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage Hebrews 2:14-15." How interesting then does this portion of the inspired records become, when we behold what a mystery is contained in it!
3. The call of the Gentiles into the Church of Christ—
In common cases it was unlawful for an Israelite to marry one of the daughters of Moab: but Ruth was become a proselyte to the Jewish religion, and was therefore entitled to fill the privileges of a child of Abraham. Still as a Moabitess, taken into that line from whence the Messiah was to spring, and actually made an instrument of continuing the succession whereby he was brought into the world, she was a witness for God to the Gentile world that he had not utterly forsaken them; but that they in due time should be incorporated with his chosen people, and become partakers of his salvation. Previous to this period, she was barren; but now she bore a son, through whom thousands and myriads were born to God: and in being the lineal ancestor of Christ, she was instrumental to the happiness of all that shall be saved by him, even of us Gentiles, as well as of those that were of Jewish descent. To her therefore we may eminently apply those words of the prophet, "Sing, O barren, you that did not bear! break forth into singing, and cry aloud, you that did not travail with child! for more are the children of the desolate, than the children of the married wife, says the Lord Isaiah 54:1." Let none then apprehend that they are so far off, but that they may yet be brought near by the blood of Jesus, and "sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God."
4. The procedure of God in the day of judgment—
Rewards do not always accompany virtue in this world, because God has appointed a day wherein he will judge the world in righteousness, and reward every one according to his works. But there are some instances wherein God appears for his people now, in order that he may give a specimen, as it were, of what he will do hereafter: and such an instance is exhibited in the history before us: Ruth's love to Naomi, and her confidence in the God of Israel, were richly recompensed. And who shall ever fail of recompense, that devotes himself sincerely to the God of Israel, and surrenders for him all his worldly prospects and comforts? We must indeed bear in mind the difference between the conduct of Orpah and of Ruth: it is not by a profession of love, but by the actual manifestation of it, that we must approve ourselves to God: we must not be contended with saluting his people, but must adhere to them, deliberately braving all difficulties and trials, and determinately adhering to his sacred cause. Let us only act in this manner; and the whole universe, like the Bethlehemites on that occasion, shall soon witness our reward Matthew 19:29 with Psalm 45:10.