The book of Ruth consists of three main characters: Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. We have already read about Ruth. Today we look at the rare subject of mother-in-laws. Naomi is no ordinary mother-in-law.
In ancient Jewish society, girls were married at an early age, usually at the outset of puberty or around the age of 13. So the age of Naomi could not be that old as we were taught in the past. She was married to Elimelech, a man from Bethlehem in Judah and they had two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. The whole family migrated to Moab during a severe famine in Israel. The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband. This means Naomi could be around forty years old when she decided to return to Judah. Then Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had blessed his people in Judah by giving them good crops again. So Naomi and her daughters-in-law got ready to leave Moab to return to her homeland.
She advised the two young women (possibly in their early twenties) to depart and return to their own parents so they could remarry eligible young men. But Ruth has converted to belief in the God of Israel, and decided to follow Naomi to Judah. They arrived in Bethlehem in late spring, at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Naomi actually had landed properties inherited from her late husband. But she was not selling yet and Ruth went to work to support the two. She met a very rich man and landowner Boaz who was closely related to Naomi’s late husband and was in a position to buy the lands from Naomi and marry either Naomi or Ruth.
Naomi decided that he married Ruth. She sent Ruth to him and they married and had a son who became the grandfather of king David.
The story showed that Naomi was familiar with the Law of God for the children of Israel. She could have married again as she had valuable landed properties. Boaz was her husband’s contemporary and close kinsman. He knew her and was concerned for her welfare. Boaz kept abreast of the news of Naomi. She was more socially acceptable and honored in Bethlehem than the Moabite woman Ruth was.
Let us read and see Naomi’s godly character and wisdom:
- She was a woman who loved. She treated her daughters in law just as if they were her own daughters. The three widows had a closely knitted family. The two young daughters in law loved her and would have followed her home to Judah if she had allowed them.
- She taught them about her God and her belief. Ruth was fully converted.
- She honored and loved her husband throughout her life. She followed him faithfully to a foreign country. When he died she lived on with his sons and got wives for them. When they died she decided to remain a widow and never remarried despite her good prospects to remarry.
- She loved and missed her home in Bethlehem. She kept in touch with the news back home and when she heard of the land producing good crops again she attributed it to God’s favor. She immediately started on her journey home.
- She must have known of all the close relatives and those eligible to buy her lands and marry her. But she did not mention or approach any of them.
- Only when Ruth went to work and happened to meet Boaz and he had shown mercy and favor to both of them, she made the decision to marry Ruth off to him.
- Why did she not remarry? She did not lose out in history. She was given due recognition in the end of this record in the Bible. She had provided love and security of a family for her daughter-in-law who loved her and sacrificed for her (in leaving her own parents and taking the risk to follow her to Judah), sold her own properties inherited from her husband for a good price (as Boaz was a very rich and honorable man who cared for her), and gained a grand son who would take care of her in old age!
Here are some notable verses from the book of Ruth. I would encourage readers to read the whole book.
14 And again they wept together, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye. But Ruth clung tightly to Naomi. 15 “Look,” Naomi said to her, “your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. You should do the same.” 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!” 18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
“Where did you gather all this grain today?” Naomi asked. “Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!” So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, “The man I worked with today is named Boaz.”
Then Naomi said to her, “Just be patient, my daughter, until we hear what happens. The man won’t rest until he has settled things today.”
Then Boaz said to the elders and to the crowd standing around, “You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon.