Riches from Ruth
Five scrolls or megillot (meh-gee-LOAT) are read on five special occasions in traditional Jewish synagogues throughout the world. The Megillah of Ruth is read this month during the holiday of Shavuot (Feasts of Weeks or Pentecost) due to its setting at the time of the barley harvest in Israel. This harvest ended fifty days after the day following the Sabbath of Passover. “Count fifty days to the day after the seventh Sabbath; then you shall offer a new grain offering to the LORD” (Lev. 23:17). This grain offering included two loaves of leavened bread, the firstfruits to the Lord.
Ruth 1:1 begins, “Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled…” This was approximately 350 years prior to Saul becoming Israel’s first king. It was a time when everyone was his or her own authority. “In those days there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). It was a time of anarchy, lawlessness, and idolatry. Sounds like our day, doesn’t it? “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12).
That is precisely what happened to a man named Elimelech (El-ee-MEH-lekh), “My God is king.” He had the right name but made the wrong decision. Elimelech lived with his wife, Naomi, and their two sons in Bethlehem, the “House of Bread” (Bet-lekhem). There was a famine in the land (which might have been the judgment of God against Israel for her disobedience, Leviticus 26:18-20), but Elimelech could not outrun God’s chastening. He chose to leave the Land of Promise and take his family to Moab, to sojourn (live temporarily) in a land that was cursed by the Lord (Num. 25:1, 17-18; 31:16; Deut. 23:3-6). But we read in Ruth 1:2 that they “remained” in Moab. Disaster followed. Elimelech died. His two sons married Moabite women, Ruth, and Orpah. After ten years, Mahlon (“sickly”) and Chilion (“pining”) died, leaving three widows, Naomi (Elimelech’s wife), Ruth and Orpah, childless and grandchildless.
Sam Nadler, in Messianic Life Lessons from the Book of Ruth, makes some interesting comments on Elimelech’s decision to live in Moab. “Rather than trust God, it appears Elimelech believed he would be able to keep his wealth by leaving Israel. Elimelech left the land of promise because his loyalty was to his own agenda and not to God’s will. He left to escape the famine; he made decisions based on circumstances and not faith. Elimelech’s short stay turned into a lifestyle. God did not appear to be Elimelech’s king. His sons married foreign women, violating Israel’s covenant with God, and disaster followed. Elimelech would have been saved from this fate if he had heeded the words of Psalm 37:18-19.
Ruth, the Moabitess
Ruth, the wife of Mahlon, stands out in the book of the Bible named after her, as a beacon of dedication, determination, courage, virtue, humility, love, and faithfulness. She was from the Moabites, a despised enemy people, a Gentile, a widow, childless, and poor. But her name in Hebrew literally means “friendship,” and Ruth proved to be a friend of God. Boaz, the man who eventually became her husband, called her an eshet chayil (EH-shet kha-YEEL), a virtuous woman. Somehow, in the midst of living in a very pagan society, with a mother-in-law who felt abandoned by the God of Israel, Ruth developed a deep faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. She dealt with her husband and Naomi with chesed (KHEH-said), loyal devotion, kindness (Ruth 1:8). Boaz also stressed Ruth’s chesed (Ruth 3:10), and selflessness in her treatment of her mother-in-law.
Although Ruth, like Naomi, had suffered great loss and in the culture of her time was totally defenseless, having no male covering, she showed no signs of anger, fear, or bitterness. She faced the future with faith. (As a recent widow, I need to follow her example.) Ruth left her own people, their pagan gods, and her culture to embrace a new people, culture, and God. This was a bold venture of faith, and it reminds me of a verse that God gave me when Neil and I sensed that we were being called into Jewish ministry in 1975: “Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the king will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him” (Ps. 45:10). The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was calling me to make a total identification with His people, Israel. I did. I still do.
Become Like Ruth
As I prepared my heart to write this month’s letter, I came across an e-mail that Neil sent to our daughter-in-law Nancy on November 11, 2011. It was exactly as follows: “You are so AWESOME. I just finished my morning devotional which was about Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah. I felt the presence of the Lord so strong as I thought about the Ruth He sent into my life. She turned me back to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the faith of my fathers, and the destiny God had created for me. I am so blessed to have her in my life. [I had tears at this point.] And now YOU…a Ruth to my son. Remember he is a Levite from birth. He has a Levitical call on his life and a destiny to fulfill. Your children will be Levites too. Love and Blessings, Neil” [Yes. Neil Abraham Lash. Jonathan Isaac Lash. Liam Jacob Lash. Baby due this month!]
What does a heart like Ruth’s look like? We can best see it in Ruth’s famous confession, made when Naomi decided to return home and tried to convince Ruth to go back to her own Moabite people: “Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
This has been my life for the past 48 years. When I visited Neil’s grave for the first time last week, the last part of this verse became more real to me than ever. One day, I too will be buried in the Garden of Matthew at the Star of David Cemetery. A bench covers both graves. It is engraved with the words: Temple Aron HaKodesh. Until God calls me home, I will continue to reach out to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel as I did with Hedi this week, the dear Holocaust survivor in our building, who still doesn’t believe in God because Hitler took her family from her. I am Ruth; Hedi is Naomi—disillusioned and bitter—but when I left her apartment the other day, she called out to me, “I love you.” That’s a start.
Over the years, as Neil and I ministered in person, he would introduce himself as a Jew by birth. Then I would say, “Shalom, I’m Jamie, I am Jewish by re-birth, a child of Abraham by faith, circumcised in my heart to love God, like Ruth in the Bible.” Many of you have a similar confession. You are the ones who understand what the Messiah Yeshua meant in John 10:16, “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” [He was referring to the Gentiles.]
Jews and Gentiles together, worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Perhaps the two loaves of leavened bread, offered in Temple times at Shavuot (Lev. 23:17), represent these two groups, brought together in the hands of our Great High Priest, Yeshua. Ruth and Naomi. Ruth and Boaz.
Ruth chose the Jewish God, His People, His Land, and His Law. Since Shavuot is also celebrated as the anniversary of the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai (Zeman Matan Torateinu; Zeh-MAHN Mah-TAHN Toe-rah-TEY-nu), Ruth is held in high esteem as a Gentile who received the Torah whole-heartedly. As Israel symbolically stood beneath the huppah (bridal canopy) and renewed her vows to God, Ruth stood beneath the huppah and pronounced her marriage vows to her Jewish bridegroom, Boaz. When a Gentile desires to convert to Judaism today, the rabbi often will try to dissuade him or her from the decision, following the example of Naomi trying to convince Ruth and Orpah to return to their people. It is not always easy to cast one’s lot with the Jewish people, since they have been, and still are, a persecuted people. But they remain a people chosen by God, in covenant with Him. So God says in His Word, “Rejoice, O Gentiles with His people; for He will avenge the blood of His servants, and render vengeance to His adversaries; He will provide atonement for His land and His people” (Deut. 32:43).
I believe God is pleased when we not only rejoice with the Jewish people, but weep with them as well. Global anti-Semitism has reached shocking new levels. Consider what happened in a California synagogue in April. In Europe, anti-Semitism in pervasive. According to a study by the World Jewish Congress, an anti-Semitic message is posted to social media every 83 seconds! We need more believers with a heart like Ruth to come alongside the Jewish people in their hour of need, especially in prayer.
We honor the Jews, not because they are perfect, but because they gave us the Law, the Prophets, the Writings, the Patriarchs, and our Messiah! And—because we choose to love what God loves (Deut. 7:7-8).
God used Ruth to lead her mother-in-law, Naomi, from bitterness to joy. May He use each one of us to do the same with His people Israel!
Ruth or Orpah
Naomi had two daughters-in-law Ruth: whose name means “friendship,” and Orpah, whose name means “back of the neck,” including the idea of stubbornness. When Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem because she heard that there was now bread there, Ruth and Orpah initially went with her. Then, Naomi urged them to each return to the home of their mother. Orpah chose to leave. Ruth chose to cleave. “Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14).
What did Orpah return to? The Moabites participated in the idolatrous worship of Chemosh, the god of child sacrifice. God called Chemosh “the abomination of the Moabites” (2 Kings 23:13). While Ruth was a friend of the God of Israel, Orpah was a friend of the world. In essence, she turned her back on the God that Ruth chose to follow. We always have a choice. There is a serious admonition about this in the Book of James: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4).
Orpah went back to her people and to her gods (Ruth 1:15). She chose the familiar, but untrue, rather than the unfamiliar, yet true. Do we? Ruth chose the unfamiliar, a land and people she did not know, but a God she had come to trust. Amazing faith, given the circumstances. The Bible says that Ruth was “determined” to go with Naomi (Ruth 1:18). Sam Nadler expounds upon the Hebrew word used for “determined.” It is ametz (ah-METZ). It means resolute, courageous, and strengthened. The same word is used in Deuteronomy 31:6, “Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the LORD your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” May we all be as determined as Ruth, and resist being like Orpah.
Ruth and Boaz
A story that began in disaster ended with a consummate blessing because of the sovereignty and grace of an All-Powerful, All-Seeing, All-Knowing God. Naomi and Ruth returned to the Land of Israel empty. Naomi (“pleasantness”) asked to be called Mara (“bitter”). But God. He had a plan—a very good plan. It involved a man named Boaz. His name in Hebrew means “in him is strength.” In Ruth 2:1 Boaz is called an ish gibbor hayil (eesh-gee-BOAR khai-YEEL), a man of great wealth, mighty in power, strength, ability, and honor.
Ruth, in order to provide for Naomi and herself, was determined to glean in the barley harvest. She “happened” to come to the part of the field that belonged to Boaz, who “happened” to be of the family of Elimelech, and therefore eligible to redeem Ruth as a goel (go-EL), a kinsman-redeemer, according to Deuteronomy 25:5-10.
From the moment Boaz saw Ruth in his field, God’s plan moved forward. Ruth, although a ger (gher), a foreigner, found favor in the eyes of Boaz. He promised her protection and provision as she gleaned in his fields. He was so impressed with her chesed toward Naomi and her people (Ruth 2:11) that Boaz blessed Ruth: “The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge” (Ruth 2:12). Ruth’s reward did come in full. As she submitted to Naomi by going to the threshing floor and asking this older, highly-respected, wealthy man to marry her, literally “cover her,” and redeem her, God’s plan was carried out. Ruth was actually acting in Naomi’s stead, standing in the gap for the broken family line of Elimelech, to continue his seed (Deut. 25:5-6).
Boaz, the rich, godly landowner, married Ruth, the poor, godly Moabite widow, and a blessing was pronounced on them by the elders of Bethlehem (Ruth 4:11-12). Ruth bore a son named Obed (“servant” in Hebrew), who bore a son named Jesse, who bore a son named David, who became the King of Israel. From David’s line came Yeshua, the Messiah of Israel, all because one Gentile Moabite widow chose to become a friend of God.
Someone might wonder: “What would cause a man like Boaz, who was a devout follower of Torah, to be willing to marry a woman with Ruth’s background?” If you check the genealogy at the end of the Book of Ruth, you’ll see that the father of Boaz was Salmon. In the genealogy of Yeshua the Messiah in Matthew 1:5 it says, “Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz begot Obed by Ruth…” Rahab the mother of Boaz, was a Gentile harlot. Like Ruth, her confession was: “…the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath” (Josh. 2:11). Amen!
Boaz and Yeshua Parallels
- Both are kinsman-redeemers.
- Both are lord of the harvest.
- Both are an advocate.
- Both are a bridegroom with a Gentile bride who becomes part of Israel.
- Both are followers of God’s Torah.
- Both are ish gibbor hayil.
- Both went beyond the requirements of the law.
- Both are strong (Yeshua: Rev. 5:12).
- Both cover our nakedness and shame.
- Both are Jewish .
- Both are self-sacrificing.
- Both wore garments with fringes.
- Both are covenant keepers—shared in a meal of bread and wine.
- Both extend grace and favor.
- Both pronounce blessings on harvest workers.
Thank you for being friends of God! Love in Him,
P.S. We have made a website for you to add memories of Neil. To see the video of his memorial service, please go to www.rabbineillash.com. Click on gallery and then video.