Make a list of the things you got for your birthday this year.
How many of them did you a) like? b) need?
Living in the rich west can be a real disadvantage in some ways for Christians. Most of us have no idea what it feels like to go without basic needs, like food or shelter. We tend to take for granted what God has blessed us with, and just demand more and more. This study looks at God’s faithfulness and generosity to his people - let me introduce Ruth (what a girl!)
This story is set in the period of the Judges, a dark time in Israel’s history. There was no king, atrocities were common and “the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord” (Jdg 3;7) Israelites believed themselves to be superior to the nations surrounding them e.g. the Moabites (Ruth’s people) and although God’s laws told them to help foreigners in the land and show them dignity that didn’t usually happen. The law instructed that farmers left some grain in the fields for the poor to collect so that they did not starve, but the only real security a woman in these times had was through her father, husband or son. If she had no male relative then there was no one to provide for or protect her - as a childless widow she was in BIG trouble. However a system existed where a ‘kinsman redeemer’ (the nearest male relative) had a responsibility to take on female relatives and support them and their children.
1) Divide the group into 3. Each take one of the following characters and read through the whole story of Ruth, making a list of the qualities & characteristics they show.
Explain your observations to the other groups.
2) a. In what ways would Ruth & Naomi be justified in thinking that God had treated them badly?
b. Do you tend to react like Ruth or Naomi when things go wrong?
3) Note down the ways in which God blessed or provided for Ruth (and therefore Naomi too) in
4) a. To what extent was God’s provision for Ruth dependant on her taking responsibility herself?
(How much of it could not have happened if she’d sat around feeling sorry for herself?)
b. How does that principle apply to your life?
5) Boaz was the main vehicle God used to bless them. How did HE benefit from his faithfulness to God’s laws?
6) a. Who has God used to bless you in the past? How were they a blessing?
b. When has he used YOU to bless someone else? What effect did it have on you?
7) Christians often believe that God likes to make them suffer and be miserable, to go without. What does the story of God’s dealings with Ruth teach you about this?
It is difficult to pick part of the story in isolation in order to see God’s faithfulness and provision for Ruth, who is in desperate need. Therefore to save time Qn 1 will take everyone through the story but still help the group get the maximum understanding without having to do that 3 times!
2a) God appears to have left Ruth and Naomi without protection, food, support. The things that were signs of his blessing; husbands, children, wealth were gone. Their position was awful! It’s interesting to note that Naomi (the Jewess.) who should know better, is the one that complains. Ruth - whose family are not even followers of Yahweh - handles the situation in a more dignified, trusting, practical way. (Perhaps she doesn't expect God to help them?)
3) CH2. She ‘happens’ to end up in the fields of a godly man who takes an interest in her welfare and offers her protection as well as being generous towards her. He is respectful and kind, giving her credit for her faithfulness to Naomi and her hard work. She is also guaranteed food until the end of the harvest.
CH3. God gives Naomi the shrewdness to encourage Ruth to propose to Boaz! He is also respectful, honorable and gracious towards her. (She could easily have been rejected - or even raped!) He also gives her more food, to bless her.
CH4. The nearest male relative is unwilling to buy the land and take on the responsibility of the 2 women, but Boaz is. He keeps his word and marries her. God then gives her children - she now has a family, a home and the security she needs. In addition she is the great grandmother of King David and ultimately of Jesus. (She is one of only 5 women listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.5) God honours both her and Boaz by blessing their descendants. (In the ancient world the success of people was seen as God’s blessing on their ancestors)
4)a Ruth has to take the initiative, to gather food, to propose. She shows great trust in both Naomi and Boaz, but she also works hard to gather food - she doesn't assume that anyone owes her, but does what she can to help her situation.
4b). There are times when God expects us to take the initiative and work hard. He does not give us everything on a plate but expects us to be responsible - we need to do the possible, then God will do the impossible!
5) Boaz gained a young wife & children for his faithfulness. He also became an ancestor of Jesus (see qn 3 - CH4 comments.)
7) It may be worth pointing out that Ruth was given what she needed - not great luxury or wealth, but a home and security. She did prove - through a hard time that SHE was faithful and that God was faithful too. At times God WILL let us go through difficulties to teach us things, so that we will grow and learn to trust him. Often it is also in hard times that we turn to him and hold on tighter to God because we need help. When life is good it’s easy to wander away, stop praying because we don't really “need” anything. God is more interested in our relationship with him and our growth as Christians than he is in us having an easy life!
© Ruth Perrin 2008. Last revised on 1 December 2008
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Cloud of Witnesses is a series of Bible studies on the men and women of scripture. You'll find everyone from Gideon and Andrew through to Tamar and Tabitha.
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Ruth Perrin, the author, is on staff at King's Church Durham and holds an MA in Theology and Ministry.
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