The Story of Ruth and the Secret to Rest
Article by David Shuman
It’s been a long year. We’re physically tired, and we’re emotionally tired. Months of pain, loss, and uncertainty have drained us. We long for this pandemic to end and for justice and peace to prevail.
Our weary souls ache for rest.
The book of Ruth is perfect for this moment. It shows us where we can find—even in the midst of today’s turmoil—deep rest for our souls.
The story begins with a woman named Naomi, who lives with her husband and two sons in Bethlehem. One day there’s a famine in the land, which is ironic, because Bethlehem means “city of bread.” Because of the famine, Naomi and her family move to Moab, historically an enemy of Israel. Eventually her sons both marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Sadly, after about 10 years, Naomi’s husband and sons die.
There’s a lot we can relate to. Maybe, like Naomi and Ruth, you’ve experienced the tragic loss of a loved one. Maybe you’ve lost your livelihood from the economic impact of COVID-19. Maybe you recently moved because of what was happening around you.
The story continues. Having lost everything in Moab, Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem when they hear the famine has ended. But in the ancient world, there weren’t many ways for women to provide for themselves. They arrive at the beginning of the barley harvest, and Ruth is able to glean in the fields of their relative Boaz, who turns out to be generous toward them. But when the harvest ends, Naomi and Ruth are back where they started, in the same poverty they’ve been trying to overcome for 10 years.
Imagine how demoralizing that must have felt! Ruth is a young woman whose husband recently died. She’s in unfamiliar territory, literally. She’s alone, except for her one roommate, Naomi, and they have no way to meet their daily needs.
They must have felt so weary.
Ruth Seeks Rest
Naomi asks Ruth, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1; cf. 1:8–9). Naomi has a plan for how to attain this rest. Having seen Boaz’s generosity, she hopes he will provide the rest they need. It turns out he is “a redeemer” (a close relative who can provide), so Naomi tells Ruth to propose marriage to him.
Boaz accepts, but he first needs to ask permission from the “redeemer nearer” than he (Ruth 3:12). As a demonstration of his devotion to Ruth and perhaps even as a sort of pledge, Boaz sends off Ruth with a gift. He gives her six measures of barley, which might have been as much as 95 pounds.
When Ruth returns home, Naomi affirms her faith in Boaz. She tells Ruth to wait. And the word used conveys the sense not only of waiting, but a worry-free attitude as she waits. Amid uncertainty, Ruth and Naomi wait for their redeemer to “settle the matter” and bring them rest (Ruth 3:18).
The book of Ruth shows us that deep soul rest is possible even now if we, like Ruth, wait for the day of our redemption, trusting our redeemer to finish what he started.
This part of the book of Ruth aptly describes the period in which we live our entire lives.
Just as Boaz pledges to redeem Ruth, so God has promised to redeem us. In fact, Jesus secured our redemption on the cross. And just as Boaz sent Ruth away with a gift and pledge, so Jesus has sent us his Holy Spirit as a pledge (Eph. 1:14). But just as Ruth awaited final resolution, we still await the day when God will give complete rest.
Our world is filled with all forms of unrest—sickness and death, injustice, volatility, loneliness, conflict. But the book of Ruth shows us that deep soul rest is possible even now if we, like Ruth, await the day of our redemption, trusting our redeemer to finish what he started.
Ruth Receives Rest
Boaz meets with the other relative who says he cannot redeem Ruth, “lest I impair my own inheritance” (4:5). So, Boaz redeems Ruth through a costly marriage, and Ruth gives birth to a child in Bethlehem. The baby’s name is Obed, which comes from the Hebrew word “to serve.” The women of Bethlehem say to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age” (Ruth 4:14–15).
Generations later, the women’s prayers were answered. This son was the grandfather of King David (4:22), who secured rest for Israel against her enemies. And the ultimate answer to their prayer came a thousand years later, when another son was born to another poor woman traveling to Bethlehem.
This child was from the line of Ruth and David. And as he was about to be born, a priest in Israel named Zechariah, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David” (Luke 1:67–68).(Friends…read the last two paragraphs again…our great God is faithful and ‘He’ is our redeemer. He has been and always will be moving the pieces around in the doll house of our life. He is faithful! dh)
Christ, Our Rest
Jesus Christ is the promised redeemer, the true Servant of the Lord, whose costly marriage to his people—a marriage that cost him his life—restores our life and brings us rest. He gives us rest from our sin and striving, and he welcomes us into the security of his family.
One day he will also remove every trial from our lives. He will transform our weak and weary bodies into new, glorious bodies. He will satisfy all our deepest needs and desires.
If you trust in him, you can experience rest even now. If you place your confidence not in your own ability to control your life, but in this Redeemer—if you seek peace not in your circumstances, but in this Redeemer—then you can sleep at night no matter what the day ahead has in store, because your Redeemer has given you rest.
As the psalmist says, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you” (Ps. 116:7).
David Schuman (MDiv, Westminster Seminary) is an assistant pastor at Exilic Church (PCA) in Manhattan. He met his wife, Meifung, on the steps of their church in Philadelphia, and they got married there shortly after. David and Meifung enjoy trying new restaurants and sitting in the park on a warm, sunny day. David is the author of numerous articles for The Gospel Coalition, Relevant Magazine, Sola Network, and Westminster Magazine. He and Meifung live in Midtown Manhattan.