Week Twenty Four: Ruth; 1 Samuel 1–3
Do you have any traditions in your family that are unique or have a symbolic meaning? At Easter, we would decorate Easter eggs and then have an egg bashing contest to see whose egg was the strongest. As a family, we would talk about how important it is to find inner strength through the Savior’s Atonement during the bashing of life. During Christmas, we would talk about the symbol of the Christmas tree, the wreath, presents, and even Santa Claus. To someone else, these traditions may seem silly or ridiculous because they do not understand the symbols behind them.
The children of Israel were given specific traditions they were to follow about almost every part of their lives. Yet, most of the traditions were supposed to point the Israelites to Christ and to help them understand their relationship with Him.
In Ruth 4, the tradition of keeping the birthright of Naomi’s husband and sons in the family is a major focus of the chapter. When you first read this chapter, you might have thought: Why is a shoe involved and what does this have to do with remembering the Savior? The symbols of redemption, the bride and bridegroom, the land of inheritance, and the shoe can all be seen as symbols of our covenantal relationship with God and of our inheritance, if we remain worthy, to receive all that He has.
Alonzo Gaskill[i] pointed out that the “ceremony of the shoe” in Ruth 4 is a ritual of God’s covenant people. In Deuteronomy 25:9-10, the ancient law required that the surviving brother of a deceased man should unite with the childless widow to raise up seed. Remember, in the story of Tamar, there was a similar situation. The oldest son had died without children and Tamar was to be given to his brother to raise up seed that would inherit the birthright. Tamar is also the 4th great grandmother of Boaz. This tradition was a part of his family’s heritage.
If there were no brothers, the next closest kin would have the right to redeem or buy the property, but with the buying of the property, he also had the responsibility to raise up seed by marrying the widow. If she had a son, this son would be given his father’s property so that the land was kept in the same family. The problem is that sometimes the inheritance became a mess when multiple sons were wanting the same family property.
Boaz wanted to marry Ruth, but knew, under the law, that he needed to gain permission from the closest kin to Naomi’s husband and sons. Originally, when the kinsman thought he just needed to buy the land, he said, “I will redeem it” (Ruth 4:4). But Boaz reminded him that if he bought the land he must also “raise up the name of the dead upon this inheritance” by marrying Ruth and trying to have a son.
When the kinsman found out that marrying Ruth was part of the bargain, he said “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance: redeem though my right to thyself, for I cannot redeem it.”
The man then plucked off his shoe and gave it to his neighbor as a testimony of the transaction. In this instance, the ceremony of the shoe was a confirmation of the business deal. After the ceremony of the shoe, Boaz said to all the men present, “Ye are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Naomi’s husbands and sons’ property.” (Ruth 4:9)
Alonzo Gaskill further explained the symbolic meaning of the ceremony of the shoe: “Symbolically speaking, removal of the shoe is a ritualistic way of exhibiting faith in the Bridegroom, and his ability to save or redeem…. Harold Bayley saw connections between the shoe or slipper and Christ. He noted that just as a shoe protects the wearer and shields him or her from dirt—’by taking it upon itself”—so also does Jesus shield those who seek to be his bride from the spiritual dirt we call sin. This has relevance in the story of Ruth because Ruth and Boaz seem to typify the Church and her Bridegroom and also because of Boaz’s role to redeem Ruth by shouldering her burden and taking upon himself her trial. So it is that Christ willingly shoulders our burdens and takes upon himself our trials. Significantly, as in the story of Ruth, we must seek out a covenant relationship with Christ (who is our Bridegroom). Metaphorically speaking, we must offer him our shoe as a representation that we have given up all we have because we trust in him and in all that he has promised to do for us and give to us.”[ii]
Ruth became Boaz’s bride and Boaz became the bridegroom and redeemer of both Ruth and Naomi. The witnesses to this union of Boaz and Ruth proclaimed “The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel; and do thou worthily in Ephratah and be famous in Bethlehem; And let thy house be like the house of Pharex, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the Lord shall give thee of this young woman.” (Ruth 4:11-12)
Ephratah is the ancient name of Bethlehem and means “fruitful.”[iii] Bethlehem means “the House of Bread” is also the birthplace of the Savior. He is our Bridegroom and through Him, we may receive the inheritance of eternal life with God as we take off the spiritual dirt, or sin, from our lives.
Latter day scripture reminds us: “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, prepare ye the supper of the Lamb, make ready for the bridegroom. Pray unto the Lord, call upon his holy name, make known his wonderful works among the people.” D&C 65:3-4
“Wherefore be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom – For behold, verily, verily I say unto you, that I come quickly…” D&C 33:17-18
Ruth bore a son, Obed, who was the grandfather of King David, and was part of the kingly line from which the Savior was born.
Both Ruth and Tamar are symbols of faithful women who were not Israelites originally, but who became part of the covenant people through conversion to the gospel. Tamar was of the people of Canaan and Ruth was a Moabite. They changed their lives to become women of the covenant who believed in their Savior’s redemptive power and in his love and care for those women who come unto Him.
Just as Ruth and Tamar changed their lives to become converted and of the house of Israel, we, too, can make sure that our conversion is sure and everlasting. Through missionary work, we can help find men and women of faith, such as Ruth and Tamar, who will gladly come into the fold of God and fully partake of His blessings. As Elder Randy Funk invited us: “My dear friends, please continue the journey – and help others – to come fully into the fold of God. The blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ are immeasurable because they are eternal.”[iv]
May we find joy in the Lord this week as we prepare for our Bridegroom’s coming and help others come into the fold of God.
[i] Alonzo L. Gaskill, “The ‘Ceremony of the Shoe’: A Ritual of God’s Ancient Covenant People,” in By Our Rites of Worship: latter-day Saint Views on Ritual in Scripture, Hsitory, and Practice, ed. Daniel L. Belnap (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2013), 133-150.
[iii] Bible Dictionary, Ephrath, Epharah, p. 666.
[iv] Randy R. Funk, “Come into the Fold of God,” April 2022, GC.