Prayers in Ruth

One of the best ways to learn how to pray is by listening to the prayers of others. Children learn from the prayers of godly parents and older saints in the church. New believers are both encouraged and exhorted in prayer meetings with the fellowship of believers. All of us are continually instructed as we study the prayers recorded in Scripture. In this manner, the book of Ruth offers multiple examples of intercession and the Lord’s favorable answer each time. As Murray Gow has stated, “The author of Ruth expected readers to be alert to the work of God in answering prayer, as should we today.”[1] By observing these characters, we learn to pray and to trust that God delights to answer.

A Mother’s Prayer for Her Daughters (1:8-9)

The book of Ruth opens with no mention of prayer and no mention even of God except, ironically, in the name of Elimelech: “My God is King” (Ruth 1:1-5). The setting takes place in the days of the judges when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25; see Ruth 1:1). Lack of trust in God explains why Israel as a nation (and Elimelech’s family in particular) got into a mess in the first place. Against this backdrop of despair, Naomi mourns the loss of her husband, her two sons, and any future hope. Yet she then prays courageously that her sons’ widows, Ruth and Orpah, might receive God’s grace:

But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept (Ruth 1:8-9).

Naomi addresses Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, as the sovereign ruler over life and death, family, and future. She petitions the Lord to bestow his loyal love (hesed) upon her daughters-in-law, who have shown such loyal love to her. She also prays that they will “find rest” in the security of a husband and his family.[2]

Application Insight: Increase your devotion to intercede for loved ones. Pray for their rest in the Lord, marital relationships, and physical well-being. Pray for them to find spiritual safety and security even in the midst of life’s difficulties. Consider how the Lord has faithfully shown his loyal love to you and pray that he will show the same lovingkindness to your family. Then thank the Lord for the many people and circumstances he has brought into your life to bless you.

A Man’s Prayers for His Future Wife (2:12; 3:10)

Boaz intercedes as a future husband for his future bride. He recognizes Ruth’s virtuous qualities and the loving sacrifices she has made for others: “The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge (2:12; see vv. 2-3, 6-7, 11)!” By God’s providence, Boaz will soon become the answer to his own prayer and also to Naomi’s previous benediction (Ruth 1:8-9). He, too, addresses Israel’s covenant God, Yahweh, who reigns sovereign over marriage. He asks the Lord to repay Ruth for her sacrificial kindness to Naomi and to bless Ruth for seeking divine refuge amidst her difficult trials (Exod 19:4; Deut 32:11; see Ps 61:4).

Application Insight: Husbands, thank the Lord today for the godly qualities you observe in your wife and learn from Boaz how to intercede for her. (If you are not yet married, then apply this prayer to your future wife). Pray for God to bless her and to reward her virtuous graces. Pray for her to know his protection and the comfort of his constant presence. As you grow in your knowledge of God’s character, let it increasingly bolster your prayer life.

Several months later, Boaz awakens in the dark of night to find a woman at his feet (Ruth 3:1-9) and pronounces another benediction for his bride-to-be: “May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich” (v. 10). Boaz invokes the name of Yahweh to bless this woman who has shown him, loyal love. He extols Ruth for her acts of kindness, feminine appeal, and superior qualities. He then expresses his astonishment that she has chosen to bestow her love on him. His intentions remain pure even as Ruth ignites his passionate desire for marriage.

Application Insight: Single men, Proverbs 31:10-31 illustrates many qualities to seek in an excellent wife. How will you determine if a potential spouse possesses such virtues? Married men, consider your wife’s excellent qualities and make a point this week to verbally praise her for each of them. Pray a special benediction over her and thank the Lord that she chose to be with you.

A Mother’s Prayer for Her Child’s Spouse (2:20)

In her first prayer, Naomi had prayed in general for both Ruth and Orpah (1:8-9), but now she prays specifically for Boaz, who has recently shown interest in Ruth (2:4-19). “And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!’ Naomi also said to her, ‘The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers’” (v. 20; see vv. 1-3). Again, Naomi requests that Yahweh’s loyal love would bless the one who has shown loyal love to her family. She exclaims how Boaz’s kindness seems indistinguishable from the Lord’s.[3] Naomi prays that as a close relative and one of their redeemers, Boaz will honor God’s Word by his compassion for the poor (Deut 10:18-19).

Application Insight: Parents, begin interceding for your child’s future spouse, knowing that the Lord alone plans out their steps (Ps 139:1-4). Pray that your child’s spouse will love them faithfully, cherish God’s Word, and display compassion for others. Consider also your own relationship with your future son or daughter-in-law. Ask the Lord to prepare your heart to receive them as your own.

A Community’s Prayer for Godly Families (4:11-12)

As Ruth and Boaz wed, witnesses from the community offer public prayers for the happy couple:

Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman” (Ruth 4:11-12).

The townsfolk intercede for both bride and groom. They pray for the bride’s fruitfulness in the marriage and a household filled with godly children. They pray for the groom’s success in the community and the propagation of his offspring. They pray for happiness in his home because of the woman God has given him. Twice, they invoke the name of Yahweh, whose sovereign grace undergirds their prayers.

Application Insight: Parents consider both the wonderful blessings and challenging struggles of raising children (Ps 127:3-5). What joys have you experienced in child-rearing? How have you grown in your faith as you “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph 6:4)? Ask the Lord for strength and wisdom to accomplish this divine privilege, then pause to intercede for other families in your community. Ask the Lord to grant them fruitfulness and godly children, healthy marriages, and success for the common good. Finally, pray for them to recognize the Lord’s sovereign hand and to trust him with their lives.

A Prayer for Grandparents (4:14-15)

The women of the town also intercede for Naomi as she celebrates the birth of her grandson, Obed (Ruth 4:13).

Then the women said 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, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (vv. 14-15).

They praise Yahweh for delivering Naomi by the hand of a redeemer and pray for that redeemer to be renowned in all Israel. They recall Naomi’s despair when she was left without a husband and without her sons (1:3, 5) to highlight the Lord’s miraculous reversal of her situation. They express their desire for Obed to restore Naomi in the present and to bring nourishment in her future old age. They also applaud Ruth for her loyal love for Naomi and her excellence beyond seven sons.

Application Insight: Spend time praising God for his faithfulness in the past, his kindnesses in the present, and his promises for the future. Marvel that he has chosen you to receive his hesed love. If you have been blessed with grandchildren, pray for them to restore and nourish others. Pray that your children will be God-honoring parents who raise their family with excellence. Then intercede for other grandparents that they too might bless their children’s children.

Conclusion

The book of Ruth records six prayers of intercession to Yahweh. Most are expressed as benedictions in the presence of the recipient. Each prayer emphasizes the Lord’s sovereign desire to bless, his hesed lovingkindness, and the importance of family relationships. The Lord then answers each petition favorably, often using the person who prayed as an instrument of his redeeming grace. May these prayers compel you to take up the ministry of intercession for the loved ones in your life.

[1] Murray Gow, “Ruth,” in Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament: A Book-by-Book Survey, ed. by Kevin J. Vanhoozer (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 106.

[2] The word “rest” in Ruth 1:9 is related to the “still” waters in Psalm 23:2. A godly husband shepherds his wife like the Good Shepherd cares for the sheep he calls his own (John 10:14-15).

[3] The narrator is deliberately ambiguous regarding the source of this hesed: “whose kindness.” Both Yahweh and Boaz have granted favor to both the living (Naomi, Ruth) and the dead (Elimelech, Mahlon).

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