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Why Ruth's Son Obed Plays a Bigger Role in Jesus' Genealogy Than You Thought

Why Ruth's Son Obed Plays a Bigger Role in Jesus' Genealogy Than You Thought

Who Was Obed in the Bible?

The book of Ruth reveals the significance of Obed’s role in the genealogy of Jesus. The account of Obed is found in the book of Ruth, “when the judges ruled the land” (Ruth 1:1). His story begins with his grandparents. Elimelech, a man of Bethlehem, and his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, sojourned in Moab during a period of famine in Judah. In time, Elimelech died, and his two sons took Moabite wives—Orpah and Ruth (While the Law prohibited Israelites from marrying Canaanites, marriage to Moabites was allowed). After 10 years, the two sons died, leaving Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth bereft. Naomi heard the famine in Judah came to an end, and she departed for her homeland (Ruth 1:6). The key word within this verse is “return,” for in a figurative sense it means to repent. Elimelech’s decision to leave for Judah for Moab was unwise because Moab was forbidden to enter the Lord’s assembly (Deuteronomy 23:3-4, as mentioned below). The gist was she turned from the disobedient act committed by Elimelech when he entered a land whose god was not YHWH.

Naomi bid her two daughters-in-law stay in their own country, for she could not provide more sons for them (Ruth 1:7-8). Orpah relented, but Ruth chose to go with Naomi, and she said“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where 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. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17). Amazing words from a humble and loyal woman. “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (Ruth 1:22). So unfolds the narrative about the birth of Obed.

What Do We Know about Obed's Parents?

Ruth, Obed’s mother, was a Moabitess. We know from history, the Moabites originated from the incestuous union of Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and his firstborn daughter. The Moabite people later led Israel into the worship of the false god, Baal, as they made their way into Canaan. The Moabites also took part in the hiring of Balaam to curse Israel as it journeyed to the Promised Land (Numbers 25:1-3). The consequence of both actions caused the Moabites to be forbidden to enter the Lord’s assembly (Deuteronomy 23:3-4).

Ruth, however, was a stark contrast to her people’s legacy. She forsook the worship of the Moabites’ god, Chemosh, and displayed remarkable humility and steadfast faith as she clung to and respected Naomi and the Lord (Ruth 1:16-17). Her selfless and loyal nature led her to glean in the barley fields to help provide for Naomi and herself. As Naomi counseled her, Ruth faithfully followed her guidance.

On her first day of gleaning, Ruth is noticed by Boaz, who is introduced to us in Ruth 2:1 as “a relative of her [Naomi] husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech.” The Hebrew word used to describe Boaz means “a mighty man of valor.” The same word is used to describe Gideon and Jephthah (Judges 6:12; 11:1). Boaz was either a widower or had never been married. When he came from Bethlehem to greet the reapers of his field, his communication with his servants was one of a man of faith, “The Lord be with you!” (Ruth 2:4). Boaz asked about Ruth and, knowing of her loyalty to Naomi, instructed his servants to allow her to glean “even among the sheaves,” and not to rebuke her.

When Ruth later told Naomi in whose field she gleaned, Naomi said, “Blessed be the Lord…This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives” (Ruth 2:20).

Naomi, who sought redemption for Ruth, displayed confidence in Boaz’s integrity as a kinsman-redeemer. She gave explicit instructions to Ruth and said, “…and he will tell you what you should do” (Ruth 3:4). According to the coaching given by Naomi (also called Marah), Ruth carefully went to Boaz as he lay on the threshing floor after he finished eating and drinking (It would probably be evening by then).

When Ruth entered the threshing floor, she “softly” uncovered his feet and lay down at them. Uncovering a man’s feet came from an Oriental custom that indicated her willingness to marry him, and it was completely proper. Some commentators indicate the possibility of an immoral act, but Scripture gives no credence to this assumption.

When Boaz awoke and Ruth voiced her desire that he “take your maidservant under your wing,” for he was a close relative, Boaz reacted with delight and said, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter.” She could have made herself available to a younger man, but instead, she followed Naomi’s counsel. Once Ruth made the appeal and received Boaz’s answer, she left the threshing floor before daylight, avoiding the appearance of evil, for Ruth was a virtuous woman (Ruth 3:11). Boaz gave her six ephas of barley to take as a gift to Naomi.

Boaz, being a worthy man (Ruth 2:1), took Ruth’s appeal to the city gate. Threshing floors and city gates were village spots where legal and business transactions ensued. A threshing floor was a court, of sorts, where legal matters were settled. At the city gate, however, Boaz presented his case. There was one closer to Elimelech than Boaz, but he rescinded his right of kinsman-redeemer when Boaz revealed to him that to redeem the name was to also take Ruth as a wife. The other relative chose not to negate his own (other) inheritance, and so Boaz became the legal kinsman-redeemer. Boaz then assumed the rightful role of kinsman-redeemer to Elimelech’s family. The kinsman-redeemer is defined as one who marries the widow of a man to save the family name so it may continue.

Boaz and Ruth—matched well in virtue and worthiness—marry, and “the Lord gave her conception” and she bore Obed. What a reward after having remained childless while in Moab.

What Does Obed Do in the Bible?

The Bible gives us only one act of Obed. He fathered Jesse, who fathered David (King David) (Ruth 4:17, 22; 1 Chronicles 2:12, Matthew 1:5, Luke 3:32). It may be only one thing, but that one thing is huge. Whatever else he did, God used Obed to continue the line toward Jesus Christ.

What Role Does Obed Play in Jesus' Genealogy?

The Lord God gave Obed an interesting role within the genealogy of Jesus, starting with the locale in which he was born and raised. The history of Boaz and Ruth takes place in Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19; 2:3-4), and it is where Ruth gave birth to Obed. Obed’s grandson, David, was also born there (Ruth 4;18-21, 1 Samuel 17:58). Bethlehem, indeed, became the birthplace of our Lord Jesus Christ—He is David’s “greater Son” (Matthew 1:1-17, Luke 1:32).

The name, Obed, means worshiperand being in the family line of Jesus displayed God’s providence. Jesus Christ’s lineage through Mary is tracked to David, and Jesus is therefore called “the Son of David” (Matthew 15:22; 20:30-31; 21:9,15; 22:42).

Through the providence of God—despite the movements of man (Elimelech)—the family line to Jesus Christ was not severed. Instead, God gives us a beautiful narrative that mentions Obed and further magnifies His grace and mercy.

Photo credit: GettyImages/digitalskillet

Lisa Baker 1200x1200Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis. 

This article is part of our People from the Bible Series featuring the most well-known historical names and figures from Scripture. We have compiled these articles to help you study those whom God chose to set before us as examples in His Word. May their lives and walks with God strengthen your faith and encourage your soul.

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