This book is set in the time of the judges of Israel. Joshua had led them into the land of promise (Canaan) after the wilderness journey. In that period of more than 400 years, decline and revival alternated, but the moral tone worsened. Revivals never seemed to reach the heights of previous ones. Israel had no king; God was their King. God, in His faithfulness raised up leaders called judges to help them, as circumstances required. The Book of Ruth fits near the end of that period showing that God was working out His plans. God was about to bring in David, the man after His own heart. This book sets before us, as a type, the remnant of Israel received in grace in the last days.
Here is a very brief explanation of some expressions used in this introduction.
-Types. A type in the Scriptures is an example, a model, a prototype, a figure that points towards a person, an event or a thing in the future. It often helps us to understand some of the detail that comes later. Joseph is a remarkable type of Christ – by his own brethren he was envied, hated, rejected and sold; he was unfairly treated by foreigners; he was given a name that meant “revealer of secrets” and “saviour of the world” – see John 4:29 and 42; he was given a wife and elevated to the highest position of administration and glory; he restored his brethren through discipline and cared for them in Egypt.
-The remnant of Israel. As Israel has rejected Christ - their long awaited Messiah - they are at present set aside as a favoured nation by God. God will be true to His promises made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in that He will restore Israel to the land of Promise, but it will be a relatively small number of faithful persons - a remnant or portion of that people; God will work in their hearts by His grace, and it is they of Israel who will survive the great tribulation - the “time of Jacob’s trouble”. Isaiah 10:21-22 is a sample passage that refers to the remnant, but Scripture abounds with references.
-Kinsman, Redeemer and Avenger of blood. The word kinsman means “blood relation” and in the Hebrew the word also means “redeemer” and “avenger”. In Leviticus 25:25 an Israelite might redeem or buy back the inheritance of an impoverished relative from the person to whom he had sold it. In Deuteronomy 25:5-10, an Israelite was bound to marry his brother’s widow, if that brother had died childless, and so raise up seed to his brother, so that his brother’s name and inheritance might be carried on. The Book of Ruth illustrates these functions. Jeremiah 32:6-15 illustrates the first one.
There is a third service of the kinsman, the “avenger of blood”. If a man was taken captive, or killed, the duty of the kinsman-avenger was to rescue his brother or avenge his death. In this role Abraham rescued Lot in Genesis 14:14-16.
These things were found before the law, but the law of Moses defined them as a duty. They are services that set out the riches of grace, as well as its depth and its variety.
These function are types of the services of the Lord Jesus. He has paid the ransom price from the righteous claims of God by the sacrifice of Himself – so redeeming us and our inheritance. Further, He has avenged us by overcoming Satan, Hebrews 2:14-15, “that through death He might annul him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might set free all those who through fear of death through the whole of their life were subject to bondage”. He took part in our condition of flesh and blood (apart from sin) in order to be our Kinsman, see Hebrews 2:14. The Revelation also shows Him acting in the role of the Avenger. For the sake of new Christians, we state that these things are not our duties now; rather they are written for our instruction, telling us that Christ is truly our Kinsman, Redeemer and Avenger.
We return to the Book of Ruth itself.
Elimelech and his wife Naomi left the land of promise; they sold their inheritance and went away into the country of the Moabites - a wrong move for an Israelite. Naomi lost her husband and two sons - truly a widow.
In this book we get faith and grace illustrated in an interesting way.
Faith is displayed in Ruth who was morally a daughter of Abraham - she left her own “country, kindred and father’s house”- as the word was to Abraham in Genesis 12:1. As a person of faith, she “overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4-5) and gets a close link with the Lord. Her faith caused her to leave the fields of Moab, cast in her lot with Naomi and her poverty, and then obtain for herself the wealth and status of Boaz.
Grace is set out in Boaz – to quote another, “Grace encourages (by inspiring confidence), then it rewards that confidence that has been awakened”. The Lord did this to the woman at the well of Sychar in John 4:5-30. The Lord did this also with Moses in Exodus 3, Gideon in Judges 6 and so the Holy Spirit through the apostles in many cases in the epistles. We find Boaz encouraging Ruth in chapter 2; then he is ready to answer all her demands which this confidence has aroused.
In chapter 2:20, Naomi realises that Boaz has the right of redemption. It is wonderful when a sinner realises that he can lay claim to the grace of God because of Christ, our Kinsman-Redeemer. Naomi tells Ruth to go nowhere else - only Boaz’ field. In our time, go nowhere else but Christ - neither philosophy, nor religions, nor New Age teachings, but Christ only. Naomi knew the laws and ordinances of Israel, God’s mind for that era, and she emboldens Ruth. Naomi knew that the duties of the kinsman The Lord loves bold faith. In Hebrews 4:16 we are encouraged to “approach therefore with boldness to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy, and find grace for seasonable help”. In chapter 3 Ruth lay at Boaz’ feet, claiming him for a lord and a husband. When she returns to Naomi, the latter asks “Who art thou my daughter?” (3:16). At first that seems an unusual question from her mother-in-law, but it suggests that Naomi was looking forward to Ruth’s new status as the elect bride. She knew what Boaz would make her. Her faith looked on to that. In our day, we would use the language of 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now are we children of God, and what we shall be has not yet been manifested; we know that if [when] it is manifested we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is”. Ruth then tells her of the events. Naomi had told her when to be active, now it was the time to be still. It was all in the hands of the kinsman-redeemer. Her kinsman was faithful and her redeemer was mighty. We can now say the same about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Boaz is active in grace. He acts righteously, clearing away every obstacle. He goes to the elders who were in the gate of the city. This is where the matters of judgment were settled. The elders were the guardians of righteousness. There was another relative who was nearer than Boaz. He had first claim, but when Ruth had to be included, he could not do it. The mind goes to Romans 8:3, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, having sent His own Son ...” [Emphasis mine]. Everything was established properly. Again, we go to Romans, in chapter 3:24, “being justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” and in verse 26, where God’s righteousness is discussed - “for the showing forth of His [God’s] righteousness in the present time, so that He should be just, and justify him that is of the faith of Jesus”.
As an aside, it is interesting to notice God’s provision for the stranger, the widow and the fatherless in Israel. The law prescribed it and the book of Ruth illustrates it. The wheat fields were not to be clean harvested, but the corners and more were to be left for the poor to glean. The instruction appears several times – Leviticus 19:9, 23:22; Deuteronomy 23:19, to name a few. This was not a handout. The poor were expected to labour and so preserve their dignity. On the other side, the farmer was to have a generous spirit.
As a Moabite, the law forbad Ruth from entering the congregation of the Lord for ever – see Deuteronomy 23:3. We too were strangers. In Ephesians 2:12 we are told “that ye were at that time without Christ, aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now in Christ Jesus ye who once were afar off are become nigh by the blood of the Christ”. Ruth became part of the household of faith in that period, and is included in the genealogy leading to King David and ultimately to Christ. She has a special mention in the royal line in Matthew 1:5.
There are other truths that can be illustrated from this rich portion of Scripture.
One aspect worth noting is the way in which Naomi appears as a type of the Jewish nation that is away from her God and has no heir. She acknowledges her destitute condition, as a type of that nation, and calls herself Mara, meaning “bitterness’. In Zechariah 12:9-14, where we are told that the faithful in Israel in a future day shall mourn and “shall be in bitterness”. Ruth herself represents the remnant of Israel, having lost all rights to the promises, and as a Moabite stranger she identifies herself with desolate Israel (Naomi) and Naomi’s God. Boaz means “in him is strength’. Boaz is a type of Christ risen, in whom are “the sure mercies of David”. It is Boaz who undertakes to raise up the name of the dead and to establish the heritage of Israel. In these roles he is the redeemer. The law was never able to re-establish Israel in their inheritance, (nor of course the church in hers), nor could the law raise up the name of the dead. It is via the grace of God and through Christ that all is accomplished.
As mentioned at the beginning, no matter how low the public state of the testimony may be at any time, God is working out His counsels and the Spirit’s work is proceeding in the most unexpected areas. This is a cause for thanksgiving and praise.
MM October 2008
Acknowledgements: J.G. Bellett, Short Meditations, Morrish, London
J.N. Darby, Synopsis of the Books of the Bible, Vol.
BTP Publishers, Addison, Illinois