29 Oct The Big Book–Cover to Cover: Ruth
Today we’ll look at a high-level overview of the book of Ruth. It’s a beautiful story of love, faithfulness, loyalty, and redemption set right in the time when the judges were judging.
“Ruth is a beautiful “interlude of love” set in the period of the judges in Israel—an era marked by immorality, idolatry, and war. This heartwarming story of devotion and faithfulness records the life of Ruth, a Moabite widow who leaves her homeland…withher widowed Jewish mother-in-law in Bethlehem. God honors her commitment by guiding her to the field of Boaz (a near kinsman) where she gathers grain and … finds a husband(kinsman-redeemer). The book closes with a brief genealogy in which Boaz’s name is prominent as the great-grandfather of King David, through whom would come the Christ.” – 1
This is one of only two books of Scripture named after women, and they stand in an interesting contrast:
Ruth is a gentile woman brought to live among Hebrews who marries a Hebrew husband, while Esther is a Hebrew woman who is brought to live among the gentiles and marries a gentile husband.
“This is one of the only two books in Scripture which bear the names of women… Ruth and Esther; and they stand in marked contrast. Ruth is a young Gentile woman who is brought to live among Hebrews and marries a Hebrew husband in the line of royal David. Esther is a young Hebrew woman who is brought to live among Gentiles and marries a Gentile husband on the throne of a great empire. – 2
A friendly reminder, Dr. Tom Constable’s Expository (Bible Study) Notes are available HERE. For every book of the Bible. He provides an excellent summary of comments, outlines, themes. He keeps them updated and free!
Constable, in his notes on Ruth compiles quotes from several sources who comment on the book of Ruth:
German poet Goethe called it “the loveliest complete work on a small scale” ever written.
Alexander Schroder, a literary critic, wrote: “No poet in the world has written a more beautiful short story.”
The eminent archaeologist W. F. Albright wrote: “The delicacy of the story of Ruth remains unsurpassed anywhere; Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law, the scene between her and Boaz in chapter 3, and the final episode with Naomi (Ruth 4:14-17) are gems of world-literature.”
But Constable concludes, “Yet, as a revelation from God, it is equally impressive.“
The Book of Ruth:
- Spans about 30 years in 89 verses
- Author is unknown
- Traditionally read during the harvest celebration: i.e. the Feast of Weeks/Pentecost
- Moab for 10 years, Ruth 1:4
- Bethlehem for the rest of the book (Ruth 1:19-4:22)
It is important to remember the setting given in Ruth 1:1
As noted in our survey of Judges, this was perhaps the darkest days of Israel’s history.
The Hebrew phrase is “in the days when the judges were judging,” our English translation change that to, “in the days when the judges were governing” – but it is a timestamp of dread.
It’s different for us as we aren’t so emotionally engaged in our history, but if I mentioned the war or 1812 some historians may have an emotional response – or if I mentioned the civil war. It was a blight on our history, Americans killing Americans – this shouldn’t happen!
But that doesn’t even come close to the period of the Judges, because there were 400 years of it.
Like other books of the Bible, a lot of people try to describe it from scholars to pop writers and devotionals, and it’s hard to land the plane because there’s so many levels to the book of Ruth.
- It’s viewed as a wonderful love story, and in a way, it’s almost a Hallmark movie script waiting to happen. It starts out with something bad and ends up great – that’s what Hallmark does, right?
- It’s a deep reservoir of God’s laws: Levitical laws, laws pertaining to intermarriage, laws regarding a widow’s plight, laws regarding the offspring of a relative, gleaning laws, laws regarding land, laws regarding the care of widows.
- And the book culminates with the lineage of the Messiah.
God’s sovereignty is working in the lives of men and women who don’t always know it.
A famine in antiquity is a matter of life and death. If it doesn’t rain and crops don’t produce or get a blight, it’s a matter of life and death. This famine drove Elimelech to take his family to Moab for survival.
- Names given:
- Elimelech – “God is King” – Hebrew doesn’t have vowels and is based on a three-character system, the tri-radical. MLK means King. EL – God, MLK – king. Its speculation but possible that his parents had faith in Elohim based on this name choice.
- Mahlon – perhaps a wordplay meaning “one who grows weak”
- Chillion – may mean “completeness” or “falling” – can’t make much of this.
No explanation is given for their deaths. Famine? Sin? We can’t know. But it is common that people die in “developing” countries due to lack of grain.
Transition from judges to monarchy.
The last word in the book is the name David.
Boaz & Ruth are David’s great grandparents. This link ties us back to the Abrahamic Covenant; God’s promise that through Abraham’s descendants, the world will be blessed.
Sovereignty/Providence of God
- Judges judging
- Famine in the land
- Lived in Moab about 10 years
- Left Bethlehem (“the house of bread”) due to a famine, they’ll return from Moab back to the “the house of bread”
- Naomi heard the Lord had visited His people in giving them food
- Don’t call me Naomi (“lovely” or “pleasant”), call me Mara (“bitter”). She sees God’s hand of affliction, pain, suffering.
- Ruth 1:22 ends with delicious interest. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest. The rumors were true, God had visited His people. Remember Gideon beating out wheat in a wine press? This scarcity is now a harvest.
God uses faithful men and women for his own purposes, and this should be an encouragement.
Naomi, hardly a bastion of faithfulness.
Ruth, the centerpiece of the story, is a foreigner – but she believes.
Boaz, the kinsman redeemer. I would argue Boaz is the primary character in the book, not Ruth.
“No one ever outgrows the scripture. It widens and deepens with our years.” – Spurgeon
The more you study the Bible, the more things unlock and come to you that you’ve never seen there before. Some of these things, I’m learning.
The kinsman redeemer: גָּאַ ל goel.
The redeemer acts to redeem, avenge, ransom, or do the role of kinsman. At one level, he may be the one who is the avenger of blood.
Redemption is from, by, or to something.
You can be redeemed from, for example, jail.
You’re taken from jail by someone to freedom.
The idea of redemption/redeemer is mentioned 20 times in the book.
And remember, this is during the time of the Judges – but the Judges didn’t pull it off. The judges were incapable of bringing redemption.
So we have this great storyline of this guy that’s just minding his own business, who becomes the one who redeems someone out of, from something, to something.
So the judge doesn’t bring redemption, but the kinsman redeemer — and the ultimate kinsman-redeemer is Christ.
God’s lovingkindness חֶ סֶ ד hsd
This is a word we should stop and think about. What does it mean for God to be lovingkind?
God is lovingkind to two things: His people and His promises.
God loves to be loyal to His chosen people and His covenant promises.
This isn’t an emotional love at all. Lovingkindness is the steadfast nature of God’s ethical love.
When He says something, it’s good as gold. When He choose something, it can’t be un-selected.
This story is about God’s lovingkindness and about His sovereignty through a redeemer.
In the dark days of the Judges judging, we see a storyline involving three people with varying outlooks on life:
Naomi – a study in contrasts, bitterness to fulness:
She’s bereft and bitter when we meet her, and who wouldn’t be? She’s lost her husband and both sons, living in a foreign place, with very grim prospects of support and protection.
Naomi had every right to be broken and bitter with what she had endured.
The contrasts are also seen in her two daughters-in-law: Orpah and Ruth. Orpah kisses her mother-in-law, but Ruth clings to her.
All the city was stirred at Naomi’s return after ten years of absence, “is this Naomi?” Is this the same woman who left? So there was obviously a marked difference that the toll of life had taken on her.
She begins as a bitter, empty widow; she ends a joyful and blessed grandmother.
Ruth – a study in loyalty and faith
A moabite! The lamentable origin, Genesis 19:30-38
Moab and Ben-Ammi were the fruit of an incestuous relationship with Lot’s daughters perpretrated on drunken Noah. The firstborn son was Moab, the younger sister bore Ben-ammi.
These sons became the Moabites and the Ammonites, two nations that warred against Israel.
The clear teaching of Mosaic law (Deuteronomy 7:3, Deuteronomy 23:3) forbade Jews from intermarriage with other nations.
But the kinsman-redeemer is the only one who can redeem Ruth and Naomi, and the gentiles.
Ruth is married into a sojourner’s family; a Moabite marrying an Israelite. Why Ruth or Orpah married into this family is unanswerable, but they weren’t supposed to do this by God’s law, and God folds Ruth into the lineage of the Messiah.
Ruth demonstrates faith and loyalty more than Orpah and Naomi.
Quite a declaration:
- I’ll leave my land.
- I’ll make your home, mine.
- I’ll dispossess my land, home, former family
- I’ll follow your God as my God
- I’ll die with you. If I don’t keep my commitment, may the Lord inflict worse on me!
In this, Ruth recognizes God’s sovereignty.
Ruth is willing to work. Ruth 2:2 – she takes initiative and asks Naomi if she can go glean. After all, the reason they’ve returned is because it was rumored that God had visited is people. It’s the beginning of the barley harvest.
Ruth’s response when she meets Boaz is amazing: Ruth 2:10
Ruths’ faith is tenacious: Ruth 2:17
Ruth is a woman of great loyalty toward her mother-in-law. Don’t miss that Naomi is a broken, bitter woman – yet Ruth follows her.
Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer – a study in faithfulness.
Introduced to this man of wealth in Ruth 2:1, a distant relative of Naomi’s.
His first recorded words are May the Lord be with you.
When we read those words, consider that in a Hebrew world, when you said “may the Lord be with you,” this was big theology.
He’s saying: may the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob be with you in your endeavors. That’s what God said to Gideon in Judges 6, that’s what Gabriel says to Mary in Luke 1:28.
This was an opulent statement, a blessing of faith.
As a pious, devout Jew, he welcomes the gleaning provisions.
He’s done some “homework” on Ruth – the rumor of Naomi’s return with her daughter-in-law has been reported back to Boaz
He’s generous to help and this is where you see that he’s taken with her, by allowing her to work, offering protection, and providing food for her
Ruth 2:12, Ruth 3:9 – Boaz offers the blessing of the Lord’s covering, and then is the one who offers his own covering to her.
Many great lessons in the book of Ruth:
1. We need a long view of history.
In our present day we are very much “I, me, my” people. The ease with which we live in this country does not help. It requires a spiritual discipline and faith to think beyond, “I, me, my,” and into the bigger picture.
It’s good and healthy to get us out of our preoccupation of self-preservation.
2. Use great caution in interpreting experience and circumstance. Naomi sees God’s affliction. She’s beaten down, bitter. Ruth hasn’t “seen” anything other than the death of her father-in-law, brother-in-law, and husband. Boaz “sees” a circumstances, but he’s submitted to the word and laws of God.
Experience has no authority. God’s word has authority. Experiential theology is rampant. If, then is how we live life – but experience is just an experience.
If it works out, praise God! If it doesn’t work out? …praise God.
It’s easy to get drawn into experience meaning this or that. But it’s cliche. If it works out, we attribute it to God. If not, we’ve got to gerrymander our theology to come up with some explanation.
God’s word is clear: what we can “see” is that God’s sovereignty and His providential care are operating even in our broken, fallen, bitter, disappointing experience.
3. God has called us to be faithful, not successful.
1 Corinthians 4:2
My experience (just experience, not authoritative) has been that it’s the faithful men and women are the ones who are blessed. God is looking for the Ruth who believes in the rumor of a God, in Boaz who believes in upholding His Laws and follows by the kinsman-redeemer protocol, who does the right thing while everyone else is doing what is right in their own eyes.
God is looking for the faithful, not the successful.
- Bruce Wilkinson and Kenneth Boa, Talk Thru the Bible (Nashville: T. Nelson, 1983), 65
- J. Sidlow Baxter, Explore the Book, 2:28.