Lessons from the Book of Ruth
The Old Testament book of Ruth is truly one of the beauty spots of sacred literature. For centuries its literary excellence has been applauded by a wide variety of critics. The book traces certain events in the life of a Hebrew family.
In the days of the judges, a famine in Canaan forced Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, along with their two sons, to leave Bethlehem and migrate eastward across the Jordan into the region of Moab. There, the two sons married Moabite women, one of whom was Ruth.
Eventually, both Naomi and Ruth were widowed, hence they returned to Bethlehem. Ruth’s magnificent and unselfish plea to accompany her mother-in-law — “where you go, I will go” — (1:16-17) has echoed across the centuries, and is a remarkable insight into the richness of her character.
Near Bethlehem, Ruth went to work in the grain fields; there she met, and ultimately married, the benevolent Boaz — an older gentleman who was a “kinsman” by marriage. They were blessed with a son, Obed, who eventually became the grandfather of King David, from whom our blessed Lord Jesus descended (see Matthew 1:5ff).
There are many marvelous lessons in this little book. Let me briefly illustrate three of these.
God’s Love for the Gentiles
The book of Ruth demonstrates God’s love for the Gentiles, even in a period of history when the Hebrew people were given prominence due to their role in God’s redemptive plan for humanity.
Ruth was a descendant of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, and therefore, a Gentile. It is worthy of mention that the mother of Boaz was Rahab — a Canaanite (the former harlot who hid the Hebrew spies before the fall of pagan Jericho). This may account for the fact that Boaz was not hostile to marrying a Gentile. It certainly illustrates Jehovah’s willingness to use pardoned sinners!
Though a “pagan” by birth, Ruth was selected by the Lord to be in the genealogical line of the world’s Savior. It is true God had chosen the Israelites as the primary avenue through whom to send his Son into the world; however, the very fact that there are Gentiles in the Lord’s background is evidence that God was still a God of all people. And this, of course, was a hint of the time to come when all nations could hear the gospel and thus, ideally be united in Christ (Matthew 28:19; Ephesians 2:13ff).
The book of Ruth demonstrates the workings of divine providence. When Ruth went to the grain fields to glean, the inspired record says it was “her hap. . . to light on the portion of the field belonging to Boaz” (2:3).
Surely this was no mere accident. As one scholar observed: “A chance in outward seeming, yet a clear shaping of her course by unseen hands. Her steps were divinely guided to a certain field, that God’s good purpose should be worked out” (Ellicott’s Commentary, Zondervan, 1959, Vol. II, p. 281).
Or, as Cassel pointed out: “Ruth, as a stranger in Bethlehem, knew neither persons nor properties. She might have chanced on fields of strange and unfriendly owners. Providence so ordered it, that without knowing it, she entered the field of one who was of the family of Elimelech” (Lange’s Commentary, Scribner & Armstrong, 1875, p. 28).
Providence is indeed a mysterious process. No one can analyze precisely how it works. But the Lord, through seemingly natural means, can manipulate events to accomplish his sovereign will. See “A Study of Divine Providence”.
What a great tribute to Ruth, whom God so signally honored, that he chose her over all other maidens of Israel at this critical moment in history.
A Preview of Christ
The book previews Christ. Boaz is a fitting “type” of Christ. In a manner of speaking, a “type” is a sort of “shadow” that falls across the pages of the Old Testament, the reality of which comes into full view in the New Testament record.
Ruth characterizes Boaz as a “near kinsman.” The Hebrew term is goel, and it signifies a kinsman with “the right to redeem” (see ASV footnote on 3:9; cf. ESV). Boaz thus was a “kinsman-redeemer.”
Job once declared: “I know that my Redeemer [goel] lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth” (Job 19:25). McClintock & Strong argue that the goel constituted “an eminent type of the Redeemer of mankind” (Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Baker, 1969, Vol. III, p. 911).
By coming to earth as a man, Jesus became our “kinsman” in the flesh (John 1:14), and he is not ashamed to call us his “brothers” (Hebrews 2:11,14).
Further, he is mankind’s “redeemer.” At the birth of John the Baptizer, Zacharias, looking forward to the work of Christ, announced: “He [God] has visited and wrought redemption for his people” (Luke 1:68). Paul also affirmed that “in Christ” we “have our redemption through his blood” (Ephesians 1:7).
The book of Ruth should have helped prepare Jewish minds for the arrival of their Messiah. Tragically, many of them rejected him. However, his atoning death is available still for those who acknowledge his identity, and obey his plan for redemption (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16, Hebrews 5:8-9; etc.).