Often praised as an incredible piece of literature, the little 4 chapter book of Ruth is a rich tapestry of allusions and types. It seems almost daunting to write of a particular topic that stems from the book, not because the topic is tough to deal with, but because it’s hard to keep your thoughts focused when there is so much treasure to dig into. While the Bible as a whole is instructional, devotional and should be a part of the Christian’s daily life, the book of Ruth is what Charlotte Mason or Susan Schaeffer Macaulay would call a “living book”. It is one that should and could be read and re-read and re-read again – not just for its literary merit but because it’s short and even though the tale is done in a matter of minutes, it leaves you wanting more.
In the Days when the Judges Ruled…
The book of Ruth takes place in the period of the judges which is why it is placed in our Bible as part of the historical books; however, in the Tanakh, Ruth is placed with the writings, just after Song of Solomon. Ruth begins with a very important introduction to the family of Elimelech who is the husband of a woman named Naomi. They have two sons and though they were from Bethlehem in the land of Judah (the tribe; this is prior to the civil war that took place after Solomon’s reign) a famine had brought them to Moab. Naomi’s husband dies but her sons take Moabite brides which allows them to remain in Moab. But once Naomi’s sons die, she is left destitute with two daughters-in-law. A widow and foreigner in the land of Moab, Naomi is left with little choice but to go back to Bethlehem after hearing that the famine has seemed to pass (Ruth 1:6).
Naomi urges her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab. Obviously for them it would be easier if they did. It is their own land and they can likely return to their family as noted in Ruth 1:8 and have the possibility to remarry another Moabite. Eventually Orpah departs but Ruth remains (Ruth 1:14) and Ruth states what is one of many most often cited passages in the Bible:
Ruth 1:16-17 But Ruth 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.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ru 1:16–17). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
This is a huge sacrifice for Ruth for several reasons, not the least of which, she isn’t Jewish nor has she lived in a Jewish society and culture whose way of life is going to be extremely different from that of the Moabite. Her only claim to the Jewish culture and faith is that she married a Jewish man who died (more on that later) and is now a Jewish widow’s daughter-in-law. As an aside, if you recall in Part 3 of this discussion which had to do with Lot, Lot was left without a wife. As a result, Lot’s daughters try to raise up sons for him, one of those sons is Moab who is the father of the Moabites (Genesis 19:37) and whom Ruth is a descendent of.
At the Beginning of the Barley Harvest
So Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem and the narrative let’s the reader in on a little bit of information – that a relative of Elimelech (Naomi’s husband) named Boaz owns part of a field where Ruth heads to glean from. There are a few things to note here. First, the narrative states that it was the beginning of the barley harvest. This has a two-fold purpose in that it demonstrates the famine has passed and it hints that something good is going to come of this situation. Second, the fact that the text states that they return to Bethlehem, in Ruth 1:22, indicates something more than just returning to the land. As far as the reader is concerned, Ruth has never been to Bethlehem so the idea of returning must mean something more. As Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s commentary on Ruth states:
…the word shuv is used twelve times in this chapter. Ruth had never been to Bethlehem before, and therefore, the word shuv, meaning “return,” carries more than just a physical connotation. It connotes a return to God, and a return to the Land of the people of God.Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (2006). Ariel’s Bible commentary : The books of Judges and Ruth (1st ed.) (304). San Antonio, Tex.: Ariel Ministries.
Third, what Ruth participates in when the text states that she goes to glean is a part of Jewish law stemming from the Torah. The idea is that when the fields are reaped, the reapers are not to pick up anything that accidentally falls to the ground. If anything is left behind it is reserved for those who are less fortunate. Leviticus 19:9; 23:22 and Deuteronomy 24:19 discuss this concept and the verse in Deuteronomy specifically mentions the widow as one of these who are to be allowed in this process.
As Ruth is gleaning in the field of Boaz his eye falls on her and he takes a liking to her. In Ruth 2:15-16 Boaz instructs his men to intentionally leave some of the harvest behind for her to pick up and that she isn’t to be rebuked for it. Ruth returns home with a bountiful harvest which seems to catch Naomi’s attention – first, in that she had been blessed with so much by someone and second, in that it was Boaz who is a relative of Naomi’s (Ruth 2:20-21).
One of Our Redeemers
The concept of redeeming is foreign to modern western society. In Israelite culture everything a person had was passed down through the male line starting with the first-born. Progeny was extremely important in this regard but even more important, the idea of continuing the family name through the son is a blessing but if you have no sons to carry your name then you are considered blotted out; your genealogy is cast off. The example I gave earlier of the situation Lot was in without a wife and no sons demonstrates this importance in the ancient near-east. On the one hand, Lot’s daughters could be reprimanded for what would later be reprehensible for the Israelite community (not specifically stated but certainly inferred from Leviticus 18:10), but on the other hand these laws weren’t necessarily in existence at the time and Lot isn’t a descendent of Abraham. And so for these circumstances the Kinsman-Redeemer comes into play.
There are two aspects being used in Ruth which demonstrates there was probably some blending of them in Israelite society and that is the Levirate Marriage from Deuteronomy 25:5-10 and the kinsman-redeemer (Leviticus 25). The main idea is that the nearer kinsman could marry a widow of a man in order to raise up sons for the family and extend the man’s name. In the aspect of the kinsman-redeemer there were roles to fill based on the situation; namely, the redeemer had to be willing and able to redeem his brother’s inheritance, to raise up sons and to serve as what was called the avenger of blood if the man had been killed.
In the story of Ruth, Boaz is a kinsman and Naomi recognizes that he has a role to fill. Naomi instructs Ruth to ask Boaz to fulfill his role and she agrees in Ruth 3:1-5. What follows is often misunderstood as a sort of sexual advance on Ruth’s part but the reality is not sexual in nature at all. Rather, Ruth is asking Boaz to fulfill his duty as the kinsman-redeemer and in particular asking Boaz to marry her. The idea of uncovering the feet in Ruth 3:7 has several idiomatic inferences. The rank of a man in Israelite society was demonstrated by the hem of the garment he wore. Not unlike military officials wearing their rank on the arm or left side of the chest. In Matthew 9:20-21 we see the woman with the issue of blood desiring only to touch the hem of Jesus’s garment trusting that it will be enough to heal her; she was looking to his authority. So when Ruth uncovers and lays at Boaz’s feet, she is asking for his protection, his covering to be brought over her in marriage.
Boaz agrees and gives Ruth 6 measures of barley (Ruth 3:15) and Ruth takes it back to Naomi. It is a sign, an answer. Unfortunately, there is an obstacle to Boaz becoming the kinsman-redeemer in that there is a nearer kinsman (Ruth 3:12) and this matter needs to be settled. When Naomi receives the 6 measures of barley, she understands that Boaz intends to get the matter settled immediately. Why? The number 6 is associated with the idea of incompleteness. In Genesis 1-2 we have the creation wrapped up on the 6th day, but God rests on the 7th and only then is the genealogy of heaven and earth given. Likewise all throughout Scripture we have references to 7 inferring completeness. Jacob must ‘complete the week’ he agrees to with Laban. It is this idiom that Naomi understands Boaz’s message from.
Boaz Redeems Ruth
Of course, Boaz does redeem Ruth. In Ruth 4:1-6 we see the discussion between Boaz and the nearer kinsman (who is never named) and ultimately the nearer kinsman declines to redeem Naomi’s property and marry Ruth for the sake of his own inheritance. Boaz then takes the role. He is able to redeem the property of Elimelech and his two sons and marry Ruth in order to perpetuate the name of the dead (Ruth 4:10).
Much as the story of Isaac and Rebekah becomes a type of Jesus and the church, the story of Boaz and Ruth does the same. Ruth is a gentile who is able to introduce the redeemer to Naomi. She marries a Jewish redeemer. Ruth is a picture of the church.
Naomi was cast out of her own land due to a famine. The Jewish people were cast out of their land roughly 2,000 years ago until relatively recently. While the church was introduced to The Messiah through the Jewish believers, the Jewish people have been blinded in part (Romans 11:25) to seeing him. Ultimately it is through the church that the Jewish people will come to know their Messiah just as Naomi came to know Boaz through Ruth. Naomi is a picture of the Jewish people.
The two husbands of Ruth and Naomi had died. But through Boaz the inheritance and name of the deceased was able to be perpetuated. This becomes a picture of the resurrection of the dead. For a rabbinic telling of this:
The soul of a man who had died childless finds no rest. This troubles his widow because his name is forgotten in Israel. In the event of her marrying his next of kin, and a child being born, it is as though the soul of the departed has been revived. The child would receive the name and status of the deceased and continue the line of the inheritance.
Fruchtenbaum, A. G. (2006). Ariel’s Bible commentary : The books of Judges and Ruth (1st ed.) (324–325). San Antonio, Tex.: Ariel Ministries.
So where does the picture of the rapture fit in? When Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet, there are three items that should be noted. The first is in Ruth 3:6 where Ruth goes down to the threshing floor. The second is in Ruth 3:8 where it notes that Boaz had awoken at midnight. The third is in Ruth 3:13 when Boaz tells Ruth he will have the matter resolved in the morning. In the post on Rebekah I introduce the concept of evening and morning being symbolic of coming times of trouble and times of restitution respectively. We are seeing these same idioms used here in the narrative. But if that wasn’t enough to satisfy the picture of night being symbolic of the tribulation we are told that this had taken place at the threshing floor (Ruth 3:6). The threshing floor is indeed a picture of the tribulation. We see the idiom used numerous times in the Old Testament (Amos 1:3; Isaiah 21:10; 41:14-16). Ultimately we see the same imagery in Revelation 14:19-20.
Ruth (the church) is at the feet of Boaz (Jesus) seeking his covering during the threshing at midnight (the tribulation).
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