Article by J. Sidlow Baxter
Oftentimes we will stumble upon the most wonderful things in the most unexpected places. We have all at some point seen a rainbow on a gloomy day. The book of Ruth is just like this. It is a wonderful story at a time of very few nice stories.
It opens with the words: Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled...; hence, it records information belonging to the period of time which the book of Judges covers. The Judges period is perhaps one of the most tragic periods recorded in Scripture.
This little biographical account is in the form of a story. It is a true story; it tells of actual events, and of real persons whose names figure prominently in Israels history. It is also one of only two books in Scripture which bear the names of women. Those two are Ruth and Esther and stand in marked contrast to one another. Ruth is a young Gentile woman who comes 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 who is on the throne of a great empire. Both Ruth and Esther were great and good women.
The book of Ruth is a love story, and it will show how love can overcome all alienation and prejudices. However, it is not a love story we often hear - it is not the story of a romantic love between a young man and a young woman; it is rather a love story of a womans love for another woman, and strange as it sounds today, it is the story of love a woman has for her mother-in-law!
It is important to note that this young Moabitess woman (Ruth) becomes the great-grandmother of David (as the closing verses of the book show), hence she is one of the mothers in the line from which Jesus Christ comes. Ruth is one of only four women who are mentioned in the Messianic line. The other three - Tamar, Rahab, and Bath-sheba, - recall some unworthy conduct in the past, but Ruth only recalls virtue.
A very careful and studious reading of the book will show that there is an abundance of types recorded for us. It is important for us to note that types cannot be used to show truth about the Body of Christ. That information was a secret which was unsearchable according to the Apostle Paul. Rather, types will show truth about Israel and Gods prophetic program committed to Israel. Hence, the book of Ruth will show some great truths about the nation of Israel and her hope in an earthly kingdom. Pay close attention to the names recorded, as the names will show great truth in Gods prophetic plan.
The story opens at Bethlehem, the name meaning house of bread. The first - mentioned person is Elimelech, whose name means my God is King, or my God is my King. This Israelite, along with his wife Naomi (pleasant or favour), leaves Bethlehem in the land of Israel because of a famine, and seeks sustenance in the alien land of Moab. The names of their two sons who travel with them are Mahlon (joy or song) and Chilion (ornament, or perfect). Under tribulation of famine they forsook their place of covenant standing and resorted to an expedient involving compromise. In Moab, Elimelech (my God is my King) dies; so do Mahlon (song) and Chilion (perfect). After ten years Naomi-the-remnant-returns; but instead of being Naomi (pleasant, favour), she is by her own testimony Mara (bitterness).
This is a very striking picture of Israels history in type. Israel as originally set up was to be a Theocracy. God was Israels King. Israel is represented by Elimelech - and could say My God is my King. Israel was married to Naomi - pleasant and favour all through the blessings of God. The offspring produced are Mahlon and Chilion - song and perfection. Unfortunately, under testing, Israel compromised and went astray, leaving its covenant standing and becoming as one of the Gentiles. Elimelech would thus die. No longer could Israel say my God is my King. Mahlon and Chilion passed away as well - the song of praise and the ornament of godliness died off while, eventually, Naomi, the once favoured and pleasant, returns a sorry remnant, empty and bitter, as in the days when the remnant returned, under Ezra and Nehemiah.
Starting with Naomis return, Ruth (comeliness) takes the prominent place. Ruth will be a type of the Gentile relating to the little flock of Israel. The type-picture is made up in three scenes:
1. Ruth in the harvest field
2. Ruth in the threshing floor
3. Ruth in the home of Boaz
First, we see Ruth who gathers in the harvest field, poor and destitute, having no lot in Israel, or in the covenants of promise, yet seeking refuge under the God of Israel, and begging kindness at the hand of wealthy Boaz - the little flock. The name Boaz means in him is strength, and surely he is a type of the true Israel-the little flock-acting as the royal priesthood God intended them to be.
Second, we see Ruth, having no hope in anyone other than Boaz, going to the threshing floor risking everything by believing in his kindness and grace, and ability to intercede on her behalf.
Third, we see Ruth being graciously received by redeemer Boaz, becoming one with him by becoming his wife.
Very clearly this story tells of how the royal priesthood of Israel was to intercede on behalf of those Gentiles who loved Gods nation and mediate terms whereby God could accept even the Gentiles into His earthly kingdom. We need to note that in acting as the redeemer of a Gentile he must exhibit three qualifications:
1. He must have the right to redeem
2. He must have the power to redeem
3. He must have the will to redeem
We see these three points as being true of the little flock; all we need do is read Mat.28:18-20; Mat.16:16-19; Acts 10:35-48.
The question we have not asked is, Who is the unwilling, unnamed kinsman in Ruth 4:6? I think the answer is obvious when we read the following:
An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the Lord for ever:
The unwilling, unnamed kinsman is none other than the law. The law can do nothing for sinners except condemn. It cannot forgive; it cannot cleanse; it cannot renew nor empower us; it can only find fault and, therefore, can only condemn!
The Story - Chapter 1
During the time of the judges a famine occurs in Israel which was so difficult that even fertile regions such as Bethlehem felt its repercussion. Under its strain Elimelech, a Hebrew with an inheritance in Bethlehem, sought temporal refuge in the land of Moab, taking with him his wife (Naomi) and two sons (Mahlon and Chilion). We can deduce that they are a godly family, and that it must have pained them to leave the land of Israel to seek succor among the idol-worshipping Moabites. However, the knowledge that famine was inflicted for default must have weighed into their thinking to desert the land of Israel.
In Moab they fared badly. They came to seek bread, but rather they were given graves. First Elimelech died, then his fatherless sons married Moabite women. Subsequently these two young men would die as well, leaving their two young widows with the already widowed mother Naomi.
After the passage of ten years Naomi hears of bounty in the old home-country of Israel, and decides to come back to her land. Her two daughters-in-law have grown to love her, and desire to go with her. They have ascertained the true God of Israel through Naomis household. The love is reciprocal, Naomi also loves them very much. They set off with Naomi, but under her kindly dissuasion Orpah decides to retrace her steps to Moab. Ruth, however, has grown to so love Naomi that she is primed to relinquish everything for widowed Naomis sake, and in one of the most poignant discourses in Scripture she states so:
And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God:  Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.
To savour the meaning of Ruths self-sacrificing love we need to understand what Naomi must have conveyed to Orpah and Ruth, and what would have been commonplace knowledge to all three of the women. To do this we must perceive the import of Naomis words in verses 8 and 9: Go, return each to her mothers house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.
Pay close attention to the word rest. The Hebrew word translated as rest is Menuchah. It denotes rest, not so much in the common sense, but rather in the sense of a safe shelter. This is the word used when the Hebrews speak of a husbands house. It was a womans menuchah or safe haven. In the ancient Orient the position of unmarried women and young widows was very perilous. The one place where they could find safety from servitude, neglect, or license, was her menuchah.
This is apparently what was in Naomis mind when she urged her daughters-in-law to revisit their parents homes, and then in the house of a husband. Naomi has no more sons who can husband Orpah and Ruth. If they tarry with her to Israel there is utterly no prospect for them, nor is there even the promise of safety. If they stay in Moab there is a good possibility to find a husbands shelter. Hence, we can understand Orpah leaving, and we can now greatly appreciate Ruths decision to go with Naomi. The chapter concludes with Naomis return home.
Naomi is now so destitute that she must allow Ruth to go, even as a poverty-stricken gatherer among the reapers, to fetch home some food. Ruth goes to the fields only too voluntarily to make this considerably degrading, yet honest, effort after sustenance. She is fortunately directed to a field of Boaz, an affluent kinsman of Naomi. He is touched by the charm and humbleness of the exquisite Ruth, and after querying about her, is only too content to proffer special privileges and protection to her for the full span of the harvest so that she may eat and drink with his reapers and gather a good portion, being safeguarded all the while from any improper license on the part of the young men. Ruth returns with the first days haul to Naomi, who at once perceives the hand of God in what has happened. Hence, Ruth resumes her gathering throughout the barley and wheat harvest in the fields of Boaz.
This chapter reads very strange to those of us who have grown up in the western culture, but it needs to be understood. Harvesting has ended, and the daily discussions with Boaz are consequently over. However, an attachment has developed between Boaz and Ruth, nevertheless, the wealthy kinsman has not taken any practical steps about it. Naomi perceives the sadness that begins to overwhelm Ruths gentle spirit, and contrives a plan to find out what Boazs plans are. The recourse pursued was in full acquiescence with the Mosaic Law. Her entreaty would be to the following law:
If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her.  And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.
Hence, when Naomi sent Ruth to Boaz, as depicted in this chapter, she was literally petitioning for him to honour this Mosaic Law, and thus, at the same time give menuchah to Ruth, and honour the name of Mahlon, Ruths late Hebrew husband. Boaz clearly comprehends this as his words in verses 10-13 show.
It is also important for us to understand how both Ruth and Boaz use the word kinsman. Ruth says Thou art a near kinsman. Boaz replies It is true that I am thy near kinsman: howbeit, there is a kinsman nearer than I.The word kinsman in the Hebrew is the word goel. The law of goel is of undue significance unless we understand what occurs. There were three obligations on the goel:
1. He was to salvage his brother and his brothers inheritance, agreeing to ability, if poverty had coerced his brother to go into servility, or to dispose of his land.
2. He was to be the avenger of any lethal violence against his brother.
3. He was to raise up a successor to his brother if his brother died without leaving a son.
The noticeable design behind all this was to avert any Israeli family from becoming extinct. The goels stipulation was that he must be the next of kin, or a near kinsman. Each near kinsman was one of the goelim; but the person who was actually next of kin was distinctively the goel.
Hence, Ruth, by creeping quietly into the resting place of Boaz and snuggling under the corner of his long robe, was simply making a claim in the favoured custom. Therefore, when Ruth states, spread thy skirt over thine handmaid, Boaz fully understood the appeal of widowed Ruth asking for protection, as the casting of the outward garment over the brides head was a customary ceremony at old-time eastern marriages, in token of the husbandly protection given to the bride from that moment on.
Boaz wakes and finds Ruth present. He is startled, but on hearing Ruths words, he begins to appreciate the situation. He gives his reply in verses 10-13, and then reveals the reasons why he had not appealed to the law of goel.
1. He is significantly older than Ruth
2. He is not the nearest kinsman.
Boaz then gives Ruth six measures of barley which Ruth takes home the next morning to Naomi. This was his way of letting Naomi and Ruth know that he would pursue the law in this matter.
Boaz without hesitation contracts with the nearer kinsman in the presence of elders and witnesses at the city gate. This anonymous kinsman admits his obligation, and is willing to buy the land which was Elimelechs, but declines when he learns that in so doing he must also take a Moabitess to be his wife, his objection being lest I mar mine own inheritance. His thoughts would be that Mahlon and Chilion had broken the law by marrying aliens, and that the misfortune which befell them was the curses of God. Obviously he was afraid that the same things would happen to himself, and any of his family. Therefore he hands over his right to Boaz, publicly acknowledging this by taking off his shoe, and handing it to Boaz. This was a custom which originated in the fact that men took legal possession of landed property by planting their feet (or shoes) upon the soil. The elders and witnesses in the gate yelled, We are witnesses.
To Boaz Ruth was far more precious than the land. She became his wife, and by him became the great-grandmother of David, Israels greatest king. Naomi had her joy filled as she became the babes nurse.
Hence, this story, which begins with famine, death, and mourning, ends with fullness, new life, and rejoicing.
The Generations of David:
Judah - Tamar
(nephew of Aaron, marries Rahab)
(Israels greatest King)
In Hebrew Beyth = house; lechem = bread
In Hebrew Eli = my God; melech = king
It would be useful for the reader to read through the book of judges to see what transpired during this time.
Leviticus 26:14 - 39 (Israels five cycles of judgment are recorded in these verses).
Something the law strictly forbids in Deut.7:3
This law is explained in Lev.25; Num.35; Deut.19,25.