Two books in the Bible bear the names of women. The first is the book of Ruth, and the second is the book of Esther. Ruth was a Moabitess, a gentile woman who had no place with the people of God. In fact, Moab was the enemy of God’s people Israel. Esther, on the other hand, was a Jew who grew up in Babylon after the captivity period of the tribe of Judah, and she hid her identity as a Jew because she was the Queen, the wife of a gentile king, Ahasuerus. These two women are completely different in their nationality, religion, knowledge of God, and so on, but God in His grace and mercy worked deliverance and blessing for the two women and those around them.
I will attempt to describe some features in the book of Ruth and give a small outline. Ruth consists of four chapters, so it is fitting to be divided into four sections.
Chapter 1 – Ruth is seen as a widow and a stranger after returning with Naomi to Bethlehem.
Chapter 2 – Ruth is seen as a gleaner, as she decides to glean in the field of Boaz.
Chapter 3 – Ruth is seen at the feet of Boaz.
Chapter 4 – Ruth is seen as the Bride of Boaz.
The book of Ruth happened at the time of the Judges, so we can say that it is an appendix to the book of Judges. In the time of the judges, everyone did what was right in his own eyes without any thought of God at all. It has been suggested that the event in the book of Ruth happened around the events of Judges 6 when Israel was greatly impoverished because God had given them into the hands of Midian. Being greatly impoverished suggests that there was a famine in the land, and the book opens that in a time when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land of Israel, namely in the place of Bethlehem, where there was actually supposed to be food! Bethlehem in Hebrew means the house of meat, and it is sad that God sent a famine in the land.
As a result of the famine, a man named Elimelech, with his wife Naomi and their sons, went to a land called Moab, who were the enemies of Israel! The man did not seek the will of God or even enquire of God about why there was a famine, he just took off and went, and it was ten costly years that eventually cost him his life! Chapter 1 of Ruth is a chapter about decisions. Some decisions made were costly to the point of death, and others were to the point of blessing. Elimelech made the decision to leave God’s place and go to the enemy land. That cost him his life. His two sons’ names, Mahlon and Chilion, convey the meaning of sickness and a situation of failure. The sons then married women from the land of Moab and there is no mention at all that these women bore sons, so they were barren.
The fact that the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, of the people of Israel, married women from the enemy land, speaks in high volumes. 2 Corinthians 6 warns against marriage and an unequal yoke of a believer with an unbeliever, and how many families and households have been destroyed as a result of unequal yoke! At the end, Mahlon and Chilion also died as a result of the prolonged stay in Moab. It was as if God spoke to that family and told them that as God’s people, they do not belong in a land occupied by the enemies of His people. They should be back in Bethlehem, the house of meat/bread, and where God would provide for His own.
Also, in chapter 1 we see more decisions. Naomi decides to go back to Bethlehem after hearing that God visited His people and provided them with food. The two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah, also decide to go with her. Naomi for some strange reason discourages the women, and Orpah eventually returns back to Moab, but Ruth clings to Naomi (Ruth 1:15-17). Ruth must have seen something in Naomi that is different than the others around her, and it took immense faith for Ruth to leave a land that she was so accustomed to, in order to go with her mother-in-law to Bethlehem, a strange land for her. God had prepared her heart for this kind of response to cleave to Naomi. Ruth is now a stranger in the land when she arrived with Naomi.
In chapter 2, Ruth is seen as a gleaner. She gleans in one of the many fields in Bethlehem, which happened to belong to Boaz, a type of the Redeemer. Now it is very important to look at the concept of gleaning. Once Ruth commenced to glean in Boaz’ field, he instructed her to not glean in other fields (Ruth 2:8). What does this mean for us? When we read the Word of God and want to understand it, where do we go? There are several places and resources available for us to ‘glean’ in the Word of God and learn the correct teachings and truth of everything that relates to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Redeemer. I will not specify to you where you should go, or who you should listen to for ministry of the Word, but please, find a group of born-again Christians who love to gather together to study the Word of God and help each other in this. Once you commit to a particular location, please refrain from going to many other different places because not all places necessarily teach the correct things in the Bible, and not all places teach the truth properly and in order.
When Ruth was gleaning back in chapter 2, she gleaned until evening (Ruth 2:17). This speaks of real diligence and care on her part to gather the right and correct things. In our day, for us gleaning also requires diligence and commitment to read, study and understand the Word of God. We cannot just listen to anonymous persons speaking without searching for ourselves the Scriptures to see whether what is mentioned is true. The Bereans in Acts were commended for this (Acts 17:10-11). In times of meeting to study the Word of God or listen to ministry, we need to be attentive and listening to all that is being said, and this requires diligence from us. We can ask God to help us to focus and be attentive to what is being said or taught.
In chapter 3 Ruth is seen at the feet of Boaz and does not want to let go until she receives the blessing for her and Naomi. At that stage, Naomi mentioned to her that Boaz is one of the people to redeem both the inheritance that Elimelech forsook, and also to redeem Ruth herself.
In chapter 4, Ruth is seen as the bride and wife of Boaz, the kinsman redeemer. There was another person closer to Boaz who was able to redeem the land, or the lot that Elimelech left. That person was quite happy to redeem the land, the material aspect. However, Boaz mentioned to him that he would have to redeem Ruth and marry her as well, to which the man then responded that he cannot redeem her and the land (Ruth 4:5-6). What does all this mean? It simply means that the law of God, while it is perfect, cannot redeem a person at all. The law can state that the field or lot belongs to that person, but no one can be redeemed by the law and by keeping the law (this is seen in the epistle to the Romans). Therefore, we cannot rely on the law to redeem us, so there has to be Another, and that Person is the Lord Jesus Christ. Back in Ruth 4, when the closest kinsman was unable to redeem Ruth, Boaz the true kinsman-redeemer stepped in and redeemed her by marrying her and God provided a son. It is very interesting that the book of Ruth ends with the name David, who was king of Israel after Saul. This is found in the books of Samuel that follow Ruth.
How blessed was Ruth when she made the right decision back in chapter 1, and we too can learn that making the right decisions that are according to God’s thoughts will end in blessings for us.
Typically, the Book of Ruth is about the fulfilment of all the promises of God in connection with Israel on the ground of sovereign grace, after the nation had lost every claim to blessing on the ground of their responsibility (Hamilton Smith on the book of Ruth). There is nothing at all in connection with the Church, and Ruth is a type, but not of the Church. There are some points to help us discern that Ruth is not a type of the Church.
- Ruth is linked with Naomi. She takes Naomi’s place to continue the family of Elimelech and Naomi, so this story presents a type of Israel in two aspects – failure and restoration in the future.
- Ruth and Naomi are both widows. The Church is never seen as a widow. Ruth is a Moabitess and has no claims on the privileges of the nation of Israel. The term widow applies to Israel (Isaiah 54:4-5; 62:2-5).
- Ruth calls herself a foreigner, or stranger (Ch 2:10). The Church is not a foreigner or stranger to the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The whole book of Ruth deals with God’s discipline and restoration. It deals with God’s governmental dealings with the nation of Israel in its failure and future restoration, so it all applies to Israel.
- The first right of redemption was with a closer relation to Elimelech. He was willing to redeem the field, but when Ruth came in the picture, he was unable to do so. This is a type of the law, and the blessings of Israel were all around the law but they forfeited the blessing due to their failure. The blessings of the Church are all heavenly (Eph 1:3).
- The genealogy at the end of Ruth shows a link between Israel in Egypt and the kingdom of Israel established under David. This is prophetic in that God intervenes in grace on behalf of Israel (typified by Naomi) in the form of a remnant returning to Christ in order for Him to come back and reign as their rightful King.
These points are adapted from Michael Hardt’s notes on ‘Ruth is a type – but not of the Church’ from a book called ‘Shadows of the Church’.
Having mentioned these points, we can apply a moral interpretation for individual believers in decisions that we make, where we glean, how we appreciate Christ, and so on. However, as supported by the above points, Ruth is not a type of Church and we cannot apply it even after we understand the actual meaning and context of the book.
May the Lord help us to appreciate Him more and more, and may He give us strength to be diligent in gleaning in His Word daily.