The Travail of His Soul

In the ancient Jewish Scriptures the Book of Ruth formed part of the Book of Judges. The events therein recorded took place during the period in which the Judges lived, and Ruth's life and devotion form a pleasing contract to the sad apostasy and corruption that marked the end of these sad times.

Ruth is a true pattern of undivided devotion to a well-beloved object, it is this that makes her story so delightful to us all.

The love she bore to Naomi, which could only have been the result of Naomi's love to her, delivered her from every entanglement in her native Moab-idols; people, friends were all superseded by this new affection, she wanted nothing else. To lodge and die with Naomi was better in her eyes than to dwell and live with any other, indeed, she would not consider that there might be an alternative. Choice in the matter had ceased, beside Naomi there was nothing. No other attitude of heart can be right in any one of us toward our Lord Jesus Christ, He is our great Deliverer. Sin's domination, Satan's malignant designs, the wrath to come, from all these He has set us free, and devotion to the Deliverer should follow, and this He desires. He would bind us to Himself by the strong yet tender fetters of His love and dwell in our affections.

But we must consider this story briefly, and probe this mystery of Ruth's love to Naomi, for the elder woman does not seem to have had anything with which to recompense her, as she herself declares in verses 11-13 of chapter 1. She was a poor and sorrowing widow, and certainly Ruth did not follow her for gain. If we were giving a strict interpretation of the story we should say that Naomi set forth in picture the Jewish nation, wandering through exile, sorrow and travail to final victory and joy; but in our application of it we want to take up certain traits and steps in Naomi's life to illustrate the sorrow of our Lord Jesus and its resultant joy. She went into a far-away land and there tasted the bitterness of death, insomuch that she had to cry: "Call me not Naomi (which means 'pleasant'), but Mara (which means 'bitterness')". But in the midst of the sorrow through which she passed, she must have displayed something of the sweetness of which her name spoke, for only in this way can we account for Ruth's devotion to her.

Sweetness and bitterness met in Naomi, but if we would see these things in all their perfection and intensity we must turn to Jesus. His name is sweet (the sweetest our ears have ever heard), and He is altogether pleasant to those whose eyes have been opened by the grace of God.

He was so when here on earth; He is just the same upon the throne today; but we could never have known the sweetness that abides in Him if He had not trodden the path of bitterness and sorrow. He was the Man of Tears, the Man of the broken heart (Ps. 69); but the grief of that wonderful life of sweetest devotion to God, and love to men, was but the preliminary to the awful sorrow that He endured on the cross, when He took the bitter cup of sin's judgment from the hand of God. It was then that the water-floods rolled over Him, and every sorrow found its centre in His blessed heart. Calvary spelt "Mara," for Jesus; but the intensity of that bitterness only disclosed the sweetness of that marvellous love which no power could check or sorrow overwhelm. Yes, His is an unmeasured love; stronger than death — more lasting than the ages — unutterably sweet.

It was to Naomi in her sorrow that Ruth clung, and for the love of her who had passed through "Mara" she said: "Entreat 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" (Ruth 1:16-17).

When she made this memorable decision she knew nothing of Boaz (type of Christ in His present position of power), nor of the place of favour and exaltation that awaited her. The love of Naomi controlled her and she was satisfied (be it noted) not to dwell and to live, but to "lodge" and to "die" with Naomi. She embraced the path of strangership for the compensation she found in the pleasantness of Naomi's company.

How true are the words:

"'Tis the treasure we've found in His love
  Which has made us now pilgrims below."

Nothing else will: the thought of coming glories will not, in itself, separate us from the world. The attractions of the "world to come" (and its attractions are indeed great) will not of themselves draw our hearts out of "this present evil world." His love alone — the love displayed at Calvary — can do this: and so the path of discipleship is invariably connected with the cross. It was this that controlled Paul the Apostle, for he said, "The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me."

God grant that just as the portion that Ruth found in Naomi delivered her from Moab forever, and bound her up with the interests of the one whose love controlled her, so may the preciousness of Jesus, who endured the cross and despised the shame, constrain us to wholehearted devotion to Himself.

Ruth lost nothing by cleaving to Naomi, for as a result of it, "Her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz" (Ruth 2:3); and he was a man of tender heart, for he spake kindly to Ruth and comforted her (v. 13). But not only so: he was a mighty man of wealth, and the field over which he had power was altogether sufficient to satisfy her need.

If we consider Naomi's sorrow as illustrating the deep and sore travail through which the Lord Himself passed, the wealth of Boaz will speak to us of His present greatness and power. He has been highly exalted, all things have been put into His hand, and now He finds great delight in dispensing the blessings of God to those who are poor and needy.

Boaz would not have said, "Go not to glean in another field," unless he had known that his field was sufficient for Ruth; nor would the Lord have said, "My grace is sufficient for thee" if its fullness could not meet our every, need. Are there steep places in the path of discipleship, and do trials beset the feet of the pilgrim? The grace of the Lord is far greater than all, and those who tread that path prove the blessedness of it, for He has said that they "shall receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting" (Luke 18:30).

So Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz as long as gleaning was needful, and she found that he cared for her in every way, so that she was not only satisfied herself but had something to spare.

The whole story is of the deepest interest and full of instruction; but we must now pass on to the end of the book.

It is remarkable that at the end of the story Naomi is again the prominent person; not now in bitterness and sorrow, but reaping the pleasant fruits of her travail.

She had lost Elimelech and her sons in the land of Moab, but she had gained Ruth who was better to her than seven sons (Ruth 4:15), and in this we have a figure of what the Lord has lost and gained by His death.

He came to His own people Israel, but they rejected Him, and for the time being He lost the kingdom and nation; He was cut off out of the land of the living. But if He lost Israel for awhile, He gained the Church; and no tongue can tell what the preciousness of the Church is to Him.

It is the "pearl of great price" for which He sold all that He had, and for which He went down into the deep sea of death, when the midnight darkness of God's judgment rested upon the face of it.

"Down beneath those sunless waters
  He from heaven has passed:
There He found His heart's desire,
  Found His pearl at last.
All He had His heart has given
  For this gem unpriced —
This the tale of love unfathomed,
  This the love of Christ."

The Church as the Lamb's wife will be His eternal companion, for the time is not far distant when there shall sound "as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of many thunderings, saying, Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready" (Rev. 19:6-7).

Then in that glorious consummation the Lord shall see of His soul's deep travail and be satisfied: but even now, whilst He is rejected from the earth, the church is His consolation and joy.

Is it not strange that some who belong to His Church (every blood-bought believer is a member of it) should seek the smiles of the world that rejected Him, instead of seeking to fill the high privilege of giving joy to His heart? No higher privilege will be ours for ever: No greater loss could befall us, as Christians, than the loss of it.

It is this which the devil seeks to mar and spoil, and for this he plies his wiles, and spreads his snares, and the true overcomer is the one, who, cleaving to the Lord alone, is glad to lose all for Himself.

The women of Bethlehem gathered round Naomi to felicitate her upon the joy that was hers, and they say: "There is a son born unto Naomi" (Ruth 4:17).

They do not say born to Boaz or to Ruth; but to Naomi, for the child would never have been but for the sore "Mara" in the distant land.

And the women gave this child, which they counted as Naomi's son, a name and "they called his name Obed," the meaning of which is "worshipping God." "And Naomi took the child and laid it in her bosom and became nurse unto it" (Ruth 4:16). The child was greatly beloved by her, for it was the fruit of Ruth, who loved her (Ruth 4:15).

Here is set forth another result for the Lord Jesus, He came forth from the Father because the Father sought worshippers (John 4:23). And for this He suffered and died. And in this respect His death has not been in vain for by that death He has brought a countless host to God, all ransomed by His precious blood. These can worship God in spirit and in truth, for they know His love as it has been declared in the death of Christ.

Who can tell the joy that fills the heart of the Lord as He presents the worship of those who love Him to God the Father? Such worship, rendered from hearts filled by the love of God, is very precious to Jesus, for it is the fruit of the hearts and lips of those who love Him and whom He loves.

Ruth and Obed were followed by Jesse and David: and David as the King typified the coming glory of Christ.

The Lord is still rejected by this world, but the time of His return is at hand; the crown of universal dominion shall encircle His once thorn-pierced brow, and as great David's greater Son He shall sway the sceptre from the river unto the ends of the earth. Then shall Israel own Him as the Son of God and their King, and the groanings of a sin-blighted earth will be hushed, and everything that hath breath will break forth into singing, and every note of every song will be in praised the King.

How deep will be the joy of His hearts when He looks abroad upon a creation which has been made to smile by the light of His countenance, and when men delivered from the thraldom of Satan's power, shall rejoice in the knowledge of God. But the foundation of all the gladness which will mantle the earth in the day of His kingly glory is His sorrow and death.

All who love Him earnestly desire this day of glory, and will rejoice in the blessed fact that He shall be exalted and adored in the very world in which He was despised and put to shame. But it is the same love which disclosed its sweetness amid the shame and grief of Calvary's "Mara" that will constrain them to serve Him untiringly, follow Him devotedly, and love Him now with fervent and undivided heart. This is the pathway of the overcomer.

Is it our desire to tread this path? Then let us hold it fast, for He hath said: "Behold I come quickly: hold that fast which thou hast that no man take thy crown. Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, and I will write upon him my new name. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches" (Rev. 3:11-13).