Introductory Note

Like the Book of Esther, the Book of Ruth is one of the smaller historical Books of the Bible. The two Books are remarkable by being the only ones in the inspired scriptures bearing the names of women. Ruth was a Moabitess and Esther a Jewess; but both exhibited piety and faithfulness to God in an unexpected manner and in unexampled circumstances.

The single reference to Ruth in the New Testament shows the great importance of her brief biography recorded in the Old Testament, for this reference occurs in the genealogy of our Lord given by Matthew (1:5). In the fuller genealogies of 1 Chronicles Ruth's name is not found. It recurs twelve times in her own Book, but nowhere else either in the O.T. or the N.T., save in its solitary mention (Matt. 1:5) along with divinely honoured names such as Abraham, David, Solomon, Josiah, and Zerubbabel. God's grace has, therefore, given the Moabitish stranger a distinctive place in the line leading up to David the king and onwards to Jesus the Messiah, the King of kings. This fact alone should awaken in us a special interest in the study of the Book of Ruth.

Its Relation to the Book of Judges

The Book of Judges is a history of the children of Israel in the land of Canaan after the death of Joshua, showing their shameful declension from the law of Jehovah. Repeatedly "they had rebelled against the words of God, and had despised the counsel of the Most High" (Ps. 107:11). In chastisement, God allowed their enemies to oppress them, but when they cried to Him in their distress He raised up judges who delivered them from their servitude. Nevertheless, after each deliverance, the people quickly forgot their Deliverer, and relapsed into idolatry, copying the evil worship and wicked ways of the heathen nations around them and among them. It is made evident by this history that the twelve tribes utterly failed to maintain a national testimony to the One living and true God in the face of the gross darkness of idol worship prevailing in Canaan and the surrounding lands (see this solemn indictment in Judges 2:4-23).

The historical connection of the Book of Ruth with the Book of Judges is marked in its opening sentence, "And it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled" (Ruth 1:1). The earlier Book relates the history of the departure of the twelve tribes from Jehovah and the laws of Sinai as soon as they were settled in the land of promise. The later Book relates the history of a single family leaving the land of promise to take refuge in the idolatrous country of Moab. And because the general theme of the nation's sin and God's punishment of it by famine is carried on from Judges to the Book of Ruth, the latter has been called its appendix.

But while Judges presents the dark picture of Israel's apostasy, Ruth and her story present bright gleams of God's gracious mercy coming for His people. In the very midst of the national disorder God was moving secretly, providentially, for the accomplishment of His promise of that Seed of Abraham Who should bring blessing to all the nations of the earth. Accordingly, while the Book of Ruth opens with the flight of Elimelech from Immanuel's land, it closes with the name of David, the "man after God's own heart."

Undoubtedly, this little piece of personal history well deserves the separate and distinct place given it in the canon of Holy Scripture. On this point another has written as follows*: "But while there can, to my mind, be no reasonable question that the Book of Ruth fittingly follows the Judges, it is equally plain, I think … that it appropriately forms a Book to itself, and this as the natural and, one may say, necessary prelude to the Book (of Samuel) that follows. …
"Besides, the story itself is of very great importance as preparing the way, not for David only, but for his greater Son. This, however, does not at all link itself with Judges, admirable as it is just where God has given it to us. It is neither a part of Samuel on the one hand, nor of Judges on the other, though morally it is far more of a preface to the former than a supplement to the latter. In short, it is just what God has made it, a most suitable transition scene between the two, but in fact a Book to itself."

{*Lectures Introductory to the Earlier Historical Books by W. Kelly.}

In the Book of Judges, the history of the judges and their rule ends with the death of Samson (chap. 16), and is resumed in 1 Samuel with the accounts of Eli and of Samuel, the last of the judges (1 Sam. 7:15). In the closing chapters (17-21) of the Book of Judges, no judge is mentioned. They record two awful instances of the idolatry and the immorality which characterised the Israelites after the death of Joshua, viz. —

(1) the idolatry of Micah (Judges 17 — 18);

(2) the gross immorality in Gibeah (Judges 19 — 21).

We shall find evidence that these shameful incidents took place before what is recorded in the earlier part of the Book. It seems clear, therefore, that the history of Othniel and his successors was interrupted at this point (Judges 16:31) to introduce two flagrant but typical examples of the degraded religious and moral state of the redeemed nation immediately after the tribes had been established in the land of promise.

What could be done with such an evil and perverse generation? Righteousness demanded their entire destruction, but God remembered His own mercy and His promise to Abraham. And the Book of Ruth follows immediately with its bright and remarkable reassurance of the promised Seed. Darkness and desolation had prevailed when "there was no king in Israel" (Judges 17:6; Judges 18:1; Judges 19:1; Judges 21:25), but "the son born to Naomi" (Ruth 4:17) was the progenitor of Jehovah's King, Whom at the appointed time He would anoint "upon Zion, the hill of" His "holiness" (Ps. 2:6). Thus, in Judges 17 — 21, we see Israel's sin in lurid detail abounding, but in Ruth, the grace, mercy, and faithfulness of God super-abounding. To men of faith, His promise was confirmed by the striking episode of piety in Bethlehem. There in due time the Christ Himself should be born.

The Prevailing Disorder and Degradation

It will help in the study of the Book of Ruth to note in the last five chapters of the Judges some of their outstanding features, evidently given to disclose the dark and degraded apostasy among the tribes.

First, in "things pertaining to God" and His worship, confusion had arisen. From the narrative it appears that the ark of the covenant was in one place (Bethel), but the tabernacle of the congregation, of which the ark with its mercy-seat was the principal feature, was in another place (Shiloh). The latter place, which was to the north of Bethel (Judges 21:19), was where the tabernacle was set up by Joshua (Joshua 18:1; Ps. 78:60). Moreover, it is said that an annual feast to Jehovah was held in Shiloh (Judges 21:19). Yet the children of Israel went to Bethel to seek counsel of God through Phinehas the high priest, for "the ark of the covenant of God was there in those days" (Judges 20:18, 26, 27; "the house of God" is "Bethel" in the R.V. and the N.Tr. of vers. 18 and 26). No reason is given why the ark was at Bethel, and not in the tabernacle at Shiloh where it was afterwards in Eli's time (1 Sam. 4:3-4). Was not this grave irregularity in sacred procedure an indication of the lawlessness prevailing in the land? The comment of the Spirit of God at the close of this history is "In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did that which was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

Further, there was degeneracy among the foremost religious leaders of the nation. For instance, the renegade Levite who conducted the idol-worship in Micah's house was no other than Jonathan, one of the grandsons of Moses (Judges 18:30, where the R.V. and N.Tr. read "Moses" for "Manasseh").

Jonathan forsook the God of his grandfather, the leader and lawgiver of Israel, and encouraged the worship of idols. Prompted apparently by avarice and ambition, he originated and established that succession of idolatrous priesthood which continued in the tribe of Dan through many centuries "until the day of the captivity of the land" (Judges 18:30), that is, until the ten northern tribes, some six centuries later, were carried away by the Assyrians (2 Kings 17). It will be remembered that when the usurper, Jeroboam, set up the two calves of gold to be the gods of Israel, he placed one in Dan and one in Bethel (1 Kings 12:28-30). The subtle, poisonous, Satanic influence of Dan upon his fellow-tribes seems to be implied in dying Jacob's prophecy (Gen. 49:17), describing Dan as "a serpent on the way, a horned snake on the path." This pernicious influence is first indicated historically by the installation of Micah's graven image in the city of Dan (Judges 18:29-31). The corruption was increased under the successive kings of Israel, until Amos, before the Assyrian captivity, prophesied of the judgment that should fall upon those "that swear by the sin of Samaria, and say, As thy god, O Dan, lives" (Amos 8:14). The serpent's venom had then spread from Dan throughout the whole land, and was beyond cure. But at the beginning a Levite, the grandson of Moses, was the chief organiser of this idolatry!

Again, the prevalence of moral corruption and physical violence among the children of Israel is illustrated by the story of lust and bloodshed told in the final three chapters of Judges (19 — 21). A Levite with his concubine from Bethlehem was on his way to the house of Jehovah when he became involved in the shameful lewdness of the men of Gibeah in the tribe of Benjamin. The foul habits of the men of Sodom were practised in Gibeah. A bloody tribal war ensued. The children of Benjamin, that fierce, wolf-like tribe (Gen. 49:27), defended the "vile lusts" of the men of Gibeah. Tens of thousands were slain in battle, and the tribe of "little Benjamin" was almost exterminated. This shocking incident is regarded in scripture as a starting point of national wickedness in Israel. In the later days of the monarchy, the prophet Hosea reminded the nation, "From the days of Gibeah hast thou sinned, O Israel" (Hosea 10:9).

In this landslide of the chosen nation into idolatry and infamy, such as is attributed in Rom. 1:21-32 to the whole Gentile world, the priests as well as the Levites appear to have been carried away. It was as true then as in after times, "as the people, so the priest" (Hosea 4:9; Isa. 24:2; Jer. 5:31). Once, in the wilderness, the godly zeal of Phinehas, the grandson of Aaron, was notably established by the passionate use of his javelin when wholesale immorality threatened the camp of Israel at Shittim, and the single-handed bravery of his faith "was reckoned to him for righteousness, from generation to generation, for evermore" (Num. 25:7-8; Ps. 106:30-31).

But in Canaan, where he succeeded to the high priesthood, the fervent spirit of Phinehas in the cause of righteousness on the borders of Moab seems to have cooled after the death of Joshua. Though he was now the divinely appointed representative between God and His people, he was powerless to check the spread of idolatry and iniquity in the land. The salt had lost its savour. His remonstrances, if any, were as ineffective as the feeble protests of Eli, a later high priest, to his sons against their scandalous behaviour at the very door of the tabernacle in Shiloh (1 Sam. 2:22-25). The priesthood was as corrupt as the people at large; alike they sinned grievously against God and man, and were not ashamed.

The Intervention of Jehovah

By the flagrant disobedience of the tribes to Jehovah's commandments, Israel had incurred the divine displeasure in Canaan as they had done at the foot of Sinai, and for the like sin of idolatry. But, as then, Jehovah in His righteous indignation acted upon His promise and His oath to Abraham. He suspended His wrathful judgment and foreshadowed afresh in the pious and peaceful scenes of the Book of Ruth the coming of the Saviour and Redeemer of His people.

Typical Tracings of Israel's Restoration

In the domestic story contained in the Book of Ruth there are some analogies to certain great future events in the national history of Israel. In its four brief chapters the outlines of these events must necessarily be faint, and on a miniature scale. Here, as always in the interpretation of scripture, the exercise of the natural imagination must be feared and shunned. But the eye of faith that looks for Christ, the Hope of Israel, will be gratified and not disappointed by the result, for this portion, like every scripture, bears its appropriate testimony to Him.

The widowed Naomi, an exile from the land of promise, is an unmistakable type of Israel at the present day, still under the first covenant of law and still exiled from the land of promise. Ruth the Moabitess prefigures the Jewish remnant of the latter days of Israel according to the flesh. Her Gentile origin makes her the more fitting to be a type of the restored nation. Now the ancient people of God are in the "Lo-ammi" condition (Hosea 1:9), and for their sins are regarded as a Gentile people, but eventually they will no longer be outcasts, for, in accordance with prophecy, Jehovah will say to Israel, "Thou art My people" (Hosea 2:23).

Boaz represents the Goel or Kinsman-Redeemer, Who will restore the lost inheritance. Christ Himself in His risen power and personal right is typified, ensuring "the sure mercies of David" (Acts 13:34) for His earthly people. The "nearer" kinsman portrays the law of God which, though given to Israel by Moses, brought to the people only condemnation and curse, not redemption.

Only the barest outline is offered here in these remarks; but further details of this typical aspect will emerge in the following pages during the consideration of the Book passage by passage from this point of view. It may be added that in these Studies it is not purposed to enlarge upon the doctrine of redemption as it is revealed in the New Testament, where, as the reader knows, this subject is unfolded in ample measure and fuller detail than anything to be found anywhere in the types or the prophecies or the teachings of the Old Testament. The Book of Ruth fits and adorns its own peculiar niche in the fabric of Holy Scripture; and it will be best understood when it is so considered.

Outline of the Book in Seven Parts
A. 1:1-5 During a famine, Elimelech and his family leave Bethlehem for the country of Moab.
B. 1:6-22 Naomi returns to Bethlehem, accompanied by Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law.
C. 2:1-23 Ruth during harvest gleans in the fields of Boaz, Naomi's kinsman.
D. 3:1-18 At Naomi's suggestion, Ruth visits the threshing-floor of Boaz.
E. 4:1-12 Boaz redeems the inheritance and marries Ruth.
F. 4:13-17 Ruth gives birth to Obed, the grandfather of David.
G. 5:18-22 Pedigree of David the king of Israel traced from Pharez (Gen. 38:29).