Studies in the Book of Ruth

W. J. Hocking.

G. — A Typical Outline of Israel's Final Restoration

The brief and simple narrative in the Book of Ruth obviously contains many weighty lessons of that moral goodness in the personal life which in all ages has been inseparable from a fear of God in the heart. These profitable lessons rest upon the surface of the narrative and provide much spiritual food within easy reach of the diligent gleaner.

But besides the didactic value of the history as an object-lesson in piety for all time, there is evidence of its prophetical value as a brief sketch of a particular phase in the national history of the children of Israel as Jehovah's chosen people during the period of their future restoration.

The list of names from Pherez to David at the end of the Book suggests that something more is involved in the narrative than the interest and instruction of a family episode. This period (Ruth 4:18-22) covers the rise of the nation from the squalor of slavery in Egypt to the glory and riches of world-eminence in Canaan with David on the throne. Not that the universal fame of the Davidic kingdom is in any way indicated in the Book of Ruth, where we find only his name and not his title. Indeed, in the divine foreshadowings of scripture, principles are often foreshown, rather than the "very image" of the coming events in detail and sequence. Accordingly, while there seems to be no direct reference to the establishment of the millennial kingdom in power and glory on the earth, there are pointers to the moral features of the nation at the time of its final redemption and its full possession of its allotted inheritance, attached as this climax is to the name of David in so many well-known prophecies.

These historical analogies have their instructive value. And when viewed by the light of prophetic scripture it will be seen that the personal events recorded in this Book depict on a miniature scale (1) the nation's spiritual declension and moral departure from Jehovah and (2) its ultimate restoration to His favour and blessing through the intervention of a Kinsman-Redeemer (goel). These broad prophetic features, relating mainly to the falling away and to the ultimate uprising of the favoured nation, may be traced in the historical notices given in this Book of four of the few persons mentioned by name, viz., Elimelech, Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz.

The Four Principal Persons

In the homely history of this Bethlehem family, the names of four of the persons stand out most conspicuously: (1) Elimelech; (2) Naomi; (3) Ruth; (4) Boaz. Each of these was closely connected with the family inheritance which was in peril of forfeiture until it was finally redeemed by Boaz the kinsman-redeemer (goel). In the events recorded of these persons striking resemblances may be discovered to certain outstanding characteristics of the national history taken as a whole. The chosen people and their inheritance have passed and will pass through similar stages of decline and revival until the day when their Goel will appear and their inheritance will be secured for ever by His redemption. Soon after settlement in the land under Joshua, Israel, through lack of the faith which their father Abraham had, departed from the unique place of privilege and testimony bestowed upon them by the favour of Jehovah; and consequently the nation lost possession of the inheritance which by promise was theirs for ever. At length, the inheritance of the sons of Jacob will be restored, not, however, until the people of Israel in the obedience of faith return to their own land, and find their Kinsman-Redeemer in the Messiah Whom they once guiltily despised, rejected, and crucified, but Who is waiting to be gracious to them as Jehovah's exalted Servant.

(1) Elimelech by leaving Bethlehem-Judah to seek bread in the idolatrous land of Moab represents the nation of Israel who from the days of the judges showed their "evil heart of unbelief in departing, from the living God," and serving the false gods of other nations. For a temporal advantage, Elimelech, despising his birthright, forsook the inheritance divided by lot to his family by Eleazar the priest and by Joshua the captain of Jehovah's victorious hosts (Joshua 19:51). In thus turning his back upon the land of Israel, he was abandoning the worship of Jehovah at His tabernacle in Shiloh. In short, Elimelech's act was an open denial of his confidence in the faithfulness of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob when a time of famine and hardship fell upon His people.

This act of religious disloyalty and declension by Elimelech and his family symbolized the more extensive and flagrant failure of Jehovah's chosen nation to worship and serve Jehovah only and, whatever the cost to themselves, to avoid all intercourse with the idol-worshipping nations around them. But at the beginning of their national career, the children of Israel disregarded the divine admonitions, and mingled again and again with other peoples to obtain some temporal benefit. In a time of famine they forgot Him Who in the barren desert "satisfied them with the bread of heaven" (Ps. 105:40). They "despised the pleasant land" even before they reached it (Ps. 106:24). Unmindful of the "spiritual Rock that followed them" in the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4), their unbelief angered Jehovah at the waters of strife (Ps. 106:32). Indeed, Jehovah's charge against the nation a thousand years later was "My people … have forsaken Me, the Fountain of living waters, to hew them out cisterns, broken cisterns that hold no water" (Jer. 2:13). What profit did backsliding Elimelech gain in the land of Moab? And Jehovah said of apostate Israel in that same prophecy, "My people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit" (Jer. 2:11).

(2) Naomi by her condition of widowhood, childlessness, and poverty, represents the nation of Israel in the series of manifold desolations, afflictions, and infirmities which befell them because they persistently forsook God their Saviour and disobeyed His holy laws and statutes. In the land of Moab, Naomi the pleasant became even in her own estimation Mara the bitter; her "coal was quenched"; her family name was "ready to perish"; she was bereft of all earthly hope.

What an impressive likeness there is between the nation of Israel homeless in Gentile lands and the widow Naomi friendless in the land of Moab! The figure of widowhood, that is, the loss of divine ownership, protection, and supporting care, is used by the Holy Spirit in the prophecies to depict the religious and moral destitution of the people of Israel because of their public association with the false gods of the nations. Thus, by one of the earliest of the prophets, Jehovah renounced all relationship with His people because of their unfaithfulness to Him, saying, "She is not My wife, neither am I her Husband" (Hosea 2:2). Jeremiah, in describing the desolation of Jerusalem when Jehovah permitted its destruction by the Chaldeans, begins his elegy by exclaiming, "How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! She that was great among the nations is become as a widow" (Lam. 1:1).

The spiritual destitution which will continue for "many days" to be the lot of the nation because of its unfaithfulness to Jehovah is plainly declared by Hosea; for he says, "The children of Israel shall abide many days without king, and without prince, and without sacrifice, and without statute, and without ephod and teraphim" (Hosea 3:4). Again in prophetic language, the "widowed" people are declared to be "Forsaken," and their land "Desolate" (Isa. 52:4); but full deliverance of the nation from the Naomi-state will eventually come, and the ancient promise of redemption will be fulfilled: "Thy Maker is thy Husband: Jehovah of hosts is His name, and thy Redeemer (goel), the Holy One of Israel … Jehovah has called thee as a woman (wife) forsaken and grieved in spirit, and as a wife of youth that has been refused (or, when rejected), says thy God" (Isa. 54:5-6; Isa. 49:14). As it was with Naomi, so will it be in a coming day with the penitent daughter of Zion: Jehovah will give her beauty for ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness (Isa. 61:3). And the prophetic words of the Psalmist will be fulfilled: "He makes the barren woman keep house, as a joyful mother of sons. Hallelujah" (Ps. 113:9).

(3) Ruth by her condition of widowhood, childlessness, and poverty represents, like Naomi, the forlorn and forsaken state of the people of Israel, due to their incorrigible backsliding. But while there is a close resemblance in their widowed condition, there is also an obvious contrast between the two women. Unlike Naomi, Ruth was a Moabite stranger, and not an Israelite by birth like her mother-in-law. For this reason, many have assumed, somewhat hastily, that in Ruth's remarkable story there can be no designed allusion to the people of Israel. How can we expect, it is asked, that divine mercy to a Gentile widow should portray divine mercy to Israel, the chosen race?

The truth is, however, that this very difficulty due to Ruth's foreign nationality provides the clue to the correct understanding of the prophetic bearing of the history. Ruth represents Israel not as the nation distinguished from and elevated above all other nations by Jehovah's choice and calling and redemption, but Israel as the nation degraded from this position of eminence because of her religious and social apostasy, a degradation which became evident to the eyes of the whole world from the times of the Assyrian and Chaldean captivities. At this stage of its national history, Israel, by divine chastisement, lost its political primacy among the nations of the earth. It sank to the level of the Gentile nations, and is so regarded in God's present government of the world. Indeed, the first among the peoples of the earth has become the last and the least.

Here Ruth the Gentile rather than Naomi the Israelite more fittingly represents the chosen people. In their degraded status the resemblance between the Moabitish damsel and the nation begins, and in her progress from Moab to Bethlehem and then to the house of Boaz may be seen a dim but discernible outline of the ultimate recovery of Israel from its present quasi-Gentile state and of its final possession of the inheritance through Jehovah of hosts, the Redeemer (Goel) of His people.

This lapse of Israel from its position of national nearness to Jehovah through its inveterate wickedness, followed by its consequent loss of this position through the judgment of Jehovah, is plainly indicated in the scriptures. The merging of the people among the mass of the Gentiles is, for instance, predicted by Hosea in a well-known passage. Because of their continual rebellion against Jehovah, He dissociated Himself from them, and gave them the name, "Lo-ammi," which signifies, "Ye are not My people, and I will not be for you" (Hosea 1:9). From their deliverance out of Egypt to their captivity under Gentile rule, the children of Israel had been distinctively His own peculiar people, but no longer were they so regarded by Him. Jehovah hid His face of favour from them and withdrew from them His protecting arm. They were cast back into the sea of nations out of which He had drawn them.

So applicable is this figure of Israel being a national castaway to the loss of religious relationship to Jehovah that when He bade a later prophet, Jeremiah, to take the cup of His wrath to all the Gentile nations, the one that heads the list is Judah, for by her sinful backsliding she had forfeited the special favour of God, and in His righteous government of the earth she was treated as one of the peoples that knew Him not (Jer. 25:15-18). And in Daniel's day the "times of the Gentiles" had begun, and heathen rulers were reigning in Jerusalem, where once the house of David held sway.

This judicial abandonment of the chosen people by their God became even more evident in the earth after they had wantonly rejected and crucified their Messiah, refusing, as they did, to own Him as Jehovah's promised Servant and King on earth and also as the risen and glorified Christ on high. Hence the "natural branches" of the olive tree of promise were broken off (Rom. 11). They had smitten "the Judge of Israel with a rod upon the cheek … therefore," it was said, "will He give them up" (Micah 5:1-3). This divine ban upon the nation, begun in the Old Testament and confirmed in the New, continues. God's earthly people are still disinherited, and are still wandering among the Gentiles, with no national nor political status owned upon earth, and with no religious worship owned in heaven.

Ruth in Moab, then, represents this anomalous religious and political state to which the nation of Israel has descended — which will continue until the repentant remnant of the dispersed people return in faith to their own land, and in like faith commit themselves to the kind offices of their Kinsman-Redeemer (Goel). Further, Ruth in Bethlehem-Judah, more than Naomi, represents in particular the pious remnant of the Jews, who in due course will be the first to seek the feet and then to see the face of their long-rejected Redeemer (Goel); they will be "bought from men as first-fruits to God and the Lamb" (see Rev. 14:1-5). Also, Ruth corresponds in great measure with the figurative term, Ruhamah (meaning "having obtained mercy"), applied by the prophet Hosea to the restored remnant of Israel which will again become Jehovah's people (Ammi); (cp. Hosea 1:6-9; Hosea 2:1, 23).

(4) Boaz, the redeeming kinsman of Bethlehem, the city of David, is undoubtedly a typical representative of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Kinsman-Redeemer (Goel) of Jehovah's earthly people, Israel. In scripture, redemption has more than one phase. It may be, and often is, effected by blood, but in the Book of Ruth sacrifice is not even mentioned. It may be by destroying the foe that holds another in bondage, but neither is this phase to be found in the narrative. It may also be the deliverance effected by the goel's payment of the debt involved, which is what took place in this case. Boaz exercised his "right of redemption" by purchasing the inheritance, supplementing his generosity by marrying Ruth, the Gentile widow who had professed the faith of Abraham.

The nation of Israel was redeemed from Egypt both by purchase and by power (Ex. 15:6, 13, 16). As their Goel, Jehovah brought them out of bondage with His "stretched out arm and with great judgments" (Ex. 6:6). And when, centuries later, the nation was carried into captivity, first by Assyria and then by Chaldea, Jehovah repeatedly sent them promises of His deliverance by redemption, calling Himself, "Jehovah, thy Redeemer (Goel)," with other titles added such as "the Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 41:14; Isa. 43:14; Isa. 44:6, 24; Isa. 47:4; Isa. 48:17; Isa. 49:7, 26; Isa. 54:5, 8; Isa. 60:16). In these and other prophecies, Jehovah reminds His earthly people that He possesses the sole "right of (their) redemption." At the appointed time, He will by His exalted Servant (Isa. 52:13-15) redeem the nation for ever from their thraldom to Gentile supremacy, and restore them to "the mountain" of His inheritance, where He made His own dwelling and where He "planted" them at the first (Ex. 15:17).

The narrative records that the concern of Boaz the redeemer with Naomi's inheritance was (1) by purchase to free it from its encumbrance, and (2) by marrying Ruth the widow to ensure its continuance in the family through lawful heirs until the glorious days of the Davidic kingdom.

In these two particulars, Boaz dimly foreshadowed Christ Jesus and His redeeming work on behalf of the people of Israel, whereby He will (1) restore to them the land Jehovah gave them for a perpetual inheritance (Deut. 4:21; Ps. 105:11), and (2) provide a succession of undying heirs to that earthly kingdom by fulfilling Jehovah's promise, "I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah a possessor of My mountains" (Isa. 65:9; Isa. 54:1; Isa. 66:8). Then the Lord Jesus Himself "shall reign over the house of Jacob, and of His kingdom there shall be no end" (Luke 1:33). And when, as "the Lord God of Israel," He shall have "visited and redeemed His people" (Luke 1:68), He then will manifest Himself throughout the earth as the true Boaz, the Kinsman-Redeemer (Goel) of Israel and its inheritance.

Another feature in the typical character of Boaz should be observed: he foreshadows the Messiah in His exaltation rather than in His humiliation. In the scriptures, the sufferings of Christ are distinguished from His acquired glories, which come after the sufferings (Luke 24:26; 1 Peter 1:11). Now, Boaz, the strong and wealthy goel, represents Christ, not in His vicarious sufferings, but in His risen power and ascended glories, not in His death, but in His life beyond death.

In the Boaz character Christ Jesus is the Branch, the Son of man, Whom Jehovah made "strong" for Himself (Ps. 80:15, 17). He is the Mighty One upon Whom Jehovah has "laid help" for His people (Ps. 89:19). The Kinsman-Redeemer (Goel) of Israel and Judah is "strong; Jehovah of hosts is His name" (Jer. 50:34). He is the "Mighty One of Jacob" (Isa. 49:26; Isa. 60:16). And when "the year of His redeemed is come" He will appear "travelling in the greatness of His strength," "mighty to save". He will then vanquish the enemies of His people and "bring down their strength (blood) to the earth" (Isa. 63:1, 4, 6). Thus, the redemption of Israel's earthly inheritance will take place when, and not before, their Goel destroys every foe, and subdues all things to Himself.

Boaz, however, redeemed the inheritance by purchase, and not by destructive power. His wealth enabled him to pay what was demanded for its recovery. The price paid is not disclosed, but its amount amply met every righteous claim of the creditor. And, as the New Testament reveals, it was by the immeasurable value and efficacy of His sacrificial offering that Christ Jesus "obtained eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12).

But another eloquent feature of the transaction is its finality. Boaz completed the redemption of the inheritance by marrying Ruth. In this act also, Boaz is a type of Israel's Kinsman-Redeemer (Goel); for in the prophecies, marriage occurs as a figure of Jehovah's final restoration of His earthy people to a state of perennial joy and prosperity. The "reproach of widowhood" is taken away from the nation, and she rejoices as a bride with the Bridegroom, then known as "Jehovah, the Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel" (Isa. 54:4-5).

By comparing, for instance, Isa. 53 with Isa. 54, it will be seen that the future confession of the remnant of Israel of their atrocious guilt in rejecting their Messiah is first foretold; and that this prophecy is immediately followed (chap. 54) by one announcing the reception of the nation into the intimate favour of Jehovah. For a long span of centuries, Israel had languished in the widowed state of Naomi and Ruth, but now this mourning and privation should be exchanged for marriage felicities with Jehovah, her Goel. "Thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more. For thy Maker is thy Husband: Jehovah of hosts is His name, and thy Redeemer (Goel), the Holy One of Israel" (vers. 4, 5).

The blessedness of Zion in the day of her future redemption is portrayed under the impressive figure of marriage in another of Isaiah's prophecies. Israel will in a coming time be delivered from her forsaken and desolate condition. Jehovah-Messiah will then be her Bridegroom, and she will be His earthly bride. Even the land of her inheritance will be "married." The Spirit of Christ in the prophet says, "Thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of Jehovah will name. … Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called, My delight is in her (Hephzibah), and thy land, Married (Beulah); for Jehovah delights in thee, and thy land shall be married … with the joy of the bridegroom over the bride shall thy God rejoice over thee" (Isa. 62:2-5).

In this vivid language, Isaiah depicts the contrast between Israel's forsaken (Naomi) condition and the millennial joys which the Kinsman-Redeemer (Goel) will share with Zion and Jerusalem in Immanuel's land (as Boaz did with Ruth in Bethlehem).