Studies in the Book of Ruth

W. J. Hocking.

H. — Ruth as a Vessel of Divine Mercy

"Hear, my beloved brethren: Has not God chosen the poor as to the world, rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom, which He has promised to them that love Him?" (James 2:5).

In the last paper it was shown that the brief history of Ruth presents a typical illustration of the future restoration (redemption) of the Jewish people from their present scattered and apostate condition among the Gentiles in order that they may share the blessings and glories of the coming millennial kingdom under the rule of their Redeemer (Goel).

But this history has an individual as well as a national bearing, and we may profitably trace how graciously the sovereign mercy of God wrought in establishing and exalting Ruth the Moabite stranger to a place of distinction within "the commonwealth of Israel." Her case is a striking instance in Old Testament times of divine mercy exercised outside the limits of Israel, that nation which Jehovah chose out of all others to be His own peculiar people. The fruitful branches of His goodness ran over the wall. The river of His mercy overflowed its banks. In this impressive example, Jehovah acted according to His own right to show favour where, when, and how He pleased; as He said, "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy" (Ex. 33:19; Rom. 9:15).

According to His own sovereign prerogative, therefore, Jehovah had mercy upon Ruth the Moabitess, daughter of an accursed race, and He saved her from the delusions and horrors of idolatry to mingle rightfully and acceptably with the worshippers of Himself, the only true and living God. On this account, Ruth stands in those dark days of apostasy when "the judges ruled" in Israel a bright and shining vessel of the abounding mercy of God, chosen by Him from among the Gentiles. The Moabitess is not unlike another outstanding example in a later day who described himself as the chief of sinners to whom "mercy" was shown (1 Tim. 1:15-16), and of whom the Lord said, "this man is an elect vessel to Me" (Acts 9:15). Thus Ruth of Moab and Saul of Tarsus were alike "vessels of mercy which He had before prepared for glory" (Rom. 9:23-24). Indeed, all of us who believe can say in the words of the apostle, "According to His own mercy He saved us" (Titus 3:5).


Mercy and Glory

In the purposes of God regarding man, His mercy is the forerunner of His glory. The vessels which He fills to overflowing with divine mercy will eventually glow resplendently with divine glory. Mercy first supports the weak and erring traveller through the desert wastes of a sinful world and then ushers him into the glittering scenes of glory with Christ in the Father's house on high. At the throne of grace, therefore, where we receive mercy in the time of our need, we may always lift up our eyes of faith and exult in the sure hope of the glory of God.

Often in the scripture record, the divine act of signal mercy is tinged with gleams of a glory to come as its appointed sequel. This is notably the case in the Book of Ruth. The story of divine mercy to the widowed Moabitess closes with the name of David, the glory of whose kingdom was soon to break forth from Mount Zion, a harbinger of the more brilliant earthly kingdom of David's Son and Lord which is to spread to the ends of the earth.


Mercy and Grace

These two familiar words of Scripture are allied in meaning, but are distinct in use and application. God acts in mercy towards men, having in view their need and infirmity, their misery and suffering due to their presence in an evil world. Moved by compassion, the good Samaritan showed "mercy" to the wounded and destitute Jew (Luke 10:37). On the other hand, grace is the activity of God's love towards wicked and rebellious men, as we read, "Where sin abounded grace has overabounded" (Rom. 5:20). The mercy of God can be traced throughout the scriptures, but the grace of God is revealed fully in the New Testament, for it could only thus be made known by Jesus Christ Who Himself was "full of grace and truth" (John 1:14, 17). In Him, the grace of God appeared, bringing salvation for all men (Titus 2:11).

Grace then is for the guilty, and mercy is for the miserable. This distinction has also been expressed in these words: "Grace is that energy and outflow of divine goodness which rises above men's evil and ruin, and loves notwithstanding all"; while mercy is "God's pitiful consideration for individual weakness, need, or danger."

The two words, grace and mercy, are beautifully combined and distinguished in an inspired description of what our Saviour God has done for Christian believers. The apostle Paul writes, "We were once ourselves also without intelligence, disobedient, wandering in error. … But when the kindness and love to man of our Saviour God appeared … according to His own mercy He saved us … that having been justified by His grace, we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life" (Titus 3:3-7).


Ruth's Need of Mercy

For what special reason did Ruth need God's mercy? Her personal character appears to have been irreproachable. It is nowhere said that she was guilty of open immorality like so many of her countrywomen in the days of Balak and Balaam (Num. 25:1-5). And as scripture records no stain upon her womanly conduct we may assume there was none, since the Spirit of God neither conceals nor excuses the flagrant sins of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Moses, David, and Solomon, and of others in the line of faith. Moreover, it may be added that Ruth is one of four women, appearing in the genealogical table of male descent from Abraham to Jesus Christ (Matt. 1:3, 5, 6). Her three associates, Tamar, Rahab, and the wife of Uriah (Bathsheba), were all women of ill fame, nevertheless the four are recorded without comment in the line of Messiah's descent, shining there like stars of glory in the firmament of Jehovah's mercy. Of the four women, however, Ruth, because of her untainted history, is a striking contrast.

Was then Ruth without defect in the sight of God? Was she so entirely without spot or blemish as to be a worthy object of the special favour of God and to become the chosen wife of a pious "prince" of the house of Judah? Alas, no: for "all have sinned," whether they are "under the law" as Israelites, or "without law" as Moabites and all other Gentiles. All mankind alike stood in equal need of divine mercy.

Ruth especially was disqualified by the law of Jehovah, for she was under its ban which rested specifically upon the whole of her people. She belonged to "the children of Lot," and she bore the stigma of the incestuous origin of that race. Her birth excluded her from the worshippers of Jehovah in Shiloh. Her marriage with Mahlon, the second son of Elimelech, did not remove nor lessen her disqualification, for by the ordinance of Moses the marriage was illegal. The instructions relevant to her case were to be valid "for ever" (Deut. 23:3-6). Ruth, therefore, was permanently barred by birth from entering "the congregation of Jehovah," the circle of His special earthly blessing.

Thus the Moabitess was under the condemnation of the law of Jehovah. Nevertheless, though He could not righteously receive her according to His own law, He graciously accepted her according to His own mercy; and according to the riches of His coming glory by Christ Jesus He also gave her an honourable place in the royal archives of the Son of God Who as to the flesh came at the appointed time of the seed of her great-grandson, David (Rom. 1:2-4).


Ruth Cleaving to Naomi (Ruth 1)

Having observed how the mercy of Jehovah filled this chosen vessel to overflowing, it will be interesting and instructive to note the characteristic features of the vessel itself. What spiritual qualities appear in Ruth's conduct? Wherever and whenever the Spirit of God forms a soul for the reception of the gift of God the outline of His handiwork may be traced. And some features of the heavenly pattern are plain enough in the history of Ruth's sayings and doings. Take the first chapter. Is not her faith in God plainly outlined here?

By her outspoken and uncompromising decision to accompany Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17), Ruth showed what was working deep down in her heart. She believed that Jehovah was God in Israel, and with her mouth she openly confessed that Naomi's God was her God, thus fulfilling the two conditions of the righteousness of faith, concerning which Paul speaks in Rom. 10:9-10.

Ruth's intense devotion to Naomi arose not only because she was the mother of Mahlon, her deceased husband, but because she was a representative of that people redeemed by Jehovah out of Egypt and established by Him in the land of Canaan. Accordingly, she boldly declared that henceforward neither in life nor in death would she be separated from Naomi and Naomi's God. "Whither thou goest I will go .… where thou diest will I die, and there will I be buried," said the young widow.

By this surrender of her kindred and nation, Ruth displayed the faith in her heart. She showed the genuineness of her faith by her works, as each believer is expected to do (James 2:17-18). Her choice of the unknown road to Bethlehem, against the advice of Naomi, proved that her faith was like the uncompromising faith of Abraham, "the father of all them that believe," who at the call of God "went out, not knowing where he was going" (Rom. 4:11; Heb. 11:8). Happy was it for Ruth that she fixed her eyes upon "things not seen as yet" by her in the land of Israel, the dwelling-place of Jehovah. Otherwise, the "things seen" might reasonably have deterred a thoughtful woman like Ruth from renouncing her people, and her religion. Doubts and difficulties might easily have arisen to hinder her. How could Canaan be called Jehovah's land when so many of the aboriginal inhabitants continued to dwell there (Judges 1)? Had not the Israelites forsaken Jehovah to serve the gods of the Canaanites (Judges 2:11-13)? Did not Eglon, the king of her own land of Moab, rule over the children of Israel recently for eighteen years (Judges 3:14)? And had not the very woman she was about to follow to Bethlehem fled from that so-called "house of bread," not believing that Jehovah could or would feed her family in a famine?

These were hard facts, and notoriously "facts are stubborn things." But Ruth was not turned aside by "things seen." Like Moses who by faith left Egypt, "seeing Him Who is invisible" (Heb. 11:27), Ruth by faith left Moab, saying to Naomi, "Thy God shall be my God." She acted in the same spirit of faith as the Lord's disciples, of whom Peter said to his Master, "Behold, we have left all things and have followed Thee" (Luke 18:28). In self-denying trust, they clave to the Lord Jesus. This self-renouncing quality is the usual family likeness in the children of faith. And the Moabitish maiden clave to Naomi as we read, "Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clave to her" (1:14).


Ruth Gleaning for Food (Ruth 2)

When Ruth was settled in Bethlehem with Naomi, her first occupation was to glean in the harvest fields for their daily sustenance. As was customary in that land, the ears of corn she gathered would become her own. During the labour of collecting them Ruth became known to Boaz, whose bounty was her bread. From him she also received exceptional favours, though she appeared in his presence as only "the Moabitish maiden who came back with Naomi out of the fields of Moab" (ver. 6). There was much disparity between the master and the maiden. Boaz was "the mighty man of wealth in Israel"; Ruth was only a poor widowed woman of a banned race. But though she lacked any rightful claim, she was made free of the rich man's fields, where she gathered "bread enough and to spare" for many days. Her daily sustenance was thus made secure by the kindness of the prosperous Boaz.

In this liberal supply of necessary food for Ruth, we may discern an analogy with the abundant supply of spiritual food for the believer, of which the New Testament gives such ample assurance. Christ is the Bread of life for all who come to Him in faith, as He Himself said, "I am the Bread of life: he that comes to Me shall never hunger, and he that believes on Me shall never thirst at any time" (John 6:35).

Thus, Christ is the continuous support of that new spiritual life which He bestows upon all who believe on Him. To believe on Christ is to "hear His voice," and the Son of God quickens or gives life to those who hear Him (John 5:25). This life needs to be supported by a supply of suitable food. Christ is the Bread of that life. For the maintenance of spiritual life there must be a continuous appropriation by faith of Who Christ is, and of what Christ has done. Day by day, this ration of manna must be diligently collected. Daily, the ripened and reaped corn must be gleaned personally. This gathering is the believer's daily labour. The Lord said, "Work constantly (this is implied in the form of the Greek verb) … for the food which abides to life eternal, which the Son of man shall give to you" (John 6:27). Seeking such spiritual nourishment should be the primary and habitual activity of every believer. Each one should imitate Ruth, and, as she said, "go to the field and glean among the ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find favour" (2:2).


Ruth at her Redeemer's Feet ( Ruth 3)

Apart from food, Ruth's main concern was to obtain a permanent place among Jehovah's redeemed people. And in the matter of her redemption, the Moabitish widow cast herself unreservedly upon the mercy of Boaz. Her words to him were few. She had implicit confidence that his goodness, his wisdom, his strength, his interest, would all be forthcoming on her behalf. She said, "I am Ruth … thou hast the right of redemption (goel)" (ver. 9). Her one spoken desire was to be immediately "under his wing." As to her future, she was content to remain entirely dependent upon his mercy. She believed, and she was not made ashamed, for at once she received from Boaz words of encouragement, of assurance, and of hope: "all that thou sayest will I do," were the satisfying words of her redeemer. At the feet of Boaz, she first learned the lesson of absolute trust in him for whatever blessing her redemption might bring to her.

The incident is fruitful in lessons of great spiritual value for believers of every age. We point now to one only of them. Ruth's lowly attitude before her goel is an example for us all. It is the humble-minded who are taught the will and the ways of the Lord, what He has already done, and what He will yet do. In the sphere of spiritual redemption, lowliness is the prelude to exaltation. Christ "in Whom we have redemption" and "in Whom we also have obtained an inheritance," humbled (emptied) Himself. And He said to His disciples, "Whoever shall humble himself as this little child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of the heavens"; and He also said, "Whoever shall humble himself shall be exalted" (Matt. 18:4; Matt. 23:12). Clearly, self-effacement before the Lord is of great value in His eyes. James wrote, "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He shall exalt you" (James 4:10). To the meek and lowly in heart, He will by His Spirit impart the marvels of their redemption and the glories of their inheritance.


Ruth's Share in the Harvest of Redemption (Ruth 4)

In merciful loving-kindness, Boaz undertook the case of Ruth and made himself responsible for her deliverance. All the benefits she ultimately received were his gracious endowment. She herself was helpless in the matter. The redemption of the inheritance was the work of the goel exclusively. Ruth is then no longer seen gleaning the few "handfuls of purpose" let fall for her, but gathering in the golden sheaves of redeeming mercy. No longer is she an indigent "stranger" in the goodliest of all lands, but a sharer of the wealth and dignity of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer, who had with the inheritance purchased her to be his wife, and a partner of his princely power in Bethlehem.

Thus, through the mercy of the Lord, Ruth in the end reaped a twofold blessing in Bethlehem. First (1) she herself was redeemed and wedded by Boaz who had said, "Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife" (ver. 10). Moreover, (2) Ruth the wife of Boaz shared the whole of the inheritance which he had acquired by purchase, as he said, "I have bought all that was Elimelech's, and all that was Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi" (ver. 9). So that Ruth (1) immediately shared with Boaz the possession of the inheritance in Bethlehem, and (2) prospectively shared with him honourable mention in the ancestry of David and of Jesus Christ, Israel's King and Redeemer (Matt. 1:5).

In this twofold manner of sharing the results of redemption, Ruth to some extent illustrates the blessings of redemption made known in the New Testament for Christian believers. In Christ Jesus, the types and shadows are fulfilled, and in Him greater glories still are revealed by the Holy Spirit.


Redemption in Christ Jesus

In the Old Testament redemption is connected with earthly deliverance, while in the New Testament, owing to the atonement of Christ, and His present rejection by the Jewish people, redemption is shown to be heavenly and eternal in its scope.

A special picture of redemption is contained in the Book of Exodus which describes the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage to Pharaoh in Egypt. There were two stages in their deliverance; (1) through the blood of the passover lamb the people were protected by Jehovah in the hour of His judgment upon that land, and (2) through the power of His right arm at the Red Sea, they were delivered from their oppressors. So soon as their enemies were destroyed their deliverance was complete. Then Moses sang the song to Jehovah, "Thou by Thy mercy hast led forth the people that Thou hast redeemed" (Ex. 15:13).

Figuratively, the slain lamb sets forth Christ sacrificed for us (1 Cor. 5:7), Whose blood screened us from the penalty of our sins, and secured our forgiveness. In like manner, the passage through the Red Sea sets forth the perfection of God's salvation in Christ Jesus. By His death and resurrection, the believer receives entire deliverance from all that was against him, the devil and his power being for ever annulled (Heb. 2:14-15). Thus, redemption for the believer rests upon the broad basis of the death and resurrection of Christ — His blood and His power.

In the New Testament, though Christ is not therein named as the Redeemer, our redemption is inseparably associated with Christ Himself and the one sacrifice He made of Himself for sins (Heb. 9:26; Heb. 10:12). He "by His own blood has entered in once for all into the holy of holies, having found an eternal redemption" (Heb. 9:12). Seated there, Christ comprehends in Himself redemption in its widest scope and minutest detail. Our redemption is secured to us by personal contact through faith in Christ Jesus, Who "has been made to us … redemption" (1 Cor. 1:30). We are all "justified freely by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 3:24). This blessing includes the forgiveness of our sins, for in Him "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of offences, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14). Moreover, He has purchased us for Himself, for "our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ … gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all lawlessness, and purify to Himself a peculiar people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:13-14).

We learn further that the redemption in Christ Jesus is according to the foreknowledge of God, being now manifested to us in Him. Peter writes, "Ye have been redeemed … by precious blood, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot, the blood of Christ, foreknown indeed before the foundation of the world, but Who has been manifested at the end of times for your sakes" (1 Peter 1:18-21). But being even now redeemed by blood, redemption by Christ's power has still to he completed with regard to us. By "the working of the power" whereby He is able to subdue all things to Himself, the Lord Jesus Christ as Saviour will at His coming transform our bodies of humiliation into bodies of glory like His own (Phil. 3:20-21). The indwelling Holy Spirit is the seal given of God to believers to this "day of redemption" (Eph. 4:30). The Holy Spirit is also "the earnest of our inheritance (up) to the redemption of the acquired possession" (Eph. 1:14). This particular result of redemption is future, and we are now "awaiting adoption, that is, the redemption of our body" (Rom. 8:23).

Adoption or sonship is yet another fruit of the redemption in Christ Jesus (Gal. 4:5). We are made children of God by new birth, but sons of God by divine favour. Sonship implies dignity and heirship. We are not servants under bondage, but sons and heirs of God through Christ (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6). By the grace of God, He "marked us out beforehand for adoption (sonship) through Jesus Christ to Himself" (Eph. 1:5). We have already received the Spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15). This sonship of which we are conscious when "we cry, Abba Father," will be publicly acknowledged by God when His "many sons" are brought to glory (Heb. 2:10). At that time of "the manifestation of the sons of God" the whole universe will be brought "into the liberty of the glory of the children of God" (Rom. 8:21), when we shall be "sharing the portion of the saints in light" for which we are already made fit (Col. 1:12).

Such are a few of the wonders of the redemption by the blood and power of Christ Jesus revealed in the New Testament for the enlightenment, edification, and comfort of present-day believers whom God has made "objects of mercy" (Rom. 11:31). We may well exclaim with the apostle, "O depth of riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and untraceable His ways!" (Rom. 11:33).