Ruth: Deep Dive
LOYALTY AND PROVIDENCE | MICHAEL ELS
This little book packs some heavy punches when it comes to its theological richness. The imagery in this book is a marvelous portrayal of God paying a price to redeem those who are not part of the people of God, the Israelites.
The Book of Ruth is undoubtedly about loyalty and is displayed in the two main characters. During her trials and loss, Ruth remained faithful to Naomi and, at the same time, Boaz’s loyalty to Ruth – despite the fact that she was a Moabite woman and not of the Tribe of Israel – is especially commendable when you understand that the Moabites were considered enemies of the Jews because of the way they treated Israel during their pilgrim journey from Egypt to Canaan (Deuteronomy 23:3-6; Numbers 22-25). Yet, an Israelite became Ruth’s Kinsman Redeemer (Ruth 2:20, 3:9, 4:14). Loyalty is the focus of much of this book, however, what we are going to focus on for the purpose of this Deep Dive is not necessarily their loyalty, but how that loyalty points to or foreshadows the work of God and how He is at work in our lives.
What is interesting is that God is hardly mentioned in the Book of Ruth, and as one reads through the first half of this book, it is easy to ask the question, ‘Where was God in the midst of all this suffering?’. In fact, when Naomi calls herself ‘Mara’ because the Lord has dealt bitterly with her (Ruth 1:20), we would be quick to jump to the rescue and try and vindicate God, insisting He had no hand in this and that it is because we live in a fallen world that these tragedies happen. These points are true to an extent, but the question still stands, where was God? And moreover, where is God in the midst of our own tragedies today? This seems to be at the heart of the Book of Ruth and don’t worry, we are provided with an answer.
So we have this beautifully portrayed story of love, tragedy and redemption, and then at the end of the book, after the birth of Obed, the author concludes with a genealogy. Up until this point, everything has been about mundane everyday life, then tragedy strikes and we mourn, and then hope is found and we carry on. The ending of this point provides us with a wider scope, a glimpse of something bigger, something far greater than what Ruth or Naomi could see in their lifetime. We see the descent of Ruth and Boaz’s line leading to King David, and further down the track, to Jesus, the Messiah. All the seemingly mundane and tragic events in this story are woven together into God’s grand story of redemption for the whole world.
Don’t miss the significance of this point, Christ is our Boaz, our Kinsman-Redeemer. The significance is profound because according to the laws of the Pentateuch, a Kinsman-redeemer was one who acted on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or great need. In fact, the Hebrew term for kinsman-redeemer, ga'al, designates ‘one who delivers, rescues or redeems’.
The Spirit Filled Life Bible expands this incredible concept again “As our ‘Kinsman’, He becomes flesh - comes as a man (John 1:14, Phil 2:5-8). By His willingness to identify with the human family (as Boaz assumed the duties of his human family), Christ has worked a thorough-going redemption of our plight. Further, Ruth’s inability to do anything to alter her estate typifies absolute human hopelessness (Romans 5:6); and Boaz willingness to pay the complete price (4:9) foreshadows Christ’s full payment for salvation (1 Cor 6:20, Gal 3:13, 1 Peter 1:18, 19).
Just like Ruth, we have a great need that only Christ can satisfy; and just like Ruth, we need our Kinsman-Redeemer to spread His wings over and cover us (Ruth 3:9). In doing so, He has made us His eternal bride and redeemed us from our great need by paying a price, and that price was the Cross. Christ is the true kinsman-redeemer of all who call on Him in faith and those who call upon him, he will surely cover.
You see, Naomi saw the death of her husband and sons as a personal tragedy, which it was, but God had something in mind that would be fulfilled hundreds of years later in the coming of Christ and His death. She had no idea what God was doing through her tragedy and neither do we when we are faced with tragedy, but to say that He is absent goes against the grain of Scripture. Wayne Grudem says that the testimony of scripture is that “all things come to pass by God’s wise providence”, that “Nothing just happens” and that therefore “we should see God’s hand in events throughout the day, causing all things to work together for good”; an ultimate good that is beyond our temporal understanding and this is the nature of the faith we place in God.
We should try not to focus on the “Mara” (bitter) aspects of life but trust God even when the circumstances are bad and we don’t understand what He is doing. The book of Ruth invites us to consider how God might be at work in the very ordinary, mundane details of our lives as well. In the midst of tragedy and loss, God is ever present, working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28), not just the good in that moment but an ultimate good. We need to widen our gaze and open our hearts to not just the possibility of how God could be working through our pain but have a confidence that He is present and there are a million things going on outside our perspective. We need to cling to God in these moments, trust and affirm that He is good and praise him (Job 13:15) even when we don’t understand what he is doing.
For further study on this topic see the following resources:
Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology Chapter 16 (Gods Providence)