The Book of Ruth is an unusual
story of a young woman who found herself entangled in a web of tragic events.
Her husband was dead and her country was struck by famine. But through her love
and loyalty, she became an important historical figure from whom came the
Saviour. Set in the turbulent days of the Judges, this story has a rustic
simplicity and charm, for it has neither intrigues nor villains.
Though the writer does not
explicitly draw a moral, this book is more than just a short story full of
episodic significance. Its teachings are largely implicit and its allegorical
meaning profound, which is relevant to 20th century Christians.
This article does not attempt to
retell this beautiful story, but to expound the meanings of some words and
names, along with its intended moral teachings. for a
better understanding of the theological reflections on God and His salvation.
OF PEOPLE AND PLACES
Bethlehem in Judah
‘Bethlehem’ in Hebrew means ‘the house of
food.’ Ironically in the time of Ruth, there was famine throughout the land.
probably because of the frequent disobedience of the stubborn Israelites
against God. If so, this speaks eloquently for the justice of God — the swift
punishment for disobedience.
means ‘God is my king.’ However, his allegiance faltered in the face of
adversity, i.e. when famine struck, Elirnelech did not hesitate to turn towards
the country of the enemy of God’s people, the Moabites. There he died. His two
sons married Moabite women and died childless as well. Elimelech’s widow Naomi
and two young daughters-in-law suffered in a land which was supposed to give
‘Naomi’ means ‘pleasant’ or
‘fair,’ an accurate description of her character. She was submissive to her
husband. During the famine she followed her husband always. She returned to Bethlehem pale, withered
“Is this Naomi?” some wondered,
barely recognising her.
“Do not call me Naomi, call me
Mara,” she replied. ‘Mara’ means ‘bitter,’ for she had tasted the bitterness of
life among Gentiles.
means ‘stiffnecked.’ She was married to Chilion, one of the sons of Elimelech
Being a Gentile, she was ‘not to enter the assembly of the Lord’ according to
the Mosaic Law (Deut 23:3) but by virtue of her marriage, she was received into
the commonwealth of Israel. When her husband died, she followed Naomi from Moab
to Judah. But Orpah dropped off midway to return to her former home and the
worship of Chemosh. Even so, Naomi commended her to the Lord’s protection.
‘Ruth’ means ‘companion.’ in
contrast to Orpah, she was indeed the constant
companion of Naomi. “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God, where
you die I will die and there will I be buried,” she assured Naomi.
“Many are called but few are
chosen” said Jesus. Many have received Christ but few have kept the faith all
the way. Like Orpah, some returned to the sinful world. But Ruth is worthy of
our emulation, because she was loyal, filial, diligent, humble and chaste(4:l5; 2:2-7; 2:10, 13; 3:5, 10).
The meaning o his name is
‘Strength in the Lord’. He was a kinsman of Elimelech and a man of substance
and influence. Botz appears in the genealogy of Jesus (Mt 1:5; Lk 3:32).
Despite his position, he had an excellent relationship with his workers (2:4).
He was aware of God’s providence and blessings (2:12). Towards his brothers he
was just and accommodating (3:12, 13; 4:1-9), and he was sympathetic,
comforting and helpful to Ruth (2:14-20: 3:10-IS). He did not take advantage of
her when she lay at his feet on the threshing floor from night till morn. And
unlike some rich men, he manifested a particular diligence. In the morning,
official matters at the city gates demanted his attention, in the afternoon,
the harvest had to be collected and in the evening, he had to be at the
OF CUSTOMS AND PRACTICES
The barley harvest
Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem at the
beginning of the barley harvest (1:22). A 10th century B.C. agricultural
calendar found in the Gezer excavations designates a spring month (late April
or early May) as “his month of the harvest.” Barley ripens a couple of weeks
earlier than wheat (2:23).
The Levirate marriage custom
According to the Levirate
marriage practice, a childless widow is bound to marry her deceased husband’s
brother (Deut 25:5-10). The “nearest kin” used to refer to Boaz in 2:20 is
applied in a technical sense meaning ‘redeemer’ (Hebrew: go’el). it designates one who ‘redeems’ the name of the dead through
Levirate marriage. Ruth’s request to Boaz to spread his skirt over her is an
expression denoting a request to take her as his wife under custom (cf. Ezek
Ruth’s action might appear
indecorous or improper to those unfamiliar with oriental cultures,, but here it was a method doubtless conformable to
prevailing rural usage in Bethlehem
to remind Boaz of his duty.
Boaz, although honoured, was
concientious to give the nearest kinsman the opportunity to exercise his right.
However through the ceremony of
the removal of his sandal and presenting it to Boaz, the next-of-kin attested
to his relinquishing of the right of redemption (4:7-10).
BOAZ AND RUTH —A PROPHETIC ALLEGORY OF CUSTOMS AND
Christ and His TrueChurch
Boaz prefigures Jesus Christ. He
is a man of wealth and authority and the master of the fields. His character is
impeccable and his love unmatchable. He is Ruth’s redeemer who subsequently
married her despite her status as a Gentile.
Jesus Christ sacrificed his
heavenly riches and glory and came down to this world. His “field” is this
world where men are ready to be ‘harvested’ and taken into his kingdom (Mt 9:37,38). God’s ultimate love was demonstrated when Jesus came
into this world in the form of a perfect man, to die for all. Through that
supreme sacrifice, the Gentiles are given the chance to be part of the church
—the bride of the Lamb.
Ruth prefigures the church just
before the marriage of the Lamb. Just as Ruth was of lowly birth from a foreign
nation in the east (Moab
being east of Judah), the
comes from the East — China,
a nation once despised and exploited. But she returned to Judah during
the harvesting season (1:22). The emerging of this Last Days church coincides
with the “harvest of the earth” period described in Revelation 14:15, i.e. the
She gleaned in the field of Boaz
and in return she was well-treated by him. She was given much food and drink
(Chap 2). This speaks of the labour and reward of the church. Given the word of
God and the infilling of the Holy Spirit, the church also receives the mandate
to ‘glean’; to bring to souls ready to enjoy God’s salvation.
Finally, she was married to Boaz
sharing riches and honour together (4:13-17). The final and crowning glory
prepared for the church is none other than the marriage to the Lamb and
thereafter to become co-heirs of the universe (Rev 19:7; 2 1:1-2).
The sequence of things Ruth did
to prepare herself to see Boaz has important
allegorical significance. it refers to our own
preparation to meet the Lord.
She washed herself (3:3). This
speaks of water baptism, without which no man can stand before God. She was
anointed (3:3). This is equivalent to our baptism of the Spirit.
She put on her best clothes
(3:3). ‘Clothes’ is frequently used in the Bible when referring to a person’s
conduct (Rev 19:8; Eph 4:23, 24). A Christian is expected to manifest his best
down at his feet (3:4, 7, 8). This is a gesture of submission and supplication.
Sinners and sick persons prayed at His feet to receive grace and peace (Lk
7:38; 8:41, 47, 48; 17:15, 16). A Christian life should also be one of
submission to and reliance on God at all times.
She remained till the morning
(3:13, 14). In this age of spiritual darkness (Rom 13:11) we ought to be
faithful to Christ and remain with Him until Christ comes again in triumph to