The Book of Ruth might at first seem to be a very minor story in the Old Testament. It takes place “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ru 1:1), and it might seem to just be a filler book that merely explains the ancestry of David (and as a result, Jesus Christ). However, it is much more.
In fact, the Book of Ruth is symbolic of the Church age, but that is something that I had to discover on my own. While I’ve heard hints here and there from various ministers on this in the past, I don’t recall anyone stating it quite that strongly before. Putting the pieces together, though, make it clear that is what God intended it to symbolize.
However, just to whet your appetite a bit about the life and times of Samuel, Ruth is an upbeat book much like Joshua is an upbeat book. Joshua is only critical of Israel towards the end. Ruth presents the wife and bride of Christ in an idealized form. However, Judges is a very critical book about Israel’s lack of governance, whether it be by individuals themselves (self-governance), the judges (the civil authorities) or the priests (the religious authorities). Likewise, the beginning portion of the book of 1 Samuel is very critical of the OT “Church”, and it too is symbolic of the reality of the Church in the end times.
It once was part of the same scroll as the Book of Judges. It is part of the division the Jews call the Writings or Ketuvim. It is likely that Samuel wrote or compiled Judges and Ruth, as it is part of the story of chaos that led up to the monarchy.
However, various “scholars” want to debate things continually, so some claim it was written after King David’s time, and some even claim as late as 500 BC after the return from Babylon in order to promote intermarriage with non-Jews. That last claim is pretty much hokum, as the Law was quite clear regardless of any other claims, and Moab was never one of the nations mentioned that were excluded from such marriages in the first place (although, the Law did have some stipulations, which we will look at).
A Look at Names
“Elimelech” means “my God is King”. Since this story bridges the time of the judges and the kings, this is a somewhat prophetic name. In contrast, Abimelech means “my father is king”. Abimelech was the title of the king of Gerar of the Philistines. Abimelech was also the name of the illegitimate son of Gideon who killed his brothers in order to be proclaimed king. I believe it is this latter one that is purposely juxtaposed against Elimelech’s name, and portrays a completely opposite attitude that King David will portray.
It is important to note that Elimelech was a man of Bethlehemjudah. Judah was prophesied to be the kingly line (Ge 49:10). Bethlehem became the birthplace of Jesus Himself.
“Naomi” means “pleasant”, “sweet” or “agreeable”. This is also a contrast, as when she returned from Moab, she said to call her “Mara”, which means “bitter”.
20 And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.
21 I went out full and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?
I want to examine this because I want to point out that they left Israel due to famine. Did she really leave “full”? Granted, she had her husband and two sons, so I don’t want to minimize her loss, which was quite significant. Still, if she were really “full”, then there would have been no need to have left.
Elimelech and Naomi had two sons, Mahlon (“invalid” or “sickly”) and Chilion (“pining”, “wasting away”).
Why Did They Die? Not Because They Married Moabite Women
Some Jews claim Mahlon and Chilion died because they married Moabite women. The theory gives no insight as to why Elimelech died. I believe the real answer lies in the sons’ names. They died because of the famine and poor health. End of story.
Furthermore, nowhere is marriage to Moabites forbidden.
7 When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou;
2 And when the Lord thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:
3 Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son.
~ Dt 7:1-3
However, the whole notion is particularly silly, seeing as Ruth, the main character, is a Moabitess, and she marries Boaz, which results in blessings.
The short of it is that we are not told. The names of the sons, however, indicate the likelihood they simply died because they were in poor health to begin with. The death of Elimelech may have been due to age or other factors.
Some of the reason some want to believe this is the reason is because Moab doesn’t have a very good reputation in the Bible. In fact, it was Balak, the king of Moab, who hired Balaam to curse Israel.
3 An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter into the congregation of the Lord; even to their tenth generation shall they not enter into the congregation of the LORD for ever:
4 Because they met you not with bread and with water in the way, when ye came forth out of Egypt; and because they hired against thee Balaam the son of Beor of Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse thee.
So, how was David then able to become king? After all, he was hardly the tenth generation. Some have attempted to contrive such a scheme where he was by saying that part of the lineage was left out. However, there is no proof of that. Others have argued that the “tenth generation” meant from when the command was given. Yet, it says “for ever” as well, which definitely doesn’t sound like it was a one-time event.
The Wikipedia article on “Moab” claims that it was only the men who were forbidden “to marry into the Israelite nation”. The above isn’t referring to marriage, but perhaps they have a valid point that the restriction wasn’t on women. After all, the legal lineage came through the male line.
Of course, we have nothing less than a complete and utter conversion to the religion of YHWH by Ruth. While that is a significant part of the tale, it doesn’t do away with the commandment of Dt 23, so it looks like the prohibition being against the males is the most logical conclusion.
This lineage allowed David to leave his parents under the protective care of the king of Moab while he was running from Saul.
Orpah is the first daughter-in-law, as she is mentioned first. However, Ruth is the wife of Mahlon (Ru 4:10). It seems unusual, and it implies that either Chilion, the younger, married first or that Orpah was older than Ruth.
Some say that “Orpah” means “gazelle”. However, Bible History Online points out that “Orpah” is derived from the word for “neck”, and it may refer to being “stiff-necked” because she turned back from following her mother-in-law. Some point out that Naomi lived in Moab for ten years, yet Orpah never became committed to changing her life and her beliefs.
“Ruth” can mean “vision of beauty”, but it really is a beauty that extends from within. However, “Ruth” also means “friend” or “companion”. This is a very fitting name, as she becomes the committed companion of Naomi in the story.
The Book of Who?
We should reflect that it is the Book of Ruth, and not the Book of Naomi. Naomi is a woman who has seen misfortune. However, in many respects she is neither lovable nor desirable to be around. She herself admits to being “bitter”, but Ruth befriends her anyhow. Naomi can certainly be sympathized with, as we are all human and have known adversity. However, we should not allow that to blind us to the fact that she is not acting in a godly manner.
14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:
15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;
16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.
The implication should be quite clear! Bitterness leads to sin! If we soak in enough bitterness, it will affect our own salvation. This makes Ruth a very extraordinary character. She is a woman who does not allow the confusion and chaos, nor the sin nor the bitterness of others to infect her.
As Ruth is a symbol of the Church, this cannot be stressed enough.
27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.
~ Jas 1:27
That should not cut out the character of Boaz, however. His is the story of the “kinsman-redeemer”. When a woman’s husband died and left the widow childless, it was the job of the nearest kinsman to take her in a levirate marriage in order to raise up a son in the dead husband’s name. This implied all sorts of financial responsibilities as well, which you can probably imagine.
Land was pretty much kept within the family, and it never left any given tribe by law in Israel. Therefore, any money given for land was temporary in nature. If someone falls into debt, a near kinsman could purchase the land for use until the end of the cycle for clearing debts. It would then revert back to the rightful owners.
Since Naomi had no sons or husband, there was no one to work the land. They apparently returned around harvest in any event, which meant there was no time to plant or raise crops. A redeemer could purchase the land to work it, and the money could be used to live on until the seven year cycle came to an end.
Therefore, the kinsman-redeemer would have to:
- Purchase the land for use.
- Take Ruth the widow as a wife to ensure she had a son.
- Be sure that the son and widow were cared for at least until the son became of age.
This may illuminate an otherwise confusing portion of the story later on.
It also is an illustration of the ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer. Jesus Christ paid for our sins with His blood, and when He returns, He will marry His bride, the Church, which He has already paid for.
Many focus on the part of Boaz in the story, and there’s nothing wrong with that in order to reinforce the idea that it is only through Christ any of us are saved. However, once again, it is the Book of Ruth, and Ruth is the main character, so it is important to ask, “Why?”
The reason that the focus is upon Ruth is because she is an example of what we ought to be! Christ already knows His role, but do we know ours?
Can you now see why I want to cover this prior to Passover?