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The book of Ruth is the Bible's primary illustration of the law of sonship found in Deuteronomy 25. The story also illustrates the principles of New Covenant marriage as God set forth from the beginning. In addition, it is a natural sequel to the last five chapters of the book of Judges, showing the moral contrast between the home towns of Saul and David as a way of explaining the failure of Saul and the success of David.
Category - Bible Commentaries
In Jewish liturgy, the Book of Ruth is read at Pentecost. As such, its main theme is marriage and sonship, for Ruth plays the role of the Bride of Christ bringing forth the sons of God as an illustration of the law of sonship found in Deut. 25:5-10.
The first Pentecost was held at Mount Horeb, where Moses officiated over the marriage between God and Israel. Israel, however, was too fearful to approach God (Exodus 20:19), so the marriage on the national level was never consummated and therefore did not bring forth the sons of God. It was only after the first work of Christ was completed that Pentecost was actually fulfilled and the marriage consummated in the second chapter of Acts.
However, the church then ran into another problem. As a body, it began to play the role of the Hagar-bride, the bondwoman, in much the same manner that Israel and the Jews had done in the previous age. The bondwoman cannot bring forth “Isaac,” the inheritor of the promise, because she represents the earthly Jerusalem and the Old Covenant.
Hence, during the Pentecostal Age, the church promoted the idea that Christians were servants or slaves to the church. This meant that the Age of Pentecost would not see the manifestation of the sons of God. It is only with the dawn of the Tabernacles Age that the sons of God will be manifested.
Nonetheless, there have been individuals, first within Israel and later within the church, who could be classed as overcomers. These are the ones who went contrary to the main body by depending upon the New Covenant, which alone has the power to beget sons of God.
The Old Covenant depends upon man’s will and his ability to fulfill his vow to God in order to be saved. This leads to bondage, as well-meaning believers ask for God’s help to fulfill their vows to God. The New Covenant depends upon the will of God and His ability to fulfill His vow in us to bring us salvation and into the image of God. Here God initiates the salvation, and man’s response is seen as evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Old Covenant can only fail in the end; the New Covenant can only succeed in the end.
In Gal. 4:22, Paul sets forth two brides, patterned after Abraham’s two wives, Hagar and Sarah. Though both were lawfully married, only one was to bring forth the promised son. These two wives represent also the earthly and heavenly Jerusalems; and again, only one of them could be the mother of the Kingdom and birth the sons of God.
The covenant that we consider to be our “mother” will determine which “son” we are. The fleshly son always considers itself to be the chosen seed, for it was born first. The pattern, according to Paul, is set forth in 1 Cor. 15:46,
46 However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual.
Hence, our “natural” birth from our fleshly parents came first, but only that which is begotten by the Spirit is the inheritor. Only the son of a New Covenant marriage can be a son of God and be an inheritor with Christ.
Under the Old Covenant mindset, men thought that they were sons of God through a biological connection to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Their status was based on fathers who were imperfect, mortal sinners. But this was not the divine plan. Adam and his descendants, no matter how good they were, could only bring forth corruptible children in their fallen image. They needed an incorruptible Father, because like begets like. Only by being begotten from above are sons of God born.
The Book of Ruth gives us the story of a New Covenant marriage—even though it was written during the time when the Old Covenant was dominant. Being read each year at Pentecost, the Jews understood its marriage significance, although they saw it through the veil of the Old Covenant (2 Cor. 3:14, 15). Hence, they have believed that they are children of God by their genealogy or by fleshly criteria in general, whereas John tells us that those of the New Covenant are begotten (gennao) “not of blood(line), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).
The Jewish Talmud says that the Book of Ruth was written by Samuel (Baba Bathra, 14b), but this view is no longer held by most Jews or Christians. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence of the actual author. The main evidence of the time of its writing is in the final genealogy of the book in Ruth 4:17, 22, where it gives the genealogy of their son Obed, who was “the father of Jesse, the father of David.”
Whoever wrote those words probably lived in the time of David prior to the time of Solomon. Other commentators date the book later, perhaps as late as the year 400 B.C., but if that were the case, the author certainly would have been Ezra, and it would seem odd that the rabbis after him did not know that he authored the book.
It is possible also that the main portion of the book was written by Samuel, and that another writer attached the final genealogical statement as an addendum, once it became clear that Obed’s birth to Ruth and Boaz proved to be highly significant in Israel’s history. To me, the most plausible explanation is that after Samuel anointed David to be the next king, he wrote the book of Ruth to give us the history of David’s family.
At any rate, commentators should not be so quick to dismiss the Talmudic belief that the book was authored by Samuel.
The Book of Ruth is structured according to the well-established literary tool of the day known as Parallelism, that is, a Chiasm. Dr. Bullinger sets forth this Chiasm as follows:
A. Elimelech’s Family. The Depression (1:1-18)
B. Sympathy with Naomi. In Grief (1:19-22)
C. Boaz and Ruth (2:1-23)
C1 Ruth and Boaz (3:1 - 4:13)
B1 Sympathy with Naomi. In Joy (4:14-17)
A1 Elimelech’s Family. The Uplifting (4:18-22)
As usual, the middle portions (C and C1) are the most important portions in the story. What is perhaps most interesting is that the genealogy at the end forms an integral part of the Chiasm. Without it (A1), we would have no parallel to A and no final resolution to “The Depression” at the beginning of the story.
This small outline can be interpreted in two different ways. It may mean that the final portion was written by the same author as the rest of the book, or, if the addendum was added later, it would indicate that it was both necessary for the completion of the book and also part of the inspired text.