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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
We have shown how the laws of redemption gave a near kinsman the right to redeem, and we have seen how Christ came as the Son of Man to be Adam’s near kinsman. This gave Him the right to redeem the entire estate that Adam lost at the beginning, so that He does not lose His inheritance in the earth. The law in Deut. 25:5-10 was designed specifically to prevent the loss of one’s inheritance, and it is therefore the law of sonship under the New Covenant.
Many Christians object to the idea that God will save all mankind on the grounds that God is a God of Justice and must therefore punish sinners. While that is certainly true—and He will indeed judge the world of sin—this does not mean He will lose most of Adam’s estate, nor does it mean the law prevents Him from saving all of mankind. In fact, the very justice in the law which demands judgment for sin also gives Him the right to redeem mankind.
The law of redemption is just one of those laws. One may insist that a near kinsman is not forced to redeem his kinsman but that it is optional, as we see in the case of the nearer kinsman in the Book of Ruth. But yet the same story tells us that if a kinsman has the means to do so and still refuses to do his duty, one ought to spit in his face (Deut. 25:9). Would God do anything to lawfully allow someone to spit in His face? Obviously not.
If “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), why would He not do all that He could to save it? The law of redemption allows Him to redeem the world. The law does not limit God’s ability to do what He desires to do. In fact, the law defines His nature and desire. It is therefore the love of God itself that motivates Him to save the world. The law of redemption gives Him the right to fulfill His desire. The law of Jubilee is God’s will, limiting all judgment and liability for sin.
Again, by the law of victims rights, we find that a judge has the duty to sentence men according to the justice of the law, but the victim retains the right to forgive. Jesus became the Victim for the sin of the entire world (1 John 2:2), thus earning Him the right to forgive all sin. So He said on the cross, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). As a Victim, He had the right to receive restitution or to dispense mercy.
Ruth 4:13-15 says,
13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
Take note that the women were speaking to Naomi as if the child were her own. The child’s name was to be “famous” (kara, “to cry out, to call”). It hardly means “famous” in the modern sense of the word but denotes one who has a name that men may call him. Nameless people are forgotten, but when a name is recorded officially, he is remembered as long as the record exists.
It is unclear whether the “redeemer” in verse 14 refers to Boaz or to the child (Obed), but certainly both were redeemers in their respective generations. The child was to be “a restorer of life” to Naomi herself, in that her posterity would not die out.
Ruth 4:16, 17 says,
16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!” So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.
It is interesting that neither Boaz nor Ruth nor even Naomi named the child. The child was named by the neighbor women! They named him Obed, “serving,” a name derived from the Hebrew word abad, “to serve, to work.” The implication was that Obed had served Naomi as the heir of the estate and by sustaining her in her old age. The noun is ebed, “servant.”
As a type of Christ, his name sets forth one of the four main aspects of Christ’s ministry that are portrayed in the gospels. Specifically, this is how Christ is presented in the gospel of Mark.
Matthew: “Behold the King” (Lion)
Mark: “Behold the Servant” (Ox)
Luke: “Behold the Son of Man” (Man)
John: “Behold the Son of God” (Eagle)
These are also the four faces of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1:10 and again in Rev. 4:7. In Gen. 9:9, 10, where these four beasts first appear, they represent all of creation in the covenant that God was making with the whole earth in the time of Noah.
The servant theme itself is presented most fully in Isaiah’s “Servant Poems” in the latter half of his book. On the surface, the prophecies reference Israel, but from ancient times they were understood to be messianic as well. So Isaiah 41:8 speaks of “Israel, My servant,” (ebed) and Isaiah 42:19 says, “Who is blind but My servant?” (ebed). Isaiah 43:10 also says,
10 “You are My witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and My servant [ebed] whom I have chosen…”
All of these references point to Jesus Christ as the “holy Servant” (Acts 4:27) or to the servant people. In Mark 10:44, 45 Jesus said,
44 and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.
Hence, Jesus followed the principle set forth in Obed’s name. Obed was “famous” for he had been named and would “make a name for himself,” as we say today. But he was also known for his service.
Ruth 4:17 says about Obed, “A son has been born to Naomi.” We know that Naomi did not give birth to Obed. However, there is a legal principle known as imputation, which is a concept developed clearly in Romans 4. Paul defines the term in the context of the promise of God to Abraham, where God told him, “A father of many nations have I made you” (Rom. 4:17).
This promise was made when Abraham had no children at all, but Paul says that God “calleth those things which be not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17, KJV). In other words, God imputed children to him. This created a legal fact, which is often distinct from that which is apparent for all to see. The promises of God are more than just promises of things to come. God’s promises create present realities by legal decrees.
Paul’s main topic was about how to obtain righteousness, or right standing before God. He says it comes by faith in the promises of God (Rom. 4:21). Faith turns a future condition into a present reality in the eyes of the law.
This principle of law applies in other ways as well. In Ruth 4:17 it is applied to Obed, who was imputed to Naomi as if she herself had given birth to him. In effect, the neighbor women were calling what was not as though it were. Obed was legally the son of Naomi and the legal heir to her property.
This was all done according to the law in Deut. 25:6 in regard to sonship. Sonship is thus seen to be a matter of law in cases where a man dies childless. There are then two ways to have a son—the first by natural or normal birth within the family, and the second by imputation, that is, by legal decree.
Because Jesus died childless, we are called to raise up an heir so that He does not lose His inheritance in the earth. This is a matter of law, not genealogy. The same Holy Spirit that begat the Messiah in Mary also has begotten “Christ in you” (Col. 1:27). That holy seed that is in us has a heavenly Father and an earthly mother. That which has been begotten by the Spirit “cannot sin, because he is begotten of God” (1 John 3:9, literal rendering). By law, it is Jesus Christ’s son.
So Obed was the legal son of Naomi. The law imputed a son to Naomi, and thus “Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap and became his nurse” (Ruth 4:16). The Hebrew word translated “nurse” is aman, “to be faithful and true, to believe.” Its Greek equivalent is pistis, “faith.”
The Hebrew word aman is the root also of amet, “truth,” because genuine faith is believing the truth, as opposed to a lie. Naomi, then, became the embodiment of faith, by which she was able to produce a son and heir of the promise. What a beautiful way of expressing the principle of sonship! A son was imputed to her by faith.
Ruth 4:18-21 concludes,
18 Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez was born Hezron, 19 and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Aminadab, 20 and to Aminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21 and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22 and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.
Perez (or Pharez) was the twin brother of Zerah, born to Judah through Tamar. Three generations later Aminadab was born. He was the prince of the tribe of Judah when Moses’ tabernacle was dedicated (Num. 7:12).
Two generations later was Salmon, who married Rahab of Jericho (Matt. 1:5). Rahab was the mother of Boaz, and Boaz married Ruth the Moabitess. So we find at least two mothers in the lineage of David (and Jesus), who were not Israelites by birth but became Israelites by nationality.
Obed was the grandfather of David. David was anointed by Samuel the prophet after Saul failed to obey the King of Kings. In this way, David’s background is explained by Samuel in contrast to Saul’s background in Gibeah.
The last five chapters in the book of Judges are out of order, chronologically speaking. The book really should end with the burial of Samson (Judges 16:31). The last five chapters, which speak of the corruption of the people prior to the era of the kings, took place shortly after the death of Joshua. It was at that time that part of the tribe of Dan went north and conquered Laish, setting at the base of Mount Hermon.
Yet these chapters were placed at the end of Judges in order to provide us with a connecting link to the Book of Ruth. In Judges 17:6 we read the tragic theme of the book:
6 In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.
This is repeated almost word for word in Judges 21:25. Samuel’s pessimism comes through here, showing how the people had been corrupted even before the coronation of Saul. It was as bad during the time of the Judges as it was in the time of King Saul. Yet there were righteous men as well, such as Boaz.
So Samuel includes a story that took place in Saul’s hometown of Gibeah (Judges 19:14, 15), which caused the catastrophic civil war that nearly destroyed the tribe of Benjamin. Gibeah in that story stands in contrast to Bethlehem, where Boaz acted righteously. This contrast also serves to explain prophetically the two types of men who would later become kings of Israel.
The son of Gibeah was Saul; the son of Bethlehem was David.
These were two men, very different in nature, whose hometowns prophesied of things to come. Gibeah means “hill,” implying elevation or authority, even as a berg is a hill that also means authority. The reign of Saul was characterized by self-elevation, whereas Jesus said that if one wishes to have great authority, he must become a servant.
Bethlehem, on the other hand, is the House of Bread. Bread must be broken in order to feed the multitude. Jesus was placed in a manger in Bethlehem to signify that He is the Bread of Life and that we were to eat His flesh (John 6:55). Jesus was the Son of David, and so David himself portrayed the character of Christ, remaining humble and serving God as a trustee of His throne.
The overall lesson in the Book of Ruth is to follow the example of Boaz of Bethlehem, rather than that of the corrupt young men of Gibeah. So let us not do what is right in our own eyes, but let us follow the standard of righteousness that God has set forth in His law. By doing this, we will have the right to become the sons of God (John 1:12).