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The Book of Ruth
After the often depressing accounts of the weakness and disobedience of the Jewish nation in Judges we now come to a story of the village life of a pious and humble people which is a refreshing contrast to the ungodliness recorded in Judges. The book of Ruth has been called Appendix III to Judges and is included in the Old Testament canon of 22 books in the Jewish reckoning system. In fact, the Hebrew canon often included it with Judges, for verse 1 begins: "Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled. . . ." and with this statement the Holy Spirit places the narrative contained in the book of Ruth back in the period of the Judges. After analysing the social, economic, military, and religious situation which prevailed during the times of the Judges, we see this little cameo of Ruth, presented by the Holy Spirit, as a shining example of spiritual life in a dark era. The account of obedience, faithfulness, and love, glistens like a star in the evening sky against the dark background of decadence and immorality, and the ways of social caring in a small community, as we consider the lives of the individuals involved, can be an inspiration to all men and women throughout history.
Thus the book of Ruth can be studied from a variety of perspectives and be a blessing to all who teach it and learn from a presentation of the short but deeply meaningful history. We learn how compassionate Boaz followed the correct spiritual and moral guidelines, obtaining the blessings of God and the people before he took Ruth to be his wife. She bore him a son, Obed, who was the grandfather of David and many scholars feel that the story was written and preserved in the canon for the specific purpose of showing that David's great-grandmother was a Gentile. We can imagine the effect this story must have had in the years after the exile for Ezra had emphasized (Ezra 9:1-4) that there could be no intermarriage with non-Israelite stock. Yet here was a story which clearly proclaimed that, if there was no place in Israel's religion for non-Jewish peoples, there was no place for King David, the epitome of all that was treasured by the Jews. In this story we see the tension between forces who equated purity of religion with purity of race and those who felt that God's grace could he extended to cover a larger section of humanity. Thus we can approach the book from the standpoint of history, using it to show the ancestry of the family of David and the Messiah.
We can also look at it from a theological perspective and examine the doctrine of redemption, or study it from the perspective of customs and traditions and examine the levirate marriage system and the traditions which existed during that era. From a social & pastoral perspective, we can see how the common people lived and how they interacted with one another and from a spiritual perspective we see God=s watch, care and direction behind the scenes, ever sovereign, constantly guiding His people as they battle to follow His guidelines rather than the natural evil of man's ever-wicked heart (Genesis 6:5). From the standpoint of typology, we see Christ, the Kinsman Redeemer, His Church, and we see the struggles of the believer. From the viewpoint of application we see ourselves, and those we know, in the biographies of these individuals and we learn how to react to God in different situations, and how to see things with a spiritual eye. From the perspective of assurance we see that, even when wrong decisions are made, God will still bring about His sovereign will. For the reader who follows the Old Testament through in their reading from Genesis to Malachi, what a relief to come to this oasis that is the Book of Ruth and, after the immoral individuals found in Judges, to find the godly Boaz!
We can examine the book of Ruth as literature and see six individual sections or cameos, each one complete in itself with plots, sub-plots, potential bad ends and ironic twists. We can see why this drama found its way into the canon of scripture, for the Jews loved this book so dearly for all of its spiritual and moral depth that, to this day, they continue use Ruth as a script for a play which is acted out as a stage play in four acts and six parts (Acts 1 and 4 each having 2 scenes). We can imagine Jewish families through the centuries looking forward to this wonderful drama of history in which their God plays the major role and His faithful servants reveal how He intended them to live with one another in mutual love and respect, putting others before themselves and fulfilling their obligations to Him and to their neighbour.
(Continued on page 444)