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The Ruth-less Church vs. The Role of Christians in Israel's Redemption

as Prophesied in

The Book of Ruth


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God's Blueprint of Redemption in the Book of Ruth

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Valuable Lessons for Believers from the Book of Ruth

The Story of Ruth-Thomas Rooke-1876-med

'The Story of Ruth' by Thomas Matthews Rooke, 1876

 

Approaching Ruth
Being Like Ruth
Sharing the Blessings
Working the Harvest


The Book of Ruth is a beautiful, powerful story and a favorite for many who recognize its prophetic significance.   It is very often cited as a picture, or a foreshadowing, of the Church and her relationship with Israel and the Messiah. It is equally, if not more importantly cited as a prophetic picture of the connection of Gentiles to Israel and their role in God's plan of redemption.

 

How do we approach Ruth

The Book of Ruth tells a true story. The people really existed, and the events really occurred. But as often is the case, the Holy Spirit uses this story to teach us more than the facts. The elements of the story represent spiritual truths that foreshadow future events, relationships, and destinies. We might be tempted to call it a parable, except a parable is generally a fictitious story designed to teach a real lesson. Colossians 2:17 and Hebrews 10:1 tell us that the law and its elements are a shadow of things to come.

So wrapped inside the actual characters and events, the Book of Ruth also presents a shadow of things that were to come.   More than any other passage of Scripture, the Book of Ruth gives a uniquely broad, yet highly detailed macroscopic view of the relationship between Gentile believers, unredeemed Israel, the faithful Jewish community (Messianic believers), and the redemption of both Jews and Gentiles and the means by which that will take place.

We assume that most of you reading this have read the Book of Ruth and are familiar with its content, the concept of symbolism in it, the custom and law of redemption, and the importance of names and their meanings in Scripture. For a detailed examination of these things, we encourage you to read the Book of Ruth then see our commentaries in the Bible Studies section of our website, as well as do an Internet search for other studies.

Let us give one warning however: Though you will find a common opinion for much of the meanings in the Book of Ruth, much is also misunderstood, particularly with regard to the book’s central prophetic theme. The majority of commentators see the central issue in the Book of Ruth as the relationship between Ruth (the Church, or Gentile part of the Church) and Boaz (the Messiah).  We believe that if you read the Book of Ruth carefully, without preconceived notions, you will actually see that the central theme is the redemption of Naomi (unredeemed Israel) and Ruth (Gentile followers of the God of Israel) and their relationship to one another.

 

A little background

In addition to the many realistic and historic facets of the Book of Ruth, it is also commonly regarded as an allegory, that is, an extended metaphor in story form in which characters or events represent or symbolize other truths and concepts. For several reasons it is one of the most often cited and well known allegories in Scripture, particularly with respect to the representation of the main characters and their actions.   But just because it may contain types and some familiar concepts, that does not mean we have free license to insert elements into the story that are not there. It also means that the things that we glean from the story must also agree with the rest of Scripture. Particularly with the Book of Ruth, we must be very careful not to romanticize elements of the story when the text is silent on such things.

 

Types in the Book of Ruth

When it comes to the characters and their typological interpretations, we find a wide variety of opinions, particularly with regard to the more minor issues. There is, however, a well-received and majority view with regard to the types of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. The types most often recognized are summarized in the following table.

 

Character

Meaning of Hebrew name

What they represent

Naomi

pleasant

Israel

Ruth

friend, companion

The Church or Gentiles who are true followers of the God of Israel

Orpah

back of the neck, i.e. turns away

Gentiles who are not true followers of the God of Israel. They abandon Israel when things look hopeless

Boaz

in him is strength

Yeshua, the Messiah

Obed

Servant, one serving

Not very clear, but some see him representing believers who will serve Israel

 

The basic understanding of most commentators is that Ruth and Orpah represent Gentiles who were introduced to the God of Israel by Naomi and her family.   Upon Naomi’s desire to return to Beitlechem, Orpah returns to her people and her gods, but Ruth adamantly declares that Naomi’s God will be her God, Naomi's people her people, and that only death shall separate them.

In this way Ruth represents the faithful Gentile who knows the Lord and chooses to remain with Him and bless His people.

Boaz represents the Messiah, the kinsman redeemer. Boaz, a fellow Israelite, pays a price to redeem Ruth and take her to be his wife. Therefore, Ruth represents the Bride of Christ, the Church, or at least the Gentile component of the Church, since Yeshua, who was also a fellow Israelite, paid the price of redemption and took His redeemed as a bride.

While we agree with most of the basic popular typology, there is one particular area where we differ, and that is with regard to who Boaz represents in the story. We believe that Boaz is actually a much better type of God the Father than the Messiah, and that when one views the story in this way, the picture becomes very clear as to not only who everyone represents, but more importantly what lessons we are to learn from the story.   The table below summarizes our view of the major types in the Book of Ruth.

Character

Meaning of Hebrew name

What they represent

Naomi

(mara)

pleasant
  (later told people to call her bitter)

Bitter and sorrowful, unredeemed Israel

Ruth

friend, companion

Gentiles who are true followers of the God of Israel

Orpah

back of the neck, i.e. turns away

Gentiles who are not true followers of the God of Israel. They abandon Israel when things look hopeless

Boaz

strength is in him

God the Father, the Redeemer of Israel

Obed

Servant, one serving

God’s only Son, the Messiah, the agent of redemption

Elimelech

My God is King

Israelites who say that God is their King but do not trust God. They trust in their own abilities. Elimelech leaves Beth Lechem with his family because of the famine, but not everyone else left.

People of Beitlechem/servants of Boaz

Residents of the House of Bread

Faithful Israelites. They trusted that God would provide even through the difficult times. They work for the Lord of the harvest.

Machlon

Unhealthy, sickly

The poor fruit of an unfaithful Israel

Kilyon

Perishing, wasting away

The poor fruit of an unfaithful Israel

Nearest Kinsman

 

The law that cannot ultimately redeem. It cannot resurrect.

Threshing floor

 

Throne of God, the seat of Judgment

 

We fully understand that viewing Boaz as a representation of God the Father throws a real monkey wrench into many people's understanding.   But we encourage you to first and foremost be like a Berean and check for yourself to see if what we are saying is true; second, read our article on the subject here and see the details of what we are suggesting; third, perform an honest evaluation of the possible preconceptions you might have that would prevent you from accepting such a view. What are your assumptions? Are you adding to the text in any way, or are you letting the text speak for itself?

We fervently believe that the key to understanding God's plan in the Book of Ruth is to understand that God the Father and the Messiah are both represented in the book! This is because the central theme is redemption, not the marriage of Ruth and Boaz. The table below compares the characteristics of Boaz to the Messiah and God, the Father.

Boaz

Messiah

Father

Wealthy landowner

Not a wealthy landowner, did not even have a place to lay His head

The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, Psalm 24:1

Relatively old man[1]

Was a relatively young man

He is the Ancient of Days

Ruler of many servants

Was Himself a servant

Rules over many servants

Gave his son to redeem

Gave Himself to redeem

Gave His Son to redeem

Gave his son to resurrect

He is the resurrection

Gave His Son to resurrect

In him is strength (meaning of His Name)

In Him is forgiveness[2]

In Him is Strength & Power

Redeemer

Redeemer, i.e., agent of redemption

Redeemer

Israelite, from the line of Judah

Israelite, from the line of Judah

No beginning or end

 

Likewise, we can compare Obed, the Son of Ruth and Boaz, and the Messiah.

Obed

Messiah

Only Son of Boaz

Only Son of the Father

Given by His father to resurrect and redeem

Given by His father to resurrect and redeem

His name means servant

He came to serve

His body is made from Jew and Gentile

His body is made of Jews and Gentiles

Father of Jesse

Root of Jesse[3]

Israelite, from the line of Judah

Israelite, from the line of Judah

Agent of redemption

Agent of redemption, the Zeroah[4]

Son of Naomi and Son of Boaz

Son of Man and Son of God

 

Typologically, Obed is a much better representation of the Messiah than Boaz, who is a better representation of the Father.

 

What about the Messiah and His bride?

If you find this view immediately objectionable because it does not fit with the Church marrying the Messiah, please consider these facts:

  • There is nothing in the story that requires Boaz to represent the Messiah or disqualifies Him from representing God the Father. Yeshua Himself told parables wherein God the Father was represented by a King or man.[5]

  • Scripture has a great deal more to say about God the Father (Yahweh) being likened to a husband than the Messiah being likened to husband.[6]
  • There are a multitude of scriptures that explicitly refer to Yahweh (the Father) as the Redeemer[7] as well as the Messiah as the Redeemer. Therefore, the fact that Boaz is the redeemer does not limit his representation to the Messiah.

  • Obed is the agent (or means) of redemption, and is thus also a redeemer. In fact, Obed is literally called a redeemer in Ruth 4:14. He is also called the restorer of life.

 

One last thing we should point out is that Naomi does indeed represent Israel, but not all Israel. Naomi represents the part of Israel (yes, the majority) that is yet to be redeemed. Naomi represents the unbelievers who have yet to call upon the name of the Lord for their redemption. It is critical to make this distinction because there exists now, and has always existed, a portion of Israel who is faithful and has called upon the Lord and His Messiah, Yeshua. These are the Messianic Jews, beginning with the Apostles and continuing to this day. When we think of Israel, the believers are few in number, but they are foremost in the eyes of the Lord and critical to the redemption of those who have not been redeemed. Therefore, we should consider that ethnic Israel consists of both believers and unbelievers, just as all the ethnos (people of the world) consist of both believers and unbelievers.

 



[1] Boaz was a brother, or perhaps a cousin to Naomi’s husband Elimelech and specifically commended Ruth for coming to him instead of younger men. It is very likely that he was much older than Ruth.

[2] We certainly may also find strength in Him, but this is not the primary characteristic of which the name implies.

[3] Isaiah 11:10, Romans 15:12

[4] The Zeroah, Hebrew for arm, is a title of the Messiah as found in Isaiah 40:10 and Isaiah 53:1. Arm is also the clear means by which Yahweh redeemed Israel from Egypt. See Exodus 6:6 and 15:6.

[5] In Matthew 21 the Father is a landowner, and in Matthew 22 the Father is a King.

[6] Hosea, Jeremiah, and Isaiah all describe the relationship between Yahweh and Israel as a husband and wife.

[7] Psalm 19:14, Psalm 78:45, Isaiah 43:14, Isaiah 47:4 just to name a few.

 

If Ruth indeed represents Gentiles who are followers of Messiah Yeshua, i.e. Christians, then it would certainly be beneficial to examine Ruth's character to see why the townspeople of Beitlechem and Boaz himself proclaimed her to be of such excellence.[1]  

One of the most profound and famous proclamations in all the Bible is the one Ruth makes to Naomi as Naomi tries to persuade Ruth to leave her and return to Moab, her people, and her gods.

Ruth determinately exclaims in Ruth 1:16-17,

"Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. 17 "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me."

It was Boaz who later explained to Ruth that all the favor she received from him was due to this very attitude and commitment she had to Naomi.    In Ruth 2:10-12, we read,

10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?" 11 Boaz replied to her, "All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. 12 May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge."

It was Ruth's commitment to Naomi, her willingness to leave her own people and be joined to the people of Israel, and her desire to put all her trust in the God of Israel that brought her great favor.

 

Let's think about what this teaches us Gentile believers.

1.  First and foremost, we can see in the Book of Ruth that the people of Israel and the God of Israel are intimately connected.   Ruth was committed to both the people and God. We must not think that we can be committed to the God of Israel and at the same time ignore the people of Israel. What would have happened to Ruth had she walked away from Naomi (as Orpah did) but then tried to continue to worship the God of Israel? It takes little imagination to see how quickly Ruth would have succumbed to her old ways. But even if she did not, how much knowledge of the God of Israel would she have really had? And, most importantly, how would she have ever taken part in the redemption and gained an inheritance? How would Naomi ever have been restored?

2.  Ruth came to Israel in all humility. She viewed herself as a foreigner.[2] She did not come into Beitlechem and try to take over the joint, so-to-speak.   In the same manner, as Gentiles of the body of Messiah, we need to have a humble attitude toward Israel, both the believers and unbelievers.   We should be grateful to the unbelievers:

"Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God's kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off." – Romans 11:22.

We should also honor and understand our need to connect with believers of Israel:

"…do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you." – Romans 11:18.  

Imagine all that Ruth learned about Boaz and the ways of Israel by working alongside the other faithful Israelites (the believers). Without them Ruth really would have been lost.

3.  It was by Ruth showing mercy to Naomi that Boaz showed mercy to Ruth. By Ruth obtaining mercy and favor from Boaz, Naomi had a hope of redemption, restoration, and resurrection of the dead.   The Apostle Paul painted the exact same picture for us when he described the relationship between Israel and the Gentile believers in Romans 11:30-31:

"For just as you once were disobedient to God, but now have been shown mercy because of their disobedience, so these also now have been disobedient, that because of the mercy shown to you they also may now be shown mercy."

4.  Boaz's first commendation was of Ruth's faithfulness and loving-kindness to Naomi. In the same way the Gentiles in the Church should show the same care and faithfulness to unredeemed Israel.  

5.  Ruth left her identity with her people in order to be a part of Israel. She did not bring the customs and practices of her people into Israel; she became one of them. Notice that she declared she would go where Naomi went and even die where Naomi died. That is a serious commitment to being a permanent part of Israel. The picture of Ruth is not that of a once-in-a-while visitor. It is a lifestyle and lifelong commitment.

6.  Her life may have been much easier had she returned to Moab. It seems that Orpah most certainly understood it that way. But given that choice, Ruth chose to take the hard way and walked by faith alongside Naomi.   We face the same choice. We need to come to terms with committing ourselves to a strange people and a way that we are not always familiar with or comfortable with.

 

As Gentile followers of Messiah Yeshua, we truly have a model of excellence in Ruth. It behooves us to take note of the Lord's reaction to her faithfulness, integrity, and character.   It would do us well to follow her example.   The blessings Ruth received literally brought back the name of the deceased, restored Naomi and her family, gave Ruth a part in Obed and Boaz’s inheritance, and left a legacy to learn and glean from—for all who would choose to be grafted to Israel.



[1] Ruth 3:11

[2] Ruth 2:10


Naomi and her family introduced Ruth to the God of Israel. Upon returning to Beitlechem (Bethlehem), it was Ruth who had the relationship with Boaz.  It was Ruth who told Naomi about Boaz and shared with her how Boaz was treating her with such loving-kindness.   Notice that Boaz blessed Ruth with great favor and material goods.[1]  He gave her food to take back to Naomi. Ruth became the mediator who Boaz used to pass along material blessing to Naomi to help sustain her. Naomi, though she had been bitter and saw God as dealing bitterly with her, saw God's blessing coming to her through Ruth. Notice that it took some time for all this to happen. Ruth and Naomi returned at the time of the barley harvest, and it wasn't until the end of the wheat harvest that Ruth approached Boaz.[2] This was probably a 6 to 7 week period.[3]   Over that time Naomi saw the continual flow of blessing through Ruth.   Only after that time passed did Naomi ultimately direct Ruth to approach Boaz and ask for his covering as a redeemer, thus securing an inheritance for herself, but also interceding on Naomi's behalf to redeem her.

There are several key lessons in this for us as Gentile believers:

  1. We should recognize that the Lord will bless us for how we have treated unredeemed Israel and how we left our past to become part of His people and seek refuge in Him. This is a key part of the story of Ruth.  The Scripture never tells us that Boaz blessed Ruth for any other reason than this:

    Ruth 2:11-12—"All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. "May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge." 

    It is not because we are special in and of ourselves. What makes us special in God's sight is that we have chosen to graft ourselves to His people and believe in Him as our refuge.

  2. When we receive the blessings, they are not just for us. We should be passing the blessings, spiritual and material, on to unredeemed Israel to sustain them and encourage them, by letting them see that the Lord is merciful and generous. We need to encourage those who are bitter with God, thinking that they have been dealt with harshly. We need to show them the blessings God has in store if we simply acknowledge Him and turn to Him, trusting in Him alone as our redeemer, as Ruth did by gleaning only in Boaz's field.

  3. Like Ruth, Gentiles have a great opportunity to be an encouragement to unredeemed Israel and a conduit by which God will bless unredeemed Israel and show them mercy. How would the story of Ruth have worked out if Ruth, after meeting Boaz, ignored Naomi and distanced herself from her? How would things have gone had Ruth, instead of encouraging Naomi and sharing the blessings with Naomi, reinforced Naomi's feelings that God was bitter with her, telling her that God was finished with her?   It is not hard to see that if Ruth had turned from Naomi one bit, Boaz's favor would have also turned.   This is exactly what the Apostle Paul describes in Romans 11:17-21 when he says,

    17 "But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, 18 do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. 19 You will say then, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." 20 Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; 21 for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either."

    Ruth was blessed for Naomi's sake; and through Ruth, Naomi was again blessed for the sake of fulfilling God's promises.

  4. It is only when Naomi decides it is time that she instructs Ruth to go to Boaz and start the redemption process.  It was up to Naomi, just as it is up to unredeemed Israel, to say yes to God, to send His Son to finally redeem and restore them. Messiah will only come when Israel is redeemed.   Just as Obed would only come in connection with the redemption, so too Messiah Yeshua will only return in connection with the redemption of Israel. Yeshua said to Israel, “You will not see Me again unto you say ‘Baruch ha ba b’shem Adonai’—that is, Blessed is He who comes in the Name of the Lord.[4]

 



[1] Ruth 2:14-17

[2] Ruth 2:23

[3] The barley harvest began right around Passover, and the wheat harvest began 7 weeks later at Shavuot.

[4] Matthew 23:39


Another important lesson we can gather from the Book of Ruth is that Ruth spent all her days, before the redemption, working for the harvest in the field of Boaz.[1]   Though she was gleaning, we should not think she was alone or isolated.   She was surrounded by, and in constant contact with, the servants and reapers of Boaz.   She spent all her days with them.[2] She ate with them.[3] She worked alongside them. She no doubt enjoyed great fellowship with them as Boaz told her that everyone in the city knew of her excellence.[4]

Although Ruth loved Naomi, she did not spend all her time with Naomi—trying to comfort her, pray for her, or sit and wait with her for God to do something.  It was Ruth’s initiative to go out to glean.[5] Ruth spent every day (except for Shabbat of course) working for the harvest so that she could bring the blessing of the harvest back to Naomi.

This is a great model for Gentile believers in the God of Israel, as it teaches how we spend our time and energy to bless unredeemed Israel.  Here are a number of important points we can glean from Ruth:

  1. Recognize that the way to bless Israel is to be at work for the harvest of the Lord.  The Lord’s blessings for unredeemed Israel actually come from our laboring in His field.  Ruth’s gleanings sustained Naomi.

  2. We should be working alongside the servants of the Lord who are working for the harvest.  Who are they?  They are the Israelites of faith, the Messianic believers, those who have by faith and obedience to serve the Lord of the harvest and gather the blessings in his field.

  3. We should not only work closely with the Messianic believers, but we should also be in close fellowship with them.  They should know of our faith and dedication.  Our behavior and attitude should provoke them to consider us as excellent.

  4. We should understand that we cannot bless Israel if we are not willing to go out and work for the Lord.  We cannot isolate ourselves with unredeemed Israel alone.  The blessing is where the harvest is; it is where our fellow servants are.  Imagine if Ruth had spent all her time with Naomi, both would have starved!

  5. Naomi would not have been redeemed had Ruth not gone out to work in the field of Boaz.  This may be the most crucial point to understand.  Ruth’s working in the field of Boaz ultimately led to the redemption and the restoration of Israel.  If you look forward to the day of Israel’s redemption, then realize that you play a role in hastening that day.[6]

  6. Ruth could have tried to gather food to sustain Naomi and herself another way.  In fact, it is possible that she could have gone to another field and gathered.  But neither Ruth nor Naomi would have received all the blessings of the redemption had Ruth not been at work in Boaz’s field. Likewise, there are many ways we can try to bless unredeemed Israel, but there is only one way that leads to redemption, restoration, and resurrection.  That way is to be at work for the Lord of the harvest, alongside faithful Israel, those who put their trust and hope in Messiah. Notice that it was Boaz’s servants (the Jewish believers) who were used to give Ruth extra grain (extra blessing) right from the choice stalks.[7]


[1] Ruth 2:23

[2] Ruth 2:23

[3] Ruth 2:14

[4] Ruth 3:11

[5] Ruth 2:2

[6] 2 Peter 3:11-12

[7] Ruth 2:15