RUTH: THE LINK FROM JUDGES TO THE KINGS OF ISRAEL.
"So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son (Ruth 4.13)."
Only two of the sixty-six books of the Bible are named after women; the book of Ruth and the book of Esther. The similarities and common threads in the two are most striking. Foremost among these similarities is that of God raising up an unlikely and obscure woman to fulfill His divine will and purpose towards His chosen people, Israel. While the book of Esther never mentions the name of God, His presence permeates every word of the entire episode. In the book of Ruth, however, the Lord is frequently referred to by name, but only in the text above is His direct involvement mentioned. The significance of this is both beautiful and apparent. We hope to develop that significance later in this article. By the Lord's help we will at the same time show how the improbable union of Ruth and Boaz, attended by the birth of a son, was nothing less than a product of absolute predestination. We add, what else could it be? If not a result of predestination, this union and conception must have been simply the extenuation of a random string of fortuitous happenings; products of the vagaries of chance.
"In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes (Judges 21.25)." Thus concludes the events recorded in the book of Judges. A more grim expression of wanton disregard for the government of God cannot be found throughout the whole of the Old Testament. Spiritual anarchy, if not in fact at least in attitude, abounded. But it is on this dismal canvas of wholesale rebellion that the Spirit draws out the resplendent lines of the everlasting purposes of God for His covenant people. Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound, even if dimly seen at the time.
Follow now the wondrous continuity of God's revelation: The book of Ruth opens with "Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Beth-lehem-judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons (Ruth 1.1)." Based on the genealogy of Elimelech's kinsman, Boaz, in chapter 4, we discover that these events in the book of Ruth transpired in the early years of the reign of the judges. So, as we have proposed, there is a specific link between the book of Judges and the kings of Israel. The book of Ruth contains the scarlet thread by which the Divine objective ties the periods together.
All these events of the book of Ruth are bound up in the circumstances that affected the tribes of Israel after entering the land of promise. It was a period when they had no king, so they did that which seemed right in their own eyes. Their hearts were inclined to practice free-will; the practice of all men when left to themselves. Were then God's eternal purposes for his people frustrated? Did these troubled Israelites somehow break His bands asunder? "There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand (Proverbs 19.21)." God's purposes are never frustrated; no matter how confused and chaotic the appearance of things.
There is also another vital link; one so clear that we cannot see how any could read this book without observing it, unless the reader has been judicially blinded. This book, named after Ruth, closes with, "And Obed begat Jesse, and Jesse begat David (Ruth 4.22)." So then, the book of Judges closes with the solemn fact of the absence of a king over Israel. The book of Ruth, following next in the interwoven succession of the books of the Bible, and being an ancillary history of the period when the judges ruled, closes with an unmistakable prophecy of David, the king after God's own heart. The book of Ruth, then, clearly ties the book of Judges and their sad history, with the books of Samuel and the reign of the kings over Israel. Moreover, this simple story of Ruth and Boaz displays vividly an Old Testament picture of those things that pertain to Christ and His bride. To dwell presently on this point would carry us too far afield from our main topic, so we can only suggest that the reader meditate upon it as the Lord may bless.
A BRIEF HISTORY
There is no mention of any famines in the book of Judges, so we cannot know more about this particular famine that moved the family of Beth-lehem-judah to sojourn in Moab than what is stated: there was a famine in the land. We do know from the Scriptures that famines are not simple accidents of "Mother Nature." For evidence of this, see I Kings 17.1; Psalm 105.16; Ezekiel 5.16, 17; Luke 4.25; Revelation 8.6-8. God, for His good and wise purposes, frequently sent unrest, pestilences, and famines, and the famine that stirred those sojourners to vacate their native land for Moab was no exception. We have absolutely no reason to believe that this family would have gone down to Moab had they not felt compelled (by carnal reasoning) to improve their lot in time of famine. No famine; no move. But, there was a famine, and they did go to Moab; thus the execution of a series of eternally ordained and connected events that led directly to the birth of the son mentioned in the text at our heading.
Lest someone with Arminian inclinations feels we attempt to blame God for the sojourning of this family, we offer the response of Jeremiah regarding this, and all other similar situations: "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps (Jeremiah 10.23)." Clearly, God sent a famine at that specific time. It is also clear too, that in His holy, infallible wisdom, God directed the steps of the family of Elimelech directly to the land of Moab. There the further purposes of God would unfold to bring about all that He had determined beforehand to bring to pass. This family had in mind a destination. They would go to Moab and ride out the famine. They obviously were determined to go, for they went. God, however, had eternally determined their destination; yea, before they had an existence He had predetermined the end of their sojourn from the beginning. From the beginning of the whole episode to the end, including all things in between, it was as certain as if it had already come to pass. This is the blessed, soul-comforting doctrine of the absolute predestination of all things. Heathens may rage, and those that are madly in love with the futile system called free will may resist, yet the counsel of the Lord standeth sure.
The family of Elimelech.
With the exception of Naomi, little is said of this family beyond their names, where they came from, where they went, and that they died. This particular family consisted of Elimelech, the husband, Naomi, the wife, and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. We are informed twice in the first two verses of the book that they were from Beth-lehem-judah and were known as Ephrathites, which was the ancient name of the vicinity around Bethlehem. It should also be mentioned that it was out of this same place from which our Lord was to come, according to Micah 5.2. How beautiful it is then to see that even though Elimelech and his family had for all appearances abandoned so important a place, it was through this very forsaking their homeland that one of the descendants resulting from Lot's incest, Ruth the Moabitess, was to be brought up from a cursed land and people to find favor from Boaz. Boaz was to be the divinely appointed father of one of the members of that line through which our Lord Jesus Christ was to come. Ruth was to be the mother. Surely, God moves in mysterious ways! Readers, this is sacred ground, though despised by those that love free-will.
The family of Ruth.
To lay some preliminary groundwork for our premise that the child born of Ruth and Boaz, Obed by name, was the direct product of an unbreakable series of predestinated acts, we shall look back to the account of Lot. We might well go back further, but this should be sufficient for those with eyes to see.
"And it came to pass, when God destroyed the cities of the plain, that God remembered Abrabam, and sent Lot out of the midst of the overthrow, when he overthrew the cities in the which Lot dwelt (Genesis 19.29)." Did Lot simply get a sudden religious urge to abandon Sodom? No! According to this text, God sent Lot out of the midst! It was God's purpose to send Lot out; thus it was His eternal will as well. We know from the Bible that God is of one mind, meaning there are no new wills or new purposes with Him. "I know that, whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever: nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it: and God doeth it, that men should fear before him (Ecclesiastes 3.14)." And too, Lot must have been there in Sodom, for God had purposed to send him out. There had to be a Sodom for Lot to be there, and there had to be one called Lot to be there at that time to be sent out. Is it not clear that for every incident that transpires there are many numbers of other vitally related incidents necessary to insure the execution of the one; in this case the sending of Lot from Sodom?
Clearly, God had always purposed to send Lot out from the midst of the cities of the plain. Had this vital link in the chain of events, the leaving Sodom, been left to Lot's choice, he might just as well have stayed where he was, rather than leaving. Who is to say what Lot might have done if God had no purpose, one way or the other, in deciding the issue? But, Lot did leave; right on time we might add. (As an added thought, we ask, was Lot's being sent out of Sodom an act of the grace and mercy of God, or was it simply an act of willing, "time-salvation" obedience on the part of Lot? See the expression, "he lingered" in Genesis 19.16.)
Next, Lot's daughters contrived a fleshly plot to preserve seed from their father. Are we to suppose, using the carnal reasoning of the opponents of predestination, that these two daughters might just as well have done otherwise; or that they "ought to have" disdained such a wicked scheme? If they had done what many pseudo religionists suggest, and suppressed their unholy goals, what then would have become of the two sons that were born of the incestuous dalliance with their father, Lot? "And the firstborn bare a son, and called his name Moab: the same is the father of the Moabites unto this day (Genesis 19.37)." Displayed as vividly on the pages of the Bible as John 3.16, or Psalm 23 are the beginnings of the family from whence came Ruth, Obed, Jesse, David, and our blessed Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Are we to believe that God might just as well have retrieved some other damsel to bear the son of Boaz as Ruth? Just as well then might He have sent His Holy Spirit upon some other maiden of Israel than Mary to bear His only begotten Son. The thought is repulsive and it is unscriptural; it is also inconsistent with what we are blessed to know of the mind of our eternal God.
IN THE LAND OF MOAB.
In Ruth 1.1, we are informed that Elimelech and his family went to the country of Moab to sojourn. Sojourn means a journey of only a temporary nature; not permanent. In verse 2, however, it relates that they continued there! How vastly different do poor sinners' plans develop from their initial expectations. We are fully persuaded that the hand of God detained them in the country of Moab that His purposes might transpire. Cowper expressed it as follows:
"His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain."
And, just as we learn of their continuing in Moab we are also informed that Elimelech, Naomi's husband died. This was no doubt a blow to the family, but the head of this sojourning family was gone! His earthly race had been run.
Conditionalists will stoutly affirm that Elimelech died as a chastisement sent by God to punish Elimelech for his disobedience; he died before his time for running off to Moab. Well, now! this strange view deserves some serious examination. First, how could Elimelech, or anyone else for that matter, die before their time, unless they had a time? If they had a time to die (and they do, Ecclesiastes 3.2) how could they expire any other time than that time? The argument seems more than incongruous, not to mention absurd. Second, if Elimelech was indeed a child of God, a point the Conditionalist affirms in order to have God kill him for disobedience, would not God have done Elimelech a favor by killing him, rather than his death being a punishment? We learn from Paul that to die is gain (Philippians 1.21); thus, according to Conditionalist reasoning, Elimelech was ultimately a real winner in this episode. Conditionalists struggle mightily to prove that the doctrine of absolute predestination leads to, and makes excuses for, sin. Yet, by the application of their weird view, it was the sin of Elimelech that led to his short-cut to heaven. As we understand it, if God may kill you for sinning, and take you to heaven by death, even before the time He appointed (which time, they say, you don't even have) then if we would simply sin, sin, and sin, God would finally (in exasperation with our disobedience?) exterminate our life, and we would then be free of all earthly cares and trials. To borrow from an earthly expression, "What a way to go!" We say in all seriousness, that it is the contrived doctrine of conditionalism that would ultimately lead to sin, not the blessed truth of God's eternal decrees or absolute predestination. Elimelech died because the harvest was ripe, as is the case with all the children of God, assuming in hope that Elimelech was numbered among the elect.
Consider now Naomi. God did not take her life as He did Elimelech. Yet she too left Beth-lehem-judah to sojourn in Moab. If Elimelech transgressed the will of God can Naomi be excused? It appears plain enough to us that Elimelech died and Naomi lived that the way be cleared for a kinsman-redeemer, Boaz. Of this we shall consider later. "He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints (Proverbs 2.8)." Surely the path and way of Naomi was kept and preserved; not by Naomi, but by God, Who was directing her steps. "A man's hand woman's] heart deviseth his way; but the Lord directeth his steps (Proverbs 16.9)." Elimelech and Naomi had, no doubt, devised a plan in their heart to further their earthly accommodations by sojourning in Moab; yet it was after all but another step straight into the Lord's eternal purposes. To our puny mind, it is a source of much joy and comfort to see that there is a predestinated plan that involves every step of our lives to finally lead us to the grand banks of the pure river that flows from the throne of God.
It is true enough that Naomi was experiencing sore trials and tribulations; however, our own experience teaches us that "trials make the promise sweet" and "...tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience hope (Romans 5.3,4)." Surely, God was leading her to a better life, though she probably knew nothing of it at the time. Naomi's husband had died and there were still additional trials to come. Trials, we may add, that were as necessary to the fulfilling of God's eternal plan as the rising of the sun.
The children of Israel were not to marry among the heathen nations, Deuteronomy 7.3ff, and yet that is just what the sons of Elimelech and Naomi did in the land of Moab. "And Elimelech Naomi's husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years (Ruth 1.3,4)." We have little doubt that these two sons married to satisfy their natural cravings, yet had they not married, then there would have been no Ruth, the daughter-in-law, to return to Beth-lehem-judah with Naomi. How marvelous it is when we are blessed to see that this long series of events, spanmng many years and involving numerous people, was leading directly to the union of a Moabite damsel and a prince of Israel, Boaz. The Lord willing, we hope to follow this train of God's wise dealings with His children in another article.
J. F. Poole
Volume 10, No. 3