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)."
In our last article on this subject we related the sorrowful occurrences befalling the family of Elimelech during their sojourn in the country of Moab. Elimelech died, and his two sons took wives of the women of Moab. About ten years later both sons died (Ruth 1.4). Naomi was then left alone in a land of a cursed people with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Viewing the situation from the human perspective, circumstances could hardly be worse. Tragedies in frequent succession had visited this wandering family. Far from home, and facing a bleak future, Naomi is depicted as a classic example of those that wander out of the way.
Our general subject, however, is predestination; the predestination of all things; and it is from that perspective we hope to view these dismal circumstances striking the entire family of Elimelech. To delve into the myriad circumstances, that in combination form the whole of the travels of the family of Elimelech, as seen from the human standpoint, would show us nothing more than if we were to pick at random any family of the sons of Adam to scrutinize. We would see only a cluster of incidents that appeared to simply evolve with the passing of time. Not so, however, if the Lord shall bless us with a glimpse of that which is spiritual, for it will then all be seen to unfold from a divine plan, decreed in eternity, and coming to pass with heavenly exactness and precision sufficient to magnify the wisdom of the God Who predestinated all.
NAOMI RETURNS HOME
Naomi did not simply decide to return home as a natural consequence of her trials and afflictions. There was a reason of sufficient importance to turn her steps to the fold of God. "Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread (Ruth 1.6)." Good news from a far country (Israel, the place of rest for its citizens) was dispatched to this poor wayfaring stranger. We are not told who brought this blessed news; it might well have been a revelation from God Himself. What we do see is that at the lowest moment in her life, hope revived from a simple message. That message fully turned her heart and being towards Beth-lehem-judah, which means the place of bread. Contained in that reviving message was one simple word that appears to have made the difference between an ordinary dispatch of intelligence and a soul stirring report replete with hope. It was the word, "how." Naomi did not simply hear that the Lord had visited His people in giving them bread; she heard how He had visited them. If the Lord wills, we hope to explain later the reason the word how made such a compelling difference in turning Naomi towards home once again.
Naomi and her daughters-in-law obviously were not starving; nor were the rest of the inhabitants of the land of Moab. She had been there over ten years, and was at the time of the message of bread from God sufficiently strong to begin a long arduous journey home. It is important as well to observe that none of the citizens of Moab were stirred to go to Beth-lehem-judah, which suggests that this news of bread there was either not a great stirring report throughout the land, or that it was kept from them by God. Had the Moabites been starving as a nation surely some of them would have headed out to nourish themselves in a foreign land, much as did the sons of Jacob centuries earlier when the famine drove them to Egypt. We would again suggest that the how God had visited His people was the reason for matters being as they were.
A journey from Moab to Beth-lehem-judah would probably take several weeks for these women to traverse, and since they arrived home at "the beginning of barley harvest (Ruth 1.22)," and barley being the first grain crop to be harvested in the year, then it follows that they left in the hope of anticipated bounty, and not that which actually existed. Simply put, Naomi walked by faith! (It is worth mention that faith was a gift of God then as much as it was when Paul wrote the book of Ephesians.) Should it be conjectured that they heard of last year's harvest, those putting up such a theory would have to explain why Naomi would consider last years crop a guarantee for a harvest the following year. Either way, there must have been some assurance that God had something in store even for her, which leads us back to the opinion that the good news she heard had come directly from the mouth of God, and particularly so when the how is taken into account.
"They went on the way to return unto the land of Judah (Ruth 1.7)." They, meaning, Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth; three widows. But how little did they know of how the journey would end as they set out for Beth-lehem-judah. Three began to journey to Judah, but according to Divine providence only two would arrive at the house of bread. It must be remembered that of the four family members of Elemilech that left Judah originally, only Naomi was yet alive to return. Upon this profound fact we must digress to ponder its import, for the deaths of the male members of the family of Elimelech are indispensable links in the predestinated sequence of events that leads to the birth of Obed.
While the living know they must die (Ecclesiastes 9.5), nevertheless it often comes with stark suddenness. However, death also comes by Divine appointment (Hebrews 9.27). It might be argued that this was an appointment for the family of Adam as a whole, it still must be remembered that the sum of the whole is made up of all its parts, (or the sum of the parts make up the whole) meaning that all the sons and daughters of Adam were appointed unto death, whether separately or collectively. Solomon has apprised us that we have a time to die (Ecclesiastes 3.2) and when one has been given eyes to see spiritual things the saints are most glad that it is so. Consider: if there was no specific time to die, then Ruth might just as well have died by some means or another, even suicide, resulting from grief over the death of her husband, and what then of the Divine appointment for her child?
Thus, the appointed times came for Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion to die and leave their wives behind as disconsolate but living widows. The sable shades of death had closed upon the last chapter of their lives; but not before they had fulfilled that which was divinely ordered for them. It was imperative that they go to Moab. "How so?" asks the objector. For the plainest of all reasons is the answer. The two sons must marry among the daughters of that cursed land. "Why so?" responds the objector again. Again, the reason seems, to us at least, very plain. The sons of Elimelech must die, but not until after bringing the daughters of Moab into their family by marriage, to prepare the way for another of the grand moments of the eternal decrees, also known as absolute predestination. To our mind, it is clear; if the sons had not first married in Moab, and then died, there was no possible way for Ruth to eventually marry Boaz. Thus they, Ruth and Boaz, could have no son, as was recorded in our text at the heading of this article. And what then of that son, Obed; of his time to be born? Unless someone can share with us a portion of biological intelligence regarding the process of procreation we may previously have missed then it must be concluded, the birth of Obed hung on every event of the scene just described above. A line from one of our beloved hymns might well be recited in harmony with this episode:
"Life, death, and hell, and worlds unknown;
Hang on His firm decree."
We verily think that the denial of predestination, here in this beautiful story and elsewhere, raises a whole lot more questions than it can possibly answer. And, we would inquire, if all this complex scenario was not the direct result of predestination, what was it the result of? What the world calls chance or fortuitous events? If so, then it was a random combining of extremely unlikely events, somehow all coming together at absolutely necessary junctures, involving several unrelated families from two antagonistic nations, during a span of over ten years, and at the last amazingly meshing together in perfect pattern of harmony, to the very last detail, with such grand precision that God would not need to will, decree, purpose or predestinate anything; He could just borrow from the Fates what they capriciously dealt out to Him, and it yet, somehow, would perfectly fit that which He would have planned, if He had planned, but did not, lest it make Him somehow the author of sin, or possibly violate the free-will of His own created subjects. And Lo! Obed would be born without the least assistance of the will of God! And all this coming together as if woven by the hand of a cunning workman. The idea suggests to us what we heard an opponent of evolution say in opposition to that theory. He proposed that the probability of successful evolution was the equivalent of exploding a bomb in a large sack containing millions of alphabet letters and out of that explosive instant came a perfect dictionary; printed, bound and ready to read. We agree with his assessment and consider the conclusions applicable in the case of Ruth. May our great Sovereign be praised, we have been made to prefer absolute predestination over any other possible (rather impossible) alternatives.
During the early part of the journey homeward Naomi kindly exhorted her two daughters-in-law to return to their mother's house that there they may find rest with another husband (Ruth 1.8,9). She kissed them; they all lifted up their voices in weeping. The two young widows both said, "Surely we will return with thee unto thy people." It is doubtful that, at that moment, both the daughters-in-law knew of what they said, yet we are satisfied Naomi was reasonably cognizant of their respective characters, and with good reason. She had observed them for ten years at least. And if we are correct in our assessment of what the how God had visited His people meant, then Naomi was sure that one of the widows, Orpah, would not follow on to the house of bread; neither indeed could she.
"And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law (Ruth 1.14,15)." The fearful, but needful, moment of separation had now gripped the little family circle. These two Moabite girls are severed one from another; both for time and eternity; a solemn thought indeed. Then Orpah bid Naomi farewell with a kiss, but there is no mention that she even passed a glance toward Ruth in departing. Perhaps she was ashamed; perhaps she was indifferent. But certainly, at that moment is was surely manifest that she was different! She was, forever, "gone back." Finality was indelibly stamped upon this moment of lasting division. From that moment on, the pursuits of Orpah would be among the people of Moab, her natural kin. Her ties with the family from Beth-lehem-judah existed no longer. In the absence of further evidence we may safely conclude that Orpah would die as she was born; a heathen of Moab. Surely her turning back was as solemn as that of Lot's wife or that of Demas leaving Paul in the work of the gospel.
But what of Ruth? The text says she clave unto Naomi. This was not simply consent that she would follow on. It was a cleaving, or holding close, as if fearful of losing that which was dear to her. Clearly, there was then an indisputable and distinct difference between these two daughters of Moab. Ruth manifested a yearning for a life with Naomi, her people, and her God, and Orpah was content to return to her former associations. Her years of association with the family of Elimelech, their ways, and their God had not persuaded Orpah to follow on to know more. Can there be a clearer testimony in the Word of God that there must be a spiritual work to bring one to love the family of election to the end? Is it not so that "he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved?"
"For who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive (I Corinthians 4.7)?" We propose that this question was as valid at the time Ruth and Orpah separated as it was when Paul interrogated the Corinthians, that they might see the blessed hand of God in every diversity of life. Consider: Ruth and Orpah had much in common; heritage, culture, religion, age, marriage union in the family of Elimelech, devotion to their mother-in-law, and no doubt many other things. But Orpah turns back! She departs; never to mingle or fellowship with Ruth, Naomi and her people again, and that forevermore. It is our studied opinion, after many years of traveling this way, that God had made the difference between these two daughters of Moab. Before the mountains of Moab were ever formed, Ruth was, by divine decree, predestinated to be the mother of Obed; thus there must be a clearing, ordering and moving of all other events necessary to bring to pass this pre-ordained birth of the child. His, Obed's, lot was to be of the line royal to Christ; thus all else complimentary or necessary for his appointed birth must be in perfect harmony. Semi-perfect harmony would not do; it must have been all, else it just as well must have been nothing.
A further proof that there was no critical life and death famine ongoing at that time was the departure of Orpah from Naomi and Ruth to return back home to Moab. Whatever the circumstances may have been, they were not dire enough to compel Orpah to journey on with Naomi and Ruth, if only for the purpose of gaining food. We again strongly emphasize that it was not simply the news of bread supplied by God in Beth-lehem-judab; it was how God would supply it that stirred in Naomi a longing to return; a longing conspicuously absent in Orpah. It is also worthy of considerable notice that from the testimony of Ruth to Naomi in verse 15 and 16 that neither did Ruth, at this time, understand what it really was that moved Naomi to return home. The relation of Ruth's feelings to her mother-in-law is beautiful beyond description; it is a soul-stirring account of love and devotion unparalleled in the Scriptures, yet it contains not a trace of evidence that Ruth had the least notion of what was, by Divine ordination, in store for her. She offers not one hint that there was in her soul a longing for another Israelite husband. She betrays no evidence that the matter of near-kinsman marriages was known to her. Her testimony was one of pure devotion only. Simply, she pours out her feelings and emotions as she felt them, solely for the purposes of intreating Naomi to desist in requesting she return home with Orpah and to express the tender feelings of her heart as she at that time felt them.
"And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me (Ruth 1.16, 17)." May we pause and wonder. Can such language come from any but a sinner saved by grace? Has David expressed his soul more vividly in any of the Psalms? Is sweeter language found in the Song of Solomon? No; we are persuaded that Ruth spoke as clearly of the work begun in her soul by the Lord as any of the Old Testament saints, and every word perfectly comports with the language of the New Testament. This is high ground indeed! Furthermore, it is the ground of predestination.
Some dexterous-minded Bible expositors have erroneously contrived a less than luke-warm doctrine called "limited predestination." They allow that some things, those that pertain to eternal salvation, are predestinated, but nothing else, lest God somehow be guilty of predestinating what, to their minds, are evil things. Well then! we have a text just suited for them right here. And, we hasten to say, much more too when viewed in the light of the circumstances. We are sure even these luke-warm expositors will admit that Ruth gave tremendous evidence of being one that loved God and His people. None but the most bitter enemies of free grace could deny that God had begun a great work in this Moabite damsel; and that based on His foreknowledge of her in the everlasting covenant. If that be admitted, then it follows she is among those included in the parameters of the following: "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified (Romans 8.29, 30),"
This, then, is concrete evidence of some predestination in the life of Ruth. She was predestinated to be conformed to the image of Jesus, her yet unborn Lord. BUT - if Ruth had decided to go back with Orpah, a real possibility in the mind of limited predestinarians, then Obed would have never been born, and Obed must be born, for he was in the line from Seth to Jesus, whose image Ruth was to be conformed to. We will not retrace all the other events previously mentioned necessary to consummate the union of Ruth and Boaz, but shall note that all of them, from the least to the greatest, were as necessary as this single turn of events, or not even this "limited predestination" could be possible. It appears clear as the noon day sun that for Ruth to be conformed to the image of Jesus either all must be predestinated, or nothing could be predestinated, for predestination makes the things certain that are determined beforehand. Some certain things and some uncertain things cannot possibly co-exist without the probability of everything failing, due to the existence of things uncertain in the chain of events. If, as we assert boldly, Ruth was an elected vessel of mercy, then every event that could possibly be either directly or indirectly related to her sojourn must be absolutely predestinated, else she could fail of the predestination to the conformity to Jesus, her coming Lord. Dear readers, this will stand when the heavens are rolled up as a scroll, and the worlds are burned to a cinder and the ashes disappear into nothingness.
"The Lord will destroy the house of the proud: but he will establish the border of the widow (Proverbs 15.25)." The house of the proud, that flimsy, predestination-hating house of unhumbled Arminians, built on a sand foundation of contempt for God's government, will certainly be destroyed, and that without remedy or recourse, while at the same time the pleasant borders, walled about by Jesus our Savior, will be established on eternal purposes for Ruth, and every other widow being led to Zion's gates. It is the Lord's will to destroy the house of the proud; it is the Lord's will to establish the borders of Ruth. His will is as everlasting as Himself.
By His grace we expect to take up this subject again in our next article with the hope of attempting to explain what the "how" God visited His people in giving them bread means.
J F Poole
Volume 10, No. 4