RUTH: THE LINK FROM JUDGES TO THE KINGS OF ISRAEL
(Continued from No.8)
"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)."
THE RETURN TO BETH-LEHEM-JUDAH.
The remnant of the family of Elimelech bad been reduced to two widows, Naomi and Ruth; one a wandering Jew returning to her inheritance, and the other a Moabitish damsel, who, bereft of her husband, seeks a better country. Orpah had gone back to her people and her gods, and Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion had died in Moab.
Now the natural eye may see in these two widows an unimportant pair of shuffling travelers "down on their luck." We are constrained, however, to entertain much fonder hopes for these two lonely sojourners than do those that see only the transient affairs of this world (II Corinthians 4.18). "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God bath prepared for them that love him (I Corinthians 2.9)." Surely it cannot be doubted seriously that Ruth was numbered among those that "love him" for "We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren (I John 3.14)." "But," it may be countered, "Ruth did not show any genuine evidence at that time of loving God; she simply manifested a loving attachment to Naomi personally, and her love to Naomi's God and people were incidental." Even should we concede the point, which we do not, it must be kept in mind that only a short while later Ruth's character was fully recognized, by no less than Boaz, with the following: "The Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust (Ruth 2.12)." The point to consider is this: Ruth did love the Lord, which is concrete evidence that God had first loved her! (See I John 4.19.) This brings us again to our theme of predestination.
"And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose (Romans 8.28)." Ruth the Moabite is fully identified by two expressions in this text. First, she was undeniably among those that love God, for He bad first loved her. Second, she bad, though unknown at the time, been called according to God's purpose. It cannot be disputed that Ruth bad been called of God, for she was, in the progression of God's will, brought into marriage union with Boaz and bare their son, Obed, of the generation of Jesus. (See Ruth 4.18-22; Matthew 1.5.) Thus, all things were working together for good to her. Notice, the text does not say all things were working together for good for her, but rather, working together for good to her. A careful reading of Romans 8.28 will establish that nothing is said of all things being good. Neither is it said that all things work (alone) for good. It is rather said that all things work together for good. Observe as well that even though all things work together for good, they, in themselves, never become good. Sin remains sin; righteousness remains righteousness, but as they are jointly employed by the wisdom and purpose of God, they perfectly work together for good. The working together is for good, that is, the good purpose of God, and culminates in that good purpose of God to those that love God (who were first loved by Him). The "all things work together for good" is the execution of God's purpose for His elect, and the "to them that love God" is the application of the purpose of God.
We see then that the whole spectrum of events constituting the life of Ruth perfectly harmonized, without fail, and without exception in conforming her to the image of Christ. Paul describes this ordering of events by a variant of the word "predestination" in Romans 8.29: "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."
"So they two went until they came to Beth-lehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Beth-lehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi (Ruth 1.19)?" Many there are that having begun a project or a journey never saw its completion. But God, however, safely brought these two widows to their journey's end. What followed was far beyond what either of them could ever have imagined. We need to look no farther than the family of Elimelech to see sufficient evidence that the way of man in not in himself. Consider too in this connection the words of James as an appropriate expression of caution. "Go to now, ye that say, To day or to morrow we will go into such a city, and continue there a year, and buy and sell, and get gain: Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away (James 4.13,14)." Could these words be more expressive to the circumstances of the family of Elimelech even had they been spoken directly unto them? Off they had gone; hot-footing it to the distant country of Moab, little regarding what should be on the morrow. And what of their plans to secure themselves from the famine? All dashed! What started out as a sojourn, (Ruth 1.1), became a continuance, (verse 2), and sudden permanency in death for Elimelech, (verse 3). So too the sons then dwelled there about ten years! Then they too were called from their earthly existence. Death had stalked and overtaken the three male members of the family. But for Ruth and Naomi, there were further purposes, and those by divine appointment, for both of them in the land of promise. Thus, they were led safely to the very place where this episode had first begun.
"And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty bath afflicted me (Ruth 1.20,21)?" The case of Naomi fully expresses the meaning of the words of Paul, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man [or woman] soweth, that shall he also reap (Galatians 6.7)." Naomi recognized her family's sin with, "I went out full." Thus, says Naomi, "lam Mara" meaning bitter. For many years since going out full from her home, Naomi had drunk from the cup of gall, and eaten the bitter herbs as a consequence of her wanderings. This is the law of sowing and reaping; a law instituted by God. Naomi confesses the blame was hers! Yet at the same time, even while burdened with guilt, she carried with her on the journey home a little portion of hope; hope in the mercies of God. While living the life of widowhood, she had received the soul-stirring message of how that God bad visited His people in giving them bread. Bitter as she was, Naomi was compelled to seek out the Lord's mercies and benefits. She prepared to return home where the hand of God for good was in evidence. We feel sure there are many others of the elect family that have felt much like Naomi in their sojourn; bitter over sin, yet still hoping in the sure promises of Him Who cannot lie.
Notice that Naomi claims no credit for her deliverance. She, along with Ruth, was back home, for "the Lord bath brought me home again." Let there be no doubt here; Naomi was no Conditionalist in her reasoning. She recognized and declared without reservation just where her deliverance came from and, moreover, where it led to. Remember, "...she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread (Ruth 1.6)." This was surely the beginning of her deliverance; it was a timely message to her, even "As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country (Proverbs 25.25)."
It might be suggested by a disciple of free-will that Naomi might just as well have stayed in Moab rather than returning home. "After all, the choice was up to her." Speculation such as that may suppose much but it can prove nothing, for the evidence is that the message did stir her and she did return home. God brought her home. Some free-will advocates have suggested that God added this "brought her home" to His eternal purposes after He saw which way her choice inclined her; that it was of her own choosing to go, so God simply incorporated it into His plan at that time. We have seldom heard anything more heaven-daring as this doctrine of "God's contingency plan" and feel humbly thankful that we have been spared from embracing it.
"Man's goings are of the Lord; how can a man then understand his own way (Proverbs 20.24)?" If the distraught mind of Naomi could have been explored at the time of her arrival home, surely the substance of this text would have been found to occupy a good portion of her thoughts; she said as much when she spoke to those that asked, "Is this Naomi?" If her goings were of the Lord, as the text plainly states, then her going down first to Moab must be included. "Oh, no!" complains the objector; "that was sin on her part, pure and simple!" And so it was. But the text offers us no distinctions between the good and the bad goings of man. "Man's goings," both the good and what is perceived by us to be bad, "are of the Lord." Naomi offered no pleas. She admitted she was, by her reckoning, full when her goings took her out from Beth-lehem-judah. Whatever that fullness was, her goings that led her home afforded her no room for that previous fullness. God brought her home empty. Simply put, there was now no room for those things that she possessed in going out; her husband, her sons, and, yes, even her self-assurance that creature efforts could sustain them in the times of famine. That natural famine was but an implement in the purposes of God to bring on Naomi a far worse famine; a famine in her soul. All this was to bring Ruth to Boaz. Going out, and going home; all for the bringing to pass the portion of the predestinated plan of redemption allotted to Naomi and also to Ruth and Boaz. May we pause to praise our great God that He has given us a little glimpse of so great a truth regarding so great a salvation.
RUTH'S NEW LIFE.
"And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter (Ruth 2.1,2)." When this quotation is examined we are caused to wonder at the fine detail woven by the Spirit of inspiration. Who, for instance, is this Ruth, but an unknown Moabite damsel that married a sojourning son of Naomi, the widow of Elimelech. And Naomi; who is she among the tribes of Israel? She is but the obscure wife of the sojourner, Elimelech, now also dead and buried in Moab. And who, we ask, was this Elimelech? Except for his expedition to Moab, nothing is known of him except that he was, in some unexplained way, a kinsman of this mighty man of wealth, Boaz. Even so, and important to our study, he still was not nearest of kin with Boaz. (The nearest kinsman would later appear as a potential impediment to a union between Ruth and Boaz.) Nothing more is known of this family and their relationship to Boaz than this; by a series of both ordinary and unique events, famine, travels to cursed lands, and several unusual marriages, Ruth the Moabitess, an alien to the families of Israel, was, by all this, eligible for kinsman-redemption and also marriage among the living family; otherwise she would have died as she must live; without hope or inheritance in Israel. And this, dear reader, is family planning from the eternal perspective. It is planning we call predestination.
It must be stressed once again that Boaz was the kinsman of Elimelech; Naomi's only connection to Boaz was by her marriage to Elimelech. Further-more, and in a more distant relationship, Ruth had redemption rights only because she had married a son of Naomi and Elimelech; an even more distant relationship indeed. But - she was of kin as a result of that marriage, and that was sufficient for all the wondrous events that would follow.
How remarkable it is when we compare the predestinated union of Ruth and Boaz with the predestinated relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. We will pass by this line of study as it has no immediate bearing on our subject for the present but recommend it to the reader as worthy of considerable attention.
"And Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz." We direct our attention now to the manifest purpose for the return of Naomi and Ruth to Beth-lehem. Naomi had a wealthy kinsman, Boaz by name, and he was at the time growing barley and wheat which would become the bread with which God would sustain His people. And just as important was the fact that Boaz was a near-kinsman of Naomi and Ruth. He was as well an eligible bachelor.
Naomi had been in Moab for at least ten years. She was, by her own admission, reduced from fullness to poverty. "The Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me (Ruth 1.20)." Her husband died, and also her two sons. However, as bad as matters were, she was given room to hope, "For she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread (Ruth 1.6)." As mentioned previously, we know not who was the messenger that dispatched this good news to Naomi, whether God or some traveler from across the border. It really does not matter. What matters is that Naomi learns of events back home that were highly unusual; yea, even astounding! Is it too far-fetched to consider that Naomi must have given all these details at least some consideration? We think not.
The Time Frame.
It has been mentioned in a previous article that the events in the book of Ruth took place sometime in the early period of the Judges. That can be established from the chronology given in Ruth, chapter 4. During that time "Israel did evil again in the sight of the Lord: and the Lord strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord (Judges 2.12)." Additionally: "So the children of Israel served Eglon the king of Moab eighteen years (Judges 2.14)." Following that, the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, and Ehud, the second of the judges was raised up to deliver them, which was accomplished by Ehud murdering Eglon, the king of Moab, by shoving a dagger into his belly during a moment of supposed confidence. Ehud then rallied Israel from the mountain of Ephraim to slay ten thousand Moabites, men of valor. "And they slew of Moab at that time about ten thousand men, all lusty, and all men of valor; and there escaped not a man. So Moab was subdued that day under the hand of Israel. And the land had rest fourscore years (Judges 2.29,30)."
While we cannot say for sure that this was the time of the family of Elimelech going down to Moab, it certainly appears to be the most likely time period. While some have suggested that the time of sojourning by this wayward family was during the leadership of Gideon, we personally reject the idea. The possibility of Boaz being a mighty man of wealth, with vast fields of grain in which his servants labored, and strangers gleaned, during the time of Gideon is easily discounted by the following: "And there came an angel of the Lord, and sat under an oak which was in Ophrah, that pertained unto Joash the Abi-ezrite: and his son Gideon threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites (Judges 6.11)." We learn as well from verse 6 of this chapter that "Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites." So bad were the circumstances of Israel resulting from the hoards of Midianites swarming the land that it was a business requiring much caution to even attend sufficient crops necessary to sustain one family. We hardly think that Boaz could have attained to the success accounted to him in the book of Ruth except during a time of considerable rest in Israel's borders. Moreover, it would have been needful for Elimelech and his family to sojourn to Moab only during a time period when the Moabites were in little or no mood for conflict with Israelites.
The Coming Together of Events.
Is the predestination of God somehow involved in all this or not? We are persuaded it is despite the ravings of Arminians. (If predestination cannot be seen here, where then might it be seen? After all, the generation of Christ Himself is involved in the outcome.) View, for a moment, the complementing events that opened the way for the family of Elimelech to venture into the country of Moab. We begin with Eglon, king of Moab. The scriptures tell us that "God strengthened Eglon the king of Moab against Israel, because they had done evil in the sight of the Lord." God did not just strengthen Eglon; He strengthened him against Israel. Did Eglon employ only holy and honorable means against Israel to drive them to cry unto Jehovah? Dare we suppose he sent scribes to the 12 tribes who read the law of God to them from dawn till dark, encouraging them to fast and pray? No! What Eglon did was recruit mercenaries from the Ammonite and Amalekite nations who "went and smote Israel (Judges 3.13)." It seems to us impossible to consider the vengeance Eglon took against Israel, vengeance God strengthened him to execute, was in any respect not purely sinful activity. What else could it be? Do we not read that "whatsoever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14.23)?" Eglon was not operating under the influence of the faith once delivered to the saints. Eglon slaughtered the families of Israel and plundered their properties with as much cruel and sinful relish as did any other enemy the Israelites ever encountered. Make no mistake; God sent Eglon against His people to bring evil retribution on them for their sins and it ill becomes anyone to say "What doest thou?" "Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord bath not done it (Amos 3.6)?"
It is just here that the foes of predestination falsely assume they have found a flaw in the doctrine of the universal, absolute, all encompassing, total and complete predestination of events. "Eglon was raised up by God to punish those disobedient Israelites" is their appeal. "The evil in their cities was the evil of punishment; nothing more." We ask, did not God know when He strengthened Elgon what cruel methods he would employ and yet He nevertheless did so strengthen him? Surely God did know! "O my, yes; God knew, but He did not approve of the method Eglon used; He only suffered it to be so" is the response we might expect from Arminians and as-sorted other free-willers. We then ask in response, were the actions of Eglon and his mercenaries any less sin if God suffered it than if He had predestinated it? If every acceptable word in our language was used to explain this incident they could still not change the fact that God strengthened Eglon to slay great numbers of the families of Israel, and they did it in a most sinful way.
If our enemies desire to harangue us with novel interpretations wrongly derived from the scriptures to prove that "...the Lord hath not [hath not really done it, they say] done it" but rather, Eglon was only an instrument to fulfill divine justice against a disobedient people, then may we not reverse the situation between the two nations and say that Israel's conduct in departing from God was only His instrument to also finally bring evil upon Eglon and Moab? Could we not say, as our opponents have, what Israel did was but the bringing of evil upon the foes of the Lord? Is it not absurd to reason against the clear word of testimony? We shall not go farther afield, but return to Naomi and Ruth.
How the Lord Visited His people.
"For she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread." As before noted, most of the time Israel served under the Judges was time of distress and suffering. There were some few good times; times of rest. Most of the time was, however, spent in duress under the cruel hand of various oppressors sent on them by Jehovah. When Naomi heard this good news it must have carried with it something of far greater value to her than another temporary respite from the oppressions so common. We are persuaded that the news of Boaz being blessed of God to harvest crops in abundance was what so stirred Naomi. It is certainly not accidental that just as soon as the account of Naomi and Ruth arriving at Beth-lehem is given we are told that "Naomi had a kinsman of her husband's, a mighty man of wealth, of the family of Elimelech; and his name was Boaz." It is not difficult to feel that if news reached Naomi in the country of Moab that God had visited Israel with bread that there would also be mention of how. Boaz was no Gideon thrashing wheat behind a wine press. Nor was he the least in Israel. This was a mighty man of wealth. And he was a kinsman of Elimelech!
Surely Naomi knew the law of the kinsman redeemer. She was a sufficiently dutiful Israelite that Ruth was influenced by her conduct to long for Naomi's people and Naomi's God. Ruth knew nothing else of them than the living testimony of Naomi. Neither is it probable that this wandering woman, Naomi, would have been nearly so ready to return to Beth-lehem had Boaz not been a near-kinsman.
"All speculation!" some may say. We think not. We have fully demonstrated all the myriad circumstances that lead us to conclude that the how God visited His people was the raising up Boaz, a Mighty man of wealth, and a near-kinsman of Naomi arid Ruth. One thing above all others must be kept in mind. There was a child predestinated to be born that would be called Obed, the grandfather of king David. David was both a type and an ancestor of Jesus the Christ and his very existence hinged on the union of Boaz and Ruth. The union of Boaz and Ruth hung on Naomi being sufficiently influenced by the news of how God had visited His people in giving them bread. Naomi could not know all that would transpire, but she could know that a distinct possibility existed that Boaz, a near kinsman, may be gracious and raise up the family of Elimelech from the dead through Ruth the Moabite. It was, after all, the order and practice among the 12 tribes to do just that. No matter what conclusions we, or others, may come to, this one thing is certain; it all came to pass to the fulfilling of the eternal will and purpose of God, which is the same as saying it was all predestinated. Lacking better evidence, we rest on the sweet truth of God's ordination of all things; all things without exception, to bring to pass His perfect will and purpose to save His people from their sins by His Holy Child Jesus, who descended directly from Ruth and Boaz. We believe that is sufficient reason for believing God had sweetly wooed Naomi home with the hope of a kinsman redemption through Boaz, her near kinsman. So, finally, after those many bitter years of wandering from the fold, she returns from Moab with news of how God had visited His people. He had raised up Boaz, a mighty man of wealth.
Should the Lord be pleased, we shall view the subject again in another article. In that article we hope to review some of the many benefits that accrued to Ruth as a result of returning to the home of Naomi. We shall also see the amazing manner in which she found herself in the field of Boaz gleaning among the sheaves, her attitude and demeanor, and the great affection shown her by Boaz.
J F Poole
Volume 10, No. 5