An Introduction to the Book of Ruth
Text: Ruth 1:1a
It has been said that the book of Ruth is one of the most delightful literary compositions of the ancient world.
One of the shortest books of the OT. It’s also one of the most intimate books of the entire Bible. While other books may focus on individuals and families, the books which contain those records often deal with numerous individuals and families within the one book. But Ruth is not like that. It essentially focuses upon one family in such a way that we might ask, why is this here? Or, why didn’t the Lord record the details of other families for us like this?
And what glorious lessons we are going to learn as we walk through this story. Sunday by Sunday I shall try to mine out the mind of the Lord in this short narrative. And I encourage you to read the book in your own time.
Today I really just wish to set the stage as it were. The story tells us of a husband and wife, who, because of a famine, set off with their two boys (probably in their teens) to live in Moab.
They believe it is a move they have to make, for their two boys are not that physically strong and most likely, if we are to go by the meaning of their names, had physical weaknesses from birth.
They go with the best of intentions, but this is not a decision that came from the Lord. They are going based purely on human reasoning. And as a result, everyone suffers. And when we start looking at this text, there will be important lessons to learn from their mistake.
They live there for ten years, but things don’t exactly turn out as they would have wished. The husband dies, and so do the two boys after they had married two Moabitish women. As the mother decides to return to Bethlehem, one of her daughters-in-law makes the decision to go with her. The events that unfold in Bethlehem are a marvel of grace.
I. THE PARTICULARS OF THE BOOK
Jewish tradition tells us that the writer of this book was Samuel. Going by the genealogy at the end of the book, it would appear to indicate it was written at the earliest once David came to prominence.
Now while Samuel did not live to see David enthroned, he knew of God’s intention for David before he died, for he anointed him on that day when he stood before the sons of Jesse, David’s father.
Having said that, 4:7 seems to point to a time of writing that was significantly removed from the time everything took place, so in essence it’s difficult to be dogmatic about the writer.
Its significance is without question, and was always connected to Judges in the same way Lamentations is connected to the book of Jeremiah.
It has some interesting and very unique features. For example, it is the only book in the OT named after someone who was not born an Israelite, and about 50% of the book is direct speech recording precisely what someone said, rather than just recording the events taking place.
II. THE PERIOD OF THE BOOK
The writer of the book is very careful to place the events within their historical context 1:1. We find it on our OT sandwiched between two rather battle-filled books; Judges and 1 Samuel.
Judges is a book with a repeated theme of Israel’s spiritual turmoil. It follows an up and down course of apostasy, judgment, repentance, restoration, rinse and repeat. It is called Judges, because in each generation when there was a cry of repentance, God would send a judge to deliver Israel, well-known ones include Gideon and Samson.
That cycle begins after the death of Joshua and his generation Judges 2:10. They don’t know God. They don’t know the Word, how to pray, nor do they have a firm grounding in their own history of God’s mighty deeds. And what is the result of such spiritual impoverishment? 2:11-13.
They become like those around them. They become just like the world. They lose the distinguishing marks of the church as a called out people, called to holiness and separation from worldly practices. And what did the Lord think of their integration into worldly practices? v14-15
They lost their light. They lost their saltiness. They lost their power! And professing Christians wonder why life seems so pickled for them at times, but v15 holds the answer for many.
And the book doesn’t end well (21:25), which really encapsulates where humanity always ends without divine intervention.
Ruth is set in the midst of that period (1:1), and similar to the national failures of Israel, it begins with the failure of a family. Thankfully, however, it ends much better than Judges. There’s a genuine spirituality evident from most of the characters of this book, but that’s not how it begins.
Let me remind you child of God, that Christ did not die on Calvary to leave you to your own plans. If He saved you, He plans to change you, and part of that change is replacing your affections for the world with affections for Himself and His ways.
The period of the Judges is sad because each generation rose up and took for granted the mercy of God upon them, and the toyed with sin to their own destruction. Five times we read of them doing evil in the sight of the Lord; 2:11, 3:7, 3:12, 4:1, 6:1.
And one of the marks of their evil was entering into an unequal yoke; 3:5-7. Is there someone here guilty of this? Is there a young person with a friendship with mutual attraction with someone who isn’t a Christian?
III. THE PURPOSE OF THE BOOK
From a purely literary perspective there is wonderful development of the theme of “emptiness to fullness.” in the life of one of the central characters, Naomi. We see her brought to the emptiness of having neither food nor family, and yet by the end she experiences a sense of fulfillment through a daughter-in-law who provides for her and is declared to be of more value than seven sons. It also carries a testimony to the blessing that comes to those who will live in faithfulness to God, and serves as a reminder to God’s providential hand upon the house and line of David.
But the book is not just about the number of themes that can be seen, it is more than that. Weaving throughout it is the grand message of God’s redemptive mercy, with a conclusion of Messianic significance.
Indeed, since it is a short story, the temptation is just to seek to understand what it is recorded, and be content with a mere comprehension of the events. But God did not give the book for such a shallow purpose. We must be seeking to discern the gospel and its implications in this God-given text.
While Judges and the books that follow Ruth are concerned with the broad picture of God working on behalf of Israel using significant characters who perform great exploits, Ruth is a magnified look to show that God doesn’t just give all His attention to nations and monumental characters, but that He pays attention to individuals and families, and that the details of their lives and experiences are every bit as important as the big picture of national and international affairs.
Never forget it, beloved. God is as equally concerned with your affairs as He is about global affairs. I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard the term used, “sweat the details” but if someone sweats the details they basically pay close attention to the things often overlooked by others, which often makes their work stand out among others. Well God ‘sweats the details’ so to speak. Is that not what Jesus was teaching in Matt 10:30 when He said, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
We will learn:
1. God will fulfill His promise of a Messiah no matter what.
2. God will fulfill His promise of a Messiah in mysterious and wonderful ways.
3. God will fulfill His promise of a Messiah through Gentiles as well as Israelites, because His work would be for both.
4. God’s salvation has nothing to do with ethnicity.
5. God will work all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:28).
And we shall see as one commentator put it “The measure of a people’s or a person’s faith is not found in the miracles that one can wrest from the hand of God nor in one’s personal health and prosperity, but in demonstrating ethical character.”