The book of Ruth is placed between the book of Judges and the books of 1 Samuel and of 2 Samuel. What is described in 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, follows on the book of Ruth. We may see this in the last word of this book. The last word is the name “David”. He’s the person that the books of Samuel deal with. The book of Ruth is the introduction to these books. It was probably written during the life of David or just after. The book of Ruth gives us the history and ancestry of the king who is a man after God’s heart. Therefore, this king appears in 1 Samuel without genealogy, as it were suddenly (1Sam 16:11-13). That is different from the first king, Saul. When Saul appears, a genealogy is given (1Sam 9:1-2).
The book of Ruth makes it clear from which family David descents. However, the light is not only on a blessed ancestry that belongs to the tribe of Judah. It is also on someone who as a Moabitess had no share in God’s people and for whom also there was no chance ever to belong to that people.
The book may be historically followed by the books of Samuel, but it does not historically follow the book of Judges. According to the first verse of Ruth 1 the book takes place in the time of the book of Judges (Rth 1:1). Boaz, one of the main characters of this book, is the son of Rahab (Mt 1:5a), whom we know from Joshua 2 (Jos 2:1). The story of Ruth must therefore be historically placed at the beginning of the period of Judges. The time of Gideon has been thought of, because in that time there is a famine (Jdg 6:6,11), and this is also mentioned in the first verses of the book of Ruth.
The era when the judges lead God’s people is characterized by struggle and decay. We find nothing of that in the book of Ruth. It is the history of the family of an Elimelech, an ordinary, inconspicuous family, as there are so many; a family that lives in simplicity in Bethlehem in Judah.
The course of events is generally not determined by such people, unlike rulers and kings – although God, of course, is above everything and ultimately determines history. Regarding this family, we hear nothing about idolatry or other national sins that are so often mentioned in the book of Judges.
Although Elimelech’s family is one of many, God puts the spotlight especially on this family because He has a plan for them. He wants to bring His grace to the fore in a special way in this family. When we read the book of Ruth against the background of the time, it is a relief to learn of a family in which God’s grace works in a special way. It is also a refreshment to hear that there was a man like Boaz in those days.
The book of Ruth has a beautiful prophetic meaning. This is related to the purpose of the book and that is to introduce David. Then, of course, we must think of the true David, the Lord Jesus. Boaz, the main character of this book, together with Ruth and Naomi, is also a picture of the Lord Jesus. But who is Ruth a picture of? Not of the church, because the way with which Ruth is connected to Boaz is not the way with which the church is connected to Christ. In Ruth we have a picture of the remnant of Israel.
When the church is caught up, a remnant will be formed by God in Israel. This will happen through heavy trials, through a great tribulation. This remnant will be attracted by the love of the Lord Jesus. The same we see in the book Song of Songs.
However, the remnant as presented in Ruth, the Moabitess, is not connected to the true Boaz through tribulation and trial. Nor is the atonement for guilt – an aspect with which other parts of God’s Word deal – in the foreground. The book of Ruth shows how God forms a seed that can regain possession of His land, from which the people have left. This book is about restoring forfeited and lost blessings. It shows that this restoration does not take place through oppression or through atonement, but as a result of the love between two hearts that are attracted to each other.
The question that arises is this: How is it possible that a woman from the nations, and especially from Moab, can be a picture of the remnant of Israel? If we fully realize what the condition of the remnant is, it becomes clear that there can be no picture more excellent of the remnant than Ruth, precisely because she is a Moabitess. The fact that she is a Moabitess is the clearest expression of the fact that the people have completely lost any right to the restoration of their land and possession of the inheritance. Israel has lost everything because it has failed in everything. There cannot be, and will never again will be, fruit of the fig tree – the fig tree is also a picture of Israel after the flesh (Mk 11:13-14a).
If there is a restoration, it is because of the counsels, the promises and the grace of God. From the point of view of responsibility, there can be no right of restoration. Israel has become like a stranger, a people of whom God has said it is “Lo-Ammi” (Hos 1:9), which means “not My people”. He considers the people as belonging to the nations because of their sins of idolatry and the rejection of the Lord Jesus. If the people, that is, a remnant, come as strangers, in the awareness that they have lost everything through their own fault, they will be accepted as the object of God’s grace.
Ruth returns with Naomi from Moab. Naomi is a widow of a Jewish man and may step into the rights of her deceased husband. Ruth does not have such rights. She needs a redeemer to get her rights. It is remarkable that it also says of Ruth that she, with Naomi, returns (Rth 1:22), even though she literally never left Judah.
We therefore see two aspects of Israel in the two women. In Naomi we see the former Israel that as a wife, has been in connection with God. Thus, God says to Jeremiah: “Go and proclaim in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “I remember concerning you the devotion of your youth, the love of your betrothals”” (Jer 2:2a; cf. Eze 16:8). In Ruth we see Israel as the wife of God in the future.
Elimelech means ‘my God is King’, a name that indicates Who God is for His people. Naomi means ‘My joy’, a name that indicates what the people are for God. Elimelech and Naomi together represent the original relationship between God and His people.
Elimelech dies because the people reject God. This depicts the separation that has come between God and His people. God cannot take His people to Himself. The divorce was completed, the divorce letter was given (Jer 3:8). With the old Israel, the fig tree, things never get right again (Mt 21:19). But God accepts a new Israel. The returned Naomi represents the new Israel. In the daughter-in-law Ruth we see the bride of the future with whom the Lord Jesus joins Himself.
In order to clear the way for that bond, the bride must be redeemed, i.e. detached from her past. Boaz performs this. In Isaiah 50 there is also spoken of a certificate of divorce (Isa 50:1), but then as not given, because there it is about a remnant. God has rejected Israel, but has always kept a “remnant according to [God’s] gracious choice” (Rom 11:5). This remnant belongs originally to the wicked nation, but has been redeemed of it by the true Boaz. Thus, in the chapters that follow Isaiah 50, the Lord Jesus is called the “husband” and the “Redeemer” of Israel (Isa 54:5).
What prophetically applies to Israel has a practical application for us. This application concerns not so much to us as a church, but more as individual believers. This book answers the question of whether a restoration is possible if we have lost everything and have no more rights. As was said, it is not about atonement and forgiveness, but about restoring the enjoyment of what has been lost for those who really do penance and desire to have fellowship with God. The possibility of restoration is there, through grace and the Savior, the Redeemer.
However, this is not about a man, a sinner, who finds rest for his conscience (Mt 11:28). It is about a believer who finds peace for his soul in the confidence that God is with him (Mt 11:29). We only find peace for our souls if we turn away from everything that separates us from the Lord Jesus, and entrust ourselves to Him.