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Ruth - Introduction

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My Commentary On The Book Of Ruth




My commentary on the book of Ruth is based on the 1978 New International Bible.  Chapter titles in my  commentary correspond to the chapter titles in the NIV Bible to make for easy comparison.


The time period in history that the book of Ruth is concerned with is the time of the Judges as the text states in chapter 1, verse 1.  The same verse speaks of a famine in the land, which was around the town of Bethlehem.  We have no mention of a famine in Canaan in the book of Judges.  However, some Bible teachers suggest the famine might be implied in Judges 6:3 and 4 where we see pagans invading Israeli territory and destroying their crops on a continuous basis.  Famine isn't always a result of lack of rain or other whether problems.  It also can be a result of war. military conquest, or terrorism, as we see in parts of Africa today in 2012.


Scholars are divided when it comes to the authorship of the book of Ruth.  Some Bible teachers suggest it was Samuel who wrote Ruth around 1322 B.C., but that really can't be. At the end of the book of Ruth you'll note the lineage of David.  It would make no sense then to suggest then that this book war written before King David lived.  It had to be written during King David's life or later.  We just don't know who wrote the book or when it was written for sure.    


When it comes to Ruth herself, she was a Gentile, a Moabite.  That makes her a descendent of Lot.  There are only two books in the Bible named after women.  Ruth is one and Esther is the other.  This book of Ruth is important and interesting for many reasons, but the mere fact that a Gentile woman is central in this book makes it intriguing.


I will approach the book of Ruth from two angles.  One is its historical significance and the other is its prophetic significance as a model, or type of Jesus, Israel, and the church. The story of the book of Ruth, which by the way, is an historical event, not just a story, is the story of God's redemption to both Jews and Gentiles.   


In Matthew 1:5 we see that Ruth is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus.  So, we should understand that the descendents of Jesus has been mixed with Gentile blood.  I strongly believe that Israelis have been, still are, and always will be, special in the mind and heart of God.  The church has not replaced Israel.  That being said, God loves Gentiles as well and has a place for them in His purposes.  This is clearly seen throughout the Old Testament as we see Gentiles playing an important part in Israel, especially in the lineage of Jesus.    


Matthew 1:5 states that Ruth's husband is Boaz, which we will see later.  The verse also states that Boaz's father was Salmon, who was from the tribe of Judah, and his mother was Rahab. Pretty well all Bible teachers, except for a few, are sure that this Rahab is the Rahab from Jericho, the prostitute that helped Joshua win the battle of Jericho.  The few who say this is not the same Rahab say that Salmon would never marry a pagan because the Law of Moses forbids it.  Two arguments that I think I can make refuting this would be that many Israelis constantly disobeyed the Law of Moses, so Salmon doing such a thing is no argument.  Another fact is that Rahab the prostitute was granted by God entrance into Israel society which the Law of Moses permitted.  She was not a biological Israeli, but you could say she was a spiritual Israeli.


I believe that Rahab, the mother-in-law of Ruth was that pagan prostitute that aided Joshua.  Those who oppose this thinking say that Jesus' lineage could never be defiled with such a sinful woman.  Well, God Himself accepted this sinful woman into His people, so that's no big deal.  Besides, part of the reason why Jesus came to earth was to redeem us from our sin.  Jesus became like us.  He entered into sinful humanity to save us from sinful humanity, so having a prostitute in the lineage of Jesus is no big deal.  I suggest that it's part of the will of God.  It shows the love of God that He extends to all mankind.              


Before we go into the text there are a couple more things we must understand to properly understand the book of Ruth.


In Deuteronomy 25:5 to 10 we read what scholars call the Levirate Marriage.  The term "Levirate Marriage" is not found in the Biblical text.  Only the idea is found.  The term "Levirate Marriage" is from the Latin and was so named centuries ago by Christian theologians.  We need to understand that this "Levirate Marriage", although looking like the word "Levite", has nothing to do with the tribe of Levi. 


The law went this way, as seen in Deuteronomy 25:5 to 10.  If a man dies, his wife must go to the dead man's brother.  He must marry her and perform all the duties of a husband.  The first son that is born in this new relationship is to be seen as the dead man's son in order to carry on his lineage.  If the brother-in-law of the widowed wife refuses to marry her, she must go to the elders of the town.  The elders will call in the brother-in-law and attempt to convince him to marry the widow.  If he still says "no", the widow takes one of his sandals and spits in his face.  His family is forever known as the family without a sandal.  The whole idea here is to carry on the family line of the dead man and all that is associated with the family line.  It was a shameful thing to refuse to marry the wife of your deceased brother.  If the brother-in-law did marry the widow, the first born boy was not seen as his son but the son of his brother.  Thus the reason for the Levirate Marriage. 


We should understand that long before the Law of Moses was codified into writing, many of the Law's practices were already in existence.  The Levirate Marriage was one of these practices we see before the Law of Moses was codified.  In Genesis 38:8 Judah told one of his son's to take his dead brother's widow.  


Another thing we need to consider is that which is called the "kinsman redeemer".  What I will say about the kinsman redeemer became a tradition in Israel to help a poor widow carry on her family line.  The kinsman redeemer was not part of the Law of Moses.  It is similar to the Levirate Marriage, and could have easily evolved from the Levirate Marriage.  You will see some similarities. 


If a wife's husband died, the tradition was that the nearest if kin, not just a brother of the dead man as the Levirate Marriage laws stated, could marry the widow.  The reason for this was probably farther reaching than that of the Levirate Marriage.  The kinsman would marry the widow, but not just so she could have a husband and carry on the family line.  He would in fact become what we might call today, "power of attorney".  He had all the rights and responsibilities of the deceased husband.  The big part of the kinsman redeemer's job was to make sure the land that the deceased husband owned was kept in the family.  The land issue was important, as we will see in the book of Ruth.  Israelis were agricultural people and depended on the land for their survival.  Also, as we've seen before, in the eyes of God land, especially the land of Canaan is important, so land issues must be important to Jews.  


Another name for the kinsman redeemer is the "blood avenger".  This title speaks to part of the roll of the kinsman redeemer.  That is, if a husband is murdered, it is the kinsman redeemer's job to track down the killer and execute him.  


We will see that in the book of Ruth the marriage of the widow and the issue of land is central, especially in the light of the  book's typology, its prophetic significance.  


Some confuse the Levirate Marriage with the kinsman redeemer thinking they are the same, but technically speaking, they aren't.  The Law of Moses provided for a widow by having the deceased husband marry the widow.  This presented a problem  What if the widow had no brother-in-law, or, what if the brother-in-laws refuses to marry here.  The widow would be out in the cold. Some Bible teachers suggest to solve this problem the idea of kinsman redeemer evolved.  They took the spirit of the Law and adapted it to a situation not specifically found in the Law.      


The word "redeem" is important when it comes to the kinsman redeemer.  Both the land that had been lost for one of a number of reasons would be lost.  But there's more to it.  The widow would be redeemed as well. (Leviticus 25:27)  This is very important when we come to seeing the spiritual significance to the book of Ruth.   


There's another law in the Law of Moses that plays a part in the book of Ruth and that is the Law of gleaning.  The Law mandated that a land owner must allow a poor person to follow after his harvesters.  The poor would pick up the crop that fell to the ground, and in those days, without modern harvesting techniques, much fell to the ground. The harvesters were also told not to harvest in the corners and around the edge of their fields.  (Leviticus 19:10, Deuteronomy 24:21)  


A lot of Evangelical Christians view the story of Ruth and Boaz as a love story, but I'm convinced it's more than that.  Actually, I think the love story part is over rated.  I think Naomi's family line and all that went with it overrides the love story.  Was there love involved in this story?  Maybe a little.  Maybe Ruth felt something for Boaz, and maybe Boaz felt something for Ruth.  I'm not sure you call that love.  I believe what we will see here is that Boaz did the honourable thing in becoming the kinsman redeemer.  That was his motivation.  A little bit of excitement due to the fact that a nice young girl was interested in him was only a by-product.  Then, when it comes to Ruth, I believe she, like Boaz was mostly interested in Naomi, and continuing her family line as well.  It was Naomi that pushed Ruth in the direction of Boaz.  It was her idea that Boaz could be a kinsman redeemer.  Like Boaz, I think that Ruth might have begun to have feelings for Boaz, but again, I don't believe  that was her motivation to have Boaz as her husband.  I think love probably grew after the wedding.  Remember, in these days, when it cam to marriage, they were arranged, and feelings did not play a big part in the marriage.            


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