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The Book of Ruth, part 1, Introduction

May 06, 2019

In Jewish liturgy, the Book of Ruth is read at Pentecost. As such, its main theme is marriage and sonship, for Ruth plays the role of the Bride of Christ bringing forth the sons of God as an illustration of the law of sonship found in Deuteronomy 25:5-10.

The first Pentecost was held at Mount Horeb, where Moses officiated over the marriage between God and Israel. Israel, however, was too fearful to approach God (Exodus 20:19), so the marriage was never consummated. It was only after the first work of Christ was completed that Pentecost was actually fulfilled and the marriage consummated in the second chapter of Acts. Christ was the Husband, who had died childless, as it were, and we were then called by law to raise up seed unto our elder brother, as the law demands.

The church, then, plays more than one role in this prophetic context. As the younger brother, the church was to preach the word (gospel), which is the immortal and incorruptible “seed” having the power to generate the sons of God (1 Peter 1:23-25). But as the Bride, the church had received that seed, generating “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Playing more than one role is not unusual, for we find that as individuals, we too play the same dual role. We wear more than one hat, as they say. In Paul’s male role, he was a father who was begetting children through the preaching of the gospel (1 Corinthians 4;15 KJV). Yet because every true believer has been begotten by God, Paul was also part of the Bride company. Furthermore, insofar as his new identity was concerned, he was also a son of God (John 1:12, 13).

These multiple roles are often a cause of much confusion among believers who try too hard to separate people into distinct groups. Even more confusion is added when we understand that there are two brides, Hagar and Sarah, which represent the two covenants (Galatians 4:22-24). The covenants are marriage covenants, each producing “seed,” whose quality determines the nature of the “sons” that are begotten of each. It is plain that God’s Old Covenant marriage with Israel (Hagar) in the time of Moses was a marriage based on fear, rather than love. It was therefore incapable of bringing forth the sons of God.

For this reason, a new covenant was required, no longer through Moses, but through the Prophet who was like Moses in this way (Deuteronomy 18:18; Acts 7:37). While Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant marriage, Jesus was the Mediator of the New Covenant marriage (Galatians 3:19, 20). In this, Jesus again played a dual role both as Minister and Husband of the Bride.

In the New Covenant Pentecost (Acts 2), 120 disciples drew near to God in the upper room, overcoming the problem of fear that had plagued the Israelites under Moses. These had learned to love Jesus, not to fear Him, and their love was rewarded. The coming of the Holy Spirit was evidence of that marriage and its consummation, for it begat Christ in those disciples, who, like Mary, “was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18).

The pattern of Mary being impregnated by the Holy Spirit to bring forth Jesus Christ was fulfilled on a broader scale at Pentecost in Acts 2. And throughout the centuries many have repeated this pattern by receiving the same Spirit though Pentecost. The only problem, of course, is that as the quality of the seed (gospel) increasingly took on the nature of the Old Covenant, the quality of the seed was degraded as well. Children of bondage began to be produced, and hence, the children of God became spiritual Ishmaelites who were enslaved to the traditions of men.

Pentecost was fulfilled perfectly, but the leaven in that feast increased as the baptism of fire decreased over the centuries. But those who allowed the fire of the Holy Spirit to do its work in their lives continued their journey as they followed the pillar of fire and the cloud in their own wilderness. They learned how to be transformed from the Hagar company to the Sarah company as their faith changed from an Old Covenant pattern to the New.

The Book of Ruth gives us the story of a New Covenant marriage—even though it was written during the time when the Old Covenant was dominant. Being read each year at Pentecost, the Jews understood its marriage significance, although they saw it through the veil of the Old Covenant (2 Corinthians 3:14, 15). Hence, they believe that they are children of God by their genealogy or by fleshly criteria in general, whereas John tells us that those of the New Covenant are begotten (genneo) “not of blood(line), nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13).

Authorship of Ruth

The Jewish Talmud says that the Book of Ruth was written by Samuel (Baba Bathra, 14b), but this view is no longer held by most Jews or Christians. Unfortunately, there is very little evidence of the actual author. The main evidence of the time of its writing is in the final genealogy of the book in Ruth 4:17, 22, where it gives the genealogy of their son Obed, who was “the father of Jesse, the father of David.”

Whoever wrote those words probably lived in the reign of David prior to the time of Solomon, who likely would have been included if the author had written this during or after Solomon’s reign. Other commentators date the book later, perhaps as late as the year 400 B.C., but if that were the case, the author would have been Ezra or one of his contemporaries, and it would seem odd that the author would be unknown to later rabbis.

It is possible, however, that the main portion of the book was written by Samuel, and that another writer attached the final genealogical statement as an addendum, once it became clear that Obed’s birth proved to be highly significant in Israel’s history. The reign of David, Obed’s grandson, would have given great historical interest to the circumstances of Obed’s birth.

A similar example of such an addendum is seen in Deuteronomy 34, which was written after Moses went up to Mount Nebo, where he died and was buried by God. No doubt this was written by Eleazar, who served as Moses’ scribe and future high priest. But the final four verses, Deuteronomy 34:9-12, appear to have been written much later, probably by Ezra the Scribe, who compiled the canon of the Old Testament after the Babylonian captivity of Judah. He informs us that no one up to his time had arisen who was like Moses, a reference to Moses’ prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:18.

Deuteronomy 34:10 says,

10 Since then no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.

If this verse had been written shortly after Moses had died, they would have been relatively meaningless. It was obviously written some centuries after Moses and Joshua had died. Ezra seems to be the best candidate for this addendum.

This does not cast doubt on the inspiration of these words, nor even on the overall authorship of Deuteronomy, though skeptics have tried to make this claim. In like manner, the genealogy at the end of Ruth might well be another addendum that was meant to connect the story with David himself, in case a reader from afar might not know this.

At any rate, commentators should not be so quick to dismiss the Talmudic belief that the book was authored by Samuel. Surely that rabbi knew that Samuel was long dead by the time of David and would have understood that the last verses were a later addendum.

Structure of the Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth is structured according to the well-established literary tool of the day known as Parallelism, that is, a Chiasm. Dr. Bullinger gives this Chiasm as follows:

A Elimelech’s Family. The Depression (1:1-18)

B Sympathy with Naomi. In Grief (1:19-22)

C Boaz and Ruth (2:1-23)

C1 Ruth and Boaz (3:1 - 4:13)

B1 Sympathy with Naomi. In Joy (4:14-17)

A1 Elimelech’s Family. The Uplifting (4:18-22)

As usual, the middle portions (C and C1) are the most important portions in the story. What is perhaps most interesting is that the genealogy at the end forms an integral part of the Chiasm. Without it (A1), we would have no parallel to A and no final resolution to “The Depression” at the beginning of the story.

This small outline can be interpreted in two different ways. It may mean that the final portion was written by the same author as the rest of the book, or, if the addendum was added later, it would indicate that it was both necessary for the completion of the book and also part of the inspired text, even as we see with the addendum in Deuteronomy.

This is part 1 of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Ruth" To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Ruth

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones