The rich spiritual content of the book of Ruth, so meaningful during the Pentecost season, IS often overlooked.
The English Bible does not reflect the original position of the book of Ruth. Today we find it sandwiched between the larger books of Judges and I Samuel. However, in the Old Testament as preserved by the Jews (Rom. 3:2), Ruth appears in the third division, known as The Writings. It is one of five books known collectively as The Festival Scrolls; each book was read in the synagogue at a different festival. The book of Ruth was the assigned reading for the Feast of Weeks, which we more commonly call by its Greek name, the Feast of Pentecost. How appropriate this assignment was! For this little book does more than recount the physical origins of the house of David. This book, by analogy, instructs true Christians in the steps leading to our ultimate destiny — to be the Bride of Christ at His return. The opening scenes of the book take place in Moab, where Elimelech, a man of Bethlehem, and his wife Naomi had gone to live because of a famine in Judah. In Moab Elimelech's two sons married Moabite women. After the deaths of Elimelech and her two sons, Naomi decided to return to her own country. Both of her widowed daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, planned to accompany her, but only one, Ruth, did. Being poor, Ruth went to glean in the fields during the spring harvest. Protected and encouraged by Boaz, Naomi's kinsman, Ruth continued to work in his fields. At the end of the harvest, at Naomi's advice, Ruth boldly indicated her desire to marry Boaz. However, another kinsman had a prior claim. Boaz redeemed Ruth from this other kinsman and married her. The book closes with Naomi, who had earlier lamented her barrenness, rejoicing in her children through Boaz and Ruth. There are many interesting analogies in the book of Ruth, several of which are particularly instructive at this Pentecost season.
Ruth's total commitment
"But Ruth replied, 'Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me'" (Ruth 1:16-17, New International Version). Do you understand this statement's full significance? In these few simple yet stirring words, Ruth pledged her willingness to abandon everything: her homeland, her people, her religion — her whole identity — to follow Naomi. This total renunciation of self — this total commitment to a new identity and a new destiny — is this not what our baptism symbolizes? After God gave us repentance, didn't we pledge to put our hand to the plow and never look back (Luke 9:62)? This is the kind of commitment that distinguishes real repentance from the worldly sorrow Paul mentioned (II Cor. 7:10). Our commitment must be as thorough as Ruth's.
Ruth the gleaner
"And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, 'Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.' "Naomi said to her, 'Go ahead, my daughter.' So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech" (Ruth 2:2-3, NIV). Ruth's labor as a gleaner in the fields of Boaz, her future husband, is full of meaning for us. What does a gleaner do? A gleaner neither sows the seed nor nurtures the crop as it matures. Both these jobs are the responsibility of the husbandman who owns the field. Thus a gleaner is, by definition, one who is allowed to share in and benefit from the enterprise of another. What a wonderful analogy! God is the Husbandman who is creating righteous character in us. He originated the plan and makes available the power, through His Holy Spirit, to build godly character: "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:13). What, then, is our role? Like the gleaner, we must be active. We must not quench the Spirit, but allow it to guide us into a more thorough understanding of God's law. Armed with a godly understanding of right and wrong and strengthened by the Holy Spirit, we will be able to overcome temptations. Being a "spiritual gleaner" requires effort. But our opportunity (our calling) and our profit (godly character) is due to the enterprise of God, the true Husbandman.
Boaz provided for Ruth
A gleaner's work was neither easy nor pleasant. Not only was Ruth exposed to ridicule and possible physical abuse at the hands of the harvesters, but her long hours of labor might have been rewarded with little grain. Boaz, however, not only provided protection for Ruth (Ruth 2:9), but instructed that grain be deliberately dropped in her path so she would be encouraged and successful in her efforts (verses 15-17). God deals similarly with us. Many times we become discouraged, frustrated in our efforts to use the tools God has made available for our spiritual growth. We may even begin to doubt that God still loves us. There is no reason for such doubts! Consider Paul's instruction: "That ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God" (Eph. 3:17-19). Just as Ruth was under the constant protection and loving care of Boaz, we are safe in the keeping of our heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ. God is ready to strengthen us in our weaknesses (Isa. 41:10), and He is with us in all our troubles (Isa. 43:1-2). Therefore, as Paul wrote, "Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb. 12:1-2).
Ruth boldly sought marriage to Boaz
Acting on Naomi's counsel, Ruth boldly expressed her desire to become the wife of Boaz. What nerve! After all, Boaz was a wealthy, highly respected landowner, and Ruth was only a penniless gleaner in the fields. Even she admitted she was less than his own female servants (Ruth 2:13). She was also a Moabitess, an unclean gentile. Yet Boaz readily took Ruth as his wife, because she had found favor in his sight and he loved her. To many outside the Church, our goal — to be born into the Kingdom of God as God's very Children is not only audacious, it is blasphemous. The world simply cannot understand this truth. Yet Boaz manifested his love toward Ruth while she was still a gleaner in his fields. And that love encouraged her to seek a more permanent relationship with him. Think how often God has already demonstrated His love for you. Has He not done so to encourage you to believe the plain truth that He wants you in His Family? The Scripture reveals the Church is the future Bride of Christ. Can there be any marriage except between beings on the same plane? Is not Christ the "firstborn among many brethren"? (Rom. 8:29). Are we not told that in the resurrection, we shall be as He is (I John 3:2, Phil. 3:20-21)? Audacious, yes! Blasphemous, no! That is our destiny, if we grow in character and endure to the end.
Boaz redeemed Ruth
Although Boaz loved Ruth and she loved him, Boaz was not free to take her as his wife until he redeemed her from a prior claim. So, too, Christ must redeem us if we are to marry Him. Our redemption began with Christ's death on Passover (Rom. 5:8-10). That process is still continuing. For, although we are instructed that we must no longer walk after the flesh but after the Spirit (Rom. 8:13), we are still subject to the downward pulls of Satan, this world and our human nature — we still commit sin (I John 1:8). Christ must liberate us from the law of the flesh (Rom. 7:23) by delivering us from the flesh through the resurrection. The law of God, believed to have been given to Israel at Mt. Sinai on Pentecost, is being written in our hearts under the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33, Heb. 8:10). When we are transformed into spirit, we will be fully redeemed from the works of the flesh. We will, be Spirit-born Children of God who cannot sin.
Naomi like the Church
Although Ruth is the central figure in the book that bears her name, Naomi also played an important role. It was through Naomi that Ruth was brought into contact with the true God. It was also through Naomi that Ruth was brought into contact with her future husband. Indeed, it was Naomi who encouraged Ruth to seek marriage to Boaz. The role of Naomi is analogous to that of the Church in our lives. Through this great Work of God, we were brought into contact with God. The Church has continually encouraged us and guided us, through
the ministry, in our spiritual development — feeding us first the "milk of the word," and then "meat in due season." The Church has continually urged us to keep our eyes on Christ and on the goal of becoming Christ's Bride at His coming.
The two harvests
Israel's spring harvest season lasted seven weeks. The cutting of the wave sheaf on the day after the Sabbath, in the Days of Unleavened Bread, signaled the beginning of the barley harvest. This was followed by the harvest of wheat (which ripened later), which was concluded by Pentecost at the end of the seven-week period. Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest (Ruth 1:22) and Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz all through the barley harvest and also through the wheat harvest (Ruth 2:23). By analogy, Boaz represents Christ, and Ruth, the Church at Christ's coming. The wave sheaf represents Christ, the first of the firstfruits. The spring harvest that began after the offering of the wave sheaf represents the rest of the firstfruits, those called and converted during this age. What, then, is the significance of Ruth's labors during both the barley harvest and the wheat harvest? Ancient Israel's spring harvest was a double harvest. It consisted of seven weeks (the number of completion) of harvesting two different grains. The earlier harvest, beginning with the wave sheaf, was the barley harvest. This was followed until Pentecost by the harvest of the early-ripening wheat. Could the presence of two different grains in the same physical harvest indicate two phases in the spiritual spring harvest? Following Christ's resurrection, the Gospel was preached throughout the Roman Empire and beyond by the apostles. Those called and converted as a result of their preaching, and its echos to our own generation, could be viewed as one of the grains in the spiritual spring harvest. In our generation, however, God raised up a new phase of His Work, under the direction of a new apostle, with the same commission — that of preaching the Gospel as a witness to all the world (Matt. 24:14). We, the members of God's Church today, are the fruit of this end-time Work. In fact, it is possible that those called, as a result of this Work, to be part of the Body of Christ in this generation could be as numerous as all those called in all previous generations of the Church! Think of it! This Philadelphia era of God's great Work has the opportunity of participating with God in bringing forth so much spiritual fruit that God may have chosen to represent this fruit by the second grain of the spring harvest! Let's all heed the exhortation of Christ's apostle, Herbert W. Armstrong. Let's all actively seek to draw closer to God and hold up the arms of His servant as never before. The harvest is truly plenteous!