The Significance and Application of the Book of Ruth

September 14, 2015 — Leave a comment

This fall I will be sharing some blog posts focusing on the significance and application of some books of the Bible. This week I start with the book of Ruth.

The Significance and Application of the Book of RuthPhoto Credit: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing

I.    THE PURPOSE AND ARGUMENT OF THE BOOK OF RUTH

A.   Purpose

The book of Ruth is about how God used ordinary people (without the people knowing what God was doing) in their current circumstances to accomplish great things for God’s future plans.

B.   Argument

God used several ordinary people in the book of Ruth to accomplish his plan. People such as Elimelech (1:2-3), Naomi (1:2ff), Ruth (1:4ff), and Boaz (2:1ff). A few others played smaller roles such as Orpah, the daughter-in-law of Naomi (1:4). Boaz played one of the most significant roles by providing for Ruth and her family (3:9-4:12). Both God’s name (“Yahweh” 17 times, “Elohim” 3 times, “Shadday” 2 times) and his actions are very present in the book. While God does not perform miraculous acts, signs, or wonders in the book of Ruth he does actively work by providing a faithful devotion of Ruth to Naomi (1:16-17). God led Ruth to harvest in a field of her relative, Boaz (2:1-3). When Boaz went to the town gate the Family Redeemer to Ruth happened to be there (4:1). And, God placed Boaz in a position to marry Ruth instead of the relative which was closest to her (4:2-6).       The idea of God’s “hiddenness” working out the details is often seen in the idea of the Hebrew word used to raise the attention of the reader. This Hebrew word is הִנֵּה which can be glossed as “Look! See here! Take note!” (Webster, The Cambridge Introduction to Biblical Hebrew, 318). This word is used five times in the book of Ruth as “Look” by Noami (1:15), to signal Boaz’s arrival to the field Ruth was working in (2:4), the time Boaz would be winnowing barley (3:2), Boaz’s surprise to find Ruth lying at his feet (3:3), and the happenstance that the Family Redeemer came to the city gate “just then” (4:1).

II.   HOW RUTH FITS INTO THE OVERALL MESSAGE AND ARGUMENT OF THE WHOLE BIBLE 

The book of Ruth first fits into the overall message of the Bible starting with the promise of the “seed” in Gen 3:15. That promise was restated and clarified in Gen 12:3 with God’s promise to Abraham to make him a great nation and through Abraham all the nations of the world would be blessed. Second, after the book of Ruth, 2 Sam 7:12-16 contains the Davidic Promise that God would rise up one of David’s descendants, that his kingdom would be strong, he will build a temple, his royal throne would be secured forever, and he would be the son of God. Third, Matthew, in the genealogy of Jesus was very careful to connect Jesus not just to his male forefathers (which the genealogy of Matthew does focus on) but Matthew also mentions that “Boaz was the father of Obed (whose mother was Ruth)” (Matt 1:5). Of the 38 men generations mentioned in Matt 1 there are only four women named and one of those four is Ruth. Fourth, the last book of the Bible, Revelation, concludes with a message from Jesus that connects Jesus to David, the grandson of Ruth, saying “I am the room and offspring of David” (Rev 22:16).

III.  HOW TO APPLY THE BOOK

A.   4 Principles from the Book of Ruth

1.    God’s Providence

Some might think God was absent in the beginning of the book of Ruth because of the death of Naomi’s husband and her only two sons (Ruth 1:1-4). However, God is very active throughout the book of Ruth. The most striking appearances of God’s providence in the book of Ruth is in 2:3 when Ruth went to glean in fields and “as it happened” she found herself working in the field of Boaz who was her family redeemer. Another appearance of God’s providence is in 4:1 when Boaz went to the city gate to look for the redeemer closest to Ruth and “just then” the family redeemer came by the city gate.

2.    Hard Work

The efforts and hard work of Ruth are seen from the first chapter to the last. Ruth was not afraid of hard work. First, she declared her commitment to stick with Naomi (1:16-17). Next Ruth took the initiative to go out to the harvest fields to gather food (2:2). And, while in Boaz’s field Ruth worked hard all day and evening (2:7, 17). Furthermore, she worked the entire barley harvest and wheat harvest (2:23). And when it came time to reach out to their family redeemer Ruth did everything that Naomi said (3:5).

3.    Taking Care of the Needy

Two people in particular are cared for in the book of Ruth: Ruth and Naomi. First, when Naomi’s husband and two sons die Ruth steps in and cares for Naomi. Naomi had nothing to offer Ruth, but Ruth still showed a strong commitment to care for Naomi (1:16-17). That commitment is seen through Ruth’s actions (2:2-4, 7, 11, 15, 17, 23; 3:5, 11). Boaz also showed remarkable care for someone in need too. Soon after Boaz soon saw Ruth (2:5) and learned about her (2:6-7) he began doing things to care for her (2:8-9, 14-16; 3:11-13; 4:1-10).

4.    Be Patient and Wait

The final principle seen in the book of Ruth is about patience. Ruth displayed patience matching her good character. Ruth continued working in Boaz’s field throughout the barley and wheat harvests (2:23). Then, in 3:1 Naomi instructed Ruth about what to do in order to seek their family redeemer. In this process Ruth would have to prepare carefully (3:3), wait for Boaz to finish eating and drinking (3:3), notice where he lied down (3:4), lie down at his feet and wait for him to wake up (3:4). Even after this process Ruth had to wait longer to find out if the closer family redeemer would take her or if it was going to be Boaz (3:13).

B.   2 Sunday School Activities for the Book of Ruth 

1.   Awareness of God’s Work in Their Lives

Ask questions and lead others in a Sunday School class about how God is working in their lives. God’s work in the book of Ruth is most explicitly seen in 2:3 and 4:1. Furthermore, God’s work is also laced throughout the entire book and the book’s connection to the earthly king David and our heavenly king Jesus. Have each person in the class see at least one event where God was actively working in their lives (even if they didn’t realize it at that time).

2.    Examine What Area or Project in which They Need to Work Hard

Boaz said that everyone in town knew Ruth was a “virtuous woman” (4:11) based on her hard work (2:2, 7, 17, 23) and her family devotion to Naomi (1:16-17; 2:11; 3:5-6, 10-11). Have every person in a Sunday School class see one project or responsibility which they can work harder at.

C.   My Personal Application of the Book of Ruth 

The “as it happened” phrases in the book of Ruth have always been what touch my heart the most (2:3; 4:1). The writer tells of Ruth going out to glean and “as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimeleck” (2:3). Later, when Boaz needed to find the family redeemer closer to Ruth than him, Boaz went to the gate and “Just then the family redeemer he had mentioned came by” (4:1). Nothing happens by coincidence because God is sovereign and is active in our world. Therefore, I am going to be conscientious of how God is active and orchestrates daily life.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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