John A. Heys is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
When the book of Ruth was written, we do not know. It was written in or after the days of David, but just when it was written and by whom, we cannot say. The last verses in this book, however, reveal that it was after David’s anointing as future king of Israel. In these last verses, David is mentioned as a descendant of Obed, whom God gave to Boaz and Ruth. Whoever wrote this book of Ruth knew these men and the genealogies found in verses 18-22. That David was a descendant of Boaz and Obed is not stated prophetically. The author does not present it as something that is going to happen. He writes of that which already took place.
The author of this book, whom God used to pen down these truths, could have been Samuel. He was born in the days of the judges, and was in fact the last of the judges; and he not only lived when David was born, but was used by God to anoint David as the one who would take Saul’s place as king over Israel.
What is interesting in this book is what man’s name is mentioned first in this book and whose name is mentioned last in it. Elimelech is the man mentioned first. He is the one whose name was continued upon the land in Canaan that God had given him, even though he died without a grandson who could take over his inheritance. In His grace, God moved Boaz to walk in His law and take Ruth, the wife of Mahlon, the son of Elimelech, to raise up seed to inherit that land and keep Elimelech’s name upon it.
But the man mentioned last in this book is David, who became king and had his sons on the throne until Christ, Who was born in the royal line of David’s descendants, came and obtained an everlasting kingship over God’s elect. For a time these descendants of David did not sit on an earthly throne; but God continued his seed in the royal line until Mary brought forth this Christ.
Now Elimelech’s name means God is my King. He did not always live up to this name. Had he done so, he would never have left the land of Canaan during that famine. He would have obeyed God and not gone contrary to His laws. He would have trusted in God, seeing that famine as God’s judgment upon wickedness, and as chastisement to turn His people back to serving Him as their God and King. Leaving Canaan was idolatry. Not only did he go to idolatrous Moab, but he worshipped bread as his god. For he was willing to break God’s law in order to get bread for his flesh. He was not asking himself what God wanted him to do, but what his flesh wanted. Instead of praying to God for grace to continue looking to Him for all his earthly and spiritual needs, he asked his flesh what would be best for him from an earthly, physical point of view. Instead of praying that God would turn his fellow citizens from their sins, he sinned himself by leaving behind God and the worship in His temple.
This is not exaggerating his sin. We need but read five verses in the first chapter of the book, and we become aware of God’s visitation upon that sin. Elimelech died. His sons went further into sin and married heathen wives, which they would not have done had their parents stayed in the promised land. Parents today better bear that in mind also, and move only where their children can grow up in a church that preaches the truth, and where they can get husbands and wives that believe in the one true and holy God.
Neither does all this deny that Elimelech was an elect child of God, who had all these sins forgiven. You cannot find anywhere in Scripture the life of one that is treated a bit extensively who did not deserve the punishment of death. Did God not even tell Adam and Eve that one sin of eating a piece of fruit that was forbidden would bring death? What about Noah, Abraham, Jacob, David, and Peter? And does not Paul in Romans 7 say that the evil that he would not, he does? The blood of Christ blots out such sins as well as Adam’s and Eve’s sins. And did God not in His grace cause these deaths to come so that Naomi might be instructed and brought back to the promised land and a ceasing of her sin? Was it not all in God’s plan to bring salvation to Ruth and to bring her to Bethlehem where He had decreed Christ would be born?
This does not mean that we may go ahead in our sinful ways without any fear of punishment in this life and in the life to come. The death of Elimelech and his sons speaks loudly of God’s holy wrath. And Naomi’s bitter weeping and request that she be called Mara, the Bitter One, is a warning to us. Besides, enjoying sin should and must raise in our minds the question whether we really have been born again and are elect, believing children of God. In His sermon on the mount Jesus said that they are blessed who mourn over sin, not do it with joy, and do it with the idea that God will look the other way. That is believing, but it is believing in another god than the one Who sent His Son to die for those whom Jesus in that same sermon on the mount calls the pure in heart, who hunger and thirst after righteousness, are poor in spirit, and mourn over sin.
Now to return to what we began to say, the last man whose name appears in the very last verse of this book of Ruth is David. And David is the one to whom God gave such wonderful victories as a king, so that under him the Israelites conquered and held all the land that God promised Abraham. The last word we find in this book is the name David, the name of one who so clearly and wonderfully gave us a picture of that Son of David, Christ, Who will crush the head of the serpent and all his seed and bring the church to heavenly glory, because He suffered the punishment we deserve, and performed the works of God’s law that we did not bring to Him.
Between the name Elimelech and the name David we find the name Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth. That name Obed means “serving” or “one who serves”; and how true it is that he served the cause of God’s church. He did not do this in his own strength. Do wenot read in Ruth 4:13, “So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bare a son?” That is often forgotten; but it is so very true that God always gives the conception, or withholds it. Obed served the bringing forth of seed to inherit Elimelech’s land and to keep the seed and line that would bring forth David and Christ. But he served as God’s servant. He served as a tool that was in God’s hand. From Abraham to David and Christ there had to be an Obed, a servant. That God’s Son might come in our flesh, and come in the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, through Jacob and Judah, there had to be an Obed. And in His grace God supplied him and used him.
We must become Elimelechs, that is, people who say and whose lives reveal that God is our King. But we also—in order to reach that point of salvation, where He is our king in the sense that we love and serve Him perfectly, and that which Jacob, as God’s servant, prophesied is fulfilled, namely, that the sceptre would not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between His feet until shiloh come—must have that of which David and Solomon were only types and shadows. We need a Savior Who gives us a new spiritual life and implants a pure love to God in us. We must have a King Who crushes Satan, brings an end to his kingdom, but also takes all the love of sin out of us and fills us with enmity against Satan and all that which denies that Jehovah is our God and King. Does not David say in Psalm 145:1, “I will extol Thee my God, O King?”
Elimelech needed Him Who was born in the line of Ruth’s son, Obed, for the forgiveness of his sins. God supplied that need not simply through Ruth—who with Mahlon could not beget a son, and then was given a conception after Boaz married her—but through the more miraculous birth of His own Son, when Mary of that royal line of David gave birth to that Son right there in Bethlehem, and that by a virgin birth!
Closing the book with the name of David, God directs our attention to Christ. Beginning the book by telling us that Elimelech sinfully departed from the place where God’s love and grace were displayed in types and shadows, the book shows us the need of Christ. The famine in that promised land during the period of the judges, when every man did that which was right in his own eyes, was a shadow of what Adam and Eve did when they sinned and were driven out of the Garden of Eden and away from the tree of life. Elimelech’s going to Moab so that he could eat bread, where God did not dwell in His love and grace, was a shadow of what had happened there in the first creation that God brought forth, and where Adam could meet with God and enjoy His fellowship. Showing us David through whom in time Christ would be born, God gives us a shadow of that which is coming. Christ will come. God will keep His promise.
In light of all this we can understand the speech of the women when Obed was born. They did not see all things as we can see them today on this side of Christ’s cross, resurrection, and ascension into heaven. But they did bless God for not leaving Naomi “without a kinsman that his name may be famous in Israel.” The word here translated as famous has the basic meaning of being “called a name”. Yet we can take hold of this translation and keep it as the truth of which these women spoke. Seeing with their fleshly eye, these women saw that Elimelech kept his name in the promised land through this son of Boaz and Ruth. However, what we see with the eye of faith is Christ born in the line of Obed, Jesse, and David. He, Christ, is now at God’s right hand with the famous name of Lord over all lords and King over all kings. And if those women had reason to cry out: “Blessed be the Lord,” how much more reason do we not have to do that? For that is the most famous name that a man can have. Adam was created as king of this earth, having rule and dominion even over all the beasts of the field. Genesis 1:26 declares that God made man to have “dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” But Adam was not king over the angels. And surely after the fall, man has no dominion over Satan and the fallen angels. They have spiritual dominion over man. But Christ, Who came in that line of Obed, Jesse, and David, has dominion over every speck of dust and of every living creature, as well as over all the inanimate creation. He showed that also in many of His miracles, not only by calming the raging sea by a command, but with power over death and the grave.
In that sense, too, Christ is the restorer of life and a nourisher of old age. Surely Ruth was a better gift to us, as well as to Naomi, than seven sons born to Mahlon and Chilion through heathen, Moabitish women, who would bring up their children in the worship and idolatry of Chemosh. No, Christ must be born of Boaz, who was in the royal line of David, as we find it in Matthew 1 and Luke 3. Elimelech was in the line of David, but not in the royal line as Salmon was, who was the one who begot Boaz. A son born to Mahlon, and thus a grandson of Elimelech, could not pay for Elimelech’s and Naomi’s sins. But Boaz in that royal line could and by God’s grace did bring forth the Christ, Who blotted out the sins of all those given Him eternally by the Father.
The book of Ruth begins by calling our attention to sin. It closes by assuring us of the faithfulness of our God to keep His promises of taking away our sin. At that juncture we could not yet be told literally of Christ and His birth in Bethlehem. But we can be and are shown thus far in the history of God’s church that God keeps His promise of the sceptre not departing from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet until Shiloh, that is, Christ, is come. Things in the future may look dark to us. It may look as I though Christ is not coming back to save us from the serpent and his seed. And let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that when we cannot buy or sell, because we have refused to take the mark of the beast, we of ourselves would not become Elimelechs and leave the church to get bread. That famine is coming as surely as one came in the day of the judges. God’s children then are going to be sorely tried. But let us hold fast to that truth which we have here of God’s faithfulness to His promises.
Did God really deal bitterly with Naomi? He was, in all that we read of in this book of Ruth, preparing the way for Christ, and through Him the way for us to have our sins blotted out and to enter into the sinless, glorious kingdom of His Son. He punishes His elect in the sense of chastising them. But never, no never, does God deal bitterly with those He chose in Christ. Naomi better keep her name Pleasant and not tell anyone to call her Mara, or Bitter. As Paul writes: “Our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal,” II Corinthians 4:17, 18.
He did not deal bitterly with Naomi, but in the sweetness of His mercy and love. He was a restorer of her life and a nourisher of her old age. He is our Savior, and has every step of our way to living with Him in holiness and glory planned in every detail. And He is faithful to every letter in every word of His promises.