3 Profound Theological and Ideological Messages of Ruth
When I was a pastor and I preached from the New Testament, my first go-to commentary was the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament series. Its careful, exhaustive approach to the text gave my exegetical exploits sure footing.
Now we have the Old Testament equivalent, and Daniel Block’s commentary on Ruth is headlining the launch.
ZECOT provides pastors and teachers with a careful analysis and interpretation of the Hebrew text through several distinctive features: it offers a fresh, author-inspired translation; displays a structural “thought flow;” identifies and discusses the main idea; reveals its literary context; draws out the meaning of the Hebrew for interpretation; and outlines the theological and canonical significance.
Block’s engagement with Ruth in the introduction offers us a glimpse into the scope of this series. “Like the narratives of Genesis, of the Deuteronomistic Historians, and the Chronicler,” Block argues, “Ruth communicates a profound theological and ideological message.” (48)
Here is a helpful overview of three aspects of this message that might seem surprising, but will aide your teaching of Ruth, nevertheless.
The Portrayal of God in Ruth
First, Block notes how Ruth contributes to our understanding of God in its portrayal of him. As he explains, Ruth herself expressed a theological awareness only in her first speech, referring to God by the generic designation, “Deity.” Yet all other characters identified God by his personal covenant name, YHWH.
Of special interest to Block is how Naomi references God as “Shadday,” an abbreviated form of El Shadday. “She recognized Shadday as the epithet associated with covenant promises, including promises of fertility and progeny.” (48)
Though some have devalued the theological contributions of Ruth given the paucity of direct references to God, “others have rightly spoken of the hidden hand of God, quietly at work behind the scene.” (48) Block identifies at least five ways God’s hand is present in Ruth:
- natural events;
- chance events;
- the schemes of humans;
- the legal process;
- biological and reproductive matters.
Block also contends, “Theologically, the most significant statement in the book, may be Naomi’s response to Ruth’s first visit to Boaz’ field” in 2:20, where she praises God for his חֶסד, a covenant term for covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty. (50) God expressed such a gracious commitment by intervening on behalf of his people, giving them food, and causing Ruth to conceive. In Ruth, God is a gracious, covenant-keeping God.
The Portrayal of the People of God in Ruth
“Perhaps more than any other book in the Hebrew Bible, in Ruth the participants in the events not only reflected the character of the Deity behind those events, but for the most part they also embodied the best of Torah righteousness,” both personally and corporately as the people of God. (51)
Ironically, one of the clearest personal expressions of the divine quality of hesed is from an outsider, Ruth, in her commitment to the family, particularly Naomi. Boaz commends Ruth for repeated acts of hesed. The people of Bethlehem do too, giving her a designation that no other woman in the Hebrew Bible bears—אֵ֥שֶׁת חַ֖יִל “woman of standing, noble woman.” (3:11; but cf. Prov 31:10).
Ruth claimed Naomi’s people as her people and Naomi’s God as her God. “Having made this commitment, her every act exhibits loyalty to her mother-in-law and faith in YHWH.” (52)
The Messianic Significance of Ruth
Finally, here’s a question for you: Which character from Ruth functions typologically as the Messiah?
If you said Boaz, you’d be in good company since many have linked the messianic significance of Ruth to Boaz, the goel, as a typological foreshadowing of Jesus the Christ, our Redeemer. Yet Block argues , “If any character in the book functions typologically as the Messiah it should be Obed (Ruth 4:13-17)…” (55) He offers four reasons:
- the special circumstances of his birth from a previously apparently barren woman (cf. Isaac in Gen 21);
- the content of the blessing invoked upon him by the women of Bethlehem — he is identified as a goel and one who restores life;
- the superlative elevation of his mother at his birth;
- the name given to him by the community: “servant,” which anticipates David the anointed servant of YHWH (2 Sam 7) and ultimately the Isaianic servant.
This isn’t to say Boaz is unimportant. He was important because “he represented the critical [seventh] link in the chain that led from Perez to David, and ultimately from Abraham and Adam to the Christ.” (56)
Block is right: “With its sensitive portrayal of women in crisis, its admiration for a righteous man, and its profound theology of providence [Ruth] offers hearers in every age a window into life in the ancient Near East, inspiration for good and godly living, and reason to wonder at the common roots of Israel’s royal and messianic hope.” (29)
His commentary will help you communicate this inspiration and hope in your own ministry, so add it to your library today.