Ruth is a favorite among many people. It grips us by the familiar struggle for security, meaning, and identity. And we long to know its romance, provision, and eventual overcoming. Yet, it subtly points to even more good news than immediately meets the eye.
Maybe you’ve already wondered some of these.
First, with so much emphasis on obedience to the Law in the books of Exodus through Joshua and so much rebellion in Judges (during which the events of Ruth’s life occur), why doesn’t the book of Ruth emphasize returning to the Law? Second, why does the book refer to the barley harvest so often? Third, why does the Lord work through someone from Moab, a declared enemy of Israel? And, lastly, if the function of a kinsman redeemer is so important, why is it mentioned so infrequently in the Bible?
These are valid questions. And I believe all of them point us to the good news of the Lord Jesus. Let’s take a closer look.
Again, why isn’t there more emphasis on the Law in the book? In fact, there’s barely any mention of the many requirements God had given through Moses, other than a few civic procedures to settle issues of inheritance. That’s a major change.
Almost from day one when the Lord delivered His people from Egypt, He gave them specific commands, promises, and warnings. This lesser emphasis on the Law is a paradygm shift not only in Ruth but for the rest of the Old Testament. With a few exceptions after the book of Judges, God’s Word still highlights His holiness and call to trust and obey, but the books generally only allude to the Law’s specific commands. Instead, they focus on His greater goal: real relationship with God Himself.
But isn’t that the same emphasis we hear in Jesus’ first public message in Matthew 5-7? Most of chapter six references several specific commands, but the Lord goes directly to His deeper concern: our heart’s devotion to Him. Yet, by the end of chapter 7 – even with Jesus’ many encouragements – I am crying out, “Lord! I can’t do this on my own!” And that confession of helplessness is one of His goals, too.
Yes, He says we are to ask, seek, and knock in faith, but I know my own failings. “What hope can any imperfect person have before the perfect God?” Great question. In a similar sermon recorded by Luke, Jesus names the hope of our asking, seeking, and knocking. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him.” (Luke 11:13) Our hope is not in our obedience to the Law. It’s in the Giver of the Law who forgives because of His death on the cross in our place and sends His Spirit who transforms, directs, strengthens, and works through us to show Jesus as the source, means, and goal of real Life.
So why give the Law in the first place?
In Galatians 3:19-26, the Apostle Paul rightly reminds us that, like any good parent, God gave the Law as a list of basic do’s and don’t’s for His spiritually immature children. Those rules reflect His holy character and show us our need for Him. Again, His ultimate goal was never mere obedience to rules, rather it’s always been our genuine trust and obedience through Christ the Savior. And that’s a perfect segue to the question of barley in Ruth.
Let’s take a step back to see the big picture view of God’s deliverance.
Remember back on day four of creation, the Lord placed a celestial calendar “for signs and for seasons” (Genesis 1:14). Why? The only seasons the Israelites were required to observe were the festivals of worship, and the big three that signaled all Israelite men to come to the temple were also tied to harvests of crops (Deuteronomy 16:1-17) The two major crops referred to in Scripture are barley and wheat. Barley was the first harvest of the year (Exodus 9:31 and 2 Samuel 21:9) and coincided with the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread; the Feast of Weeks (“Pentecost” in the New Testament) coincided with the beginning of the wheat harvest; and they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles at the final ingathering of the wheat. These were all physical pictures of key works that Christ would fulfill spiritually. Like the many teachings in the New Testament on the seed and sower (Matthew 13), the vine and branches (John 15), the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5), and others, they’re metaphors visually reminding us of God’s work to bring us to life, to gather us in to Himself, and to delight in us.
Just as specific sights, smells, and tastes serve us today as physical reminders of many seasonal events, sensations of barley cued the Israelites that it was time for Passover. And who is our Passover Lamb? Jesus. (see the context of John 1:29, 1 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 1:19, and the many references to the Lamb throughout the book of Revelation).
But, if barley alluded to Passover which points so clearly to Christ, why not simply call them to the actual ritual? In my opinion, it’s because the times of the judges (during which Ruth was written) show that the Israelites were trusting in religious rituals as mere talismans for their personal wishlists instead of trusting in the Lord as their Savior and obeying Him as their King. Due to a similar distorting of God’s original intent, Jesus never referred to Himself as “Messiah” or the “Christ”. Instead, He called Himself the “Son of Man”, a term from the book of Ezekiel prompting them to rethink their understanding of God’s revealed Word. When God’s people miss His message, He often reframes the same message in a different way to force them to think about His revealed Word, not merely what their human traditions have said.
Well, if the Lord is concerned with sticking to His revealed Word, why did He allow and even intentionally choose to work through Ruth, a woman from Moab? Moab’s incestuous beginnings with Lot’s daughters in Genesis 19 and the Moabite women seducing the Israelites in Numbers 25 should have been marked them as trouble. In fact, the Lord forbade Moab and any of their descendants from being part of His holy community down to the 10th generation (Deuteronomy 23:2-3). Yet, the end of Ruth shows the Lord working through her to be the great grandmother of King David.
Again, this is a reminder that our hope is in the Lord’s grace – and not merely His “niceness to overlook the past” but His sovereign grace to forgive and work through undeserving people. Which brings us to the main theme of Ruth: the kinsman redeemer.
But again we may wonder, if the kinsman redeemer is such a central part of the gospel, why is it mentioned so infrequently in Scripture? First, it may help to know that the two words “kinsman redeemer” are our translation of only one word in the original Hebrew: גֹאֵ֖ל (ga’al), which means “a close relative”. And that meant much more than a term of affection, like we might refer to a relative as “cuz”. In Leviticus 25:47-55, the Lord told His people that if a fellow Israelite is sold into debt to someone else, a close relative may pay the price to redeem or “buy them back”, thus securing that former slave’s inheritance among God’s people. But notice that it’s a “may” not a “must”. It’s a possibility, not a promise. It’s a grace, not something to be taken for granted.
In Jesus, however, the Christ, our Passover Lamb, the One who is gracious to the undeserving, the One who forgives and works through those with the most despicable past and powerless present, we have One who sticks closer than a brother. The book of Ruth is much more than a story of physical provision and romance, although it certainly has that and more. It’s a reminder that God is always working His eternal covenant of rescue, love, and glory through His Son, our Kinsman Redeemer.
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