Ruth in the Context of God’s Covenants

As with all of Scripture, the book of Ruth was written in the context of the biblical covenants. Therefore, we cannot grasp God’s romance of redemption apart from a knowledge of his covenantal love.

The Noahic Covenant

God shows grace to Ruth in the fields of Boaz (Ruth 2:2, 10, 13) as he had once shown grace to Noah during the flood (Gen 6:8). The famine had been God’s judgment against Israel’s idolatry (Ruth 1:1) as the flood had been his judgment against man’s wickedness (Gen 6:5-7, 17-22). Yet the Lord “visited his people and [gave] them food” (Ruth 1:6) as he had also “remembered Noah” (Gen 8:1). Thus, Naomi is spared from death (Ruth 1:5) as Noah and his family were spared in the ark (Gen 7:23).

In the Noahic covenant, God promised never again to destroy the earth in a global flood (8:20-22; 9:8-17; see 6:18). The covenant sign of the rainbow depicted a foretaste of future salvation. For just as Noah’s father had prayed that his son would bring “relief” from the curse (5:29), Naomi prays for Ruth to find “rest” and comfort in the arms of a husband (Ruth 1:9; 2:13; 3:1). God’s promise of this everlasting grace would continue for Israel’s descendants.

The Abrahamic Covenant

In Genesis 12, the Lord then made a covenant with Abraham, the father of Israel:

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (vv. 1-3).[1]

This covenant, which centered around God’s people, God’s land, and God’s blessing, becomes especially pertinent to Ruth. She embraces God’s people, journeys into God’s land, and receives God’s blessing by being a blessing to Naomi.

Disobedient fear

The book of Ruth begins with examples who fail to demonstrate faith. That “there was a famine a land” (Ruth 1:1) alerts the reader to Abraham and Isaac, who sojourned with foreigners when they too had faced famine (Gen 12:10; 26:1-3). The constant references to Moab remind us of the nation’s incestuous origin (19:30-38) and, though nothing impure happened, the midnight rendezvous of Ruth and Boaz steams with innuendo (Ruth 3:1-9). This story recounts the bad news that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).

Obedient faith

The book of Ruth, however, also depicts those who demonstrate faith like (or even greater than) Abraham. The Lord “visits” his people to bless them with crops (Ruth 1:6) as he had “visited” Sarah to bless her with a child (Gen 21:1). Even Naomi, in the midst of her trials, recognizes El Shaddai (Ruth 1:20-21)—the Almighty God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; 49:25). Naomi also patterns her benediction for Boaz (Ruth 2:20) after Abraham’s servant, who had thanked the Lord for his “favor” and “steadfast love” (Gen 24:27).

Meanwhile, Ruth demonstrates a covenantal love toward Naomi (Ruth 1:14, 16; 2:8, 11, 21, 23), usually reserved for marriage (Gen 2:24). In fact, Ruth binds herself to the covenant God, Yahweh, and invokes his wrath should she break her vow (Ruth 1:16-17). Again, we witness the kind of covenantal promise that God once made to Abraham (Gen 15:8-21; 17:7-8). Then like Abraham (12:4), Ruth obeys immediately (Ruth 3:5) and receives praise in the same breath as Rachel and Leah (4:11)—the mothers of Israel (Gen 29:31-30:24; 35:16-18). The Lord then blesses Ruth with conception (Ruth 4:13), though she had long been barren (Gen 4:1; 21:2; 25:21; 29:31; 30:22, etc.). He grafts the Gentile, Ruth, into the lineage of Abraham, through whom would come David, and then the Lord Jesus Christ (Ruth 4:17-22; see Matt 1:1-17).

Boaz displays obedient faith as well, for this worthy man neither succumbs to temptation nor permits maltreatment in his field (Ruth 2:8-9, 21-23; Gen 3:3; 12:17; 20:6; 26:11, 29). He kindly offers water to Ruth (Ruth 2:9; Gen 21:19; 24:17-20; 29:6-11) and expresses his admiration for her Abrahamic faith: “You left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before” (Ruth 2:11b; Gen 12:1). Boaz then becomes the kinsman redeemer who would bless Ruth as she had been a blessing others (Ruth 2:20; 3:9, 12-13; 4:1-14; Gen 12:3). As a result, the people praise Boaz in the same breath as Perez through whom would come the kingly line (Ruth 4:12; Num 26:19-21; 1 Chr 5:2). Boaz marries a wife more virtuous than Tamar (Gen 38:12-30), whose “offspring” would be God’s promised Son. According to the Abrahamic Covenant, God’s faithful people would find blessings in God’s promised land through God’s messianic Seed (Gen 3:15; 4:25; 9:9; 12:7; 13:14-16; 15:3-6, 18-21; 17:1-19, etc.).

The Mosaic Covenant

After the exodus from Egypt, God made a covenant with his people on holy Mount Sinai (Exod 19:24). This covenant, however, was not unconditional like the Abrahamic Covenant. It promised blessings should God’s people obey (Lev 26:1-13, 40-46; Deut 28:1-14) and curses should they disobey (Lev 26:14-39; Deut 28:15-68). In the book of Ruth, we find examples of both outcomes.

Curses for disobedience

God sends a famine on the land because of Israel’s idolatry “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1; Lev 26:16b, 20, 26; Deut 28:15-24). Elimelech and his family then flee the promised land to dwell in self-imposed exile (Ruth 1:2; Lev 26:33a; Deut 28:63-67). The Lord sends Elimelech to an early grave and closes the wombs of his sons’ wives (Ruth 1:3-5; Deut 28:17). Thus, God brings wrath upon his own people because of sin. Later in the story, Orpah also turns her back on God’s covenant people to remain in idolatry (Ruth 1:14). Mr. So-and-So fails to fulfill his moral obligations either as goel (Lev 25:25-30) or levir (Deut 25:5-10). They, too, do not receive God’s blessing (Ruth 4:6-8).

Blessings for obedience

When Naomi returns to the promised land (Ruth 1:6), God has blessed the fields with harvest (Lev 26:1-6; Deut 28:1-3, 5-6, 8, 11-14). He again dwells among his people (Deut 28:11-12) and shelters them under his Almighty wings (Ruth 2:20; Ps 91). The Lord, who had delivered his people from the slavery in Egypt, now delivers Naomi from the desolation of Moab (Lev 26:13). Boaz also receives bountiful blessings by obeying God’s law as both goel and levir (Ruth 4:9-13). Not only are his own fields blessed (1:6), but he also redeems the land which Elimelech had foolishly abandoned (v. 1). He and his new wife, Ruth, would then become fruitful and multiply (Lev 26:9; Deut 28:4, 11).

The greatest model of obedience, however, would be their coming descendent, Jesus Christ. No one, not even Ruth and Boaz, could perfectly keep God’s law (Rom 3:10-12). Thus, none deserved God’s favor. Yet thankfully, God based redemption on his own faithfulness to Abraham and not Israel’s failure under Moses (e.g., Exod 32). Sinful man could not keep the law by human effort, so God provided a Kinsman Redeemer born under the Mosaic Covenant: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal 4:4-5). Jesus perfectly fulfilled the law, so he could then write that law on the hearts of his redeemed kinsmen (Jer 31:33).

The Davidic Covenant

The Davidic Covenant promised that an “offspring” of David would reign upon David’s throne for all eternity (2 Sam 7:8-16; 1 Chr 17:11-14). A king would come from Judah’s line to bless God’s people (Gen 49:8-12; Num 22-24). Yet sadly, no king reigns at the beginning of Ruth as Judah is beset with famine (Ruth 1:1; see Judg 21:25). Ruth’s story has been told to herald the kingdom’s restoration. Thus, the book concludes with the name of “David,” who would one day reign as king (Ruth 4:22). From the romance of Ruth and Boaz would come forth, David and from David would come to the Messiah.[2] During his reign, David would receive the covenant promises: “a great name” (2 Sam 7:9; Gen 12:2), “a place for [God’s] people Israel” (2 Sam 7:10; see Gen 15:18), and “rest” from his enemies (2 Sam 7:11a). God also promised to make David a future “house” (v. 11b), to raise up his “offspring” after him (v. 12; Gen 15:5), and to “establish the throne of [God’s] kingdom forever” (2 Sam 7:13; Pss 2:1-12; 89:1-4, 17-37).

The Lord’s covenant with David set the foundation for the coming of David’s greater Son. As Matthew 1:1 announces, “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” Matthew’s genealogy begins with Abraham, then continues through David to reveal Christ as King and heir to David’s throne. Then, in Matthew 2, the wise men refer to the baby Jesus as “he who was born King of the Jews” (v. 2). Both Mary (Luke 1:26-33) and Zechariah (vv. 67-73) also allude to the Davidic covenant in their praise to God. Paul later identifies Jesus as “descended from David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:3) and “the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel” (2 Tim 2:8). The final book of Revelation declares Jesus Christ to be “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David” (Rev 5:5)—“the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star” (22:16).

The New Covenant

The new covenant recorded in Jeremiah 31 was not yet written in the days of Ruth, but it was already planned out in the mind of God:

Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke. However, I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more (Jer 31:31-34).

This new covenant would not be like the Mosaic Covenant, which God’s people had repeatedly broken (vv. 31-32). Instead, it held the promise of future hope (Jer 30-33) even though God’s people had experienced judgment for disobedience (chapters 1-29). The new covenant revealed that God himself would accept sole responsibility for changing the hearts of his sinful people (31:35-37). This allowed him to keep his unconditional promises in the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants (33:14-26) without violating his covenant conditions with Moses (7:1-15).

Anticipating this new covenant, God grants a new heart to Ruth the Moabite (Ruth 1:16-17) and a new spirit to Naomi the downtrodden (4:14-15). He offers his people the forgiveness of sin and restores them to intimate relationship. Through the new covenant, Gentiles like Ruth would be ushered into God’s kingdom (Gen 12:3; 22:18; Isa 56:6-8). Through his Son’s death on the cross, he would open wide his arms to wayward sinners (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor 11:25). God’s marvelous plan was grounded in the Davidic covenant (Heb 1:1-4:3), then fulfilled in the new and better covenant mediated by Jesus Christ (4:4-10:18).

Each biblical covenant points to Christ as our Kinsman Redeemer (Rom 3:1-23; Gal 4:5; Eph 1:7; Col 1:14; 1 Pet 1:18-21; Rev 5:9). Noah’s salvation in the ark points to Jesus as the one who would save his people from God’s wrath and grant them rest (1 Pet 3:20). The slaughtered animals in the Abrahamic covenant point to Jesus as the perfect sacrifice slain for the sins of many (Rev 5:12). The Mosaic covenant points to Jesus as the one who took our curses on himself and imputed the blessings of his obedience to us (Gal 3:13; 1 Pet 3:18). The Davidic covenant points to Jesus as the King, who would reign eternally on David’s throne (Rev 22:16). The new covenant then declares our Lord and Savior as the one “to redeem those who were under the law” (Gal 4:5a). Praise “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1).

[1] See Genesis 12:7; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-21; 18:17-33; 21:12-13; 22:1-18.

[2] The scroll of Ruth was traditionally read for Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, seven weeks after Passover (Pesach). Thus, it was likely read prior to Peter’s Pentecost sermon, in which the apostle repeatedly drew upon the words of David (Acts 2:25-31, 34-35) and declared Jesus to be the ultimate Son of David (2:22-24, 32-33, 36).

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