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Women of the Bible

Ruth

(Book of Ruth)

Lesson audio

Affliction comes from God

It is one of those inconvenient facts of Scripture: it is clear that affliction comes through God. We would much rather have it be a random accident. But it is clear that affliction at least comes through God, if not from God. In Ruth’s life we shall see this, and see what the Lord does with it for her.

Affliction due to sin

In apologetics, when someone asks “Why is there suffering in the world?” the answer inevitably involves the concept of sin:

  • Sometimes, the affliction is due to our own sin. It is often less than gentle to point this out, but it is the fact. If you get drunk and drive, bad things happens. The fault is not with the tree you hit.
  • Sometimes, the sin belongs to others. We can see affliction for those who sin, but the “innocent bystander” always evokes our sympathy. But that too comes back as pain upon the guilty. It’s just that sometimes the innocent bystander is known as Mom.
  • Sometimes, suffering is just the result of this being a sinful world. We can’t pin the blame on any particular person or group – it’s a sinful world, and thus pain and suffering must happen.
Affliction for God’s cause

It also happens that God inflicts suffering upon his children for His own purposes:

  • Sometimes it is designed to produce a particular character. How many of God’s prophets were forged in the desert wilderness? How often has your suffering been shown to be of assistance to others?
  • Sometimes it’s simply His discipline. Do not reject this; his correction only comes to those whom He loves. Others receive only punishment. Be thankful you know the difference.
  • Sometimes it is simply for the glory of God. Do others see you in your sufferings? What do they learn from it?[1]
Affliction – why don’t we heed it?

What is most curious about affliction today (as compared to the earlier church) is that we don’t learn anything from it. Why not?

  • We can see the proximate cause. God put the tree right there where I ran into it. We can see the tree; therefore, there is no lesson to be learned.
  • We forget the lessons of the Scripture. Just exactly how did God punish Israel for their idolatry and sin?
  • Most important, we have the strange idea that God only punishes the “real sinners” – those who are in church never receive His discipline. This is not so;[2] He disciplines those He loves.
Character shown in affliction

Anyone can be a nice guy when things are going well. Character is shown when things are a mess. We can learn from Ruth in this.

Humility

It is a curious thing: the usual reaction to adversity is either anger or humility. Ruth shows us the reaction of humility:

  • She’s the one who brings up the idea of gleaning; Naomi doesn’t have to prod her for it.
  • Even though the Law of Moses commands the owner of the field to allow gleaning, that doesn’t make it her right. So she asks permission to do so. Imagine having to ask permission to be poor!
  • And when she is shown favor by Boaz, she acknowledges the this by asking why she is “so favored.” At each turn she acknowledges that she is the one humbled, the beggar, of sorts.
Hard work

This is not someone who is making a token performance in the hopes of obtaining sympathy.

  • She’s there at first light, and gleans pretty much all day.[3]
  • She’s obviously working hard – because she catches the eye of the foreman on the job. His standards for hard work were, no doubt, tough.

One thing might be noted. By human standards, Ruth is stuck. There is no reasonable probability that she will improve her lot in life by doing this. The hard work has no probability of “success.” Again, no anger – just hard work.

Family

We can glimpse the relationship between Naomi and Ruth in two facts:

  1. Ruth shares her gleanings with Naomi.
  2. She does not reproach Naomi for failure to glean.[4]

There is a difference between a mother-in-law and a mother-in-love.

Ruth is a role model for those in affliction. If we might sum it up, the one thing we most need to see is that she has come to take refuge “under His wings.” Until you take refuge under the wings of God, you will not see his help.  When you do, you will not see the end of it.

The Allegory

The church has always taught that Ruth and Boaz have an allegorical interpretation as well.[5] In particular:

  • Boaz is seen as the kinsman-redeemer, a type (picture, allegory) of Christ.
  • Ruth, therefore, is seen as the one redeemed. Thus she is a picture of the church as well as an example for those in the church.
Ruth, the exemplar

Can we see in Ruth behavior which gives us a picture of what the ordinary Christian should be doing?

  • She lies at the feet of her redeemer. Surely this teaches us to be at the feet of Jesus, both as redeemer and teacher. We need to have a servant’s heart, and an attitude of submission to the Holy God.
  • She asks for his protection – which clearly acknowledges that she does not have the strength in herself to prevail. So the individual Christian must acknowledge that without Christ we have no hope of righteousness.
  • She was obedient to his instructions, as we should be to our Lord.

Does this seem so difficult? Or is it a matter of pride?

Ruth, picture of the church

Ruth is, allegorically, the picture of the church. We can pick up this picture thusly:

  • She is in submission to her Redeemer, as the church should be in submission to Christ. This is not a burden to her, but a blessing.
  • She comes to her Redeemer dressed in her best. Clean clothes symbolize the righteous acts of the saints.[6],[7] So it is that we should prepare for His coming again by doing what the righteous should.
  • She seeks refuge “under His wings” – acknowledging that she needs the shelter and help.


[1] John 9:1-3

[2] Revelation 3:19

[3] See John 9:4 for a parallel with Christ and His disciples.

[4] One suspects the reason is that Naomi is too old to do the back breaking work of gleaning.

[5] And this one is well established; it’s just that we don’t call it an allegory. Which it is.

[6] Revelation 19:8

[7] Discussion point: just how should a Christian woman dress? 1st Peter 3:3-4

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