Inspired by my friend Tim Challies’ fascinating and insightful preaching (here) and blogging series (here and here) on Ruth, I returned to the book myself for a recent sermon.

Whenever I preach from an Old Testament book, I start by trying to ask the same questions that the original readers would have asked as they read the book.

And the first question the Israelites would have been asking when they read Ruth, or any other Old Testament book, is: “What is God like?” The Old Testament was not primarily a history of Israel, but a revelation of God. It revealed Him to Israel through their history.

In fact, we can be more specific. When Mr & Mrs Israelite were reading the Old Testament they were asking, “What is the coming Messiah like?”  Jesus Himself said that if the Israel of his own day had properly searched the Old Testament Scriptures, they would have found Him, “for they testify of me” (John 5:39).

Hindsight and foresight
And that testifying was not just with New Testament hindsight, but with Old Testament foresight. The whole Old Testament is built upon a promise; the promise of a suffering and saving Messiah; a promise first given in Genesis 3:15; a promise that was expanded and clarified with every passing chapter and book; a promise that stimulated hope, expectation, and longing. As Jesus said, “Many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it” (Matt. 13:17).

Peter tells us that although we understand more clearly than they did, the Old Testament prophets accurately predicted the saving sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow (1 Peter 1:10-11). And just in case we think that it was maybe only a few later prophets who grasped this, Peter assures us that God spoke of these things “by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began…Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days (Acts 3:21, 24)

With that increasingly powerful forward momentum of Old Testament revelation, Mr & Mrs Israelite read the book of Ruth and asked not only, “What is God like?” but, “What is the Messiah like?” “What do we learn about the Messiah from this book?” 

Moses himself provides this hermeneutic, this principle of interpretation, by saying that, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst” (Deut. 18:15). Moses is providing us with the key question to ask when we read Exodus to Deuteronomy. And it’s not so much, “What was Moses like?” That’s a good start. But we must go beyond that with, “What will the Messiah be like?” These then are not primarily “The books of Moses,” but more accurately “The books of the Messiah” (John 5:46).

Radical shift of focus
Returning to Ruth now, this fundamental question, “What is the Messiah like,” radically shifts our focus from Ruth to Boaz. In fact the book might equally be named after him, because he is the center and pivot of the book. Chapter 1 begins with a bitter Naomi and the book ends with a blessed Naomi. What made the difference? Three chapters of Boaz! All eyes should be on him. 

The key word in the book also dramatically spotlights Boaz. The Hebrew word ga’al appears 20 times. It is variously translated, but it basically combines two elements: relation and redemption. It is a close family member who steps in to defend, protect, and provide for the needy. It’s a word that was used to describe God’s past action of redeeming Israel out of Egypt; and the later prophets also used it repeatedly to describe a future redemption that God would accomplish.

So, when Mr & Mrs Israelite were reading in Exodus about God’s past redemption, or in Isaiah about God’s future redemption, they would perhaps turn to one another and ask, “Isn’t there another book about redemption somewhere in the Scriptures. Oh, yes, that little book about Boaz has lots about redemption. Let’s read there and find out about what kind of Redeemer God is, and what kind of Redeemer the Messiah will be like.”

If you want to read Ruth like Mr & Mrs Israelite, then ask the question “What is the Messiah like?” And if you do, you will discover the beautiful answer: “The Messiah is like Boaz.”

PS: Ruth has an important genealogical “postscript” that further boosts the Messianic momentum (Ruth 4:17-22). 

  • Anne Morrison

    Great stuff. Boaz, both willing to redeem, and able to redeem because of the kinship. What likenesses indeed there are between Ruth’s Boaz and the Greater Boaz. Thanks for this

  • Pete Scribner

    Thanks! Ruth is one of my favorite books, in large part thanks to my friend and former professor, Jay Sklar, and this chapel message he preached when I was in seminary.