Ruth is a Type – But Not of the Church
T&T 2014 Q3
Occasionally you may come across a view that Ruth is a type of the church. At first sight, this might appear plausible because there are a number of women in the Old Testament who clearly prefigure the church (e.g. Eve, Rebecca and Asnath). Also, it is true that Ruth, like Asnath, was a Gentile, and that Ruth’s blessings all depended on Boaz, who is a type of Christ. The Book of Ruth is a love story which culminates in the union of a man and a woman. This goes some way to explain why some Bible readers find it difficult not to think of the church in this connection.
However, we should not jump to conclusions. A closer study of the Book of Ruth will show that this interpretation can hardly be right. In fact, it would leave many details unexplained. Here are some examples:
- Ruth is linked with Naomi. She takes Naomi’s place in continuing the family of Elimelech and Naomi. These two women give a fitting picture of the two phases of Israel’s history: the phase of abandoning their God and losing their inheritance, and the (yet future) phase of restoration through the Jewish remnant. The church, on the other hand, will never take Israel’s place.
- Ruth and Naomi are linked by the fact that both are widows, but they differ in that Ruth is a Moabitess and hence has no claim whatsoever to the national rights and privileges of Israel. This illustrates the fact that Israel has forfeited all its rights and the remnant will be accepted on the basis of pure grace.
- The church, on the other hand, is never called a widow. This term only applies to Israel and the remnant (Isa. 54:4–5; 62:2–5).
- Ruth says, ‘Why have I found favour in thine eyes, that thou shouldest regard me, seeing I am a foreigner?’ (2:10; see also 2:2, 13). Hosea prophetically describes Israel as the nation that got into a position where it had ‘not found mercy’ (the meaning of Lo-ruhamah) but then — in the form of the future remnant — will find mercy (Ruhamah); see Hosea 1:6, 7 and 2:1, 23. The Hebrew word for ‘grace’ in Ruth 2:10 is derived from the same root as the word ‘Ruhamah’.
- The whole of the Book of Ruth deals with God’s discipline and restoration. Again this evidently applies to Israel.
- In Ruth 1:22 we read that Ruth ‘returned’ to Bethlehem. We have no reason to believe that Ruth had ever been to Bethlehem before but she is evidently identified with Naomi’s return. This is another detail that poses no problem when the prophetic meaning is known but would otherwise remain unexplained.
- The first right of redemption was with another relative. This particular relative was willing to redeem but proved unable to do so (a type of the law). The blessings of Israel were anchored in the law but forfeited due to their failure. The church was never under the law and its blessings are different (heavenly and spiritual).
- The truth of the kinsman may be applied to Christians in that Christ had to become man in order to be able to accomplish our redemption. Strictly speaking, however, Christ’s partaking of blood and flesh is linked to the seed of Abraham (i.e. Israel) in Hebrews 2:14–16.
- One important factor in the course of events is that Ruth and the land go together. Otherwise, the other kinsman would have purchased the inheritance and the outcome of the whole story would have been very different. When this other kinsman realised that he could not have the land without redeeming Ruth he said ‘I cannot redeem’ (4:6). So it is with Israel: the people and the land go together. It is impossible that one should be restored without the other (one central part of Abraham’s blessing was that his descendants should possess the land: Gen. 12:7). None of this applies to the church.
- The relatives attribute Ruth’s child to Naomi (4:17). In other words, it is in Ruth that Naomi is blessed. So it will be for the nation of Israel. A time will come when they will be blessed as a nation but only because a remnant from among them turns to Christ.
- The genealogy at the end of Ruth 4 establishes a link between Israel in Egypt and the establishment of the kingdom under David. This fits wonderfully with the prophetic interpretation of the book: God’s intervention in grace on behalf of Israel (Naomi) in the form of a remnant (re-)turning to Christ so that, ultimately, Christ can reign over them as king.
Therefore, the line of interpretation followed by the articles in this magazine, and by trusted expositors in general, will unlock the typological meaning of this short but beautiful book. Many details that would otherwise remain mysterious suddenly fall into place once Ruth is understood as type of the remnant received in grace.
Ruth’s story illustrates the love between Jehovah and His earthly people — enjoyed particularly by the remnant — and to be consummated in a coming day though not in the deep and eternal way that is true of Christ and the church. Sometimes we rob Israel of her portion by claiming everything in Scripture for the church, whereas the recovery of the truth in the early 19th century regarding the assembly was accompanied by the recognition of what was still in store for God’s earthly people.
Having said this, there are many applications of the book for individual believers today, in the Christian era: the impossibility of evading divine discipline, the need to return, the blessing of being associated with Boaz, the place at his feet, the need to be washed, the truth of redemption, the joy that follows, and so on. Put briefly:
- the doctrinal exposition of the book is that Ruth stands for the future Jewish remnant;
- the moral application of the book is to individual believers; but
- seeing Ruth as a type of the church is a problematic interpretation.