Significance of Ruth’s Place in the Canon

Given Ruth’s place in Scripture after the Book of Judges, what is the significance of this placement? Ruth acts as an appendix to Judges (Keil & Delitzsch, 1982, p. 468). We may call it an excursus, which according to Webster’s Ninth Collegiate, is “an appendix or digression that contains further exposition of some point or topic.”

The Book of Judges consists of an introduction, the stories of the twelve judges, and two appendices (Cundall, 1973, p. 50). Scott (1976) pinpoints the purpose of these two appendices, “The fact that the period of the Judges is so justifiably called the Dark Ages spiritually in Israel is well illustrated by the two stories coming out of that period recorded in chapters 17-21” (p. 75). Dumbrell (2002) concurs, “Judges concludes with two stark accounts that emphasize the sordid character of the period” (p. 79). Coming to Ruth, we see something different. “It deals with the period of the Judges, but it forms a contrast with the book of that name. The book of Judges tells of war and strife, but [Ruth] is a quiet story of ordinary people going about their quiet lives” (Morris, 1973, p. 229; cf. Scott, 1976, p. 77).

Ruth is a splash of sunshine and grace amid evil and degradation. Scott (1976) puts it this way, “There were doubtlessly some godly parents in Israel who did not follow the faithless trends of the times” (p. 77). Cassel (1960) adds, “Undoubtedly, however, the Book of Ruth offers an interesting parallel to that of Judges. While the latter exhibits the military history of Israel, the former introduces us to the peaceful private life of the people” (p. 7). Fee and Stuart (1993) give this description, “The narrative tells us implicitly that Bethlehem was an exceptional town during the Judges period by reason of the faithfulness of the citizenry” (p. 88).

On the one hand, as Breisch (1972) indicates, “Judges showed us how badly the people of Israel needed a king” (p. 74). On the other hand, “Ruth helps us to understand how God was preparing, even then, to give Israel a king who would truly reign for Him (Breisch, 1972, p. 74). Cohen (1990) adds, “There is no escape from the fact that everything [in Ruth] in the last instance leads up to David” (p. 110). The Hebrew term, goel, redeemer, appears fifteen times in Ruth. It is the goel tradition that provides the book’s backdrop, not levirate marriage (Hubbard, 1988, p. 57). As we will see, a central theme in Ruth is seeking redemption.

Therefore, Archer also insists that Ruth leads us to Christ; the “kinsman-redeemer serves as a Messianic type” (Archer, 1964, p. 269). In Israel, “every man held his piece of land as an inheritance from Yahweh” (Thompson, 1975, pp. 216-217). In God’s providence, a family might fall into poverty and sell their inheritance. The duty of the goel was to redeem family property so that a family would always have an inheritance in Israel (Ruth 4:3-4). This land was a place of rest for the people (Deuteronomy 25:19). But this rest was incomplete. “For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that” (Hebrew 4:8). “The rest that these enjoyed was only a type of God’s rest and, therefore, incomplete” (Hewitt, 1986, pp. 85-86). “At best the ‘rest’ for the Israelites of Joshua was only was temporary (Heb. 4:8). In Christ, eternal rest is promised” (Hess, 1996, p. 221). The duty of the goel was also to marry the impoverished widow and raise up children in the name of the deceased (Ruth 4:5).

A word about biblical typology seems to be in order here. A “type is a figure or adumbration [foreshadowing] of that which is to come” (Terry, 1999, p. 246). “The type must prefigure something in the future … Hence it is that typology constitutes a specific form of prophetic revelation” Terry, 1999, p. 248). Therefore, a biblical type “signifies the preordained representative relation which certain persons, events, and institutions of the Old Testament bear to corresponding persons, events, and institutions in the New” (Terry, 1999, p. 246). In Ruth, the land, which Boaz redeems, points ahead to the heavenly rest we have in Christ. As a type of redeemer, Boaz looks forward to the Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

All of this is quite different than the approach to Scripture known as sensus plenior. Quoting Raymond Brown, LaSor defines sensus plenior as follows:

The sensus plenior is that additional, deeper meaning, intended by God but not clearly intended by the human author, which is seen to exist in the words of a Biblical text (or group of texts, or even a whole book) when they are studied in the light of further revelation or development in the understanding of revelation (LaSor, 1978, p. 54).

Biblical types do not fit this definition. Biblical types and antitypes are preordained, as are their relationships. Biblical types are prophetic. The appearance of a type guarantees the emergence of the antitype. For example, Adam is a type of Christ (Romans 5:14). Adam’s arrival in Eden ensures the later revelation of Christ.

It is striking that Ruth finds its place between Judges and 1 Samuel, among what we call the ‘former prophets.’ Perhaps we should consider Ruth, not merely historical narrative, but prophetic history. Part of the significance of Ruth’s place in the canon is that it looks ahead to the redeemer, Jesus Christ.

Denny Prutow
Copyright © 2021

Works Cited
Archer, G. L. (1964). Survey of Old Testament Introduction. Chicago: Moody.
Breisch, F. (1972). The Kingdom of God. Grand Rapids: National Union of Christian Schools.
Cassel, P. (1960). “The Book of Ruth.” In J. Lange (Ed.), Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (Vol. 2). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Cohen, A. (Ed.). (1990). The Five Megilloth. New York: The Soncino Press.
Cundall, A. E. (1973). Judges. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Dumbrell, W. J. (2002). The Faith of Israel. Grand Rapids: Baker.
Fee, G. & Stuart, D. (1993). How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Hess, R. S. (1996). Joshua. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Hewitt, T. (1982). The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Hubbard, R. L. (1988). The Book of Ruth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Keil, C. F. & Delitzsch F. (1982). Joshua, Judges, Ruth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
LaSor, W. S. (1978). Prophesy, inspiration, and sensus plenior. Tyndale Bulletin 29, 49-60.
Morris, L. (1973). Ruth, An Introduction and Commentary. Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity.
Scott, J. B. (1976). God’s Plan Unfolded. Clinton, MS: Jack Scott.
Terry, M. S. (1999). Biblical Hermeneutics. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.
Thompson, J. A. (1975). Deuteronomy. London: Inter-Varsity.

2021-02-28T08:13:22-04:00 March 1st, 2021|