Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
Note: This is part one of a two part article. I have combined them into one full article that you can read by clicking here. If you’d like to read the parts separately, then you can find part two by clicking here.
Every year I try to read through the Bible in a different way. While reading the books in alphabetical order with Psalms interspersed the whole way though, the Holy Spirit lit up for me what I now refer to as “The Love Set.” The Love Set is comprised of Psalms 145-146, Ruth, Song of Songs, and Titus (in case any of you would like to duplicate the experience). While reading these books over the course of a few days the Holy Spirit gave me a realization: God loves love. I mean, God really loves love. Though I suppose this shouldn’t be surprising, because according to the Bible, God is love. It says so in 1 John 4:8, “Whoever does not love does not know God because God is love.” John is short, and to the point, but just wrap your brain around that: God is love. God is love and God loves love.
God loves familial love. I’m pretty sure the whole book of Ruth is devoted to God’s love of family. If you notice as you read this rose-colored book, everyone who wins does so because they’ve been obeying God and honoring their family ties. Take Naomi, the poor widow who was left with two daughters not her own. Most mother-in-laws might just leave their son’s wives behind after losing said sons. But not Naomi, although later she gives them the chance to return to their own land; initially, Naomi just keeps going on living with them as though her dead sons would be coming home any time. Check out the way this is written,
Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah (Ruth 1:3-7).
Naomi had lost her husband, and then her sons both died. Later in the story it becomes clear that throughout this ordeal, Naomi suffers greatly from the deaths in her family and is pretty depressed the whole time. Rather though then kicking her two daughters-in-law to the curb, she keeps them with her all the time. Orpah ends up leaving, but Ruth stays, and Naomi cheers her on for the rest of the story (even through her depression). The Bible never makes it clear if Naomi loves Ruth because she actually likes her, or if she does it through some sort of sense of duty, but the point is that Naomi sticks with her daughter-in-law. And because of her loyalty to Ruth, she is blessed by grandchildren (something she never thought she’d have). Scripture records that after the grandchild was born,
The women said to Naomi: “Praise be the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth” (Ruth 4:14-15).
Naomi cared for Ruth, and was rewarded by her daughter-in-law giving her a grandson. But it wasn’t just Naomi who stayed true to her family and was rewarded for it. Look at Ruth. Consider this, Ruth lost her husband, but Naomi lost basically her whole family. Ruth was hurt, but Naomi had become a basket case, the point of even changing her name to reflect how awful she felt. Scripture records in Ruth 1:20 Naomi’s response after the women in town come to meet her, “’Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.’” This is what Ruth lived with every day. And yet, despite having no reason at all to stay and care for this probably difficult woman, Ruth honored Naomi and stood by her during her hard times. Naomi gave Ruth the chance to leave with her sister, but this is what happened:
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me” (Ruth 1:16-17).
Ruth would not forsake her mother-in-law and even called a curse down upon herself should she consider doing so. In response to this, the Lord greatly blessed Ruth by giving her a great new husband, an awesome blessing from the elders of Israel, and a book of the Bible named after her. Scripture tells us,
Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son (Ruth 4:11-13).
Keep in mind, Ruth was not a native Israelite. However, even though the law looked down on her citizenship, both the people and God blessed her marriage to Boaz because it was done out of honor to her dead husband and to her mother-in-law. And, as it turns out, Boaz was a pretty cool guy too. You see, Boaz also took care of his family. For Boaz was an unspecified member of Naomi’s family (or more specifically her dead husband’s family). At that time, if a situation happened where part of the family line ended, a close relative could redeem the property owned by his dead relative. This sounds like a pretty good deal, but there’s a catch. If that dead close relative had a wife and no children, he would also have to take the wife at the same time (which could be problematic, especially if he wanted [or already had] a wife of his own). Moreover, the first child of that wife would be credited to the dead ex-husband and as such create difficulties when dividing up the inheritance later on. Although you would be gaining the property, you would be doing so in the stead of a dead relative whose line would continue separate from yours. It’d be like doing the work and someone else getting paid. Nevertheless, Boaz proudly helped his family and married Ruth (though to be fair, he was also motivated by love for Ruth). Check out his speech,
Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!” (Ruth 4:9-10).
Not only did Boaz honor his dead relative, but he did so with great gusto. As such, Boaz’ line was blessed (and interestingly enough, he’s still credited by history as his son’s father). How blessed was this family line? We read,
This, then, is the family line of Perez:
Perez was the father of Herzon,
Herzon the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,
Obed the father of Jesse,
And Jesse the father of David (Ruth 4:18-22)
Boaz ended up being the grandfather of King David, the greatest king of Israel. But there is more, Jesus was born from the house of David. I won’t list that genealogy (because it’s quite a few generations between David and Jesus), but you can check it out right at the beginning of the book of Matthew and in chapter 3 of Luke. So Boaz just did his duty, and now for eternity he’s tied to not only Israel’s royal family, but also to the Savior of the world and the Son of God. God loves familial love. Now, before moving on it should be noted that not everybody wins in the book of Ruth. You see, Boaz wasn’t the closest relative to Elimelech. There was another man in town that got dibs on helping his family first. However, he refused because of Ruth. Take a look at what happens,
At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took of his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)
So the kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal (Ruth 4:6-8).
When we read this by itself, it just seems like an odd tradition, removing one’s shoe. However, there was actually a lot of meaning behind this, and it carried a very heavy weight that the writer of Ruth tries to cover over a little. Check out what the law says on a relative who refuses to redeem a widow:
However, if a man does not want to marry his brother’s wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, “My husband’s brother refuses to carry on his brother’s name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me.” Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, “I do not want to marry her,” his brother’s widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take of one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, “This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother’s family line.” That man’s line shall be known in Israel as The Family of the Unsandaled (Deuteronomy 25:7-10).
The book of Ruth suggests this guy isn’t actually a brother, but a close relative. And the ritual he does is very much a corruption of the original Law (which fits with the lawless times that the book of Ruth is set in). But by removing his sandal, the closest kinsman-redeemer acknowledged that he’d have to carry the shame of essentially abandoning his family. The Lord rewards those who love their family, and brings shame to those who don’t; because God loves familial love.
God loves friendly love. Scripture tells us, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17). The relationship we have with our friends is unique out of all of the other relationships we may have. We may keep our friends for longer than we know our spouses; our friends may even outlive our relatives as life goes on. And with a friend there’s a wonderful innocence; it’s not your responsibility or duty to maintain your friendship like it would be in a familial relationship. Rather, you stay friends because you want to, and because even year after year, the emotional rewards keep on coming. Solomon tells us,
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down,
His friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls
And has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
Two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12).
Friendship is a gift from God to hold us all together. Pity those who walk alone, and then try to befriend him. Even Jesus had friends, and he called them friends too. We read,
Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you (John 15:13-15).
Jesus’ disciples were also his friends. And our Lord died for his friends, so that they would be saved. However, Jesus also opens up that invitation of friendship to us. He says that if we believe on him and do as he commands, we’ll enjoy friendship with our Lord and Savior. Trust Jesus and accept his friendship; because God loves friendly love.