The Story of Israel as Told in the Book of Ruth


By Sarah L, Staff Writer for Hope for Israel

The holiday of Shavuot, the culmination of the period known as the Counting of the Omer, is here! This is the holiday at which Israel received both the Torah and the Holy Spirit, and many connect it to traditions such as reading the Ten Commandments or eating dairy foods. A lesser-known Shavuot tradition is that of reading the Book of Ruth.

It is a familiar story – the young foreign woman who refuses to leave her mother-in-law and returns with her to the Land of Israel. There, she gleans grain from the barley field of an unknown kinsman, Boaz, who ultimately redeems her and her mother-in-law through marriage. Boaz and Ruth became the great-grandparents of Israel’s most famous king, David, and ultimately the ancestors of Messiah Yeshua.

There is one obvious link between the Book of Ruth and the harvest holiday of Shavuot: Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, returned to the Land of Israel during the barley harvest. Barley was one of the main spring crops in ancient Israel and was harvested beginning around the time of the Passover. (It is probable that the first fruits offering presented at Passover would have been barley.) Therefore, most likely, Ruth’s entire story occurred during the weeks between Passover and Shavuot, known as the Counting of the Omer.

On a deeper level, Ruth’s individual journey is analogous to that of the nation of Israel. There is a parallel between Israel and Ruth, and between her redemption and that of Israel. At the Passover, Israel left slavery in Egypt, journeying through the desert to reach Mt. Sinai at Shavuot, the consummation of their covenant with God. Around the time of Passover, Ruth left Moav, a country typically alienated from Israel, and journeyed to join the people of Israel. Ruth’s covenant marriage to Boaz probably also occurred around the time of Shavuot. However, in contrast to Israel, Ruth showed loyalty and steadfastness of purpose to the end of her story.

At the beginning of Ruth’s story, she refuses to leave Naomi, even though her chances of regaining prosperity would probably have been much better staying in her own country, Moav, and remarrying there. Her choice to stay with Naomi was entirely unselfish. Ruth 1:16 (TLV) says, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.”

This famous quote is also considered a sort of “statement of faith” from a Gentile who embraced the God of Israel and His precepts. Traditional Judaism connects Ruth to Shavuot for this reason: at Mt. Sinai, all Israel were newcomers, hearing the Torah for the first time. Similarly, although Ruth was not born into Israel, she accepted God with all her heart; therefore, when remembering the giving of the Torah on Shavuot, all Israel should strive to embrace it as fully as Ruth did. Ruth’s words also emphasize the importance, not only of loyalty to the God of Israel, but also to the people of Israel.

An additional layer of meaning lies in this traditional interpretation for believers. Ruth was a Gentile follower of the God of Israel. In her day, this was relatively rare. However, hundreds of years later, at a Shavuot celebration in Jerusalem, where thousands of Jews from all over the world were gathered, the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples of Yeshua. Although on this day only Jewish people were present, the event opened the door to the centurion Cornelius’ immersion and the beginning of the period in which Gentile believers were grafted into Israel’s purpose, as Ruth was, in serving God.

God is not done with Israel. While on the surface the book of Ruth does not appear to be connected to the holiday of Shavuot, a wealth of beautiful symbolism is waiting to be discovered. Perhaps the most beautiful parallel between Ruth and the people of Israel is yet to come. God says, through the prophet Hoshea,

So then, I Myself will entice her [Israel], I will bring her into the wilderness and speak to her heart. I will give her back her vineyards from there and make the valley of Achor a door of hope. She will respond there – as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of the land of Egypt. In that day – it is a declaration of the Lord – you will proclaim “my husband” and never again call Me, “my master.” (Hoshea 2:16-18, TLV)

In the last days, just as Boaz redeemed Ruth, Messiah Yeshua will return to redeem His people Israel and take His place as Israel’s “husband” and King. In that day of final and national revelation and redemption, “yihieh Adonai echad u’shmo echad!” (The Lord will be One and His Name One!)

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