I recently had the opportunity to participate in two different Bible studies where one was considering the book of Ruth and the other was considering the book of Esther. This gave me the opportunity to think about these two interesting books at the same time. It is remarkable that the two books give us two views of redemption. They appear so different on the surface yet have striking similarities. I want to share in this post just a few of my thoughts as I studied these two books.
The position of the two books is significant. Ruth appears as an appendix to Judges. It shows redemption in its personal and moral aspects. Following Judges emphasizes that the moral ruin had already been demonstrated (Judg. 21:25). Thus, the necessity for redemption leads directly to the presentation of the redeemer who loves and marries Ruth. Esther on the other hand appears as the last of the three history books of the captivity (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther). Consistent with this position, it shows the governmental aspect of redemption. The whole history of the kings has shown the ruin of human government under the “first Adam” (Hos. 1:9 with 1 Cor. 15:47) even when authorized and supported by the LORD Himself. We still wait for the final trial of human government under the Second Man where despite a perfectly righteous government, mankind shows itself as reprobate (Jer. 17:9 with Rev. 20:7–9).
Both Ruth and Esther primarily show the redemption of the nation of Israel. However, we can easily find applications to our need for redemption. This is most obvious in Ruth with Boaz as a picture of our Great Redeemer. The redemption story in Esther can easily be seen in connection with Israel but the more general aspects have not been emphasized. They are, nevertheless, very important also.
Key to seeing the relationship between Ruth and Esther as redemption stories is to recognize the central place of the “opposition.” The antagonist in Esther is quite obvious with respect to the nation, but it is less obvious as a general principle. Ruth on the other hand has only the mysterious unnamed redeemer that is “nearer” than Boaz (Ruth 3:12). Who could have priority over Boaz (Christ) as a redeemer? The antagonist in Esther and the unnamed “redeemer” in Ruth actually, while not representing exactly the same principle, go hand in hand in securing our slavery. They are in league with each other to enslave us and this is what we are redeemed from. Let’s identify each of the taskmasters one by one.
In Ruth, the unnamed “nearer kinsman” is introduced almost incidentally. So, we are left to inquire who or what could have priority over us to bring redemption. Remember, if Boaz represents the true redeemer, Christ, then we need to find some principle of redemption to which we naturally have a greater responsibility than the gracious One who died to secure us. This is a solemn thought. But, we need to look no further for our answer than the very beginning, the Garden of Eden. The very natural and necessary ground of our relationship to our Creator was obedience. Adam was simply to obey the commandment to not eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The apostle Paul reminds us of the “transgression” of this first (and only) commandment. (Rom. 5:14) But, God is a God of mercy and has given us a “second chance”. It is very important to get this right. Our unnamed redeemer is described in Ezekiel 33:12–16. Notice verses 14–16 of this passage in particular. The law, represented by the unnamed redeemer, does provide a way for us to redeem ourselves if we “turn from our sin and do what is just and right.” Do you (dear reader) want to try that method? Our common honest experience will immediately recognize the utter futility of such a program. This redeemer truly “has no strength.” He is not up to the task. Thank God He has provided for us a “Boaz”1.
In Esther the opposition is well known and very powerful. In fact, he is very very well known to each of us. Even as believers, he has the power to destroy us, just as in the story of Esther itself. The name of this destroyer gives away who he is. Haman the Agagite is a descendent of Esau. In the Old Testament, Esau and his descendents are a constant picture of the flesh (Ex. 17:16; Rom. 8:7–8; Rom. 9:13). So, the end of Haman is very different from the end of the unnamed redeemer in Ruth. In the case of the law, it remains but the apostle tells us in Romans
So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.Romans 7:12 and Romans 8:1–4.
So, the law as such is not set aside. Being “holy and righteous” it is ever a (not “the”) standard of God’s order for mankind. It is the flesh in us that makes the law a “law of sin and death.” But, what of Haman? He and all his descendents must be hanged. And so, while now we who are “in Christ” can reckon ourselves “dead to the flesh” in the future our salvation will be complete when our “Haman” is put away forever.
God has provided us a marvelous and complete salvation just as Ruth and Esther together show us.
1. Boaz means “man of strength” or “man of valour or “man of wealth.” All these meanings beautifully apply here.