To trace the history by which a woman is fitted to fill a place of testimony for God on earth must be a study both interesting and important to us, and one specially needed in these days, whether it be applied to the individual or to the church.
Woman was first formed to be a " help suited to man." At the fall she seems to have forfeited this high position, and after it to be regarded in the place of subjection and inferiority rather than that of equality and help. Grace is the great manifestation of God's love, and the principle of grace is, " Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." Where failure and weakness have most appeared, there the grace of God acts in restoration. But this restoration is never without a sense of the failure and weakness which it triumphs over, and our blessed Lord, in leading a soul into the blessings of His grace, must necessarily educate it in the righteousness of His actings, as well as in the goodness of them. It is according as we learn the Lord Jesus Christ that we in heart and conscience comprehend both, and the means and stages of this restoration detail to us the nurture and admonition of the Lord. He leads us to see, step by step, how we need His grace, and He prepares us for it by producing in us the self-renunciation which will make room for His gift. God in His discipline teaches us how the flesh hinders-shows us what it is, and deals with it that it may be set aside.
How gracious of the Lord, then, to instruct us as He does, by presenting to us in His word examples of the principles of the discipline which fits us, according to His own purpose, for service and glory.
This is what we find in Ruth, and herein consists the interest of her history, in which we learn how God led and enabled a woman, who was a member of the most despised family, a Moabite, to fill the most honoured position in the royal tribe of Israel ; nay, to concentrate in herself the blessings of Rachel and of Leah. We cannot too carefully note the manner and spirit by which this great result was attained.
Chapter i-Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons had emigrated from Bethlehem-Judah into the land of Moab because of the famine in their own land. It was an evidence of decline and judicial suffering when a man of Israel had to desert his own country because it lacked those natural blessings which were granted to a Gentile country, and the necessary consequence of this is that Elimelech's two sons took them wives of the women of Moab. A son of the promised seed, by marrying a woman of Moab, raised her from her low position, though in doing so he clouded his own and compromised it by his sojourn in the land of Moab. So that Ruth was raised by her marriage from her low national position into one of the tribes of Israel, and on the death of her husband she, a widow, with only a widowed mother-in-law, must either, like Orpah, fall back into her former low estate, or she must seek to maintain that position to which she had been raised. This could only be done by holding fast her link with Israel, and that even at personal cost ; in other words, by cleaving to Naomi, though all natural expectation in connection with her was gone. The latter is Ruth's course, not intelligently; indeed, as to the positional gain such adherence would bring to her, but influenced by the still finer motive of personal devotion to the one through whom she had been already raised so far from her low estate. How she acted and succeeded in this course is detailed to us in this interesting book, and is recorded with great minuteness as a subject of deep importance to ourselves, for whether we regard Ruth as a type of the church, or of a Gentile believer, or of any believing woman, her history supplies a chapter in God's dealings which is very instructive to us.
The first characteristic of either must be simple devotion to known truth ; and this characteristic is finely developed in Ruth. She sacrifices all hope of alteration of her state for the sake of adhering to Naomi, come what will, to whom she says, " Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go ; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge : thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me." What an utterance is this. It is that of one stedfastly devoted to one object. What an expression of a soul firmly resolved to abide by all the truth of God, the link with all His purposes and blessings! The first part of the armour of God (Eph. 6) is to be " girt about with truth " ; and the first requisite of a servant in Christ, above all when in the unobtrusive sphere of a woman, is to be simply and unequivocally devoted to the truth of God.
Naomi, as we have seen, was the link to Israel. Ruth may not have known much about it, but that only makes her devotion the more admirable, for had she known more she must have had more reason and incentive for it, instead of the pure affection and appreciation which controlled her.
When the heart lays hold of truth, even though it knows not why, with a tenacity which will buy it and sell it not, we may rest assured it will be more fully unfolded, and " to him that hath shall more be given." Devotion to a true object ennobles a woman. If she has it not she is destitute of the first quality of her condition; when she fails in it, and thinks of herself as Eve did toward Adam, or the church toward Christ, then every disorder will ensue ; devotion to truth, to what is known by us as the really true and good, is the first great characteristic of a soul prepared and qualified for service and testimony. If we have not this quality all our ways must be imperfect, for we can have no defined centre! To be God's witness among men who have believed a lie of Him and have walked in it, glorifying themselves while they walked in hostility to Him, we must first and foremost be valiant for the truth. If we be deficient in this quality it is evident our ability for testimony is deficient, nay, more, in attempting to be a witness we are compromising the very name we assume to serve. We have not a heart thoroughly set on maintaining the first requisite of service. We may have a certain amount of affection, like that expressed by Orpah's kiss, but like her, our affection rests not on that which is alone true, and we shall soon turn aside to our own ways. We cannot too earnestly press on our souls the importance of this simple devotion to truth.
When love to the Lord is deep in our hearts we seek association with Him, He is the object of our affection, and as we have the affection we cleave to Him who produces it; as we appreciate Him we are identified with Him, and nothing else will satisfy a truly devoted soul. What is true of Him can on no account be relinquished and anything false is refused. I dwell on this point because so much of the character of a true servant of the church depends on it. Ruth, we see, was simple and unwavering in her purpose of heart, and she presents to us a striking type of this essential quality which we shall find meets with a great reward.
But, before we touch on the reward we may note another characteristic prominently presented and fully exemplified in Ruth's history, and that is, simple obedience in the most servile and unconspicuous toil. She enters the land of Israel inseparable from the once Naomi (pleasant), now reduced to Mara (bitter) ; but resigned to her circumstances, nay, content in them, she addresses herself to the smallest opening which is presented to her, which is always an evidence of a healthy and vigorous soul, and without hesitation or demur she embraces it. She says, " Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace."
It is the most unequivocal proof of true energy when in any strait we are not only resigned but ready to embrace any little opening to us, able to humble ourselves thereto and to testify to every one, even to our own souls, that God has not forgotten us and that what is directly before us is quite sufficient to meet our necessities. We only require to be humble to find it so. If we were to say or feel otherwise we should impugn His care and interest on our behalf. Ruth sees that there is no opening for her but in gleaning, and to gleaning she addresses herself, and this was the Lord's opening for her. Very humble unconspicuous labour no doubt, but He sees not as man seeth, and He led her by the right way; to " the meek shall he teach his way," and therefore " her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the kindred of Elimelech." " He that humbleth himself shall be exalted." When we are docile we are led to fulness of blessing. Unless we embrace the humble opening presented to us we shall never reach the goal of blessing. Ruth was the humble, laborious servant, and as such she receives her reward for her devotedness to Naomi. Mark! it is for her devotion she is rewarded, more than for her service. Boaz said to her, " It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother in law since the death of thine husband : and how thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not heretofore: the Lord recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the Lord God, under whose wings thou art come to rest."
Boaz blessed her-a blessing which he afterwards (like all blessers) shared in himself-and he also commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean among the sheaves, and reproach her not and let fall some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not." Thus we see Ruth receives more on account of her devotion to Naomi than she obtains by her honest and continual toil ; and this is always the case. However great the recompense for faithful service, that of devotion immeasurably exceeds it. Had Ruth gone to the field to glean as did the other handmaidens, she would have obtained her due, what her labour merited, but no more. But it was far otherwise with her: devotedness to one (Naomi) was the spring of all her work, and the result was to her, as we shall find it to ourselves when animated with a like spirit-the in-gathering is exceeding abundant. And not only so, the devoted one is led on, step by step, until she attains full rest, honour and, finally, inheritance. The sequel of her history shows us this: she ultimately becomes the wife of Boaz, the true kinsman, who redeems the inheritance ; and according to the blessing pronounced on her she builds up the royal house of David, even as Rachel and Leah built up the house of Israel. The poor Moabitess is brought into close proximity to the throne of Judah, and she makes the name of her kinsman-redeemer " famous " in Bethlehem-Ephratah, the place of death and resurrection! A wondrous result this from so humble a beginning, but one in full keeping with God's ways in discipline.
' And now that we have reached this result in Ruth's history, let us pause, for our souls' profit, to mark the discipline by which the Lord led her (in fact, that by which He leads every soul who attains the same end) to this place of rest and honour ; for well is it for us to note how He empties before He fills-how He humbles before He exalts. First, she is a widow--deprived of all human hope in that fife which was most honourable to her, and which her alliance with a son of Israel had elevated her to. She next surrenders country, kindred and the natural expectations which she might have had, by falling back on her former low estate as a Moabitess, for the company of one linked with her condition of widowhood, but who had been reduced from pleasantness to bitterness, and this association entailing on her constant, humble, unremitting toil. Refusing or despising no opening, however humble, she pursues her lowly, toilsome, unobtrusive course from day to day, and daily finds how gracious and merciful the Lord is to her; so much so, that it fills her with wonder and amazement, for on the first day of it, she says to Boaz, falling on her face, and bowing herself to the ground, " Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger? " The soul is little prepared for God's unexpected mercies ; yet what were those to what followed? What was her former condition previous to widowhood in comparison to that so full of honour and dignity in which the Lord now places her! Blessed widowhood, to have prepared her for such a place! Blessed process which led on to it in the paths of single-eyed devotedness and humility! Blessed God, to have thus dealt with her!
It will be remembered that Ruth came to Bethlehem in the beginning of the barley-harvest, which commenced immediately after the feast of the Passover, and continues her services during the seven weeks of harvest (a perfect period according to the symbolical numeration of scripture) to the end of the wheat-harvest, that is, unto Pentecost, and after Pentecost it is that Boaz claims her as his own. I mention this as significant, whether we regard Ruth as a type in a practical or in a positional aspect, for Pentecost typified that full fruition of blessing marked by the descent of the Holy Ghost. After the seven weeks which elapsed between the Lord's death and Acts 2, that great day of Pentecost, to which all other days had pointed, " had fully come," and which installed the bride in the place of privilege. On the other hand, though the church be now in the blessings of Pentecost, yet, if she walks not in the faithfulness to the truth committed to her, and in patient, dutiful service, she cannot realise the high privileges conferred on her, the reason of which is very simple.
If I am not true to the Lord, as far as I know Him, I am not led by His Spirit, and if I am not walking in the Spirit, I cannot by any possibility realise the privileges and nearness proper to the bride, and into which the Holy Ghost is commissioned to lead us. Again, what is true of the church as a whole is true of every individual member. The woman is here given in type, because, as a unit, she ought to represent the church, the bride of the last Adam, as redeemed from the ruin and shame into which the first woman plunged her. But whether man or woman, if we walk not in devotion to the truth and in patient, humble, unconspicuous service as strangers on the earth, we cannot enter into the relationship and place of rest which our Boaz vouchsafes to each of His faithful Ruths in spirit even now. And the more we comprehend His ways with us, the better shall we understand how He is teaching each of us after this manner : teaching us as faithful to our light to walk therein to the full fruition of His love, as widows in this world, devoted to Him, and serving Him patiently and obscurely, but satisfied if we realise what is already ours now even our union with Him, and possession of all that His love can share with us.