Let’s orient around some Biblical symbols that are easily recognised.
The tabernacle was a copy of the real one, which Jesus cleansed after his ascension.
When asked what baptism is, we explain that it is a symbol of our identification with Christ in His death and resurrection. It represents a new birth, and a new life in Christ.
Jesus continually compared the Kingdom of God to something in the natural world and taught through parables, which were multiple symbols working together to convey a spiritual principle.
These are just a handful of examples, the Scriptures are replete with symbolism and the symbols reinforce the richness of what we believe. The types of Christ (Joseph, Joshua, David and others) are also excellent examples of this.
That said, let’s see if we can delve deeper into the treasure chest of Biblical symbolism. The following is my own paraphrase of the major events of the book of Ruth. A profound (and timely!) message is revealed simply by assigning symbolic value to each person in the story based on their name:
Pleasant (Naomi) was sojourning in a foreign land because there was a famine. There she was widowed. Her husband, Elimelech (My God is King), died and their two sons Mahlon (Sickness) and Kilion (Weakness) also died. All that was left were her two daughters-in-law. The one, Orpah (Back of the Neck), left her. The other, Ruth (Friend), clung to her.
So Pleasant and Friend returned to the House of Bread (Bethlehem). But Pleasant changed her name to Bitter upon her return.
In the House of Bread, the Friend of Bitter performed the harvest while Bitter remained desolate in her poverty.
Then, “By His Strength (Boaz)” married the Friend of Bitter and redeemed all of Pleasant’s former inheritance – her land.
Then, “By His Strength” and Friend of Pleasant had a child. And the child was named under the inheritance of Pleasant, and belonged to her. The child was named Servant-Worshipper (Obed).
Interpretation of the Symbols
I propose that “Pleasant” is a type (symbol) of the nation of Israel. “Friend” is a symbol of the Church, and “By His Strength” is a symbol of Jesus. In this picture, the Church serves Israel and identifies as her friend. Jesus ultimately redeems Israel through the Church, who performed the harvest of souls on her behalf while she remained Bitter and without ownership of her land.
My favourite part is the meaning of the name Obed, which is the perfect identity of the children of God. These are born through the work of the church, in partnership with Christ, and are destined to inherit Israel’s possessions as her children.
Take a look one more time at the paraphrase with fresh eyes:
Israel was sojourning in a foreign land because there was no food (spiritual food/manna/Jesus). There she was separated from God (My God is no longer King), and her two sons Upper Kingdom (Sickness) and Lower Kingdom (Weakness) then also died. All that was left were the gentiles. The one, The World (Back of the Neck), left her. The other, The Church (Friend), clung to her.
Both Israel and The Church turned to get their sustenance from God. But Israel changed her name to Bitter at this time.
Then the Church performed the harvest while Bitter remained desolate in the house of spiritual poverty.
When Jesus inspected the work of the Harvest and saw Friend, he gave her his food and commanded his servants (the angels) to protect her while she performed the harvest.
Later He married the Church and redeemed all of Israel’s inheritance, her land, through this marriage.
By His Strength creates children through the Church and these are considered the children of Israel (Naomi has a son). The children of True Isreal are Servant Worshippers.
I think that’s RAD!!!
What are your thoughts? Do you see these symbols at play throughout the story of Ruth? What are some of your thoughts on symbolism in Scripture?
Intersection with Modern Politics
As an aside, its hard to talk about Israel without tipping a hat to the present heat concerning National Israel. Whatever you feel about National Israel, if you are a believer, I invite you to look at this prophetic message with an open heart. God does not call us to agree with modern Israel’s politics (wrong or right!), but to remember who she is to Him. One day she will be fully redeemed (including her land), and we will inherit the spiritual promises with her. We have already inherited a relationship with Christ precisely because she has been in a season of hardening.
But as the Spirit says through Paul, if we have received this much blessing through her hardening, how much more through her redemption!
God has good things in store for Israel. He has not forgotten her, but she will only be redeemed by His strength, and when the harvest is complete.