“In the days when the judges ruled…” (Ruth 1:1)
This short phrase as the story of Ruth begins is a loaded one. Understanding the time period in which these individuals lived gives depth and meaning to this story – and what a time period it was! Today I am going to walk you through a brief overview of Judges to give us a better understanding of this book’s context.
The book of Judges has a very clear structure. As Judges opens, we discover that the Israelites are failing to completely drive out the Canaanites from the land – direct disobedience to God’s command at the end of Joshua and ultimately a sign that they are not believing God and obeying in faith. Throughout the rest of the book, we find this lack of faith and disobedience to God continuing to plague God’s people.
Through chapters 3-16, there is a four-step cycle that repeats seven times [it shows up also very concisely in chapter 2].
- The people sin and fall into idolatry (2:10-13)
- They are oppressed by their enemies (2:14-15)
- They call out to God in distress (2:15)
- He raises up a judge to deliver them from their enemies (2:16)
Then the judge dies and they repeat step one – only worse than before. (2:17-19)
As this cycle continues the entire nation of Israel seems to be in a downward spiral, becoming more and more spiritually hardened and morally debase. As you read through the book the stories become more graphic, more violent, illustrating a nation living in complete ignorance or flagrant disregard to the standards of the God who redeemed them. Chapters 17-21 illustrate this vividly with some of the most disturbing accounts in all of Scripture.
One of the important aspects of Judges to keep in mind as the story of Ruth begins is the treatment and role of women during this time of the judges. As the overall culture of Israel decays and moves farther and farther from the fear of God, women suffer the effects most vividly. Men are failing to step up to fulfill what God has called them to. Women are vulnerable without strong and godly male headship and are often victimized or forced to assume roles God never intended for them. From Jael using her maternal instincts to brutally kill a man to a woman being gang raped, left for dead, and dismembered as a “message” to Israel, this book is hard to read. Women become increasingly brutalized and brutal as a culture moves farther from God.
“In the days when the judges ruled…” places this story into a vivid and difficult climate both spiritually and morally. Ruth and Naomi would have been vulnerable at any time in history, but their vulnerability is that much greater in this time of chaos and corruption. A godly man like Boaz would stand out even more in this broken and depraved world. God’s sovereignty in orchestrating the godly blood-line through which the Messiah would one day come seems even more miraculous.
The book of Ruth is a calm in the storm – a reminder that no matter how broken our world may seem, our God is still on the throne. He is still very much aware of the lives of even the most forgotten members of society. His plans will never be thwarted.
Want to dig deeper into the fascinating book of Judges? Dig to your heart’s content here.