by BJ Spurlock
When reading the scriptures, especially as one reads through the Old Testament, it is always helpful to ask the following questions:
- Where is Jesus Christ in the text?
- Where do we see gospel doctrines & principles that Jesus Christ taught?
- Where do we see gospel doctrines & principles that living Prophets are currently teaching?
Seeing the Savior in the text as he interacts with his covenant children is of utmost importance. Elder Henry B. Eyring (at the time) made the following promise:
So much of the Old Testament can be taught as dramatic stories, fascinating customs, and beautiful literary forms. But I will sense a greater happiness, a deeper appreciation when I study or teach of times when prophets spoke of Jehovah and when the people received the words and turned toward Him. I would sense sorrow when the people turned away from the promised Savior of mankind and toward misery. I can make you a promise if you do that: the Spirit will come and you will sense less of the sordid wickedness of the people, of their abominations, and more of the love of their God, who warned them against iniquity and idolatry, who begged them to come to Him, and who, even in their wickedness and misery, kept reaching after them. (1)
The readings this week are no different. Jehovah is ever mindful of his children and the principles of the gospel are on full display.
The Book of Ruth
The Book of Ruth was placed behind the Book of Judges in early Christian canons like the Septuagint because of the very first verse, “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled…” (see Ruth 1:1). Many Christian scholars, therefore, see the Book of Ruth as an appendix of sorts to the Book of Judges. In the Hebrew Bible, the Book of Ruth is placed among the Ketuvim (the third section of the Hebrew Bible, means “the writings”). The debate about when the book was written varies a bit but isn’t necessarily the point of this article. To put it quickly, most biblical scholars think that the book was written later in Israel’s history. Some scholars have extensively written that The Book of Ruth is possibly a soft critique of the treatment foreigners received in Israelite culture during the times of the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah. (2)
The story of Ruth begins with her future in-laws living in Moab due to famine in Israel. Naomi, Ruth’s future mother-in-law, loses her husband in death. Later, Naomi’s two sons marry Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. In a tragic turn of events, the sons of Naomi (the husbands of Ruth and Orpah) also die. This causes Naomi to desire to return to her native land where she has heard that the Lord has provided bread to His people.
Naomi, in loving invitation and in the spirit of understanding, asks Ruth and Orpah to return to their mothers’ households before she travels back to her homeland. In moving response, both daughters (I am sure Naomi considered them as if they were her own flesh and blood) “lifted up their voice, and wept. And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people” (see Ruth 1:9-10). Naomi, again, pleads with them to turn away and says she has no more sons to give them to marry. This is in reference to the marriage practice explained in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Ruth and Orpah have run out of options in regard to raising future posterity to their late husbands. For this reason, in verse 14, we get Orpah kissing Naomi and then leaves her to return unto her “mother’s house” (verse 8).
It is here I see some teachings of the Savior at play. Interestingly, the name “Orpah”, according to Robert Alter, “points to the word for “nape”, ‘oref, because in the end she necessarily turns her back on Naomi to head back to Moab” (3). Various scholars note that “Orpah is not being condemned here; there are no villains in the Book of Ruth” (4). Most of us know how Ruth responds in contrast but looking at Orpah’s response can be instructive. Recently, President Nelson has taught:
If friends and family should step away from the Church, continue to love them. It is not for you to judge another’s choice any more than you deserve to be criticized for staying faithful. (5)
Orpah’s decision to step away or, at least, to not embrace the God of Israel is one that can’t be justified. We can never justify the decision to not come unto the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But we can be like the Savior who showed radical empathy towards those who even radically rejected him. Does “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” ring a bell (see Luke 23:34)? Orpah had lost a husband. She was, at least in ancient near east culture, in a patriarchal society that would have risked her extreme poverty if she would go to Israel with Naomi. Again, this doesn’t justify Orpah’s choice; but the softness by which the Book of Ruth is written towards her reflects the Savior’s relations with those whom he ministered to one by one. To those whom he loved. This doesn’t minimize the need to repent, but it does highlight advice that Elder Maxwell once gave to Elder Holland:
[There are times when we] have been insufficiently careful of the pain in peoples’ lives. There are scars that go unnoticed, but you must see them. You must tread with caution on the hallowed ground of another’s suffering. (6)
We really do not know what happened to Orpah, which is probably why the Hebrew doesn’t ask us to pass judgement on her. Some might be confused as to how all this reconciles with “Say nothing but repentance unto this generation” (see D&C 6:9, 11:9, 14:8, and 19:21). To repent is to come unto the Savior who has “healing in his wings” (see 2 Nephi 25:13 & Malachi 4:2). To judge others because they reject healing is to violate counsel given by living prophets and is the exact opposite of what the Savior did in ministering moments to the one. President Nelson put it succinctly when he recently said, “The Savior loves us always but especially when we repent.” (7)
Ruth responds in a different way to Naomi’s second request. 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. (see Ruth 1:16)
Many of us read this and conclude that Ruth was a convert to the Jewish religion, but that is not how the people of the ancient near east understood things. The theological concept of converting to another faith was simply something foreign to the mind, writings, and practices of the people of the ancient near east and the ancient Israelites. “Conversion in early Israel meant immigrating and naturalizing as a citizen.” (8) It is for this reason that Ruth’s response possibly points us to a concept greater than converting from another religion or ancient god. Ruth is an example of assimilation, assimilation into the body of covenant Israel and into the ancient kingdom of God. Conversion is another good synonym for this, but it goes deeper than one choosing a new religion. An assimilation of us to the Lord Jesus Christ suggests a mighty change. It is the change in nature and becoming a new creature that the scriptures speak about. We, like Ruth, can make the declaration and choice to assimilate and, therefore, be assimilated or changed. Elder Bruce C. Hafen (at the time) wrote:
Our assimilating… the Atonement [of Christ] into our souls, symbolized by the physical assimilation of eating and drinking the sacramental bread and water, creates a spiritual umbilical cord between Christ and the children of Christ. He spoke of this life-giving nourishment in the teachings of the last supper: ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit.’ (John 15:5.) And the sustenance of this ‘true vine’ (John 15:1) will bless us with ‘the fruit of the spirit,’ which includes both hope and the gift of charity, along with ‘joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, . . . faith, [and] meekness.’ (Galatians 5:22.) (9)
Truman G. Madsen drives the point home:
In participating in the sacrament, we do literally partake not only of emanating powers, but of what Peter calls “the divine nature,” by inviting into our systems through the tokens or emblems of broken bread and water or wine, the elements of higher life, higher spirit, higher power–the power of godliness –which by his own life-victory Christ now embodies and diffuses. (10)
Ruth makes the choice to follow Naomi to become a completely different person. It is her nationality changed, her divine loyalty changed, and her family name change. This can symbolize for us the complete assimilation we must undertake as followers of Jesus Christ. We are helped by the spirit that literally imparts and diffuses that divine nature, so we become literally “a new creature” (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). It should not be overlooked that Ruth’s desire to do such was largely fueled by her love for her mother-in-law. At times, the love of Family can do wonders to bring those currently outside the covenant path to the inside.
Ruth is eventually blessed highly for her choices. She is introduced to a relative of Naomi, Boaz, who eventually becomes her new husband. Jeffrey Bradshaw, quoting Dr. Gary A. Anderson, notes that “Boaz… also happens to be the name of one of two pillars that sat athwart the entranceway of the Temple in Jerusalem.” Bradshaw continues to summarize as he recounts the events in Ruth 3:6-13,
Anderson points out the importance of the fact that “the word for ‘robe’ [or skirt] in Hebrew happens to be the exact same word as ‘wing.’ This remarkable word play carries us back to Boaz’ blessing in chapter two: ‘May you have a full recompense from the Lord, the God of Israel under whose wings you have sought refuge.’” Taken together, Anderson’s observations make it clear that the plot line of the story of Ruth takes us on a journey from the gate of the temple where the pillar of Boaz stands to the Holy of Holies where two cherubim “stretch forth their wings on high” to cover the mercy seat. (11)
Ruth’s choice is played out on the literary pages as a non-Israelite who has been fully assimilated or who has undertaken the process of perfection. Interestingly, and considering the temple themes of her marriage to Boaz, John W. Welch has written that “the Greek word translated into English as “perfect” in Matthew 5:48 is teleios. This important word is used in Greek religious literature to describe several things, including the person who has become fully initiated in the rituals of the religion.” (12)
The Book of Ruth is a holy book. Her choice rewarded her with being the great-grandmother of the great King David, another messianic figure. With its inexhaustible themes we can pull out, is it any wonder that Jews read this, The Book of Ruth, every year on the second day of Shavuot, “Feast of Weeks.” Jewish tradition explains why they revere this book and why they read it during their holy festival. All these reasons point to the loving-kindness of the Messiah:
Both the Torah, which was given on Shavuot, and Ruth are all about kindness and generosity (hesed). At Sinai, Israel took upon itself obedience to the Torah; Ruth likewise takes this obligation to the Torah upon herself. According to one tradition, David was born and died on Shavuot; the Book of Ruth ends with the lineage of David. Shavuot is connected to the barley harvest (also called bikkurim in the Bible); so, too, is the story of Ruth. A midrash (a teaching from rabbinic literature) claims that the Torah can be adequately grasped only by those who have suffered; Ruth suffers poverty and hardship (Ruth Zuta). Reading Ruth teaches us that actions, not mere study, are the essence of “righteous living” or “goodness”; Boaz exemplified this teaching through his actions of hesed and his observance of mitzvot. Having received the Torah at Sinai, Israel is now ready to bring near anyone who seeks to receive it, including proselytes like Ruth – the welcoming of Ruth is an example of this readiness. The Torah helps Israel gather the holy sparks scattered among the nations; such is the case with Ruth. In taking the Torah upon themselves at Sinai, the Jewish people all became proselytes. (13)
1 Samuel 1-3
The events of 1 Samuel approximately occur during 1050-1010 B.C.E. As for the origins of the book, “it was probably compiled from several sources or records and then shaped after the death of King Solomon and the division of once-united Israel unto the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Note the references to “Israel” and “Judah” as separate entities in several places in the books of Samuel.” (14) Robert Alter notes that the division of 1 & 2 Samuel is “purely an artifact of ancient manuscript production.” He further explains that ancient scrolls were roughly the same length and when one reached the end of a scroll they would simply move onto another scroll. Hence, 1 & 2 Samuel should be seen as trying to tell a cohesive story. (15)
The events of the first few chapters of 1 Samuel tell the story of Hannah who was barren and the events of the miracle child, Samuel, being visited and called of the Lord to be a prophet to all Israel (see 1 Samuel 3:19-21). Hannah comes from the Hebrew, חנן (hanan), and means to be gracious or to implore. (16) Samuel in the Hebrew is not as straightforward and could mean “Name of God” or “Heard of God”. (17) Needless to say, Hebrew names have a way of hitting the nail on the head.
Hannah teaches us many principles, like the power of prayer and to not faint in it (see Luke 18:1). I like how Joseph Smith articulated this principle when he said “weary [God] until he blesses you.” (18) Motherhood and its importance is brought to the forefront in the story of Hannah and rings of the birth of the Jesus Christ. Both Hannah and Mary had a miracle birth and both women understood and covenanted to dedicate their child to the Lord. For many women, they might have the same infirmity that Hannah had with infertility. Sister Julie B. Beck points to Hannah as being an example for all women:
Mothers who know desire to bear children. Whereas in many cultures in the world children are “becoming less valued,” in the culture of the gospel we still believe in having children. Prophets, seers, and revelators who were sustained at this conference have declared that “God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force.” President Ezra Taft Benson taught that young couples should not postpone having children and that “in the eternal perspective, children—not possessions, not position, not prestige—are our greatest jewels.
Faithful daughters of God desire children. In the scriptures we read of Eve (see Moses 4:26), Sarah (see Genesis 17:16), Rebekah (see Genesis 24:60), and Mary (see 1 Nephi 11:13–20), who were foreordained to be mothers before children were born to them. Some women are not given the responsibility of bearing children in mortality, but just as Hannah of the Old Testament prayed fervently for her child (see 1 Samuel 1:11), the value women place on motherhood in this life and the attributes of motherhood they attain here will rise with them in the Resurrection (see D&C 130:18). Women who desire and work toward that blessing in this life are promised they will receive it for all eternity, and eternity is much, much longer than mortality. There is eternal influence and power in motherhood. (19)
With Samuel we can also pull many parallels with the Savior. Samuel at an early age “was in favour both with the Lord, and also with men.” (see 1 Samuel 2:26) The same thing was said about the Savior at around the same age, “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” (see Luke 2:52) Interestingly, Mormon at around the same age spoke of how he was of a sober mind and was visited of the Lord (see Mormon 1:15). We get a pattern in scripture of young men hearing the voice of the Lord and being visited by Him. Joseph Smith is another example when he was heard and visited of the Lord at the age of 14. Jeffrey Bradshaw comments about Samuel in these opening chapters of the book named after him:
Samuel was likely older than he is usually pictured in common Bible illustrations. The Hebrew term used is na’ar (נַעַר), often translated elsewhere as ‘lad’ or ‘youth,’ as in the stories of Enoch’s call and David’s combat with Goliath. Fox says the term can mean ‘either a child or a teenager.’ I picture Samuel at the time of his call being about the same age of Joseph Smith when he received the First Vision. (20)
Samuel at the edge of sleep is called by the Lord 3 separate times and does not recognize it as the Lord. How grateful we should be to the Eli’s in our life who teach us how to hear the Lord. The fourth time Samuel is called he tells the Lord to speak (see 1 Samuel 3:10). Many times, recently, President Nelson has emphasized the need to learn to “Hear Him,” echoing the phrase that Heavenly Father says to the Prophet Joseph about His beloved Son, Jesus Christ (see JS-H 1:17). Could it be that Samuel is learning an additional truth or step in how we can come to “Hear Him”? Samuel already hears the Lord in this story. The Lord doesn’t speak until Samuel acknowledges he hears Him and asks Him to speak. What are to make of this? It reminds me of this classic line from the Bible Dictionary:
The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings. (bold added for emphasis, 21)
What would have happened if Samuel did not respond or ask? What if Samuel assumed that if he just listened the Lord would start elucidating what He had to say? Maybe the Lord would have started to speak, but the invitation from Samuel, “Speak; for thy servant heareth”, has an echo of the Savior’s words in pre-mortal council, “here am I, send me” (see Moses 4:1). President Faust articulated the lesson beautifully when he said:
My dear young friends, there is a profound lesson in this: we are to come to know the Lord so that when he speaks to us we can answer, ‘Speak, for thy servant heareth.’ This is one of the greatest blessings in mortality. (22)
The lesson is we are to not only listen, but we are to “ask, and it shall be given you… for every one that asketh receiveth” (see Matthew 7:7-8). President Nelson underscored this important truth in the first talk he gave to the general population of the Church as President of the Church. He quoted D&C 42:61 which says:
If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal.
More Come, Follow Me resources here.
- Henry B. Eyring, “Studying and Teaching the Old Testament”, BYU Address to CES educators (10 August 1999), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2002/01/studying-and-teaching-the-old-testament.
- Allen Jones III, “The Book of Ruth: Origin and Purpose”, The Bible and Interpretation, University of Arizona, https://bibleinterp.arizona.edu/articles/2017/11/jon418007.
- Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company), Vol 3, 625, note 4.
- The Oxford Study Bible (New York, NY: Oxford University Press), 1992 Edition, 273
- Russell M. Nelson, “Choices for Eternity”, Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults (15 May 2022), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/broadcasts/worldwide-devotional-for-young-adults/2022/05/12nelson.
- David F. Holland, “Latter-day Saints and the Problem of Pain”, 2016 Neal A. Maxwell Lecture (29 October 2016), https://mi.byu.edu/maxwell2016/.
- Russell M. Nelson, “The Power of Spiritual Momentum”, April 2022 General Conference (3 April 2022), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2022/04/47nelson.
- Richard Hidary, “The Rules of Conversion”, Tablet Magazine (1 June 2022), https://www.tabletmag.com/sections/community/articles/rules-of-conversion.
- Bruce C. Hafen & Marie K. Hafen, The Belonging Heart, (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book), 2008 Edition, 147.
- Truman G. Madsen, “The Meaning of Christ–the Truth, the Way, the Life: an Analysis of B. H. Roberts’ Unpublished Masterwork”, BYU Studies, v. 15, no. 2, 1975, 286.
- Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “An Old Testament KnoWhy relating to the reading assignment for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 20”, Interpreter Foundation (21 May 2018), https://interpreterfoundation.org/knowhy-otl20a-how-does-the-book-of-ruth-provide-a-model-for-marriage/.
- John W. Welch, Illuminating the Sermon at the Temple & the Sermon on the Mount, (Provo, UT: FARMS), 1999 Edition, 75.
- Tamara C. Eskenazi & Tikva Frymer-Kensky, “Why Do We Read the Book of Ruth on Shavuot?”, Reform Judaism, https://reformjudaism.org/why-do-we-read-book-ruth-shavuot.
- Kelly Ogden & Andrew C. Skinner, Verse by Verse: The Old Testament, (Salt Lake City, UT: Deseret Book), Vol 1, 382-383.
- Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company), Vol 2, 164.
- “Hannah Meaning”, Abarim Publications (18 May 2008), https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Hannah.html.
- “Samuel Meaning”, Abarim Publications (18 May 2008), https://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Samuel.html.
- Joseph Smith, “Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 4 August 1839–C, as Reported by William Clayton”, Joseph Smith Papers, https://www.josephsmithpapers.org/paper-summary/discourse-between-circa-26-june-and-circa-4-august-1839-c-as-reported-by-william-clayton/5#source-note.
- Julie B. Beck, “Mothers Who Know”, October 2007 General Conference (7 October 2007), https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/general-conference/2007/10/mothers-who-know.
- Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, “An Old Testament KnoWhy relating to the reading assignment for Gospel Doctrine Lesson 21”, Interpreter Foundation (29 May 2018), https://interpreterfoundation.org/knowhy-otl21a-what-is-the-meaning-of-the-samuels-reply-here-am-i/.
- “Prayer”, Bible Dictionary, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/bd/prayer?lang=eng.
- James E. Faust, “Personal Epiphanies”, BYU Speech (7 January 1996), https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/james-e-faust/personal-epiphanies/.
BJ Spurlock is a blogger for his website Things As They Really Are and has been writing on it since 2012. He has also done collaborative work for Public Square Magazine and is a signatory of the Latter-day Saint Radical Orthodoxy Manifesto. He has a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Eastern Kentucky University and served his mission in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. His current career is in logistical quality and planning in the central region of the United States for the company, TForce. BJ and his wife, Brianna, have two daughters, Heide & Emersyn.