Ruth and Esther

Ahasuerus and Haman at the Feast of Esther – Rembrandt

Ruth and Esther are the only two Biblical books bearing the names of women. This alone draws our eye to them, asks us to consider them together. By the time we get to Ruth, God has already primed us many times over to watch closely for women, to trace their place in the Bible’s story of restoration and fulfillment. In reading Ruth and Esther together, we catch a fuller glimpse of the love and perfect providence of God.

Here are a few things that have caught my eye recently in these two books, though of course there’s more:

First, the book of Ruth takes place during the time of the judges (Ruth 1:1), during the decline of Israel. In Ruth, we find that we are God’s “friend.”

Likewise, the story of Esther recounts another dark period, when some Jews remained in captivity to Persia. And look how Esther’s name reveals God’s plans! She is first called Hadasseh, meaning myrtle tree. The myrtle appears in Zechariah 1 and typifies Israel in the depths of exile.

Illustration Myrtus communis0.jpg
Myrtle (M. communis)

And the new name Hadasseh receives? Esther, which in Hebrew means “hidden” (Ps. 32:7), and in Persian, “star.”

We are God’s friends (James 2:23), and He our hiding place. He counts our number. We will never be lost.

Second, both Ruth and Esther recount the story of a woman and her kinsman redeemer. In Ruth, we meet Boaz, born in the tribe of Judah (Ruth 2:1), the royal line of David.

As for Mordecai, like Saul he is born in the line of Kish, a son of Benjamin, “son of my right hand.” But where Saul was a tall and handsome man, Mordecai means “little man.” And oh how God loves His little ones.

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 18:10)

Third, in the book of Ruth, a Moabite widow marries a wealthy Jewish landowner. In this way, Ruth represents the Gentile church, adopted by persistent faith into the people of God. Through the line of Ruth, we meet God’s promise to to draw together men and women from every nation into His family.

And in Esther, a Jewish orphan marries a foreign king of Persia. In this book, we witness God’s faithfulness to save and preserve the remnant of His firstborn people, from Jacob to Judah, through their Descendent, the world’s Kinsman Redeemer Jesus Christ.

After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands. (Revelation 7:9).

And finally, in Ruth and Esther, we encounter God Himself, transcendent yet immanent, unknowable yet known.

There is no doubt God is present in Ruth. Indeed, the author of Ruth names God several times, first in the words of Ruth, who claims Yahweh, God of Naomi, as her own. And at the end of the book, witnesses pronounce a blessing on Ruth, saying, LORD, grant that she might be like the women who built the house of Israel. Then, after Ruth gives birth to a son, a line that would extend to Jesus Christ, the women speak to Naomi a prayer of blessings to the God of heaven, “for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him” (Ruth 4:15).

But where is God in the book of Esther? Here, we meet the God of Israel again, but in shadow, not so much in words but in His providence. We see His Hand in the person and decrees of King Ahasuerus, whose name means “The Lion King.” And again in the person of Mordecai, whom I’ll leave for another day.

But there is something even more mysterious and intriguing about the presence of God in Esther. Some scholars have identified the name of God, hidden in plain sight five times in five acrostics in the book of Esther. Too strange to believe? Give it a think, at least.

The first four acrostics spell the name YHWH, appearing initially in the words uttered by Memucan, a prince and wise man of Persia and Media, about Queen Vashti. The second acrostic appears in the words of another queen, Esther, as she asks the king to prepare a banquet. The third acrostic occurs in words spoken by Haman and the fourth in words spoken about Haman.

And the final acrostic, stunningly, pronounces the full authority of God’s divine will, appearing in the words “I AM” or EHYH in Esther 7:5, spelled backwards and spoken by the king. God seems to declare to us again in these words of King Ahasuerus what He said to Moses,

and He said,
“Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
Exodus 3:14

In Ruth and Esther, God is weaving His romance of redemption, of providence, of deliverance, of adoption, of presence. We meet the Maker of Heaven and Earth who makes His unknowable attributes known. In each book, God tells His story of how He saves His Bride and brings us home. “And not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (Jn 11:52). 

Truly He has spoken. Truly He will bring it to pass. He has planned it, surely He will do it (Isa. 46:11).

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