Is this biblical book allegory, or is it history? Since the two major characters in the Book of Ruth seem to resemble and perhaps prefigure the Bride of Christ and Christ himself, a question arises as to whether the Book of Ruth can and should be approached allegorically. This allegorical (or typological) connection has occasionally been noticed in Church history (e.g. “The Prince of Preachers” Charles Spurgeon). And yet the Book of Ruth undeniably presents itself as a straightforward historical account. So which is it, allegory or history?
May I humbly suggest it shows both a failure of imagination and faith to force such a choice? God is fully capable of taking an actual historical occurrence and arranging that the record thereof be useful as theological allegory. Of course He is. It shouldn’t surprise us in the least. The Book of Ruth can be both a straightforward historical account and a theological allegory, with discernable typological elements.
The interpretive question is just how far the allegory goes and what elements of the account should be accepted as typological. Determining the appropriate bounds of the allegory is not easy and is often debated. But it is worth a shot, just as the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, realized and attempted.
Within the last few days, I came across an online article about a poem that serves as a treasure-hunters’ guide. The poem contains a variety of clues about where a buried treasure can be found. Doubtless, a number of people will be motivated to decipher the poem and go diligently hunt for the treasure chest. That will be the reaction of some.
And just how did I react? I read it, and immediately dismissed it. I never even seriously considered it. I deemed the undertaking to be curious, kind of fun, and somewhat interesting… but definitely not for me. No, I am not going to join this particular prospective treasure hunt.
Now, for a moment, imagine a scenario. Imagine that whoever buried the treasure actually wants me to be the one who finds it. For the purposes of our hypothetic scenario, let’s call the one who hid the treasure The Poet. Again, imagine that the Poet wants me to be the one to find the buried treasure. How would the Poet react upon learning of my dismissive attitude? How would the Poet feel about my indifference?
To start and obviously, the Poet would not be pleased. The Poet would be disappointed. The Poet would probably try to contact me and persuade me to reconsider. The Poet would suggest I at least read the Poem. The Poet would attempt to encourage me. The Poet would urge me to go search for the treasure. That is exactly what the Poet would do.
But as it is, hypothetical scenario aside, I will not go looking for treasure. And why not? Here are some reasons why I will not go search for the treasure:
First of all, I have other, more pressing things going on in my life. I have responsibilities that I consider more urgent and important than this prospective treasure hunt, this wild goose chase.
Secondly, I rather doubt myself. I believe it is highly likely that someone else will win. I think someone else is likely to find it before me. So why would I bother with the effort?
Thirdly, I know neither the Poet nor the Poem. And because I do not know the Poet, I am a bit suspicious about the whole proposition. The Poet might not be reliable.
Fourthly and finally, it sounds like it might require a lot of work. If my chances of finding the treasure are as low as I suspect, I am not sure it is worth my time.
As you may have realized by now, I am using this treasure hunt as an analogy. No, I am not making this all up. I really did recently read about a poem and a prospective treasure hunt. And I really did immediately dismiss the possibility. But eventually I realized I could use it here as an analogy, an instructive similarity.
In the Gospel of Matthew (13:44), Jesus referenced the discovery of a buried treasure in a very brief parable. Jesus said,
The Kingdom of Heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.
Jesus, comparing eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven to hidden treasure
In just two sentences, Jesus is saying a lot. By comparing the Kingdom of Heaven to hidden treasure, Jesus wants us to understand that a lot of people — most people — will never even notice it. And by drawing our attention to the man’s thrilled reaction, Jesus wants us to understand just how invaluable the Kingdom of Heaven actually is. The man who found the treasure rightly recognized that it was worth selling everything he owned to obtain.
This parable is something I grew up hearing and reading. As a result, when now I hear about buried treasures, I do not just think about pirates and hand-drawn maps and wooden treasure chests; I also recall this parable.
Moreover, I will take a bit of creative liberty here. I will suggest that we can use the same buried treasure motif to talk instructively about Scripture itself. Scripture can be compared to buried treasure — not just treasure, but treasures, plural. God is the Poet, and Scripture is the Poem. God wants you to find the treasures that are there, just waiting to be found. God wants you to put forth diligent effort. Yet most people will not bother. They will not put forth the effort. They will not do so because of the reasons I have listed above. But as a consequence of their dismissiveness, they will miss out on what might otherwise have been theirs.
And in particular, this can be used as an analogy for Scriptural analogies, such as Jesus’ parables and the Book of Revelation. Scriptural analogies require even more diligent effort than the rest of the Bible. Therefore, perhaps they are like treasure boxes contained within a treasure chest.
If the comparison is apt, I think it is safe to assume that the treasure boxes must contain true treasures, even if they are especially hard to open. The reason I write this blog is to present what I consider to be rare and valuable treasures. I do hope some of you will concur with me, or at least be motivated to go treasure-hunting for yourselves.