March 31, 2008

Ruth 1-4: A welcome interlude

(Today's passage covers the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz.)

If you read yesterday's gripe about the book of Judges, and then read the book of Ruth, you'll understand why I love it so much. I've never read it before, but it has suddenly become one of my favourite books.

In a nutshell, for those who haven't had the time to read it yourselves (though I highly recommend that you do), the book of Ruth centres around three main characters: Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. Naomi, a married woman from Bethlehem in Judah, leaves to Moab with her husband and two sons in order to escape a famine in Israel. There, her husband dies, her sons marry Moabite women, and then they too die, leaving only Naomi and her daughters-in-law.

After ten years, Naomi sees the famine has ended and returns to her hometown of Bethlehem. She tries to dissuade her daughters-in-law from following her, and eventually convinces one of them -- Orpah -- to turn back. But Ruth, the other daughter-in-law, holds fast, with one of the most touching speeches in the Bible to date: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." (Ruth 1:16, NIV) Don't you wish someone would talk to you that way?

Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem in time for the barley harvest, dead broke. So Ruth goes out into the fields to collect gleanings from behind the harvesters. (In ancient Israel, it was considered an act of charity to leave the gleanings in your field for the poor to collect.) Unbeknownst to her, she winds up gleaning in the field of a near-kinsman of Naomi's, a man named Boaz.

In a series of touching and beautiful encounters, Ruth and Boaz develop a deep affection. Naomi finally convinces Ruth that it's time to find another husband, so Ruth dresses up and perfumes herself and lies at Boaz's feet on the threshing floor. Boaz realizes what has happened, expresses gratitude that Ruth has continued to pursue him (and not younger men), and promises to do his "duty as a kinsman" if the one living closer kinsman will not. (As we recall from Gen. 38, if a woman's husband died, she was supposed to marry his brother, and the children from that union would continue the inheritance of the dead, first husband.)

Boaz finds the close kinsman, determines that he doesn't want Naomi's late husband's inheritance if it means also marrying Ruth, and marries her himself. Ruth and Boaz have a son, and Naomi is like a second mother to him. This son, Obed, is King David's grandfather.

And there you have it: no divine intervention, no murders, no wars. Just a simple, domestic love story with a happy ending. What a welcome change after the book of Judges.

A note to my Jewish readers: if you have been following along in the Hebrew Bible, you may be wondering what the heck the book of Ruth is doing here. In the Hebrew Bible, Ruth comes much later, as part of the Ketuvim, after all the prophets. The reason Ruth is here is that I am following the book order in Back to the Bible, which follows the Protestant arrangement of books, so the order may be slightly different from what you are used to. Never fear! The next readings will be back on track with 1 Samuel, so we'll all be on the same proverbial page again.


heather said...

This was my first reading for Modes with Prof. Freedman. Ah... nostalgia. I love this story too.

Julie said...

Really? I don't remember doing Ruth at all in Modes. I think we did Esther instead.

Wonderful story, though. I *wish* I'd done it in Modes! *grin*