Ruth Overview

Kelly (if you dear reader don’t know me, she is my beloved wife…) …Kelly and I differ on Ruth, and I struggle to articulate why I think she is wrong, as respectful yet stubborn husbands will do.

She dings it for reinforcing stereotypes of femininity.  I recognise what she is saying and she’s making the brave point, I’m being much more predictable and mainstream by going gaga for Ruth.

But though Ruth does conform to lots of traditional expectations about women, to me calling it stereotypical does a disservice to the sincere affection on display. Sure, the last two major female characters were Deborah and Jael… and Ruth sure isn’t as badass and violent as them.  But for me, it worked. I believed in love. I bought it.

The closest comparison I can think of is Jane Austen, the way genuine love flourishes within the format of formalised courtship.  Of course she always works on the ironic level, a winking “as if…” which Ruth doesn’t have.  But for me they share that Austenian sense of surprise that actual emotion can live within the shapes of etiquette.

Its part of a meta pattern of God’s greatest redemptive moments coming out of the greatest disasters, and the darkest evil.  Moses came out of infanticide of a subjugated people (oh, as did Jesus).  Isaiah’s vision of a servant king came out of the looming destruction of the Israelite nation.  And the story of Ruth, the line of David and of Jesus, came from a notorious frenemy nation, Moab, moving into the brutal land of the Judges, when tribalism and anarchy seemed to have a grip on God’s chosen.

The decency, subtlety and grace shown by the major characters, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz recall the society sketched out in the Deuteronomic law, of care for strangers, dignity for the vulnerable, of generosity, equality and tithing, etc.  They all seem like people who have read and loved God’s law. It is a beautiful demonstration of how obedience to God will engage with his love and blessing in ways you can’t imagine.

Ruth is David’s grandmother.  Dealing with small lives, and living among the vulnerable; the gentle tentative mood and intimacy after the power plays and thuggery of Judges is like a cool drink of water in hell.

1 Naomi, a jewish woman living in Moab loses 2 sons, left with 2 non-jewish daughters in law. She returns to Israel, Ruth comes too, vulnerable people with strength of character
2 The only work they can do is picking up harvest left overs in a relative’s field, a sort of sanctioned begging – Boaz, owner of field is kind. I contemplate my family and sadness
3 Boaz and Ruth play with traditions to conduct a shy romance, its uber sweet
4 Cue romantic finale, cue significance, this is the start of David’s line, the Messiah’s line


Ruth 4

Right, there is a commercial element to the custom that a widow like Naomi would be married of to the nearest relative. Her son or husband, not sure, had a small patch of land, so the benefit of marrying her would be getting the land which the relative would buy from her as a kind of dowry.

Boaz meets with the closest relative who is initially keen to get the land. But when he realises marrying Ruth might be in the bargain, he relinquishes his claim.

This seems to be from the risk of watering down his estate.The relative already has a wife and children it seems. So Ruth would be a polygamy of convenience. But If Ruth had children, they would battle his existing children from his first marriage for his estate, and he didn’t want that. So he’s happy to relinquish the land to avoid that mess.

Cue romantic ending! And now the reveal. Why is this charming and heartwarming story in the Bible? How does it advance god’s master plan for the salvation of mankind?

From the disaster period of the judges, where the covenant and blessings of God were squandered over and over by the increasingly nasty and corrupt Israelites, this beautiful seed was planted.

Ruth is the grandmother of king David. She has a son,  Obed who has a son, blah blah.

David is probably the means by which this story made it in. It contains a key fact that he, the line that would lead to Christ, is part gentile. In harry potter terms, he’s a mudblood. So this story of faith, kindness, loyalty and virtue set the stage for Israel’s greatest, most Christ like king, and starts a theme of salvation for all.

Ruth encountered the true God and that was it. She is perhaps the grandmother of us all, a believer, a child of grace.

Is this a prettied up version of grandma’s romance viewed though rose coloured glasses? Maybe, a bit, but considering the squalor that surrounds it in the last chapters of judges, it’s not like the Bible can’t face the ugly stuff. The fact remains that David’s grandmother was a widow from Moab, and there is an inherent story of tolerance and acceptance in that fact which supports a story like this.

Praise God for love, praise God for mercy to refugees from other countries, respect and dignity. Praise God for simple, absolute faith. That gives god material he can work with in ways we can’t imagine

Ruth 3

Wow this is a really delicate story that reflects beautifully on all in it, but requires quite a bit of cultural sensitivity to understand.

I gather underlying it is a social custom that a male relative would often marry a widow as a form of family welfare. Obviously it’s not usually a love match. Naomi may have been able to expect that. But she hasn’t sought it.

A genuine affection has grown up over the harvest between Boaz… Who is a close but not the closest relative… And Ruth, who is not the closest widow… I imagine them being decent, shy types who obviously belong together but would be agonisingly slow to act on it.

Naomi has a audacious plan to play on the custom, which has Ruth literally throwing herself at Boaz’ feet at the end of harvest celebration. There is a generosity in Naomi’s crazy plan, because by custom she could have herself tried to claim Boaz for a husband.

To the pure, all things are pure, and Ruth obeys Naomi clearly and quite uncharacteristically clearly signals her openness to marrying Boaz by lying down across his feet as he sleeps in a makeshift bed at the harvest feast barn. He wakes. Everyone aquits themselves with the utmost dignity and, and we get well within view of a happy ending by the end of the chapter.

Boaz is obviously delighted to discover that Ruth might be his wife, and touchingly refers to his insecurity about his age by thanking her for not going for younger men. He considers himself lucky!

Ruth is miserably poor and puts herself in a position where an trustworthy man could have taken advantage of her, ruined her reputation without recrimination. But the whole beautiful point is, he is not untrustworthy.

Such a tender story! It’s worthy of Jane Austen the way that commercial convenience and love conveniently intersect, and goodness has its reward as things turn romantic.

Matthew Henry made excellent point that we aren’t told ever that Ruth is beautiful or not. It’s not about her appearance. Her virtue is universally recognised in this book, and loved by Boaz.

The chapter even ends with a “path of love not straight” plot twist: there is another closer relative, who according to the custom would have first dibs on any available young widows going begging. How will it all end!

Ruth 2

Ruth and her mum Naomi are in dire straights without income and Ruth a foreigner. Undaunted Ruth goes gleaning – a sort of begging/welfare where you follow harvesters hoping to pick up the odd bit they drop. It’s a story of goodness finding kindness. The owner of the field is a relative, Boaz, who takes Ruth under his wing and makes sure she gets enough, gives her lunch, and ensues her safety – she’s vulnerable. This is because he’s heard the story of her kindness and loyalty to Naomi.

I grew up with this story and this view of the world. Be good and self effacing, and your quality will be recognised and rewarded. It’s a morality that doesn’t actually play out in life all that often, or even in the Bible. Reading it here after Joshua and judges, it’s quaint for its lack of violence and pride.

But I do still return to this as my expectation of life. I am relentlessly optimistic.

From a revelation point of view, we are in set up. These are godly people, being godly. They are modeling good behaviour, but god is offstage. I’ve forgotten where the story is heading. Bring it on!

I’ve been very sad this week that I am the only one in my family whose life seems to have worked out well so far. I feel stressed and vulnerable. Kelly, my wife’s birthday, and she’s having a quiet mid life crisis. Doesn’t know what to do. Good people don’t always end up happy.

Praying for them all a lot.

Ruth 1

“wherever you go, I will go, where you die, I will die and there be buried”

Some goodness.

I’ve just read judges, the period from which this story comes. Despite many great moments it is a harsh and depressing book. We zoom in here on intimate lives with much bad luck and sadness. But also great goodness. The gentleness is a relief.

Naomi is a Jewish woman in a foreign land (Moab) who loses 3 men, leaving just herself and two daughters in law. That makes her about the most weak and miserable person possible in that society.

Naomi is a believer and obviously kind and strong, because the girls both from Moab want to take the dangerous journey back to Israel… Bethlehem.

This is crazy they will be foreigners, doomed to poverty in a patriarchal society. She convinced one of the girls to stay but Ruth sings a song or says a poem where she throws her lot with Naomi and the lord. It’s very moving.

Very quickly we have a portrait of Ruth, she has shown herself to be a person of faith, and reflected how the lord has shone though Naomi. It’s the wonderful touch of grace in these sad, failing lives. Very beautiful.

Thank you for this story lord. For reminding me of grace and hope in the most sad circumstances.