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