Who were they – Ruth

Discussion in 'Philosophy, Religion and Spirituality' started by jonesvilletexas, Mar 19, 2010.

  1. jonesvilletexas

    jonesvilletexas Premium Member

    Hebrew: Rut
    “companion/friend†or “satisfiedâ€
    This great grandmother of King David is remembered as a gentle heroine in spite of the fact that she boldly approached the man she wanted to marry. Her story, recorded in the biblical book bearing her name, is one of an indigent widow who eventually remarried and gave birth to a family of kings. The four-chapter book is one of the most masterfully crafted works of Hebrew literature, moving from suspense to suspense before reaching a surprise conclusion. Interestingly, Ruth was not a Hebrew. In a nation that prided itself on being chosen by God and spiritually distinct from others, she was a foreigner from Moab, Judah’s neighbor just east of the Dead Sea.

    The story, which most biblical scholars say was passed on by word of mouth for generations before being written down, took place “in the days when the judges ruled†(Ru. 1:1). A famine throughout Judah led a resident of Bethlehem named Elimelech to move to Moab in search of food. With him he took his wife, Naomi, and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion. After the family settled in Moab, the sons took local women as wives; Mahlon married Ruth and Chilion married Orpah. But within ten years all three men died, leaving behind widows without children. In this male-dominated society, women without a father, husband, or son to care for them could quickly become destitute; they had few rights.

    Naomi, hearing that the famine in Judah had ended, decided to return to her homeland. Perhaps she thought relatives would take pity on her and give her a place to live. But they would certainly not take in all three women. Moreover, Naomi pointed out, she was too old to bear other sons, even if the women were willing to wait until they were grown to marry them. So Naomi urged Ruth and Orpah each to return to her mother and begin looking for another husband. Both initially rejected the idea; but after Naomi reasoned with them further, Orpah agreed and left with a tearful goodbye. Ruth, however, absolutely refused to leave Naomi alone. “Where you go,†Ruth insisted, “I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God†(Ru. 1:16).

    When the two women reached Bethlehem, the entire town was moved with sympathy for Naomi and, no doubt, with admiration for Ruth’s unfailing loyalty toward her aging mother-in-law. Yet no one offered to take them in. However, according to Mosaic Law, the poor are allowed to collect any crops that were missed during the first pass of the reapers.

    The barley harvest had just started, so Ruth decided to go gleaning behind the reapers. Fortunately, she chose the field of Boaz. This man had heard how Ruth refused to abandon Naomi, and he took an immediate liking to her. He even ordered that the workers leave extra grain for her and that the young men not both her. When Ruth returned to Naomi with more than half a bushel of grain and reported what happened, Naomi was elated. Boaz was not just a friendly neighbor, Naomi explained, “the man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin†(Ru. 2:20). The law obliged a man to marry his brother’s widow, to produce children to carry on the dead brother’s family name and –incidentally– to claim the deceased man’s property. Apparently, the rule could be extended to include relatives other than brothers.

    Having observed the spark of interest Boaz had shown in the young widow, Naomi advised Ruth to act quickly. Ruth was to wash, anoint herself, and dress in her best clothes. Then she was to go down to the threshing floor, where Boaz and the workers were separating the grain from the chaff. “Do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking,†Naomi instructed. “But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do†(Ru. 3:3-4).

    However bold and out of character Ruth’s action may appear, Boaz seemed to feel no pressure. When he awakened in the middle of the night and Ruth proposed by asking, “spread your skirt over your maidservant, for you are next of kin†(Ru. 3:9), Boaz responded with compassion. He assured her that he would do as she asked, then told her to lie at his feet the rest of the night but to leave before dawn so that no one would see where she had been. But in their clandestine conversation Boaz added a new element of suspense. He told Ruth he was not her closest relative and said he could marry her only if the other relative chose not to. Though the unnamed man had first choice, he waived his right.

    Boaz married Ruth and together they had a son: Obed, the father of Jesse and grandfather of David. In one of the final scenes of the book Naomi holds her grandson on her lap and cares for him. And the women of the village praise Ruth as showing more love toward Naomi than would seven sons — a number symbolic of perfection. These same women call the child Naomi’s “restorer of life (Ru. 4:15). A thousand years later Jesus, a descendant of Obed, was born in Bethlehem; he is described as one who gives “life for all men†(Rom. 5:18). The genealogy of Jesus, recorded in Matthew 1, lists but four women — and Ruth is one of them.

    Biblical scholars are uncertain who wrote the book of Ruth. Nor do they know when or why it was written. A popular hypothesis is that the book was compiled sometime between the tenth and eighth centuries B.C., shortly after the time of David, and was written to trace the lineage of David. Likely, however, the story was preserved for many reasons. One may have been to allow future generations to learn from Ruth’s inspiring example of love for Naomi. Jews today still honor Ruth by rereading her story during the annual Feast of Weeks that marks the end of the grain harvest.

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