The Book of Ruth Essay

The Book of Ruth sensitively portrays bonding and devotion between two women - The Book of Ruth Essay introduction. [But also don’t miss Book of Judith for a surprising overturning of male/female roles: Judith sneaks into the enemy camps, cuts off the head of Holofernes, the leader of the enemy army, returns and receives a hero’s welcome, and then lives out the remainder of her days with her maidservants, rejecting all male suitors]

The final pledge of Ruth to Naomi – more moving in the King James Version than any other [including the Hebrew apparently] – is often used in heterosexual marriage ceremonies. But it is made between two women. This story may or may not be a “lesbian” story: many commentators reject such an interpretation, but others [such as Tom Horner in David Loved Jonathan support a lesbian reading.

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Quite apart from the lesbian reading of this passage, note that the Bible reveals a major internal debate in the book of Ruth. The point of the story is that Ruth becomes the grandmother of King David, – but Ruth was a Moabite women. The Deuteronomic code, probably adopted about the time of Ezra and Nehemiah condemns marriages between Jews and non-Jews – a reflection of the problems and nationalism of post-exilic Judaism. Interestingly Deuteronomy and the book of Nehemiah do not agree as to the details – but both books would exclude King David from the “congregation of the Lord” – because he was within ten generations of a Moabite, and Nehemiah would exclude Jesus of Nazareth!

The Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth Essay

The Book of Ruth

Introduction

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            The book of Ruth is a story of redemption - The Book of Ruth Essay introduction. It tells of how God worked out the details of His redemption in an obscure family, and through that family, for the whole nation of Israel. The family was the family of Elimelech, the Bethlehemite, and his wife Naomi and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. Married into this Jewish family were two Moabitess women named Orpah and Ruth who became wives to Mahlon and Chilion. In the course of time, Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion, died. And so, Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws remained. The narrative was told in a fast-paced manner. It seems that the author was intent on going straight and quick to what he wanted to show his readers – how God delivered His people, not only from the famine which occasioned Elimelech’s family’s departure from Judah in the first place, but the eventual coming into the scene of Israel’s greatest king in the person of David. The unknown author of the book of Ruth seemed intent on concentrating about important details which facilitated the blessings of God on His people. Actually, it’s also a story of how a person who was a descendant of a cursed race (Moab) had become herself not only a partaker of God’s blessings, but a major player in God’s overall plan of worldwide salvation in which Ruth had become a prototype (McArthur, 2007). The main characters narrowed down to three in number – Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. Although, the book is short, and strategically limited to the recounting of the important details that transpired in the lives of these three main players, God’s redemption is highlighted in such a way that powerfully enables one to see and feel God’s invisible hand in times when things in life looked the darkest. Much like the book of Job, Ruth opens with a series of calamities that set the stage, so to speak, for the upcoming glorious redemption of God – a redemption which culminated in the person of Jesus Christ who is the true Kinsman Redeemer of God’s people.

Time Frame

            Although, the writing of Ruth took place some time in the reign of King David (Ruth 4:17-22), the characters in the story actually lived in the period of the judges (1500 BC – 1100 BC). The narrator set the time in the opening verse (Ruth 1:1). It was a time of chaos and anarchy. Moses was gone, and his successor Joshua just died. After Joshua’s death, four hundred years followed where there were no clearly installed leaders. It was a transition time for Israel. There were no kings yet. And so, the whole period was described as a time when people in Israel were unruly (Judges 21:25). To capture the scenario of the period (the full story is in the book of Judges), the nation of Israel seemed stuck in a vicious cycle of sin, God’s judgment (by sending them enemies who raided and oppressed), and the people of God crying for God’s help, and God mercifully would send His deliverance through the judges – people who seemed to just happen to rise to the occasion. The situation during this particular time in the history of Israel was depressing. God’s plan of showing to the nations His glory through His people seemed to have been failing all this time. Against this backdrop that the story of Ruth emerged. As John Piper has said, “the purpose of the book of Ruth is to enable us to see God working when surrounding circumstances seem to hide the reality of His care” (Piper, 1984). Through this book, God offers hope in the darkest of times.

Its Similarity to Job

            As mentioned in the introduction, the opening chapter looks and feels a lot like the beginning chapter of Job. Job’s life was introduced with a quick sequence of tragedies. The story of Naomi in the book of Ruth is not at all different. It showed how in the reign of the judges, a Hebrew family, because of famine, was driven to seek greener pastures in the land of Moab – a very unlikely thing to do for a family who knew God. Nevertheless, as dubious as the act was of migrating to live among people upon whom God’s curse rests, it proved to be God’s sovereign arrangement of things. For as it turned out, Ruth – who was a Moabitess – had become the great grandmother of King David (Ruth 4:17) from whose lineage descended the promised coming Messiah who would become the Savior of the world (Matt.1:1-16). When observed closely, the book of Ruth is not really about Ruth. It’s more of a story of Naomi. There’s no clear clue and inside information as to why its title bears the name of Ruth instead of that of Naomi. One might surmise the probability of Ruth’s self-denying act of leaving her own country and people to embrace with her whole life, Naomi, the people of Israel, and the God of Israel (Ruth 1:16), as the reason for her name to bear the title – probably to commemorate her noble action. So, the book is somewhat more focused on Naomi. Now, notice how Naomi’s faith in the sovereignty of God is highlighted as expressed in her own words in chapter 1:19-21. She was fully surrendered to God’s sovereign control over her life. She believed God to be the one who was truly responsible for orchestrating everything in her life. Naomi means “pleasant” in Hebrew. And so, when she returned with Ruth to Bethlehem, and when the town’s folks recognized her and exclaimed, “Isn’t this Naomi” (v.19), she refused to be called anymore Naomi; for she said, the name was not worthy of her, and she should be called rather, “Mara” – which means – “bitter.” She said “God made her life bitter” (v.20). It was God who reduced her to the point of being empty literally. The tone here is very much like Job, when Job said, after his family and fortune were all wiped away, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away” (Job 1:21). Like the story of Job, Naomi’s story ends with her hope being realized, and the author explaining to his original readers how all of the blessings they were enjoying under the reign of king David came into reality. Of course, it was because of God fulfilling His promise to His people, but nevertheless, God used the misfortunes of Naomi and the Moabitess Ruth, to bring about the stability of a kingdom ruled by a “man after God’s own heart,” which Israel during the period of the judges had desperately needed.

The Kinsman Redeemer

            There was a law in Israel during this time, wherein when a woman gets widowed with no children from the deceased husband, the brother or a man closest to the deceased must take the responsibility of marrying the widow, and thus, bear children and continue the dead relative’s posterity. The closest relative who would choose to willingly do this responsibility was called the kinsman redeemer. This was what Boaz did to Ruth and in behalf of Naomi’s departed son. Boaz willingly obeyed this principle as commanded by the law (Deut.25:6,9), proving himself to be genuinely obedient to the Lord. Boaz was the kinsman redeemer to Naomi who, if not for this gracious act on the part of Boaz, would remain destitute all her life. Boaz also became for the cursed Moabitess woman Ruth a kinsman redeemer giving her the privilege of becoming David’s great grandmother. In Matthew 1:5, Ruth herself even became part of the Messiah’s lineage. How in the world that happened? The answer is simply because God had given her a kinsman redeemer in the person of Boaz. In a very real sense, God saved her. This is a picture of all of God’s people today. Boaz was a type of Christ – the real Kinsman Redeemer of the people of God. We are supposed to be cursed enemies of God, but God provided for us a Kinsman Redeemer in the person of His Son Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews said that through His blood, Jesus has “obtained eternal redemption” for those who sought their refuge in Him; those who run to Him for salvation and have embraced Him as their Savior.

References:

1. McArthur, John. 2007. Date Accessed: October 21, 2008. http://www.gty.org/resources/transcripts/80-238

2. Piper, John. July 1, 1984. Date Accessed: October 21, 2008. http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/ScriptureIndex/45/

3. The Holy Bible. New King James Version. 1982. Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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