Saturday, January 12, 2008

Ruth: Second impressions

I found Ruth a delightful read this evening. I was initially slated to lead a Bible study on it this term, and although that's no longer happening, I was keen to revisit a neglected portion of my Bible. For me, Ruth conjures up memories of colouring pictures and memory verses (Chant it with me! "Your people will be my people and your God my God"), a legacy of Sunday School. Now that I'm no longer sitting spellbound at the feet of Aunty Mary and her storytelling prowess, I'm left to ponder. So why is this story in the Bible at all? Did God think we were lacking some romance? Where does it all fit in within salvation history?

Here are some of the things that struck me:

The setting of Ruth is very localised. No great tales of kings or wars or multitudes of people gallivanting through the desert. Instead, we now home in on life in a small village and in particular, a couple of characters. It all feels very laidback and breezy, rustic even. All the newsworthy events of the day fade into the background. "In the days when the judges ruled..." (1:1). Ruth is sandwiched between Judges and 1 Samuel, which tend to be more about the "important" people of the day. By contrast, Ruth and Naomi and Boaz are just your ordinary Everyman and Everywoman. In fact, one of the things that stood out to me in chapter 2 was how everything was occuring within the context of everyday life: meals, work, conversations, from sunrise to sundown.

In some ways, the story centers on Naomi more than Ruth. When we meet Naomi, life is tough. Her husband and sons are all gone, and she is alone with her two Moabite daughter-in-laws in a foreign land where famine has struck. Right away we're also told that her family is from Bethlehem, Judah, something that is highlighted from time to time thereafter. She is from the line of Judah, Jacob and Abraham. This might begin to explain why Naomi becomes such a focus and give us an inkling of how God is working at this particular juncture in history. Ruth is bookended by family history actually. It begins with this particular family from Judah and ends with a genealogy that sees fit to end with King David. This is quite poignant in light of Jacob's deathbed prophecy that "the sceptre will not depart from Judah" (Genesis 49:10) and Naomi's initial despair, and of course, as Christians, this is made sweeter by the knowledge that this genealogy ends up with the birth of King Jesus.

From start to end, Naomi moves from hopelessness to hope and ultimately, joy. In the first chapter, she talks matter-of-factly about her lack of prospects regarding family, children and implicitly, the end of her lineage. She gives in to Ruth's stubborness, but for her it doesn't really make an iota of difference. I liked her sardonic "Don't call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter" (1:20; I was imagining this being said in a James Bond kind of way but that might be stretching it...). This begins to change in the next couple of chapters as she begins to play excited matchmaker. One of the most interesting things about the whole she-bang with Boaz, who is part of Naomi's family, getting together with Ruth is that the family name will not disappear from the records (4:10). It all ends in marital bliss, with a newly devoted family and renewed trust in God. The whole romance, in other words, is actually a testimony to God's faithfulness in keeping his covenant promise. After all the depression we find in Judges, Ruth is thankfully, a happy story - there's plenty of phrases sprinkled throughout on God's blessing and praising God - and is indicative of the grace of God. That this happens in an ordinary village and through ordinary events is even more encouraging.

Another theme I think is there is that of refuge. Ruth finds refuge under Naomi, both find refuge under Boaz, and ultimately, they all find refuge under God. This is made explicit by Boaz's statement: "May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." (2:12). Naomi decides to go home upon hearing that the Lord was aiding his people (1:6). Ruth, too, appears to demonstrate that she is a true follower of YHWH by her conduct, even if she is a foreigner. Her place of birth doesn't automatically exclude her.

Her foreign status is highlighted throughout chapter 2, as is Boaz's kindness to her. I don't know my Deuteronomic law well, but I was wondering if his orders to the men in 2:15-16 was him going well beyond what was mandated, giving us more evidence that this is a guy with some character. In any case, he does show compassion the widow, fatherless, and alien, which in turn is meant to remind Israel of God's faithfulness to them in leading them out of Egypt. Again in chapter 3, Boaz shows what he's made of by his faithfulness to God's commands that he marry her as a kinsman-redeemer. I'm still a little clueless on the details of the story here. I have a rather vague idea that this has something to do with obedience to God's laws (Deuteronomy 25:5ff), but I don't get all the business of lying down and uncovering feet and whatnot! This I guess also has something to do with Boaz commending Ruth on her not chasing after some other stud. You know, I always imagined that Boaz was some dashing young cowboy-type, but he could easily and more likely have been middle-aged and a bit on the pudgy side...

Anyway, I found Ruth pretty exciting. I'm planning to read pastor-scholar Sinclair Ferguson's exposition, Faithful God, at some point and I'm sure it will illuminate me even further.


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Blogger The Hedonese said...

Last time Ruth was one of my favorites, becos thanks to Dr Paul Tan of Spore I could find allegories all over the story. The other kinsman redeemer was the Law, and Boaz was Christ, Ruth was church etc hehehe.. of course, the last paragraph when i found out that her descendant was Jesse and King David... i went "whoa!"

8:17 am  
Blogger BK said...

hehe...are you sure the best way to read Ruth is allegorically? Unless you mean typologically? Ruth as church is too far a stretch for me. But yeah, both Orpah and the unnamed kinsman-redeemer are there to serve as contrasts to Boaz and Ruth. And isn't reading stuff within a redemptive history context cool? :-)

3:49 pm  

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