This month we celebrated Valentine’s day so I thought I’d talk about my favorite love story of all time. The Book of Ruth.
It is a short book, consisting of only 4 chapters (in comparison, the book of Isaiah has 66 chapters) but I like to think of them as 4 Acts. While chapters in other books of the bible seem to start and stop at will, each chapter in the book of Ruth leads into the next -much like the acts of a play. Each act is created the same way. You find out everything you need to know about the characters and events within the first four scriptures, then watch the event unfold, with a turning point located at the midway mark. These events then set you up for the next act and then the cycle repeats.
I guess you can call this post a “book review” or “study guide” of the Book of Ruth. I’m going to call it a “hodgepodge of my favorite tidbits and reoccurring themes” -like the commentary in the special features section of a DVD. I will try to stay cohesive, but I will not apologize for the amount of parenthesis that are in this post.
Oh by the way, this is an interactive post, so go get your bible.
On to Act 1, or as I call it: The Emptying Begins.
First read Ruth 1:1-2
We meet all the necessary characters and the stage is set. A famine takes hold of the city of Bethlehem (which is ironic in itself because the name “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread”) causing our characters to move to the land of Moab. (If you are curious about the history of Moab, read Genesis 19:30-37 and then say eww.)
The boys marry Moab women, and in doing so, they create a promise of children and thus, a future generation. Until the men start dying off. Keep in mind, this was a time when women were very limited without a man (owning property, making legal transactions, making money), if you ladies did not have a man it was very easy to become homeless. Their deaths left Naomi with nothing except two daughter-in-laws -both of which were foreigners and childless at a child-bearing age.
The famine in Bethlehem is over (and at such a convenient time). Notice the reaction both Orpah and Ruth have to Noami’s goodbye? I feel like this should be used as a clue about Naomi’s character. Both daughters have the opportunity to go back to their families and remarry but instead their initial reaction is to spend the rest of their life with their Mother-in-Law an unfamiliar city.
One of the reoccurring themes that run through this story. To highlight “the good” they are kept in juxtaposition, with their equal contrast. For example, both Orpah and Ruth are given the same option to stay loyal to Naomi even though the only prospect it holds is to share in Naomi’s desolation. Orpah bails and her story ends, but Ruth gives her famous speech and now becomes one of the leading ladies in this story. Another example is Naomi and Mara. Naomi left full but Mara comes back empty.
This wraps up everything we just read and sets us up for Act 2 by revealing that all of this is happening at the start of harvest season…
Act 2, or as I call it: Hope Starts Filling the Empty Space.
We find out everything we need to know about our leading man and the stage is set. (I love this part “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz” I read this as “God is playing matchmaker”.)
I like to think that verse 5 was love at first sight for Boaz and that his response in verse 11 just shows how smitten he is by her. I also feel that Boaz’s comment in verse 9 “I have told the men not to touch you” should be an indication of the kind of danger Ruth could have faced if she had found herself working in a field that did not belong to Boaz.
Can you almost see the spark of hope that has ignited in Naomi? I hear excitement in her voice every time I read this part.
Now Naomi is playing matchmaker and this sets us up for…
Act 3: The Drama Unfolds.
Okay a couple of things here. “Uncover his feet and lie down.” Say what, now?!? I am told, through research, that spreading a corner of your garment is an indication of marriage. So Ruth asking him to spread a corner of his garment over her, is like Ruth asking him to marry her. And she immediately follows it up with “you are a kinsman-redeemer.” Lets back it up, Remember women were not allowed to own property? When a man died all of his property would pass on to his sons and they became responsible for taking care of their mother and any unmarried sisters (understandable why Naomi lost all hope when were two sons died). But if the dead man left behind a wife and no sons, the Kinsman-Redeemer or Levirate Law applied. It was the DUTY of the dead man’s next of kin to marry the widow, ensuring that his property would stay in the family and that his widowed wife would stay off the streets.
My only comment is about verses 12 and 13. very love story has to have a part where the two love birds is threatened. And then, just in case you were not totally convinced of Boaz’s character, you are given verses 15-17. Go back and read Ruth 2:14-16. Suppose his intentions was to impress this girl. He now knows (in chapter 3) that she is interested in him and that doesn’t alter his actions toward her. He isn’t like, “oh, I’ve won her over, so now I can stop wooing her.”
Up to this point Ruth and Naomi have done what they could and now they can only wait and see what happens.
Act 4: The Final Act
The “town gate” is referenced in numerous books of the bible. People were always coming to and from the city so many legal transactions took place here because a witness was easy to obtain. If I were writing the screen play for this movie I would have the camera fade out on the image of Ruth sitting and waiting then have the camera fade in on the image of Boaz sitting and waiting.
I love what Boaz does here. He gives the unnamed kinsman the good news first by enticing him with an opportunity to obtain property and then says “oh by the way, the property comes with a wife and a mother-in-law”. Think about it. What if Boaz had given him all this information at once? Swallowing the bad is easier when you are digesting it with the good.
Remember I typed DUTY in all caps when I first described the role of the kinsman-redeemer? That is because it was frowned upon when a next of kin chose not to follow through the Levirate Law. The nameless kinsman reasoning for saying no is because this might endanger his estate, however Boaz would have had the same risk. So like Ruth and Orpah, Boaz’s behavior is all the more seen as “selfless” because it is being compared to its polar opposite.
Notice that the elders’ wish for Boaz is that he may become famous in Bethlehem and the town’s women have the same wish for the baby boy.
I think this scene is my favorite part of the story because we have now come full circle. Compare Naomi’s interaction with the town’s women at the end of chapter 4 and their interaction at the end of chapter 1.
Ruth 4:18-22 / Matthew 1:5
Here is where that “famous” comes in. Boaz, Ruth, and Obed are listed in Matthew 1:5 among Jesus’s family tree. Which is cool in itself. But one of my favorite parts about this story took place prior to the book of Ruth. Boaz’s mother was Rahab. That’s right. The harlot from Joshua chapter 2. And we never learned the names of the two spies so, what if one of them was this Salmon character? If I were a screen writer for Hollywood I would write a movie about this. I love this story. If it were edible I’d eat it.