Posted on Oct 30, 2016 | 2 comments

So who was this woman named Ruth?

Let’s look at some facts:

Background

  • Ruth was a native of Moab, east of the Jordan River (Ruth 1:4-5)
  • She was the wife of Mahlon (4:10) and
  • The daughter-in-law of Naomi and Elimelech (1:4)

The Journey of Ruth

  • Before giving birth to any children, her husband died (1:4-13)
  • The love she felt for her mother-in-law Naomi was so great that she left her land to travel with Naomi to Bethlehem(1:16-18).
  • She respected and listened to Naomi’s advice (3:1-5).
  • Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer took notice of her (2:11; 3:11) and agreed to buy Naomi’s estate and Ruth as his wife (3:10-13).
  • The journey continued through their family line with King David and ultimately Yeshua. (4:17,21-22; Matthew 1:5-6).

 

ancient israel photo

Thoughts:

The story of Ruth is multi-faceted and fascinating. Not only was she the mother of royalty but was also a paradigm of humility, generosity and all the characteristics of a true matriarch.  She was the ancestor of King David, and we all know that through King David came the future Messiah. What a legacy!

As we travel back a bit in history, we’re going to utilize various books that help

round out the story.  It’s the time of the Judges, about 1300 BC – a time of historical and spiritual chaos and yet times filled with tranquility.

“‘And it was in the days of the judgment of the Judges”: This refers to a generation that judged its own judges… [The Judge] would say, “Remove the toothpick from between your teeth,” and [the people] would answer, “Remove the beam from between your eyes.” (Talmud – Bava Batra 15b)

After the death of Joshua, the protege of Moshe himself, there was a 400 year span in which Judges continuously tried to restore order to the nation of Israel as they slipped in and out of old habits which were seeped in idolatry.

When Ruth enters the scene during this time we see that the land of Israel has been decimated with a disastrous famine. In the Midrash (Ruth Rabba, Intro 1) we read that God said: “My children are stubborn. To destroy them is impossible. To return them to Egypt is impossible. I cannot exchange them for another nation. What, then can I do? I must make them suffer and cleanse them with famine.”  Even though this is taken from the Midrash (ancient commentary on Hebrew Scriptures), scripture also makes the same point.  In Ruth 1:1 we read: Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. So there you have it … a famine in the land.

However, there is much to be gleaned from the various sources we have and the Midrash can fill in some of the gaps we have as we wonder what it was like in the Land of Israel when the disasters hit. Who was that certain man? What did the people do? What was it like? How did they survive? Well, let’s dig a bit deeper. It seems that when the famine hit, that certain man – named Elimelech, from the tribe of Judah, actually had a lot of land and was very wealthy, and could have been a great help in time of his nation’s need.  Well he took off, lock, stock and barrel and lit out of town like a little ninny! Here’s what the Midrash – Ruth Rabba 1:4 says:

Elimelech was among the great scholars and patrons of the nation, and when the years of famine came, he said: “Now all of Israel will come to my door, each with his box (to collect money).” He stood up and ran away from them.

Wow. Not only did he high tail it out of the land, he set up camp in Moav and his two sons, Machlon and Kilyon married Moabite women! All totally things that he was not supposed to be doing!

He wasn’t so different than many of us, I guess. Many are jumping ship here in the US and seeking out various other countries to wait out the famine and financial crisis that we all believe is coming soon. But like Elimelech….are they simply escaping from the responsibility of their nation and people in a desire to simply save themselves? Mmmmmm….maybe so….maybe not.

Let’s continue:

And a man from Beit Lechem… went to sojourn in the fields of Moav, he and his wife and his two sons. (Ruth 1:1)

So basically….it started just as a simple ‘sojourn‘ or short trip so to speak. But then it says they stayed there! AND they married Moabite women – one named Orpah and the other named Ruth. And they dwelt there for over 10 years (Ruth 1:4). By leaving their homeland, Elimelech and his family melted into the civilization that they found themselves in and lost what little inheritance they had in their association with the Land of Israel. You know the old saying, ‘the grass is greener on the other side’ (and some would add – that’s because the fertilizer is so deep).

So why was the marriage of his sons to the Moabite gals such a no-no? Well, Because the Holy One of Israel says so! Read this and let it soak in – you don’t have to agree with it or understand it even – it’s just this is what He says to do:

They should not come into the congregation of God, neither Moabite nor Amonite, even the tenth generation should not enter into the congregation of God, forever, because they did not greet you with bread and water on the way when you left Egypt… (Deut. 23:4-5)

What? God sets aside certain people that you can’t intermarry with? What’s that all about? Well, hold on, let’s go back a bit. When Israel left Egypt they had to pass through the lands of Moav and Amon and those nations were expected to greet them and help the Israelites with food and drink. Why is that you say? Because they were descendants of Lot! And remember, Lot was Abraham’s nephew and Abraham cared and loved Lot as a son. Simply said, it would have been common courtesy to welcome them as they made their way across their lands. Talk about hard-heartedness!

How Elimelech felt comfortable settling in a land of ingrates, who had refused to help his ancestors….well, it’s beyond my comprehension. Only one thing to say, I guess….and that is birds of a feather flock together.  But not for long as we soon learn that the whole family dies except Naomi who is left with very two non-Israelite gals on her hands. Crazy right?

But, all is not lost. Not at all. The Holy One of Israel has definite plans to make sure His plan works out. You know that old saying (in scripture no less) where it says all things work for good for those who love the Lord and are called according to His purpose? Well, actually there is only ONE GOOD – so that ‘good’ is His good .. and if we are called, we go along with His purpose. Anyway, the Holy One had some plans up His sleeve.

That door to the Moab experience was now quickly shutting and Naomi, a woman of valor if there ever was one, made the decision to return to the beloved land of Israel. Not only would this take a tremendous amount of courage on Naomi’s part just in the trek itself, but then returning to a land where her husband refused to use his wealth to help his brothers, well, that’s a hole ‘nuther issue! Surely the biggest question in her mind would be – could she do it?

And she left the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her, and they went on the way to return to the Land of Judah. (Ruth 1:7)

But here we see that the girls, the daughters-in-law, were going to make the journey with her. That’s amazing in and of itself since the girls were Moabites and could have just went back to their own homes, safe and sound. Now maybe you can see why I think Naomi stands tall as a woman of valor! Strong yet resilient, courageous yet humble, discerning yet logical. A daughter of the most high God. A woman with such character that two Moabite daughters in law  actually considered accompanying their mother-in-law back to her native land, a land that her husband deserted during the famine.  They could have returned to their own families and lived lives of luxury for the rest of their days. What a decision needed to be made.

Now, wait a minute – you don’t really think Naomi hasn’t already thought of this? Sure she has, she even tries to talk them into going back to their homes. She insists that they not come with her and that they will have no options for future marriages or happiness in the land that will also reject them. Well, one out of two go back, Ruth will have none of it. She loves Naomi, and will not forsake her.  Ruth is wise beyond her years and looks beyond her own comfort and happiness in order to pick up the responsibility that should have been her husbands’.  You can hear her heart as she whispers:

“Don’t push me to leave you and to go back, for wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you sleep, I will sleep. Your nation is my nation, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. So will God do to me and so He will add (I swear) that only death will separate between us.” (Ruth 1:16-17)

Such a heart as this I pray to have!  When they returned to Bethlehem – well, here’s what it says:

And it was, as they came to Beit Lechem, the whole city was startled at the sight of them, and they said: “Could this be Naomi?” She said to them: “Don’t call me Naomi; call me ‘bitter’ (mara), because God has made me bitter. I went full, and God has returned me empty…” (Ruth 1:19-20)

If we slip the curtain of history back a little and look within the weathered pages of the Midrash again, it says that the whole city had gathered together at the funeral of Boaz’s wife. Boaz was the leader and Judge of  Israel, and here comes Naomi widowed, impoverished with a Moabite girl tagging along side of her! Can you imagine their shock and horror at seeing the vision of an imaginary Elimelech walking along side of this aging, fragile yet virtuous woman? You can almost hear the audible gasp!

Boaz, however, was a good judge and he had helped the people come back from the famine and regain a semblance of peace. However, no one seems to reach out to Naomi. She has to glean the corners of the fields, she has to depend on her daughter-in-law for assistance. It’s as if she has the proverbial scarlet letter sewn on her robes. There probably was a lot of hatred towards them, feelings of resentment against what her husband did and they were just not ready to let it all go. Even Boaz, Naomi’s cousin, refused to lift a finger.  But she was not deterred, and was committed to fit back into her people and her homeland.  As life continues, Ruth finds permission for Naomi to glean from the edges of the fields as is the custom.  And glean she does, even though she is a princess, from the inside out. Take notice of what the Midrash says about this experience:

All the women would bow and gather, while Ruth would bend her knees to gather… All the women would flirt with the field workers, while Ruth behaved modestly. All the women would take from among the rows of wheat, while Ruth would only take from what was clearly ownerless. (Midrash – Ruth Rabba 4:9)

Interesting, don’t you think? It kinda fleshes it out a bit more, don’t you think? Nothing new under the sun with some it seems. Eventually, Boaz takes note of Ruth because of her diligence to his cousin Naomi being a nephew of her deceased husband Elimelech. Funny how things go full circle isn’t it? Here it is, Uncle Elimelech’s wife returns with a beautiful princess to a land he shook the dust off from his feet. And here we are, Ruth and Naomi are now endeared to the nephew. Family. It all comes back to family, doesn’t it? Even when the field workers spit their answers out as Boaz asks who she is…

“She is a Moabite girl returning with Naomi from Moav, and she said: ‘I will gather and collect the sheaves of wheat that fall behind the rows,’ and she has been here gathering since the morning…” (Ruth 2:6-7)

Wow. You can hear the sarcasm in their voices, even if we are only reading the written word. It doesn’t really affect Boaz yet, he doesn’t really feel any obligation towards them, but it is growing in his heart. Hear Ruth’s answer to him when Boaz speaks to her and tells her to go ahead and glean from his fields:

“Why have I found favor in your eyes, as I am a gentile?” (Ruth 2:10)

From princess to a scrub woman – where have we heard that story before?

But Ruth is humble, modest and simply puts one foot in front of the other. Such an example for all of us – especially us women – to model. As we go through the journey called life there are trials and tribulations that we will go through.  Sometimes we even believe we will never reach the other side in one piece. But just like Ruth, if we walk through the fires with our ‘Ruth on’ … our ‘Warrior’ light on, we can get through anything and will emerge victorious.

And as Boaz speaks words of comfort and healing to Ruth, so our God, the King of Israel, will also speak words of comfort and healing to us.  If we continue to put one foot in front of the other, if we continue to be strong yet resilient, courageous yet humble, discerning yet logical our King will speak to us as Boaz spoke to Ruth:

“God should pay your reward… from Whom you have come to take shelter under His wings…” (Ruth 2:12)

Of course, Boaz also had one other thing to consider. Torah tells us that:

If brothers abide together and one of them dies and has no child, then the wife of the dead brother should not marry a stranger. Her husband’s brother should take her to him as a wife and perform the duty of yibum. And it shall be that her firstborn child will have the name of the dead brother, so that his name not be wiped out from Israel. (Deut. 25:5-6)

Oh boy! And up to this point, Boaz has pretty much ignored her, surely he knew of this commandment! Surely it had to be floating in the back of his mind somewhere, don’t you think? Yeah, I think so too. Deuteronomy 25:5-6 is what they call the mitzvah of yibum. So, in other words, even though Boaz was not the brother, he was still obligated to carry on the namesake of his uncle. He could, if he wanted, get out of the obligation, but it would haunt him for the rest of his life for dishonoring his relative’s memory.  So, here we have Ruth, the widow of an Israelite man of the tribe of Judah; not only has her husband died, but so has his brother and father. Boaz is a close relative of Ruth…would he fulfill the mitzvah … or run?

Naomi, like any good Jewish momma, wants her daughter in law, whom we can be assured by now that she is more like a daughter, wants happiness and joy to accompany her. Secretly she must have longed for Boaz to turn a favorable eye towards Ruth.  And with any good Jewish momma….she steps up the game:

Naomi said to her: “My daughter, I would like you to have a better future. Now, our relative, Boaz… is piling the wheat in the granary tonight. Wash and anoint yourself, dress up and go down to the granary. Don’t show yourself until he is finished eating and drinking. And when he lies down, see where he goes to sleep and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” Ruth replied: “Anything you tell me to do, I will do.” (Ruth 3:1-5)

WHOAH!!! Say WHAT!?? This is a dangerous game don’t you think? What gave her that confidence that Boaz would accept this type of behavior from Ruth? What if he scorned her? Ruth must have fainted at the suggestion! What if all of Israel scorned them and they lost everything? What to do … what to do. But, well, as we know, sometimes all it takes is a little nudge from a warrior-woman who is able to see around the corners.

Trusting in her mother-in-law’s wisdom, she did as she requested and at midnight, Boaz woke up to find her lying at his feet! What a visual we have as we recreate the scene in our own minds!  As scripture shares, he was quite stunned and not quite certain who was at his feet. He regains some composure and quickly asks her identity and she responds “I am Ruth, your maidservant. Spread your wings over your maidservant, since you are a redeemer” (Ruth 3:9). Ok then. If he didn’t know, he did now. And Boaz rises to the occasion, responds to the call of his ancestral tribe Judah and says,

Then he said, “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. 12 Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. Stay this night, and in the morning it shall be that if he will perform the duty of a close relative for you—good; let him do it. But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the Lord lives! Lie down until morning.”

In the morning Ruth returns to Naomi and I’m sure there were some excited giggles and lots of expectations swirling around the kitchen table. Boaz was off looking to see if there were any closer relatives to fulfill the mitzvah.  Well, when that was finished and the closer relative decided to pass on Ruth. Boaz took the initiative and took Ruth as his wife. From this union, a unique and wondrous future sprung forth for the land of Israel and the tribes of Israel would see their Redeemer come forth!

Now, I’m sure there were many more exciting … and not so exciting, nuances that we will never be privy to, but since there is nothing new under the sun, we can allow ourselves some freedom in a bit of embellishment on the details. That being said, it is a love story that draws in the reader. A love story about a woman named Naomi (pleasantness in Hebrew), who follows her husband (she probably had a few thing to say about that!) and leaves her land, her family, her friends, everything she knows and loves behind her to settle in a foreign land.

For ten years she raises her two young sons and sees her family, a family from one of the most honored tribes, assimilate into the nation they dwell in. A nation that refused to help her ancestors when they made their way out of Egypt. A nation that held ties to the patriarch Abraham, yet still failed in extending kindness, generosity and loyalty. However, Naomi loved her husband, she loved her sons and came to love dearly her daughters-in-law. She rose to the occasion.

After much tragedy, losing her husband and sons, she must have cried out to the God of her fathers and beat her chest with pain. However, she would not be broken, she would not succumb. She rose up, once again. Surely she must have taken a deep, soul wrenching breath, rose to her feet and turned around (teshuvah) to the God of her fathers. Surely she must  have wondered ‘Where are you O Holy One’?  But, once again, she would rise to the occasion. She was wired that way.

She would turn her face towards her homeland and set out to return, no matter the consequences. With her went another woman after her own heart. Her daughter-in-law, a princess herself, one of royalty, one destined to continue in royalty. Two women, wired to protect, guard, nurture, discern. Two women…wired to endure.

And so are we dear reader. We are wired that same way. As women, we are wired by the Holy One himself to rise to the occasion. He has created us as the helpmate, the ezer kenegdo, to be strong, to be nurturing, to be perceptive …to rise to the occasion!

So, no matter what you are going through, it is time dear sister, to rise and Put your Ruth on.

 

 

2 Comments

  1. 10-31-2016

    Excellent encouragement !

  2. 10-31-2016

    This morning I received a message in my inbox from Skip Moen (skipmoen.com) … He gave an example of exegesis on Ruth and I stand corrected. This is what he says … and it’s a good reminder that we always need to ‘dig a little deeper.

    Let me give you an example:

    Ruth 1:18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her. NASB

    The Hebrew phrase translated “she said no more to her,” is techdal ledabber eleha. It can be translated as the NASB suggests, but there is more to the translation than just the words. This is a story about the emotional trauma of Naomi. Ruth is the foil God uses to restore Naomi. Translating the text without this emotional context misses the real meaning, in spite of the fact that the emotional element is the driving force of the story. The Hebrew construction is a bit odd (and it is even more awkward in the next verse). This suggests that the narrator wants the reader to pause and ask, “Why does Hebrew express the situation like this?” The answer, it seems to me, is that Naomi rejects Ruth as a valid human being. She sees Ruth as an obstacle in her way. She does not want Ruth to accompany her to Bethlehem. Consequently, when she is unable to persuade Ruth to return to Moab, she not only stops speaking to Ruth, she actually dismisses Ruth as if she doesn’t count as a person. The grammar employs the verb as if this is a continuous action by Naomi. Furthermore, the use of the preposition “toward” implies that Ruth is “at a distance,” unlike the preposition “to” which usually implies relationship when the circumstances involve people. Ruth is an object, not a person. We see the result of this attitude throughout the rest of the story, but here, at the beginning, it is foreshadowed in the grammar. Naomi does not simply stop talking. The text says that Naomi desists (active continuous sense, not past tense) to speak toward her (it). Naomi cuts her off from human interaction.

    None of this is obvious in the word-for-word translation. In fact, it can’t really be seen unless we read the story backwards. After we know how it ends, we can go back and find the clues. After we realize the story is about redeeming Naomi, then we can find the hints about the emotional drama. Ruth is not a love story, as most Christian believers imagine. It is a story about redeeming a bitter, discouraged woman who expresses hopelessness about life.

    Exegesis requires a lot more than translation skills.

    When we examine the next verse (v. 19), our exegetical approach is confirmed. The next verse reads, in translation, “So they both went until they came to Bethlehem.” But the grammar is wrong. The part of the Hebrew the verse we are interested in is vattelakna sh’tiehem ‘adboana beit lachem (literally, “they went on the two up to enter Bethlehem”). The first verb is a third person feminine plural, as we would expect (“they went” – that is, the two women). The “two of them” which the NASB translates as “both,” is a masculine plural. The second verb, “to enter” is a feminine plural. In other words, the opening and closing actions recognize two women departing and arriving, but they travel as one woman and one thing! And, by the way, when the two of them arrive in Bethlehem, Ruth is not even acknowledged.

    Exegesis. Slow, careful, without presuppositions, putting myself in the shoes of the one described, noticing the clues and using empathetic imagination.

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