Saturday, April 05, 2008

The Book of Ruth

The Book of Ruth is a sweet little love story. It is also, much to my surprise, only four chapters long, so we can cover it in a single go. This gets me to my stated goal for the end of the summer five months ahead of schedule, but what the heck. It's fun to be making progress!
Ruth is the daughter-in-law of an Israelite woman who is living among the Moabites. After both of their husbands die, they return to the mother-in-law's home town.
Illumination, English, 12th Century.
With a little prompting and encouragement from the two women, a relative by marriage named Boaz happens to fall in love, more or less, with Ruth. He is then able to engineer the purchase of the mother-in-law's inherited land, and that sort of gives him the legal right to marry Ruth. It's a loose interpretation of the laws of Moses, but what the heck. They all live happily ever after, and Ruth and her new husband ultimately become the great-grandparents of David, a Very Important Figure that I imagine we will be hearing a lot more about soon enough.
Chagall, Boaz Wakes up and Sees Ruth at his Feet.  Lithograph, 1960.
It's a nice little tale, and it has some elements of interest to it. It is another story with a strong literary sense, and it is the first Biblical tale I recall that features the experience of everyday women.

At the same time, it's a little puzzling as to what real relevance it has in a Bible. Nothing really makes it a religious story, or one likely to inspire devotion or faith, or set an example of right practice. It's puzzling to me. I guess you could say the same thing about the Book of Judges, too, but Ruth is so short that you really notice its lack of any overtly divine message.

Any thoughts out there in Bloggerville? Why is Ruth in the Bible? If this was Bible Book Survivor, would you vote it off the island?

7 comments:

The Calico Cat said...

Ruth might be my favorite book in the Bible.

To me, the plot is artfully constructed and exhibits a pronounced belief in the comprehensive but hidden providence of God that works quietly in ordinary events.

Furthermore, while the book is brief, its story is simple it is remarkably rich in examples of faith, patience, industry, and kindness, nor less so in indications of the care which God takes of those who put their trust in him.

Lastly, it gives context to the concept of gleaning the fields - giving to the poor - which is VERY important to me & to the society in which we live. Just think if more people gave... I know people who are far less off than others, but still give until it hurts & they are truely enriched because of it!

Michael5000 said...

@Calico:

First of all, yay! you are the first person, I'm pretty sure, to visit all three M5K blogs in a single week. Thanks!

You pack some good arguments for not voting Ruth off of the island. I've gathered that the Book has a lot of fans, and I appreciate your help in seeing some of its qualities.

I, too, like the provision for gleaning in Mosaic Law -- I talked about it back when it was introduced, in Leviticus I think but I'm too lazy at the moment to go back and find an exact citation. The idea, for those who aren't familiar, is that farmers should not be overly thorough in the harvest; some produce should be left behind for the poor and landless to collect for their subsistence. To me, this speaks not only of charity, but to the importance of not unbalancing your life by working too hard so as to gain more than you really need.

I agree, too, that Ruth's character are refreshingly kind, decent, hard-working people, acting with good intentions (as opposed to, say, Abimelech from a few posts back). I'd add that there is something very, very subtlely sexy about Ruth "uncovering Boaz's feet" if you regard gentle kindness as sexy, which I personally do.

Seeing the hidden providence of God in Ruth is a very appealing interpretation of the book. It's not quite a slam dunk, though. Although the characters speak of God a lot, there is really only one point where God is cited as an active agent in the story, and that's just in allowing Ruth to get pregnant after all is said and done (4:13). So, where my rather literal-minded reading noticed a lack of the explicit presence of God, you are seeing the implicit presence of God. Cool.

Thanks for commenting!

Ruth said...

The book of Ruth (which I love BTW) is a story of redemption. A book I read recently brought out that Boaz was a type of Christ who redeemed Ruth and Naomi.
Also, you can see that God cares and sometimes the things that happen in our lives happen for a reason even though we do not see it at the time.Naomi went through a lot of suffering, but in the end her joy was filled when she became a grandmother. And this may be hard for us to understand, but children were very important for the family linage.
Also, we see a conversion story with Ruth. She forsakes her God and is probably shunned by her people for it.
Then, there is the story of the city of Bethlehem, the city that one day Ruth's heir (Christ) would be born in. We see that it went through hard times and that some people left so they could have a better life, but some stayed and apparently still survived. It shows us complete dependence on God and his will for our lives.
And then there is the fact that Ruth is one of only a few select women who are mentioned in the linage of Jesus Christ. I think that if we saw her name there and that she was a Moabite we would want to know her story and so it has been given us.

Michael5000 said...

@Ruth: You've either taken your internet name from the Book of Ruth -- in which case, you must really, really like the text -- or you share your name with a Biblical text, which must be kind of cool. I guess guys named Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Joshua must get that too, but I can't imagine there being a Book of Michael5000....

Anonymous said...

I see it as a behaviorally instructive tale. Good,common women who allow themselves to be redeemed by the love of good, common men are the meek inheriting the earth (and sowing the seeds of national greatness by their offspring). Good news for the Promise Keepers. Not all that romantic to me. The love story to me involves risk on both parts, which means development of characterization and desire on both parts. It's hard to read any of the Bible without feeling that *all* of it should be voted off the proverbial island if feminism is ever to achieve respect for women as anything other than bodies for sex, conquest, property, labor, procreation, power, or even love-as-possession. I vote this book OUT if only because its simplicity lures the reader into finding it charming. No women are being raped or dismembered, so, hey... it's a sweet little story. Comparatively. Take it out. Let the Bible stand on its patriarchal pillars without the lure of little domestic moments like this to get readers thinking, well, hey, maybe it's not all bad. Look at these nice folks finding each other and having a calm quiet life. Reminds me a little of the way we launder the hypocrisy of our foreign policy by showing ads of farm families having simple, middle-class white lives in Kansas and other heart-lands. I know, I know. I sound bitter. The Bible's stance toward women is just so sickening. And no, I'm not a Christian.
--ASW

Catherine said...

I'm a bit late to the Ruth party but thought I'd chime in and mention that although I'm not a fan of the Bible --read (most of) it a few times in my earlier more religious days -- I was recently quite surprised to find "The Book of Ruth" included in Famous Stories Every Child Should Know, a book published in 1913. I vote it OUT.

Enjoy your postcard feature and reports in your L&T of Michael5000 blog! Thanks for sharing.

Jessica said...

Ruth was poor, a foreigner, and a woman, and all this counted against her, but she was helped by an older woman to overcome the difficulties she faced. She had the good sense to listen to the advice given to her by Naomi, and the older woman was rewarded by Ruth's unfaltering loyalty. Her story illustrates the triumph of courage and ingenuity over adverse circumstances. She has special significance for Christians. In the gospel of Matthew, four women were included in the genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:2-17), and Ruth was one of the four.

The story is set in the period of the Judges before the birth of King David, but it was almost certainly written much later, when the two tribes of Judah were set free from their captivity in Babylon and allowed to return to Jerusalem. It has the qualities of a historical novel - based on real people but with a message and theme directed at a later audience.