Thursday

4 January 2018

Ruth 4:13-22

“The women of the neighbourhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (v. 17)

Psalm: Psalm 148


Background

Ruth was a young woman from the country of Moab, who had moved to Bethlehem, in Judah, with her mother-in-law, Naomi, following the death of both their husbands. She had attracted the attention of Boaz, a wealthy landowner, who was related to Naomi’s deceased husband.

Earlier in the chapter, Boaz had exercised his family responsibility, as almost the closest living male relative (Ruth 4:1-12). As the one close relative had declared himself unable, Boaz accepted his responsibility to redeem the land which Naomi was forced, through poverty, to sell, to prevent it from leaving the family. He also claimed the responsibility to marry Ruth, in order to provide an heir who might inherit the land.

The story of Ruth and Naomi is, on one level, a story of one family, at one point in time – simply a piece of human interest. At the very end of the book (verses 18-22), however, its significance is widened out dramatically. For those who first recorded and handed on the story, it was, in a sense, the prologue to the account of Israel’s greatest king, for the baby born to Ruth was Obed, the grandfather of King David. It was the extraordinary (if, from the perspective of modern sexual politics, also problematic) story of Ruth’s efforts to ensure the lineage which, though unknown to her, would lead to God’s favoured one – David.

For a Christian audience, this takes on even greater significance, because from David’s line was to come another, even greater, king. Matthew’s Gospel begins with a much longer version of the family line (Matthew 1:1-17), beginning with Abraham and ending with Jesus. It is a list of Jesus’ forefathers, but includes a few of his foremothers – those whose story of continuing his line and, ultimately, ensuring that the Messiah could be born, was particularly extraordinary. One of these mothers is Ruth (Matthew 1:5).

This is not merely the story of two women, one man and a baby. It is the backstory of David and, ultimately, of the one we call Christ.


To Ponder

  • Why do you think this book is called ‘Ruth’, and not ‘Naomi’?
  • We are still in the Christmas season. Why do you think this story has been chosen for this particular time of year? To what extent is it an appropriate choice?
  • The book of Ruth is often held up as a story of empowered, independent women, and sometimes as a tale of the subjugation and sexual oppression of women. Which of these do you feel comes closer to the truth? Why?

Bible notes author

The Revd Catrin Harland

Catrin Harland is the Methodist chaplain to the University of Sheffield, where she spends her time discussing life and faith with students and staff, aided by coffee and cake. She is passionate about equipping young adults to discover and live out their calling in the Church and the world.