19 August 2011

"Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God." (v. 16)


The book of Ruth is an astonishing little gem within the Old Testament. It is a complete story in itself, a legend that accounts for the birth of King David's grandfather to a Moabite woman. Like many of the stories in the preceding book of Judges (and this story is explicitly set in the time of the judges), it explains how something came about. But unlike some of the stories in Judges, the legend is beautiful rather than ultimately tragic, and there is a theological profundity to it.

The story begins with a famine; most of the action takes place in the context of the barley harvest, and it ends with the birth of a child to a family line that was due to have died out. Heartbreak is turned to blessing.

This first chapter sets the scene for the heart of the action. It explains the initial move to Moab and creates three widows in a few sentences - Naomi and her two daughters-in-law. In the ancient world, no situation was more vulnerable than a women-only household with no men to support and defend them, and they had neither husbands nor sons. Naomi's view that for Ruth and Orpah the best bet was to abandon her and go to seek new local husbands was the common sense approach, and her personal lament as a bitter, useless, childless menopausal woman would have been fully understood by those who first heard the tale. Naomi felt that she was the living example of someone who had been abandoned by God.

So Ruth's refusal to leave her mother-in-law to her lonely fate, and her willingness to travel to a country not her own, stands out not only as the beautiful human gesture that it is, but as enacting something of the 'loving kindness' of God which Naomi feels has been denied her in the cruelty of her fate. No wonder Ruth's words have become a favourite for those, especially women, who want to express mutual commitment.

To Ponder

Have you ever felt that God has 'dealt harshly' with you, in terms of what you have had to bear in your life? Thinking back, did you experience any unusual commitment or support from an unlikely quarter? How does this experience affect your faith and discipleship?

In expressing mutual commitment with someone, what things do you take into account before making such an act?

Bible notes author: Janet Morley

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