Friday, February 5, 2016

The Structure of Ruth, the 8th Book of the Bible

The 8th book of the Bible is Ruth. The name means friendship (possibly) or mercy. We don’t know by whom it was written, but it is generally credited to Samuel as is the book of Judges. (Ruth was originally part of the book of Judges.)
Let’s start with Chapter 1 verses 1 through 17:
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
 3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. 6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
 8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law,
“Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
   Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
 11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!”
 14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
 15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
We need to look at some background. In Deuteronomy 25: 5 it says:  If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her.
Now we can see why Naomi says what she does in verses 11 – 13. One daughter-in-law takes her advice and heads home, but Ruth decides to stay. This is an incredible testament to Naomi. She must have been a wonderful example for Ruth to want to go back with her to a strange land with strange customs and a different religion. Ruth must have seen something she wanted for herself. In verse 16 we see the importance of her bond to her mother-in-law. (I explain more in CROSSING THE SCRIPTURES.) Ruth is rightly remembered for her pledge of total devotion and loyalty to Naomi. She clung to Naomi even at the cost of renouncing her people and her gods in favor of Naomi’s people, the Israelites, and Naomi’s God, Yahweh: "Your people will be my people and your God my God" (merely four words long in the Hebrew: ‘amekh ‘ami we’lohaikh ’elohai, which literally means "your people my people; your God my God").
Yet Ruth extended her commitment still further, beyond death itself: "Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried.” These words may sound anticlimactic compared to accepting Naomi’s people and her God. But to understand their significance, we must appreciate the cultural mind-set of the ancient Near Eastern peoples. All the death accounts of the patriarchs mention the burial, often at length. When a patriarch died, he was "gathered to his people." Jacob and Joseph died in Egypt, but their bones were laid to rest in the Promised Land. The location of burial was important. Ruth concluded her pledge by calling down God’s punishment on herself if "even death" parted her from Naomi. Even after the death of Naomi, Ruth would live, die and be buried in Bethlehem. In so doing, Ruth identified herself with Naomi’s community in the most absolute manner possible.  This really tells us something special about Naomi, doesn’t it?
The rest of the story: Boaz. First look at Leviticus 25:25, 48, 49:
25 “‘If one of your fellow Israelites becomes poor and sells some of their property, their nearest relative is to come and redeem what they have sold.
48 they retain the right of redemption after they have sold themselves. One of their relatives may redeem them:
49 An uncle or a cousin or any blood relative in their clan may redeem them. Or if they prosper, they may redeem themselves.
The kinsman redeemer requirements were relationship, financial ability and willingness. There was a closer kinsman, but he was unwilling, so it fell to Boaz who was next, able and willing which is a picture of our redeemer, Christ, who came as a man (close relative), was able (because he was God) and was willing (went to the cross for us). It is interesting to note that Boaz was a descendant of Rahab (the harlot in Jericho); Boaz and Ruth were great-grandparents to King David and thus in Jesus’ human lineage. Ruth was a Moabite, a Gentile, so we see the Gentile line grafted in early on.

This is a beautiful story, only 4 chapters long, so go read it in your own Bible right now.