Friday, May 12, 2017

Reading Through the Book of Ruth

51GLrgYiexL._SX313_BO1,204,203,200_For the book of Ruth I am staying in the same commentary series I used several months ago for Judges (I thought it was very good) so I am reading through Ruth accompanied by the commentary, Ruth, The College Press NIV Commentary, by Mark S. Ziese. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The book of Ruth is a beautifully crafted story about ordinary people who trusted God in very difficult times - the "days of the judges." Ruth and Boaz are examples of faithful, heroic "people of valor/strength," who live lives of integrity, loyalty and responsibility in a time where those were very rare. Boaz is rewarded with success for reaching out and caring for the Moabite outcast, Ruth. This will have much wider results, as their descendant, David, will be God's means to rescue the nation from the anarchy of the judges. Even more significant will be Ruth's role in the Davidic covenant, fulfilled by Jesus Christ, and acknowledged by Matthew in his genealogy introducing his Gospel.  

The message of the book of Ruth may be considered from at least two vantage points. Viewed in strictly human terms, it underlines the importance of persistent relationships in moments of crisis. Viewed from a faith perspective, it communicates confidence in the ongoing work of God to fill the empty, to protect the vulnerable, and to bring joy into a broken world. In a small way, Ruth’s story anticipates that which is only fully realized on this side of the cross. Ruth, 322

Chapter 1 sets the scene for the rest of the story. Naomi moves from Bethlehem to Moab and loses her husband, sons, and all her means of life and support. When she decides to return, her daughter-in-law Ruth chooses to remain loyal to her and to YHWH, even though this does not seem to be to her advantage. Ruth, the Moabite is more faithful and loyal than her Hebrew mother-in-law. When they return to Bethlehem, Naomi shares her story and mourns her hopelessness. But, the barley harvest is a sign that better things may be around the corner.

Naomi is reduced to the most vulnerable of characters. She is a widow living without progeny in a foreign land. Hence, in this crisp, staccato-like cadence of narrative delivery, she is tragically and systematically deprived of her home, blood-family, security, a decade of life, and quite possibly, the blessing of Yahweh. Her future could not be bleaker. Ruth 1.1-5, 334

In the end, there is no turning back for Ruth...The task ahead will require that she muster “all her physical and mental resources.” When Naomi recognizes Ruth’s resolution, possibly at the level of personal relationship as well as faith commitment, she stopped urging her, or more literally, she simply falls silent. Ruth 1.6-18, 340–341

The long famine that initiated the flight of Naomi and her men has now given way to harvest. Similarly, Naomi’s life is about to change yet again, as a result of events in a harvest field and the actions of Ruth, still identified as the Moabitess. Ruth 1.19-22, 343

Ruth then goes out to a "random" field to glean barley and just "happens" to go the field of Naomi's relative, Boaz, who also "just happens" to be there that day. What he witnesses is a heroic effort from Ruth, as she harvests a portion equal to the wage earned by a female worker over a four-week period (357) in one day. Boaz is impressed by her and offers her the full hospitality of his operation. God is already starting to bless Ruth's faithfulness.

Just as Naomi’s people have welcomed Ruth, the blessing of Boaz invokes Yahweh’s welcome, and correspondingly, Ruth’s admittance into the people of God. The border between Moab and Israel is seemingly more porous than expected.  Ruth 2, 355

Naomi then makes a bold plan to have Ruth meet Boaz while he is sleeping on the threshing floor and goad him into taking action as her kinsman-redeemer. Ruth follows Naomi's instruction to the letter until Boaz wakes up. Instead of waiting for him to act, as instructed, she assertively makes the marriage proposal herself. Boaz is thrilled to accept because Ruth's character and devotion to Naomi were well known in Bethlehem, but there is the legal problem of a closer relative. Again Boaz gives a generous gift for Ruth to take to Naomi.

Those who are in the gate know that Ruth is a “mighty woman.” The NIV’s rendering, “woman of noble character,” is a good interpretation given the larger context, but it still misses the nuance. In order to capture it, it must be remembered how other men are described in the book as “young,” or “choice”; but only Boaz is “mighty” (2:1). Clearly, the alert reader cannot escape the conclusion that the pairing of this “mighty man” with this “mighty woman” makes perfect sense. It may even explain why Ruth has not pursued others. No one else was her match! No one else was her equal!  Ruth 3, 373

The next day Boaz takes care of the legal problem. He finds the closer relative, called "Mr. Whatever" by the author of Ruth, and brings him into the village court. Understanding the text and customs here is difficult, but Ziese sees Boaz' words as a challenge to the man to redeem the property, knowing that Boaz will marry Ruth and possibly father a child who could make a claim on the property. "Mr. Whatever" bows out at that point. Boaz then marries Ruth and they have a child, Obed, who will be the grandfather of King David. Thus, this has much wider implications than rest and blessing for Boaz, Ruth and Naomi. The blessing of the women reflects the wording, "build a house," of the Davidic covenant. Ruth's faithful actions become a key event in the salvation history of the whole world leading to the birth of another, greater, more important baby, Jesus Christ.

The end reveals that this small story, opening with the smell of death, is really about the triumph of life, and that the feelings of hopelessness associated with the annihilation of a family name, will grow into the celebration of a dynasty. Ruth 4, 379

A temporary and local fulfillment, to be sure, is seen in the image of what must have been regarded as a miracle baby, resting in the arms of widowed Naomi. However, an eternal and worldwide fulfillment is recognized in the image of another miracle baby, likewise born in Bethlehem, some thousand years later. Through his teachings and actions, this son will offer the final and fullest meaning to the expression gō’ēl-redeemer. Ruth 4.13-22, 398

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