By Matt Horan

I think I’ve successfully managed to talk about Joey from Friends and the Bible in the same post.  And they said it couldn’t be done…

During Israel’s Feast of Weeks, Ruth has been traditionally read as a celebration of faithfulness.  Naomi was an Israelite who lived in Moab to escape a famine.  She lived with her husband and two sons, who married tom_cruise_oprah_winfreyMoabite women, Orpah (not to be confused with Oprah) and Ruth.  Tragically, Naomi’s husband and two sons died, and she encouraged her daughters-in-law to return home to the Moabites and try to find new husbands.  Orpah was eventually persuaded to return, but Ruth did not.  (Orpah, not Oprah.  Oprah would have stayed.)

She was faithful to Naomi, refusing to leave her side.  As the story progresses, she is faithful.  Naomi gives her instructions that she follows to the letter.  Further, Ruth provides food for Naomi, taking responsibility for her.  There may be no better example of faithfulness available in the Old Testament than Ruth.  And further, she has now become a follower of Yahweh, for Naomi’s God became her God. (Ruth 1:15-17)

The tragedy to the early hearers of this story would have been the loss of a husband without a male heir to inherit the family’s property.  Women were not allowed to own property at this time, so such a widow could become destitute.  The only hope would be that the husband’s brother would take the widow as his own wife and conceive a son with the widow that would be counted as the deceased husband’s heir.  But since both brothers had died, this also was not possible.  Naomi and Ruth clung together to face the hard times ahead.

Ruth is fully obedient to Naomi’s instructions, and she is able to find a generous landowner, Boaz, who allows her to glean the fields after his hired men finish each day’s harvest and find food.  Boaz assures her of the favor and protection of Yahweh, the God of Israel.  It’s interesting to note the phrase that Boaz uses, “May Yahweh reward you for your deeds, and may you have full reward from Yahweh, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have taken refuge.”

They discover, however, that this landowner is more than just a generous soul.  He is their “kinsman-redeemer.”  This means that he is a relative that could step in as an inheritor of the deceased man’s property and produce an heir with the widow to restore their property rights.  Naomi realizes this and instructs Ruth on how to gain his attention.  (“Uncover his feet.”  Many have debated what this means.  Seems that you could safely say it with “air quotes” to give it the hint of innuendo that it deserves.  At the very least, it’s akin to Joey Tribbiani walking up to a girl and saying, “How YOU doin’?”)

Every step of the way, Ruth does as instructed—ever faithful.  Remember Boaz’s words of blessing about the wings of Yahweh when Ruth responds to him, “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next of kin.”  In Hebrew the word that they translate as “cloak” is the same word that Boaz uses that is translated “wings.”  She is glad for the protection of Yahweh’s wings, but then boldly asks to be placed under the protection of his wings too.  This is akin to the girl “popping the question.”  She takes a bold step!

The landowner, Boaz, takes notice of Ruth and admires her character.  The impression emerges that he would be interested in marrying her out of more than just a family obligation.  However, there’s a snag.  There is a closer relative than Boaz who had first rights to the deceased man’s property and wife.  But Boaz desires to be her redeemer.  But just as the faithful have a redeemer in Yahweh, this faithful woman had a redeemer in Boaz.  He goes to the nearer relative and tells him of the opportunity he has to claim this ownerless property, and the relative agrees.  Then Boaz tells him, “Also, the deceased had a wife, and your taking on this property would also require you to conceive with her a male heir to reclaim the property.

Not desiring to have his line of succession clouded in such a way, the relative passes, clearing the way for Boaz to marry Ruth.  Not only was the obligation able to be fulfilled to the widow—it seemed that Boaz was in love with Ruth.  To the Israelites reading the story, they would have seen this result far exceeding that which the average widow could have hoped for in this situation.  Turns out that her faithfulness gains her far more than she’d hoped.  But there’s more.  The hearers of the story know the conclusion is far more than a “happily-ever-after” for couple in love.  They know that the best is yet to come.

Ruth gives birth to a son.  Then comes a grandson.  Then a great-grandson.  This great-grandson picks up a small stone and slays a giant named Goliath, and grows up to become David, the greatest and most revered King of Israel.  To be the close ancestor of such a legend is, once again, far more than this foreign, childless widow could have ever hoped for.

And to Christians reading the story, we know even more—that as the great grandmother of David, Ruth would be the direct ancestor of Jesus Christ, the Messiah himself.  She would not get her dreams to come true.  God far exceeded them.  Turns out that the things we ask for lack imagination.  The path ahead for the faithful brings them to places of fulfillment beyond their wildest dreams.  Turns out that God’s wildest dreams are much, much wilder than ours could ever be.

  1. Cynthia says: has become a favorite sunday point for me


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