November 9, 2007

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Biblical women: The story of Ruth and Naomi

John F. Fink(Fifteenth in a series of columns)

The Book of Ruth tells a delightful story about the faithfulness of Ruth to her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Naomi, her husband, Elimelech, and their sons, Mahlon and Chilion, moved from Bethlehem to Moab, east of the Dead Sea. The sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Elimelech died shortly after they moved, and both Mahlon and Chilion died after they had been in Moab for about 10 years.

Naomi decided to move back to Bethlehem, and told her daughters-in-law to return to their parents’ homes so they could find new husbands. Orpah did so, but Ruth said, “Wherever you go I will go, wherever you lodge I will lodge, your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Wherever you die I will die, and there be buried (Ru 1:16:17).”

After arriving back in Bethlehem, Ruth decided to glean grain in one of the fields because Israelite law permitted poor widows to pick up any grain missed during harvest time. Boaz, the owner of the field, asked who the girl was. When he learned that she was Naomi’s daughter-in-law, he told her to continue to glean in his field because he had heard about what she had done for Naomi.

When Ruth told Naomi about Boaz, Naomi realized that he was a relative of her husband, Elimelech. She instructed Ruth to bathe and anoint herself, and then to go down to the threshing floor where Boaz would be sleeping. After Boaz was asleep, Naomi told Ruth, she should uncover a place at his feet and lie there.

Ruth did as Naomi instructed. In the middle of the night, Boaz awakened to find Ruth at his feet and asked who was there. Ruth identified herself and asked him to “spread the corner of your cloak over me,” thus asking him to become her protector according to the duty of a near kinsman (see Dt 25:5 and Ex 16:8).

Boaz said that he would do as she asked, but noted that she had another relative who was more closely related to her. He told her to remain there that night. In the morning, she left while it was still dark.

Boaz then asked Naomi’s nearer relative to meet with him and 10 elders of the city. He told the relative that Naomi planned to put up for sale a piece of property that belonged to Elimelech and asked if he wanted to claim it as next of kin. The man said that he did wish to do so, but Boaz told him that, if he did, he would also have to take Ruth the Moabite and raise up a family for the departed on his estate. The relative then passed and told Boaz that he could exercise the claim.

Boaz married Ruth. They had a son, Obed, who became the grandfather of King David. Boaz had been a descendent of Perez, whose wife, Tamar, was, like Ruth, a Gentile. Both women are listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel. †

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