Saturday, January 21, 2012

Now here's a little rumination on Ruth

I stumbled upon this blog of Tim Bulkeley's through my various readings at Scotteriology.  In the hands of some teachers Ruth is presented as a case study on dating and marriage.  You can't possibly imagine who might have done that?  Well, never mind then.  That's not important.

Now this is fun, and here's something that I found fascinating.  Ruth is billed as a love story, a story of mutual romantic love.  Bulkeley remarks that as sweet as it may be that it really is in there that's not the main point of the book.  Consider, particularly, the second paragraph I quote regarding Boaz' affection for Ruth.  I'll emphasize it for good measure.

... However, I do not think the book of Ruth is about love. It’s about חֶסֶד hesed (an amalgam of faithfulness to family or covenant relationships and great kindness). This virtue was a primary family and social value in Ancient Israel. Love was a luxury, but חֶסֶד hesed was what made the world go round.

So, did Boaz “fancy” Ruth? Probably – notice how he assumes that any of the young (and he is not young, so appreciates the value of youth) men of the village would have wanted to marry her (Rt 3:10). Why? She was a foreign (strike one) widow (strike two) who was childless after ten years of marriage (strike three). Boaz has to be imputing his own motives to them ;) Did Ruth “fancy” Boaz? Perhaps – notice how she teases him in the field (Rt 2:10,13)! But that’s not what the story is about, it is about the much more significant issues of חֶסֶד hesed.

There is a love story in the Bible (at least in the Song), but Ruth is not it, even though it may allow its heroes to experience love as well.

You see, dear reader, those bolded points.  Ruth was really the last sort of woman an Israelite would choose to marry.  A widowed Moabiite who had never had children despite ten years of marriage would NOT be the prime candidate for an Israelite marriage. Deuteronomy 23:3-5's prohibition against Moabites entering the assembly of the Lord it would appear Ruth, as a woman, didn't quite count under this prohibition, particularly as she was obviously a proselyte. 

Still, she could hardly have been considered the most eligible bachelorette in the village as things stood and Boaz, to marry her as kinsmen redeemer, would be doing so to continue the line of Elimelech.  The nearer kinsmen redeemer wanted to preserve his own familiy legacy and could not marry Ruth without compromising his own inheritence.  Yet we know of Boaz because he chose to marry Ruth. As I have blogged with amusement and seriousness over the years we must be cautious and careful about how, when, where, and why we bandy about a concept like "legacy". 

It was "legacy" and "a name" that inspired people to go to the Valley of Shinar, after all.  And it was to preserve and pursue a legacy that a kinsmen redeemer did not marry Ruth the widowed Moabite who had borne no children in ten years of marriage.  And, really, who could blame the nameless fellow? It was simply not that awesome a deal for him to fulfill a levirate responsibility for some dude named Elimelech who went to Moab with his family and ended up dead.

Yet Boaz in taking Ruth as his wife not only had sons whose names gave him a legacy, the old man obtained a legacy better than just plain old sons and daughters, he became part of the lineage of David and ultimately of Christ despite not necessarily being aware that in simply playing the role of kinsmen redeemer he was entering into this legacy.  Perhaps the most beautiful and amusing irony may be that Boaz simply loved a younger widowed woman and was not imagining that his legacy would be what we read about.  The man who was consciously looking after his own legacy doesn't even get a name while the man who chose to continue the line of Elimelech (by marrying Mahlon's widow) was the ancestor of David. The nameless man looked after his legacy and Boaz is celebrated for his character. Now there's an irony to mull over.

No comments: