Formations 11.04.2018: Determined Faithfulness

Ruth 1:6-18

Jan Victors, Ruth and Naomi, 1653

When Naomi returns to Judah after a years-long sojourn in Moab, her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth chooses to go with her. Though Naomi urges her to remain in Moab and find a new husband, Ruth insists that she will remain by Naomi’s side.

Of course, Naomi had a second daughter-in-law, Orpah. When Naomi urges Ruth and Orpah to return to their homeland and seek the rebuild their lives there, Orpah agrees. There is no shame in this decision. It was the most practical and the most traditional course of action. In fact, it was an act of obedience: she was doing exactly what her mother-in-law told her to do. When Orpah and Naomi part, it is with loud weeping and kisses (1:14).

But Ruth defiantly insists she accompany Naomi back to Bethlehem, to a place she has never been and where her prospects for a full and happy life are bleak. Despite Naomi’s pleading, Ruth is determined, and Naomi knows she isn’t going to win this argument (v. 18).

When have you seen such determined faithfulness? When have you shown it?

Discussion

• If you didn’t know what happens in chapter 2, why might you argue that Ruth would be better off in Moab?
• When have you seen faithfulness in the face of difficult circumstances?
• In what sense was Orpah faithful to Naomi?
• What can we infer about the relationship between Ruth and Naomi?

Reference Shelf

The Structure of the Book of Ruth

In four major scenes the story is artfully told. Tragedy strikes in Moab as Elimelech and his two sons die, leaving three widows. One widow remains in Moab, but Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem. The second scene shows how Naomi and Ruth manage to make a livelihood while attracting the attention of Naomi’s relative Boaz to the industrious and beautiful Ruth. Boaz protects Ruth, showers grain upon her, and we are prepared for the third scene. There, delicately and with sensitivity, the narrator tells of the betrothal of Ruth and Boaz. The final scene, at the city gate, shows the careful arrangements made by Boaz to assure that he will have the legal right to claim Ruth as his wife. The story then ends with one of its most important points: the genealogy that carries the reader to David, grandson of Obed, the son born to Ruth and Boaz.

Walter Harrelson, “Ruth, Book of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 777.

Naomi’s Plight

News of food in Judah occasions Naomi’s decision to turn back home with her sons’ widows in tow. Somewhere along the way, Naomi thinks better of the choice for the younger Moabite women and advises them to turn back to their own country. A discourse ensues that encapsulates a woman’s expectation of life, that of wife and mother. One heeds conventional wisdom while the other casts her fate with Naomi.

The story focuses now on the older woman, emphasized through the use
 of the freestanding personal pronoun 
she, in addition to the third feminine
singular form of the verb. The writer
wishes us to see Naomi as the main
character, the one who acts, while the
younger women accompany her in
her decisions. It is Naomi who stands 
up (qûm, “arise” or “stand”) and turns 
back (šûb, “turn back,” “return”) from 
the fields of Moab. The two younger
 women are referred to by the Hebrew 
word for “brides,” translated in English 
texts as “daughters-in-law.” That these
 brides, now widows, remain connected 
to Naomi is unquestioned in the text,
 as attested by their silence. The act of
 “turning back” is itself a key movement 
in the story, occurring some twelve 
times in chapter 1 alone (vv. 6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15 [2x], 16, 21, 22 [2x]). Equally interesting is the setting of Naomi’s thoughts, the “fields of Moab.” Although she was “left” there (1:5), the fields become the place of her decision making and will be the place where the full depiction of the scroll’s female heroes is revealed (Ruth 2). The decision to leave the fields of Moab comes on the heels of hearing that YHWH had visited his people and given them bread. The famine that occasioned the flight to Moab has been relieved with the return of food in Judah as the result of God’s act. Good Hebrew theology is at work as all things rest in the hands of God.

Three verbs deal with the agony of Naomi’s situation. All the men die and Naomi is left behind (v. 5). In the face of such tragedy, she stands up (v. 6) and sets out (v. 7). We do not hear Naomi’s voice or that of the younger women. A narrator presents a three-step sequence of one woman’s handling of tragedy, a one-step-at-a-time response that is wise in both ancient and modern times. No time or words are wasted as the women get on their way. Naomi sets out from where she was—the fields of Moab—with her two bride-daughters. The telling shifts to the third person plural as “they walk on the road, to turn back to the land of Judah.”

Kandy Queen-Sutherland, Ruth & Esther, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2016), 52–4.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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