Friday, March 16, 2012

Thoughts on Ruth

The Cotton Pickers (Winslow Homer, 1876), LACMA (Public Domain) 
Previously, I discussed what I consider to be one of the most important but greatly ignored themes in Ruth in “Sometimes a Woman's Got to Do What a Woman's Got to Do,” which connected the Ruth 3 scene with Hosea 9:1’s statement about prostitute’s wages on the threshing floors. For my reading last year, however, I turned my attention to what might be called the “Tamar Problem.”

As many of you know, as a teen, I was taught the perspective of Tylerite Christian Reconstructionism, a theonomist movement that looked to the Mosaic Law for guidance on how to create a perfect society, God’s millennial kingdom here on earth. The belief is that, rather than following basic ideas such as “Love thy neighbor” from the Bible and applying common sense to real life situations, Christians need to follow the case law down to the jot and tittle. Of course, this view is not immune to debate. Proponents aren’t in agreement on how to divide the Pentateuch into “judicial law,” “moral law,” and “ceremonial law,” nor can they settle on how to appropriately reinterpret ancient codes for today’s cultures, political systems, and economies. Both are key to deciding which specific laws Christians should place themselves under to usher in a believer’s utopia.

Unfortunately for Christians who hold this view, it’s clear that following the law doesn’t guarantee that everything will go smoothly. Case in point: the apocryphal story of Susanna, in which an innocent woman is legally condemned by the testimony of two witnesses. What’s missing from the discussion is the human element. “Doing the right thing” cannot and will not guarantee perfect results, something clearly lost on most advocates of Christian dating, courtship, and betrothal and the wait-and-be-content doctrine. There are too many variables in life for formulaic-driven orthopraxy.

The story of Ruth illustrates this problem. In 1:11-13, Naomi wisely informs her daughters-in-law that it was unrealistic to expect customary levirate marriages (c.f. Deuteronomy 25:5-10) when she’s too old to bare any more sons.*Perhaps she was thinking of Judah’s daughter-in-law Tamar patiently waiting out the best years of her life for a third husband to grow up after his older brothers incurred the wrath of God (Genesis 38). Orpah and Ruth had no foreseeable future with Naomi, save relying on the kindness and charity of strangers (Ruth 2). The system would work as stated, when two brothers, men old enough to testify in public, lived in the same household at the same time, but was extremely inefficient when applied on a more general scale.

Now, for spiritual reasons unknown to us, Ruth chose to stay with her mother-in-law, despite the unlikely prospect of ever finding a husband. Perhaps she, like the girl in Winslow Homer’s The Cotton Pickers, looked up from gleaning and asked herself, “Is there anything more to life than this?” Or maybe she was too intently focused on her immediate survival. Yet Naomi remained dissatisfied with the arrangement, instead preferring to scheme Ruth a way out of the endless drudgery of field work (Ruth 3:1), and Ruth complied by chasing a man who technically wasn’t supposed to be her target. Rather than the happy ending coming “because of” a flawless “kinsman redeemer” system, it might make more sense to say that, through God’s grace towards a pagan woman, everything worked out in the end “in spite of” it.

*Oddly enough, to do this, Naomi probably would’ve had to marry Boaz or the other relative.


  1. Jennifer,

    "...everything worked out in the end 'in spite of' it."

    The text does seem to drive home the point at many opportune times that Ruth was a Moabite woman, or "Moabitess" as found in the KJV. A look at redemptive history shows how willing God is to adding Gentiles to his family. Exceptions to the rule are littered throughout the bible and I like it when I discover one.

  2. Even though the Mosaic Law makes it clear that there was to be one law for both the Israelites and foreigners living among them, it wouldn't surprise me if some would use Ruth's nationality as an excuse not to fulfill their legal duties. It's always puzzled me why Boaz had to go out of his way to make sure the workers didn't molest the Ruth. That's a clear indication that they didn't think foreign women and/or widows deserved respect.

    Btw, I think Uriah the Hittite is another example of outsiders joining the Israelites.

  3. hello,

    i enjoyed reading this. i love the perspective "in spite of it". growing up, i was taught that doing the right thing would produce perfect results. those who taught me did not say it word for word, but their teachings made it evident. to some degree, i believe the law of the scripture was more in play than the grace of God.

    the problem with this was: as i began to teach & lead others... i lacked the need to see others through the eyes of grace. i could not touch their imperfections and excuse them. i gave no room for error or humanity. it was the same for myself. i was very critical with myself; anything that missed the mark of perfection could not be justified. it became hard to forgive myself and others.

    the sad thing is i beat myself up for elements i could not control. i agree, "There are too many variables in life for formulaic-driven orthopraxy". perfection is in the cross, not in our ability to make right decisions. even if i did the right thing (all the time)... it does not guarantee a perfect result. it may produce a better result, but nothing perfect. it is only by God's grace that things will work together for my good. that is perfection to me.

    i like the ruth & boaz reference. even with perfect actions (boaz), things work out for our good because of God's grace. the root is His grace. this is encouraging... even if i do the wrong thing (not encouraging it), the grace of God will bring forth a perfect result because it is flawless, not man & our decisions. too often, we dumb down the true work of the cross. i really do love this post.

  4. An Intercessor: Thanks for your comment. I'm glad you connected with my post.


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