Guess what I’m back!! And it’s only been like … a little over a week since my Judges review. This is record time by far, but it’s only because Ruth consisted of exactly 4 chapters. That’s 17 chapters shorter than the shortest book I’ve read up until now. I started it and finished it in the same night. But I won’t get used to this because the next bunch of books after this are loooong long long again. Uggh. But for now, let’s just bask in the glory of the shortness of Ruth, shall we?
Actually there are more things about Ruth to be happy about than just its shortness – This is also by FAR the least disturbing book of the Bible so far. As a matter of fact … this book could almost be called … pleasant. I mean it can be called pleasant … mostly. There’s still some weird stuff, but it’s barely a blip on the radar compared to all the horror of the past 7 books leading up to this. Here’s the quick synopsis:
This book starts out “in the days when the judges ruled.” So basically, we’re still in the timeframe of the previous book (Judges). There is a famine in the land. There’s an Israelite dude named Elimelech who lives in Bethlehem (in Judah), and he has a wife named Naomi and two sons named Mahlon and Kilion. For whatever reason, the family moves away from Judah to Moab. While living in Moab, Elimelech dies. His two sons marry some Moabites named Orpah and Ruth. But unfortunately, after they’ve been in Moab about 10 years, both Mahlon and Kilion die too, and leave Orpah and Ruth as widows, and leave Naomi with no family at all.
So Naomi decides to move back home to Judah, because she hears that God has been coming to the aid of his people by providing food for them. She and her daughters in law set off for Judah, but Naomi tells the ladies, “You guys really should not go with me; you owe me nothing at this point. You should stay in Moab, go back to your families and find new husbands.” The ladies really do not want to leave Naomi, but eventually Naomi convinces Orpah, and Orpah leaves to go back to her fam. But Ruth, on the other hand, Ruth insists on staying with Naomi and moving back to Judah with her. “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God,” she says. Naomi is very grateful for this, and they move back to Judah just as the barley harvest is beginning.
When they get back to Judah, Naomi and Ruth live together, and Ruth decides to try to find a barley farm that will allow her to follow the workers and pick up the leftover grain behind them. The farm she chooses ends up belonging to a guy named Boaz, who is from the clan of Elimelech. Boaz has heard of Ruth’s dedication to Naomi and he is super nice to her and tells her that she can stay on his farm and continue to glean the barley behind the workers, and he’ll make sure they don’t give her any trouble. He tells her, “May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” He also invites her to eat with him and the harvesters, and he’s just generally very nice to her. So far so good; Ruth is a downright feel good story up until this point.
It’s in chapter 3 that it starts to get a little weird. The level of creep factor depends on exactly how you interpret some of the phrases used in this chapter (for now I’ll just give the synopsis, and later on in the blog I’ll elaborate on the parts that are a little strange). The gist of the story is that Ruth decides that she’s going to try to get Boaz to marry her. This chapter involves her either innocently flirting with him, or seducing him sexually, depending on how you interpret it. This is the plan that Ruth agrees to carry out, as advised by Naomi: “3. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” Ruth does this, and Boaz eventually wakes up and discovers her lying “at his feet.” Long story short, the plan works. Boaz basically tells her he’ll marry her, but there is one kinsman closer to Elimelech’s fam than he, so he gives this guy a chance first to see if he wants to take Ruth instead.
In chapter 4 that other guy declines to take Ruth as a wife (for reasons I’ll explain later), which clears the way for Boaz to marry Ruth. They get married, and they have a son named Obed. The lineage of the next couple generations is then laid out: Obed eventually grows up and has a son named Jesse. Jesse then grows up and has a son named … wait for it … David. That’s right, of “defeats Goliath” fame. And King David fame. And lots of other stuff.
That’s the story of Ruth. So let’s get to the good stuff and bad stuff.
Compared to all the horror we’ve endured up until now, Ruth is a dream come true. It’s a mostly pleasant and feel-good story where everyone is NICE to each other for once. They are generous and kind and loyal to each other. And moreover, it’s a lovely change of pace not only for what happens, but almost even more so for what does NOT happen, namely:
- Mass murder of men, women, children, babies and/or animals.
- Rape (of the regular or gang variety)
- Theft, pillaging and destruction of property that rightfully belongs to others.
- Manipulation of humans, by God, with the ultimate goal of giving himself an excuse for more murder.
Now, granted, this book is only 4 chapters long. I can pretty much guarantee that if it had gone on for much longer than that, at least ONE of the above activities would have occurred. But, as it stands, none of it did occur, and that made me happy. It’s one of those rare times up until now that I feel like we actually have a valuable lesson we can take away from a bible story. In this case it has to do with loyalty, generosity, and kindness. Finally!! Something useful.
So, like I mentioned in my synopsis above, Ruth does not get away entirely scot-free when it comes to strange and contradictory things that occur within it. The most notable thing happens in chapter 3, when, as I mentioned in my synopsis earlier, Ruth either innocently flirts with Boaz to persuade him to ask for her hand in marriage, or she seduces him sexually, depending on how you interpret several of the verses in the chapter. The first questionable verse in chapter 3 is the following piece of Naomi’s instructions to Ruth: “When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” Some internet research is telling me that the bible euphemism “uncover his feet” doesn’t necessary mean JUST his feet, but his legs too, and basically his crotch area. The term “feet” seems to sometimes be used in Hebrew to refer to male genitals.
There’s also a line in there that Ruth says after Boaz first wakes up, startled, and asks who’s there: “I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.” One website I’m looking at claims that “spreading one’s skirt” is a biblical euphemism for sexual intercourse. Not sure if that is true, but it seems possible. Then we also have verse 14, which says, “So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, ‘Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.'” This seems to imply that something indecent may have occurred, and Boaz wants to protect Ruth’s reputation. This site has an interesting breakdown and interpretation of the whole thing.
So, here’s the thing, I personally do not have any real issue with the notion of Ruth seducing Boaz to try to persuade him to marry her (although she’s clearly marrying this old dude for his money, which would technically make her a gold digger … but at least we’ve also established that he’s a really nice guy, so she does have other more valid reasons to marry him as well). BUT, the problem I DO have with this is the blatant contradiction with the CLEAR rules that were given to us in previous books, namely Deuteronomy, that women should NOT have sex outside of marriage. Deuteronomy even says in chapter 22 that if it’s found that a damsel was not a virgin when she got married, then her husband can have her stoned to death at her father’s doorstep. Ruth is supposed to be a woman of great virtue, but it seems that she is breaking a major rule here. It’s very similar to the way that SO many of the heroic and “virtuous” men of the bible thus far have had sex with random prostitutes with zero ramifications at all (but they are men, so they can get away with that type of stuff).
However, the Bible also seems to give us a loophole to the sex before marriage rule, so maybe that’s how Ruth can basically “get away with” what she does in this book. The Bible seems to imply that if a man and woman have sex without being married, that all can be forgiven as long as they get married to each other (Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which actually quite disturbingly is describing a rape situation, but I’m assuming that if you can get away with it via rape then you can also get away with it via consensual sex). It’s only if the woman goes and then tries to marry some OTHER dude that she’ll get in trouble. It all goes back to the misogyny problem of the Bible – every single rule in the Bible (at least so far) that deals with matters of male/female relationships and marriage comes from the point of view of a MAN. Therefore the rules are all structured to protect the MAN in the situation. They are all about what happens if the WOMAN cheats on you and how you can punish her (a priest will put a curse from the Lord on her, Numbers 5:11-31). And what happens if the WOMAN has sex with another dude before she marries you (then you can stone her). In the case of Ruth, it seems that because she has sex with Boaz, and then she gets married to Boaz, then everything is fine. The only time the problem would come into play is if Boaz himself had an issue with her or suspected her of being unfaithful. So she gets away with it because she is following what seems to really be the cardinal rule when it comes to romantic relationships and marriage in the Bible – don’t screw the man over.
Other Interesting/Funny Stuff
In the “Bad Stuff” section above, I called out some possibly hypocritical and misogynistic aspects of Ruth (again depending on how you interpret chapter 3), but we also have a different kind of misogyny in chapter 4, which falls more into the “funny/ridiculous” category than anything. In this case it’s more incidental to the story instead of being actively carried out by God, as it happens to be part of the cultural norms during the time.
Chapter 4 of Ruth is where Boaz and Ruth get married. But what’s funny about that is that it’s not simply a marriage – Boaz is actually literally purchasing Ruth along with Elimelech’s property, from Naomi. It’s basically the same thing as the situation where you buy a house and the previous owners leave the washer/dryer or the refrigerator there, and it comes with the house. In this case you may get a washer/dryer, a fridge, and a wife as extra accessories to the house and property. Boaz offers this property to the one closer kinsman first (as I mentioned in the synopsis above), as technically that kinsman has a right to redeem the property. But once Boaz tells the closer kinsman that a WIFE is also part of the package, the kinsman declines, because it might endanger his own estate.
Again this is just a funny/ridiculous observation more than anything. Where I really have an issue with misogyny in the Bible is a) When story after story involves the entire role of the females consisting solely of them causing trouble for the men, and b) the times when God is actively perpetrating and/or sanctioning the misogyny, such as the situations I called out in the “Bad Stuff” section above, or the situation where God makes women barren as a punishment (or seemingly just as a plot contrivance to cause extra conflict or push the story along). Even in Ruth, the way Ruth’s pregnancy is described is interesting, because it says, “the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.” Like it’s a switch that needs to be manually turned on by God for women, and yet for men, it’s just a default setting … they don’t need to do anything to “earn” it. They just have it naturally and automatically.
O.k. so now that our analysis is complete … what is my rating? I would say that weighing the generally pleasant “feel-good” nature of the Ruth story, the lack of terrible things happening (rape, murder, etc.), and then the strange/contradictory aspects from chapters 3 and 4 … I would give Ruth a …
I seriously think this is the first book that I have given anything higher than a 2.5, so I’m trying to be a little on the conservative side here. I don’t want to go totally overboard out of sheer excitement that one book has actually been decent. And I have to leave some room in case any other books later on come up and really wow me in one way or another.
Up next is 1st Samuel … and it’s 31 chapters. 😦 Boooo … I guess it’ll be a while before I get THAT review up!!