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Your People Shall Be My People - Commentary on Ruth

"Your People Shall Be My People" - Commentary on Ruth

Abiding Bible Companion, Vol. 4 - eBook

All the books of the Bible were written for religious reasons, not for historical, social or economic ones. Their authors wanted to tell us about God in relationship with people.

 

Each Book of Scripture is important for Christians. Each book of the Hebrew Scriptures shows Christians the deep Jewish roots of our Christian faith. Ruth is an ancestor of King David and of Jesus. This book is rich in the meaning of family life for Jews and Christians alike. It shows us the common ground between Judaism and Christianity and it can be a great opportunity for dialogue between Christians and Jews.

 

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The Theology of Ruth

 

The Name of God appears over twenty times in the book of Ruth. However, God never speaks personally or directly to anyone. Instead, God is invoked through prayers uttered by one person for another. Each person prays for others and the spirituality of prayer is developed throughout the book of Ruth. Throughout much of Scripture, from the time of Adam, God speaks to persons--Moses, Abraham, Sarah and Miriam, and the prophets. People respond to the voice of God.

 

Power of prayer In this book, God is asked to bless people and God does this through others. Intercessory Prayer is offered by the people of God and each person is blessed by the prayers of another. In the book of Genesis, God calls Abraham and Sarah and pronounces a blessing on them. In the book of Ruth, Naomi asks that Ruth be blessed and Boaz blesses her. Boaz asks Ruth to call down a blessing on him and he is blessed by the love of Ruth and their marriage.

 

Instead of blessing people directly, God blesses people in this Book through the love and intervention of others. This has important implications for Jews and Christians today. God's blessings do come to us through others. God works through others to touch, comfort, and guide us. This is a beautiful thought and the Book of Ruth is one of the strongest books on intercessory prayer in the Bible.

 

All the people in the book of Ruth make prayer an integral part of their lives. They pray not for nations or institutions or causes or groups. They pray for each other, and their prayers are efficacious. What they pray for, happens. The book of Ruth is filled with prayers. The men and women in Ruth pray in the morning and in the evening; they pray while they journey, while at home, in the fields, and in the market place. Their prayers are always heard and answered.

 

Jesus is a model pray-er for Christians. The Gospels are full of references to Jesus praying and teaching others to pray. (Matthew 6:9f; 9:38; 14:23f, etc) St. Paul tells us to pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and such praying is certainly evident in the lives of people in the book of Ruth. Ruth as the Word of God encourages Jews and Christians to pray always, knowing that our prayers will be heard. Our lives should be lives of prayer.

 

Name some ways you have interceded for others in your life's journey (praying with them, Masses etc.)

 

Family

The book of Ruth is the story of the love and care of one family: the kinship of mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, of male relatives and female relatives. We see members of a family working and sacrificing for each other. We learn of the faithfulness and generosity of family members who go beyond the minimum requirements of family etiquette to make each other happy. Ruth has much to teach us about family life and love.

 

Marriage

Ruth also has much to teach us about love before and after marriage. Naomi and Elimelech are married and they are the proud parents of Mahlon and Chilion. The sons are also married--Ruth to Mahlon and Chilion to Orpah. Eventually, all three husbands die. The widows become close friends. Later we see Naomi encourage the growing friendship and chaste courtship of Ruth and Boaz, and we learn about commitment and responsibility in courtship and marriage. Finally the book of Ruth tells us about religious conversion in marriage.

 

Ruth is from Moab, a pagan country. There she worshipped a different god called Chemosh. While she is traveling with Naomi, Ruth makes a covenant promise to accept the God of Israel and become an Israelite. This story is one of love and faithfulness to God and to the people of Israel. As a convert to Judaism, Ruth is completely faithful, illustrating the great contribution that converts can bring to a religious tradition.

 

Mixed marriages have been an important issue for Jews throughout their history. During the period of the judges, the chosen people gradually took over the Holy Land promised to them by God. They interacted with pagans and even married them. The book of Ruth assures us that there are gifts in these unions.

 

David himself had great respect for pagans. He sent his parents to the king of Moab for protection when Saul was threatening to kill him (1 Samuel 22:3). David recognized the goodness of those of other faiths. He even married foreign women. Ruth was David's great-great-grandmother and we can see that her influence extended into his lifetime.

 

During the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, mixed marriages were condemned. The book of Ruth in its edited form may be a reaction against this prohibition. Some scholars say the gentle message that Ruth converted to Judaism and became holy was meant to offset the harsh punishment that Nehemiah was setting out for those Israelites who married pagans.

 

The Poor

Naomi and Ruth are poor in this beautiful story, so poor that they have to ask others for their food. Boaz is rich and his gradual and consistent unfolding of hospitality is a lesson for Jews and Christians on how to treat those who have no home or little food.

 

Women

The book of Ruth has much to teach us about women and their relationships with each other. The primary relationship is between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law, which is not always a happy relationship historically. But in Ruth this is a beautiful relationship. It also tells us of broken relationships between women (when Orpah leaves) and of women's friendships in the community of Bethlehem around 1000 years B.C. Today when so much is being written on the theology of women, this book offers us many insights. Most importantly it teaches us about the positive relationship between women.

 

Relationship between men and women Boaz is Ruth's redeemer and yet Boaz is remembered in history only because of Ruth. This book does not speak of women acting alone. It speaks of women in relationship with men, and it tells us of the richness of reciprocal relationships. There is much here of significance for Christians and Jews.

 

The book of Ruth relates the story of a family's struggle. It tells of natural disasters: famine and death. It portrays real people, who live and work within a family and a community. We can understand and sympathize with their plight.

 

The people described in Ruth, like people of all ages, are not perfect. Naomi thinks that God has turned against her. Boaz cannot fulfill every request made by Ruth. Orpah and the unnamed kinsman turn away from their kin in time of trial.

 

Yet the story is a triumphant one, moving from death to life, from isolation to community, from emptiness to fullness. Truly this story has many applications and connections for each of our lives.