Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Naomi's Exile & Exodus (part 3)

If so, this makes Orpah’s departure understandable.  If so, this makes Ruth’s clinging to Naomi even more remarkable, while providing a glimpse into what lay behind the language of the rest of her statement to Naomi, in which she says “Wherever you die, I will die---and there I will be buried.  May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise!  Only death will be able to separate me from you!” (1:17)  So against all probability, while Naomi thinks of the return to the promised land as an exile, Ruth looks forward to the end of exile and a joining together with the people of exodus in the land of the covenant God’s promise. 

With all of this under consideration---Naomi’s trepidation in returning to the land, combined with the knowledge of the famine and subjugation that was in effect when she left with her husband, it is with a touch of apparent irony that “they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest” (1:22b).  Immediately, in her land of exodus---which is the place of the Creator God’s mission for her---“Ruth went and gathered grain in the fields behind the harvesters” (2:3a). 

This gathering, as the reader comes to find out, took place in “the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech” (2:3c).  When Boaz speaks to Ruth, he treats her quite well, embodying the grace and kindness to resident foreigners that was demanded of Israel in the law of their God---because they too had been foreigners in Egypt.  Though the author does not speak of this, it underlies the story and the treatment, and serves as a reminder of the constant overt and subtle recalling of exodus by the various Biblical authors. 

Soon after, as Ruth gives Naomi a report of the day’s activities, as well as the favorable treatment from Boaz, “Naomi said to her, ‘This man is a close relative of ours; he is our guardian’.” (2:20b)  Later on, Ruth goes back to Boaz, proposing marriage and reminding him that he is “a guardian of the family’s interests” (3:9b).  The Hebrew word used here for “guardian” is “go’el,” which is used as both “kinsman” and “redeemer.”  This means that this is “deliverer” language, thus presenting Boaz in the mold of Moses, which places the story squarely in the center of the exile, exodus, and rescuing motif that is much of the sum and substance of the Scriptural message. 

As a guardian or a redeemer or a deliverer, Boaz agrees to Ruth’s proposal, and tells her that he will do what is necessary to become her and the family’s redeemer.  Before sending her away so that he can go and attend to this business, “he measured out about sixty pounds of barley into the shawl and put it on her shoulders” (3:15).  In this additional, favorable treatment by this redeemer (the one that was going to complete Ruth’s exodus and bring the family’s exile to an end), it could be said that Boaz went far beyond what either Ruth or Naomi would have asked or thought (Ephesians 3:20).    

As Boaz completes the transaction that will see him redeeming the estate of his kinsmen Elimelech, he says, “I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, as my wife to raise up a descendant who will inherit his property so the name of the deceased might not disappear from among his relatives and from his village” (4:10a).  In so doing, Boaz rescues the name of Elimelech from exile.  Almost immediately, the story of Ruth moves along to the fact that “The Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son… They named him Obed.  Now he became the father of Jesse---David’s father!” (4:13b,17b) 

The marriage and the coming of a child marks the preservation of an inheritance within the land.  Because this is couched within the language of redemption (4:4-6), and because redemption is equated with exodus, all of these things serve as a reminder to both the witnesses and the later reader of this history, of the Creator God’s faithful, saving, covenant action on behalf of His people. 

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