Monday, 16 April 2007

The Book of Ruth (Part 1)

After the book of Judges, the story continues with the one we find in the book of Ruth. The Jewish scriptures place Ruth in the Third Division called the Kethubim (Writings) as one of the Five Megillah (Scrolls). Chronologically, Ruth follows after Judges as the context of the story is in the days of the Judges. Hence, in our English Bibles, Ruth is restored to her position based on the chronology of the storyline.

The story of Ruth is a very familiar one as many children would have heard of it in Sunday School. There are verses from the book that some of us will have picked as our favourite verses. Mine are of course the famous verses from Ruth's mouth: Entreat me not to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if even death parts me from you (1:16-17). I have a hunch that the song 'I will follow him' is probably based on these verses!

The story is about women; the men folk are incidental. Elimelech had a wife Naomi and two sons. The family fled to Moab because of a severe famine. There the 2 sons married Moabite girls (which was against the Deuteronomic laws) but we are talking about desparate times and situations. While there, the 3 men die leaving behind 3 widows. One can feel for Naomi, recently widowed, and now having 2 non-Israelite daughters-in-law tagging along. She did the sensible thing, encouraging them to go back as they were still young and childless with the possibility of remarriage. One called Orpah does but the second called Ruth utters those famous words. Today, any non-Jew who wishes to proselyte into the Jewish faith recites those same words like a creed! Amazing faith that Ruth shows as she was not obliged to follow her mother-in-law since death had severed the link between she and her husband and therefore to Naomi. So the story is set for the 2 widows to return to Israel. So anguished is Naomi that she calls herself 'mara' which mean 'bitter.' To be a widow in ancient Israelite society was to be at the lowest rung in society, together with orphans. You have no husband to take care of your needs. But to be a widow without sons was doubly-worst. It was to be really destitute - no man around the farm to till the soil or in the house to repair what breaks down or just to be around.