Thursday, June 28, 2007

Women Treated (Reasonably) Well At Last!


Reading Ruth is a refreshing change! After grief and hardship, two women eventually find peace and security.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech, both Israelites, leave their land during a time of famine and move to Moab. Elimelech dies, but Naomi raises their two sons, who marry Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth. After about ten years, Naomi's sons die too. Without any men immediately in their lives, the three women are now left with uncertainty about how to survive.

Orpah goes back to her mother's house, but Naomi heads back to Bethlehem (the famine has now ended), and Ruth insists on going with her, even though that is not her own land.

Because of the custom that poor are allowed to glean in the fields (gather harvest remains after the landowner harvests the fields), they eke out a living. But it turns out that the field that Ruth gleans is owned by a relative of Naomi's husband, a rich relative named Boaz. He generously allows Ruth to glean, and even offers her protection.

At Naomi's urging, Ruth finally hints rather strongly that Boaz owes her and Naomi rather more than embellished gleaning rights, since he is related to Naomi's husband. Boaz, caught a little by surprise, says, in effect, "er, yes, right!" and notes that there is one other male relative more closely related whom he really should notify first.

This other male relative is intrigued by the prospect of gaining Naomi's land; but then hearing that accepting this also requires him to marry Ruth, the Moabite, he declines. So Boaz now feels free (and seems happy) to accept the land himself, as well as the marriage of Ruth. He marries Ruth; they have a son. Having a son now fully ensures the security of both Ruth and Naomi.

It is a story not only about women of misfortune finding their way to a good life again, but is also a story that establishes a more positive vision of intermarriage. It turns out that the son of Ruth and Boaz becomes the grandfather of King David.

I am relieved that there is finally a happier story. I am also relieved to see rigid rules becoming a little more relaxed.

And yet I do have to point out that the story still raises some concerns.

The major question raised for me is why the relatives of Naomi's husband's family did not step in earlier themselves to take care of the two women.

I am guessing that the reason is that Naomi was now too old for remarriage herself, and that Ruth was not regarded as desirable in marriage because of being Moabite. What Boaz initially did -- being generous in allowing Ruth to glean the fields, and offering her protection and hospitality -- was probably at the time already regarded as above and beyond the call of duty. The fact that he did go further even than that is what makes this still a happy story.

1 comment:

  1. nice! I'm way too tired to read the whole thing and post a good comment but I'll try to come back to this.