Ruth has a total of four chapters, so I’m gonna do the whole thing in one post but it will be kinda long. There are three named women in this book: Naomi, Ruth and Orpah.
This chapter introduces the women and their situation. Naomi is taken to Moab by her husband and there her two sons find wives, Ruth and Orpah. When all three men die, Naomi decides to send the young widows back to their families for possible remarriages and to go home to Bethlehem herself. Orpah eventually listens, but Ruth does not. This doesn’t make either woman bad. It would have been a major change for them to move to a new country and try to make their way. Both were loyal to their mother-in-law, but these kinds of decisions are complicated. Orpah was loyal, but it sounds like Ruth was also converted to a certain extent, even if not purely by religion.
What she says to convince Naomi to let her go are quoted all over the place because they are gorgeous. They could be wedding vows:
Do not urge me 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.
When they get back Naomi’s home, she doesn’t want anyone to call her by her name anymore. She chooses to be called Mara instead, which means “bitter”.
Let me first refer back to Leviticus 19 and how to love thy neighbor as yourself. Remember the detailed description? If you look, you’ll see that part of it was leaving a part of your crop to be harvested by the poor, widowed, sojourner and so on. Ruth is all three of those. She begins the second chapter by going down to the field of a relative of Naomi and “gleaning” there. Somehow she gets Boaz’s attention. I say somehow because I’m not about to throw in on the situation. It says she wanted to find favor with him, and lots of people assume that hard work is one way to do that. It’s suggested that she also could have been exceptionally beautiful, but that’s never specified in the text and it is for plenty of other women. She was also new and gleaning from his field and a foreigner. It’s entirely possible that her being a Moabite made her stick out in addition to never having been there before. As far as favor being given, at no point does she appear to be trying to get anything from him yet, the sayings appears to be used in the way that she wants him think well of her.
So he notices her and asks about her from someone else before actually going and talking to her. When she gets home and mentions the encounter to Naomi, she is informed that he is one of their “redeemers”. This is one of those places where the patriarchy of it all is both a help and a hinderance. If the women had livelihoods of their own, they may not have been impoverished by the deaths of their husbands. However, since that is the case, it is a male relative that can basically undo the damage their husbands had done prior to their deaths. Not that the husbands are ever mentioned as bad. Naomi’s husband sold his land prior to moving to Moab, but it turned out that Boaz was among the men who could buy it back.
Also, Boaz’s relation to them meant that he could perpetuate the family line of the husband’s without really disrupting his own. That practice was called “levirate marriage” and is also covered back in Dueteronomy (25). Again, patriarchal practice both creating a problem and solving it in what may still not be the best way for the women involved, but could be. If you don’t want to get married again but want the family to keep the land, creating an heir with a sibling of your deceased spouse let’s you stay a widow or marry the sibling and not immediately go into the poor house (or at least it sounds that way to me). But yeah, it involves sex with a spouse you didn’t choose. It could be not fun and humiliating and forced by family members. In this case, it’s brought up by Naomi as a way out of their present problem.
Naomi explains to Ruth how to ask for the redemption from Boaz and she does just that. He agrees to do it, but insists on checking in with a “nearer” redeemer. There is no sexual connotations to the way this goes down, so don’t read any into it.
When that guy doesn’t go for it (apparently based on the inclusion of marrying Ruth as part of the redemption), then Boaz does. The other relative makes it sound like the children with Ruth might “impair” the inheritance with his current kids or kids that may come with his current wife, but it hadn’t sounded like it back in Leviticus to me. There is mention at the beginning of the book that this is during the “time of the judges” and if you remember that book, people were doing whatever they thought was good, so his concern wasn’t unfounded. It would be easy for things to be disputed and people to get killed over it. Judges was a much stranger time than I had previously given it credit for.
Boaz says “bought” a lot in what sounds like a closing to making the contract for her. It’d be more annoying if she hadn’t literally asked to be redeemed this way. I just hate the implication that she was property. It’s pretty clear that she couldn’t have anything without him, but she hadn’t had anything before. It’d be easy to forget that Naomi’s husband had sold everything and Boaz was getting it back for the women because they’d had nothing back in Moab either.
They get married and have a son, who is even referred to as Naomi’s son and Ruth is mentioned as “more to you than seven sons” when some women are talking to Naomi about it.
Yeah, there’s a part of me that would like to say that the problem with the situation was their inability to get and maintain their own work and households and property without the men in their lives. That would only be partially true. In order to even get a prowess in anything that would let them do that as widows, they would had to have been doing other than running households before that. We aren’t told at what level of prosperity that Naomi’s husband was before his death, but he apparently had enough to sell and flee a famine to a foreign land and entice two local women to marry his sons. But he had sold everything and then died in a foreign land. We aren’t told the state of things when the sons die, but know that the women don’t have much. None of them sell anything for their journey back to Bethlehem and they don’t have anything when they get there.
Times are rough but Naomi appears to know her rights. She has a plan. She is not helpless and neither is Ruth, at any point. These were not damsels in distress. They had rights. These rights were exercised. Everyone involved prospered on account of them. Without knowing their rights, bad times could have become desperate. Without men like Boaz who respected their rights and who loved his neighbor in the way he was instructed by God to, bad times could have become desperate for the women. The laws worked the way they were supposed to, partially because the women knew their rights and weren’t afraid to exercise them. Yes, it depended on a relative being willing to redeem them, but this practice wasn’t created for widows alone. Naomi’s husband would have had to make the same request if he had been there and without money as well. The women took control of their destinies and made sure everything ended up the way it was supposed to after all. And Boaz was an honorable Israelite who understood the laws and abided by them, who was willing to redeem the land sold by his relative, who was willing to give his relative heirs, who respected Ruth as a widow, an honorable woman, and a person with rights under the Israelite law.
Despite the patriarchal overtones of the reasoning behind these laws, this is a book that exemplifies why women also need to learn about our religion, our rights and the laws of the land we are in. Using this knowledge to improve our lives is not demanding special treatment or being needy. It’s what the laws are there for.