Ancient History, History, King of Hopelessness: A Study of Ruth

King of Hopelessness pt 16 (4:13-22)

וַיִּקַּח בֹּעַז אֶת־רוּת וַתְּהִי־לוֹ לְאִשָּׁה וַיָּבֹא אֵלֶיהָ וַיִּתֵּן יְהוָה לָהּ הֵרָיוֹן וַתֵּלֶד בֵּן׃
וַתֹּאמַרְנָה הַנָּשִׁים אֶל־נָעֳמִי בָּרוּךְ יְהוָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא הִשְׁבִּית לָךְ גֹּאֵל הַיּוֹם וְיִקָּרֵא שְׁמוֹ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל׃
וְהָיָה לָךְ לְמֵשִׁיב נֶפֶשׁ וּלְכַלְכֵּל אֶת־שֵׂיבָתֵךְ כִּי כַלָּתֵךְ אֲשֶׁר־אֲהֵבַתֶךְ יְלָדַתּוּ אֲשֶׁר־הִיא טוֹבָה לָךְ מִ‍שִּׁבְעָה בָּנִים׃
וַתִּקַּח נָעֳמִי אֶת־הַיֶּלֶד וַתְּשִׁתֵהוּ בְחֵיקָהּ וַתְּהִי־לוֹ לְאֹמֶנֶת׃
וַתִּקְרֶאנָה לוֹ הַשְּׁכֵנוֹת שֵׁם לֵאמֹר יֻלַּד־בֵּן לְנָעֳמִי וַתִּקְרֶאנָה שְׁמוֹ עוֹבֵד הוּא אֲבִי־יִשַׁי אֲבִי דָוִד׃ פ‍
וְאֵלֶּה תּוֹלְדוֹת פָּרֶץ פֶּרֶץ הוֹלִיד אֶת־חֶצְרוֹן׃
וְחֶצְרוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת־רָם וְרָם הוֹלִיד אֶת־עַמִּינָדָב׃
וְעַמִּינָדָב הוֹלִיד אֶת־נַחְשׁוֹן וְנַחְשׁוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת־שַׂלְמָה׃
וְשַׂלְמוֹן הוֹלִיד אֶת־בֹּעַז וּבֹעַז הוֹלִיד אֶת־עוֹבֵד׃
וְעֹבֵד הוֹלִיד אֶת־יִשָׁי וְיִשַׁי הוֹלִיד אֶת־דָּוִד׃

So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”

Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. (4:13-22, ESV)

Boaz took Ruth. Nothing echoes back to the semi-nomadic, clan-based culture of Bronze Age Canaan like terms like “took” (קָח, qar) in reference to marriage. It is the idea of being carried away and it ties back to the ancient and probably prehistoric practice of snatching a woman from another clan. It is so engrained in the consciousness of Mediterranean peoples that it even appears in much later Roman mythology recounted by Livy and Plutarch as the way the first Romans acquired their Sabine wives.

The idea is simple and very old. Men would sweep down on a neighboring village or tribe and snatch the woman (or women), carry them off which is the core of the word qar. Once they were safely back in their own village, the men would pair off with the women. While this is sometimes called “rape” in Renaissance materials, this was just how you got a wife and perpetuated your line.

The modern wedding ceremonies have echoes of this potentially violent method of marriage in that the bride’s father presents her to him. This is a more peaceful and amicable response to the “taking” although the phrase “Do you take this woman to be your wedded wife” still appears in most ceremonies.

The LORD gave her conception. The Hebrews took the divine aspect of conception very seriously. If a woman was barren, it was because YHWH had chosen to deny her children. This is typified in the patriarch’s wives (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel) but is present even into the time of David and beyond. Marriage might be an act of man, but children were the work of God.

In our society where one of the political shibboleths is still your view of an unborn child and abortion, it is worth a bit of a sidetrack to explore this concept in the Hebrew Scriptures.

To the authors of the Hebrew Scriptures, conception was an act of God (as were most natural processes, including fermentation of malted grain – but I digress.) Thus, to cause a woman to lose a child carried a stiff penalty (Exodus 21:22-25). Likewise, refusing to impregnate your wife had some pretty stiff consequences, extending even to death (Genesis 39:9-10). During their slavery in Egypt, the hallmark of the Hebrew midwives was that they would not abort a child or inform the authorities (Exodus 1:17).

In the Hebrew worldview, God took pregnancy and childbirth very seriously. It was a sacred thing that happened in the mundane, and to interfere with pregnancy was to violate the will of God. Hebrews adored children, even when the children were unexpected.

Often the arguments around being pro-life or pro-choice revolve about who’s right it is to control the pregnancy. They usually boil down to who’s life is more important – the mother or the child. To the Hebrews, such an argument would have made no sense. They believed pregnancy, even illegitimate ones and the product of rape, was YHWH’s act. He caused the sperm and egg to join and the life to begin. To countermand his will would be an act of divine treason.

The question of whether our greater knowledge of biology and medicine changes our perspective of God’s work in pregnancy is something that has been argued endlessly, but the fact remains that the earliest followers of YHWH revered life in the womb, and to argue for aborting that life even in the most extreme situations requires dealing with this fact.

Blessed be the LORD. Notice the absence of YHWH’s consort SHDY in the women’s pronouncement. Earlier in this series of posts, I noted that Naomi seems to have believed that YHWH was not a single deity but had a female consort. Now, Naomi makes no mention of her? The author of the book may very well have done this on purpose. The birth of the ancestor of David confirms the superiority and uniqueness of YHWH among the other “gods” of people. We may actually have the record of the emergence (or more appropriately, re-emergence) of monotheism in the lineage of the House of David.

There has been a lot of discussion of YHWH’s female consort in more recent scholarship, and as I have noted before, there is no denying that there are hints of such a belief in the ancient Hebrew’s worldview. But it is equally true that the Hebrew Scriptures seem to intentionally point the reader away from this status quo belief in a consort deity to a singular monotheism. Each place that the female consort appears, there is literary evidence that this view is erroneous in the author’s mind. The Scriptures report reality of people’s beliefs as well as the reality of what the author knows to be true. Naomi might have embraced a dual deity, but the House of David did not so Naomi does not make the pronouncement. Instead, the people of Bethlehem do.



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