Ruth and romance

копия гравюры В. Фаворского. Фронтиспис 3-й главы Книги Руфь. Ксилография. 1924 WikiMedia

This post is stimulated by two things:

  • last night I was interviewed before I preached on the Song of Songs, and was asked the interesting question of how experience crossing cultures (which has been a feature of my life into Congo, then New Zealand and more recently the Karen people in the refugee camp in Thailand) influences how I read the Song
  • Claude’s post on a neat little textual issue in Ruth 3:15 Who Went Back to the City?

It’s not Claude’s text criticism I want to discuss, but things he says, or that I assume he implies, or fear his readers will infer, earlier in introducing the question:

It is phrases like: “The love affair between Ruth and Boaz began…” that I want to investigate. Now, before I start I’d better say I do think Ruth (the book) tells of love between Ruth and Boaz, and Boaz and Ruth. I see signs of it in chapter 2 and stronger signs in ch.3. But read in my cultural context, phrases like the one I have quoted suggest that Ruth (the book) is at least in part (and possibly among other things) a “love story”. We Westerners have been, throughout our history suckers for a good love story.

[Yes, I know, “real men” only watch “chick flicks” because their wives, sisters, girlfriends… give them an excuse to, but facts are facts, and men – at least in our Western culture – are actually more “romantic” than women. So I’ll stick with tarring both genders of Westerner with the same brush.]

However, I do not think the book of Ruth is about love. It’s about חֶסֶד hesed (an amalgam of faithfulness to family or covenant relationships and great kindness). This virtue was a primary family and social value in Ancient Israel. Love was a luxury, but חֶסֶד hesed was what made the world go round.

So, did Boaz “fancy” Ruth? Probably – notice how he assumes that any of the young (and he is not young, so appreciates the value of youth) men of the village would have wanted to marry her (Rt 3:10). Why? She was a foreign (strike one) widow (strike two) who was childless after ten years of marriage (strike three). Boaz has to be imputing his own motives to them ;) Did Ruth “fancy” Boaz? Perhaps – notice how she teases him in the field (Rt 2:10,13)! But that’s not what the story is about, it is about the much more significant issues of חֶסֶד hesed.

There is a love story in the Bible (at least in the Song), but Rutrh is not it, even though it may allow its heroes to experience love as well.

2 comments on “Ruth and romance

  1. John Hobbins

    Very nice, Tim.

    However, in marriage prep, I define love in terms of the book of Ruth, not Ruth in terms of chick flick notions of romantic love.

    And the model for love is what Ruth shows for Noemi, not that which Ruth and Boaz have, though I would not want to underestimate that either. The key passage is Ruth 1:16-17, and I tell couples if they are unwilling to exchange those words with each other, they should not get married.

    Love is a choice that one makes every day, over and over again, on the basis of promises made once upon a time that you consider unbreakable. It has nothing to do with sex, unless you believe that what Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky had one Easter morning (yes, that was the date of one of their arranged encounters) was love, and that which he and Hillary have, isn’t.

    Excuse the use of hyperbole and hard-hitting parabolic exemplification. I’m used to doing that in a Hollywood-saturated environment.

  2. tim

    Thanks John, I thoroughly agree, though with two qualifications.

    I think Ruth’s חֶסֶד hesed is to the “family” not just Naomi. Whether her love is particularly for Naomi is like asking about her love for Boaz, not certain but I strongly think so!

    Secondly sex in marriage is certainly a nice bonus to a lifelong partnership that is mainly valued in other ways, and is also a seal on that partnership (Paul even seems to say it is the sacrament [possibly the wrong word technically, but close] which makes the marriage, it therefore ought not to be shared with anyone else. So, since you are talking about love and marriage, sex does have “something” to do with it!