Excerpt from: Fernando De Angelis
Translated by: Alessia Lanini
FROM ADAM TO THE APOSTLES
An overview of the whole Bible based on the text itself
SUMMARY OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
A necessary basis to better understand the Gospel
Chapter 5. RUTH, A BREAKTHROUGH
When I was young I was in time to see two ‘gleaners’ in my fields. They were old women and stayed behind the harvesters, at a certain distance; they picked up the ears of wheat that were left out so as not to go to waste and for them it meant to publicly declare that they were poor. They had to ‘glean’ in the presence of the harvesters (and of the owner that went with them) so as not to be suspected of stealing the ears from the sheaves, that is, those piled up by the harvesters.
If the gleaner was a young widow like Ruth, it is easy to comprehend the humiliation that she would have felt and the ease with which she could have been the object of jokes and disrespectful advances. It was therefore a great joy for Ruth to find a protective owner like Boaz (2:3-18).
Other readers grasp different aspects and there are still mother-and-daughter-in-law couples who say they love each other ‘like Naomi and Ruth’. In the Bible, in short, we can appreciate multiple aspects and each one has its beauty, but we now need to get to the essence and the essence of this story is explicitly given by its conclusion: “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife […] and she gave birth to a son […] they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David” (4:13-17).
The book of Ruth looks like a road sign, small we agree, but that indicates again a lost direction. The direction that seemed to be lost in the Bible is the genealogical one that we find in Genesis, but which is substantially interrupted with Moses, Joshua and the Judges, as we will now clarify.
From the beginning God had promised that he would free humanity through the ‘seed’ of the woman (Gen 3:15) and the history told in Genesis follows precisely the ‘red thread’ of this ‘seed’:
1) first giving the genealogy from Adam to Noah, going through Seth and not Cain (Gen 5:1-32);
2) then giving the genealogy from Noah to Abraham, going through Shem (Gen 10:1; 11:10-26);
3) lastly following the genealogy from Abraham, going through Isaac and Jacob, father of the twelve patriarchs of Israel (Gen chapters 12-50).
Genesis ends without indicating clearly to whom, among the twelve patriarchs, belongs the ‘seed’ from which the Saviour will be born, although Judah seems to be recognized as having a certain primacy (Gen 49:9-10).
The ‘genealogical story’, in any case, seems to be interrupted after Genesis, since Moses, Joshua and the Judges introduce a “non-genealogical story” that goes on for a good thousand years and seems to interrupt the previous one. With the book of Ruth, then, the narrative interrupted at the end of Genesis continues and it is as if the long story from Moses to the Judges is put aside. The book, not surprisingly, ends clarifying that Ruth, binding herself to Boaz, enters the genealogical line, becoming then a bridge, which joins with the past represented by Perez and Judah (4:11-21), and lays the foundations of the future king David, on which the next biblical story will focus.
The exceptionality of a book dedicated to Ruth also depends on the fact that she was not a Jewess, moreover belonging to that Moabite people, who had indelibly stained themselves: Moses had in fact left written that «no Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD […] For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and hired Balaam […] to pronounce a curse on you» (Deu 23:3-4). To be excluded from the assembly did not mean that one could no longer have a relationship with God, because even those whose genitals had been mutilated, and were not to blame for that, were excluded (Deu 23:1), but it only meant acknowledging the guilt of one’s own people and taking it upon oneself. The assembly of Israel was then composed of males only and therefore not even Jewish women were part of it. Thus, the fact that Ruth was accepted into the Jewish people does not formally contradict what is commanded in Deuteronomy 23, because in that context the prohibition concerned male Moabites.
It is interesting how God applies his law in the most merciful possible way, letting re-enter “through the window” what could no longer enter by the main entrance. Thus, through Ruth, there was in the seed of David also a little bit of Moabite blood, that is, of a people that had sinned more than others.
Ruth is associated with Tamar also, because through her son Perez she was a progenitor of Boaz (4:12,18-22). Tamar is another woman that had an embarrassing story and we would gladly hide it; probably she was a pagan as well, she had become a widow and disguised herself as a prostitute, so as to claim the right to be impregnated by her father-in-law, who was Judah, one of the twelve patriarchs (Gen 38).
The book of Ruth is, in short, a small diamond with many facets; from it a genealogical story (Kings, Chronicles) re-starts, and it would focus more and more (Psalms, Prophets) on waiting for the Messiah, that is, a particular son of David, and therefore also of Ruth.