Friend to Beloved: Ruth 1:1-5; 4

After covering how to read Ruth as directed by internal clues, and learning to read Ruth in the context of the canon, we are able to hear one more framing device used in Ruth to learn to read her story better.

In biblical studies, the term inclusio refers to a framing device used to mark out literary units. These units can bracket an entire book (such as the one in Jeremiah 1:1 and 51:64), but they can also be used to mark smaller units (such as 1:11 and 24:6). These units are marked out by a repeated phrase or word, used in similar contexts, sometimes as comparisons, but also as juxtaposition. Thus, the inclusio in Jeremiah 1:1 and 51:64 is the phrase “the words of Jeremiah”, while the second one (1:11 and 24:6) is the symbol of the almond rods and basket of figs.

This framing device has a few different uses. First, it could denote a theme found within the unit itself. The inclusio around Jeremiah 1:10 and 24:6 reminds us of the theme of God’s watching over Israel, because the almond rod is a symbol of God’s watchful eye. Second, it could interpret other material found inside of the inclusio. Mark wraps the story of the fig tree around Jesus’ denouncement of the Temple. Whereas we might be tempted to read Jesus’ diatribe against the Temple as a separate incident, the inclusio of the fig tree shows us that the way Jesus interacts with and speaks about the fig tree is supposed to interpret the way he speaks about the temple. Inclusio may teach us about a character: Jesus is called Immanuel, God with us at the beginning of Matthew, and at the end, he says that he will be with us always, even to the end of the age. This frames Matthew’s Gospel with references to the deity of Jesus, reminding us to read Jesus’ story in light of God’s story.

Peter Leithart’s students point out an inclusio that wraps around Ruth: Naomi’s sons. Naomi loses two sons at the beginning of the book, but she is reminded that Ruth, and her faithfulness, is better than seven sons at the end of the book (4:15b). After that, the villagers declare the birth of Obed as a sign that Naomi has another son (4:17). The book is about the loss, and renewal, of family through sons.

But I suggest a second, more faint, inclusio, one not necessarily supported within the book. The book ends with David, the first true king of Judah/Israel. It is no accident that we think of David from the beginning of the book, considering that it takes place in Bethlehem, the city of David (cf. Micah 5). Though I have defined inclusio as a convention relying on phrases or specific words, might we have an inclusio about the monarchy? Beginning in the city, and ending with the king: sounds quite a bit like the new Jerusalem’s description in Revelation.

But more importantly, we already know this book is about the monarchy because we read it in the context of the canon. The book of Judges ends showing the need for a king while the books of Samuel detail the beginning of the monarchy. How fitting, then, in the middle, is an inclusio about the movement from Judges to Kings.


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