We move forward in the story, finally! A reverse exodus, a flood, a lack of king…biblical imagery swirls as the story of Ruth finally gets started…and it’s looking like this story will be just as messy as the first bit.
Now, after the death of Elimelech, her two sons, and her fortunes, Naomi begins her trek back to Israel. In the fields of Moab, she hears rumors: God has visited his people, in his land. Shocking, right? Naomi moves in the direction of Judah, and for our listening ears, she moves in the direction of David. Before, Elimelech heard no word from God, yet departed his home. He is an anti-Abraham, moving out of his home country without the say so of God. Now Naomi hears about the work of God, and returns to her home. She is becoming a good Abraham, who moves to the Promised Land based on God’s Word.
Even then, rather than taking her family, as Abram took Sarai and Lot, she tells her daughters-in-law to turn away. At first, both women are heartbroken at the command. Naomi presses: yes, levirite law would allow you to marry my children. But I don’t have any now, and by the time they were old enough, your lives would have passed, too.
Here is an important point: Torah is rendered impotent here without a redeemer. It’s not as if Torah is bad: had a redeemer been present, Torah would have given the women family, a name, food, and land. But Naomi cannot redeem through Torah. She herself needs redeemed. Readers of the New Testament may hear Paul here:
“So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means!” – Romans 7
“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” – Galatians 3
Keep this in mind later when we meet Boaz, who uses Torah to save Ruth, and eventually Naomi.
Why should we leave you? Yet, in the end, Orpah turns on Naomi and returns to the land of Gentiles. Ruth, despite the emptiness of Naomi’s life, stays with her. Naomi even stresses that Orpah has gone back to “her gods”. Despite hearing that Yahweh has visited his people and fed them, Naomi still allows for the worship of other gods. Here, the faith of a Gentile woman is greater than that of God’s own people. Rather than leave her, Ruth calls upon the curses of God himself if she is separated from Naomi for any reason except death. Ruth joins herself to Naomi’s travels and to her lodging, and invokes the covenant between God and Israel by saying “your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.”
So, to recap: Torah has failed the women as far as they don’t currently have a redeemer. This might have caused a crisis of faith for Naomi, who pushes Ruth away to other gods. Rather than fold and return to idolatry, Ruth invokes the covenant name of God, Yahweh, to join herself to Ruth. Torah may be powerless as of now, but Yahweh is powerful enough to give them hope in spite of that. His faithfulness to Israel is the basis for Ruth’s faith now. And, we hope, through the faith of this Gentile woman, Israel can be saved.