The Book of Ruth is unique in the Bible. Not because it has a woman’s name – there is also the Book of Esther (and if you have a Jerusalem Bible, you’ll also find the Book of Judith) – but because it describes the loving relationship between two women.
In the first five verses of the Book of Ruth, Elimelech, his wife Naomi and their sons leave their hometown, Bethlehem to escape a famine and settle in the land of Moab. He dies, and his sons marry, but soon they also die, leaving their widows, together with their widowed mother bereft and without a protector.
Now that they are all three widows, they are counted as worthless in their society, and with little hope for their future. Naomi vows to return home to Bethlehem, and urges her daughters-in-law to seek new husbands as a means of survival. One of them, Orpah, does that, and we hear no more of her. But the second, Ruth, declares that she will not leave her mother-in-law in this most moving verse.
In a book which focuses on human relationships, this story of devotion is deeply moving. Ruth is prepared to leave her own home, culture and religion to cling to Naomi, and to be guided by her. (Mona West* points out that the Hebrew word used to describe Ruth’s “clinging” to Naomi is “davka” – the same word is used in Genesis 2.24 to describe the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage.)
Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi’s, hears of her devotion, and becomes Ruth’s protector and eventual husband, though with Naomi still at the heart of this unconventional new family unit. Boaz and Ruth have a son, Obed (who was to be the grandfather of King David) and when the women of Bethlehem gather to celebrate this new birth, they all congratulate Naomi and celebrate the love that Ruth has for her.
I believe God’s blessings can be found for all who show love and humility in their lives, as did Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth.
It’s a simple, human story, but one for our own time too, as we celebrate those who are strangers in our land, and form non-traditional family units, but through them, and their love and devotion, God is at work to bring great blessings for the future.
I hope you will not find it inappropriate that as a gay man, and in solidarity with my lesbian sisters, I have chosen to celebrate the Biblical relationship between two women on this International Women’s Day!
God of Ruth and Naomi, of David and Jonathan, we thank you for the example of love which transcends boundaries of age, gender, and nationality. Inspire us to celebrate true love wherever it is found, and to acknowledge you as the source of all love and beauty; through Jesus the Christ, in whom God’s love is made flesh. Amen.
Tomorrow – Dr Roy Clements, The Passion at the Heart of the Universe, Hosea 11
*The Queer Bible Commentary on Ruth