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General Comments (Ruth 1:6-22) : Ruth's faithfulness

Shub is evident as the key-word for this passage. We can trace the development of the text by looking at this word: 

  verse(s) + speaker:   shub:   comment:
    6-7 narrator    2   Naomi (N) returns from the country of Moab cf. 22 
with her daughters-in-law (D-i-l), towards Judah 
  8-9 N    1   imperative - to your mother's house 
  10 D-i-l    1   we will return to your people 
  11-13 N    2   imperative - repetitions 
  15 N    2   O has returned (to Moab) 
imperative sing. 
  16-17 R   1   "return" = abandon Naomi 
  20-21 N    1   "the Lord has brought me back empty." 
  22 narrator   2   Naomi returned - repetition 
Ruth came back with her - reversal  
Notice how already in the introductory verses shub marks the change from singular (v.6) to plural (v.7) as the girls begin to count. One becomes three

It also marks the change from "the country of Moab" (v.6) "to the land of Judah" (v.7). Nb. the phrase "from the country of Moab" forms an inclusion with v.22 - though there have been dramatic (and serious) changes meanwhile:

in the imperative it marks Naomi's threefold repetition of her instruction to "return" home (vv.8, 11 and 12): 
the first command is refused by the girls using the same verb ("we will return with you to your people" v.10) a phrase which already shows the reversal of sense to which the word is being submitted;
in v.15, however, Naomi still gives it the sense of "go back to your own place" as she repeats her imperative command;
in v.16 Ruth's revolutionary interpretation of the word becomes clear -  "return" to Moab means "abandon" Naomi and this she will not do;
in v.21 this hard-worked word is well into overtime as Naomi accuses God: "I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Na'omi, when the Lord has afflicted me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?

Two (at least) typical elements of this book have already become clear. 

Women have the central place in this story as they do not in any other. 

The author's skilful yet sparing use of words to link different parts of the telling, 
chesed "faithfulness" 1:8; 2:20; 3:10; 
"security" 1:9; 3:1; 
"kiss" 1:9,14; 
"cling" 1:14; 2:8,21,23; 
"pass the night" 1:16; 3:13; 
God 1:15,16; 2:12; 
"empty" 1:21; 3:17; 
shub in the hiphil 1:21; 4:15. 

Another, this time theological, has been set up in order to be shown to us later. Naomi trusts God - even while she blames him for her trouble, she asks his blessing on the girls (1:9). However compare 3:1ff. where she will actively seek to realise the blessing for which she has prayed. Naomi in this story joins Job and Jeremiah (and even in the NT, Jesus) among the list of righteous people who suffer yet remain faithful.  

© Dr Tim Bulkeley, 2004.

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Tim teaches Hebrew Bible (First or Old Testament) at the University of Auckland, New Zealand and at Carey Baptist College his other sites include:
Amos - Postmodern Bible commentary
Study Notes on Jonah
Images of Archaeological Sites in Israel (Focusing on the Iron Age)