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Journey to the unknown

By Dr John Harrison, Senior Lecturer in Journalism & Professional Communication, School of Communication & Arts, The University of Queensland. 

The book of Ruth is a series of journeys. Naomi journeys to Moab. Naomi and Ruth journey back to Judah. The more important of the journeys is that of Ruth from her home in Moab to Bethlehem in Judah, which she makes in spite of Naomi’s entreaties that she stay in Moab with her own kin.

Naomi, Elimelech and their sons Mahlon and Chilion, had journeyed from their home in Bethlehem, in a time of famine, to the more promising pastures of Moab, on the eastern side of the Jordan. The sons married Moabite women, then all three males, father and sons all died. Naomi then determined to return to her kin and country at Bethlehem. That they came and went from Bethlehem portends the place of Bethlehem in the narrative around the birth of Jesus.

For Ruth, a Moabite woman, the journey to Bethlehem was a voyage into the unknown, but God rewarded Ruth for her fidelity to Naomi, with a husband of means and a son. God rewards us for going into the unknown as part of our discipleship.

Ruth’s fidelity was in stark contrast to the bitterness of Naomi. Upon her return to Bethlehem she tells the assembled townsfolk: “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty,” Ruth 1: 20-21.

Moreover, Ruth’s service to Naomi caught the attention of Boaz, a wealthy relative of Elimelech, (Naomi’s deceased husband) who in turn showed favour to Ruth, the immigrant from Moab. Boaz told Ruth, “May the Lord reward your deeds, the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have sought refuge (Ruth 2:12) and encouraged her to enter into his agricultural enterprise.

So despite her bitterness, Naomi encouraged Ruth to go gleaning in the fields of Boaz.

The other interesting aspect of the book of Ruth, with its themes of acceptance of those not of the Israelite tradition, is that it prefigures some of the passages of the Acts of the Apostles we have been reading in worship, at and after, Pentecost: Peter’s vision on the roof of Simon’s house at Joppa, (Acts 10), and Phillip and the Ethiopian (Acts 8: 24-40.).These accounts tell us that the good news of the gospel was for all people, not just those of the house of Judah. It is no accident that the Book of Ruth records that Obed, the son born to Ruth the Moabite, was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

The Book of Ruth is attributed to the prophet of Samuel, and written between the sixth and fourth century BC. The genealogy in the last four verses of the book links Ruth, Boaz and their son Obed, to the line of King David, who, of course, was one of the ancestors of Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem. 

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