Who doesn’t love a good prequel? It is fun to hear the back story of characters you care about and their family history (please note: Star Wars Episodes 1-3 do not qualify as a ‘good’ prequel). In the Old Testament, the book of Ruth is something of a prequel. It is set during the time of the Judges (Ruth 1:1, AKA hard times) and it tells the story of the great grandparents of Israel’s greatest King, David. David’s great great grandmother, Naomi, was widowed in the land of Moab and her sons also died in that land. She returns to Israel with Ruth (her Moabite daughter-in-law). Ruth had left her culture, her family, her foreign gods and swears loyalty to Naomi, her people and her God, Yahweh. Through God’s providence, Ruth ends up gleaning from a field belonging to Boaz, Naomi’s near relative. Under Israel’s law, Boaz is a possible Kinsman-Redeemer for Ruth and for Naomi’s land (securing the land for later descendants). After Ruth approaches Boaz according to Naomi’s plan(at night on the threshing floor), Boaz acts swiftly to make sure that Ruth and Naomi are cared for and to insure that another (closer) relative lays down his claim on Ruth and the land. Ruth and Boaz marry and they have s son named Obed and through his line comes David and eventually Jesus.
John Currid, professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC, has written an insightful commentary on Ruth for the Welwyn Commentary Series (Gordon Keddie wrote an earlier volume which explored Judges and Ruth, but this is the first stand alone treatment of Ruth for this series). He is also a pastor at a Associated Reformed Presbyterian Church. Ruth: From Bitther to Sweet is both accessible and full of scholarly insight.
Currid looks at Ruth in five acts: Act I. 1:1-5, setting the scene; Act II. 1:6-22, Naomi and her Moabite daughter-in-law; Act III, in fields of Bethlehem; Act IV, The scene at the threshing floor; and Act V, redemption. In looking attentively at the arc of the Ruth narrative, Currid offers ‘points to ponder’ which explore the themes of the cost of disobedience, God’s sovereignty, faithful living, and redemption.
I enjoyed this short commentary. Currid is attentive to the story and presents it in a way that is sensitive to the cultural, Literary and narrative context. He notes narrative inclusios and reputations and the meaning of Hebrew terms, but manages to write in a way which is understandable for the lay person. His theological lens is strongly informed by his Reformed Evangelical heritage, but a focus on God’s sovereignty seems appropriate for the Ruth story. I appreciated how his opening chapter, made the bitter struggle and hardship on Naomi relevant to our context. His ‘points to ponder’ which close each chapter helped underscore the significance of this story. But he doesn’t overdraw his conclusions. For example. Boaz is not pictured by Currid as Christ figure (even though he sees some Christlike aspects). Currid is judicious in his theological inferences.
I didn’t agree with Currid on every point. He insists that the encounter between Ruth and Boaz on the threshing room floor was wholly non-sexual. I think the narrative is intentionally ambiguous at this point, but I agree that in light of the wider narrative is unlikely that Ruth and Boaz ‘had sex’ that night. I just think that the story is told with delibrate undertones and ambiguities (i.e. what all did Ruth uncover? And even if it was just the feet. . .).
But my disagreements are small and I appreciative Currid’s insights and accessible presentation. I came away from this commentary with some new insights into the text. Anyone could read this commentary with profit. Small group leaders doing a Bible study on Ruth or Sunday School teachers could make use of this resource. It is also a great resource for personal devotional reading (which is how I read it).
Ruth is a prequel but it is also a love story. There is the mutual love of Ruth and Boaz, but at the center there is also the relentless love of God for his people and his daughter Naomi, whom he would not allow to be called Mara (bitter) for long. Naomi tasted the sweetness of God’s plan for her and her people.
Thank you to Crossfocused Reviews and Evangelical Press Books for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.