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Scene Two: Bethlehem (Ruth 1:19-22)
1:19 Compare this verse with the beginning of the act. In vv.6-7 the three ("she and her two daughters-in-law") "started to return...to the land of Judah", now "the two of them went on till they came to Bethlehem."
"When they came to Bethlehem..." wayyehi ke- (cf. 1:1 wayyehi be- "When the Judges ruled...") does this phrase mark a new beginning? In a way, yes, for here at the start of a new scene we find an abstract of the story and a repetition of the theme of "emptiness" and of the motif "return" (vv.20-21). However this fact of summing up and the repetition of the motif "return" shows clearly that this scene forms part of the first act.
"The whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said" in fact in Hebrew the "women" are only signalled by the feminine form of the verb "they said" which seems to refer back to "the whole town" - the narrator frequently adopts the feminine point of view in this story!
At this point we cannot escape questioning Naomi's faith. Her language is strong and her complaint bitter. Both here and in v.13 she chooses expressions which suggest that she sees the Lord as her adversary. "The hand of the Lord has gone forth (turned NRSV) against me" cf. "the hand of the Lord was against" Ex 9:3; Dt 2:15; Judg 2:15 etc.) the expression Naomi uses is stronger for "to go out" is used of armies etc.. Even though at v.9 she asked Adonai's blessing for her Moabite daughters-in-law, presumably hoping for his grace to reach even foreigners, her honesty and good theology will not permit her to blame anyone else for her suffering.
Although she does not explicitly say it we can assume that, like Job and Jeremiah, she can see no acts of hers which deserve the punishment, despite this it is God's doing. It is interesting too to compare 2:20 where she will speak of his faithfulness to the living and the dead (with no trace of irony). Ruth's faithfulness to her family-by-marriage is impressive, but so is Naomi's to her God. Perhaps it is this which permits Ruth to accept Adonai?
© Dr Tim Bulkeley, 2004.
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Tim Bulkeley, "Ruth: Genre" in Study Notes on Ruth http://www.hypertextbible.org/ruth/genre.htm [downloaded today's date].
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