I am working with Celia Kellett at BBC Radio Nottingham on an idea to present most of the books of the Bible, one a week, during 2011 as part of the celebrations of the King James Bible. The plan is to read some verses from the book, to give a one-and-a-half minute summary, to hear a human interest story which relates, and then include a short discussion making the connections.
Verses: Ruth 1.1–2, 11, 16–17
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
When the woman Naomi heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me?”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Tucked away in the history books of the Old Testament is a delightful love story. It starts with a man, Elimilek and his wife Naomi leaving Israel with their two sons in a time of famine to find food in a neighbouring country. The sons’ names mean ‘Weak’ and ‘Sickly,’ which isn’t too promising, and sure enough, all the men die.
Naomi returns to her homeland, and urges the foreign women her sons have married to stay in their native country. But one of them, Ruth, refuses; out of loyalty to her mother-in-law she heads to what for her is a strange land. As single women, Ruth and Naomi are very vulnerable, until they meet Boaz, a wealthy older man. Boaz takes a liking to Ruth, and provides for them both by letting Ruth gather the grain in his fields left from the harvest. When an unscrupulous relative tries to grab the land that is due to them as their family inheritance, Boaz steps in, buys the land, and, in line with ancient law, takes Ruth as his wife.
But this is much more than a love story. Against the backdrop of the lawless times, when ‘everyone did what was right in his own eyes’, Boaz shines out as an example of honour. The story was most likely written down much later, when the nation was in fierce debate about issues of racial purity. Boaz the Jew marries Ruth the foreigner, and, the story tells us, they become great grandparents of the mighty king David. True love, God’s love, transcends even barriers of race and culture.