“Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus and more may the LORD do to me if anything but death parts me from you.” Ruth 1:17 NJPS
Parts . . from – When we read Scripture, we must read with an awareness of linguistic connections. Scripture is like those word puzzle games, pages filled with letters where you have to find certain words. The words might be sideways, backwards, vertical or horizontal, but they are all there somewhere. In Scripture, there are deliberate connections between different contexts. Those connections are hidden in the Hebrew words. Unfortunately, most of our English translations don’t pay attention to these linguistic connections. In order to make the English translation more elegant, translators often use synonyms instead of duplicating the exact word from one context to the next. This means English readers never see the linguistic connections present in Hebrew.
This is the case with Ruth’s proclamation to Naomi. The Hebrew word yaphrid comes from the verb parad. In this context, it means “to separate from kin.” It plays a significant role in another story, a story from Ruth’s distant past, the parting of Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13:9). The separation of Abraham and Lot begins a saga that ends in Ruth. Lot leaves the company of Abraham over economic issues. He allows potential prosperity to override family ties. The eventual results are disastrous. After utter collapse of his hopes and dreams, his own daughters take sexual advantage of his drunken condition to produce offspring. Everything about the end of Lot’s life is a mess. His separation from Abraham is the beginning of walking out of favor with God. As I recall, Proverbs has a great deal to say about the company we keep and the company we should not keep.
Then comes Ruth. The use of the same verb alters the course of Ruth’s life and the lives of all she touches. Her refusal to separate exemplifies her commitment to covenant relationship even when she has no obligation to make that commitment. In fact, in another verbal clue, Ruth uses the same word found in Genesis 2:24 (devak) when she affirms her unbreakable relationship with Naomi. Carefully reading the story even implies that Naomi isn’t willing to accept this unbreakable commitment. But while Naomi may be wary, Ruth is not. This is a “until death do us part” promise. And because it reverses what Ruth’s distant progenitor did, it restores a separation that had been affecting two groups of people for generations. Ruth is truly the go’el, the kinsman-redeemer. In fact, this isn’t the only reversal in the story of Ruth. Naomi’s life is reversed by Ruth’s hesed. Naomi comes back to Bethlehem “empty,” but she is once again “filled” with the birth of her grandchild (the story even indicates the Ruth’s son redeems Naomi). The statements about Ruth’s prior marriage (Ruth 2:11) reverse the action of Genesis 2:24. The actions of Ruth on the threshing floor reverse accepted cultural norms. And, of course, Ruth’s very existence is reversed when her marriage to Boaz reunites two members of the same family who parted company at the Jordan hundreds of years before.
Is Ruth a model for us? Can you and I put our lives in reverse and make up for what has been lost in the past? Will we exercise the power of parad through acts of hesed? Maybe Ruth is a much bigger love story than we thought it was.
Topical Index: Ruth 1:17, parad, Abraham, Lot