So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. Ruth 1:7 NASB
Departed from/ to return – Doesn’t this verse seem redundant? Doesn’t it say the same thing too many times? You’ve probably never asked why the author bothered with these two verbs in the same sentence. If we were grading his short story in Creative Writing class today, we would probably point out this stylistic error and suggest he delete one of the words. But this is Scripture and things work a little differently in God’s Word.
The first verb is yatsa’. It is just a bit strange. Yes, it means “to go out, to come out or to come in,” but its use in Scripture is often modified by the context, rendering meanings such as the birth of the child, the fruitfulness of vegetation, to descend (in death), to escape free and to take away. Perhaps some of those meanings, including the ironic ones, find their way into this story. Naomi doesn’t just pack up and leave. She departs. Ironically, her actions are motivated by the opposite of birth and fruitfulness. Furthermore, there is a sense in which she is escaping the grip of death on her life (although she in not aware of it at the time). In fact, in its noun form (yotse’t) the word means “captivity.” With this linguistically nuanced background, perhaps the author wishes us to ask, “How is Naomi leaving captivity behind?”
But that isn’t the end of the verbal story. The redundant verb isn’t yatsa’. It is lashuv. As Eskenazi and Frymer-Kensky point out, “Technically, only Naomi is ‘returning,’ whereas the other women are actually leaving their homeland. Yet, the narrator paints all three as setting out to return, showing their unity of purpose.” While shuv is a major theme in Ruth (the idea of return), it is perhaps most poignantly used here to distinguish between going out (of captivity) and returning to (security). Doesn’t Naomi have to leave behind the land of her trials, the place of her pain, in order to find the peace and security she seeks? Doesn’t she actually have to be rescued, even if she is the one walking the path, from the place of the dead in order to encounter the God of the living? Maybe the two verbs aren’t really redundant after all. Maybe they express a necessary transition. Maybe we all must leave the dead past and go out to a place God will show us if we are to return to Him and to His people. Ten years in the wilderness was enough for Naomi. Ten years in a place where she and her husband and sons sought to provide for themselves. Ten years that disintegrated into nothing but graves.
And now she must go out in order to return.
What about you? How long will you stay by the graveside instead of returning to the land you left?
Topical Index: return, depart, yatsa’, shuv, Ruth 1:7
 Tamara Eskenazi and Tikva Frymer-Kensky, Ruth: The JPS Bible Commentary, p. 9.