Thus Naomi returned from the country of Moab; she returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabite. Ruth 1:22 JPS
Returned – Did you ask, “Why is this verb repeated?” Isn’t it enough to say, “Thus Naomi returned”? Why say it twice – unless there is something for us to learn from this reoccurrence? The literal translation would read, “Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, the one returning . . .” Perhaps the second occurrence isn’t about Naomi at all. Perhaps “the one returning” describes Ruth. Eskenazi notes that this awkward construction caused the rabbis to ask, “In what way does Ruth return?” After all, Ruth had never been to Bethlehem. Ruth was an outsider, a prohibited stranger. How can she be returning to Israel? The rabbis suggested several explanations. Some thought that this construction described Ruth’s repentance and conversion. Others thought that this alluded to the turn around in the history between Moab and Israel represented in Ruth. Let’s examine both of these and see what we discover in the deeper levels of this text.
First, suppose that this really describes Ruth’s turn from pagan Moab to faithful Israel. We would usually report this as a “conversion” experience. But with the verb shuv we see something a little deeper. Conversion is return to the Lord. That implies that we were once in His company and, with conversion, are returning to that place. How can this be for pagans? Perhaps our return is really a statement about how He designed us, how we strayed from His purposes built into us in the womb, and how we are not returning to that original design. Perhaps the use of shuv brings to mind an even bigger picture; a picture that takes us all the way back to Genesis 2.
Secondly, suppose that this Hebrew construction is about Ruth’s role in turning around the schism between Moab and Israel. That would take us back to Abraham and Lot (Genesis 13). The rabbis noticed that Ruth’s hesed heals a broken relationship between family members; a broken relationship of generations of tribal animosity. Perhaps Ruth’s “return” to Bethlehem is really a pilgrimage of reconciliation, although even she doesn’t understand all the consequences at the time. But God understands what is transpiring. His invisible hand is mending fragmented lives and restoring unity. Naomi returns to a life she once knew. Ruth “returns” to a life she never knew. Both women return to God His lost people.
Now we must ask, “What restoration do we initiate when we ‘return’ to the Lord?” Are we aware of the healing of generations? Do we see how our individual actions become a part of the bigger reconciliation God desires? Did you even imagine that when you came back to God you were bringing unity to history?
Topical Index: return, shuv, reconciliation, conversion, Ruth 1:22
If you have enjoyed these studies in Ruth, you might consider listening to the audio files about Ruth on the web site.