An old college friend sent me this photo over Facebook today, and, while I appreciate the humor and the overall sentiment, the biblical exegete in me can’t resist the urge to shed a little scandalous light on what’s REALLY going on in the book of Ruth.
First of all, the book of Ruth is not mainly a love story between Ruth and Boaz. It’s a love story about Ruth and Naomi. Some go so far as to claim that Ruth and Naomi were lesbian lovers. However, the majority of biblical scholars dismiss this opinion as anachronistic speculation at best.
What is clear, however, is that the relationship between Ruth and Naomi takes center-stage in this book. Furthermore, this is a relationship that is formed and conducted entirely outside the bounds of conventional definitions of relationships.
Their commitment to each other transcends the boundaries of race, culture, and religion. Disastrous circumstances bring them together. Their love for each other keeps them together. This is a story about love as a lived reality that overcomes all barriers.
The life to which Ruth commits herself is one of hardship and illegitimacy. Women were regarded as property in the Ancient Near East. They had no legal rights without a man to speak for them. Ruth and Naomi forge an existence together at the very edge of civilization, where they do whatever they have to do to survive.
Boaz himself is only a marginal character in this story. He only shows up as a plot device. Not a bad guy, to be sure, but not the hero either.
As women without means, surviving on their own, Ruth and Naomi hatch a plot to force Boaz into being their source of long-term legitimacy and security. At the end of the harvest, when Boaz is passed out drunk from a long day of work and a long night of partying, Ruth crawls into bed with him and “uncovers his feet”. This phrase is a Hebrew euphemism. She uncovered his feet alright… and his knees… and his thighs… and everything else up there. Basically, Ruth was shamelessly throwing herself at Boaz. She was in no way acting like a lady in this moment.
Imagine this: Boaz stirs awake from a drunken stupor with his pants around his ankles and a woman straddling him. Her actions are sending the message, “You and me: right now, right here.” The innuendo in this passage is by no means subtle. If we’re going to take the story of Ruth as a model for sexual morality, then I predict that the evangelical dating scene is about to get very… interesting.
Where I find the good news in this story is in the committed love between Ruth and Naomi that overcomes all circumstances and barriers. They stay committed to each other, no matter what. Their family relationship would have been unconventional, untraditional, and offensive to many in their society. They were useless people, damaged goods, and human refuse.
They say that God works in mysterious ways. In the book of Ruth, God can be found in the morally questionable behavior of those who eek out an existence of survival under dire circumstances at the very edge of civilization, but maintain their humanity by keeping faith in and with each other, despite anything that anyone else has to say about it. Theirs is a scandalous love that takes risks and holds on no matter what, much like the love of God. When it comes to finding a biblical model for relationships, I don’t pray that my kids will have a love like Ruth and Boaz. May my children grow up find a love like Ruth’s and Naomi’s. So may we all.
No offense to my old friend who sent me the picture. It’s hilarious. Thanks for indulging a preacher with a keen eye and a dirty mind.