The Story Of Ruth And Noemi
Holiness Lived in Joy and Love
1. Israel called to become a holy people
“The richness of the concept of holiness in the Old Testament derives from the fact that it is envisaged in relation to its very source, God, from whom all holiness springs”. God has been proclaimed a saint from very ancient times. The first mention of this use is found in the canticle of Moses, where the holiness of God is linked to the extraordinary salvation event that was the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex 15: 1-21). God’s holiness is also manifested in his unlimited capacity to love and forgive, as a passage from Hosea attests: “I will not give vent to the ardor of my anger, I will not return to destroy Ephraim, because I am God and not man; I am the Holy One in your midst and I will not come in my anger ”(Hos 11: 9). The parallelism highlights that the term holy is applied to God as an attribute proper to his transcendence and divinity (Hos 12,1; Ab 3, 3). God can swear by his holiness, that is, by himself (Am 4, 2), and manifest himself as the one who is holy (Lv 11,44: 19, 2).
In the book of Isaiah we find a perspective of great relevance as regards the holiness of God. The “Holy, holy, holy” (Is 6: 3a) that the prophet hears proclaimed by the seraphim in the midst of a grandiose theophany highlights an intimate dimension of God’s being, his majesty, as the parallel verse clarifies: “The whole earth is full of his glory” (Is 6: 3b). When the angels who are around the throne exclaim to each other “holy, holy, holy”, they express with strength and passion the truth of God’s supreme holiness, that essential characteristic that expresses his imposing and majestic nature. Although Isaiah was a prophet of God and a righteous man, his reaction to the vision of God’s holiness was to fear for his life (Is 6: 5). If even the angels before God, exclaiming “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts”, covered their faces and feet with four of their wings, what would become of him? Covering one’s face and feet denotes reverence and fear caused by suddenly finding oneself before God (Ex 3, 4-5). The seraphim stood erect, covered, as if to hide as much as possible, in an act of recognition of their own unworthiness in the presence of the Almighty.
The salvific dimension of God’s holiness is particularly emphasized by the prophet Ezekiel (36: 16-36) within the framework of the history of salvation in which the pagans will also have their place (Is 61: 5). Israel has obtained the Lord’s promise to become a holy nation, as the refrain that articulates the code of holiness recalls: “Be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy” (Lev 19: 2: cf. 20, 7). The call to become a holy people required a determined correspondence to the divine proposal. The condition for becoming and remaining a holy people was listening to the voice of the Lord and observing his covenant, that is, obeying the precepts of the law, based on the commandment of the love of the Lord, the only true God (Dt 6: 4-8). The proposal of participation in God’s holiness is also open to pagans (Is 61: 5) as can be deduced from what happened between the Moabite Ruth and Naomi.
2. The story of Ruth and Naomi
The book of Ruth evokes a pathetic family history of the time of the Judges (1200-1025 BC), from which, in addition to delicate human feelings, some religious elements of great importance emerge. The return of Israel from exile in Babylon, for example, helped to give further meaning to the concept of the participation of the foreigner in the history of the salvation of the chosen people Israel. The story presented in the book I Ruth is dominated by two female figures. The first is Naomi, forced to leave her native country to move with her husband Elimèlech and children Maclon and Chilion to the land of Moab due to a famine that had struck the Bethlehem region (Rt 1, 1; Cf. Gen 12:10) : 26, 1: 42, 1). The second is Ruth, a foreign woman who marries a relative of Naomi’s husband. After a few
years Noemi remains a widow and childless; “Having heard that the Lord had visited his people by giving them bread” she decided to return “to the land of Judah” accompanied by her daughters-in-law Orpa and Ruth (Rt 1, 16-22). Noemi would like to send them back to their land, but Ruth not only does not abandon her mother-in-law (Rt 2,11), but ensures the survival of the family by agreeing to marry Booz. Thus she enters the history of the people of Israel; holy people and consecrated to God, an event that allows it to be part of those to whom salvation has been promised. In this way the story of Ruth becomes an answer for those among the Israelites who refused to mix with foreign peoples and their deities. Israel must understand that, in order to obtain salvation, it needs foreigners and, moreover, women.
The mixed marriage crisis in Israel dates back to the mid-fifth century. to. C. when the people of Judah returned from the Babylonian exile. It is not known how the Israelites behaved during the Babylonian period: perhaps the most faithful of the deportees abstained from mixed marriages, while those who remained in Judea probably did the opposite, both for the difficulty of finding Israelite women, and for interests economic and coexistence (MI 2, 11; Ne 6, 18). This caused a new awareness of the need for marriages between Israelites. Those who had contracted marriages that were dangerous to monotheism were forced to divorce foreign women. Under the pressure of the new circumstances, Ezra and Nehemiah called the people back to endogamy. Nehemiah, after having held the office of governor of Galilee for thirteen years (445-432 BC), would return to the Achaemenid court. On a subsequent visit to Jerusalem, he would correct the abuses that arose among the people during his absence in the temple in Jerusalem. Among the various provisions enacted were also those contrary to mixed marriages (Ne 13, 23-27). Nehemiah’s function is similar to that performed by the king in the reconstruction of the city; in calling for a religious reform and in paying attention to the law. It is also necessary to emphasize the right that the civil power had to legislate in religious matters.
Ezra and Nehemiah reaffirmed their fidelity to the norms of the law, combining religious motivation with a nationalistic emphasis: “(…) thus they profaned the holy stock with the local populations (…)” (Ezr 9: 2). In the drastic solution requested by Ezra: repudiation of foreign wives, and especially in the more diplomatic one of Nehemiah, probably due to the failure of the first, there are no elements to affirm that the mixed marriages referred to, as well as prohibited , were also considered invalid.
In the book of Deuteronomy, the law deals directly with this possibility and judges it negatively. There were to be no covenants with the peoples among whom the Jews lived, much less marriages with them: “You will not be related to them, you will not give your daughters to their sons and you will not take their daughters for your sons, because they would turn your children away from following me, to make them serve foreigners ”(Dt 7: 3-4). The condemnation against the Ammonites and the Moabites established that they would never become part of the community of the Lord, until the tenth generation (Dt 23: 4). The ancients did not always have a favorable attitude towards foreigners, because they had a different religion that could seduce the chosen people (Dt 20, 17) and in this sense they could be enemies.
By the time of the return of the chosen people from the Babylonian exile, this rule had become much stricter than in the past. But the community, which returned from the Babylonian exile, had to open up, despite the rediscovery of a fidelity to God, in its own religious and national identity, to a welcome towards marginal groups because it recognized that it was itself, in its own history, a marginal group saved and loved by God.
3. Ruth’s love for Naomi is a model for the people of Israel
Ruth, after arriving in Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Noemi, began to be a gleaner. This custom was permitted by the law (Dt 24: 19-21), which required the owners to leave the fallen ears to the poor. Providence led her to the field of Booz, who took a liking to her and not only authorized her to glean, but also ordered the reapers to leave sheaves of wheat on the field (Rt 2, 10-12). So one evening Ruth returned home “with a barley sponge and showed it to her mother-in-law”. It remained gleaning in the fields of Booz throughout the barley and wheat harvest.
In time Boaz married Ruth and from the happy union a son was born who was given the name of Obed, father of Jesse, who in turn will be the father of David (Rt 4:16) from whose descendants the Messiah was born, who would come for give salvation to Israel. Ruth, after marrying Booz and accepting her husband’s religion, became a proselyte, for this reason the author of her book can even declare her an ancestor of David.
The common thread that united the young widow Ruth to her mother-in-law Noemi, herself a widow, was so strong that the two women never separated and helped Ruth not to rebuild a life in her country of origin. This feeling of mutual love and dedication becomes a model for the people of Israel. Model characterized by the recognition and respect for the freedom of both. Naomi would like to send her Ruth back to her land (Rt 1:14), to her parents’ house, where she can feel safer. She doesn’t want to hold her back, make her of her, because she has nothing to offer her but her nameless love of her. For this reason she asks her to leave (Rt 1:14). But Ruth, without thinking too much, humbly begs her: “Do not force me to leave you and move away from you, because where you will go, I will go too and where you will live I will also stay; your people will be my people and your God will be my God ”(Rt, 1,16). This story shows how the hand of God is at work even in the midst of daily history. In the life of those who are faithful, God’s love becomes a concrete reality. The story of Ruth testifies to the value that our actions of goodness and fidelity have in God’s saving plan.
Cfr. P. Viviano, “Rut. Guida alla lettura”, in Introduzione generale allo studio della Bibbia, Edizione italiana a cura di F. Dalla Vecchia, – A. Nepi, – G. Corti, Qumraniana, Brescia 1996, 199; G. Witaszek, “Uniwersalizm religijny w Księdze Rut”, in Biblia podstawą jedności, A. R. Sikora (Red.), Red. Wydaw. KUL, Lublin 1996, 37-48; F. Raurell, “Rut, l’amore come dialogo”, in RCat T37/1 (2012) 181-201.
MICHELANGELO TÁBET, “Holiness”, in Theological Theological Themes of the Bible, edited by R. PENNA, G. PEREGO, G. RAVASI, San Paolo Editions, Cinisello Balsamo (Milan) 2010, 1338.IBIDEM, 1339 The Book of Ruth was written in the V-IV century. to. C. The Hebrew name Bethlehem means “house of bread” (Rt 1, 6). See L. MONLOUBOU and F. M. Du BUIT, “Moabiti”, in Critical Historical Biblical Dictionary, Borla, Rome 1987, 650.
The Moabites were excluded from the Israelite community due to conflicts that occurred in the past (Dt 23, 3-4).
These episodes have a painful aspect, because many of these marriages were certainly celebrated for one choice of true love. The women who had been chosen were not to blame for the fact that they belonged to other peoples,nor could they be accused of evil deeds if they remained true to the religious convictions of their fathers. Certainly, however, those Jews who had contracted marriage in violation of their own laws had done wrong; Yup they were left to be influenced by their wives and, instead of transmitting to them the message of the covenant established by God with his people, they had betrayed their faith in the Lord. Cf. G. TONUCCI, “Foreign women expelled”, in Message from the Holy House, Loreto (May 2012) 165s. See J. H. FRIEDRICH, “Xenos”, in the Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament, edited by H. BALZ and G. SCHNEIDER, vol. II, Paideia Editrice, Brescia 2004, 531-532.
Socially, resident foreigners were free people, but they behaved as if they were slaves.
Foreigners kept their freedom, they could settle in the community, but they didn’t all have political rights. Naomi renounces the right of levirate (Dt 25: 5-10) and advises Ruth to induce Boaz to take her as a wife (Rt 3,1).
According to the law, the name “leviratic marriage” is reserved for marriage between the childless widow and her own her brother-in-law, brother of her deceased husband (Dt 25: 5-10). The law explicitly determines the obligations of the family members of the deceased. The widow is forbidden to marry people outside the family, so as not to give up giving one legitimate descent to her deceased husband, and thus be able to perpetuate her name. The brother of the deceased is reminded of the a serious obligation to marry the widowed sister-in-law to keep the brother’s name and memory alive in Israel deceased, giving him a son who will be considered legitimate son of the deceased in all respects.
In case the brother-in-law does not want to marry her sister-in-law, the process prescribed in the law will be followed, and the widow will remain free of get married to whoever she wants.See P. VIVIANO, “Ruth. Reading guide ”, in General introduction to the study of the Bible, Italian edition edited by F. DALLA VECCHIA, – A. NEPI, – G. CORTI, Qumraniana, Brescia 1996, 199; G. WITASZEK, “Uniwersalizm religijny w Księdze Rut ”, in Biblia podstawą jedności, A. R. SIKORA (Red.), Red. Wydaw. KUL, Lublin 1996, 37-48; F.RAURELL, “Ruth, love as dialogue”, in RCat T37 / 1 (2012) 181-201.