The famine in the book of Ruth (1:1) is central to the story’s themes of hunger and offspring. Famine is what drove Ruth’s faithless husband, Elimelech, to run off to Moab in search of food and security. And Moab is where all hope of the security of offspring (the males) in Naomi’s family died (due to the covenant consequences spelled out in Lev. 26 and Deut. 28).
In the Ancient Near East (ANE) famines were thought to result from the anger of the gods, the “Elohim.” The term “Elohim” is plural – and was used by other ANE nations for their gods. Famines happened because either the people had offended one (or more) of the many gods, or one (or more) of the gods was just arbitrarily angry. In either case you had to find the appropriate sacrifice to appease the right angry “Elohim.” Since there were literally hundreds of gods, finding the right sacrifice to appease the right god proved to be elusive. But since the Moabite Elohim had not informed the people of Moab what exactly they demanded, it was impossible to appease them. Consequently, people lived in a constant state of fear of the Elohim.
YHWH was different, His desire was to transform, bless and inform humans. He had spelled out His expectations in His covenant, and the consequences for not following them.
Ruth grew up in a polytheistic world, where there were many Elohim, meaning the Moabites worshipped many gods. But the Moabite culture was also henotheistic, meaning they worshipped one god above, but with, the many other gods, and their chief national god was Chemosh.
So when Ruth immigrated into Israel, she had no reason to think that Israel’s gods were different. She brought her polytheistic and henotheistic worldview of the Elohim with her. And, she likely brought her fear and insecurity as well.
And then she met Boaz. It was Boaz that taught Ruth about YHWH the singular God of Israel.
The LORD [yhwh] repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD [yhwh], the God [elôhîym; plural] of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
Among the nations of the ANE the Elohim were viewed as “rewarding gods” – since they believed in retribution theology (the gods pay you back). So, when Boaz says “The LORD [yhwh] repay you for what you have done” (2:12), that’s a familiar concept to Ruth. To Ruth, her Moabite gods, sound very much like Israel’s gods. But then Boaz continues and says, “the LORD [yhwh], the God [elôhîym] of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
Boaz makes two key theological points:
Israel’s YHWH was the One True Elohim! And He is one, not many.
YHWH is kind – he provides refuge for even the outsider, the foreigner – the Moabite!
Boaz teaches Ruth that YHWH is the One True Elohim, the God of Israel, and it’s under His wings of protection and provision that she has found not anger and punishment, but refuge and hope. YHWH is not angry with her or Naomi. That’s very different from the Elohim of Moab. Chemosh doesn’t care for people, he uses them.
While wandering from YHWH’s covenant did bring consequences (as Elimelech discovered), what made YWHW so different was his kindness, his love and his desire to transform and bless humans, not just use them and/or punish them.
Boaz does more than just talk or teach – he embodies YHWH’s kindness towards Ruth. He actually becomes Ruth’s protector (God’s wings of refuge)– he incarnates YHWH’s kindness towards Ruth, the Moabite.
Boaz demonstrated the kindness of God and transformative power of God.
Here’s the question:
Are you telling others about the kindness and transformative power of God, or are you demonstrating it?