Ruth and Judges

In a 1989 article in the WTJ , Warren Gage, now of Knox Theological Seminary, explores the connections between the Gibeah incident recorded at the end of Judges and the story of Ruth. He argues that there are literary and thematic connections and contrasts between the two narratives. As usual, Gage gives us a number of stunning connections, such as:

1) Gibeah and Bethlehem both figure prominently in the history of the monarchy, Gibeah as Saul’s hometown (1 Sam 15:34) and Bethlehem as the birthplace of David. This connection with royalty is evident also in the refrain of Judges (“there was no king in Israel”) in contrast to the genealogy that ends the book of Ruth. The story of Gibeah and Bethlehem in Judges-Ruth thus anticipates the story of Saul and David.

2) An additional layer of typology emerges when we consider the widely recognized similarities between the story of Gibeah and that of Sodom. He notes that in both stories, someone offers women to the sodomites who are attacking visitors to a city, and in both instances the phrase “do whatever is good in your eyes” is used (Gen 19:8; Judg 19:24). Clearly, this is related to the larger issue of Judges, which records a time when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

3) The Sodom connection throws some brilliant light on the story of Ruth, since Ruth is Moabite, descended from Moab, the product of Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughter. Thus, Gage points to numerous structural similarities between the story of Lot and his daughter and the story of Ruth and Boaz; the incest in the cave is linked with the tryst on the threshing floor:

women plot to preserve the family, Gen 19:31; Ruth 3:1
the male has been drinking, Gen 19:32; Ruth 3:7
the female seeks him out and lies “beside” him, Gen 19:33; Ruth 3:7
the female receives “seed” from the man, Gen 19:36; Ruth 3:15
two women “receive” a son, Gen 19:37-38; Ruth 4:13, 17

These structural similarities are mainly intended to highlight contrasts, and Gage suggests several: Ruth is fulfilling the levirate law, while Lot’s daughter is committing incest (Ruth “uncovers the feet” of Boaz, an expression similar to that used for incest in Lev 18, 20, but in Ruth’s case without the implication of sin); Lot’s daughter lies with her father, while Ruth lies with a “kinsman” who is an appropriate husband; Lot is passive throughout, while Boaz takes the initiative; Ruth waits for Boaz to awake while Lot’s daughter lies with her father without his awareness; Ruth does not have intercourse with Boaz, but Lot’s daughter does; Ruth receives grain “seed,” foreshadowing her later conception, but Lot’s daughter receives her father’s “seed” and becomes pregnant illicitly.

In short, Ruth’s tryst in the Bethlehem threshing flood is not only contrasted with the sodomy of Gibeah, but with the original incest that founded the Moabites.

4) Gage says that the story of Ruth, read in conjuction with the story of Gibeah, offers a preview of the gospel in a number of respects. The incorporation of the Moabite Ruth is contrasted with the rejection of the Benjamite city. While the men of Gibeah act like Amorites, Ruth leaves her home and family to follow Naomi and Yahweh, displaying a faith like Abraham. The people of God is not defined by race but by faith, and even Moabites, who are forbidden from participation in the assembly of Israel (Deut 23:3), may be saved by seeking out Israel’s kinsman redeemer.

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