Theological Reflections On Naomi’s Shrewdness -- By: Robert L. Hubbard, Jr.
TynBul 40:2 (1989) p. 283
Theological Reflections On Naomi’s Shrewdness1
Long ago, Hermann Gunkel, father of the modern study of Ruth, disparaged the any attempts to find a central teaching in the book: ‘To anyone who still wants to take away a “teaching” ... we might command this one: that men would do well to be on guard before beautiful and clever women who want to get their way.’2 Though facetious, the remark correctly perceived the cleverness of Naomi’s plan in chapter 3. How shrewd of that aged widow to dispatch young Ruth to propose marriage to Boaz in the dead of night, alone, at a distant threshing floor (3:1–13). At the same time, the episode raises a profound theological question. Scholars have long recognized the role which divine providence plays in the book.3 In short, unlike other texts, Ruth portrays Yahweh’s guidance as behind the scenes— immanent in events, in the decisions of the human heart—not in dramatic divine intervention at centre stage. Consequently, the book elevates the actions of its characters to a place of unusual importance. It pictures human initiative as the means through which Yahweh acts.4
The question is, how did the story-teller view the interrelationship between Yahweh’s sovereign guidance and
TynBul 40:2 (1989) p. 284
human initiative? Are the human characters active participants or passive pawns in a large, divine manoeuvre? What unique roles, if any, do each—God and humans—play in the operation of divine providence in the story? What understanding of faith influenced the narration? This paper probes these questions through reflection on Naomi’s plan as seen in the context of Yahweh’s actions in the book.5
I. The Role Of Yahweh In The Book
As is well-known, the book reports Yahweh’s direct action on only two occasions. Hence, it tells how he ‘visited’ (pqd) Israel by giving her food after famine (1:6b) and ‘gave’ (ntn) Ruth conception after marriage to Boaz (4:13). What is significant, however, is the shadow which these two events cast over what follows. The gift of food steers the story away from tragedy toward a more hopeful horizon. By ending the famine in Israel (cf. You must have a subscription and be logged in to read the entire article.
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