“Chance” and Divine Purpose: Ruth 2:3

Luck vs. providence. Randomness vs. meaning. Chance vs. order and purpose. In Ruth 2:3, a likely reading is that Ruth’s “chance chanced upon” the very portion of land that was Boaz’s when she went gleaning. The JPS translates וַיִּקֶר מִקְרֶיהָ va-yee-kayr meek-ray-ha “as luck would have it.” The ESV renders it “she happened to come to.” Obviously the JPS is more willing to use the concept of luck than the ESV.

Luck and chance could imply randomness. In one worldview there is no logical connection between events that are not in a direct cause-effect chain. No one influences the course of human events from above. Happenstance happens to us all.

Or luck and chance could simply imply that from our limited perspective, order and purpose seem to be lacking, without denying that there could be a Transcendent One who sees the design and influences it along the way. Although some pious Jews and Christians avoid using “luck” and “happenstance” language, the Bible does not shy from it. In Kohelet (Ecclesiastes), we read “the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong . . . but time and chance happen to them all” (9:11, ESV). JPS renders it: “For the time of mischance comes to all.”

In the JPS commentary on Ruth, Eskanazi uses the example of 1 Samuel 6:9. The Philistines wonder if they can discover whether the God of Israel caused their tumor outbreak. They send an oxcart back down the road with the Ark on it. If it goes toward Beth Shemesh, they say this proves it was God. If not, then “it happened by chance” (meek-ray, מִקְרֶה, same word as in Ruth 2:3). On the other side, she points to Genesis 27:20, where Jacob answers his father’s question by saying “Hashem, your God, caused it to chance to my face” (or “to befall me,” using a Hiphil verb of the same root as in Ruth 2:3).

But it is not only in the word מִקְרֶה meek-ray that we see issues of chance and Providence discussed. In the only other book with a heroine for a lead character, we also see a discussion of chance and the implication of Divine purpose. In Esther 4:14, Mordecai assures his young relative that if she does not come to the aid of the Jews in Persia, “help will come from another place.” The books of Ruth and Esther not only have in common a heroine as the leading character, but they also are both post-exilic works (the JPS Commentary gives evidence that Ruth is written after the exile). After the exile, the kind of showy miracles from Israel’s early days are virtually non-existent. God’s revelation of himself to his people happens in harmony with the natural order. His hand is hidden.

But the book of Ruth is more explicit about Divine purpose than Esther, doing more than hinting at it. After all, in Ruth 1:6, Naomi heard that Hashem had once again visited his people in Judah and restored the grain. Also, in 4:13, the narrator tells us that Hashem gave Ruth conception (enabled her pregnancy). How does Naomi know that the restoration of the grain crop in Judah is by the hand of God? How does the narrator know that Ruth’s conception is divinely enabled? Did they have a specific revelation in a vision or a word from heaven?

No, it is accepted that life’s seemingly random events are actually, all or some of the time, influenced by the Divine purpose. So, Ruth’s “chance” doesn’t randomly “chance upon” the field of Boaz. Her unwitting steps were guided by an unseen hand, with invisible Providence bringing about a specific event. No argument about predestination vs. freewill is needed (freewill is simply assumed throughout the Bible). The mystery of unseen purpose is always with us.

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Filed under Extra Insight, Translation Insight

One response to ““Chance” and Divine Purpose: Ruth 2:3

  1. Pingback: Lesson 6: Ruth 2:1-7 | A Close Reading and Translation of Ruth

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