We have already noted that Ruth is a story about extraordinary hesed (lovingkindness) between people and also between God and his people. The acts of hesed between people and from God to his people in this book transform the lives of a community in the days of the Judges, but also point to a better way for any generation. Foreigners are brought near. Widows are saved from poverty. The world receives the kingly line of Messiah. Hesed is powerful.
In Ruth 2:20, there is some ambiguity in the wording. One rendering could be, “May he who has not abandoned his hesed with the living and the dead be blessed by Adonai.” In this rendering, the one who has not abandoned hesed is Boaz. But several arguments can be made in favor of, “May he [Boaz] be blessed by Adonai, who [Adonai] who has not abandoned his hesed with the living and with the dead.” In the JPS Commentary, Eskanazi notes several arguments in favor of the hesed here being Adonai’s: the story has said nothing about Boaz giving hesed prior to this for Naomi’s family and in Genesis 24:7 we find the same theme of not abandoning hesed referring to God’s faithfulness. To this Holmstedt (Ruth: A Handbook on the Hebrew Text) adds: Adonai is the closer antecedent than Boaz in the sentence.
What does it mean to contemplate God abandoning his hesed? Naomi has already contemplated it, “the hand of Adonai has struck out against me,” and “Shaddai has made my lot bitter . . . Adonai has brought me back empty” (1:13; 1:20-21). During the interval of time in which we suffer before there is healing or rescue from whatever has happened to us, it seems from our perspective as if we have been abandoned. The kindnesses of God disappear in those intervals as far as we are concerned.
The whole statement in 2:20 is a bit of a wordplay. The last word in vs. 19 (artfully done by the writer who kept Naomi in suspense until Ruth last word in her explanation) was Boaz. Keep in mind that the “v” and “b” sound in Hebrew are related and consider the wordplay: Boaz . . . Adonai has not azab his hesed. As Eskanazi comments, Naomi’s sense of misfortune has been reversed from azab (“he abandoned”) to Boaz. So it is with the life of faith, in this present world we have intervals of abandonment but in the coming world we go from strength to strength.
In this section of Ruth we see Boaz doing mitzvot (good deeds) beyond the mere obligations of Torah. The rabbis see in the teaching of Torah a command to go beyond obligation, especially Leviticus 19 — the chapter on neighbor-love, care for resident aliens like Ruth, and the gleaning law. Continue reading
The holiness commandments for Israelites, especially found in Leviticus 17-27 and with the apex being in Leviticus 19, are about going above and beyond mere legal requirements. God is holy and so his people are to be holy (19:2). And imitating God means care for the imperiled and needy: “He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deut 10:18, ESV). Leviticus 19 contains the most potent ethical holiness laws, such as imitating God (vs. 2), loving neighbor (vs. 18), and even loving the sojourner (vs. 34, like Ruth).
Gleaning is a holiness commandment, a prescription to Israel to go above any sort of normal human obligation to care for those in need and, sure enough, it is found in Leviticus 19. Continue reading
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. Continue reading
Many translations quite safely render El Shaddai as “God Almighty.” It’s a neat concept, one that feels safe. There is a conjecture that Shaddai is related to an Akkadian word for “mountain.” One possible implication is that mountains are mighty and they rise up high, so this is an idea of God Most High or Mighty God.
But mountains are also shaped like breasts. That may sound irreverent, but שַׁד shad occurs three times in the Bible meaning “breast” (Isa 60:16; 66:11; Job 24:9) and שַׁדִּים sha-deem “breasts” occurs another ten times. Continue reading
The JPS Commentary on Ruth is a delightful blend of scholarship and inspiration. Tikva-Frymer Kensky, who began the commentary and died before its completion, certainly has an investment in the word תִקְוָה tikvah, the basic meaning of which is hope. Perhaps that is why, in commenting on Ruth 1:12, she writes a short word study on it. The results of her study are insightful and suddenly many ideas in the Hebrew Bible are illuminated by the concept of a cord which should not be cut, a cord of hope, which people need to make it in this often troubling life.
The idea of tikvah as a thread or cord is perhaps best illustrated in Joshua 2:18, “When we invade the country, you tie this length of crimson cord to the window through which you let us down.” That is a “cord of crimson thread,” תִקְוַת חוּט הַשָּׁנִי tikvat khoot ha-shanee (and khoot is thread in this phrase while tikvat is rendered “cord of”).
Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, who completed the work of her teacher Frymer-Kensky, says:
The imagery in this idiom suggests that our life is spun out like a cord, and hope arises from the strength of that cord, representing the prospect of a viable future. Indeed, tikvah, used in this sense, appears four times elsewhere in the Bible in parallel with the Hebrew akhareet “future.”
I wrote this post for my main blog at DerekLeman.com/Musings. Although the style is a touch more homiletical than others on the Reading Ruth site, the content fits well with Lesson 3 on Ruth 1:8-10.
It’s one of the Bible’s most important concepts. Hesed should be a word on your lips, whether you know Hebrew or not. For Jews it should be as easy as saying Shabbat or shalom. For Christians it should be as easy as saying agape or ekklesia. Sometimes spelled chesed or khesed, it is pronounced KHE-sed (the e’s are short as in “bed” — kh is a sound made in the throat in between a k and an h — accent is on the first syllable). It is used 297 times in the Bible.
It is notoriously hard to translate. One traditional rendering is “lovingkindness” (a pretty good choice). Other common renderings: kindness or mercy. I think mercy is not a good translation (so Micah 6:8 should not contain the word mercy). Continue reading