Reading the last three chapters of the book of judges is a sobering experience. Here, we are presented with the graphic details of violence against women, reading like an editorial from ISIS held territory. We also learn of inter-Israelite civil conflict every bit a brutal as the Israelite treatment of the Canaanites depicted in Joshua.
It’s a huge relief to move onto the book of Ruth. Ruth is only four chapters long. Ruth is a tender and intimate story notable for the way it portrays the intimacy of loyalty between Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi – a beautiful portrayal of female solidarity in a patriarchal world. The book is also notable for the way it presents the acceptance of a foreigner and refugee into Hebrew familial structures. The style of writing presents the participants in the story in a way that is completely familiar to our modern sensibilities.
The book of Ruth marks a transition point. Genesis to Judges presents a prehistory out of which the Hebrew people emerge as a tribal nation. Ruth marks the beginning of a new story about the Kingdom of Israel. From I Samuel to II Kings is the story of the creation of Israel as a nation with a King. These books also relate the sorry tale of monarchy leading to the ultimate division of David’s kingdom into two the kingdoms of Isreal, and Judah after the death of Solomon.
Ruth sets the scene for David and establishes his genealogy. In this sense Ruth is important for us also, for as David’s great grandmother, she features at the beginning of a line of descent the ends with Jesus. With Samuel begins the age of the great prophets of Israel. More about that in due course.