Many commentators suggest the text of Ruth implies some sort of divine providence. Most recently Daniel Block suggests this idea: “Having heard the story to the end, we know the hand of God is providentially guiding the events” (2015, 37; click here for my review of his work). Daniel Hawk, similarly, considers Ruth to be filled with the Spirit of the Law as opposed to the letter of the Law (2015; click here for my review of his work). Both readings, unfortunately focus to greatly on the issue of God’s presence within the narrative. Jeremy Schipper offers an important alternative:
“the narrator never notes the possibility of God guiding with a divine hand. In fact, “the narrator explicitly attributes to God only things that are beyond human control” (31)” – My review of Daniel Block’s Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament: Ruth
Schipper importantly emphasizes that God’s guiding hand is not a possibility within the text, as the author no where indicates it. How, then, are we to approach the book of Ruth in terms of historical theology?
Although separated by more than a millennium, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing (1729-1781) offers a potential approach to reading Ruth. In his play Nathan the Wise, Nathan, a Jew, responds to Daja’s claim that the Recha, daughter of Nathan who was saved by a Templar, should be permitted to maintain the sweet illusion that it was, in fact, an angel who saved her life. Nathan responds:
“To a human being another human being is always dearer than an angel” (Act I, Scene 1).
In other words, Nathan argues people must not always hope for some sort of supernatural salvation or miracle. For, there is more beauty in the interaction and miracle between two human beings than between a human being and an angel. Taking this into consideration, I wonder if Nathan’s model could be applied to the book of Ruth. The characters in the book of Ruth represent the role of humanity with each other, not the divine providence of God. Interactions between Ruth, Boaz, Naomi, fieldworkers, and other minor character, and the events which arise out of those interaction, result primarily due to the agency and independent actions of humans, humans whose involvement with each other is dearer than that with angels or divine providence.
For those who are not familiar with Nathan the Wise, I’ve attached a splendid, entertaining summary of the play.