CHARACTERIZATION IN BIBLICAL NARRATIVE OF RUTH

The Book of Ruth is one of the most charming and beautiful short story in the Bible. It tells how two women, Naomi and Ruth, cleverly worked out their survival and happiness. At the same time secured the family name of the dead through the practice of levirate marriage. In the tiny four chapter romance, characterization plays a vital role. Characterization is important to the plot as a means by which the problem in the story is resolved. The book has the following prominent characters namely: Naomi, Ruth and Boaz. We also have the minor characters like Elimelech, Mahlon, Chilion and Orpah. However Naomi, Ruth and Boaz appear to be the most prominent characters in the tale. The aspect of characterization is important for a proper understanding of the book of Ruth.

As far as the literary form of the book of Ruth is concerned, it is a Hebrew short story, told with consummate skill. It is a book that shows how the Hebrew narrative art works and goes on to tell a love story. In fact, it is a classic love story of loyalty, devotion and redemption.

Unquestionably Naomi is the most important character in the book. Naomi is the principal character affected by the subtle reversal of patriarchal identities. Her loss and emptiness is the problem of the story stressed. Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Similarly, she alone is the subject of resolution of the problem and response to the problem. Naomi will be given a redeemer in the person of Boaz who will restore her life and provide for her old age that the women praise Yahweh. Therefore, the most important character in the problem, resolution, and outcome is Naomi.

Ruth is another full-fledged important character. Ruth, the Moabitess, is represented as the foreigner who has taken refuge under Yahweh's wing, hard working, loyal to Naomi and vulnerable to the Israelite culture. This bond, or solidarity, that exists between the two women is expressed most eloquently in Ruth's speech in 1:16-17. As a result of Naomi's urging's to Orpah and Ruth, Go back each of you to your mother's house, Orpah decides to go back to Moab. But Ruth refuses and insists upon remaining with Naomi by saying "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!" What we see here is one of the most famous commitments in the Holy Scriptures. In fact, the son she later bore to Boaz was the grandfather of David, in the line of Messiah. Her persistent and devoted commitment to her mother-in-law leads not only to a dramatic romance and her being included in the family tree of the Messiah, but her story also yields an incredible overview of God's plan of redemption.

Boaz is another principal character in the narrative and significant to the development of the story by which the problem in the story is resolved. He is the hero of the story. He is in the role of a "kinsman-redeemer. Many believe that Ruth and Boaz at "the threshing floor is the background to the institution of "Levirate marriage.

Elimelech, Mahlon, Chilion, and Orpah are the minor characters in the story. God is one of the characters in the story as in all OT stories. The portrayal of God is seen in His providential coincidences in the suggestion that God will reward and will act at the time of one’s need.  

The story portrays the faithful love found in the Hebrew word hesed in Ruth 2:20. The word hesed means "goodness, kindness." It is the extraordinary element of mercy or generosity. The story affirms that God exercises absolute sway over the affairs and actions of his world and human beings. God's providence is not really hidden in the book of Ruth. Rather in Ruth, it takes divine and human principle to transform Naomi's life from death and emptiness to life and fullness. The book is primarily a story of Naomi's transformation from despair to happiness through the selfless, God-blessed acts of Ruth and Boaz. She moves from emptiness to fullness and from destitution to security and from despair to hope. Just as Naomi's transformation moves from emptiness to fullness. God extends his love and mercy offering a new freedom and hope. The redemption theme extends beyond this biblical book through the genealogy. The history of God's rule through the David line connects the book's theme into the Bible's main theme of redemptive history.



Dr. Binu Peniel

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