In what has been referred to as the most beautiful short story of ancient times, we meet a character who dances between empty and full throughout the story.
The story? No other than the book of Ruth in the Bible.
Part of the beauty of the story is it’s literary features. In this blog, we will look at the literary structure around emptiness and fullness throughout the book.
Empty But Full
Naomi begins the story empty but full. Her stomach is empty. The little town of Bethlehem was suffering from famine. However, she is full in regards to family. As a woman in ancient times, having a husband and two sons meant she would be provided for and safe.
The Times of Ruth and Naomi
Why the emptiness of famine? Well, the book of Ruth is nestled in the time of the Judges. We don’t know exactly when during the time of the judges, but we do know the pattern of that season of Israel’s history.
Israel was in a vicious cycle. They would rebel against God, go into captivity or suffer in some way, repent, be provided with a judge, and be delivered by God.
If you took one verse out of the book of Judges to define it, that verse would be:
Judges 17:6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
The famine seems to indicate that Israel was in the part of the cycle after choosing sin and idolatry.
Full But Empty
As the story of Ruth progresses, we see her husband has led her and their sons to take a week long journey around 70 miles to Moab. They traversed out of Israel seeking fullness. They found it in terms of food. However, a worse emptiness resulted.
There, we see Naomi becomes empty of family. Her husband and both sons die. She became a widow.
In ancient times, this was no small emptiness. The closest equivalent we can think of in modern times of her situation is: she was in a similar situation to a homeless person of today.
In short, Naomi became empty of family, though her belly was full.
Chiasm In Ruth
Notice a pattern? There definitely is one. And it’s coming to culmination.
So far, Naomi has been Empty but Full and Full but Empty. Very soon, she shall be Full in Every Way.
What is this type of pattern? It is referred to as Chiasm. Chiasm is some kind of pattern of varying AB- BA structures. These can be more or less complex. The most simple kinds are like the mirroring you can see reflected in:
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
Full in Every Way
At the end of this captivating little snapshot in the family line of Christ, we see Naomi becomes full in every way. Her homeland has an abundant harvest. God’s people have repented and returned to a state of God’s blessing, and there is food aplenty again.
Her daughter-in-law Ruth, who is profoundly loyal, returns with her to her hometown of Bethlehem. There, she is redeemed by Naomi’s family’s Kinsman-Redeemer.
Boaz protects the family’s rights, buying back Naomi’s husband’s land for her, marrying Ruth and having a son Obed with her. This child brings great fullness to Naomi.
She becomes a very special kind of caregiver for him. Dr. Ron Allen of Dallas Theological Seminary goes into this in detail in his course Jonah & Ruth. (Study this class for free yourself here: DTS Jonah and Ruth)
Most modern translations translate Ruth 4:16 similar to the NIV’s translation:
16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him.
Translating directly from Hebrew; however, Dr. Allen explains that this is what it says:
“And Naomi took the boy and she placed him at her breast, and she became for him a nursemaid.”
He explained that perhaps the translators could not imagine an older woman nursing a baby, so they translated it slightly differently.
Postmenopausal Woman Can Nurse Babies
So, Dr. Allen and another professor set out to research postmenopausal women documented as nursing children. Even in 1981 when they were looking into it, there was a lot of documented information in for this occurring.
What counted the most was the level of bonding between the woman and the baby. There were even postmenopausal women documented as nursing babies who had never given birth to a child of their own.
Thus, in many ways, Naomi is complete. She is safe and cared for under Boaz and Ruth. She is caring for Obed as if he were her own son, and she is able to do this fully. Her land has been returned to her and her family line.
Whose Family Line?
At the end we see the clincher. Whose land was returned to them? Well, Obed was the father of Jesse.
Jesse was the father of…David!
The land that almost departed from the family line was returned. This land would be David’s. And as we all know, Christ was from the family of David.
Naomi’s family line almost died out here. The land in Bethlehem that had belonged to her line before she and her husband gave up everything to move to Moab needed to be redeemed.
The Line of Christ Redeemed
In Ruth we see the line of Christ redeemed. The land and the people in His line were redeemed. And with the chiasm of emptiness and fullness, the story is truly beautiful.
And…years later, the little town of Bethlehem would see a new kind of fullness, acclaimed to shepherds by a host of angels, sleeping on a manger bed of hay.
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You can also check out other resources you might find interesting here:
- Free Dallas Theological Seminary Course on Jonah and Ruth
- The Book of Ruth
- Did Jonah Ever Get It?
- Can you hear God whispering, “I love you!”?