Biblical Literature

“The highest happiness on earth is marriage.” ~William Lyon Phelps

There is a myth that romantic love never occurred till the Romantic Age and that before then couples related and mated as spouses but not as lovers. People who hold such opinions should read the Bible. The Bible is filled with real-life drama, making shambles of most persons’ short-sighted views.


“It’s easy to understand love at first sight, but how do we explain love after two people have been looking at each other for years?” ~Anonymous

Naomi and Elimelech, Ephrathities of Bethlehem-Judah—site of Rachel’s stone memorial—had migrated from Israel to Moab because of drought and famine. They had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who, when they came of age, in this foreign land, had married local girls: Chilion had married Orpah; Mahlon had married Ruth. All three males died, leaving all three females widows.

Naomi decided it was time she went back to Judah. Orpah returned to her own people, but Ruth chose to follow her mother-in-law. “Entreat me not to leave you, or to return from following after you. Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

When they came to Bethlehem-Ephrath, Naomi told her people, “Call me not Naomi [pleasant], call me Mara [bitter], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home empty” (1:20, 21).*

Elimelech had a kinsman, Boaz, “a mighty man of wealth” (2:1), and Naomi sent Ruth to glean in his field. The Mosaic Code (Leviticus 19:9; Deuteronomy 24:19) provided that a poor person could reap the corners of a field for his daily bread. When Boaz came through, he would say to the reapers, “The Lord be with you,” and they would answer, “The Lord bless you” (Ruth 2:4).

When he happened on Ruth, Boaz asked, “Who is she?” They told him she was the Moabitess returned with Naomi. Boaz spoke to her himself and told her to stay close to his reapers, not to glean in another man’s field, and to drink of water already drawn; and he charged his men not to touch her. Ruth asked why he was being so kind to her. “It has fully been showed me all that you have done to your mother-in-law” (2:11). “The Lord recompense your work and a full reward be given you of the Lord God of Israel under whose wings you have come to trust” (2:12).

Boaz told his men, “Let her glean among the sheaves, and reproach her not. And let fall some handfuls on purpose for her, leave them, that she may glean, and rebuke her not” (2:15, 16). From what Ruth told her, Naomi could see that Boaz had his eye on her.

At the end of the barley harvest Naomi told Ruth to take a bath, get dressed, put on some fresh clothes, and go to the threshing floor, where Boaz himself was winnowing barley. After he had bedded down for the night, Ruth was to lie down at his feet. He, knowing what that meant, would take it from there.

Ruth did as Naomi instructed her. At midnight Boaz stirred and found a woman at his feet. “Who are you?”

“I am Ruth. Spread your skirt over me, for you are a near kinsman” (3:9). Ruth may not have known the significance of her words, but Naomi did. This was a proposal of marriage (cf Ezekiel 16:8).

By now Boaz knew Ruth’s personality and her character. He had noticed that she was “a virtuous woman” (3:11). He told her that the only problem with marrying her, in a Levirate marriage, was that there was a nearer kinsman, who had first dibs on the property and on her. Boaz told Ruth to lie down till morning. Then, before first light, he sent her away, loaded with sheaves of barley, and warned her, “Let it not be known that a woman came to the floor” (3:14).

That self-same day Boaz went to the gate of the city, where men conducted official business, and challenged the nearer kinsman for the property of Elimelech, making sure the other understood that if he took the property, Ruth came with it. The other was willing to take the property, but not to marry Ruth and so forfeited his right of redemption. Boaz then redeemed the property for himself (cf Leviticus 25:25-34). “You are witnesses this day, that I have bought all that was Elimelech’s, Chilion’s, and Mahlon’s, of the hand of Naomi, and Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased [redeemed] to be my wife” (Ruth 4:9, 10).

In a Levirate marriage—not permissible if the widow had a child (cf Deuteronomy 25:5-10)—a near kinsman married a childless widow, and the new couple’s firstborn went by the surname of the deceased husband so his name would not be cut off. Ruth and Boaz had a son, Obed. Naomi, the legal grandmother, “took the child and nursed it” (Ruth 4:16). The women told her, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a kinsman. He shall be to you a restorer of your life, and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has born him” (4:14, 15).

Obed was descended from Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah, Judah and Tamar, and Rahab the harlot in Jericho (Joshua 2:1-22; 6:22-25). He was the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David (Ruth 4:18-22).


“Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own.” ~Robert Heinlein

Elkanah was descended from Zuph, another Ephrathite, and was living in Mount Ephraim with his two wives, Peninnah and Hannah. The situation between these two wives was similar to that between Leah and Rachel: Peninnah had sons and daughters and taunted Hannah, because Hannah had none. When the family went to the Tabernacle in Shiloh for observance of the annual feasts, Elkanah gave to Peninnah and the children enough to eat, but to Hannah he gave more than enough, because “he loved Hannah” (1 Samuel 1:5).

At times like this, Peninnah’s mouth would provoke Hannah to tears. As if he did not know, Elkanah would ask, “Hannah, why are you crying and not eating? Why are you grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1:8).

Elkanah may have loved her, but love wasn’t enough. Something was missing in Hannah’s life, and this unfulfilled need drove her to the Tabernacle, where she poured out her heart before God. She promised Him that if He would give her a son, she would give the son back to Him and make him a Nazarite, one separated to God. Her prayer burden was so heavy that she prayed silently. Her lips moved, but there was no sound, showing that heart prayer is as real and as effective as spoken prayer.

The Lord honored Hannah’s request and gave her a son, the Prophet Samuel. When it came time for the annual feast, she told Elkanah, “I will not go up till the child is weaned, then I will bring him that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide forever” (1:22).

The wife was more important than the child. And vows to the Lord were most important. Elkanah told her, “Do what seems good to you. Stay till you have weaned him. Only the Lord establish His word” (1:23).

In those days children were not weaned at nine months or twelve months of age, but sometimes as late as preschool age. All the Bible says is that “the child was young” (1:24) when Hannah took Samuel to the Tabernacle and left him with the priest, Eli. Hannah reminded Eli of her prayer that day at the Tabernacle. “For this child I prayed. Therefore, I have lent him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he shall be lent to the Lord” (1:25-28).

Afterward Hannah prayed a prayer of thanksgiving (2:1-10), showing a theological precociousness seldom seen in persons, male or female. She had never been to Bible college or seminary, perhaps never read a scroll, certainly not a commentary, but her song shows a purity of heart and a depth of knowledge of the Holy One that is missing in many young trainees today. Leonard Ravenhill observed that before He could get a prophet, Samuel, God first had to get a woman, Hannah.

That she left the child with Eli does not mean that Hannah abandoned Samuel. In her own words, she merely “lent” him to the Lord. Each year she made him a new coat and brought it to him when she came to the Tabernacle for the annual feasts. Eli blessed Elkanah and Hannah, and said, “The Lord give you seed of this woman for the loan you have lent to the Lord” (2:20). And so, the Lord blessed Hannah with sons and daughters (2:5, 21) while Peninnah, the sister-wife, waxed feeble and old (2:5).


“You know you have found love when you can’t find your way back.” ~Robert Brault

David, the son of Jesse, was descended from Boaz and Ruth and from Rahab the harlot in Jericho; and, like Naomi, he lived in Bethlehem-Ephrath, where Rachel was buried. God chose him when he was young. The Prophet Samuel anointed him with oil, and the Spirit of God came on him. Still only a teenager, he killed the Giant Goliath, became a great warrior, established Jerusalem as his capital, played instruments of music, and wrote at least half of the Psalms. There is no way to overestimate his greatness in the history of Israel, for he was a most unusual, talented, and gifted human being.

Bathsheba was another unusual person. She was not the prophetess that Abigail, one of David’s wives, was; but she was “very beautiful” (2 Samuel 11:2), a word the Bible does not waste on many persons. She was a hometown girl, a “military brat,” whose father, Eliam, and husband, Uriah the Hittite, were both numbered among David’s “mighty men.” Both were probably at the front when David walked out on the balcony of his palace and noticed her washing. She, no doubt, assumed the king was deployed with her father and husband. We can imagine she had never been in the king’s house, had no personal knowledge of its view, was not calling attention to herself, and had no idea she was under surveillance. She was simply washing her hands, or feet, from a basin—the same Hebrew word רֹחֶ֖צֶת used for feet-washing (11:8)—as one would after a day’s work, freshening up for dinner. Not a tub bath, as people didn’t bathe that way in those days: full bathing meant going to the river (cf Exodus 2:5; 2 Kings 5:10) in daylight. Even in the river, modest persons wore their undergarments.

David, acting on impulse, sent for her and laid her. Did he not know this was wrong? David had wives and concubines, plural. One can assume he was used to laying women, his own women, and, at the moment, having a woman in his arms did not consciously register as sin. It was what came naturally. However, when the woman discovered she was pregnant, and she needed protection, David sent for her husband. David wanted Uriah to go home and cover the breach. But the young man, a Hittite at that, was too ethical for him. “The Ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I, then, go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing” (11:11).

So David came up with his own solution. He ordered Uriah set at the forefront of the hottest battle where he would be offed. Afterward he told Joab not to grieve about it. “The sword devours one as well as another” (11:25). David then married the pregnant Bathsheba. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (11:27).

When David was not consciously in touch with what he had done, God sent a prophet, Nathan, to tell him. When it was brought to his attention, David repented. Repentance was good, but not good enough. There would still be consequences in this life. The child Bathsheba was to bear, a son, would die. Later, God would raise up trouble in David’s own house, among his own family. God told him, “You did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun” (12:12), a reminder to us that secret sin can turn into open shame.

What God said came to pass. David’s son Amnon violated his daughter Tamar (13:1-20). Tamar’s full brother, Absalom, plotted revenge. Absalom killed Amnon, then made war on David; and as David had once fled from King Saul, so now he fled from Prince Absalom. Absalom, in his rage, took David’s concubines, spread a tent atop a house, and laid the concubines before all Israel and before the sun (16:22). That this occurred in fulfillment of a prophetic word is a remainder to us that a sovereign God can control even a man’s thoughts and actions (cf Revelation 17:17). “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turns it wherever He will” (Proverbs 21:1).

Interestingly, however, David and Bathsheba had more sons: Shammua, Shobab, Nathan, and Solomon (2 Samuel 5:14). This was more sons than David had with any other wife. And this last son, Solomon, the Bible says, “the Lord loved” (12:24), a statement not wasted on many biblical personalities.

“There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage.” ~Martin Luther

Copyright © 2014 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit: Olive Grove in Israel

* My mother had made this notation in the margin of her Bible, now my Bible, “Naomi did not really return empty because she brought Ruth, an ancestor of Christ.”