The Book of Ruth
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Emptiness & Fullness
Someone who's empty is drained. Everything has been taken from them. They have nothing left to give. It's a real downer. Fullness, on the other hand, means you're overflowing. You've got goodies to spare. You're satisfied and almost can't take any more.
Which would you rather be? We know we've got our answer and so do Ruth and Naomi.
Empty Chairs at Empty Tables
The Book of Ruth starts out right away with "a famine in the land" (1:1), which generally means you're gonna see barren, empty fields all over the place (along with barren and empty tummies). When the Elimelech and his sons die, this leaves the family's man column empty, while their woman column is a little too full. Naomi is gonna need a little more gender balance to keep this family going strong.
Naomi's speech to her daughters-in-law is also filled with imagery of emptiness. She tells them, "Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?" (1:11). Naomi is figuratively empty—she's lost her husband and sons—but she's also literally empty as well (or, at least her womb is).
Actually, Naomi pretty much sums up this whole running theme with her statement: "I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty" (1:21). She had everything and now it's all gone. Wiped out. Kaput. Sorry, sister. Better luck next time.
You're Full of It
But never fear—this story can't stay so depressing for long. When the women come back to Bethlehem, it's time for the spring harvest (1:22). That means fields full of barley, baskets full of grains, and bellies full of yummy stuff. Things are starting to look up a bit.
One of the people who benefits from the fields packed with food is Ruth, who's able to glean a little of the extra (and catch Boaz's eye in the process). In fact, on the first day he meets her, Boaz makes sure that Ruth has a meal with him where "she [eats] until she [is] satisfied, and she has some left over" (2:14). Sounds like she was feeling pretty stuffed. Ruth also goes home with her arms full of grain and Naomi, too, is able to eat her fill probably for the first time in quite a while (2:18). Budding romance even does an empty tummy good.
Filling up on food is running theme, too, because when Ruth returns home the morning after she visits Boaz on the threshing floor she comes bearing a cloak filled with grain. Ruth tells Naomi, "He gave me these six measures of barley, for her said, 'Do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed'" (3:17). No way. The days of emptiness are fast coming to an end.
But, the height of fullness comes when Ruth and Boaz are finally married and she conceives a child. We started with an empty womb and now here we have a full one. Maybe that's why Naomi takes such a liking to her grandson. The little boy has filled her life up again. Of course, the women of Bethlehem remind Naomi that, in addition to her cutie pie grandson, she also has Ruth, "who is more to you than seven sons" (4:15). Sounds like Naomi's cup runneth over. That Psalm 23 guy sure knew what he was talking about.
In Popular Culture
Stuff that's empty, stuff that's full—these symbols abound in the world around us. Here are just a few examples:
- Optimists (Ruth) are said to see a glass as half-full, while pessimists (Naomi) see it as half-empty. You're gonna want your optimist in charge of attracting a man.
- During the 2012 Republican National Convention, actor Clint Eastwood spent nearly twelve minutes on stage talking to an empty chair. Even the four-time Oscar winner couldn't make that stage seem full.
- There's a super scary episode of Doctor Who called "The Empty Child." Turns out it's little aliens that are filling him up. Aliens are the worst.
- Being full isn't always a good thing. In the movie Seven, the creepy serial killer makes a man eat spaghetti until he's so full, his stomach bursts. Gross.