The Book of Ruth
Wings and Cloaks
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
When God created this whole world way back in the first chapter of Genesis, he gave birds beautiful majestic wings for flying all around. People just got boring arms and legs. Obviously, we were a tiny bit jealous of the birds, because we went and sewed cloaks for ourselves. Now, not only can we keep warm, we can let those cloaks flap around in the wind behind us while we pretend to fly. Hey, we flightless humans can dream, can't we?
Let's Wing It
References to bird wings and human cloaks appear several times throughout this story (and they're more closely related than you would think). Boaz kicks off this metaphor when he tells Ruth:
"May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!" (2:12)
Here, God is compared to a bird with wings that will shield us from danger. This is a pretty common image throughout the Bible:
- "The Lord called to him from the mountain, saying[…] 'You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.'" (Exodus 19:3-4)
- "He sustained him in a desert land[…] As an eagle stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young; as it spreads its wings, takes them up, and bears them aloft." (Deuteronomy 32:10-11)
- "Hide me in the shadow of your wings." (Psalm 17:8)
- "He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler." (Psalm 91.4)
- "He shall mount up and swoop down like an eagle, and spread his wings against Bozrah." (Jeremiah 49:22)
Whew. And that's not even all the bird mentions in the Bible.
Naturally, God is not just some tiny sparrow. He's a huge eagle with a giant wingspan. He covers his little baby eaglets and swoops in to save them from trouble. Saving the day one baby bird at a time. All in a day's work for the creator of the universe.
Ruth seems to take Boaz's words to heart, because later, she cleverly tosses the same language back at him during the scene on the threshing floor:
[Boaz] said, "Who are you?" And she answered, "I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin." (3:9)
The Hebrew word for "cloak" here literally means "wing" (source, p. 194). Ruth is essentially telling Boaz to act with the same faithfulness as God. He should cover her with his great, big strong man wings and make her an honest woman. Nicely done, Ruth.
There's one more interesting detail about cloaks that's easy to miss. Ruth asks for Boaz's cloak as a covering at night. The next morning, Boaz tells her, "Bring the cloak you are wearing and hold it out" (3:15). Looks like Ruth got what she was asking for. Here, the cloak is almost like an engagement ring. It's a sign of his promise to shield her, protect her, and take her under his wing as his wife.
Who knew birds and cloaks could be so darn romantic?
In Popular Culture
- Lots of super heroes run around with cloak-like capes trailing behind them. Superman. Batman. Thor. Super Grover. It sure looks cool when they're flying through the air. Of course, The Incredibles' Edna Mode knows the hidden dangers of wearing a cape.
- Like Boaz's cloak, Harry Potter's invisibility cloak offers protection and security from danger.
- Capes can be evil, too. Dracula always wore one. Megamind designs a particularly pointy (and evil) cape called the Black Mamba.
- At the end of The Return of the King, the hobbits are rescued by giant birds who swoop in to carry them off Mount Doom. Where were these birds when the guys in the Fellowship were first setting out? Who knows.
- Red Bull also gives you wings. Naturally.