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I'm asking this on behalf of a friend. One of his favorite parts of the bible is that of Elisha, in 2 Kings. But he wanted to get more familiar with the bible as a whole, so in January he started a Bible In A Year reading program.

He got to the book of Ruth, and immediately made a connection to Elisha: Ruth and Elisha each set out to follow a mentor figure, the mentor tells them to go home, but Ruth/Elisha insists on following their mentor.

At first I was skeptical, but digging into the Hebrew, I found there were a few verbal parallels in the mentor/follower interactions:

  • Naomi and Elijah use similar wording when telling their follower to 'go return' home:

    • לכנה שבנה in Ruth 1.8
    • לך שוב in 1 Kings 19.20
  • The actions of Ruth and Elisha are described with similar phrasing:

    • Ruth does not 'return from following' (לשוב מאחריך) in Ruth 1.16
    • Elisha 'returned from following' (וישב מאחריו) in 1 Kings 19.21
  • Ruth and Elisha each refuse to separate from their mentor:

    • 'Do not persuade me to leave you' (אל תפגעי בי לעזבך) in Ruth 1.16
    • 'I will not leave you' (אם אעזבך) in 2 Kings 2.2,4,6

We also found this essay written by Ruth Walfish, appropriately titled Ruth and Elisha: A Comparative Study, which begins:

In this brief article, I will compare two biblical characters, Ruth and Elisha. On the face of it they seem to have little in common, yet it is my contention that the Bible purposely connects these two thematically. A study of these characters also necessitates an analysis of the two people most significant in their lives: Naomi on the one hand and Elijah on the other. I will argue that the two characters under discussion have several common characteristics, most strikingly the rejection of their former lives and the adoption of a new mentor or parent-like figure.

Walfish does mention a couple of other (coincidentally recent) studies on this subject, but we were hoping others might have more input. Is there more to this alleged parallelism between these two figures, Ruth and Elisha? How far back in history have people made this connection?

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The Book of Ruth is used as the basis for 'acceptance' of a Gentile into Judaism, one is asked 3 times, like Ruth, if it is her answer; in fact the question is put to 'dissuade' one, like Ruth. Ultimately one says, "I will go where you go, your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God." Elisha is interesting, as when Elijah 'threw his mantle upon him' then told him to "go back, what have I done to thee?" Here is a call by God, and the same act of surrender as Ruth, as well as servitude, for Elisha "poured water on the hands" of Elijah.(2Kings 3:11) – Tau May 22 '14 at 5:01
Very interesting stuff, Mark. Great observations, user2479. I'm looking forward to the answers to this question. – Dan May 22 '14 at 14:25
@MarkEdward I really have been thinking about an answer to this question; I appologize for not posting sooner. And I'm very surprised there are so many apparently like myself-What's up with this? – Tau May 28 '14 at 1:22
Good question. The Bible provides us with plenty of examples of parallels between two (or more) biblical characters. Look at Hebrews 11, for example. The writer of Hebrews lumps together all the characters in that chapter, based on one basic commonality; namely, faith in God. Then too, what about comparing Ruth with ABRAHAM? They both left paganism and each had a role in fulfilling God's covenant with Abraham: Abraham, in that his descendants came through Isaac, the child of promise, and Ruth, in that she was David's (and Jesus') forbear, as Matthew tells us in his Gospel (1:5). – rhetorician Oct 26 '14 at 19:35

1 Answer 1

I found some interesting conenctions between the two:

  1. Both Ruth and Elisha are forceful and determined. Ruth "clung" to Naomi ("At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her". Ruth 1:14, NIV) and is determined to go with her ("When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her". Ruth 1:18, NIV).

Elisha on the other hand was determined not to leave Elijah ("Elijah said to Elisha, "Stay here; the LORD has sent me to Bethel." But Elisha said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went down to Bethel". 2Kings 2:2, also in verse 4Then Elijah said to him, "Stay here, Elisha; the LORD has sent me to Jericho." And he replied, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So they went to Jericho.)

  1. Both Ruth and Elisha were focused to serve regardless of the distractions in their sorrounding. Naomi painted a bleak picture: no husband, a life of loneliness and poverty, and a situation where she perceive that "the LORD's hand has turned against me". ("Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me--even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons--would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has turned against me! Ruth 1:12-13)

Elisha on the other hand did not allow the distraction he faced. ("The company of the prophets at Bethel came out to Elisha and asked, "Do you know that the LORD is going to take your master from you today?" "Yes, I know," Elisha replied, "so be quiet." 2Kings 2:3)

  1. Both are willing to leave everything behind - in order to serve: Ruth to Naomi and Elisha to Elijah and subsequently serve the God of both Naomi and Elijah.

(But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Ruth 1:16)

("...Let me kiss my father and mother goodbye," he said, "and then I will come with you." 1Kings 19:20b and "Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his servant. 1Kings 19:21d)

  1. Both lost somebody dear to them: Ruth, her husband while Elisha, Elijah - both of whom are considered their "master" in probably different sense of the word.

  2. Both were rewarded by God. Ruth became the wife of Boaz and she became the great grandmother of King David, to whom the Messiah - Jesus is to be born. Jesus is the "firstborn over all creation". Colossians 1:15

Elisha inherited a double portion of Elijah's spirit - similar to the rights or priviledges of the first born son.

I hope this small contribution can be of any help.

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