*Good Tuesday morning! Today we will continue looking at the Book of Ruth. This book is one of only two books in all of the Bible with the name of a woman for its title. Tomorrow I will be leaving for Annual Conference and will be away until Sunday evening. However, I hope to still be able to make updates. If not, you will know why.
"Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side...whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, 'Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone inn whose eyes I find favor...As it turned out she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz." (Ruth 2:1-2,3b)
Well, you can almost see what's coming a mile away. If you remember, Ruth and Naomi are widows. Naomi is Ruth's mother-in-law. The two widows are basically on their own as they have no husbands to provide for them. There was something in biblical times known as levirate marriage. Levirate marriage was designed to prevent a widow from becoming desolate. In ancient times a widow left without sons would be quite vulnerable. Levirate marriage not only protected the widow, but honored the deceased husband's memory by allowing his name to continue. How? By calling for the brother of the man to sleep with the man's widow. (Remember the story of Tamar?) The problem that Ruth and Naomi face? All of Naomi's sons are dead. There is no one. Well, except...
We are introduced to another character named Boaz. As I've said before names (especially in this Book) have interesting meanings. However, we are not sure of the meaning behind Boaz's name. But, from what we do know, the name Boaz is associated with the words "mighty" or "strong." Later, in Solomon's temple the word "Boaz" is inscribed on a pillar. Who is this character? Well, from what we know he is a "man of standing." The NRSV says that he is a "prominent rich man." We are also told that he is a relative of Naomi through her husband. We are not told how Boaz and Naomi's husband were related. So, Ruth goes to a field to glean wheat from behind the harvesters in order to feed herself and Naomi. I wonder whose field she ends up in? Hmmmm.....
"As it turned out (Uh Oh! Or, Oh Goody!) she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz...Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, 'Whose young woman is that?'" (Ruth 2:3,5)
Keep in mind that Ruth is a foreign woman. The scripture reiterates that over and over. Therefore, we must keep this in mind. We know that Ruth is providing for herself and Naomi, but what is really happening here? Biblical law mandated (Lev. 19:9; 23:22) the ancient Israelites to leave the "gleanings" of their crops for the needy. Ruth was basically harvesting the leftovers at the edges of the fields. This was, for lack of a better term, a form of a welfare system in ancient times. Now, when Boaz asks who Ruth is, he is told that she is a Moabitess who returned from Moab with Naomi.
Boaz and Ruth meet in the field and he gives her permission to continue gleaning his field. Eventually, Boaz gives her more than the gleanings of the field. Boaz had apparently heard about Ruth prior to this encounter. He tells her: "I have been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law...may the Lord repay you for what you have done."(Ruth 2:11a,12a) Now, let's look at this in light of the meanings of the name of the characters. The woman whose name was "My Cup Runneth Over" has found a place and a person of abundance for, not only herself, but her mother-in-law whose name was Bitter.
Boaz has shown the foreign widow hospitality and kindness. Naturally, when Ruth returns to her mother-in-law with not only news of what happened in the field, but with abundant food, Naomi "perked" up. In fact, this serves as a transformative moment for her. And, her hope in Yahweh seems to have returned: "The Lord bless him! He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead." (Ruth 2:20) Now, the question here is: Was Naomi simply happy that she got her belly full for the day (Probably enough was brought to her to last a week), or was this more of a deeper hope? Well, I think this runs deeper than just being happy to have a meal. Naomi's hope is restored once Ruth tells her the identity of the owner of the field, and the one who showed her kindness. (verse 19) Again, Naomi had no more sons who would provide for her and Ruth, and to marry Ruth. But, in the Book of Ruth there is another significant theme: the theme of "redeemer/redemption/redeem." Now, of course, as Christians we automatically think of Jesus Christ as the redeemer. But, in Hebrew these terms present a legal concept. A redeemer, or a ga'el (pronounced go-ALE) was an Israelite's closest adult family member, responsible for helping the other out of a problematic situation. O.K., as chapter two concludes Naomi is feeling better. At the beginning of the chapter it is Ruth who wants to go glean the fields. Naomi simply gave her permission in a way that almost sounds like she is saying, "Oh, go ahead! I don't guess it will hurt anything. Probably won't do any good, but oh well..." Now, she is instructing Ruth on what to do next. So, the chapter ends with Naomi telling Ruth to remain with the servant girls of Boaz, in the fields of Boaz. Hmmm... I have a feeling this will get interesting very soon. Stay tuned! -Pastor Rick