Ruth and Naomi
Read : Ruth
Ruth is one of only two books in the Bible named after women (Esther is the other).
The Book of Ruth is not story of epic proportions, it is about the details of everyday life. Unusually for a book in the Bible, there is no record of God talking to anyone, or guiding anyone, and also unusually, it gives us a woman's perspective on life.
This is a story about two widows, who in human terms are objects of pity. They are without any means of economic support so are dependent on charity. What the story reveals is God's special concern for those who we would regard as helpless and voiceless. God is the one who orders everything, even the most humble circumstances of everyday life, even though we may not be aware of it. Not until the very end of the book, do we learn how their lives are part of God's plans.
I wonder whether Ruth truly understood the risk she was taking. She would be an alien in Judah, would have to adapt to new customs, new language, different religion, would surely be homesick, and as widows she and Naomi would have no security or social status. Anyway, Ruth promises not to be separated from Naomi, Naomi gives up trying to send her away, and they travel on together.
They arrive in Bethlehem in April at the beginning of the barley harvest. At that time there were few ways a widow could earn a living, but Israelite law laid down that the gleanings of the harvest must be left for the needy. So Ruth becomes a scavenger. She will provide food for them both, by picking up the grain dropped by the harvesters. While she is gleaning, Ruth is keenly watched by Boaz, a local farmer.
Now Boaz's mother was Rahab - remember the prostitute who hid the Israelites when they were spying out Jericho ? Well, later Rahab married an Israelite called Salmon, and Boaz was their son. I wonder what life was like for Boaz growing up as the son of a former prostitute, the son of a woman who had betrayed her own people ? Was he treated as an outsider ? Was that why this wealthy man was unmarried ? Perhaps that is why he took an interest in Ruth, another outsider.
Whatever the reason, Boaz is kind to Ruth, and instructs his workers to deliberately drop more grain than usual as they are harvesting. If Ruth is prepared to work hard, she will be able to gather a good quantity of grain. Boaz's kindness goes far beyond the law's demands, and from April to June, through the barely and wheat harvests, Ruth gathers grain in his fields, to provide bread for herself and Naomi. We can see God's hand at work in this, providing for the two widows.
We next see Ruth creeping into one of Boaz's barns late one night. Naomi has instructed Ruth to go to the barn where Boaz will be sleeping, protecting his harvest. Naomi has realised that Boaz is taking an interest in Ruth. As her husband's relative, she hopes he might be prepared to marry this childless widow and provide a son to be bought up as Elimelech's son, to ensure that the family line does not die out.
Naomi's culturally correct but risky plan, is for Ruth to offer herself as a wife to Boaz forcing him to take action. Once he is asleep, Ruth is to lie down at his feet, wait for him to notice her, and hope he behaves honourably.
Ruth stays there until it is just beginning to get light. Then Boaz sends her home with assurances her that he will sort everything out that day. There is an even closer relative to Naomi's husband than himself, but if he will not marry Ruth, Boaz will.
We next see Boaz sitting in the city gate, where all the city business is transacted. He is sitting with the close relative of Naomi's husband, and ten elders of the city. They are surrounded by a crowd of people, all eager to see what happens.
Boaz opens discussions by asking Elimelech's relative if he is willing to buy Naomi's field. When he says yes, Boaz mentions that it means he will also have to marry Ruth. I wonder whether Boaz meant he would have to marry Ruth and also support Naomi. Naomi, who by now must have got something of a reputation for not being the happiest person in the city with her cries of "don't call me Naomi" (meaning happy) "call me Mara" (meaning bitter). Elimelech's relative may have recoiled in horror at this, but tactfully, he only says that buying the field would deplete his children's inheritance too much. So he renounces his position as closest relative, and allows Boaz to take his place in doing what is necessary. The deal is sealed and witnessed by the city elders and the crowd of onlookers.
So as next of kin to the husband of a widow, he marries Ruth. It seems that everyone in the community approves of this match and they pronounce a blessing on the couple.
God rewards Ruth's faithfulness with the gift of a husband and a son. Ruth is happy - she had been barren and a widow, now she has a husband again and her own child Obed. Naomi is happy - there is a child to carry on the family name, and she is part of a family again who will look after her in her old age. The story ends with Naomi looking after baby Obed, no longer bitter and unhappy, but now a doting grandmother. This really is a "happily-ever-after" ending to a story that began so bleakly.
Then in the last verse of the book we get a glimpse of God's plan. The child Obed becomes grandfather to David, the founder of the Royal line of Israel. What the writer of the book could not know, but we know, was that Christ himself was also descended from this same line. So, Ruth, a foreigner, and Boaz, the son of a prostitute, are woven in to the great tapestry of God's salvation plan for the world, as ancestors of Jesus the Messiah.
When God takes steps, the ordinary events of life can take on extraordinary significance, even if we never know it !
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