Archive for November, 2011
There is a gap between the second and third chapter of Ruth for a few months. However these months are precious months for Ruth and Naomi. At the end of Ruth two, Naomi tells Ruth to keep on gleaning from Boaz, and from what we can tell Ruth does. We see at the beginning of Ruth three that Naomi is getting desperate, and the situation does demand it.
As we have read in Ruth one, Naomi and Ruth are a alone. Both of their husbands had died in a far away land. This meant that they were sentences to lives of poverty. In the modern United States abject poverty is difficult, but in the ancient world it was unbearable. There is a famous line from one Ebenezer Scrooge which says, “Let them starve, it would decrease the surplus population.” While this sentiment is horrible to the modern reader, it was a fact of life for the ancient Israelite. Those who could not provide for themselves would starve. Naomi and Ruth were staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. The harvest season was over. The gleaning season was over and winter was coming. Naomi knew that no amount of generosity during the harvest could ensure that they would be able to survive the long winter and the spring.
Naomi was desperate, and she acted as such.
One of the greatest things about reading the bible is that bible characters are so often in the wrong until God redeems the situation. I was looking at a bookshelf which had DVDs of a popular kid’s television program and I saw one called “Heroes of the Bible” and when I saw the line up I smiled. There are definitely people in the bible who saw and did good things for the Lord, but the hero in the Bible is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The people in the bible fall, sin, make bad decisions, and even ruin their lives because of the things they have done against God. Some of them are redeemed. Ruth three is about God’s faithfulness in the midst of some pretty intense sin.
Boaz was ready to party. He had just pulled in the harvest and it was a good year. He decided to throw a party. After a long day of winnowing his barley with his workers he was going to enjoy himself with them, with some incredible food and good drink. Drink, not necessarily meaning coffee or Mountain Dew, but probably meaning wine. So he and his boys got to dinner and enjoyed themselves. After a long night of working it was the tradition of prostitutes to come in and sleep with the drunker harvesters for money. This sinful, not the right thing to do.
However, Naomi knew that if Boaz and Ruth got together that it would be worth more than a couple of bucks. Naomi knew that because Boaz was a redeemer, if she and Ruth got together it would mean a permanent bond that would require her becoming his wife, which would be a way out of poverty. So she told Ruth to get pretty. In Ruth 3:3 she tells Ruth to clean herself and anoint herself and wear a cloak to sneek down to the winnowing floor. It was tradition that a prostitute would go into the place of the workers and uncover their feet as a way of saying, “I’m here.” If they were covered with the man’s blanket they were accepted. What Naomi told Ruth to do was give herself to Boaz, and that was sinful. Ruth went along with it, and that was sinful.
Boaz had been up with the boys eating and drinking. Boaz was not drunk, but not sober. He was probably slightly buzzed as he went to bed. This was a good year, the famine was over, and he had finished a long season of harvest. Boaz was sleeping and Ruth waited. Boaz awoke, slightly impaired, and found a woman at his feet. He was not interested in her in that way.
Boaz was a man of integrity. He went on to tell Ruth that he would redeem her, but that it would be in the right way. Being a prominent member of the Israeli society, he knew God’s rules. He knew that sleeping with Ruth was not the way to bring redemption. He knew that he would have to do it the God given way. He was interested, he knew there was competition, but he served Ruth anyway. This is what happened, now what does it mean?
The last party that Jesus ever attended was a rather ominous one. In Mark 14 starting at verse twelve, Jesus set up for this last party. It was a party correlating with a holiday that commemorated an ancient redemption. It was called the Passover, and Jesus was being a party pooper. The disciples were merry in their hearts. They were happy. They had gone three years with Jesus and the way that that was going in a few more they would have enough people to take care of this Roman problem. Soon they would be deputized or made to be governors or at least given some land for walking with him along his rise. Christ didn’t see it this way. He blessed a cup of wine, a traditional part of the Passover, and gave to his disciples as his blood which is shed for them. He blessed some bread and handed it out to his disciples and said that this was his body broken for them. They ate this strange meal and he asked that they would continue to do so in remembrance of him.
The disciples had no idea that they were participating in the first communion, a meal that Christians have been eating for thousands of years after they did. The significance of communion is great to the Christian and the unbeliever. Unbelievers are called into judgment when they partake, but believers are called to take communion often as a reflection of what Jesus has done for them. Communion is not just in taking calories, it is a remembrance of what Jesus did. It is a remembrance of who are God is. It is not just a remembrance for remembrance sake, it is a remembrance to be in community in Christ. As we remember why Christ died we must also remember what that death does for us. That death gives us community with God and in community with God we have eternal life.
In Ruth 2:14-16, Boaz called Ruth to eat bread with him. She had him dip her bread in his wine, in much the same way as the disciples participated in the first communion. Directly after this Boaz gives Ruth good gifts. He gives her a lot of food that she would need to support her mother in law as well as herself. He gives her a lot of grace and provides for her needs, in much the same way that Christ does.
When Christ left the place of communion he went on to be our redemption. With his life he redeemed us. The bounties of redemption are unknowable. We will live with God into eternity. True glory is awaiting us. In much the same way that when Ruth entered into community with Boaz by taking bread and wine with Christ, we who are in community with Christ take communion to remember that community. While Ruth received grain that eventually ran out, we receive grace that does not run out. If you are weak, sad, hungry, in need of eternal goodness, rely upon Christ and enter into community with him.
Boaz wore button up shirts, $200 jeans, black leather dress shoes, and a light jacket with zipper pockets and a plastic exterior to keep him dry. He drove an F-250, carried a clipboard, and used a Blackberry. He had a baseball cap and a watch that was not fashionable, but functional. Boaz was a business man, and a pretty successful one at that. He had employees that he managed, properties that he owned, and responsibilities that he took care of. He was also well respected in Ruth 2:4 he greeted his workers with “The Lord be with you!” An interesting choice for a man who, while he lived in a society dominated by religion, did not necessarily have a workforce that was interested in following all the laws of God, as we will see. However his workers answered him with “The Lord bless you.” He was respected.
Boaz was definitely not perfect. He does almost get himself into a lot of trouble a couple of times throughout Ruth, but we will get to that.
Boaz is a rare look at a business man doing business, which is usually not found in tteh bible. The bible says a lot about business, but rarely do we see a business man who is so Godly and so successful. Boaz was probably an older man, he had survived his dad who, if he was alive, would have been running the farm as Boaz was doing. We know that Boaz had farm hands, which meant that business was good enough to either employ workers or have slaves. Slaves that would need to be set on their way with land, resources, and money in the next seven years, as was the law of God. We know that he had fields and property, he ran a whole operation.
There are a few practical things that we can pull out of the life of Boaz. Boaz was successful in business while being nice to his workers. He didn’t have to be a jerk in order to be successful. He didn’t cut corners, he followed the cultural and spiritual laws that God had created. He served his employees well and they saw the love of God in him. He was a focused worker, as we will see. (more…)
So Ruth has gone to glean in the fields of Boaz, the wealthy farmer. Boaz was visiting his farm and checking up on his workers when something happened that he would probably never forget. He saw a woman, and not just any woman, a woman who was not from Israel. This would have been unusual because the Moabites were well off as a people and few Moabites lived in Israel. It would have been highly unlikely that a Moabite woman would be gleaning in the field of an Israelite. So he took notice.
Ruth was hard at work and probably didn’t notice Boaz. She was busy gleaning along with the other women. Not only that but she was working very hard, from the beginning of the morning until then with a short rest according to Ruth 2:7.
Boaz approached her. As you will read in Ruth 2:9 there was a sense of vulnerability that came with tending to the fields. As in today’s culture, single women, especially the widowed, are open to all sorts of scams and advances. Sexual harassment in the line of gleaning was rampant, contrary to what the bible says. Some women went to glean in order to become pregnant and tied to farm worker so that she could eat and provide for herself. Ruth did not go that route, she was working hard.
Boaz throws a little bit of his weight around and lines up some perks for Ruth. We don’t know why but something had obviously attracted him to Ruth. From the account we can tell that he didn’t approach every single lady who was gleaning wheat in the way that he did. He told her who to follow and where to go to get the most wheat. He instructed his workers not to touch her. He lined up water for her so she wouldn’t have to pay for water or carry any around with her. In short, he took care of her as she gleaned.
Ruth was very thankful for Boaz’s provision. She bowed down to him. She asked why she had found so much favor in his eyes, especially since she was not a person from Israel. Boaz said, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Ruth 2:11-12. Ruth was again thankful and was glad that she had found favor in Ruth’s eyes. (more…)
While this post is definitely about Ruth this is a side note to the overall narrative which we have been going through. The concepts touched on throughout Ruth 2 regarding the fate of the impoverished in Israel speak into our current cultural and political discussions on social welfare, what we as Christians should do for the poor, and most importantly the great grace of God to meet the needs of the least of these.
As we read in Ruth chapter one Ruth and Naomi had moved back to Israel from Moab. Naomi had lived in Israel before moving to Moab. She left Israel with a husband and two sons and came back with a daughter in law who would not leave her side. She would be given a small amount of land by her family and not much else. As we will read later in Ruth those who were supposed to take care of Naomi and Ruth didn’t. However the Lord protected Ruth and Naomi from starvation through some laws that he had given to the leader of Israel a few generations before.
The book of Leviticus is a collection of laws regarding social morality, religious obligation, and cultural practice that the Lord gave Moses to govern the people of Israel with after they had come out from the land of Israel. It’s important to note the progression of the story of the Israelite’s. God saved the people of Israel from bondage in Egypt and then gave them laws. He performed many signs to show that he was God while in Egypt, and when they left Egypt he gave them the law.
In Leviticus we see a law that speaks to what it means to support those who are the lowest in society. Leviticus 19:9-10 says that when a farmer harvests a field they will not harvest right up to the edge of the field, or gather the gleanings. Whatever the farmer did not pick up was for the poor and the sojourner. It was theirs to harvest as they needed. If they had great need they would harvest much, if they had no need they would not harvest. It was a principle that the Israelite’s understood well, because at this time they would have been given manna. Manna was the bread that God gave the Israelites to eat when they were in the desert. (more…)
Chapter 1 of Ruth is one of the most depressing in the bible. Elimelech ran from the judgment of God to Moab. In Moab he and his two sons died, leaving his wife, Naomi and his daughters in law Orpah and Ruth, widowed. Widowed and impoverished, Naomi told Ruth and Orpah to go back to their fathers house so they could remarry and have a new life while she returned to her home in Israel to live the rest of her life in poverty and then die. Orpah made the logical decision and left her mother in law, but Ruth remained with Naomi, vowing to become a part of her culture and way of life.
Ruth 1:19 describes the townspeople reaction when Naomi arrived in Bethlehem. There was a “stir” in the town. This would be for a variety of reasons. Naomi was home after a long period. Naomi’s husband weren’t with her. Naomi’s sons weren’t with her. Naomi brought a Moabite, an enemy of Israel, with her back into community. Naomi showed up with an outsider, penniless, with the expectation of being cared for. Her husband had stabbed her country in the back by moving to Moab, and now she was expecting them to care not just for herself but her Moabite traveling companion? This is what caused the stir, but following the law of God, she was given a portion of land for her and Ruth to have.
When Naomi’s neighbors came to her to talk to her about her travels she asked that they call her Mara. Naomi in Hebrew means pleasant. In the bible people were named to describe who they were. Naomi was pleasant, however as she explains in Ruth 1:20-21 she believes that she has been dealt a bad hand. She says that she had a husband and sons. She had land and status. She had money and security. Now she had none of that. She blames God. She says that the Lord had has brought this calamity upon her.
Now truly God did allow this to happen. However this retribution on the part of God has to do with sin. Sin causes death. Before sin no one died, after sin men die. When we go to funerals we acknowledge the power of sin over this earth and our bodies. We know that because we live in bodies of sin and death we will all die. In the instance of Elimelech and sons we know that they were running from the judgement of God when the judgment of God caught up with them. Naomi was understandably devastated, but the problem that she had was not with God, but with her own sin. Instead of looking at death and saying, “God has destroyed me, I am finished” she should have looked to the grace that God had provided for her in the form of Ruth. (more…)
Elimelech took his family to Moab to escape the judgment of God. In the end, death caught up with Elimelech and not only Elimelech but his sons. Naomi and her daughters in law were left all alone, widowed, and desperate. While many consider today to be a more advanced age regarding gender, the fate that meets women who are widowed today and in ages past is poverty. Horrible, unyielding poverty. The average single mother that lives in America today lives under the poverty line, struggling to support her family. Naomi knew that she was going to be impoverished. She had nothing to offer society. She was old and could not remarry. She had one option, and that was to return to her father’s land in Israel and seek refuge among her family. This would have been a disgrace, as she would have been forever known as the one who had deserted her people to suffer famine when she went to Moab. She knew that she was going to live the rest of her life as the low of the low. She had one last thing to do.
Naomi told her daughters in law to return to their father’s home. Not only would they receive room and board, they were young enough to be married again. They didn’t have children and they would be welcomed in as assets to their fathers house. They would be given to other men. Naomi gave her daughters in law her permission to leave. Then she instructed them to leave her alone, because she didn’t have a future.
Orpah, one of Naomi’s daughter in law, left Naomi. This was not a sin. She cried in the embrace of Naomi and then left her. Oftentimes when we see two people that are in the bible we gauge their holiness by how well things turned out for them. Orpah’s counterpart, Ruth, stayed with Naomi and it worked out well for her. The question people as is who made the right decision. Orpah did make a decision and left Naomi. It wasn’t a bad decision it made sense.
Which is what makes Ruth’s decision so crazy. She was told to go home where she could have a life. She wouldn’t live in poverty and she would have a family. She would have a future, a legacy, a line. Unlike Naomi, Ruth would be alright. The bible is clear that Orpah leaves, but Ruth decides to say. Naomi dismisses her, reminding her of what she would gain by going home and how bad it would be if she went with Naomi, however Ruth went anyway. (more…)
Ruth takes place during another book of the bible, Judges, the book that Ruth follows in the bible. Judges is one of the most depressing books of the bible because it reflects the sinful nature that we have to reject what God has said in order to do what we want to do. Ruth starts out in the midst of a time of judgment, in which God was disciplining his people. He was trying to get their attention so that they would turn from their idols and turn back to God. During a time of judgment a man named Elimelech moved his family from Israel to the land of Moab. The Moabites were an evil nation that had prospered during the time of Israel’s judgment. Elimelech saw that there was prosperity in Moab, packed up, and moved away from the land that was being judged by God into the land that was prospering. He was running from what he knew was judgment in the form of a famine to what he should have known was a circumstance that would turn out very badly for him and his family.
The story of Elimelech is much more complicated than one guy running from the judgment of God. Many unbelievers that I have talked to, and even some believers, say that the judgment of God is unjust. They say that there is no way that a loving God could be so wrathful. There is no way that God could rain down judgment on people in the form of a famine. While I would not expect an unbeliever to understand that mind of God, because I certainly don’t, I would say that judgment for judgment’s sake is not what God did to the people of Israel. God did not get his jollies from the famine, it was a very clear signal to the people of Israel that they needed to repent of their sins and turn to him. Famine was not the norm for the people of Israel. They had been blessed by God so much that when they were in the desert with no land to plant crops for food, God provided for them a meal every single day. Having no food was a clear sign from God. God was calling the Israelite’s to repentance, which makes what Elimelech very, very evil.
Instead of repenting he became entrenched in his sinful attitude. He didn’t run to God, but he ran to more sin. The land of Moab was known for evils, including child sacrifice. Instead of turning to who God is and what God has done, he turned to other ways of life and other opportunities to save himself. This is like a Christian who embezzles and when he gets found out instead of repenting moves to Las Vegas to live out the rest of his days with his embezzled money to keep him company. Elimelech did not repent, but he fled into the arms of sin. He moved away from God when times were hard, and he paid for it. (more…)
As a hopeless romantic I would say that the story of Ruth is easily one of the most engaging narratives that is found in the bible is the book of Ruth. Ruth is a true story, with a beginning middle and end which declares the glory of God to save both those who were in faith and have run from him and those who were as far away from faith as one could be their whole lives. It is the story of sinners who didn’t deserve to live, but did. It’s about God’s laws showing grace. It’s about the hope that we have in salvation, and how that has worked out through history. It is about a man and a woman noticing each other and marrying each other. It is about bitterness absolved, shalom restored, and those who have no business in the family of Christ being grafted in because of the power of God.
Ruth is one of the best books of the bible, and that is why I am writing this. Truth be told I identify especially with the themes of redemption, of not belonging but being joined to, and of having no hope until the Lord in his time revealed himself. I have both seen, heard, and felt what happens in someone’s life when one is supported by the systems God has placed for us to enjoy, been healed and redeemed because of a miraculous work of God, and the beauty of the new relationships that God brings into our lives. I identify with all of the characters in this book, save one: God who relates to me in his goodness.
Ruth is good to read for those who have nothing. Ruth begins with tragedy upon tragedy. Ruth is for those who have given up, not only on God but on life. Ruth is for those who have found nothing to be good. Ruth is for those who are ready to give up the ghost and end it. Ruth is for those who don’t know where they are or what’s going in. Ruth is for those who don’t understand why they are sitting in church. Ruth is for those who feel the tug of what feels like more than destiny. Ruth is for those who don’t understand the divine, but find themselves in interactions with people who call themselves Christian. Ruth is for those who are having faith in the midst of poverty. Ruth is for those who are using welfare to survive. Ruth is for those who are in business. Ruth is for the gracious, and those who struggle with generosity. Ruth is for those who notice those who are faithful around them, but find themselves too busy to engage those people. Ruth is for those who care about what the bible has to say about sexual harassment and gender relations. Ruth is for those who care about the exploitation of the poor. Ruth is for those who are ready to give of themselves sexually to advance a relationship. Ruth is for those who are trying to get out a dire circumstance in any way possible. Ruth is for those who do things the right way in the right time. Ruth is for those who deal and wheel to get what they want. Ruth is for those who are married or want to be married. Ruth is for those who are single and are rejoicing because of a marriage. Ruth is for those who hold babies and see the hand of God. Ruth is for those who thought there was no hope, but have found hope in Christ. Ruth is for those who are caught up in what God is doing. Ruth is for Christians. Ruth is for those who don’t believe.
I pray that I can do this book justice. I have spent a lot of time studying Ruth because I truly love to serve this book. I pray that you will be served by this book and that you will see who God is and what God has done through the story of Ruth.
I watched a popular children’s television program the other day when I saw they told the story of Saint Patrick. Patrick was a boy from England that God brought to Ireland to teach the gospel. The people of Ireland were Druids. They loved the earth so much that they worshipped it. During this movie St. Patrick picks up a shamrock and says “God is like a shamrock.” The Druids instantly bow and say, “Oh mighty Shamrock!” Saint Patrick says, “No, no, no. God is not a shamrock, God is a shamrock. He is one in three persons.” All the Druids nod their understanding.
In the third chapter of Velvet Elvis, Rob Bell speaks about the glory of God in creation. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the bible, but it can be taken to certain lengths which are not beneficial for unbelievers, so we as Christians have to be careful. In Psalm 19 David writes that the heavens declare the glory of God. This earth was created to reflect the love of the Creator to His created. Men declare the glory of God by acting as his image bearers. Good food and good drink reflect the glory of God by showing that God wants us to have fun. The Rocky mountains are beautiful, the Canadian waters are beautiful, and from what I have seen the Alps and Himalayas are beautiful.
Unfortunately creation has one fundamental flaw that has marred it. Creation is decimated by sin, the sins of men. Creation was made perfect by God, but now has become a sinful shell of it’s former self. It groans for it’s end. It spews random reflections of it’s creator, leading men astray. Druids, Native Americans, Sumerians, Romans, Modern day people, we all embrace the glory of the earth without looking at the glory of the creator. Today men worship the creation, whether that is a beautiful woman, a great latte, or a stream, men have made for themselves idols which they love and serve with their whole hearts. This is an abomination. It’s like loving your spouse only for the breakfast that they make for you. You love that breakfast, but are not interested in it’s creator. You only care for the lesser things and don’t care for their creator.
As Christians we should see creation for what it is: a shell of it’s former self. Like us creation is wrecked by sin. At the end of the age God will end creation and make a new one. For now creation works to declare God’s glory, but it is also affected by sin. We need to be careful about how much reverence we give to the earth. This earth is our home, we are called to steward it well. However it is not God. No portion of it is God. One day God will destroy this earth and create a new one. Love God, love people, and steward what God has given you for those two purposes.