Wasn't TORIA's post wonderful yesterday? So were your comments. Look forward to another great post from LAURAJANE this Saturday, and don't forget to email me anything you want to share on the following two Saturdays by this Thursday, September 26.
Now -- get comfy with your beverage of choice (mine is Cream of Early Grey tea) and let's take a look at Ruth, Part II. This week we're focusing on Ruth 2:10-4:18.
It's one thing to be recognized for your skills as an ice skater or your grades in physics or the prize you won for that short story. Being unexpectedly singled out because of who you ARE -- that's a whole other thing.
When Ruth asks Boaz, "Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, a foreigner?" He doesn't say, "Because you're drop dead gorgeous," or "because you broke the all-time gleaning record." He says: "All that you have done for your mother-in-law . . . may the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord . . . under whose wings you have come for refuge."
Boaz is taken with Ruth because of the love she shows for someone else and for the trust she places in God. He notices her because she's out there working her buns off, but he SEES her, really sees her because she loves.
And those aren't just empty words on Boaz's part. He doesn't leave it at, "Hey, you're impressive." He follows up by making sure she has enough to eat for lunch (bread and wine . . . interesting) and by instructing his male workers to let her glean even among the grain that hasn't been cut yet and to pull out some of the really good stuff and give it to her.
Probably most important for RUuh, he tells them not to put her down at all. There will be no whistles, no "Hey, Baby, lookin' good," or any "Why are you getting special treatment, Moabite Mama?" This is huge for Ruth.
So at the end of the day, Ruth ends up with an ephah of barley (which is about a bushel). She of course shares that with Naomi since that is the whole point of her going out to work in the fields. Naomi's eyes practically pop out of her head (that's how I imagine it, anyway) and she wants to know where Ruth gleaned. When Ruth tells her about Boaz, Naomi is, as we say in the South, over the moon because, as she tells Ruth, Boaz is their next of kin. We're talking, he would be one of the first people notified if one of them fell off a cliff or something. Not only that, but he is only one of two men in Bethlehem (more on the other one in a minute) who under Jewish law has the right to "redeem" -- to buy back for the family -- the land lost to the clan when Elimelech and his two sons died; Naomi has no rights to it at all, being a woman (don't even take me there). It is a serious situation because to lose the family land, the family heirs and the family name is to endanger the security of the entire clan. In literature we call these public stakes. This doesn't matter just to Naomi and Ruth -- it matters to their whole culture.
So Naomi tells Ruth to do exactly what Boaz says. She does all the way until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. That brings us to Chapter 3.
With the gleaning done, Naomi tells Ruth she needs to "seek some security" for Ruth. Working the fields is all well and good, but now that the harvest is over . . . . Naomi lays out a plan for Ruth which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to us unless we understand the customs of the time. In the simplest terms I can come up with, here's what Naomi proposes:
(1) That night Boaz will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor - tossing grain into the air to finish separating the grain from the chaff.
(2) Ruth is to wash and anoint herself and put on her best clothes and go to the threshing foor; in other words, make herself available (but try not to think singles bar)
(3) But she's not to let Boaz know she's there until he's finished eating and drinking and otherwise celebrating that the job is done
(4) When Boaz lies down (kind of like guys do after Thanksgiving dinner, only minus the football game), she's to uncover his feet and lie down.
(5) Boaz will take it from there.
What the Sam Hill is THAT all about? Is Naomi telling Ruth to seduce a drunk Boaz to get him to marry her? No one really knows, so let's move on.
Ruth does exactly what Naomi tells her to do, and she does it "steathily". At midnight Boaz wakes up to find a woman lying at his feet. "The man was startled" is probably one of those Biblical understatements. He doesn't know who she is until she tells him, and then she asks him to spread his cloak over her because they are next of kin. Interesting first date.
Does that mean Ruth IS trying to seduce Boaz? He sure doesn't take it that way. He's impressed because she hasn't gone after the young men. Once again it's her character that draws him to her.
It's always been my interpretation that it's what doesn't happen in this scene that's important. There's no manipulation and trickery like we saw in Leah and Rachel's story. Naomi and Ruth aren't out to make a fortune. They need basic security and they want to see the line continue for the sake of the whole clan. Boaz sees that (where are the guys like this, right?) and tells Ruth not to be afraid, that he'll do what she asks of him, because everybody now knows she is a "worthy woman."
But there's a slight problem, a little obstacle that needs to be dealt with. Turns out there's another kinsman who's actually a closer relative to Naomi and Ruth than Boaz is. This guy (who is never named; he's just referred to as next-of-kin) gets first dibs on the land that belonged to Naomi's husband and first dibs on Ruth. Boaz promises that if Next-of-Kin passes up the opportunity, then he will marry her. He tells her to go to sleep and he'll take care of it in the morning.
If you ever think you might have wanted to live in Old Testament times, this would be a good place to give that up. Pawn in a man's game, anyone? But here's the thing. Naomi hasn't just thrown up her hands and said, "That's the system, Ruthie, and there's nothing we can do about it." She is (a) working the system, using it to her and Ruth's advantage and (b) doing all she can to make sure the system works FOR them.
Beyond that, Ruth and Naomi are trusting God and acting out of love. That doesn't automatically mean they're going to get what they want, but they're doing all they can to make sure God gets what God wants.
So back to Boaz and Next-of-Kin. The next morning Boaz protects Ruth's reputation by getting up before anyone else who is passed out on the threshing floor and getting Ruth ready to slip about before they come to. He takes the cloak she has spread out over them and fills it wtih six meausre of barley. The good stuff, not the leftovers.
Naomi is pleased with the way things have gone over at the threshing floor but she tells Ruth not to get her hopes up until Boaz has "settled the matter." Can you even imagine what that day was like for Ruth? She can see herself married to Boaz, a good, kind man who thinks highly of her. But what if she ends up with this other old guy who doesn't even have a name?
Fortunately we don't have to pace the floor and bite our nails with Ruth. Chapter Four takes us with Boaz as he goes out to meet with Next-of-Kin. Savvy businessman that he is, he takes ten of the elders of the city with him as witnesses and calls N-of-K "Friend." The man is definitely smooth. He approaches the situation as a real estate deal. He says Elimelech's land has to be redeemed and -- well, here's where it gets a little confusing so I'll try to simplify it. Next-of-Kin wants the parcel of land but he doesn't want the women that go with it. Somehow that would mess up his inheritance. That's not really explained and really, who cares? This guy is obviously all about himself; Ruth could bear children and give him heirs that would keep the family line going but he clearly doesn't care about that or the two women who are left at the mercy of society. Still, we hold our breath until the final deal is agreed on with the taking off of a sandal (something like a handshake; I cannot imagine Bill Gates taking off his wingtips to close a corporate deal -- just sayin). The ten elders bear witness and Boaz gets the rights to the land and to Ruth.
This is where it's very cool to see the connections between the Bible stories you've heard your whole Sunday school life. The witnesses say, "May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah who together built up the house of Israel (you do remember how many sons they had between the two of them right?) May you produce children and bestow a name in Bethlehem."
That's exactly what happens:
* Ruth and Boaz get married
* Ruth has a baby boy
* The women of Bethlehem rejoice with Naomi because God hasn't left her without next of kin. This little boy will "restore her life" and as a grandmother I will attest that a grandchild absolutely does that. I have no doubt that little guy "nourished her old age."
*These same women speak the truth of the Book of Ruth: "your daughter-in-law who lovesyou is more to you than seven sons, has borne him."
*Naomi nurses the baby. I've never been clear on how that would work but I think it's symbolic of how much she treasures this baby , this hope for the future, this symbol of her and Ruth's love and their trust in God -- and their willingness to work with God.
* The women name the baby Obed (why them I'm not sure)
* Obed is later the father of Jesse, and Jess is much later the father of David.
Yeah, I'd say Ruth plays a big role in putting Bethlehem on the map, wouldn't you? Baby Obed becomes the grandfather of David, from whose line comes our Lord Christ. Out of all that grief and struggle, all of God "dealing bitterly" with them, comes the future, the redemption of Israel, and of us.
For you, New Women, I think it's just as important to see Ruth's story as the story of becoming a woman, and that's where we're going this week. I'll continue to try to be your Naomi, nudging you along, suggesting a plan, sharing the wisdom that has been given to me in this life. But fear not -- I won't ask for your first-born child in return!