Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In the Fields of Boaz: The Story of Ruth

Once there was a woman named Ruth who lived in the land of Moab. She had married Mahlon of Judah, the son of a woman named Naomi. When the famine started in her hometown of Bethlehem, Naomi and her husband Elimelek thought Moab would be easier, so they moved there. 

After ten years in Moab and the passing of her husband, Naomi knew she could not escape her problems in Moab. When Ruth’s husband, Mahlon, died, she had a choice. She could stay with her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, or she could leave Naomi and search for a new mate. Now there was a famine in the land of Moab, so it was a hard decision, especially since Naomi’s husband and two sons had died.

When Naomi heard of how God had provided food for the Jews in Bethlehem, she decided to return there from the land of Moab. Since both Naomi’s son’s, Mahlon and Kilion were no longer alive, Naomi told Ruth and her other daughter-in-law, Orpah, to return to their families: “May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”

Because the Israelites didn’t usually intermarry with foreign peoples, Naomi worried that Ruth and Orpah would not find husbands in Bethlehem. So, Naomi kissed her daughters-in-law goodbye, crying. “Never forget me,” Naomi said. “I love you.”

Ruth and Orpah had converted to Judaism when marrying Naomi’s sons. “Wait,” Ruth said,” holding Naomi’s hand, clinging to her side.  If Ruth left with Naomi, she would be leaving her whole way of life in Moab, but Ruth clung to Naomi and knew she must be a faithful friend.

Instead, Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye and left in tears. “Go with God,” Orpah said to the two women and headed off to her old life. At the time, although Ruth and Orpah didn’t have Jewish children, Orpah had four warrior sons later in life, including a giant named Goliath. 

“If I don’t go with you to Bethlehem, you’ll surely die,” Ruth said to Naomi. “You’re too old to make the journey alone, even if it means I remain a widow.” 

“Oh, my daughter,” Naomi said. “Let’s make the journey together.”

Ruth said, “Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Despite any doubts, Ruth didn’t turn back after making this decision, and Naomi gave up trying to change Ruth’s mind. So, the two women traveled until they reached Bethlehem. When they arrived, the town was shocked to see Naomi with her new friend.

“Can this be Naomi? We thought she had died,” the townspeople said. 

“Yes,” she said. “As surely as the sun rises, I’m alive. This is my daughter-n-law, Ruth.”

As the barley harvest was beginning, the women made a new home on Elimelek’s land. 

“God will be good to us, Ruth,” Naomi said, preparing a morning meal for them both. 

Because of tradition in the land, Ruth gleaned the Bethlehem fields for leftover grain. After the harvest, the poor could glean the grain fields and vineyards. The custom allowed the needy to follow after reapers and pick up the fallen spears. As it turned out, Ruth was working in the field of Boaz. Boaz was a relative on Naomi’s husband’s side from the clan of Elimelek. He greeted the harvesters and overlooked his field. 

“Who is that young woman?” Boaz asked, looking at Ruth. 

The overseer said, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi.”

“Can I please glean your field?” Ruth said to Boaz in a soft voice. 

“Feel free to work with the women in my field, and do not fear harm,” Boaz said to Ruth.

“Whenever you’re thirsty, please, stop for a drink,” he motioned to her. 

Ruth bowed with her face to the ground, so thankful for his kindness.

“I’ve heard of what you did for Naomi after her husband died,” Boaz said. “You left your father and mother and homeland to come live with her.”

He looked at her with kindness, knowing she had suffered much for her choice.

“May the Lord repay you for what you have done,” Boaz said. “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Then, Ruth shared mealtime with Boaz, eating what she wanted with some left over. She dipped bread in wine vinegar and feasted on roasted grain.

“Pull out stalks for Ruth from the bundles,” Boaz told his men in the field. “Make sure to treat her with dignity and respect when she’s working,” he explained.

At the end of the day, Ruth gave Naomi the grain that was collected. When Ruth told her that she had been gleaning the field of Boaz, Naomi praised God. 

“That’s the field of a close relative!” Naomi explained to Ruth. “I’m so relieved that you found a safe place to work,” she said. “Boaz is a kinsman redeemer with obligation to free a relative in serious difficulty.”

Among the Israelites, the kinsman redeemer often redeems property or a person, as a deliverer. “The Lord has not forsaken us, Ruth,” Naomi said, hugging her tightly. 

For the next few weeks, Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz’s field as she gleaned. She gathered barley and wheat until the harvest was finished. As time went by, Naomi knew that Ruth needed a husband to fit in with the village life. Since Boaz was a relative of Naomi’s, she told her to approach him. 

“Put on perfume, dress in your best clothes, and go to the threshing floor,” Naomi told Ruth. Ruth did so and made her way to the threshing floor, praying in her heart. 

When Boaz finished eating, he lay down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached him quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. During the night, Boaz was startled to find a woman lying at his feet. Ruth said, “Please spread your garment over me. You are a kinsman redeemer of our family.”

“All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character, but even if I’m a redeemer of your family, there’s another man more closely related,” Boaz replied. “He should be approached first before I agree to marry you. Sleep here tonight. In the morning, I will see if the man will redeem you from your troubles, or if I will.”

Ruth lay at Boaz’s feet until sunrise but got up before anyone saw her. Boaz did not want anyone to know that she came to him on the threshing floor. Before he went back to town, he poured six measures of barley in Ruth’s shawl.

“A wedding gift for Naomi,” Boaz said of his generosity. “Now run along home. Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest.”

When Ruth went back to Naomi, she told her everything that happened. Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”

Meanwhile, Boaz went to the town gate and found the other kinsman redeemer. With ten elders of the town present, Boaz explained to the man Naomi’s situation.

“Since Naomi is selling her family’s land, you are first in line to redeem it,” Boaz said.

At first the man said he would redeem the land, but he did not want to marry Ruth. The ungracious relative said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself,” and he removed his sandal. 

In those day, a sale was final if a man took off his sandal and gave it to another man. A shoe—a symbol of law—made it a legally sealed process. 

So, Boaz married Ruth as his wife, and she conceived a son. When the baby was born, Ruth, a happy wife and mother, named him Obed. Naomi loved to care for her grandson and thanked God for him. Obed was the father of Jesse, who was the father of King David.

As a child, David triumphed over a Philistine giant named Goliath, the son of Orpah.

Copyright 2018 Jennifer Waters

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