After the excitement of the reunion with friends in Bethlehem, the reality of Naomi’s poverty pressed hard upon her. She was sustained by Ruth’s love; this was real and had practical expression. It was the time of barley harvest and Ruth asked Naomi, ‘Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go, my daughter’, Ruth 2. 2. There is no such thing in scripture as academic or theoretical truth. If matters are real and true they are real and true in their demonstration. Love can only exist in its demonstration. At the commencement of the journey from Moab, Ruth asserted her love for Naomi; in accompanying Naomi to Bethlehem and in her request to glean in the fields surrounding Bethlehem she demonstrated the reality of that love.
Faithful gleaning and mutual love
Gleaners were often belittled and poorly treated. Ruth was a stranger from a nation hated and despised by the Israelites. Morality of the day allowed everyone to do as they pleased. Ruth was vulnerable and could easily have been drawn into a situation that brought compromise and disaster. Gleaning was Ruth’s service for Naomi. Her love for Naomi and for Jehovah sustained, guided and blessed her but also protected her. God’s hand guided her to the field of Boaz who was a kinsman of Elimilech. He was an honourable man who also loved and served Jehovah. Thus, in their shared devotion and service, mutual affection was born and grew into deep love.
Peter presents believers as a ‘holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ’, 1 Pet. 2. 5. This was foreshadowed by the Levitical priesthood and speaks of worship and appreciation of what God has done. He also writes of believers functioning as a ‘royal priesthood’ who ‘shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light’, 1 Pet. 2. 9, which refers to service and testimony. The two are complementary. Worship is integral to service and is the only true motivation for service and testimony. It is only our love for Christ and appreciation of what He has done that encourages and sustains in difficult situations and arduous service. Effective service is attainable only in what God has prepared in His love and within which His servants labour faithfully. Service engineered by us withers and fades no matter how enthusiastically we commence engagement in it. The service is His; we are but channels and His bond slaves.
As we labour for the Lord, particularly within the local assembly, we do well to remember the principle brought before us in this example of Ruth and Boaz. The nature of the environment determines the quality of that which is produced. Best fruit comes from good seed grown in the best environment. If we compromise in the things of God and His word we must not be surprised if the results of our labours reflect this compromised character.
Note again that the love of Boaz and Ruth for each other grew out of love for Jehovah. In the words spoken by Boaz we see his appreciation of Ruth’s faithful service, 2. 12. Ruth’s words to Boaz show that she recognized a similar commitment in him, 2. 13. Ruth’s gleaning became less arduous as she enjoyed Boaz’ company, protection, 2. 9, generosity, 2. 15, 19, and affection, 2. 14. We see how God was honouring, caring for and leading His faithful children.
The Law and the kinsman redeemer – chapter 3 verse 1, chapter 4 verse 12
If we are to understand the narrative in this section we must know something of the two Old Testament laws upon which the narrative is based.
The first relates to the possession of land and we read about it in Leviticus chapter 25. In Israel it was only the lease on land that was sold. The value of the lease related to the proximity of the year of jubilee when the lease ran out and the land reverted to the original owner. Sometimes the lease was sold because of poverty in which case there was provision for redemption before the year of jubilee. This is the situation we have before us here. In chapter 4 verse 3 we read, ‘Naomi … selleth a parcel of land’, but Young’s Literal Translation renders the phrase as ‘Naomi hath sold’. What was for sale and could be redeemed by a kinsman was not the land itself but the outstanding period of the lease on land that had been ‘sold’ because of poverty. The sale was initiated by Naomi as surviving head of the family, but also involved Ruth who was the widow of Naomi’s elder son Mahlon.
The second law relates to marriage within the closely-knit Jewish family. When a male died without a male heir, it was the obligation of the male next of kin, as and when possible, to marry the widow to continue the family line. We read of this in Deuteronomy chapter 25. The two laws are separate in the Pentateuch but in the Book of Ruth they are linked. Social custom could have brought this about or it may have been the result of a specific decision taken by Naomi.
Ruth’s request and Boaz’ response
It is this background that gives an insight into the narrative. Harvest time was a demanding time and landowners like Boaz would supervise the reaping of the grain from early morning. Towards the end of the day, grain would be threshed by beating it to separate the kernel from the husk. Later, in the evening breezes, the grain would be winnowed by tossing the kernel and husk in the air thus allowing the lighter husk to be blown away leaving the valuable kernel. The weary landowner would eat his evening meal on the threshing floor and then sleep there to be available to supervise the next day’s early morning reaping.
Naomi instructed Ruth to observe where Boaz lay down to sleep; then, when he slept, to remove the coverlet from his feet, lie down at his feet and replace the coverlet over them both. It was a symbolic act, in keeping with the custom of the day requesting Boaz to accept and implement the obligation of a near kinsman. The response of Boaz when he awoke at midnight to find a woman sharing the coverlet and lying at his feet was that of surprise. ‘Who art thou?’ he exclaimed, 3. 9. Boaz understood what was taking place but at that time did not know who was making the approach. Ruth then speaks and Boaz’ response reveals his love for her and his acceptance of the request being made, ’Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter … now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman’, 3. 10, 11.
To be continued.
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