November 19, 2017

A Taste of Fullness

Ruth and Boaz Meet, Chagall

By Chaplain Mike

Ordinary Time Bible Study 2011
The Book of Ruth (9)

We missed a week in our Ruth study and this morning it is time to go back to Bethlehem to find out what is happening.

What have we seen so far?

  • A family from Israel, forced to move to Moab in a time of famine, suffered unimaginable loss. Elimelech, the family patriarch, and his two sons died, leaving Naomi and two daughters-in-law bereft.
  • Naomi decided to return to Israel. One daughter-in-law was persuaded to stay in Moab to rebuild her life, but the other — Ruth — insisted on returning with Naomi, showing a spirit of extraordinary faith and love.
  • Back in Bethlehem, God had blessed his people with harvest, and Ruth took the initiative of going out to the fields to take advantage of laws that allowed the poor to glean from a portion of the fields. She found herself in the field of a man named Boaz, who turned out to be a relative of Naomi’s. He showed extraordinary kindness to her and commended her for her faith and loyalty to her mother-in-law.

Let us go back out into Boaz’s fields and continue to observe Ruth at work and the further encounters she has with Boaz.

Wheat Field, Van Gogh

Ruth 2:14-23
Later during the mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and have some food! Dip your bread in the vinegar!” So she sat down beside the harvesters. Then he handed her some roasted grain. She ate until she was full and saved the rest. When she got up to gather grain, Boaz told his male servants, “Let her gather grain even among the bundles! Don’t chase her off! Make sure you pull out ears of grain for her and drop them so she can gather them up. Don’t tell her not to!” So she gathered grain in the field until evening. When she threshed what she had gathered, it came to about thirty pounds of barley!

She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much grain she had gathered. Then Ruth gave her the roasted grain she had saved from mealtime. Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you gather grain today? Where did you work? May the one who took notice of you be rewarded!” So Ruth told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked. She said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be rewarded by the Lord because he has shown loyalty to the living on behalf of the dead!” Then Naomi said to her, “This man is a close relative of ours; he is our guardian.” Ruth the Moabite replied, “He even told me, ‘You may go along beside my servants until they have finished gathering all my harvest!’” Naomi then said to her daughter-in-law Ruth, “It is good, my daughter, that you should go out to work with his female servants. That way you will not be harmed, which could happen in another field.”

So Ruth worked beside Boaz’s female servants, gathering grain until the end of the barley harvest as well as the wheat harvest. After that she stayed home with her mother-in-law.

The second half of chapter two describes what happened at mealtime and throughout the rest of the day for Ruth as she gleaned grain in Boaz’s field. It concludes with Ruth taking her harvest home and having a conversation with Naomi.

In a summary from our last study, we noted, “The subtle and intricate descriptions and conversations in this chapter establish the characters of Ruth and Boaz as people of extraordinary initiative, kindness, and integrity. Ruth exemplifies a spirit of faith and courage, Boaz of concern and generosity.” The meal scene focuses even more on Boaz and the kind, generous love he showed to this poor, foreign woman who was working to care for her mother-in-law.

  • Welcome to the table! — Boaz invites Ruth to the midday meal the workers enjoyed. The exact nature of this meal is unclear — Did Boaz provide food for his hired workers? Was Boaz sharing some of his own meal with Ruth at a table where everyone brought their own? Whatever the case, Ruth was graciously welcomed at a meal she probably had no expectation of sharing.
  • Take an honored seat! — The text highlights that Ruth sat beside the harvesters. Her social rank — one of the poor, a woman, a Moabite (!), one of the lowly gleaners — was overlooked and she was treated as one of the “insiders.”
  • Share our food! — Boaz invites her to share in the common elements of the meal. She wasn’t just given a plate of food and then left to herself. She was invited to fully participate at the table by dipping her bread in the common bowl and partaking of what was provided for all. On top of that, Boaz even shared some food personally with her, giving her more than enough to enjoy — she took a good size doggie bag home too! (2:18)
  • Provide for her and protect her! — After the meal, Boaz gave secret instructions to the foremen in the fields. He told them to intentionally provide additional grain for her by allowing her to glean among the harvesters and not just in the corners of the fields, by pulling out grain and intentionally dropping it on the ground where she could retrieve it, and by making sure none of the other workers in the fields hindered her or bothered her.

Winnowing Barley

What extraordinary attention that Boaz gave to Ruth! The chapter concludes by focusing our attention on the results of her day’s work.

  • The beginning of fullness — For the first time in the book, we read the antonym of the word, “empty.” In 2:14, the text says that Ruth was “filled” or satisfied by the food she received at the midday meal with the workers. One who had come to Bethlehem empty (1:21) was beginning to taste the fullness of God’s blessing.
  • Provision beyond expectation — The story tells us that Ruth’s harvest for the day ended up being about an ephah of barley. The NetBible translation above reveals the significance of this ancient measurement: at the end of one day, Ruth had gleaned about thirty pounds of barley! This was the equivalent of somewhere between a half-month to a month’s worth of wages in a single day’s work! In 2:12, Boaz had said to her, “May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!” If she had received so much in one day, what on earth would “full repayment” look like?
  • Hope for the future — Naomi is surprised to learn that the man who had so generously provided for them was Boaz. Her words of praise upon hearing this echo Abraham’s servant’s words in Genesis 24:27, when he found success in his mission to find a bride for Isaac. Robert Alter has noted that this scene in Ruth, like that earlier narrative, conforms to the conventions of a Hebrew literary type, the betrothal scene. By using this form, the author points the expectations of those listening to this story in the direction of a possible marriage. Naomi reinforces this with her announcement that Boaz is a “kinsman-redeemer” (gō’ēl), a relative with certain responsibilities to take care of his fellow clan members in times of need.

The Kinsman-Redeemer
Leviticus 25 sets forth regulations regarding matters of redemption in Sabbatical years, in the Year of Jubilee, and more generally. If clan members lost or sold property out of economic necessity, the gō’ēl had a duty to buy it back to maintain the clan’s inheritance. If a clan member had to sell himself into slavery to pay off debts, the gō’ēl could redeem him. The gō’ēl also had responsibility to avenge the killing of relatives, to receive restitution for injustices, and to assist clan members in need of justice for other matters. Possibilities also included marrying widowed members of the clan to raise up heirs.

These examples are not exhaustive, but representative of the principle that in Israel, family wholeness and well being was a priority to be preserved.

This is the deeper issue in the Book of Ruth. Naomi and Ruth’s poverty was a severe short-term crisis, but the ultimate question to be resolved is: What will become of their family?

Naomi’s joy in learning that Boaz is a near relative opens up the possibility that he will find a way to reverse the fortunes of the two widows and restore the wholeness and fullness of their household (thus giving them “rest” — see 1:9).

But for now, the hungry are fed, the strangers are welcomed, those without hope begin to glimpse a brighter future.

• • •

They wandered in the wilderness in a desolate way;
They found no city to dwell in.
Hungry and thirsty,
Their soul fainted in them.
Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
And He delivered them out of their distresses.
And He led them forth by the right way,
That they might go to a city for a dwelling place.
Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness,
And for His wonderful works to the children of men!
For He satisfies the longing soul,
And fills the hungry soul with goodness.

Psalm 107:4-9 (NKJV)

Comments

  1. “But for now, the hungry are fed, the strangers are welcomed, those without hope begin to glimpse a brighter future.”

    That’s the gospel.

    Thank you.

    • Yes!

      Great stuff, CM. There’s so many directions this message takes me…wedding feast, Eucharist, etc. Thanks for painting a great picture for us this morning!

  2. I am touched by Naomi’s continued “mothering” of Ruth, as well…”Stay with the women so none of the other men try to harrass you or take advantage of you!” In the midst of all these gifts there remains a need for everyday caution and precautions…

  3. I have always cringed to confess what I am about to tell you, but now I think perhaps I had the spirit of Boaz…

    After reading a story in our local newspaper about an elderly couple who walked up and down a certain highway every day gathering aluminum cans to take to the recycling plant as a way of augmenting their small, fixed income, a work colleague of mine suggested that instead of recycling our own aluminum cans we bag them all up and give the bags to the elderly couple. I replied that the couple were not looking for charity but had found an honorable way to support themselves, so what we ought to do was gather up all our aluminum cans and strew them along that particular highway….

    Thank you for doing this study in the Book of Ruth, Chaplain Mike.