|Source: The Illustrated Bible, David C Cook Publishing,|
Elgin, Illinois, 1989
Ruth is a narrative describing events leading up to the marriage of a pair of King David's ancestors, Boaz and Ruth. It begins with the widowhood of Ruth, her mother-in-law Naomi, and her sister-in-law Orpah, how Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem, Ruth meets up with Boaz, and (spoiler alert) they get married and start a family.
OK, you say, Ruth is about, well, Ruth.
Yes it is. It also is about Boaz. His integrity shows throughout this short account and the principles behind them are a good examples to us today. Here are three of them:
Boaz brought God with him to work
Boaz owns a field and it is is harvest time. He has hired reapers to help with the harvest and they are on the job. Chapter 2 verse 4 reads, "And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, "The LORD be with you!" And they answered, "The LORD bless you." In this scene, I imagine a God-centered entrepreneur meeting his associates and greeting them with joy and a smile. His attitude is contagious and those who work for him respond in kind, perhaps because the worker - employee relationship is good.
It may be impractical for us to go to work the next day and say in a loud, enthusiastic voice, "The LORD be with you!" Instead, we can bring our enthusiasm and God's light shining through us. It will be noticed.
About 20 years ago I worked for a small business on the north side of Indianapolis. The owner, made it a point every day to say "hello" to each person. His sincerity is something I've not forgotten.
Boaz followed not only the letter of the Scriptures, but also the spirit behind them
After the greeting, Boaz asks about Ruth and why she is there. The keyword here is "glean." One way the poor were provided for in this era was by them being allowed to gather grain from corners or borders of fields, They could also pickup stalks and sheaves either dropped or left behind.
Leviticus 19:9-10 - When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave the for the poor and for the sojourner; I am the LORD your God.
Deuteronomy 24:19 - When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in the work of your hands.Ruth is gleaning. Boaz responds by making sure she does so successfully and safely. In reading the account, we see that he goes beyond the requirement of the law to make sure Ruth and Naomi have their food needs met. He also provides willingly, not begrudgingly. He even provides lunch in chapter 2 verse 14!
How do we consider God's counsel to us? Sometimes it is tempting to think of God as a cosmic kill-joy and His Bible as an oppressive list of "dos" and "don'ts." Do we do just the minimum to stay on God's good side? Or do we go above and beyond because the Bible is not a contract in which to find loopholes but instead a promise to embrace?
Boaz acted obediently even when he didn't know what the outcome would be
As Boaz and Ruth move toward marriage, I see a lot of mutual respect they have for each other, so hooray! Time to get married and live happily ever after. Something is in the way, though. As a widow without children, and with Naomi's land either up for sale or already sold, Old Testament law and custom (Deuteronomy 25:5) provides that the nearest relative has the first opportunity for the redemption. While this may seem strange today, this is a good provision to make sure land stays in the family and that widows are given the opportunity to have children.
Boaz is not first in line, so he has an ethical decision to make. He could risk losing Ruth to another man. Maybe he could just not worry about what the Scriptures say. It is old and out of date, anyway. Besides, he has a fine reputation, nobody is going to say anything if he bends the rules just this once...
Instead, Boaz reaches out to the man and as it turns out, the man chooses to pass on the land and the marriage of Ruth. Boaz, having done his due diligence, quickly announces his intentions to the town witnesses. They respond with praise and good wishes.
We have the advantage of being New Testament readers in the 21st century, so we know how events will turn out. Boaz did not. He didn't think to himself, "hey, I'm in a Bible story here, it is all good!" He chose to follow God's plan, but he did not know what the result would be. As it turns out, a few generations later, King David would be born!
That trust is not easy. My problem is that I trust God so much that I know His ways our not my ways and His plans are not necessarily my own. I may not get the result I like. I need to trust more, knowing that His plans are better than my own. Oh to have that kind of faith to trust the Bible, even and especially when I don't know what that will bring!
Worth noting are the times in which this is happening. The book of Ruth starts, "In the days when the judges ruled...." Historically, it was a morally and politically difficult time for the nation of Israel. Despite their circumstances, Ruth and Boaz faithfully trusted in God and it showed in what they said and did.
It is a morally and politically difficult time for us today as well. Despite that, knowing God through His Bible and acting accordingly is not in vain. While that does not necessarily mean that a great King will be one of our descendants, one who is greater than King David, Jesus, is on His throne and is faithful, and we can trust Him with the results.