Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Ruth and Anna. Wanting: to serve and glorify

Ruth. (As a digression, my first encounter with the name Ruth was in Swallows and Amazons, where the character Nancy was actually called Ruth but had been renamed by her uncle as Nancy, because Nancy was an Amazon and a pirate - and pirates are ruthless...).

Her name means friend, companion. She was a true friend to - of all unlikely people - her mother-in-law, Naomi.

Naomi (whose name means 'pleasantness'), together with her husband Elimelech (whose name means 'My God is King') was from Bethlehem - the town which was to become known as the city of (King) David. There was famine in Israel, so Elimelech took his wife and two sons to Moab, where they settled. (It has been suggested that understanding the meaning of the names in the book of Ruth point to the book being an allegory for God's saving grace towards us. Read more here.)

Moab became home.

But then Elimelech - Naomi's strength and protector - died. Naomi was left with her two sons Mahlon and Kilion, whose very names mean sickly and failing or unsuccessful. The sons married: not Hebrew girls, as Naomi might have preferred, but Moabite women.

Perhaps, initially, this was acceptable to Naomi. She was, after all, far from home though there must have been other Hebrew refugees, fleeing from famine. But ten years went by, with no children appearing in either marriage. No grandchildren to gladden Naomi's heart and bring meaning to her widowhood.

Then her sons, living up to their names, took ill and died.

She was alone in a foreign land.

This was now too much for Naomi. Hearing that famine in Israel had ended, she decided to leave and go back home.

Life was not turning out for Naomi as she would have hoped. Losing her husband was bad enough, but now her sons too? Yet she didn't just stay and sink into decline, but made a proactive decision to return to where she came from.

One of many lessons Naomi teaches: not just to stay and wallow in depressing thoughts when disaster and misfortune arrive in life, but to be proactive and return to where I come from. To the place where I have history, connections, where I am known. To return to Jesus, where I can be at home because I am totally known, loved and accepted.

Naomi teaches me courage, too. Because, after only a short while on the journey to Bethlehem, Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to leave her to go on alone:
 “Go back. Go home and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!”

She kissed them and they cried openly.

They didn't want to leave her, but she insisted, even though she would be making the journey alone.

"But Naomi was firm: “Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I’m too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, ‘There’s still hope!’ and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow.”
Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye;"

But this story is not so much about Naomi, but about Ruth: "but Ruth embraced her and held on."

Ruth's devotion. Ruth's faithfulness. Ruth's love.

"Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people and gods; go with her.”
But Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I’ll die, and that’s where I’ll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!”
When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem."

And then they settled there. The bitter woman and her foreign daughter-in-law - which must, in itself, have been strange: for what girl would not prefer to stay with her own mother?

And so we see Ruth's humility, going out almost as a beggar to gather grain for bread; then expressing humble thanks to Boaz.
And we see the beginning of this romantic love story:
"It so happened that Naomi had a relative by marriage, a man prominent and rich, connected with Elimelech’s family. His name was Boaz.

One day Ruth, the Moabite foreigner, said to Naomi, “I’m going to work; I’m going out to glean among the sheaves, following after some harvester who will treat me kindly.”

Naomi said, “Go ahead, dear daughter.”

And so she set out. She went and started gleaning in a field, following in the wake of the harvesters. Eventually she ended up in the part of the field owned by Boaz, her father-in-law Elimelech’s relative. A little later Boaz came out from Bethlehem, greeting his harvesters, “God be with you!” They replied, “And Godbless you!”

Boaz asked his young servant who was foreman over the farm hands, “Who is this young woman? Where did she come from?”

The foreman said, “Why, that’s the Moabite girl, the one who came with Naomi from the country of Moab. She asked permission. ‘Let me glean,’ she said, ‘and gather among the sheaves following after your harvesters.’ She’s been at it steady ever since, from early morning until now, without so much as a break.”

Then Boaz spoke to Ruth: “Listen, my daughter. From now on don’t go to any other field to glean—stay right here in this one. And stay close to my young women. Watch where they are harvesting and follow them. And don’t worry about a thing; I’ve given orders to my servants not to harass you. When you get thirsty, feel free to go and drink from the water buckets that the servants have filled.”

10 She dropped to her knees, then bowed her face to the ground. “How does this happen that you should pick me out and treat me so kindly—me, a foreigner?”

Boaz answered her, “I’ve heard all about you—heard about the way you treated your mother-in-law after the death of her husband, and how you left your father and mother and the land of your birth and have come to live among a bunch of total strangers. God reward you well for what you’ve done—and with a generous bonus besides from God, to whom you’ve come seeking protection under his wings.”

She said, “Oh sir, such grace, such kindness—I don’t deserve it. You’ve touched my heart, treated me like one of your own. And I don’t even belong here!”

At the lunch break, Boaz said to her, “Come over here; eat some bread. Dip it in the wine.”

So she joined the harvesters. Boaz passed the roasted grain to her. She ate her fill and even had some left over.

When she got up to go back to work, Boaz ordered his servants: “Let her glean where there’s still plenty of grain on the ground—make it easy for her. Better yet, pull some of the good stuff out and leave it for her to glean. Give her special treatment.”
Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. When she threshed out what she had gathered, she ended up with nearly a full sack of barley! She gathered up her gleanings, went back to town, and showed her mother-in-law the results of her day’s work; she also gave her the leftovers from her lunch.

Naomi asked her, “So where did you glean today? Whose field? God bless whoever it was who took such good care of you!”

Ruth told her mother-in-law, “The man with whom I worked today? His name is Boaz.”
Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Why, God bless that man! God hasn’t quite walked out on us after all! He still loves us, in bad times as well as good!”

Naomi went on, “That man, Ruth, is one of our circle of covenant redeemers, a close relative of ours!”

Ruth the Moabitess said, “Well, listen to this: He also told me, ‘Stick with my workers until my harvesting is finished.’”

Naomi said to Ruth, “That’s wonderful, dear daughter! Do that! You’ll be safe in the company of his young women; no danger now of being raped in some stranger’s field.”

So Ruth did it—she stuck close to Boaz’s young women, gleaning in the fields daily until both the barley and wheat harvesting were finished. And she continued living with her mother-in-law.
Did Ruth dream of this kind man, who had offered her protection and looked after her? Did she go gladly to spend those days in back-breaking labour, in the hope of glimpsing her benefactor? Did she secretly study him, memorising his features to treasure inside her heart?
One day her mother-in-law Naomi said to Ruth, “My dear daughter, isn’t it about time I arranged a good home for you so you can have a happy life? And isn’t Boaz our close relative, the one with whose young women you’ve been working? Maybe it’s time to make our move. Tonight is the night of Boaz’s barley harvest at the threshing floor.

“Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until the party is well under way and he’s had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He’ll tell you what to do.”

Ruth said, “If you say so, I’ll do it, just as you’ve told me.”
She went down to the threshing floor and put her mother-in-law’s plan into action.

And was she glad? Resigned? Needful of a husband - any husband? Was she sure of his heart, because she had seen him watching her when he thought no one was looking, and she knew him for his integrity and compassion? Or was she afraid: afraid of making herself vulnerable, afraid of the shame she risked, afraid of others' scorn and enmity? And, perhaps, even afraid that he would, under the influence of alcohol, betray her trust and take yoof her? A tiny voice inside her which would say: "He's due some payment for his kindness... you are, after all, a widow and no young maiden."

She was a foreigner, a poor widow, subsisting on the generosity of others.

Boaz had a good time, eating and drinking his fill—he felt great. Then he went off to get some sleep, lying down at the end of a stack of barley. Ruth quietly followed; she lay down to signal her availability for marriage.

In the middle of the night the man was suddenly startled and sat up. Surprise! This woman asleep at his feet!

He said, “And who are you?”
She said, “I am Ruth, your maiden; take me under your protecting wing. You’re my close relative, you know, in the circle of covenant redeemers—you do have the right to marry me.”

He said, “God bless you, my dear daughter! What a splendid expression of love! And when you could have had your pick of any of the young men around. And now, my dear daughter, don’t you worry about a thing; I’ll do all you could want or ask. Everybody in town knows what a courageous woman you are—a real prize! You’re right, I am a close relative to you, but there is one even closer than I am. So stay the rest of the night. In the morning, if he wants to exercise his customary rights and responsibilities as the closest covenant redeemer, he’ll have his chance; but if he isn’t interested, as God lives, I’ll do it. Now go back to sleep until morning.”

Ruth slept at his feet until dawn, but she got up while it was still dark and wouldn’t be recognized. Then Boaz said to himself, “No one must know that Ruth came to the threshing floor.”

So Boaz said, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and spread it out.”

She spread it out and he poured it full of barley, six measures, and put it on her shoulders. Then she went back to town.

When she came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “And how did things go, my dear daughter?”

Ruth told her everything that the man had done for her, adding, “And he gave me all this barley besides—six quarts! He told me, ‘You can’t go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law!’”

Naomi said, “Sit back and relax, my dear daughter, until we find out how things turn out; that man isn’t going to fool around. Mark my words, he’s going to get everything wrapped up today.”


No comments:

Post a Comment