Thursday, August 25, 2011

Caring for One Another

As we continue the case study in community using Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz as an example we move from chapter 2 to chapter 4 of the book of Ruth. In our last lesson we found that Ruth sought grace when she went out to glean in the fields. She happened to glean in the fields of Boaz, a near kinsman, who granted her many courtesies while she remained humble. She worked from morning til evening and took home almost a bushel of barley. Boaz told Ruth to continue to glean in his fields instead of traveling from field-to-field as was the custom of the average gleaners. She gleaned in his fields throughout the barley harvest and the wheat harvest remaining close to his handmaidens and behind the young men/reapers who had been ordered not to touch her and to purposely drop additional harvest for her to glean.

In chapter 3 Ruth might be thought to have changed her morals. However, she is following the instructions given her by Naomi to claim Boaz as a husband. Ruth is essentially proposing marriage to Boaz. Naomi did not have an interest in becoming married. She was interested in finding a husband for Ruth and Boaz was a near kinsman who she felt had the right of redemption. Naomi knew that Boaz was an old man and would not take advantage of Ruth, a virtuous woman. When he found Ruth at his feet during the night and she requested he cover her with his protective skirt, he blessed her. Boaz was impressed and stated he would marry her, but there was a kinsman nearer to Elimelech and Mahlon (Naomi and Ruth's deceased husbands) who had first right of redemption. There was a Jewish custom called the Levirate Law which called for the nearest relative (apparently inside or outside the immediate family) to be next in line to marry a woman whose husband had died. 'If brethren dwell together, and one of them die, and have no child, the wife of the dead shall not marry without unto a stranger: her husband's brother shall go in unto her, and take her to him to wife, and perform the duty of an husband's brother unto her. And it shall be, that the firstborn which she beareth shall succeed in the name of his brother which is dead, that his name be not put out of Israel.' (Deut 25: 5,6). Boaz admired Ruth for not following after the young men, whether they were rich or poor, but following God's law and marrying the near kinsman, even if he is old. Ruth's overnight stay with Boaz did accomplish its purpose. They were conditionally engaged. As part of his promise to marry her he placed six measures of barley in her veil/apron. She went home and Naomi was curious as to whether her plan worked. Ruth faithfully reported everything that had happened. Naomi told her to be still for Boaz would not rest until he had taken care of the situation on that day.

Our lesson is focused on the climax of the Ruth story, specifically Ruth 4:1-10. 'Then went Boaz up to the gate, and sat him down there: and, behold, the kinsman of whom Boaz spake came by; ... and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders ... And they sat down.' (Ruth 4:1a,1c,2a,2c) We are not given the name of the "nearest relative" of Naomi's, but Boaz came to the city gate - a place where legal decisions were traditionally made in a kind of open-court setting. But here there was no judge, because it was a situation calling only for credible witnesses. It may be that Boaz called the meeting as he was a mighty man of wealth and the grandson of Nashon, prince of Judah. It was here that Boaz summoned this relative with whom he wished to reach an agreement.

Boaz began the meeting at the gate by advising the near kinsman that Naomi had returned from Moab, had a parcel of land that belonged to their kinsman and her deceased husband Elimelech, and gave him the right to redeem it. (Ruth 4:3-5) These verses may be difficult to understand. There was some question as to whether or not Naomi, as the spouse of deceased, owned any property. 'And thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel, saying, If a man die, and have no son, then ye shall cause his inheritance to pass unto his daughter. And if he have no daughter, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his brethren. And if he have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his father's brethren. And if his father have no brethren, then ye shall give his inheritance unto his kinsman that is next to him of his family, and he shall possess it: and it shall be unto the children of Israel a statute of judgment, as the Lord commanded Moses.' (Numbers 27:8-11) Then there was the question of why Ruth had to struggle, gleaning in the fields, if Naomi owned property. One theory is that when the famine came upon the land, driving Naomi and Elimelech out of the country, it also forced them to mortgage the property to purchase necessities. Whatever the theory, it was all in God's plan and Boaz declared that Naomi had a parcel of land that belonged to her late husband, Elimilech, and wished to sell it.

The nearer kinsman responded '...I will redeem it.' (Ruth 4:4c) To that Boaz inquired as to the day the kinsman wished to buy the inheritance from Naomi as '...thou must buy it also of Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the dead, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance.' (Ruth 4:5b) The kinsman was willing to redeem the property from Naomi, the widow who had no desire to marry and there would be no likelihood of children. The kinsman was not willing to also redeem the property from Ruth, the Moabitess, wife of Mahlon, to marry her and raise up his name with children through his inheritance. 'And the kinsman said, I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I mar mine own inheritance...' (Ruth 4:6a) He refused, explaining that such a move would jeopardize his own inheritance. Jewish law provided for a near kinsman to marry a widow, but the inheritance would go to the man's son, not the new husband. And the name of the near kinsman continued to be unknown as he chose not to mar his own inheritance instead of choosing to do the service of redemption in accordance with God's divine law.

A customary manner of refusal accepted as a testimony in Israel concerning redemption and changing for confirmation of agreements would be where one party takes off his shoe and gives it to the other party in front of witnesses. The near kinsman took off his shoe and relinquished his right of redemption to Boaz by saying '...Buy it for thee...' (Ruth 4:8) Boaz immediately performed his promise to Ruth. He announced to the elders and the people that they were witnesses that he had bought '...all that was Elimelech's, ... Chilion's and Mahlon's, of the hand of Naomi. Moreover Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of Mahlon, have I purchased to be my wife, to raise up the name of the dead upon his inheritance, that the name of the dead be not cut off from among his brethren, and from the gate of his place...(Ruth 4:9,10) Because Boaz did this honor to the dead as well as to the living, God brought him into the genealogy of Christ.

The union would yield a son named Obed. 'So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife: and when he went in unto her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. And the women said unto Naomi, Blessed be the Lord, which hath not left thee this day without a kinsman, that his name may be famous in Israel. And he shall be unto thee a restorer of thy life, and a nourisher of thine old age: for thy daughter-in-law, which loveth thee, which is better to thee than seven sons, hath born him.' (Ruth 4:13-15) Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:17)

God uses people of all origins to implement His divine program. In today's case study in community caring for one another, we see how a caring, spiritual, wealthy, compassionate, generous, responsible, business man was brought into the geneology of Christ.

How are you used of God to implement His divine program?

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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