Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Depending on Community

It was the beginning of the barley harvest, the season of firstfruits, when Naomi and Ruth, the Moabitess, returned from Moab and arrived in Bethlehem. Both were widows, Naomi elderly and Ruth in her youth. It was during the period of the judges, although Scripture does not reveal which judge God raised. There was no welfare system, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc. There was, however, a directive in the Books of Law concerning provision for the poor. In harvesting the field, God commanded the landowner to leave some grain for the poor and strangers. 'And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger: I am the Lord your God' (Lev 19:9,10). Field crops and grapes are given as an example. Today's lesson will be devoted to Ruth 2:8-18. It is a review of the obligation under the Law to care for the needy and how the poor depend on the community.

Naomi and Ruth were officially poor, and were therefore permitted to pick a harvest field - any harvest field - and gather the droppings of those hired servants employed to gather the crops. From the outset upon arriving in Bethlehem, Ruth demonstrated her dedication by volunteering to glean in the fields so that the two women might sustain themselves. Ruth asks permission of Naomi to go to the fields to glean. (Ruth 2:2b) She is not asking Naomi to go with her as she intends to labor for the both of them. She is not saying if you go glean Naomi, I will go glean. She honors Naomi by asking permission to glean by herself and in Naomi's stead. Ruth, in all humility, does not say she was raised better. She does not say I am going back home to Moab where there is food. She immediately arises to the task at hand instead of procastinating and not working at all. Ruth intends to glean where she may find grace. And Naomi '...said unto her, Go, my daughter.' (Ruth 2:2c)

It just so happened that Ruth went out alone, without a guide in a foreign land, to glean in the field after the reapers and she happened to be on the fields of Boaz (Ruth 2:3). She just casually chose this field and knew not why. Boaz was a kinsman of Naomi's deceased husband, Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1,3) He was a mighty man of wealth. His name means "in him is strength". His grandfather was Nashon, the prince of Judah in the wilderness. His mother was Rahab, the saved harlot, who assisted the two spies for Joshua. His father was Salmon.

On this day, Boaz just so happened to choose to visit this particular field that he owned. He had an overseer and there was no need for Boaz to be there to watch over the work and meat. However, he approached the reapers with a blessing and they returned it in kind. '...The Lord be with you. And they answered him, The Lord bless thee.' (Ruth 2:4) He had a good relationship with his workers. It was good for them to see him. Then Boaz happened to notice Ruth. Of course, "happenings" like this almost always come from God.

Boaz went to the overseer to inquire of Ruth '...Whose damsel is this?' (Ruth 2:5) The servant over the reapers gave an overview of Ruth's history, arrival, and presence as '...It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country, of Moab:...,I pray you, let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves: so she came, and hath continued...,the morning until now, except that she tarried a little in the house.' (Ruth 2:6,7) Boaz knew immediately that Ruth, the damsel, had shown favor to Naomi, the deceased widow of his kinsman Elimelech.

He began to extend more than common courtesy. He welcomed her to glean in his fields. Further, Boaz admonished Ruth not to leave his fields for any reason, but abide in his field close to his maidens. (Ruth 2:8) This was significant, because under normal circumstances those gleaning in the fields would move from one field to another. Boaz also issued directives to the young men in his employ not to touch her. And Ruth was allowed to drink water from his own water supply which was drawn by the young men. (Ruth 2:9)

Ruth did not react as if she had hit the jackpot. She was humbled and completely taken by surprise. She bowed down and wondered aloud how it was that such a notable citizen as Boaz would find grace in his eyes since she was a stranger. Ruth 2:10) But Ruth had requested grace (verse 2) when she first stated she was going to glean the fields. He commended her for her dutiful respect to Naomi, of whom he had heard, 'It hath fully been shewn me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband.' (Ruth 2:11b) Note, Those that do well ought to have the praise of it. Naomi had been blessed, and Boaz was impressed. But that which especially he commended her for was that she had left her own country, and had become a proselyte to the Jewish religion. ' thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people which thou knewest not...' (Ruth 2:11c) He prayed that the Lord of Israel compensate her fully for her work and she receive a full reward because she chose to be under His wings. She trusted Him. (Ruth 2:12)

Ruth was facing one of the most influential men in Bethlehem, and she felt as if she were a nobody. At Ruth 2:13 she stated '...Let me find favour in thy sight, my lord; for that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaiden, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens.' (Ruth 2:13) Ruth does not know that Boaz is a kinsman of Naomi, but she does know that she is a Moabitess. As such she knows she is not like the other handmaidens. Those that are great, and in high places, know not how much good they may do to their inferiors with a kind look or by speaking friendly to them. Ruth sees the favors and the comforts given by Boaz and is taken aback. But she clearly believes she is beneath Boaz's servants. The combination of her humility and sincerity paid off. He was so impressed with her that he invited her to come at mealtime and eat with the reapers (Ruth 2:14). In fact, he reached her parched corn (grain), and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left (Ruth 2:14). She only ate until she was satisfied because she had work to do following the meal. Boaz instructed the reapers/young men to leave extra grain and not to reproach or rebuke her. She was allowed to go in areas that some landowners might label the gleaners as thieves. This was part of Boaz's guarantee that Ruth would not need to visit any other harvest fields.

'So she gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned; and it was about an ephah of barley.' (Ruth 2:17) A ephah is an ancient Hebrew unit of dry measure equivalent to approximately one bushel. That was more than a good day's work. It was more than enough for herself and Naomi to eat. Ruth did not permit prosperity to change her demeanor. She still worked until it was night. And Ruth did not ask anyone to help her to beat it out after she gleaned it. Neither did she request assistance in carrying it home. Scripture does not reveal any manner of transportation. It simply says '... she took it up, and went into the city...'(Ruth 2:18a) It does not say that she lingered along the way, talked with someone she met at Boaz's fields, etc. When it was time to leave work, Ruth went directly home to Naomi.

'...and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned: and she brought forth, and gave to her that she had reserved after she was sufficed. And her mother-in-law said unto her, Where hast thou gleaned today? and where wroughtest thou? blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee...' (Ruth 2:18b, 19a) As soon as Naomi saw the result of Ruth's gleanings, she knew the blessing of the Lord had been bestowed upon them through Ruth's diligent work. She wanted to know where Ruth had gleaned that day. Before Ruth could answer, Naomi had already issued a blessing on the person used as a vessel of God to bless them.

Ruth told Naomi the particulars of her day, Boaz's courtesies to her, and how she was to return to his fields to continue to glean. (Ruth 2:19b,21) Naomi informed Ruth that Boaz was a kinsman (Ruth 2:20) and had not withheld his kindness. He was kind now with the living as he was with her deceased husband and sons. '...Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not withheld his kindness to the living and to the dead.' (Ruth 2:20b) So Naomi advised Ruth to abide with Boaz's maidens (Ruth 2:22; cf Ruth 2:8). Boaz advised her to abide close to the maidens. Ruth was a virtuous woman and there would be no questions asked as she would not be abiding close with the young men. At verse 21 Ruth is to stay close for work purposes, to glean the fields. The young men were instructed by Boaz at verse 9 not to touch her. 'So she kept close by the maidens of Boaz to glean until the end of barley harvest and of wheat harvest, and dwelt with her mother-in-law.' (Ruth 2:23)

Where have you gleaned today? What improvements have you made in knowledge and grace? How will it affect your account before the Lord? Do you believe you are obligated to care for the needy?

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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