Rubies from Ruth
2009-10-07 – “Living in chaotic times”
We’re going to start a series that will dip into the book of Ruth. It is a powerful story of faith in the midst of trouble and having solid character during uncertainty. I hope you’ll enjoy it.
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
Even scholars who are not theologians consider Ruth to be a literary gem. It is a beautifully written account of the life of one of a few women whose names feature in the genealogy of Christ.
Today we look at the circumstances that form the background of the story…
1. It was the time that the judges ruled. Twice in the book of judges we read that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”
2. “Bethlehem” meant “House of Bread” but the famine meant that there was no bread.
3. The Moabites descended from one of the sons Lot had by his daughters and were bitter enemies of the Israelites.
4. “Elimelech” means “My God is King” but Elimelech had no bread in the House of Bread and went to the land of his enemies where he died and his sons married heathen women.
5. “Mahlon” means “sickness/unfruitfulness” and “Kilion” means “weakness” and these names became their epitaphs.
So, in the midst of these tough circumstances the question is whether Elimelech’s God really is King and whether there is a future for his family line. But the end of the book tells us that King David came from this family line and the gospels tell us that Christ came from this family line!
Often we find ourselves living in chaotic times and it seems as though the promises of God are failing. People are frail and disappoint us and we find ourselves ready to doubt and to give up. But the story of Ruth is a powerful testimony of how God works in situations where hope seems to have left the building. Keep reading…!
2009-10-08 – “Love who you have”
Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” (Ruth1:8-10)
If you read to the end of the chapter, you will know that Naomi calls herself “Mara” (bitter) because she feels that her life has become very bitter.
The behaviour of her daughters-in-law tells a very different story…
We all know the infamous mother-in-law jokes. It is therefore surprising to see that the daughters stay with Naomi even after their husbands die. It is even more striking to learn that they are both willing to go back with Naomi to Bethlehem – especially as the Jews and Moabites weren’t too fond of each other!
After some very persuasive arguments Orpah decides to stay with her own family and people but Ruth cannot be convinced.
Although Naomi’s circumstances are bitter and although she has experienced much hardship, the behaviour of her daughters-in-law tell us that Naomi herself was not bitter and that she had mastered a key skill in the midst of hardship: Love the ones you have with you.
When our circumstances are hard, we are frustrated and disillusioned. Unfortunately we often lash out and take it out on the people close to us. Often they are not the cause of our pain, but we withdraw from them and neglect our relationships with them. Sometimes we even use them as scratching posts!
But God places these people in our lives for a couple of important reasons:
- They can support us and be our confidants
- They can pray for us
- They can be a blessed distraction
- They can even help us vent out our frustrations – as long as we do it _with_ them and not _at_ them.
- We can actively choose to pour love and care into them and it can do a lot for us.
Naomi must have done this because there is no other explanation as to why her in-law daughters would choose to stay with a foreign woman and even consider going back to foreign land with her instead of returning to the comfort of their own families and culture.
Are you under the pressure of some adverse circumstances?
Love the ones you have!
2009-10-09 – “Unselfish”
But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? (Ruth1:11)
Naomi has lost everything. Her home, her husband, her sons and her future. In the male-dominated culture of her day she could not own property and would need an immediate relative to marry her to take control of her late husband’s land rights back in Bethlehem.
But she was older – beyond child-bearing and so she had nothing to offer and yet her daughters were willing to stay with her. This would be her only “pension plan” and if she was interested in self-preservation she would hang on to these two daughters who would look after her into old age.
But Naomi does not think of herself. She thinks of what’s best for her daughters. So she tells them “Go home and start again among your own people.”
This is a very unselfish act. In a book that is short and punchy there are 10 verses devoted to Naomi trying to persuade her daughters-in-law to do the obvious and least risky thing.
This unselfish attitude in the midst of great loss is particularly noteworthy, because great loss often causes us to neglect others and focus exclusively on our own pain and misery and see the people around as pillars that we are entitled to lean on.
Naomi teaches us the one of the key ways to deal with pain is to keep the needs and best-interests of others at the forefront of our minds. We should do all we can to be other-centered – even when times are tough.
2009-10-13 – “Attractive Faith”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (Ruth1:16-17)
The Moabites worshipped other gods. Naomi was living in Moab. Her faith was a little candle in a lot of darkness. And, if we look at her statements in chapter one, it is a candle that has experienced the flickerings of doubt:
- In v.13 she says: “No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!”
- In v.:20 “Don’t call me Naomi, ” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.”
But in spite of a faith that has struggled through the difficulties of life, there is a depth and attractiveness to Naomi’s faith that results in real faith being born in the heart of Ruth.
In spite of the doubts that Naomi has, there is a winsomeness, a depth, and a grace that transcends the pain of circumstances and the shadows of doubt. Ruth has lived with Naomi. She has watched her through thick and thin. She has seen Naomi hang on to her faith, even when it has been very very difficult to believe. She has seen Naomi express her heartache to God and “tell it like it is” but still hang on to her faith.
Ruth sees a faith that is robust, a faith that isn’t just “what’s in it for me”, a faith that reaches, and a faith that endures.
Her conclusion: I want to believe in a God like that!
Just a note on Naomi’s statements: The Old Testament charts Israel’s developing understanding of God. It is a growing theology. Naomi and people of her time believed in the sovereignty of God to the extent that even trouble came from His hand. It would be the wrestling of Job, Ecclesiastes and later prophets that would lead them to understand that trouble came from the brokenness of sin in the world.
2009-10-14 – “Throwing our toys”
“Don’t call me Naomi, ” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth1:20-21)
(“Mara” means “bitter”)
The rest of the book of Ruth contradicts Naomi’s statements. She is not bitter in nature or character. She is not cynical and she has not given up on God. In fact, she praises Him, sees His fingerprints in the “co-incidents” of Ruth’s life and she (Mara?!?), with her new grandson, is the delight of the women of Bethlehem.
So what do we do with the tough statements of vv20-21?
I think returning to Bethlehem brought back the full impact of the losses that Naomi had been through. In that moment of loss and in the light of the theological framework of the time, Naomi – who believes that God is always in control – has to conclude that God is behind her pain and sorrow.
So she tells it like it is – she “spits it out” – the heartache and pain. She “throws her toys” and does not get struck with lightning.
With a clearer theology we understand that the free will we were given creates a space in which our brokenness affects us and the world around us. We understand that God is not the author of pain: rather, pain is the result of humanity’s bad choices. We also understand that God is still in control and while He is not the source of pain, He allows (and often limits) the effects of pain in our lives.
But there are times that we do not understand the pain that He has allowed in our lives. We struggle to wrap our minds and hearts around our pain, and as we struggle, we can _pretend,_ _disconnect_ or _engage._
To _pretend_ is to put on a fake face and pretend to be ok with what has happened. To _disconnect_ is to avoid God and try to avoid the pain. To _engage_ is to do what Naomi does, she blurts out her pain, she’s telling God that she’s not happy. She doesn’t get struck by lightning and somehow in the venting she discovers that that God has not abandoned her and has not forgotten her.
Over the years I have struggled with pastoral situations I have faced – I have come to God pretty angry at times and I’ve thrown my fair share of toys – I’ve come to God disappointed and angry and sad, blurting out “I’m not happy and this is NOT cool Lord – in fact, I’m pretty mad at You right now!!!” And like a little child hammering his fists against his daddy’s chest, my anger has turned to tears and my Father comforts me.
2009-10-15 – “Co-incidence?”
3 So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech. (Ruth2:3)
The last verse of chapter 1 reads: “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”
This verse marks the glimmer of hope that will develop through the rest of the story. Ruth and Naomi have nothing and have to start from scratch. Barley was seen as the “poor man’s wheat” and Ruth makes the decision to go gleaning in the fields. It was part of Old Testament custom that those who harvested crops were not allowed to rake up any ears of wheat/barley that fell to the ground while they were harvesting. This was a provision for the poor and destitute who were allowed to follow behind the harvesters and glean what had dropped on the ground. This gives us an indication of how dire Ruth and Naomi’s circumstances were.
Ruth decides to go and glean. It was a risky business for an attractive young woman – labourers could be abusive – especially because she was a foreigner.
But “AS IT TURNED OUT” Ruth found herself working on Boaz’s fields. There are three reasons why this is significant:
1. Boaz’s workers are not the kind to take advantage
2. Boaz is a near relative – this provided Ruth with an additional layer of protection.
3. We know that Boaz will see her and fall in love with her.
Sometimes God works in mysterious (one of my colleagues says “mischievous”) ways His wonders to perform.
There are times that we “just happen” to be at the right place at the right time to meet the right people. We look back on our lives and see that God has graciously been ordering our steps…
2009-10-16 – “A Godly Boss”
Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The LORD be with you!”
“The LORD bless you!” they called back. (Ruth2:4)
Boaz is a good man – a Godly man. He acts with integrity towards Ruth, he deals honestly at the city gates, he is highly regarded by Naomi and the towns-people and he is great-grandfather to the King David.
But even more importantly, he is a Godly boss. The book of Ruth portrays Boaz as a man who is loved and admired by his staff. He greets them with blessing and they eagerly respond back.
One might argue that his workers are just doing what the culture required. One could argue that Boaz was a fake, loudly calling out blessings on his workers just for show, and, because they knew what was good for them, the workers reciprocated by blessing him back.
There are a number of clues from the text that contradict this view. Here are just three:
- Boaz enjoys a good “chatting relationship” with his workers. (See v5-7 below) When he asks his foreman about the new “young woman” on the field, the foreman gives him more information than what is necessary. One might even argue that the foreman is match-making, bragging about how hard Ruth has worked all morning.
- Naomi is convinced that Ruth will be safe on Boaz’s fields. There is a level of morality and control in the way they do things and this speaks of the example that has been set for them.
- Boaz “flirts” with Ruth and then invites her to share his lunch with him in the presence of his harvesters. He does not consider himself better than them or exclude them from the beginning of his romance with Ruth.
The author of Ruth portrays Boaz as a man of integrity and Godliness – qualities which extend to those who work for him. May it be that we are people who sincerely wish God’s blessings on those who work for us and may it be that our integrity and care shines through in such a way that those who work for us sincerely wish God’s blessing on us.
5 Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Whose young woman is that?”
6 The foreman replied, “She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, `Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
2009-10-20 – “Tough and Tender”
Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Real men can’t be sensitive or tender – and cowboys don’t cry. Or so the saying goes…
What absolute rubbish!
Insensitivity isn’t a manly trait – it’s plain and simply a cowardly and lazy lack of thoughtful connection!
Boaz isn’t merely chatting up a pretty girl – his words are thoughtfully chosen on the basis of conclusions he has reached by considering the facts and putting himself in her shoes. He has reflected on the challenges she has faced and thoughtfully articulates the sacrifices she has made and the risks she has taken and commends her and pronounces blessing on her.
Was it effective?
Listen to her response: “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant…”
Men have a reputation for being insensitive – the truth is that most insensitivity has very little to do with gender and everything to do with laziness. Being sensitive to the needs of others requires that we put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand where they are and how they feel and to connect to them and offer encouraging words of solidarity and comfort.
Boaz is a successful man – a farmer, a boss and a respected clansman. In the culture of the day he could have treated Ruth like chattel – she needed him much more than he needed her. Instead, he treats her with dignity and respect and with thoughtful sensitivity.
2009-10-21 – “Spot the connections!”
“The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” (Ruth2:20)
Naomi continues to surprise us. Although she asks folk to call her “Mara” (bitter) this seems to only apply to her history and circumstances and not her nature.
When Ruth tells the story of her day, it is Naomi who spots the connections and is able to see the golden thread of God’s provision and guidance.
Very often God is at work in the commonplace and the mundane. Many people expect God to thunder and write on the wall. They want Him to lead them through parted seas with fiery cloudy pillars, but He is often at work in subtle and day-to-day ways.
Ruth “just so happened” to go to Boaz’s field, Boaz “happened” to notice her, and “it turned out” that he was a close relative who would be able to act as the Kinsman-Redeemer.
This is the “modus operandi” of God in the Books of Ruth and Esther and in a number of other Biblical accounts. Naomi is close enough to God and sensitive in her spirit to “spot the connections.”
We should also take time to “join the dots” of our circumstances and see the gracious provision of God and the guidance He gives.
But there must be a word of caution here: We can go too far in interpreting circumstances and spotting connections. There has to be a healthy balance as far as understanding that we live in a broken world where chaos and sin are predominate.
Not every set of circumstances are a message from God…
Our interpretation of life’s “open and closed doors” needs to be balanced by deep roots in Scriptural Truth, a healthy prayer life, and a wise panel of trusted common-sense God-fearing spiritual advisors.
2009-10-22 – “Fatalism or Activism”
2 Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.
9 “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” (Ruth3:2-3)
Naomi had seen God’s hand in leading Ruth to Boaz’s field. I find it interesting that although she recognised that God was at work, she did not encourage Ruth to sit back and do nothing.
Many people are fatalistic about God’s provision. Paul had to confront the Thessalonians who were so convinced that Jesus was coming soon that they gave up their jobs and sat around wondering whether “today was the day” while others had to feed their kids.
Wesley said: “Work as if everything depended on you and pray as if everything depended on God.”
Naomi would concur. Boaz was God’s man for the situation, but he would need to be asked. Ruth would have to ask him to be her kinsman-redeemer.
There are some who argue that the threshing floor was a place of immorality and that Ruth actually seduced Boaz there. This is conjecture based on Canaanite fertility practices of the time. It is more likely that Ruth impressed Boaz by the opposite behaviour. She was penniless and he was a good catch – some would argue that her only power was the power of ensnaring seduction, but Ruth, through Naomi’s guidance makes a noble appeal when others would have expected a seedy entrapment.
So Naomi “gets” it: We don’t rest on our laurels in demanding expectation that “God will provide.” Rather we give our very best in every situation we find ourselves in without ever compromising on what is right and honourable.
2009-10-23 – “Real Manliness”
16 When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?”
Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her 17 and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, `Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ ”
18 Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.” (Ruth3:16-18)
There are four aspects to Boaz’s behaviour in ch.3 that are good guidelines for authentic masculinity. They are: Empowering Protectiveness, Integrity, Attentive Generosity and Core-Determination.
In the culture of the day, Ruth needed economic and social protection, Boaz is more than willing to provide this, but he does so in a dignifying way. He indicates his willingness to protect Ruth, but affirms her noble character. He does not create stifling dependence but offers _empowering protectiveness._
Boaz acts with _integrity_ – he does not take advantage of Ruth before sorting out the key issue: there is a relative who is closer to Ruth and therefore has the first right as a Kinsman Redeemer. He tells her to ~wait~ until he has sorted it out. He protects Ruth’s reputation sending her home before it is known that she came to the threshing floor.
Boaz sends Ruth back with six measures of barley, pointedly indicating that these were for Naomi. We all know the mother-in-law jokes. In giving the threshed barley Boaz is recognising Naomi’s advice to Ruth and showing her gracious generosity. Authentic men are able to be _sensitively generous_ – especially in allowing others into their lives.
Boaz is determined – Naomi comments that he will act quickly and decisively to tackle the issue at hand. Many men are slow to deal with key issues and they procrastinate being courageous about core-business. Boaz is a great example of being _Core-Determined_ about making the things that matter happen.
Boaz is a great example of authentic masculinity. Gentlemen, how do you rate? Ladies, do you take time to appreciate these qualities in the men around you?
2009-10-27 – “Public Opinion”
11 Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” (Ruth4:11-12)
Boaz goes to the city gate determined and resolute: His goal is to act as Kinsman-Redeemer to Ruth who he loves.
What is significant is that he goes about this mission in an honourable way – he follows all the traditions involved in negotiating the right to lawfully marry Ruth and deal with the land that used to belong to Ruth’s late husband and father-in-law.
The author of the book of Ruth explains the process that Boaz goes through and even provides by-the-way commentary explaining the rituals that would have seemed strange to an audience hearing the story centuries later. The point is that Boaz was thorough, diligent and observed the nuances and traditions, customs and laws of the day.
The result? A wedding between a Jewish man of standing and a gentile Moabite is given blessing instead of gossip. Boaz is prayed for and people wish him good instead of wishing evil or misfortune. This is the power of a godly life: When we do things properly and correctly people wish us blessing and not ill.
Public opinion about Christians is not particularly good these days. When last have you seen a preacher portrayed well in the movies? While we might argue that this is part of the persecution and trouble that Jesus told us to expect, we also have to admit that Christians, including you and I, have not always lived well.
Boaz lived honourably and respectfully. He treated others well and he did things by the book. He was a good and gracious man. This turned public opinion toward him and we should learn from this.
2009-10-29 – “High Stakes”
Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
There is a lot at stake in this short book: Ruth becomes the great-granny of David and is included in the genealogy of Christ where she is singled out both as a foreigner and as a woman.
There are some key ingredients to the happy ending this story has.
1. Faith – Naomi has it. Deep unflinching faith that endures difficulty with honesty and realism. She is secure enough in her relationship with God that she can “tell it like it is.” At the same time, her witness is attractive and sincere enough that Ruth wants to be part of it.
Ruth has it. A deep commitment to follow God, even in uncertainty and even if it means being teachable enough to follow a mother-in-law’s advice. Her actions, especially in her faithfulness to Naomi, portray her faith to those around her.
Boaz has it. In word, deed and reputation. He is respected and people bless him in terms of the faith they see in him.
2. Integrity – Naomi (which means “Pleasant”) is consistent with the meaning of her name. Ruth is commended for her sincerity and faithfulness. Boaz demonstrates diligent uprightness.
3. Generosity – Naomi’s generously urges her daughters-in-law to go home instead of accompanying her to Israel. She put their needs before her own even though she could not persuade Ruth. Boaz is generous toward Ruth and Naomi in the gifts he gives them, in having lunch with Ruth in the public eye, and in the speed and righteous efficiency with which he sorts out the legalities. Ruth is generous toward her mother-in-law by being willing to start again in a foreign land as a foreigner.
But in our text verse we see yet another generosity: Ruth shares her child with Naomi to such and extent that the town’s people say: “Naomi has a son.” While this was true in terms of the legalities of the Kinsman-Redeemer tradition, it was also functionally true in the way in which Ruth shared her first baby with Naomi who had already had two of her own.
Faith, Integrity and Generosity. Naomi,Ruth and Boaz had these qualities in spades. When we see these qualities in David we can say “He had it in his genes.”
How do you rate?
2009-10-30 – “Reversals”
16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David (Ruth4:16)
The NIV Study Bible says this about the intro and conclusion to the book of Ruth: “The conclusion (4:13-17) of the story balances the introduction (1:1-5):
(1) In the Hebrew both have the same number of words;
(2) both compress much into a short space;
(3) both focus on Naomi;
(4) the introduction emphasizes Naomi’s emptiness, and the conclusion portrays her fullness.”
The story of Ruth is a powerful portrayal of God’s gracious provision in our sadness and sorrow. It illustrates the promise that God can and does work in our lives to restore what sin has broken. Look at these Scripture promises:
* Joel 2:25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten…”
* Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
* Genesis 50:20 (Joseph to his brothers) “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Sometimes God brings about restoration in dramatic and wonderful ways. Not so in the book of Ruth…Here the turnaround takes time and is the result of a number of “God-incidences” where God is working in the little details of life to fill Naomi with blessing and joy in spite of the hardships she has been through.
There are no guarantees that life will be easy. Famine can come, death is a reality we always face. We can find ourselves in a foreign place far away from home and we might even have chapters in our lives where we have to say that our lives are “Mara” (bitter).
But we have a Saviour who ate the bitter herbs of the Passover with His disciples before going to the cross and enduring the worst bitterness of sin-brokenness so that we will never be alone in our hardship and then He rose from the dead so that brokenness will never have the final say.