April 8, 2015

Ruth's Book

Fru and I are reading the Bible, a chapter at a time, in our evening worship. We recently finished the four-chapter book of Ruth, and my first reaction was:

“Why isn’t this called the book of Boaz?”

For those of you unfamiliar with the story—a brief recap: God promised Abraham that a great nation would come from his line. His grandson, Jacob, had twelve sons and changed his name to Israel. After 400 years of servitude to the Egyptians, the cries of the children of Israel were heard by God, who remembered his promise to Abraham. Freeing them from bondage through Moses, they set off for the land he promised to Jacob. Rehabilitating them along the way, the land the finally reached was divided by the twelve tribes of Israel—each tribe coincidentally named after Israel’s twelve sons. The people were generally grateful to God but his presence struggled to be more than a part of their history; they often found themselves adopting the belief systems and deities of the surrounding nations.

Still with me?

So one guy moved away from the Israelite states into an area called Moab. He and his wife settled there and had two sons, who married Moabite women. Unfortunately the man and his sons died—leaving three widows. The mother-in-law, Naomi, urged her daughters to go back to their people, hoping they might still be able to remarry. One reluctantly agreed, but the other, Ruth, insisted on staying. She went with Naomi, who returned to the land of her people and where she might have better fortune.

In those days, there were a lot of rules to ensure people were cared for. Land owners, for example, were charged not to make a second pass in their harvesting, but to leave the missed grain behind for the widow or the orphan. Also, if a man died without a male descendant there would be no one to inherit his share of the tribal possessions. For this reason, a son-less widow was to be remarried to a kin to her husband, who was responsible for her. This kinsman not only took in the widow but also was to have kids with her, redeeming that family’s line.

Ruth asked her Moabite daughter-in-law to go after the harvesters and collect grain for their provisions. The field she happened to choose belonged to Boaz, a kinsman of her late father-in-law. He regarded her with kindness, wishing the Lord’s wings of protection to cover Ruth, her mother-in-law, and even asking his harvesters to leave a little extra for her to pick after them. Naomi naturally went into matchmaker mode and hoping that Ruth might catch more than just his favor!

When the harvest was done, usually the landowner and his harvest men slept on the threshing floor with the grain to protect against theft. It subsequently became a time of male camaraderie and revelry, my study Bible says. Naomi convinced Ruth to dress up practically like a bride and sneak onto the threshing floor after Boaz had had his fill of wine and had fallen to sleep away from his men. She instructed her to uncover his feet and to sleep next to them. Naturally, when the wine wore down and he felt his blanket not on his feet, he looks down to see Ruth sleeping there. He asks her why she is there, and she (perfectly) expresses her wish to be cared for by him, asking him to extend the corner of his blanket to cover her (a tongue-in-cheek reference to his exact wish that God would protect her with his wings). Boaz, semi-drunk and totally impressed by the bold yet noble behavior of Ruth, promises to sort out the situation the next day. He give her some more grain and sends her on her way before anyone would discover her there.

The situation, it turns out, was that he was second in the line of kinsman who could redeem Naomi’s family. In the morning he found the kinsman ahead of him and, in the presence of the elders, made him aware of Naomi and Ruth’s need. The kinsman recognized Boaz’s report and gave intent to do this kinsman-redeemer duty. Boaz slyly implied, however that there was a lot of responsibility, particularly in the way of producing an heir (it seems perhaps this kinsman may have already been married?). Citing risk to his existing estate, he demurred, and suggested perhaps Boaz could take the responsibility in his stead, to which Boaz humbly agreed.

The day was saved, Ruth and Boaz were married, Ruth had a son named Obed, who carried on the family line, having his own son named Jesse, who just so happens to be the father of David of the “David and Goliath” story (and whose line goes all the way to the earthly parents of Jesus).

A lot of people like this story; it’s like the Bible’s own medieval fairy tale. I’ve always heard it told with such emphasis on the romance between Ruth and Boaz, but to be honest I didn’t see romance at all when reading it directly. What I saw basically consisted of two destitute women using the only things they had—their brains and their charm—to survive, and a man who went out of his way to redeem two hopeless-yet-sincere people with exceptional character. Actually, if there was any person in the story whose character was to be imitated, I’d say it was Boaz—hence my original question: Why is this book named after Ruth and not after him?

I’d love to be a kinsman redeemer; I’d love it more if everyone tried to be one in their own way. Restoring peace and safety in the lives of those in misfortune, lending power and support to the disadvantaged, making it our responsibility to see the lives of others continue comfortably. In fact, Boaz went above and beyond the call of duty by taking responsibility for a situation that he was under no obligation to fix; remember there was another who was actually the person to take responsibility. It’s a very god-like benevolence, and I can’t help but think of the Christ himself teaching, preaching, healing and helping. In fact, Jesus is the ultimate kinsman redeemer. He is not a chip off of Boaz’s block; Boaz, rather, is a glimpse at what our Redeemer is really like.

If Jesus is our Boaz, then Ruth is us.

The book may be named after Ruth because she represents us, reflects us. We can find ourselves in dire situations with totally busted plans. We may even be a foreigner to the concept of a kinsman redeemer, just following the instructions of someone who does. But if our heart is sincere and our purpose is true, He will count our faithfulness as righteousness and reinstate us through his unmerited favor towards us.

The book of Ruth is about someone like us; it’s my book. I think that’s kind of cool.