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Ruth (Day 233-236)

         

Day 233: Ruth 1

            1-5: We are taken back to the time of judges. The setting is once again Bethlehem, but this time the story will be easier to read. A famine causes economic hardship, and a man named Elimelech immigrates to Moab with his wife Naomi and their two boys, Mahlon and Chilion. Soon after, Elimelech dies. Naomi stays in Moab, and the two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Tragedy strikes the family again when the two sons die, leaving Naomi completely bereft.

            6-14: Naomi determines to return to Bethlehem when she hears that the famine is over. She advises her two daughters-in-law to return to their mothers’ houses and remarry. They insist that they will go with her, to her people. A moving scene ensues as the two young women cling to her and they all weep together. Orpah finally leaves, but Ruth still lingers.

            15-18: Naomi insists that Ruth return also, noting that Orpah has gone back to her people and to her gods. Ruth refuses to leave, telling Naomi, “your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” At this, Naomi relents.

            19-22: They arrive at Bethlehem and attract attention from the townspeople. The women recognize Naomi, but she still bears her grief, and says her name is no longer Naomi, which means “Pleasant,” but rather Mara, which means “Bitter” (see Exodus 15:23). They arrive at the beginning of the barley harvest, a very well chosen time to come home.

 

Day 234: Ruth 2

            1-7: The barley harvest is in full swing, and Ruth goes to the fields to glean – pluck whatever is left over by the harvesters. She winds up in the field of Boaz, Naomi’s husband’s wealthy next-of-kin. He arrives and greets his workers in such a way that assures us that he worships the true God, as do they. Ruth is in a safe place, and we are relieved. Boaz notices her and asks about her, and is told that she is with Naomi, and that she is a hard worker. Everybody is impressed with Ruth.

            8-13: Boaz approaches Ruth (it’s about time!) and gives her permission to glean in his fields where he assures her she will be safe. He tells her that he is familiar with her story, and that she has come to a place of refuge under God. She is grateful.

            14-16: Boaz is obviously taken by her, and gives her special treatment among the reapers. He instructs them to let her reap among the standing grain rather than glean from the grain they’ve already stripped. Things are definitely moving along nicely here.

            17-23: Naomi is thrilled at Ruth’s success in the fields this first day, and even more thrilled when she hears about Boaz. Now the wheels are turning; Naomi has plans for Ruth and Boaz. She tells Ruth to stick to the fields of Boaz, and only to the fields of Boaz.

            As the chapter comes to a close, so do the wheat and barley harvests. Already we can see that the relationship between Ruth and Boaz will be nothing like the relationship between the Levite and his concubine. After Judges, Ruth is refreshing! The story of Ruth will heal us of that awful chapter in Israel’s history.

Day 235: Ruth 3

            1-5: The harvest season is ended, and now the threshing begins. Boaz doesn’t know it yet, but he has been harvested by Naomi for Ruth. Naomi knows enough about his whereabouts to know that he will be at the threshing floor on a particular night. She tells Ruth to bathe, put on perfume and her most fetching outfit, and go to the threshing floor. There she is to watch and wait until Boaz lies down, and she is to go lie down with him. Basically she is to throw herself at him with unmistakable intentions.

            6-13: Boaz works at his threshing, then has his dinner and lies down and goes to sleep. Ruth “uncovers his feet” and lies down beside him. He awakens at midnight and is startled by her being there. She tells him to “spread his cloak” (literally his ‘wing’) over her for he is next-of-kin. In that culture, if a married man dies before having children, his brother or next-of-kin is to marry his widow and produce children who will be his heirs. The entire episode is filled with sexual double entendres that don’t come across in English translation. In Hebrew, “feet” can be a euphemism for “private parts,” for example. Boaz appreciates her situation, but plays the gentleman and informs her that another man is more closely related to Mahlon (Ruth’s deceased husband). He will pursue the matter the very next morning, he says, and if the other kinsman passes on the opportunity he will marry her.

            14-18: Morning comes and Ruth prepares to go home before it is light enough to be recognized. Boaz insists on giving her a gift of the barley he has threshed. Naomi’s question in verse 16 (“How did things go with you, my daughter?”) can be variously understood. Literally she asks, “Who are you, my daughter?” It is still quite dark, and she may not have recognized Ruth. Or, she may be asking, “Who are you now?” meaning, “Has your status changed?” Naomi is certain that the matter will be settled that very day.

 

Day 236: Ruth 4

            1-6: Boaz wastes no time, but goes directly to the city gate, the place where public legal transactions are made. The kinsman soon appears, and Boaz has him sit while they gather the required number of witnesses to a legal transaction. Boaz has been thinking things over carefully, and begins the conversation with a diversionary tactic. There is, he says, a parcel of land belonging to Elimelech, now deceased, that his widow Naomi wishes to sell. As next-of-kin, do you want to buy it, he asks. The kinsman agrees to buy the land. Then Boaz drops the other shoe. Buy the land, marry the widow. The kinsman balks at that, although we cannot be sure why such an arrangement would damage his inheritance. Perhaps, since the land would pass to Ruth’s child, he considers that he will lose the price of the land to his own estate that would otherwise go to his own children. In any case, he says no thanks, and Boaz is left a clear field to pursue Ruth himself, which is what he has obviously wanted to do for awhile now.

            7-12: The deal is sealed. Boaz has the land and the lady, and the townspeople offer their blessing. Now here is another interesting and perhaps comical twist: they say, “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.” Rachel and Leah were the wives of Jacob who bore twelve children. So this blessing means, in effect, “May you and Ruth have a lot of children.” But the second part of the blessing is curious: “Through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Judah was the son of Jacob, of course. Tamar was his widowed daughter-in-law who pretended to be a harlot in order to get Judah to make her pregnant (see Genesis 38). She bore twins: the first was Perez, although the other, Zerah, had appeared to be ready to come out of the womb first. Are the townspeople subtly letting Boaz know that they know about Ruth’s nocturnal visit to the threshing floor? Or are they equating Boaz, the second in line to acquire the field (and the widow), with Perez, who appeared to be the second born, but came out first? I imagine when the story of Ruth is told around the campfires of Israel, the listeners greet this “blessing” with wry smiles.

            13-17: Ruth and Boaz are married and have a son. Naomi is the child’s nurse, and it is clear that Naomi has greatly benefited from Ruth’s marriage to the wealthy Boaz. The women of Bethlehem name the baby Obed, and we are told that the baby will be the grandfather of King David.

            18-21: The narrative now traces the genealogy back to Perez (twin son of Tamar and her father-in-law, Judah), and lists the generations down to Boaz and Obed and on to David, about whom we will read in just a couple of weeks.

            In the midst of the steady moral decline of Israel we saw throughout Judges, there are still good people who worship only God and who in turn are blessed. Ruth is a stellar example of a foreigner who accepts the God of Israel as her God, and in so doing becomes an heir of God’s promises. This is, of course, in contrast to the examples in Judges of the Israelites who forsook the covenant with God and worshiped the pagan deities of other peoples, and lost God’s promises.

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