“Priceless gems have often been found in unlikely places. Many a choice flower has been found blooming in a rocky crevice. Rainbow artistries have suddenly lit up the drabbest skies. Beauty spots have charmed the traveller at surprise turns on the least promising road It is even so with this superbly beautiful little idyl, the book of Ruth”
Sidlow Baxter, Explore The Book (Bible Commentary)
Imagine my delight, when I checked the Sunday School Rota a few weeks back, and discovered that I had to deliver a lesson to our 3-4 year olds – on the book of Ruth!
My thoughts whirred as I considered the complications of trying to explain to our wide-eyed pre-schoolers, what a ‘Kinsman Redeemer’ is! It had been years since I’d read the book of Ruth, but I vaguely remembered something about sheaves of barley…and wasn’t there that part when Ruth laid down at the feet of Boaz, asking him to cover her with his cloak? Hmmm. There was no doubt about it…this was going to be one interesting Sunday School session!
Despite my initial reservations, things went really well! (three cheers for Pinterest for a whole host of craft ideas!) I even managed to find a beautiful sheaf of dried wheat on Amazon, which the kids were fascinated by. On-line shopping – what a life saver!
Once the Sunday School was out of the way, however, I began to sense that there are absolutely no coincidences. God was drawing me into the book of Ruth. There were delightful hidden treasures within the story that He wanted me to discover. It was time for me to plumb the depths of the bible’s most quirky little love story.
If you’re unfamiliar with the book, here is the basic backdrop of the story:
- The story begins when a Judean woman called Naomi, who has spent the last ten years residing in Moab to escape a famine in her homeland, is left destitute when her husband and two sons die.
- Her two sons had been married to Moabite women – one called Orpah, and one called Ruth. (This was an ungodly alliance, and was forbidden in Levitical law).
- Naomi decides to return to her people, where she fairs the best chance of survival.
- She means to set out alone, and urges her two daughters-in-law to remain in Moab, and go back to their childhood families. Naomi has no other sons to be given in marriage to Orpah or Ruth. Their best bet is to remain in Moab, where they have the best chance of finding new husbands.
- The two young women have an agonising decision to make. They have come to love Naomi, yet if they go with her, they will have to live in Judah as sojourners in a foreign land – this is a huge risk to take.
- Justifiably, with much weeping, Orpah decides to stay in Moab, but Ruth ‘clings to her Mother-in-Law’, refusing to be parted with her.
“Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you, for where you go, I go, and where you lodge, I lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
So what becomes of the lovely, loyal Ruth?
Well, it just so happens that the two women arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of the Barley Harvest. Their arrival does not go unnoticed. Everyone is curious. What has become of Naomi? Where is Elimelech, her husband? And what of her two sons? And who is this strange Moabite woman at her side? I bet tongues were wagging!
One of Naomi’s relatives, a wealthy, upright man named Boaz, owns several Barley fields and employs teams of servants to harvest the barley.
The key to Ruth and Naomi’s survival can be found in a strange harvesting custom, found in Leviticus 19:9
“Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger, I am the Lord Your God.”
Wow! Isn’t that just like our God? Always making provision for the needy and the stranger?
So Ruth becomes a “gleaner” in the fields of Boaz. She follows behind the team of harvesters, gathering up the scraps that they accidentally drop. She has to keep her distance. Moab was known at the time as the ‘washbasin of Israel’ – basically, a foot basin for washing feet! She is totally vulnerable, putting herself at the mercy of others, and showing herself to be utterly destitute. She is therefore open to any kind of mistreatment.
But Boaz notices Ruth. He makes enquiries about her. And it seems he is deeply impressed by her loyalty to Naomi. He speaks to Ruth, showing kindness to her in three ways:
- He instructs her to glean only in his field
- He commands his servants not to touch her
- He invites her to drink from the water that his servants draw if she gets thirsty
It must have been fairly unusual for a foreigner to be treated with such kindness, as Ruth falls on her face, bowing down to the ground, saying: “Why have I found such favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
And here is Boaz’s response:
“All that you have done for your Mother-in-law, after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your Father and your Mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you previously did not know. May the Lord reward your work and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
Someone once said that you can find Jesus in every book of the bible. Like a golden thread woven through the whole tapestry of scripture, is the overarching theme of Redemption. Every now and then, if we examine the tapestry in the right light, we catch a glimmer of this glinting gold. The book of Ruth is no different! Boaz is a type of Christ. And here we begin to get the first glimpses of a man that possesses amazing integrity, kindness and generosity.
It also may be worth noting here that godly men are drawn to godly character. They are not merely impressed by the outward appearance, but by the inner qualities a woman displays by her conduct. Boaz was deeply struck by Ruth’s courage and commitment. He also recognised the evidence of her new found faith – By cleaving to Naomi, Ruth had ultimately chosen to put her faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
God never turns away any that would seek Him. The time of salvation for the Gentile had not yet come. Yet God seems unable to resist showing compassion, grace and kindness towards this young, courageous Moabite woman, who has so selflessly thrown herself upon His mercy.
As the story unfolds, we get to see how sweetly Boaz and Ruth become increasingly drawn to one another. And we begin to see more of God’s wonderful, extravagant heart towards the Gentile.
Part Two to follow soon…!