Thursday, March 8, 2012

God and Ruth and Those Mysterious Ways!

What do you say about Ruth?!  She’s so important that there is an entire book in the Bible devoted to telling her story!  Ruth rocks!  She is yet another example of how God uses the most unlikely people, in the most extraordinary way!  First off, she’s a woman.  Second, she’s a Moabite.  Third, she is a widow.  None of these are helpful in the male dominated, Old Testament, society but, the combination of the three, spells disaster!  A female outsider, in a Jewish community, with no husband, does not make for a recipe for success in the natural.  But we’re not talking about the natural, we’re talking about God, and this story is yet another reminder that He doesn’t look at things the same way that we do!

Let’s start at the beginning, shall we?  The story starts off by telling us about Elimelech and Naomi, and their two sons, who live in Bethlehem during the time of the Judges.  They live in Bethlehem but, at the time, there was widespread famine in the land.  So, they pack up with their sons in tow, and head out of town, in search of a place that actually has food.  They end up in Moab.  Here’s what you need to keep in mind-if you go back in the Old Testament, you will see that Moab and Israel were not the best of buds over the years!  Far from it! They actually attacked each other numerous times during their history.  Yet, the Moabites welcome the family and the two sons end up marrying Moabite women.  Again, this should be a red flag, because marrying outside of the faith was not something that was supposed to be done!

Long story short, Elimelech dies, the sons die, and Naomi is left with nothing but two Moabite in-laws.  So, she decides to go back to Bethlehem.  Hopefully, someone there from her family will, at the very least, take her in and give her a place to live.  Orpah and Ruth go with her, at least part of the way.  Somewhere along the way, Naomi realizes that she can’t offer anything to them, and she realizes that it would be best for them to go home to their own families.  If they do that, they stand a fighting chance!  They could remarry and have a chance at a new life filled with hope!  At first, both of the women tell her no.  Naomi tries a second time to reason with them and, at that point, Orpah decides to turn around, but Ruth stays.  So Naomi tries for a third time to change Ruth’s mind, but here’s what Ruth says in chapter one starting at verse 16 (Wesley Study Bible):
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!  Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.  Where you die, I will die-there will I be buried.  May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”
Now that’s a spunky girl!  Here’s the really interesting thing to remember-there were no guarantees for Ruth!  I am reminded of that other gutsy and courageous woman by the name of Rahab-remember her?  Both women were willing to sacrifice themselves in order to protect and take care of those they loved!  And both women, although they did not fully understand who God was, still chose to follow, without any promises or guarantees that things would work out for them personally!  No matter, how you slice it or dice it, giving up everything that you know takes some serious courage!

Naomi and Ruth make it to Bethlehem, which causes a serious stir about town.  In verse 19 it says that the only thing the women of Bethlehem said was “is this Naomi?”  There’s a subtle understatement!  Uh-uh!  You better believe that there was some serious gossiping going on!  Oh, I’m sure, they were pleasant enough to her face, but you know they had to be thinking that she was being punished.  Not only did her family leave Bethlehem, but her sons married Moabite women for goodness sakes!  No wonder they all died!  And here she comes, slinking back into town, looking for help?!  Not only that but she brought one of those Moabite women with her, can you believe it???!!!  Doesn’t get more juicy scandal than that!  As my gramma would say, there was a whole lotta tongue wagging going on!

God works in mysterious ways though!  I can picture Him up in heaven just shaking his head, and thinking “ladies, you are in for one big shocker of a surprise by the time I’m through!”  Be grateful that God does have a sense of humor and a larger view!

The story continues on, Naomi and Ruth have shown up, just in time, for the harvest and Ruth suggests that she go out in the fields to glean.  I think at this point, Naomi figured they had nothing to lose, so she tells Ruth to go and give it her best shot.

Wonder of wonders, where does Ruth end up working?  In a field owned by a rich guy, by the name of Boaz, who just happens to be a relative of Naomi’s, on her husband’s side of the family!  Out of all the fields in Bethlehem she just happens to pick the right one?  Gee, does that smack of the subtle hand of God?  Hmm…I wonder….  Oh, but it gets better!  Boaz just happens to come out of Bethlehem to the field, at that time, and he just happens to notice this stranger gleaning behind his servants.  He asks his head servant about her, and the servant tells him that she is the Moabite, who came back with Naomi. She asked permission to glean, and she’s been hard at work ever since she got there!  Boaz now chooses to do something that he was not expected, or required, to do. Not only does he go to Ruth and tell her to stay with his reaping crew through the harvest, he also tells his servants to pull extra out of the standing stock so she has more to glean.  Understand, Boaz is not the kinsman redeemer, he is not first in line!  It is not his responsibility to take care of Naomi even though she is a relative.  But here is the glaring ,obvious, point that should not be missed-the kinsman redeemer is obviously NOT taking care of Naomi, because, if he was, Ruth would not be out in the field gleaning after the harvesters!  Boaz can not take care of Ruth and Naomi directly, but he CAN take care of them indirectly, by making sure that Ruth is under his protection, working in his fields, following his servants AND he makes certain that Ruth is able to glean enough for Naomi and Ruth to eat!  Boaz is doing what the kinsman redeemer should have been doing in the first place!

Ruth goes back to Naomi, after a successful day of gleaning, and Naomi is astounded by how much Ruth has been able to gather!  So she asks Ruth “where did you go? Where did you work?  Who took notice of you?”  So, Ruth tells her about her encounter with Boaz and what he said and how kind he was to her.  Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Naomi put two and two together!  I bet her entire face lit up!  “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi tells Ruth.  Naomi may have been the grieving, bitter widow, but she’s no fool!  She knew full well who the kinsmen redeemer was and she understood that he had no desire to fill that role.  Boaz, on the other hand, would fulfill that role if given the opportunity!  The question then became, how to make it happen?

Naomi came up with a daring, risky plan to let Boaz know, that she was willing to let him fulfill the role of kinsman redeemer.  If it worked, not only would she and Ruth be taken care of, but her husband’s family line would live on.  She sent Ruth to the threshing floor, under the cover of darkness and instructed her to wait until Boaz had laid down for the night.  She then told Ruth to go, uncover his feet, lay down, and wait.  If Ruth was caught, it would be absolutely scandalous, but if it worked, Boaz would not rest until he took care of the matter!  Boaz discovered Ruth at his feet about midnight.  Ruth made her request “spread your cloak over your servant for you are next-of-kin.”  Boaz responded exactly the way Naomi thought he would!  In chapter 3, starting at verse 10 he says:
“May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.  And now, my daughter, do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman.  But now, though it is true that I am a near kinsman, there is another kinsmen more closely related than I.  Remain this night, and in the morning, if he will act as next-of-kin for you, good; let him do it.  If he is not willing to act as next-of-kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will act as next-of-kin for you.”  
Sure enough, the next morning, he sent Ruth back to Naomi with six measures of Barley and got her out of there before she could be discovered.  Then, he went to the town square and waited for the closer relative to pass by.  In the presence of the elders he asked the kinsman redeemer if he wanted to buy Naomi’s field? At first he said yes.  Boaz reminded him that it meant he would have to marry Ruth and, he decided, that he didn’t want to “damage his inheritance.”  He passed the right of redemption on to Boaz!

Boaz married Ruth, and they had a son named Obed.  And Ruth, the outsider, is remembered as being greater than seven sons to Naomi!    She also had a very famous great-grandson by the name of David, son of Jesse, who went on to become King.  Further down the line of genealogy, came a young man, by the name of Jesus-King of Kings and Lord of Lords!  One more interesting little factoid for you-Boaz, is the son of Salmon, who was married to Rahab, that other outsider who risked her life at Jericho! One outsider, marries the son of an outsider, which produces the lineage that brings about the Savior of the world! How cool is that?!

If you had any doubt, let this story be a reminder, that God does work in mysterious, wonderful, ways!

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