Saturday, October 03, 2009

Here's my five-minute presentation on Ruth 2 from this morning ... it's very terrible:
This chapter takes place in a pocket of civility in the land of Israel. Whether or not the word is used in this chapter, it's a picture of shalom. In verse 4, Boaz greets his workers in the LORD's name and his greeting is returned in kind. There's an integrity, a sincerity, a recognition of the LORD. It's fitting that Boaz is described in verse 1 as a "worthy" man or as a "man of substance" because of his wealth, yes, but also because of his position in life. He can afford to be magnanimous.

In chapter 1, Ruth is determined and a little forceful in her resolve to remain loyal to Naomi. Even in this chapter, Ruth shows initiative to provide for them both, not really asking Naomi's permission to go out and glean in verse 2 but only telling of her intention. And her wish that she may encounter someone in whose sight she may find favor.

Christian women and men alike are well familiar with the ideal woman described in Proverbs 31, verses 10 and following. To do good to our husbands. To work with willing hands. To provide food for the household. Ruth is the embodiment of this ideal.

With regards to Boaz, however, Ruth is deferential almost to a fault. She asks permission to glean, as the foreman relates to Boaz in verse 7. But it is her identity as a foreigner who returned with Naomi that prompts Boaz to care for her, protect her and call down God's blessing upon her in verse 12, a blessing which Boaz himself plays a significant part in effecting in verses 14, at meal time, and in verse 16 in allowing her to glean from the sheaves. This is clearly above and beyond. My commentary called it the "plus" factor.

So, of course, it isn't by chance that Ruth comes to Boaz' field. Perhaps his land holdings were so extensive or so attractive that she could hardly do otherwise. Although there is an indication in verse 8 that other fields lay nearby. I don't know whether any of you have ever worked as a farm laborer. I did one summer during college. Being young and the only woman, an elderly supervisor took notice of me and looked out for me against the migrant workers. In hindsight, I've come to be grateful to him as I recall his kindness. And I can cite a few occasions of God's clear and special providence in the jobs I've had. I hope we all can.

Now since studying this passage, I've come to recognize people in my life who exhibit great kindness. These are almost always older people who are established, mature, secure with nothing to lose. The believers among them especially are reflecting God's hesed, his lovingkindness just as Boaz does in this story. How appropriate that Ruth falls on her face and bows down in verse 10 and calls Boaz "my lord" in verse 13.

Boaz' words in verse 12 are really a prayer, a petition, not a statement of doctrine. In the Old Testament covenant formulations, God first favors his people on his own initiative, then requires that they live in accord with their status as his people, and then responds with blessing or curse to their obedience or disobedience. Human acts do not incur God's favor, they live out God's favor. God's people do acts of hesed not in order to deserve God's grace but in order to respond to God's grace.

In verse 17 at the end of the day, Ruth returns home with her 3/5ths of a bushel and tells Naomi about Boaz. In verse 20, Naomi invokes a rather ambiguous blessing upon Boaz in the LORD's name. Whose kindness is in view? The LORD's or Boaz' or, maybe, both? And the rest of the chapter sets up for chapter 3.

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