I don’t get too many opportunities to preach in my church as our two elders are both gifted preachers and when I do preach it tends to be filling in for when they are away. But in the last month I got to preach twice (once on Pentecost Sunday and then yesterday on Father’s day). I was given a fairly free hand regarding subject but, as I thought about it, I decided to preach on Ruth (a book in the Bible).
I called the two part series: “Gleanings in Ruth” as gleaning is how we should approach the study of the scriptures, trying to get to the bottom of what has been written as well as the now largely forgotten act of gleaning, significant in a time when human survival was linked to harvesting crops locally, which played such an significant part in the story and was also an important way for the poor could survive, because by gleaning they gathered left over seed after the crop had been harvested. The audio of my sermons can be downloaded from the church website. The slide presentation to go with two talks plus a children’s talk can be found by clicking here, here and here. There is much to glean from the Book of Ruth, not just because it is an amazing story but it also touches on a multitude of subjects that are to do with some important aspects of life.
In a nutshell, the story was about a woman (Naomi) who along with her husband and two sons left their home (Bethlehem) due to famine and went to live in the land of Moab. The two sons married local girls, Orpah and Ruth. The father and the two sons died and the distraught Naomi decided to return to where she originated from, accompanied by Ruth. Ruth decided to glean in the fields during harvest, in order to support her and Naomi and she “happened” to glean in the field of Boaz, a local landowner and also a distant relative. Because of the laws around marriage and inheritance, Ruth was able to offer herself in marriage to Boaz. Boaz keen to do the right thing including allowing an even closer relative the right of redemption (land owned by Naomi and marriage to Ruth). The relative declined and Boaz married Ruth. They had a son, and centuries on one the descendents was Jesus. To explain what gripped me about the story, I will approach it from the perspective of the main characters: Naomi, Orpah, Ruth, Boaz and God.
Naomi: the name Naomi means sweetness but after the personal losses she wanted to be called Mara (bitterness). She perceived that the Almighty had dealt her a cruel blow but hung in trying to rebuild her life from a point of loss and destitution, and also to look out for Ruth who decided to return with her to her place of her origin, despite Naomi trying to persuade her not to return. When she found out that of all the fields she could have worked in, Ruth had been gleaning in the field of her relative, Boaz, she saw God’s hand at work and with guile seized an opportunity to hatch a plot whereby Ruth could claim redemption rights and marry Boaz. The plan was successful; Ruth married Boaz and they had a son, in who Naomi took great delight. She had discovered that God does indeed move in mysterious ways and even tragedy can turn into triumph. Naomi’s lot in life is one many can identify with. The challenge is whether we succumb to bitterness or remain sweet and put our trust in God whose ways we cannot fathom but whose purposes are good.
Orpah: While Orpah may be seen as a minor character, her actions are in marked contrast to her sister-in-law, Ruth. From what we can make out, she was a good wife and dutiful daughter in law. She was prepared initially to accompany Naomi back to her native place until persuaded to do otherwise. She returned to her home instead, not to be heard of again. Orpah is like many Christians, prepared to only go so far when following Christ and misses God’s best as a result.
Ruth: Everything we read about Ruth points to her being a woman of outstanding character and who acted with great integrity. Unlike Orpah who kissed her mother-in-law, she cleaved to her and promised she would go wherever Naomi went. She had a modest nature, was resourceful in her dealings and all she did came from a good heart. Examples of this is how she was prepared to throw her lot in with Naomi come what may, undertook working in the fields as a gleaner and approach Boaz with a view to marriage. She won the prize of Boaz (her most excellent kinsman redeemer) and bore a son who became the ancestor of Jesus. Her commitment to service, her sense of decorum, her determination to succeed are all qualities we do well to emulate. For a woman wanting to marry and a man wanting to find his spouse, Ruth serves as a worthy example.
Boaz: We first encounter Boaz after he had returned from a journey and greets his workers working in the fields that he owns, and he does so in the name of the Lord. He works hard and manages his affairs well. We note the kindness he extends to Ruth, noting her vulnerability and good character, unaware of the events that were soon to unravel. He is a man of honour intent on acting correctly, and one who fears God yet also very practical, who did what it took to see the right thing done, notably in fulfilling his obligations as the kinsmen redeemer, having also recognized there was one who had rights ahead of him. We see his quality when to his surprise he was confronted by Ruth in the middle of the night and by her request and was able to discharge his duty to his great credit. He got his prize, the beautiful Ruth. For a man wanting to marry and a woman wanting to find her spouse, Boaz serves as a worthy example.
God: Ruth is one of the few books in the Bible where God does not speak directly, or indirectly through his servants, and yet God is ever active. Today when marriage and the family, dealing with destitute asylum seekers and welfare reform are hotly debated subjects, we can look to how it was under the law and do so in wonder. The importance of the family and carrying on the family line (noting in particular the law of redemption), the imperative to look after destitute asylum seekers and having an economy that allowed the poor to survive (noting in particular the law on gleaning) are examples we do well to heed. When Ruth pleaded with Boaz to put his cover over her, we may be reminded of a greater redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, who died on a cross for our sins to redeem us. Notably, even though we can only look back to see God’s hand at work, the fact of the matter he is ever working and it is for us to put our trust in our benevolent maker despite our circumstances. It is the case that society prospers when God and his laws are obeyed.