Aug 21 - Reaping What I Sow

Reaping What I Sow

August 21, 2016

Ruth 2

 

REAPING WHAT I SOW

Ruth 2

August 21st, 2016

 

If you were here two Sundays ago, you will remember that I started on a short series in the book of Ruth.  The story began with a man named Elimelech (Eli-melech) moving his wife Naomi, and his two sons, aptly named “Mahlon” and “Kilion” from the town of Bethlehem to the kingdom of Moab on the other side of the Dead Sea.

 

Names are important in the story of Ruth as they indicate something about the characters and places. 

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Bethelehm = house of bread (a place of provision and nourishment – ironic to leave it);

 

Eli-melech = God is my king (Eli-melech was from the tribe of Judah, which is the one where the kings of Israel come from);

 

Naomi = Pleasant, (disposition) and when she changes her name to Mara = Bitter

 

Mahlon = weakly; Kilion = failure;

 

Ruth (actually pronounced “Root” not Ruth = the heroine of the story; possibly (likely) = friend;

 

I’ve heard it said that a friend is someone who invites you out to lunch even though your meal cannot be claimed as a business expense. 

 

This is a very superficial description – Ruth is a friend to Naomi way beyond what would reasonably be expected of anyone.

  

Orpah derived from the noun that indicates the back of the head = to turn away; which is what she did to Naomi, although reluctantly.

 

and Boaz, likely a combination of two Hebrew words = by strength.

 

We don’t know whether or not some of these names were nicknames but many of them actually point something out to the original readers.

 

As I mentioned when covering Ruth 1, Moab was a strange place for Eli-melech to move his family to because they were traditional enemies of and detested by the Israelites.  In part, this was because the Moabites were the antithesis of hospitable. 

 

They not only refused bread and water to the Israelites when they came up from the Sinai on their way to Canaan, but actually forced Israel to travel around their country.    

 

Eli-melech and Ruth not only gave their kids horrible names, when the time came for the two sons to get married,  instead of being sent back the relative short distance to Judah by their parents in order to find some good Jewish wives, end up marrying a couple of local girls, women from Moab. 

 

Both Eli-melech and both sons (weakling and loser), true to their names, die in Moab. 

 

Naomi decided to return to Israel, and tried with all of her persuasive capabilities to dissuade her daughters-in-law from accompanying her.  While one, Orpah is persuaded, the other one, Rut, was not.  The foil in the first chapter of Ruth was that a hated Moabitess and not a Jewish woman like Naomi displayed chesed, that is faithful kind and loving action characteristic of God … toward her mother-in-law Naomi despite the real negative consequences that likely would bring with it.    

 

So Naomi ends up back in Jerusalem with Ruth in tow.  Naomi now wants the women of the town to call her Mara (= “Bitter”) because, as she complains, God had made her bitter. 

 

But there is a hopeful note at the end of chapter one.  We are told that it is the beginning of the barley harvest, the time when the Passover, the redemption of Israel from slavery in Egypt, was celebrated. 

 

This is where we pick up the story today.  Somehow, Naomi found shelter for her and Ruth, possibly in a house that had belonged to her husband Eli-melech or possibly a kind friend or relative provided a room for them.  Whatever the case, even though they had a roof over their head, the two women would have been penniless.  And that is where chapter 2 begins.

 

1 Now there was influential landowner who lived in Bethlehem by the name of Baoz.  He was a relative of Naomi’s (deceased) husband Eli-melech.  2 One day Ruth, the woman from Moab, said to Naomi, “Allow me to go out into the fields to glean behind someone who will allow me to do this.”  And Naomi said, “All right, my daughter, go ahead.”                                        Ruth 2:1-2

 

We are introduced to Boaz, a male relative of Eli-melech, who was influential or powerful, which meant that he was a man of means. 

 

Not long after the return, Ruth made up her mind to provide for herself and Naomi in the only way possible to her.  She wasn’t going to sit around holding Naomi’s hand.  Although Ruth’s words sound like she was getting permission from Naomi, in reality it is a very polite way of telling the older woman what she was planning to do.

 

Her plan was not only to glean, that is, to pick up the bits of stalks missed by the harvesters, but to find a landowner who would be more than willing to allow her to do so.  She was aware that some landowners might chase her away or look with mistrust on the gleaners, or on her in particular because she was from Moab, reluctant to have her glean despite what is commanded in the Mosaic Law:

 

When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop.  Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you.  I am YHWH your God.

                                                                        Leviticus 23:22

 

Gleaning is a very hard way of trying to scrape together enough grain to feed oneself.  It was backbreaking work, always having to bend to the ground in order to pick up the bits and pieces that were accidentally missed by those who were involved in the harvest. 

 

This famous painting by Jean-Francois Millet depicts three peasant women gleaning a field in the mid 1800’s.  In the background we see plenty and promise.  The harvest continues, wagons overflowing with heaps of wheat, the harvesters are dressed in light colours, and the foreman supervises sitting on a horse. 

 

In the foreground there is the complete opposite, depicting the grinding poverty and back-breaking work that the poorest among the peasants had to do.  They are wearing dark clothes and their hands appear gnarled.  They had no hope whatsoever that their miserable state would ever change.[1]   This is the kind of world that Ruth was inviting herself into.

 

Ruth’s chesed, steadfast lovingkindness, toward Naomi continues as she gleans in order to provide them with some sustenance.  She came to Bethlehem at great personal cost and continues to make sacrifices for Naomi. 

 

3 So Ruth went out and gleaned behind those who were cutting and bundling.  And she happened to choose a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her (deceased) father-in-law, Elimelech.  4 Now Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “YHWH be with you.”  And back came the reply, “YHWH bless you.” 

Ruth 2:3-4

 

Naomi herself was bitter and angry at God.  When she first arrived back, you know what she said, “I have come back empty.”  If I was Ruth, my first thought would have been, “What?  Am I chopped liver?  Am I worth nothing to you?

 

And then, Naomi was not willing to personally do anything to better her lot but sit at home.  Even if she was too old and frail to glean, the least she could have done is go with Ruth to the fields and keep her company and fetch water for her. 

 

None of this seems to bother Ruth.  Maybe she understood that Naomi’s bitterness and potential depression kept her inactive and unsupportive.  Whatever the case, her chesed, was not dependent on whether or not Naomi deserved it. 

 

A lady had her picture taken by a photographer.  She brought it back complaining that it wasn’t doing her justice, to which the photographer replied, “Lady, you don’t need justice, you need mercy.”  Chesed demonstrates mercy.

 

So Ruth gleans in one of Boaz’s fields and lo and behold, he shows up in order to see how the harvest is progressing.  Boaz is introduced as someone who is pious, as can be seen by the way he greeted his workers. 

 

5 Then Boaz asked his foreman, “To whom does this young woman belong?”  6 And the foreman replied, “She’s the young Moabite woman who came with Naomi when she returned from Moab.  7 She asked me if she could glean behind the workers who had gathered the sheaves.  She’s been here from early morning until now and has only allowed herself to take one short break.”

 

Ruth knows that it would be much safer if she was closer to the workers and not by herself in an empty field.  And she wasn’t a wallflower when it came to getting permission.  She was proactive, unlike some Christians I know who expect that God will simply drop a job or a Christian spouse or a career into their lap. 

 

Ruth is not bashful, so she boldly approaches the foreman responsible for Boaz’s workers and asks to glean behind the workers, even before the sheaves had been taken off the fields. 

 

In reality, only the landowner who could permit her to do this.  However, Boaz’s foreman likely knew that Boaz, a religious and compassionate man, would be inclined to give permission – and so he gives it. 

 

8 Boaz (went up) and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter.  Stay right her with us when you gather grain.  Don’t go into any other fields.  Stay close to the maids working in my field.  9 See which field they are harvesting and keep following them.  I will tell the young men not to touch you.  And when you are thirsty, you can help yourself to the jugs containing the water that the men have drawn from the well.”

 

Verse 9 addresses the real danger that a single young woman would put herself in working alone.  The order not to touch Ruth is really a polite way of saying that Boaz told his men were not to molest or rape her.  As we will see in v.22 of this chapter, the same danger is addressed.

 

Boaz’s response to Ruth is one of the most surprising twists in the whole story.  Why in the world would this man show such great benevolence toward a woman from Moab?  Ruth wondered the same.

 

10 Ruth fell at his feet, bowed to the ground, and asked, “Why are you being so kind to me, a foreigner?”  11 Boaz replied, “Because I have been told about all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband; how you left your father and mother, your homeland and relatives, in order to live here among complete strangers.  12 May YHWH, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, repay your kindness and reward you fully for what you’ve done.”

 

Ruth humbled herself by bowing down before Boaz, and she asks a probing question, likely because she really was confused at Boaz’s act of loving-kindness toward her – his disposition of chesed, despite the fact that she was from despised Moab.  She needed to find the reason.

 

And Boaz tells her exactly why he is demonstrating such kindness – it is the direct result of her having shown kindness toward Naomi, a relative of Boaz’s, and her willingness to give up family, friends and home in order to do this.  Boaz was so impressed with Ruth’s character that he himself acts toward her with kindness. 

 

God, as the God whose character demonstrates chesed, is consistent in his loving and kind actions:

 

He is the one who left many commandments in the Mosaic Law, and really throughout the OT and NT - to look after orphans, widows and foreigners;

 

He is the one who seeks to redeem his people from bondage and death;

 

He is the one who sacrifices himself on the cross in order to bring eternal life to his creation;

 

He is the one who is interested in the redemption, the salvation, the blessing of his people.   

 

And while God himself is active to bring these things about, most often he will use human agents to extend his blessings.  So while we can pray that God would bless someone, we should realize that God may want to use us to bring about that blessing.

 

If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, hope you keep warm and fill your stomachs,” and then does nothing to alleviate their physical needs, then his words are useless.                                     James 2:15-16

 

Just as an aside, sending used clothing to a developing country actually does more damage than good. 

 

So while Boaz pronounces a blessing on Ruth, that God would repay her for the kindness she had demonstrated toward Naomi, at the very same time he made himself the instrument of that blessing. 

 

Her act of lovingkindness resulted in a blessing.  This general principle is found in both the OT and the NT.

 

The kind man will bring benefit on himself, but a hard-hearted man will create problems for himself.

                                                                        Proverbs 11:17

 

Kindness brings something positive into our lives, while being hard-hearted results in something negative.  The odd time, when we treat someone with kindness it will actually backfire on us – abused for the good we do; taken advantage of. 

 

But the principle we find in Proverbs 11 holds true for the majority of cases.  And even if the person doesn’t respond in turn with kindness, we still reap something positive in our own character.  The apostle Paul wrote something that confirms this:

 

Do not be deceived, you cannot mock God.  You will reap what you sow. … Let us not get tired of doing what is good.  At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we do not give up.                     Galatians 6:7

 

While Paul wrote this with eternal reward or punishment in mind, there is a principle that can apply even during one’s lifetime. [2]

 

Let’s continue with Ruth:

 

13 Ruth replied, “I hope to continue to find favour in your eyes, my Lord.  You have encouraged me and have spoken so kindly to me, your maid, even though I am not as worthy as your maids.”[3]

 

Again Ruth shows humility.  She continues to bow before Boaz and now calls him her Lord, and refers to herself as his maid (or slave), even though she says that she is worth even less than those women. 

 

And Boaz continued to show her more and more kindness, just as she had requested.

 

14 At lunchtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here and help yourself to some of our food.  You can dip your bread in the wine vinegar if you like.”  So she sat with his harvesters and Boaz passed her roasted grain to eat – so much so that she had some left over after she was full. 

 

The painting by Millet, who also painted The Gleaners, places this lunch time into the mid-1800’s.  The clothes are all wrong, but Millet captures the potential awkwardness of this situation.   Again, the mountain of harvested grain in the background contrasts with the meager armful that Ruth is carrying.

 

Boaz’s generosity goes way beyond what would have been expected.  [The vinegar was a way of providing additional flavour for the bread].  He gave Ruth so much granola that she couldn’t eat it all.  The workers must have wondered what is going on.  But that overabundance of kindness continued after Ruth had gone back to work.

 

15 When Ruth got up to glean, Boaz ordered his young men, “Even if she should glean right between the sheaves let her do so without giving her a hard time.  16 In fact, pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and let them drop so she can pick them up without giving her a hard time.” 

 

Twice Boaz tells his workers not to bother Ruth, not to give her a bad time or put her in her place or ream her out (all meanings possible), but to basically allow her to go wherever she wanted as she gleaned. 

 

Actually dropping harvested stalks of grain to the ground on purpose, would seem absolutely crazy and irrational move to make on the part of the landowner - because the result would be a direct loss of the harvest – particularly over the month the barley harvest took place.  So it must have become clear to all the field workers that Ruth had special privileges and was to be treated with the kind of respect and consideration that marked her out as someone of special standing in Boaz’s eyes. 

 

17 So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it weighted about fifty pounds.  18 So Ruth picked up the grain, carried it back to town and showed it to her mother-in-law.  Ruth also gave her the food that was left over from her lunch. 

 

50 lbs of grain is a huge amount for someone who is gleaning.  Think of a 50 pound feed bag.  I’m not sure how Ruth could have carried such a large amount to Naomi – but she likely did so on her head. 

 

19 Naomi asked her, “Where did you work and gather all this grain today?  May the one who looked out for you be blessed!”  So Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked.  20 And she said, “The man I worked under today is named Boaz.”  Naomi responded, “May he be blessed by YHWH who has not stopped showing his steadfast love and kindness (chesed) to us as well as to our dead husbands.  That man is a close relative, one of our family redeemers.” 

 

Notice the similarity in wording between v.19 and v.12 – demonstration of loving-kindness should be blessed by God. We reap what we sow.

 

The law concerning redemption is found in Lev 25:23-34.  The idea is that farmland (or property that is owned in a small unfortified village) should never be lost permanently to the family of the original owner. 

 

One mechanism to accomplish this was the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-10 - ever 50 years) when the land was supposed to revert back to the original owner or his descendants.  In essence, any sale of land was really a term lease that could last no longer than the next year of Jubilee. 

 

However, it is not at all clear just how long, if at all, the Year of Jubilee was actually celebrated in all of Israel as described in Leviticus.  For example, every 7 years was supposed to be a Sabbath year when fields were not to be planted and harvested.  We know that there were about 70 of those that were missed before the Babylonian exile – a period of nearly 500 years.  If the Sabbath years were not celebrated, it is highly unlikely that the Jubilees were either.[4] 

 

If we try to work back from the Babylonian exile, then the lack of keeping the Jubilee likely began around the year 1076 BC, only about 64 years after the story of Ruth took place.[5]   Who knows whether or not the Jubilee was even celebrated during Ruth’s time?

 

However, besides the Jubilee, there was another mechanism of ensuring that property stays within a family.  The nearest male relative to the initial owner is obligated to buy the land as his own so that it is retained within the same family. 

 

While not stated outright, it is assumed that the family member who buys back the land has the financial wherewithal to be able to do this, and actually wants to do this.  There is the right of refusal, however, as with not marrying your deceased brother’s widow (Levirate marriage), it was associated with public humiliation.

 

Naomi mentioning that Baoz is one of the land redeemers in their family probably means that there are a number of male relatives who could fall into this category.

 

In the case of Boaz, we already know that he is a fairly wealthy man, but at this point he has shown no inclination to redeem the land of his dead relative Eli-melech, because, as we will find out, there is another unnamed man even closer related to Eli-melech. 

 

Since the concept of Redemption runs throughout the book of Ruth, we should understand what the term means.  To redeem something or someone is to pay a ransom for something that is lost

 

So a payment of some sort is made in order to redeem a person … such as buying the freedom of a slave, or perhaps, paying the fine needed to get out of jail, or providing some payment that would lead the court to pardon a condemned man.  There are concepts like deliverance, salvation, and atonement wrapped up in redemption.  Hopefully you get the idea. 

 

21 And Ruth the Moabitess also told Ruth, “What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.” 22 Ruth replied, “That is good my daughter.  If you stay with his maids through the whole harvest, none of the young men will attack you in the other fields.” 

 

Here again, the potential danger of being physically or sexually attacked while alone on a field is commented on.  If Ruth stays with Boaz’s workers she will be shielded from that kind of possibility. 

 

23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Baoz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest.  Then she worked with them through the wheat harvest as well.  But all the while she stayed with her mother-in-law.

 

The last point demonstrates that, while it would likely have been possible for Ruth to stay with the other women workers, her commitment to Naomi remained unabated.  She came home every night. 

 

The point is that Boaz demonstrated God’s type of kindness to Ruth in allowing her even to stay and glean his fields even when the barley season was over.  In fact, he extended her privileges now over two months, meaning that Ruth would have garnered a small fortune in grain, both barley and wheat, which she and Naomi could have sold and done quite well for themselves.

 

So what can we glean from this chapter of the book of Ruth?

 

1. God desires to demonstrate steadfast love and kindness to his people …

 

At the time of Ruth and Baoz, the momentous historical event they looked back on to corroborate this fact is the redemption of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, and all of the Laws in the books of Moses that instituted the redemption of slaves and land. 

 

For Christians the momentous event they look back on to corroborate God’s desire to redeem, is Jesus’ death and resurrection … the lengths to which God would go to open up the possibility of restoring our relationship with him.  There are many, many passages in the NT that relay this point.

 

In Christ we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins according to the riches of God’s mercy.                                                                  2 Peter 3:9

 

Jesus gave himself for us in order to redeem us from every evil deed and to purify a people who belong to God and are zealous to do good deeds.                  Titus 2:14

 

God has demonstrated his steadfast kindness toward me and you in so many ways, even though we may not be aware of them (count your blessings count them one by one), possibly because we are focused and preoccupied with the challenges, suffering, and difficulties we face from time to time. 

 

When I think of all the ways that I have disappointed God, have done things my way, have pulled dumb stunts, and have made mistakes, I have to rely heavily on God’s faithful lovingkindness.

 

And because I am human, I know I will need God’s faithful lovingkindness in the future as well.  However, knowing about God’s character does not give me a license to sin.  In fact the Bible makes it abundantly clear that a Christian who lives a lifestyle of sin is crucifying Jesus all over again.  It would have been better if he or she had never heard about Jesus.[6]

 

So if God has done this for me, how will I demonstrate this character trait of God in my life?

 

2. I won’t give horrible names or nicknames to myself or others

 

Think of the damage … bad name, name-calling, put-downs, discouragement.  Reminded of this the other day when I forgot my wallet at church for the second time in one week … calling myself an idiot.

 

3. I won’t easily give up on my loved ones, even those who are unwilling to help themselves

 

4. I will take great initiative to provide for myself and to better my lot, without becoming proud in the process.

 

5. I won’t place myself in a situation where I could be harmed or compromised. 

 

6. I will demonstrate genuine concern for the needy.

 

And while I do it without thought of repayment, I am aware that this will have a reward of some kind:

 

The more you give, the more you get;

The more you smile, the less you fret;

The more you’re kind, the more you’ll find,

that life is good and thoughts unwind.

For only what we give away, enriches us from day to day.

 

When I demonstrate kindness it changes me in a good way.  It nourishes and grows my own soul.  It gets me out of my own problems and produces happiness.  This is part of God’s blessing on the merciful.  I am filled with joy, happiness, and contentment.

 

Benjamin Franklin said, “When you are good to other people, then you are best to yourself.”

 

Happy (blessed) are those who are concerned for the needy; YHWH will deliver them if misfortune should strike.  YHWH will protect them and preserves their lives.  And they will be called happy (blessed) upon the earth.                                                                                    Psalm 41:1-2 

 

The most miserable people are those who are misers; who don’t care about others; who can neither give nor forgive. 

 

HAS GOD IMPRESSED SOMETHING ON MY HEART?

IF SO, HOW WILL I RESPOND?

 

[1] It was not well-received by the ruling aristocracy in France because of this and he had to sell it for nearly nothing (3,000 Francs).  The painting resold after his death for 100 times as much (300,000 Francs).

[2] This is said in the context of either “sowing to the flesh” (reaping destruction) or “sowing to the Spirit” (reaping eternal life).

[3] “My Lord” = Adonai; “Maid” = schifchah, meaning maid, female servant or female slave.

[4] This fulfilled the word of YHWH by the mouth of JeremiahThe land will receive its Sabbath rests, it will remain untilled until the end of desolation, until 70 years are complete.                                             2 Chronicles 36:21

[5] 2 Chron 36:15-21.  In Ezekiel 4:4-6, the number of years that the Sabbath and Jubiliees were missed is said to have been 430, not 490.  The exile as a means for the land to enjoy its Sabbaths is mentioned in Lev 26:27-35.  See also Jer 25:8-12 (70 years exile).  

 

[6] 2 Peter 2:20, “If they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and then are again entangled in and overcome by them, their later state has become worse than at first.  It would have been better for them had they never known the way of righteousness. …”

Hebrews 6:4-6, “In the case of those who have once been enlightened, have tasted the heavenly gift, have partaken of the Holy Spirit, have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance since they crucified the Son of God all over again and put him to open shame.”

Hebrews 10:26-29, “If we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment. … How much severer a punishment do you think will fall on the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace.”   See also Romans 6:1-2,15-18.