Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Ruth 2-God at Work Through Character

In these first few verses of chapter 2, we are going to pay attention to the characters of Ruth and Boaz. As in the last chapter, if we do not stop to pay attention to the simple, almost mundane, things of the book of Ruth, the story will pass us by. Instead of seeing this as just a simple and pastoral short story, God Himself will be revealed to us as the hero of the ordinary life which is submitted to Him.

As for Ruth, the text simply jumps into her decision to head out to the fields. It is almost as if she arrived in Bethlehem, woke up the next morning, and asked for Naomi’s blessing to go and glean in whatever field she could. It is worth notice, I believe, that Naomi did not guide Ruth. Note also that now the roles of the two are reversed. In chapter one Naomi was the widow in a foreign land, and now the text notes that Ruth, the Moabitess, is now in that position. And yet her reaction is one of humility and industry-even when Naomi does not have the strength or the desire to guide her to the nearest family member who could help.

It is often noted that Ruth’s choice is one full of humility and industry. It was a humble choice in large part because she is willingly taking on the task of a beggar who is desperate to feed themselves. It is an industrious act in large part because Naomi has not helped her (either due to age or possibly her bitterness). As Ruth goes to glean in the fields, imaging the harvesters standing and bending over to gather the sheaves, and then imagine a foreign girl on her hands and knees behind them picking up single grains out of the dirt. Lessons like humility and industry are not among the spectacular and crowd-gathering lessons of Scripture, but we will find that these traits were necessary attributes in Ruth in order for God to accomplish His task. (1 Thess. 4:11-12)

As for Boaz, I think a lot can be learned from his first recorded conversation. He and his harvesters greet one another with God on their lips. Boaz is on a business trip to catch up on how the harvest is going, he is not on his way to Synagogue or to the priests. Even so, God is the first thing out of his mouth. Some might pass this over by thinking that it is simply a part of their culture, but that is exactly the point I want to make. Boaz is a part of a culture which has been shaped to saturate its people with the presence and mind of God. (We will see in Boaz a strong, moral character as we continue.) One may see this as simply a part of their culture, but there is nothing simplistic about it.

God went to great lengths to create a culture where His people would be confronted with His reality all the time. Take the familiar passage of Deuteronomy 6:4-9 for instance. The Shemah is not only a memorable phrase which could be easily memorized and confessed, it is a powerful bit of theology and metaphysical ontology. So what does God intend for this bit of theology? He requires that it be taught to children, that it be talked about when you wake up, when you go to the market, when you go to bed-and on it goes. God intended for Himself to be at the forefront of the Hebrew mind and heart all the time.

The New Testament knows something of this as well. In another well-known passage, 1 Thess. 5:16-18, Paul encourages us to be joyful always, to pray always, and to give thanks always. There is no practical way of doing this except to change the way we see the world and put God at the center of it all. Brother Lawrence once said that he determined to make God the aim of all his thoughts and the end of all his actions. He wanted to do and think nothing that did not end up with and in God. Cardinal Suhard said that the best way to be a living witness is not to spread propaganda and not to stir up emotions, but to be a “living mystery.” He said that we should live our lives in such a way that they do not make sense if God does not exist. Does your life only make sense if God is real?

By verse 13 of the second chapter, Ruth and Boaz have met and the stage is set of the happy ending of chapter 4. But note that this only happened because of the ordinary virtues of humility and industry found in Ruth, the God-saturated attitude of Boaz, and of course, the plot-twist of the entire story, the “as it turned out” moment (vs. 3). God is at work in what seems to be a simple act of luck or coincidence (some translations put it, “as luck would have it”). So the unseen hero so far is God Himself.

In closing I want to make this point about the will of God being revealed and understood in our lives. I have made the point that one of the reasons I like the book of Ruth is that it is so much like my life in the sense that there is nothing overtly supernatural about the hand of God in the story. The same is true for the unfolding of God’s will in Ruth’s life. God’s will is not revealed in a momentary peal of thunder or a vision in the night, instead it is unrolled like a scroll day by day.

(Credit to Alister Begg for that last phrase)

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