Monday, February 28, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 3, Samuel Dedicated To The Lord

Hannah finally has the child she prayed for. As she promised, she intends to dedicate Samuel to the Lord, which will involve her leaving him at the house of God in Shiloh. 

"When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, 'After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.'" (1 Samuel 1:21-22) Hannah didn't go up to Shiloh the next year when the rest of her family went. She didn't go again until Samuel was fully weaned, which at that time in history would have probably been around the age of two or perhaps even three.

"'Do what seems best to you,' her husband Elkanah told her. 'Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good His word.' So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him." (1 Samuel 1:23) Elkanah's words might be more properly rendered as, "May you make good on your word to the Lord." He reminds her that she is responsible for keeping her vow. The Lord didn't ask her to make such a vow, as far as we can tell, but after having made it she is required to keep it. When Hannah states her intention not to go up to Shiloh until the child is weaned, Elkanah wants to make sure she is being honest with him, with herself, and with the Lord and is not just looking for a way out of keeping her vow. Elkanah himself has evidently made some sort of vow to the Lord that he intends to fulfill at Shiloh. This may have been a vow to dedicate a certain amount of money to the house of God or to dedicate a certain amount of grain or livestock.

Elkanah doesn't seem disturbed by the thought of this child going to live and work at the tabernacle from now on. Upon hearing that Hannah made such a vow, he could have negated it according to Numbers 30:13 but he didn't. He loves Hannah and accepts the fact that she made an oath to the Lord when she asked for the miracle of this son. He does not force her to withhold her son; instead he upholds her vow, for he takes vows very seriously. 

We also have to keep in mind that Elkanah has other sons and daughters by his secondary wife, Peninnah. It's not as if he doesn't already have an heir-apparent to his estate. On top of that, in a time when infant mortality rates were quite high, parents often had to steel themselves to face the possibility that they might lose a child during childbirth, during infancy, or at any time between infancy and adulthood. This doesn't mean they were callous toward their children but Elkanah regarded having Samuel at all as a great blessing; dedicating him to the Lord in this manner may seem like "insurance" to Elkanah that Samuel will grow up and live a long life.

When the right time comes to fulfill her vow, Hannah goes up to Shiloh with her family when they make their regular pilgrimage. "After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull, an ephah of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, and she said to him, 'Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of Him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.' And he worshiped the Lord there." (1 Samuel 1:24-28) The more modern translations of this passage end at, "And they worshiped the Lord there." (Emphasis mine.) The family worshiped the Lord there together. 

It could be that Eli is included in this "they" who worshiped together. Hannah joyfully gives him her praise report regarding what the Lord has done for her. She says, "Remember me? I'm the woman you saw weeping and praying a couple of years ago and you blessed me and told me you hoped the Lord would give me what I asked for. Well, He did! I asked the Lord for a son and this is the son He gave me. Glory to the name of the Lord!" After saying these words, in tomorrow's study we will find her speaking a beautiful prayer of praise to the Lord. 

Difficult as it may have been to leave Samuel at Shiloh and to only see him on her annual pilgrimages there, I think Hannah has an inkling that this will all turn out for the greater good of Israel. I don't know whether she had any clear ideas about what the Lord might call him to do when he becomes an adult but I think she was expecting great things. A miraculous birth like Samuel's is an indication of more wonderful things to come. In addition, she's comforted when the Lord blesses her with three more sons and two daughters, as the author will tell us in Chapter 2. She doesn't have to go home and keep living like a childless woman. She will be given five more children to care for and to delight in. 

The Lord always outgives us. No matter what we dedicate to Him, He is always capable of doing far more for us than we will ever be able to do for Him, far more than we can ever ask or think. The Apostle Paul says Ephesians 3:20 that the Lord can do "immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine". Hannah asked the Lord for one son. She had enough faith to believe He could do that. But in return for her great faith the Lord did immeasurably more than she asked or imagined: He gave her six children in all. On top of that, He called the son she dedicated to Him to be a great prophet and judge in Israel---the last and most famous judge of them all.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 2, The Miraculous Birth Of Samuel

In yesterday's study we met Elkanah and Hannah, the man and woman who will become the parents of Samuel. We learned that Hannah is barren and that Elkanah has a second wife, Peninnah, who has provided him with a number of children. Peninnah cruelly taunts Hannah for being childless, probably because she is jealous of Hannah due to her being Elkanah's first wife and the wife for whom he feels the most affection. We talked about how, although Elkanah cares about Hannah the most, she will be left in a very precarious position should she outlive him, for she has no sons to provide for her and Elkanah's other wife and his children by her would take that opportunity to throw her out of the home. Not only does Hannah have to worry about her future, but she has to worry about the here and now because a childless woman of her era was treated with pity or with scorn or even with the suspicion that she must be living a life that displeases the Lord. 

As we concluded yesterday's passage we found Hannah so upset by her rival's taunts and by her childless state that she could not eat when the whole family went up to Shiloh for a religious holiday to worship the Lord at the tabernacle. The family remains there for several days and one evening at the conclusion of a meal, which she couldn't enjoy, Hannah leaves the group in despair and goes to the only place she can think to go to feel a sense of comfort: the house of the Lord. 

"Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord's house. In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly." (1 Samuel 1:9-10) Eli is still the high priest but we'll learn later that he has turned most of his duties over to his immoral sons, Hophni and Phinehas. The Phinehas mentioned in 1 Samuel is not the same Phinehas mentioned in Exodus, Numbers, and Joshua---that Phinehas was the grandson of Aaron. The Phinehas of 1 Samuel was likely named in honor of Aaron's grandson but he does not possess the godly character of the earlier Phinehas.

Hannah prays to the Lord while the high priest looks on. "And she made a vow, saying, 'Lord Almighty, if you will only look on Your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget Your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.'" (1 Samuel 1:11) I feel certain that Hannah has prayed to the Lord many times before about her barren condition. The Lord is about to answer her prayer but in my opinion it's not because she's made this prayer a particular number of times or because she's making this prayer at His house or because she's promising Him her son will be a Nazirite all his life. The Lord is answering her prayer because it's the right time for Him to answer it. 

Here is what I believe: He always intended to answer her prayer in the affirmative. He said "yes" the very first time she prayed it, just as in the book of Daniel we'll find Daniel being told that the Lord heard his prayer and said "yes" the instant he prayed it but that other things had to be put in place before Daniel saw his prayer being answered. (Daniel 10:12-14) The Lord was not ignoring Hannah during the years she was barren. He wasn't cold-hearted toward her feelings of sadness. If He had not given her strength and endurance I don't think she'd have held up as well as she has. He also comforted her through her husband, who was kinder to her "than ten sons" as we were told in yesterday's passage. It's just that the birth of Samuel had to occur at the right time in Israel's history. 

There have been times when the Lord sent the answer to my prayers while I was still praying. I love it when that happens, don't you? Don't we all wish it happened that way every time? But then there are those prayers we keep praying for years before we receive what we've been asking for. In those cases the Lord said "yes" the first time we asked Him---before we asked Him, really, because He knows all things and He knows the plans He has for us---but the timing wasn't yet right for Him to fulfill our request. Sometimes we make the mistake of believing the Lord has said "no" because there is a delay in seeing our requests granted. But that is often not the case at all. He is saying "yes" but also "wait". 

Hannah is praying in her heart while she weeps. Her mouth is moving along with the words she's thinking but she's not saying anything out loud. Eli observes her crying hysterically and moving her lips with no sound coming out and he assumes she is drunk, as we'll see momentarily. During the era of the judges, when "everyone did as he saw fit", and during Eli's spiritually lazy tenure as high priest, it had evidently become common for some of the people to become drunk during the annual feasts at Shiloh. These pilgrimages to Shiloh and the feasts that accompanied them were supposed to be held in honor of the Lord. But it appears as if the feasts had turned into evenings of debauchery for some. "As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk and said to her, 'How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.'" (1 Samuel 1:12-14) We'll learn later on that Eli has lost much of his spiritual discernment but here in Chapter 1 he still has enough respect for the Lord to be offended at the thought of somebody having a drunken crying jag at the Lord's house. He says words intended to shame her for her behavior. 

"'Not so, my lord,' Hannah replied. 'I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.'" (1 Samuel 1:15-16) In Chapter 2 we'll be told that there were some wicked women who hung out near the tabernacle and engaged in illicit relations with Eli's sons. Hannah says, "Don't mistake me for one of those! I am not here for immoral purposes and I haven't touched a drop of alcohol. I came to the house of the Lord because it was the only place I could think to go where I might feel comforted. I am in great anguish and grief and wanted to pour my heart out to the Lord in a place where I would feel closest to Him."

Eli seems to be moved by this woman's words, although he doesn't know what her troubles are. "Eli answered, 'Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.' She said, 'May your servant find favor in your eyes.' Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast." (1 Samuel 1:17-18) I don't know whether or not Hannah felt it in her heart that her prayer was about to be answered. But we don't have to know that in order to feel better after spending time with the Lord. Many times I've felt comforted and strengthened just from spending time with Him even though I said "amen" without having any idea how things would go. I still didn't know for sure whether the Lord's answer was "yes" or "no" but I knew that whatever He chose would be best. I went on about my day knowing that my needs and wants were safe in His hands. I think maybe that's why Hannah feels so much better that she's able to eat now: she's spent time with the Lord and feels certain that whatever He does will be the right thing for her. She's made up her mind to be at peace with whatever He does. 

The religious holiday is over now and families who live outside of Shiloh are making the trek back home. "Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home in Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel, saying, 'Because I asked the Lord for him.'" (1 Samuel 1:19-20) This name means "heard by God". 

When the Bible uses the words "heard" or "remembered" it doesn't mean that the Lord is ever deaf to anyone's cries or that He ever forgets about anyone. This type of hearing and remembering indicates action. The Lord didn't merely hear Hannah's prayers for a child; He heard them with a "yes" in His mind. The Lord never forgot about all the times Hannah prayed for a son; the "remembering" means the day came when He answered the prayer. 

If our passage today had to be given a theme I think it would be "in the course of time" from verse 20. The Lord didn't give Hannah a son until the right time had come for Samuel to be born. He wasn't ignoring her prayers during the years she struggled with infertility. His heart was never cold toward her distress. His ears were never closed to her cries. At no time was His answer a "no"; it was a "wait". In the right time and in the right way He came through with a miracle. It would not have been a miracle if He'd allowed Hannah to become pregnant within the first year or two of her marriage. That would have been common and expected by most young wives of her day. We often hear people use the phrase "the miracle of birth" but this is actually just the human body doing what it's designed to do. When the body does exactly what it's supposed to do, it's not a miracle. Birth happens every second of the day all over the world. But when a child is born to a woman who is absolutely and undoubtedly infertile, that's a miracle! And that miracle gave Hannah a strength of faith she wouldn't have had if bearing children had come easily to her. It gave Elkanah a strength of faith he wouldn't have had if he didn't know firsthand that this had to be a miracle of the Lord. It gave Samuel the strength of faith to believe in and trust the Lord when He called him to be both a judge and a prophet. It gave the people of Israel a reason to trust Samuel as the Lord's chosen religious and political leader of that time. 

Sometimes the answer to our prayers seems like it's taking too long. But the Lord knows exactly the right time to bring it to pass so that it will bring Him the most glory and provide us with an enormous boost to our faith.

Saturday, February 26, 2022

The First Book Of Samuel. Day 1, Introduction To Samuel's Family

Today we begin our study of the book of 1 Samuel which begins at the end of the era of the judges.  Samuel was the last of the judges of Israel and a prophet of the Lord as well. 

The book begins by introducing us to Samuel and speaking of his miraculous birth, which we'll study tomorrow. This book tells us of the rise and fall of Israel's first king, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, who was chosen by the nation due to his impressive outward appearance. It also describes Samuel's anointing of the young David (the Lord's choice because of David's heart for the Lord) as the next king of Israel. It is an action-packed book containing tales of love, hate, betrayal, friendship, war, political intrigue, jealousy, mental illness, and the slaying of a giant. 

Chapter 1 opens with an introduction to the parents of Samuel. He will be born to a man named Elkanah and a woman named Hannah, who is infertile. This isn't the first time in the Bible we've seen the Lord granting a child to a barren woman. Abraham's wife Sarah was barren but the Lord gave her Isaac at a point in her life when she was legitimately past the age of childbearing. The Lord also miraculously enabled an unnamed barren woman in the book of Judges to conceive and give birth to Samson. 

"There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children but Hannah had none." (1 Samuel 1:1-2) I want to stop here for a moment to discuss a disagreement among scholars as to whether Samuel's father was an Ephraimite, as indicated by verse 1, or whether he was a Levite, as stated by the genealogy given in 1 Chronicles 6. This problem is usually resolved by assuming that he was indeed a Levite but that his family was from one of the Levitical towns of Ephraim. You'll recall that the Levites weren't given an allotted territory in the promised land like the other tribes. They were given cities along with the pasturelands surrounding each city. Just as one of the Levites in the book of Judges was referenced as a man of Judah (because his hometown was within the territory of Judah), Elkanah can be both a Levite and a man of Ephraim (because his hometown was within the territory of Ephraim). Whether Samuel's father was of the tribe of Levi or of the tribe of Ephraim is not vital to our story, especially since they weren't of the priestly line of the tribe of Levi and they never served as priests.

Elkanah has two wives. Plural marriage is something we've seen before in the Bible and will see again. It is not God's best plan for marriage; He clearly demonstrated His best plan for marriage when He gave Adam only one wife. Every time we see plural marriage in the Bible we'll see strife in the home. Elkanah's home is no exception.

Because Hannah is mentioned first I am going on the assumption that Elkanah married her first. I think it's likely she would have been his first, last, and only wife except that, as verse 2 says, she had no children. Elkanah probably married Peninnah because Hannah was barren. 

If all this is true, it indicates something else: Elkanah married Hannah for love and Peninnah only to produce a son and heir. This doesn't mean he didn't care anything about Peninnah but she would have been acutely aware, as Jacob's wife Leah was, that the majority of his affections were focused on his other wife. Just as the Lord did in the case of Jacob's two wives, He enabled the less-loved Peninnah to bear multiple children. You'll recall that the Lord blessed Leah with multiple children while Rachel was having difficulty conceiving any at all. The same thing is happening here in 1 Samuel: Peninnah is having no trouble bearing children while her rival is dealing with infertility. The family dynamic in Elkanah's household explains why Peninnah is so mean to Hannah (we'll find her being cruel to her later in today's study) and why Hannah is so heartbroken over Peninnah's cruelty that she cannot eat.

"Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord." (1 Samuel 1:3) Elkanah is a devout man, obedient about going up to Shiloh to present his offerings to the Lord in the manner commanded by the Lord. He always takes his whole family with him. "Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb." (1 Samuel 1:4-5) 

The Bible tells us that Elkanah loved Hannah but it doesn't tell us that he loved Peninnah. He probably admired and respected Peninnah as the mother of his children but she would have known that he didn't love her equally with Hannah. She would have known that he took a second wife only because he had been married to his first wife long enough to be certain that she was barren. This knowledge would have grated on Peninnah day after day. She would have been especially and painfully reminded of her secondary place in his heart whenever the family went up to Shiloh. Instead of giving Hannah one portion, as he gave to his other wife and to each of his children, he gave her a double portion "because he loved her" and because he felt compassion for her since "the Lord had closed her womb".

I don't think the author of our passage (who may or may not have been Samuel himself) is saying that the Lord was punishing Hannah with barrenness. We definitely will not get the sense that she is living in some type of sin for which the Lord disciplines her by not allowing her to have a child. It will be clear as we study about her today and tomorrow that she is a godly woman who loves the Lord. What I think is happening here is that the Lord, in His perfect wisdom and in His perfect timing, gives a child to this woman at just the right time and in just the right way so that no one can deny a miracle has occurred. It's important for everyone to know that Samuel's birth occurred by the help of the Lord because having this miraculous story attached to him will aid him in all that he does in the books of 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel. The fact that his birth took a miracle will underscore his calling by the Lord to be a judge and a prophet. It will give extra legitimacy and authority to his religious and political roles in the nation.

Peninnah despises Hannah because no matter how many children Peninnah has given Elkanah, he has not turned the majority of his affections toward her. Just as Leah kept hoping with each newborn baby that Jacob would finally give her his main allegiance, so also Peninnah kept hoping Elkanah would honor and revere and cherish her so much for giving him children that she would become his favorite wife. This has not happened and by now she knows it will never happen. She takes out her jealousy and disappointment on Hannah and she uses the only weapon at her disposal to do so: pointing out that Hannah cannot give Elkanah any children. "Because the Lord had closed Hannah's womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her." (1 Samuel 1:6) I feel sorry for both these women because their circumstances are not their fault. It's not Hannah's fault that she's barren. It's not her fault Elkanah wanted an heir so much that he took a second wife. It's not Peninnah's fault that Elkanah married her solely to carry on his family line; it's very likely that her father arranged this marriage and that she had no say in her choice of husband. Or, if she did choose of her own free will to enter into this marriage, she may have done it believing Elkanah would fall in love with her for giving him the children he wanted. As far as we know, unless Peninnah is just generally an ill-tempered and unlikable woman, it's not her fault that Elkanah doesn't feel about her the way he feels about Hannah.

It is Peninnah's fault that she handles her feelings in an ungodly way. Hannah appears to have everything in the world going for her other than not being able to have children. This is the only thing Peninnah can use to hurt her with and, because Peninnah is so jealous of her and so heartbroken over not having the love she craves from her husband, she uses it. She especially gives Hannah a hard time whenever the whole family goes up to Shiloh, probably because it enrages her to see Elkanah giving Hannah twice as big of a portion as he gives the mother of his children. Peninnah can't keep Elkanah from dispensing this double portion but she can keep Hannah from enjoying it. "This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, 'Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don't you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don't I mean more to you than ten sons?'" (1 Samuel 1:7-8)

Elkanah asks, "Isn't my love enough for you?" His love isn't enough, and a large part of why it isn't enough is because she has to share him with a second wife. Elkanah has sired more than one heir with Peninnah. We know this because the author mentioned "all her sons and daughters" in verse 4. Elkanah did not stop visiting her bedroom after his firstborn son entered the world. Granted, in an era of high infant mortality, it was important to father more than one son. But when the author uses the word "all" and uses the plural words "sons" and "daughters", I picture a very large family. I can just imagine how much it hurt Hannah every time she knew her husband was spending the night with Peninnah.

Emotions aside, there's the practical aspect of Hannah's childlessness to consider. If she outlives her husband, who will provide for her if she has no grown son to support her? Marrying again will probably not be an option for her, even if her husband dies while she's still young, because it's a known fact that she's barren. Her only chance at another marriage would probably be if an older widowed man who already has several children wants her solely for her beauty and companionship. If Elkanah dies and she is still childless, she knows Peninnah and Peninnah's children will throw her out on the street. 

Hannah is feeling about as low as she can go as we conclude today's portion of Chapter 1. But her situation is not hopeless, not when she appeals to the One for whom nothing is impossible. In tomorrow's study she will go to the house of the Lord where she will speak to the One who "settles the childless woman in her home as a happy mother of children". (Psalm 113:9a) She will take her problem straight to "the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not". (Romans 4:17b) 

Friday, February 25, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 10, Happily Ever After

At the close of our study yesterday we found Boaz declaring his intention to redeem the family land of Ruth's dead husband and to take Ruth the Moabite as his own wife to raise up a son to carry on the inheritance rights of Ruth's first husband, Mahlon. That particular branch of the family line ended when Mahlon, along with his only brother Kilion and their father Elimelek, died in Moab. But in marrying the young widow Ruth, Boaz will father a son who will inherit what had belonged to these deceased men.

Now that Boaz and Ruth are legally married, they live together and conceive a child together. "So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son." (Ruth 4:13) We don't know how long Ruth was married to Mahlon the Israelite while the two of them lived together in Moab but it could not have been very long for neither she nor her sister-in-law Orpah conceived a child during their short marriages. What became of Orpah we have no idea; she disappeared from the pages of the Bible when she returned to her mother's house in Moab. It's likely she married again, since she was young and childless. She almost certainly married a Moabite man and continued living in that idolatrous culture for the rest of her life.

Let's contrast the presumed fate of Orpah with that of Ruth. Ruth forsook the idolatrous culture of Moab and gave her heart fully to the God of Israel---the one true God. Instead of remaining in Moab where another marriage would have been arranged for her by her parents, she adopted Naomi as her mother and decided to go to Israel with her where Naomi (and the Lord Himself!) arranged a marriage for her. Ruth knew what lay ahead of her if she remained in Moab, and from a human standpoint it wasn't a bad future: she had a place to live where she would be provided for and cared for until a good match could be arranged, then she'd have been provided and cared for the rest of her life by a husband and, if she outlived her husband, their offspring would have supported her until her death. But this meant living in a land where the God of Israel was not worshiped and Ruth's soul longed for a relationship with the Creator and Redeemer. 

So, like Abraham, Ruth left the land of her people and set out for the unknown. The Bible tends to concentrate mostly on the stories of men but in the book of Ruth we find a woman with as much courage as Abraham. The Apostle Paul says of Abraham, "By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going." (Hebrews 11:8) The same thing could be said of Ruth! This Moabite woman, who was brought up in a land of idolatrous worship just as Abraham was brought up in a land of idolatry in Ur, answered the call of the Lord. By faith she obeyed and went to a land she had never before seen, not knowing what to expect when she got there, but trusting that the God who called her would be faithful to provide for her. If she had not possessed this faith we would have heard no more about her, just as we heard no more about Orpah.

Naomi also had faith though she struggled with doubt and discouragement in Chapter 1, saying, "The Lord's hand has turned against me," and, "The Almighty has made my life very bitter," and, "The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." She still believed in the Lord but was angry toward Him over the losses she suffered in Moab. She didn't understand why He allowed these things to happen to her. She was so bitter that she insisted that everyone in her hometown of Bethlehem call her "Mara" instead of "Naomi" because the word "Mara" means "bitter". But, as I pointed out earlier in our study of Ruth, nowhere in the book of Ruth do we find anyone calling her anything but Naomi. The Lord always knew He would turn her mourning into dancing and He refused to call her a name that indicated bitterness of spirit. And here in the final chapter of the book of Ruth we find Him taking her bitterness away. Upon the birth of Naomi's grandson, her friends congratulate her and she rejoices in this great blessing. "The women said to Naomi: 'Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.' Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, 'Naomi has a son!'" (Ruth 4:14-17a)

Naomi lost her husband and her only two children, Mahlon and Kilion, in Moab. Earlier in the book of Ruth we discussed the theory of many scholars that Naomi's family did wrong in leaving Israel during the famine. Let's think about what might have happened if Elimelek, Mahlon, and Kilion had not died in Moab. What would have been the future of this family? The fact that Naomi's sons both married Moabite wives suggests that a slide into idolatry (or at least a slide into spiritual compromise) was already taking place in the family. If Mahlon and Kilion had survived to father sons and daughters in the land of Moab, they all might have lived out their entire lives in Moab. Then their children would have done the same, and their children's children, and so on. Within just a generation or two, their descendants would have been indistinguishable from the Moabites in every way, including in their religion. This branch of the family tree would have been lost in a far worse way than it was when the three men died in Moab; it would have been lost spiritually. 

Naomi was bitter over her losses when we began the book of Ruth. She was angry with the Lord. She didn't understand why these things had happened to her. It is sad that her husband and sons died but it would have been far sadder if all Naomi's descendants had integrated with the Moabites and had forsaken the Lord and become heathen idolaters. She didn't understand, at the beginning of the book of Ruth, why she'd had to endure heartbreak. But now that she has a clearer understanding of why the Lord allowed these things to happen, she is no longer bitter. Her heart still aches for her deceased loved ones, I am sure, but she has made her peace with her losses and has accepted that the Lord knows best even when she doesn't understand His reasons. 

I've been angry and bitter toward the Lord when He's allowed things to happen that I don't understand. That's the spirit I was in at this time last year. But now I see that what happened was for the best and that He had bigger and better things in store for my household than the thing I was bitter about losing. Naomi was in that same spirit at the beginning of the book of Ruth but now she sees that, although difficult, the hardship she endured in Moab was better for her family in the long run because it led to her return to Israel and the continuation of her family's name and inheritance in the promised land and their spiritual inclusion in the family of the Lord. We don't want to downplay Naomi's heartbreak; she's a grieving wife and mother. But if she'd had to witness her sons, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren bowing on their knees to idols in the land of Moab, she would have found that to be far more bitter than death. The loss of a soul is worse than the loss of a life and she would have cursed the day she and her family entered the land of Moab.

Naomi's grandson receives his name. "And they named him Obed." (Ruth 4:17b) This name means "servant", which is understood to be "servant of the Lord". I don't know what Naomi's grandsons would have been named if she'd had any in Moab, but likely they'd have been Moabite names indicating an allegiance to false gods. From Obed, "servant of the Lord", comes these descendants: "He was the father of Jesse, the father of David." (Ruth 4:17c) Obed is the grandfather of King David! Naomi's family line would not have had this great distinction in Moab but, because she had the faith to return to Israel and because her adopted daughter Ruth had the faith to come back with her, these women became the ancestresses of the royal line of Israel. The Lord---the greatest Kinsman Redeemer of all---redeemed not only the ill-advised move into Moab but redeemed this whole branch of the family tree! Who would have thought Naomi would return to the land of her people, much less become the great-great-grandmother of the most famous king of Israel? Who would have thought Ruth, a woman of a heathen land, would become the great-grandmother of David and be named in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ? 

Ruth isn't the only non-Israelite woman named in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Tamar, a Canaanite woman with whom Jacob's son Judah fathered Perez, is also in His genealogy. The book of Ruth concludes with the genealogy of Perez on down to King David. "This, then, is the family line of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron, the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David." (Ruth 4:18-22)

In Matthew 1 we find the genealogy of Jesus Christ, beginning with Abraham, and in verse 5 we find "Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth". Ruth could not possibly have foreseen the inclusion of her name in the holy Bible (much less in the family tree of the ultimate Kinsman Redeemer) when she renounced the false gods of Moab and gave her full allegiance to the God of Israel. But the Lord is a Redeemer not only of souls but of the mistakes of the past. It doesn't matter who Ruth used to be: it matters only who she became in the Lord. The same can be said for you and for me today. We used to be all kinds of things. As the Apostle Paul said in his letter to the church at Corinth, the people there used to be all sorts of things and used to live in all manner of ungodliness, "But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:11) It doesn't matter where we came from, any more than it matters that Ruth was once from the heathen culture of Moab. It only matters that we, like Ruth, have given our hearts to the Lord and are moving forward into the future with Him. 

Thursday, February 24, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 9, Boaz Gets Good News

Chapter 4 opens on a suspenseful note. Boaz goes to find the man who is a closer kinsman to Ruth's dead husband (and to Naomi's dead husband) than he is. If that man wants to redeem the plot of family land and enter into marriage with Ruth, Boaz will be out of the running. I imagine his heart is racing with anxiety as he approaches the city gates of Bethlehem. The sun has just come up but I bet he is perspiring as he nears the moment of truth when he will learn whether or not he will have Ruth's hand in marriage.

While Ruth waits at home with Naomi to see how things turn out, Boaz arranges for elders of the city to witness his conversation with the close kinsman of the women's dead husbands. "Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, "Come over here, my friend, and sit down.' So he went over and sat down. Boaz took ten elders of the town and said, 'Sit here,' and they did so." (Ruth 4:1-2)

The entrance to the city is the best place to find anyone. As soon as the gates are opened in the morning, those who have fields and flocks and herds outside of the city will begin pouring out of the gates to go about their work. Tradesmen begin pouring into the city to do business. Those who need their legal cases heard will assemble there to have the judges and elders hear both sides of the story and render a verdict. It isn't long before Boaz spots the man he's looking for. He then calls for ten elders to sit and witness the offer he is about to make to the man. This way the man can never say later that the matter wasn't handled on the up-and-up. He can never claim something was said that wasn't said. Not only that, but if he declines the offer to redeem the land and marry Ruth, Boaz can make his declaration of intent to do so and his declaration will be witnessed and made into a binding legal contract.

After everyone is seated, he explains why they've been called together. "Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, 'Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling a piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of those seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.'" (Ruth 4:3-4a) This man has the "first right of refusal" to use a modern term for buy-sell agreements. This doesn't necessarily mean he can buy it. Boaz doesn't know his financial circumstances. This doesn't necessarily mean he wants to buy it. He may not need or want it.

I picture Boaz worriedly holding his breath as he waits for the answer. The answer isn't what he wanted to hear. "'I will redeem it,' he said." (Ruth 4:4b) Boaz only has one chance left and it depends on how the man reacts to the stipulations of this land sale. "Then Boaz said, 'On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man's widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead man with his property." (Ruth 4:4b-5) Naomi's name and Ruth's name have been used interchangeably in regard to the ownership of the land. It originally belonged to Naomi's husband Elimelek and it would have been inherited by his eldest son Mahlon who was Ruth's husband. Elimelek predeceased Mahlon, who was an adult at the time. Strictly speaking, the majority of Elimelek's estate passed on to Mahlon who would then have been responsible for taking care of Naomi as long as she lived. But Mahlon died not long after his father, as did Mahlon's only brother Kilion. So again, strictly speaking, the land now belongs to Ruth who is the widow of Mahlon. But the man to whom Boaz is speaking may not know who Ruth is, although it's likely he heard she came back to Bethlehem with Naomi. The man knows exactly who Naomi is: she is the widow of his close kinsman Elimelek. Also, should he redeem the land and marry Ruth, he will be responsible for treating Naomi like his own mother and for providing for her for the rest of her life. 

The stipulation attached to the land sale causes the man to decline the offer, much to Boaz's enormous relief. "At this, the guardian-redeemer said, 'Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.' (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.) So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, 'Buy it yourself.' And he removed his sandal." (Ruth 4:6-8) It appears as if this man already has a son or sons to whom he wants to pass along all the land he will own upon his death. This is probably what he means by not wanting to endanger his own estate. If he marries Ruth and has a son with her, these other sons cannot inherit any of the land that belonged to Ruth's late husband's family. We don't know whether he's a widower with children or whether he has a living wife. We've seen incidences of plural marriage in the Bible but strife always comes into the household in these cases. It's perfectly understandable if he wants nothing to do with that.

"Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, 'Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon's widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!'" (Ruth 4:9-10) If Naomi and Ruth had not been destitute except for this land, they would not have had need of a kinsman redeemer. But they were not left well-off when their husbands died. If they were well-off we wouldn't have found Ruth gleaning behind Boaz's harvesters. They need a provider and a protector. Boaz happily steps up into this role.

Those gathered at the gate duly witness the legal transaction that has taken place here. "Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, 'We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.'" (Ruth 4:11-12) Perez was an ancestor of the people of Bethlehem. His mother Tamar, like Ruth, was a foreigner. But from the offspring of this foreign woman and an Israelite man came a great many of the Lord's people. The witnesses are saying something like, "May your union with Ruth produce many of the Lord's people!" They don't know it at this time, but you and I know it from our reading of the gospel by Matthew: the names of Tamar and Ruth appear in the genealogy of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord did indeed bless the marriage of Boaz and Ruth, not only in their own day but in the day when "the Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us". (John 1:14)

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 8, Motherly Advice From Naomi

Ruth has asked Boaz to perform the duties of a "goel": rendered as a "kinsman redeemer" in many older translations of the Bible and called a "guardian-redeemer" in the NIV which is what I use for the Bible study. There is family land that belonged to Ruth's husband Mahlon and to his father before him, Elimelek. It can be offered to and "redeemed" (sold) to these men's closest male relative. Until yesterday's passage of Scripture, Ruth's mother-in-law Naomi believed Boaz was the closest male relative, but he told Ruth that he is aware of a closer relative than himself. 

Whoever redeems the land must also take Ruth as his wife. Because she is a very young childless widow, the man who performs the duties of a kinsman redeemer for her must also enter into a similar situation as levirate marriage with her. We've talked about levirate marriage a number of times but it was a practice that ensured the continuation of a man's family name and the continuation of his inheritance rights. In levirate marriage a man marries the childless widow of the dead man (the woman must be of childbearing age; this practice would not apply to Naomi who said in Chapter 1 that she was too old to bear children), and the property rights of the dead man will pass along to the firstborn son of the marriage. Levirate marriage was usually a case of a brother marrying his brother's childless widow, so if Boaz (or the closer relative) marries Ruth it won't be a literal levirate marriage but it will be done in the same spirit. Mahlon's family line and inheritance rights stop at his death unless the man who redeems the land also marries Ruth, fathers a son with her, and passes Mahlon's land down to Ruth's son. 

Boaz is happy to perform the duties of kinsman redeemer for Ruth, not because he necessarily needs or wants the land, but because he would like Ruth to be his wife. He has gotten to know her while she worked in his barley harvest and in his wheat harvest. He has heard nothing but good things about her from everyone in Bethlehem. We don't know anything about Ruth's appearance, although we can safely assume she was reasonably attractive to Boaz and other men since he made reference yesterday to the fact that she could have run after younger or richer men than himself. This suggests that the average man would not have found anything objectionable about her looks. But I think Boaz is even more in love with her character than with her looks.

Ruth slept on the threshing floor overnight, as did Boaz and his harvesters. He does not want any of his workers to know that she showed up in the night and made her request of him. People might get the wrong idea about what transpired between them and he doesn't want Ruth's reputation or his to be tarnished. "So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, 'No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.'" (Ruth 3:14) For her own safety he urged her the night before to sleep there until morning. It was not safe during the days when "everyone did as he saw fit" for a lone woman to be traveling on the roads in the middle of the night. Apparently only the male harvest workers slept at the threshing floor since Boaz says no one must know that a woman was there.

"He also said, 'Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.' When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. Then he went back to town." (Ruth 3:15) We don't know the type of measuring implement or cup Boaz used but the amount of barley was considerable enough that it had to be tied up in her large shawl and then affixed to her in the manner of a backpack. Boaz doesn't yet know how today's events will turn out but one thing he does know: Ruth and Naomi will not go hungry before their land is redeemed and Ruth becomes a wife once again. 

This next passage is possibly my favorite of the book of Ruth. In it we find Naomi giving Ruth motherly advice. I miss receiving motherly advice! My mom died twenty-six years ago and I've now lived as long without a mother as I did with a mother. Naomi's attitude and advice at the end of Chapter 3 remind me so much of my own mom's. Any time I went to my mom for boyfriend advice, or later for marital advice, she always seemed to have a knack for figuring out what the male in question was thinking. She always seemed to know what I should do or say in regard to my relationship with the male in question. Naomi is the same way. She knows exactly what Boaz is thinking and she knows exactly what Boaz will do. As a result, she calms the nervous Ruth by giving her motherly advice.

"When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, 'How did it go, my daughter?' Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her and added, 'He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, 'Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty handed.' Then Naomi said, 'Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.'" (Ruth 3:16-18) It's clear to Naomi that Boaz is in love with Ruth. He's so in love with her that his compassion extends to Ruth's family, which in this case is only the widowed Naomi, but Boaz is aware that if he marries Ruth he will be taking on the lifelong care of the mother of her first husband. And that's fine with him because anything that makes Ruth happy will make him happy, up to and including providing for the woman she has adopted as a second mother. 

Boaz has shown a great deal of concern and respect for Ruth during the weeks he has known her. He placed her under his protection while she gleaned in his harvests. He provided lunch for her every day (a double portion so she could take half home to Naomi), which is something he was not obligated to do since she was a gleaner in the harvests and not a hired worker. Now he's promised to be her kinsman redeemer if it's at all possible and, as he sent her on her way in the meantime, he loaded her down with plenty to eat in the coming days. Naomi knows the signs of a man in love and Boaz has them all! There isn't a doubt in her mind that at this very moment he is looking for the man who is the closer relative so he will know as soon as possible who will get to marry Ruth. She says to Ruth, "Don't fret and walk the floor. You won't have long to wait. Boaz won't rest until he speaks with our closest kinsman because he wants to know the answer as badly as you and I do. Sit beside me and calm yourself in the Lord. If it is the Lord's will---and He knows who is the right man for you!---you will be Mrs. Boaz before you know it."

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 7, A Marriage Proposal

We've been waiting to see what happens when Ruth takes Naomi's advice regarding Boaz. Naomi told her to clean up, put on her best dress and some perfume, and go down to the threshing floor where Boaz and his workers are threshing the grain they've harvested. A banquet was usually held in the evenings when threshing was going on and Naomi told Ruth not to approach Boaz during the meal but to take note of where he put his pallet down for sleeping. Then, after he was asleep, she was to uncover his feet and lie down at his feet. We discussed how this was not a method of making sexual advances but that, by lying at his feet like a close servant, it was symbolic of Ruth putting herself under Boaz's care. She's about to ask him to be her kinsman redeemer and, in her case, this also means taking her to be his wife.

Ruth obediently does as Naomi says. "'I will do whatever you say,' Ruth answered. So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do." (Ruth 3:5-6) The threshers will all be sleeping on their pallets around the grain. It makes sense to remain where they will begin work again at sunrise and it protects the grain from thieves. In the book of 1 Samuel we will be told that the Philistines had a habit of sending raiding parties to loot the threshing floors of the Israelites. It's possible Boaz even had to protect his harvest from his fellow citizens since our story is occurring during the time when, as the author of Judges kept reminding us, "Everyone did as he saw fit." Those of unscrupulous tendencies were giving in to their natures instead of obeying the Lord's laws and commandments. But there were many who were not living according to the whims of their carnal natures and Ruth and Boaz are two examples of these. 

Some scholars believe Ruth was taking a huge chance with her virtue by lying down at Boaz's feet. That might have been the case if he were not a man who loved the Lord. Although there is not much privacy at the threshing floor, a man of low morals might not have cared about that. A man of low morals and his harvesters might have spent the night carousing with women after eating and drinking at the banquet. But such goings-on do not take place on the property of Boaz. Naomi and Ruth are confident enough of his good character that they feel safe with their plan. Boaz never laid a hand on Ruth the whole time she gleaned in his fields during the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. He never said or did anything to disrespect her in any way and he gave strict orders to his male workers that they better not bother her either. Naomi and Ruth believe a man like Boaz will not take advantage of Ruth at the threshing floor and they are correct.

"In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned---and there was a woman lying at his feet! 'Who are you?' he asked. 'I am your servant Ruth,' she said. 'Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.'" (Ruth 3:8-9) In the dark he can't see who is lying at his feet. He knows it's a woman because he smells her perfume. In reply she humbly states, "I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me. Accept the role of my kinsman redeemer." This is a marriage proposal. As we discussed in our last study session, whoever redeems the land of Ruth's dead husband will, in a sense, be entering into "levirate marriage" with her. She is a young childless widow; therefore, whoever redeems her husband's land must marry her and raise up children to carry on her husband's family line. In such cases the land must pass on to the firstborn son of the marriage, even if the man already has children with a previous wife. This custom was used to preserve the family names and the inheritance rights in the land of Israel. 

Many times in the Old Testament we'll find the Lord referring to Israel as His wife and comparing His covenant with Israel to the vows between a husband and a wife. In the book of Ezekiel, when He talks about how He chose the descendants of Abraham as His own and called them into covenant with Him, He will say to them that He "spread the corner of My garment over you". (Ezekiel 16:8) He speaks of how He proposed by spreading the corner of His garment over Israel and gave her His solemn oath and "entered into a covenant with you" and "you became Mine". 

In our passage today we find Ruth proposing marriage by asking that Boaz spread the corner of his garment over her. She asks that he redeem the property of her dead husband, marry her, and father a son to inherit the land of the late Mahlon. Boaz knows exactly what Ruth is asking him to do and he gladly accepts, only there's an impediment on their path to their happily ever after. "'The Lord bless you, my daughter,' he replied. 'This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do all for you that you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.'" (Ruth 3:10-13) 

When Boaz tells Ruth to lie there until morning, he's not suggesting anything immoral. After all, he just finished extolling her virtues, saying, "All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character." He knows she's not the type of woman to have physical relations with a man to whom she is not married. He's simply telling her, for her own safety, to sleep on the threshing floor for the remainder of the night. He can guarantee her protection if she stays with him, under the corner of his garment---under his wing, so to speak. It's the middle of the night and a woman walking alone from the threshing floor back to the city of Bethlehem might be attacked along the way. She mustn't leave until the sun is about to come up.

Boaz blesses her for offering him the privilege of acting as her kinsman redeemer. She didn't have to give him the opportunity to fulfill this role. She is evidently attractive enough that, had she fluttered her eyelashes at some other single man of Bethlehem, she could have had a marriage proposal from anyone she wanted. But she is not the type of woman to rush into anything. She is not the type of woman to be impressed by looks alone or by money alone; this is why he says she did not run after any of the younger men, whether rich (making a play for someone based on his wealth) or whether poor (falling for a man based on looks rather than on his ability to provide for her). Ruth wants a man of integrity for her husband. Ruth wants to do things by the book---the Lord's book---and that includes offering the land of her dead husband's family to his closest male relative. By offering to sell the land to the closest male relative, she is to become the wife of the man who redeems the land.

But Boaz, as it turns out, is not the closest male relative. Naomi and Ruth were not aware that a closer relative exists. After all, Boaz is related to Naomi's deceased husband, not to Naomi herself. She has somehow missed one of the leaves on the family tree. Boaz, like Ruth, wants to do things by the book. He is not going to circumvent the law of kinsman redeemer by failing to allow the closer relative the opportunity to redeem the land and take Ruth as his wife. He says to Ruth, "I must speak to this man in the morning. If he is willing and able to do his duty as kinsman redeemer, your future will be secured. But if he is not willing and able to fulfill this role, I will be more than happy to do it myself. You have my word and you can count on it because I am making this promise to you in the name of the Lord."

Until Boaz can speak with the closer relative, he doesn't know how things will turn out. I imagine he didn't sleep for the rest of the night. Ruth probably didn't either. Naomi, waiting at home for news, likely tossed and turned on her bed all night. But the Lord is not worried. He isn't fretting and walking the floor. He knows the plans He has for Ruth and Boaz and those plans aren't threatened by anyone or anything. He providentially arranged for Ruth to glean in the fields of Boaz who just so happened to be close kin to her late husband's family. He arranged for the two of them to get to know each other and to come to respect and admire each other. Ruth has not met the closer kinsman redeemer and knows nothing about his character, nor does this man know anything about hers. The prospect of this stranger suddenly becoming her husband must have been a daunting prospect but, as always, Ruth trusts the Lord enough to leave everything in His hands. If it should turn out that this man wants to take on the role of kinsman redeemer, she trusts that the Lord is doing what is best for her. Boaz also trusts the Lord in this matter, even though I am certain he hopes the man will turn down the offer. But Boaz, because he cares for Ruth, wants the Lord's best for her even if that isn't him. 

There is no safer place to put ourselves than in the Lord's hands. There is no better way to live our lives than in an attitude of submission to His will for our lives. He knows everything that we don't. Ruth may not have grown up in the knowledge and fear of the God of Israel but she has committed herself to Him now. She didn't allow herself to be drawn into marriage by a young, good-looking, smooth-talking man. She didn't allow herself to be seduced by the thought of becoming the wife of some man wealthier than Boaz. She's allowing the Lord to choose her husband for her because she believes---rightly---that He knows best. 

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 6, Matchmaking By Naomi

When Ruth returned home from gleaning a field during the barley harvest, Naomi knew right away that someone must have shown her special kindness. Not only did the owner of the field give her a free lunch, but he gave her enough for two people so she could bring half of it home to Naomi. On top of that, Ruth gleaned more in a day than a person normally would and Naomi realizes the owner of the field must have instructed his harvesters to let extra stalks fall to the ground. She said, "Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!" 

Ruth tells her the identity of the owner of the field and Naomi recognizes his name. "Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. 'The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,' she said. 'The Lord bless him!' Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. 'He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.' Then she added, 'That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.'" (Ruth 2:19b-20) Boaz is a kinsman of Naomi's late husband Elimelek and Naomi's late sons, Mahlon and Kilion. He has been kind to the living (Naomi and Ruth) and has shown honor and respect for the memory of the dead (Naomi's departed husband and sons). 

She adds the information that Boaz is such a close relative that he is a "goel" which is a Hebrew legal term for a male relative of such close kin that he had the right to avenge the murder of a loved one (the person known as the "avenger of blood" in Numbers 35, Deuteronomy 19, and Joshua 20) and who had the obligation to help his next-of-kin out of dire circumstances. We will learn in tomorrow's that Boaz is not these women's closest next-of-kin. 

While Naomi is extolling the goodness of Boaz and calling upon the Lord to bless him for his kindness, Ruth tells her she hasn't heard the whole story yet. It gets even better. "Then Ruth the Moabite said, 'He even said to me, 'Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.' Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, 'It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else's field you might be harmed.' So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law." (Ruth 2:21-23) The wheat wouldn't be ready for harvest until after the barley harvest came in. This means Ruth worked in Boaz's fields through two harvests and I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that he specifically invited her to stay on for the second harvest, though the Bible doesn't say so.

When Ruth told Naomi she was working under the protection of Boaz, Naomi was relieved. She knew this meant her daughter-in-law would be safe from the advances of the men. She knew Boaz would continue making sure Ruth got a good lunch every day. Again I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that Boaz kept giving her a double portion every day so she could take half of it home to Naomi. I don't know whether Naomi realized, at the beginning of the barley harvest, that Boaz was a bachelor. But she has found this information out while Ruth worked for him through both harvests. I don't know whether she did some information gathering or whether, upon telling her friends and neighbors how generous Boaz had been, she was told that he was single. The suggestion might have been made that he had some romantic interest in Ruth. Or perhaps Naomi came to that conclusion herself. Whatever the case, now that both harvests are coming to a conclusion, she knows there will be no work-related reasons for Ruth and Boaz to continue being in each other's company. So she decides it's time to play matchmaker. She wants Ruth to become the wife of Boaz and she gives Ruth some advice about how to make it happen.

"One day Ruth's mother-in-law Naomi said to her, 'My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.'" (Ruth 3:1-4) We must not make the mistake of misconstruing Naomi's advice to Ruth; she is not telling Ruth to make sexual advances to Boaz. Ruth is not going to Boaz's sleeping area on the threshing floor to put him in a compromising position. It is not her intention to elicit a proposal of marriage by seducing him or by making everyone at the harvest celebration think she did.  No, in lying at his feet she is putting herself where a servant would sleep. She is saying, "I am putting my future in your hands. I am asking for your continued protection and provision." 

If anyone is making a marriage proposal here, it is Ruth, not Boaz. In tomorrow's passage, when he awakes startled to find a woman at his feet, she will ask him to, "Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family." He will know exactly what she's asking him to do in the capacity of a kinsman redeemer. There is family land, which once belonged to Naomi's husband Elimelek, that can be sold to provide for Naomi and Ruth. It has to be offered first to the "goel", the closest male relative, otherwise known as the kinsman redeemer/guardian-redeemer. At this time Ruth and Naomi think Boaz is the closest male relative, although in tomorrow's passage we'll learn that he knows of a closer kinsman than himself. The land will have to be offered to the other kinsman first but whoever buys the land must also take Ruth as his wife. Why? Because this is an example of "levirate marriage" which we studied earlier in the Old Testament. We'll take a look at how this works out.

Elimelek's son Mahlon was his eldest son and chief heir. The bigger share of Elimelek's estate would have gone to Mahlon upon Elimelek's death. Elimelek predeceased both his sons and that means, in essence, Ruth has as much claim to the land as Naomi. The man who buys Ruth's land must also marry her and have children with her so her firstborn son can inherit the land. You'll recall that "levirate marriage" was the practice of a man marrying his dead brother's young widow and having a son with her so the son could inherit all the property rights of the dead man. (The word "levir" means "brother".) But Mahlon's only brother, Kilion, is already dead. In this situation a kinsman redeemer is the closest thing to a brother of the late Mahlon. The man who redeems the land is to enter into levirate marriage with Ruth, have children with her, and pass along to their firstborn son the land that would have belonged to Mahlon. 

We will find Boaz more than willing to redeem the land and marry Ruth but there is the matter of a closer kinsman redeemer to be dealt with. I imagine Boaz was hoping and praying the man would not want to fulfill the role of "goel" so Boaz can become the husband of the woman whose character he admires so much. But that matter will have to wait until morning when Boaz can find the man and speak with him about it. In the meantime he's in suspense. Ruth is in suspense. Naomi is in suspense. We will conclude today's study right here so that you and I can wait in an attitude of suspense along with them.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 5, Boaz Shows Special Kindness To Ruth

In Friday's passage we found Boaz inviting Ruth to keep gleaning in his fields and urging her not to glean in anyone else's fields. This is because he gave strict instructions to his male workers not to harass her in any way. He can ensure her safety on his own property but if she goes to work on someone else's property she might find herself the target of those who think a foreign widow with no male protector is easy prey. Boaz doesn't want anyone trying to take advantage of her.

In today's passage he continues to show her special kindness. "At mealtime Boaz said to her, 'Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.'" (Ruth 2:14a) This "wine vinegar" is believed to have been a refreshing beverage that replenished electrolytes. The Roman soldiers of Jesus' era were supplied with daily rations of wine vinegar and it's commonly accepted by mainstream Christian scholars that this is what was offered to Jesus on the cross when He said He was thirsty. (John 19:28-29) When a person has been laboring and sweating in the hot sun, as in Boaz's barley harvest, they need more than just plain water to refresh them because they have lost sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and calcium. Wine vinegar contains small amounts of these substances and it was used to help the workers feel refreshed and revived. That's also why it was given to soldiers in the Roman army, to replenish minerals lost while they sweated when marching or when fighting a battle.

Next Boaz wants to make sure Ruth gets a meal in her before she goes back to gleaning. Hired workers would be provided a meal by their employer but a person who shows up to glean behind the workers would either have to bring their own lunch or go without eating until they returned home in the evening. Boaz does something that the typical landowner of his day wouldn't do: he gives her something to eat out of the food he brought for himself and his workers. "When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, 'Let her gather among the sheaves and don't reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don't rebuke her.'" (Ruth 2:14b-16) The poor were allowed to come and gather dropped stalks from the ground after the sheaves had been bound and stood up, but not before. Ruth is being granted a special privilege by being allowed to pick stalks from the ground before the sheaves were stood up. Extra stalks are to be dropped for her on purpose so she can take home more than a person usually would when gleaning. 

Boaz knows Ruth is the sole provider for herself and her mother-in-law. He wants her to have plenty to eat and plenty to take home to Naomi too. We learn that the lunch portion he gave her was so large that she had half of it left over to take home to Naomi. "So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough." (Ruth 2:17-18) Scholars disagree somewhat on the weight of an ephah but most agree that it was enough to supply Ruth and Naomi with food for several days. 

Naomi knows an ephah is more than a person would normally glean in a day. She realizes that the owner of the field must have caused this to happen on purpose. She's surprised but grateful that he not only allowed Ruth to pick up extra stalks but that he also shared food with her---enough food for two people. "Her mother-in-law asked her, 'Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!'" (Ruth 2:19a)

Boaz genuinely cares about Ruth's wellbeing; he isn't just putting on a show of kindness in order to win her affections. As a prosperous landowner who is "a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek" (Ruth 2:1) he would be considered a very eligible bachelor by any of the marriageable young ladies of Bethlehem. He doesn't have to put on a show for anybody in order to get a wife. He's being good to Ruth because he's a godly man who is concerned for the needy. The Lord commanded His people to be concerned for the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners and we find Boaz living in obedience to the Lord when he supplies the poor widows Ruth and Naomi with food. He's being kind to Ruth because he's a kindhearted person.

In addition I think he's drawn to her as a person. He admires her for her commitment to the Lord, for her commitment to her widowed and childless mother-in-law, and for her commitment to hard work. She displays the qualities of the type of woman whose virtues will be extolled later in Proverbs 31, whose worth is said to be far above that of rubies. Boaz could have had the most beautiful young woman of Bethlehem for his bride but he's looking for a woman whose inward beauty is even more radiant than her outward beauty. The author of the book of Ruth never describes Ruth's looks to us but we can safely conclude she was beautiful to Boaz, not just on the outside but---more importantly---on the inside. 

Boaz woos Ruth with kindness because he is a kindhearted man. He displays a heart like the Lord's in his interactions with Ruth, for the Lord woos us with kindness. The Lord makes the first move toward us, just as Boaz made the first move toward Ruth. The Lord supplies our needs and more besides, just as Boaz gave Ruth more than her daily bread. Boaz invites Ruth to return to his barley field day after day because he knows that is where she will be safe. In this same way, the Lord wants to establish a lifelong relationship with us and to keep us close to Him every day because that is where we are safest, spiritually speaking. Boaz isn't looking for a casual relationship when he begins his courtship with Ruth and the Lord isn't looking for casual spirituality from us. 

The book of Ruth is a true story about two people who were providentially put together by the Lord. But it's also much more than that! It illustrates the way the Lord pursues us in love. It illustrates how we are to respond to that love. Boaz, in this story, symbolizes the Lord. Ruth symbolizes the Lord's people. The story is beautiful in itself but becomes even more beautiful when we consider its deeper meaning.

Join us tomorrow as Naomi finds out who has been so kind to Ruth and realizes he is a kinsman of her late husband. That's when it begins to dawn on her that the Lord, who in her bitterness she accused of having turned against her, is actively working on her behalf and on Ruth's behalf. Ruth isn't the only person in this story being pursued in love (both Boaz's and the Lord's). The Lord is pursuing Naomi and proving to her that He never has turned His back on her and never will.

Friday, February 18, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 4, Ruth Meets Boaz

In Thursday's study we found Ruth going out to glean behind the harvesters in a field that, unbeknownst to her, belonged to a kinsman of her late father-in-law. Boaz, the owner of the field, stopped by to check on the progress of his barley harvest. Upon spotting Ruth in the field, he asked the overseer of his workers who she was. We pick up there today with the overseer's answer.

"The overseer replied, 'She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, 'Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.' She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.'" (Ruth 2:6-7) 

We learned in Chapter 1 that when Naomi returned to Bethlehem with her Moabite daughter-in-law, "The whole city was stirred because of them." It had been ten years since they'd seen Naomi and in that time she'd lost her husband and her two grown sons, had said goodbye to the Moabite wife of her youngest son, and had been "adopted" by Ruth as her second mother. Ruth had turned her back on Moab and its gods and had given her allegiance only to the God of Israel. All this was something to talk about, and talk about it the people did. I didn't get the impression from Chapter 1 that the people talked about these things in a malicious sort of way, like gossip. I think they talked about it like news, such as, "Have you heard Naomi has returned with a Moabitess who has pledged lifelong faithfulness to her mother-in-law and to the God of Israel?" I think also Naomi and Ruth were talked about sympathetically, such as, "Did you hear about what happened to the husband and sons of Naomi? They all died in Moab and she has now returned home with the wife of her eldest son."

Since "the whole city was stirred" upon Naomi's and Ruth's arrival, Boaz has heard this news. When his overseer says of Ruth, "She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi," it's clear that the overseer expects Boaz to know who Naomi is. And he does. He's heard of the return of the widowed Naomi and that she brought the widow of her eldest son with her. He's heard that Ruth forsook the culture of Moab and the gods of Moab to identify herself with the Israelite family of her deceased husband and to worship the God of Israel. With his short reply the overseer has answered many of the questions on his employer's heart. Now Boaz knows a number of things about the foreign woman gleaning in his field: she's Naomi's daughter-in-law, she's a widow, she has converted to the God of Israel, and she's a hard worker because the overseer says she has worked steadily ever since she arrived except for one brief break in the shade under the shelter.

Boaz approaches her to invite her to keep working in his field, and only in his field. "So Boaz said to Ruth, 'My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.'" (Ruth 2:8-9) Before introducing himself to Ruth he sternly warned his male workers not to harass her in any way. They aren't to be hitting on her, to use modern slang. They aren't to be shooing her out of the fields because she isn't one of Boaz's hired hands. They aren't to refuse her the use of the shelter or a drink from the water jugs. They aren't to show her less respect because she's poor and is picking up the dropped sheaves. They must be as respectful to her as they are to the paid female workers. The Israelite women working in the fields are under the protection of a father or a husband and none of the men would dare speak to them in a coarse manner or be rude to them. Boaz is placing the foreigner Ruth under his protection and the men are to behave accordingly. She has no male protector so he is putting himself in that role.

Why does he do this? Ruth wants to know the same thing. "At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, 'Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me---a foreigner?'" (Ruth 2:10) She asks, "Why would you be concerned with how I'm treated here, considering I'm a foreigner? Why have you placed me under your protection?"

"Boaz replied, 'I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband---how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.'" (Ruth 2:11-12) He says, "I've heard nothing but good things about you. It's the talk of the town how you adopted Naomi as your mother and adopted her people as your people and accepted her God as your God. Everybody is talking about you, with great admiration, because you are working hard to support yourself and your widowed mother-in-law. I know that you have converted to the God of Israel and in my mind that makes you one of us. That means my workers are expected to treat you just as if you were a native-born Israelite. May the Lord bless you for turning from idols to Him! May the Lord bless you for your love and concern for your poor widowed mother-in-law!"

Ruth humbly thanks him for his graciousness toward her. "'May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,' she said. 'You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant---though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.'" (Ruth 2:13) She says, "I was apprehensive about working in a stranger's field. I didn't know how I would be received by your workers or by you. Thank you for treating me as if I am the equal of your hired women, though I am a foreigner from a heathen country. Thank you for showing me the same honor and respect you'd show a woman of Israel and for ordering your workers to do the same. I feel very safe here now, thanks to you."

In closing I want to take note that Boaz addressed her as "my daughter". He's older than her, as we'll learn later on, but that doesn't mean he feels fatherly toward her. He's in the process of falling in love with her, so when he addresses her as "my daughter" this is probably a salutation he would use with any single woman younger than he is. It's also a salutation of respect and equality, for it's doubtful he would address a foreign woman as "my daughter". Ruth is a foreign woman but as a convert to the God of Israel and the widow of an Israelite she has become, for all major intents and purposes, an Israelite herself. He is treating her as such. He addresses her in the same way he'd address any native-born woman of Israel. Thirdly, I think referring to her as "my daughter" is intended to comfort her and put her at ease, which indeed she says he has done in verse 13. He says these words in a kind and compassionate tone of voice so she won't be frightened when he walks up to speak with her. Otherwise she might have been afraid that he---the owner of the field---was going to tell her she's unwelcome on his property. 

Boaz isn't finished doing nice things for Ruth. In tomorrow's passage we'll find him extending more courtesies to her and she will respond by thinking more and more highly of him. This is a picture of the way the Lord relates to mankind and the way mankind relates to the Lord. The Lord always makes the first move. He extends kindness and compassion and love and mercy. Our appropriate response should be to reverence Him highly and, if I may phrase it this way, to fall more and more in love with Him.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 3, Boaz Sees Ruth For The First Time

In yesterday's study we found Ruth pledging to remain with her mother-in-law for the rest of her life. She said, "Your people will be my people and your God my God." In today's passage we find these two women arriving at Naomi's hometown of Bethlehem at harvest time.

"So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, 'Can this be Naomi?' 'Don't call me Naomi,' she told them. 'Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.' So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning." (Ruth 1:19-22) The name "Naomi" means "pleasant" but she is bitter over the loss of her husband and sons, so she tells the women of her hometown to call her "Mara" instead because it means "bitter". 

Naomi feels personally singled out, for afflictions, by the Lord. She is offended at Him for the hardships that have come into her life. We don't know whether any actions on her part brought troubles on herself. As we discussed yesterday, some scholars propose the theory that it was her idea to move to Moab during the famine and that she persuaded her husband to take the family there. If that's the case, perhaps her husband and sons fell prey to some sort of illness that was going around in Moab but that was not going around in Israel. Therefore, she may feel as if the tragedies that befell her in Moab were the punishment of the Lord. She may think He is angry with her and that He will always hold it against her that she left Israel for a time. But hardship isn't always the result of sin and we don't know that Naomi was responsible for the move to Moab or that the move to Moab was outside of the Lord's will for the family. Troubles don't necessarily mean we have gone astray and are reaping the consequences of our mistakes. Jesus pointed out that God the Father "causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous". (Matthew 5:45b) 

We are living in a fallen world where bad things sometimes happen to good people. There are examples of that all throughout the Bible. Good things sometimes happen to bad people, and we can find examples in the Bible of wicked people who prospered for a time. Naomi is a woman who loves the Lord but she is bitter over the troubles the Lord allowed to come into her life. But He is about to turn her circumstances around in a big way. Naomi may be bitter in Chapter 1 but we'll find her rejoicing by Chapter 4. I think it's important to note that even though she wants to rename herself "Mara", we don't find the Scriptures calling her anything but "Naomi". The Lord knows pleasant days are ahead of her. He inspired the author of Ruth to continue calling her "Naomi", never "Mara". 

Naomi's return to Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest is perfect timing---God's perfect timing. It puts Ruth in the right place at the right time to meet the man who will become her husband. "Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, 'Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.' Naomi said to her, 'Go ahead, my daughter. So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek." (Ruth 2:2-3) 

Ruth wants to get to work right away supporting herself and her mother-in-law. She knows the harvesters of Bethlehem will be following the law of Leviticus 19:9-10 which says, "When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God." The Lord made this law to help the needy and it was common to see "the poor and the foreigner" coming along behind the harvesters to glean what was left behind. Ruth isn't an Israelite herself but she's been a member of an Israelite family for quite some time and she is familiar with many of their laws and customs. 

It's no coincidence Ruth begins working behind the harvesters in a field belonging to Boaz, the kinsman of Naomi's deceased husband. It's the providence of the Lord. We've probably all heard the expression "a match made in heaven" and that's what's about to take place: the Lord is about to arrange a meeting between Ruth and the man who will become her husband. The Lord causes Ruth to choose a field that, unbeknownst to her, belongs to a relative of her deceased father-in-law. This will set off a chain of events that culminates in Boaz fulfilling the role known as the "kinsman redeemer" of the inheritance that would have belonged to Ruth's dead husband. We briefly studied the role of the kinsman redeemer earlier in the Old Testament but we will discuss it in-depth when we get deeper into the book of Ruth. Here in Chapter 2 we see the Lord putting the initial pieces in place that will turn everything around for Ruth and make her the ancestress of kings of Israel and of Jesus of Nazareth.

After leading Ruth to choose this particular field, and as she begins to follow the harvesters, the Lord arranges for Boaz to arrive at just the right time to spot Ruth in the field. "Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, 'The Lord be with you!' 'The Lord bless you!' they answered." (Ruth 2:4) The barley field was located somewhere outside the city. Boaz comes out to check on the progress of his workers and, because he is a godly man who loves the Lord, he bestows a greeting of blessing upon his workers. They bestow a greeting of blessing back to him. While he stands there looking over the work of his laborers, he sees something he's seen many times before: people walking behind the harvesters to glean what they've left behind. But he also sees something he's never seen in his field before: Ruth. I believe he immediately finds her attractive, not only for her physical appearance but because he notices what a diligent worker she is. Proverbs 31 praises the woman who is a diligent worker and that lets us know that a willingness to work is a quality the men of Israel (and many men of every culture) admire in a woman.

"Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, 'Who does that young woman belong to?'" (Ruth 2:5) I can't help hearing his voice in my head as if he asked about Ruth in the same tone that a person uses when saying something like "Hubba hubba!" when laying eyes for the first time on someone they find especially attractive. Boaz asks, "Who is she?" I think that when he asks, "Who does that young woman belong to?" he's trying to find out if she's married. In tomorrow's study his overseer will provide him with the news that she's a young widow. That will prompt him to introduce himself to her and to invite her to glean only in his fields. He will then give strict instructions to all his male workers that she is to be treated with the utmost respect. 

The book of Ruth is a refreshing change after reading the way some men treated women in the book of Judges. Boaz is a true gentleman. He values Ruth's virtue and her personal dignity. He places her under his protection and I am sure would have taken swift and decisive action against any man who dared to speak or behave in an ungentlemanly manner toward her. He displays a heart for women like the Lord's heart for women. It was never the Lord's intention for men to treat women like sex objects or slaves. He created women to be the partners of men and He wants men to treat women with respect and dignity. As the Apostle Peter put it upon inspiration of the Lord, men are to treat women as "heirs with you of the gracious gift of life". (1 Peter 3:7) In Boaz we will find the attitude of a man who considers women heirs with men of the gracious gift of life. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Kinsman Redeemer: A Study Of The Book Of Ruth. Day 2, Ruth Goes To Bethlehem With Naomi

During a famine in Israel, a man named Elimelek took his wife and sons to Moab to sojourn for a time. He died in Moab, as did his two grown sons. These men each left behind a widow: Naomi, Elimelek's wife; Ruth, the elder son Mahlon's wife; and Orpah, the younger son Kilion's wife. Ruth and Orpah were widowed before they had any children.

News reaches Naomi that things are improving in Israel. The famine appears to have come to an end. She decides it's time for her to leave the country of Moab and go back to her hometown of Bethlehem in Judah. 

"When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah." (Ruth 1:6-7) We don't know who was judge of Israel when the famine came or who was judge of Israel when the famine ended. It's generally assumed that the famine came because a number of the people had fallen into sin and that the Lord allowed the crops to fail as a corrective measure to get them back on track. If that's the case then there must have been spiritual revival in Israel because the harvests have begun to be abundant once again. 

Naomi sets out for home and her two daughters-in-law accompany her down the road toward Judah to see her on her way, as was customary at the time. Ruth and Orpah were born and raised in Moab, so when the author of Ruth says the road would take them "back" to Judah, he doesn't mean Ruth and Orpah were ever citizens of the tribe of Judah. They are just seeing Naomi safely to the border of Judah. When they arrive at the border she says her goodbyes to them and instructs them to return to their families. "Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, 'Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.'" (Ruth 1:8-9a)

Naomi says, "Thank you for having been good wives to my departed sons and for having been like real daughters to me! But you have mothers of your own and it's time to return to them until you marry again. You are young enough to marry again and you should marry again. I'm praying for the Lord to send you good husbands who will make you happy."

Yesterday we discussed the opinion of some scholars that Naomi's husband should never have taken his family to the heathen land of Moab during the famine in Israel. Whether or not Elimelek was in the will of God when he did this, I think he did it out of grave concern for his family. Maybe the scholars are right who think he was so worried about the famine that he trusted his own instincts instead of consulting the Lord, but even if that's the case there is no doubt that this family loved each other. Elimelek loved his wife and sons and took them to a land where food was plentiful at the time. His sons, who are now deceased, probably loved the good wives whom Naomi praises for their kindheartedness. She herself loves these young ladies dearly, as if they were her own daughters. They love her too, which is why they weep and vow to go with her. "Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, 'We will go back with you to your people.'" (Ruth 1:9b)

Naomi feels these ladies' families can provide for them better than she can. Plus, they are Moabites and she is an Israelite. She thinks they might be happier in their own culture among their own people. "But Naomi said, 'Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?'" (Ruth 1:11) She is referring to the practice known as "levirate marriage" which we studied earlier in the Old Testament. This was a practice in which the unmarried adult brother of a deceased man would marry the childless widow of his brother and have a son to carry on his dead brother's name and inherit his property rights. 

Naomi continues, "'Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me---even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons---would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters.'" (Ruth 1:12-13a) She asks, "What can I offer you? My only two sons are dead. I am a widow who will be relying on the charity of my fellow Israelites. It's better for you to go back to your families who can support you until they can arrange suitable marriages for you."

Then she adds, "It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord's hand has turned against me!'" (Ruth 1:13b) I had always assumed she made this statement because the Lord allowed her husband and sons to die. It sounds like something a person might say when one thing after another has gone wrong, such as: "The Lord must be angry with me to have allowed these things to happen!" But in my background study I found the suggestion that perhaps she had urged her husband to take the family to Moab---that perhaps the move was primarily her idea and not Elimelek's. If so then she may be thinking, "The Lord is punishing me for leaving the land He gave my people. He's disappointed in me for living among the heathens. He must be angry or else why did He allow my husband and sons to die? Why should my daughters-in-law have to bear my hardships and my disgrace? They've done nothing to deserve suffering with me. No, they must go home to their own people and start fresh new lives."

But Ruth wants to go with Naomi no matter what lies ahead for the two of them. "At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 'Look,' said Naomi, 'your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.'" (Ruth 1:14-15) She says, "Be a good girl now and do what Orpah is doing. Her family will take her back in and yours will too." 

Ruth doesn't want to be taken back in by her own people. She wants to identify herself with Naomi's people: the Israelites. Ruth wants to serve the one true God, not the false gods of Moab. She now makes the most famous statement of the book that was named after her: "But Ruth replied, 'Don't urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.' When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her." (Ruth 1:16-18)

Ruth has thrown in her lot with her mother-in-law. I don't know whether Ruth had sisters and brothers back home to take care of her own mother, but Naomi has no one. Ruth selflessly pledges to stay with Naomi and care for her the rest of her life, just as if Naomi were her real mother. Because she has shown her mother-in-law such kindness, Naomi will do for her what Ruth's own mother would have done: she will work to secure a good future for Ruth. She will help her find a kindhearted, godly husband from among the men of Israel. Since Ruth is converting wholeheartedly to the God of Israel, there is nothing wrong with a faithful Israelite man taking her to be his wife. Together Ruth and her husband will become the parents of Obed who will be the father of Jesse who will be the father of David, a king of Israel. As we move on down the family tree, we will find these same people named in the lineage of Jesus Christ in the gospel accounts written by Matthew and Luke. If Ruth had not had the faith to put her life and her soul in the hands of the God of Israel, she would not have become the ancestress of kings and of God's own Son. But she did have this great faith! And God, who "rewards those who earnestly seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6), rewarded her abundantly for her faith.