Ruth and Redemption

Many of us are old enough to remember Green Stamps.   I remember going to the grocery store with your Mom.  They had those big machines at the cash register (no scanner, a mechanical cash register that made lots of interesting noises) with dials on the front.  After the sale was rung up, the cashier consulted the reciept and dialed out the appropriate amount of S & H Green Stamps.

Green Stamp glue smelled different, I can still remember and recognize it.  Dad was in charge of the stamps after they came home.  He’d organize them, mositen them with a sponge and paste them in Green Stamp Books.  Statcks and stacks of Green Stamp books, or so it appeared to me.

When there were enough we’d take the books to a, wait for it, Redemption Center.  (As an aside, how is it that Churches are not called Redemption Centers?) At the Redemption Center Mom would pick out a crock pot or an iron (really it was never anything fun) and we’d turn the stacks of Green Stamp books in and depart with Mom’s minor appliance.

But what is redemption?  In the case of Sperry & Hutchison, it meant trading pieces of paper glued to a book for items of value.  But that is and isn’t the kind of redemption we’re talking about in Ruth. Its not a quid pro quo where something of no value is given for something of value.  Instead, we are talking about taking lives that have no hope and revaluing them dramatically on the basis of a change in relationship.

Ruth is an interesting book.  There is more stuff in those four short chapters than can be crammed into any short study.  The basics of it revolve around the two most prominent themes in human history: money and sex.  Oh, and law.  Thre is lots of law in this.  But the most important topic is how God uses those things, that are many times abused by people, for His redemptive purposes.

One other note about the book.  It is Jewish tradition to read Ruth during Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks or, as you my know it, Pentecost.  Shavuot is directly linked to Passover, it is seven weeks from the second day of Passover to Shavuot (hence the Feast of Weeks).  At Passover, the Jews were freed from Egyptian slavery, and on Shavuot they were given the Law at Sinai. It was also represents the end of the wheat harvest in Israel.

Some other things that bring color to the story, mostly legal stuff.

  1.  Gleaning.  The Law required that farmers not harvest their whole field, they were supposed to leave the edges unharvested and they were only to harvest on one pass.  The corners and the stuff  they missed was to be left for the poor and foreigners (Leviticus 19:9-10).
  2. Land.  The land didn’t really belong to the people who owned it.  Instead it was a grant from God to the families and it was supposed to stay in families.  Even when land was sold to pay a debt, there were provisions for eventulally returning it to the family it came from.
  3. Inheritance.  Property was passed patrillneally with the oldest son receiving a double share.  No sons was a problem.
  4. Ga’al (Strongs 1350) also written Goel.  This is often translated kinsman-redeemer.  Levirite marriage is practiced in many cultures, even today, if the Near East, Africa and Asia and was common in ancient times as a way to keep Clan based societies strong and keep wealth in properties in familes.  In ancient Hebrew society the a brother, or other near relative, of a man who died without a son was to marry his wife and have a son by her who would carry on the dead man’s name and inheirit his property.  Oh, and by the way, provide for his widow.
  5. Shul (Strongs 7757). The skirt of a robe.  The ancient Hebrews often bordered their robes with stitching/ribbon/tassels that indicated their social rank or their authority.  That is why it is significant that David cut the hem of Saul’s cloak (1 Samuel 24:4-6) and that the woman touched the hem of Jesus’ cloak (Luke 8:40-48).

Now read Ruth Chapters 2 through 4.  What happens?  Well a whole lot.  Ruth is tired of sitting around and goes to glean in the fields as was her right and winds up in the field of Boaz, a prominent relative of Naomi’s.  Boaz sees her and tells her to stay in his fields, says he knows what she has done for his kinswoman Naomi, feeds her, protects her from his men, and tells them to leave a little extra on the ground for her.

Why does he do this?  Likely, at least to me, was that she was pretty and he was sweet on her.  For this to all work you don’t need any better answer than that.  Was God in this?  Sure, but is he not involved in who we find ourselves attracted to and ultimately marry?  Boaz was an older guy and Ruth was a sweet young thing.  And while we could read this as a sort of gold digger/sugar daddy kind of thing, which it kind of is, its whole context is changed by the integrity of Boaz and his intent.

Ruth goes back to Naomi with her loot, an epaph of grain (about 35 lbs) the leftovers of a generous lunch and Naomi asks her who’s eye she caught.  Ruth tells her story and Naomi tells her that Boaz is a potential ga’al and to stay in his fields so that she won’t be harmed.

At the end of the Harvest Naomi decides its time to take it to the next level.  Harvest was a celebratory time in any agricultural society and the ancient Jews were no different.  Naomi knew that after the grain was threshed Boaz would party and then sleep it off on the threshing floor, on top of the grain pile, to deter theives.  She tells Ruth to show up there after he is asleep, take his robe off of his feet and then lie there and wait for what he would do next.

What did Naomi exepect would happen?  I’m not really sure but what did happen reveals a great deal about Boaz.  Now it turns out that Boaz was warm for Ruth’s form, he tells her she’s been nice to an older guy but what she is offering him is greater than her previous kindness and, by the way he’s highly flattered that she’s interested in him, not younger men.  He tells her he will accept here offer, but that it will be done the correct way, with no corners cut and above board.  Including acknowledging the prior claims of another. He sends her away in the early morning, unmolested and with a gift for Naomi.

The next morning Boaz goes to the city gate and meets with the man with the prior claim.  In the presence of witnesses he explains that the man can claim the inheiritance of Mahlon but that it comes with the duty of marrying Ruth.  The prior calmaint says he’d like the land but the marriage would somehow impair his status.  Perhaps he had no sons and if he and Ruth had only one son it would really be Mahlon’s and his name would disappear.  Whatever his issues,  he hands Boaz his sandal signifying the transfer of the claim to the land and Ruth and the way is clear for the marriage which Boaz announces is on immediately.

The marriage is consumated and Ruth has a son named Obed (it means servant) who becomes the Grandfather of David and an ancestor of Jesus.

What’s the point of all this?  Well I can think of several and perhaps you can think of several more.  We could focus on the Shavuat thing, compare the giving of the law at Siani to the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and compare life under the law to life in the spirit.  We could discuss Boaz as a prefigurement of Jesus, our kinsman redeemer.  We could talk about Ruth as the church.  We could talk about the operation of the Law in the Old Testament, to name a few.  But what I’d like to talk about is the change in relationship.

Ruth came to town as a stranger.  At the end of the story she is the wife of a prominent man.  It was a change in relationship that made the difference for her future.  Her future coming in was one of insecurity, poverty and perhaps early death.  Her future at the end was one of security, prominence, long life and beyond that a rememberence that has lasted thousands of years.

While Boaz sought a relationship with Ruth, she had to ask.  She had no power to make anything happen, the power in the relationship was all with Boaz, but he was not going to force things.  God loves us, He wants to be in relationship with us (He created us for that).  If we already have a relationship with Him, he wants a deeper relationship.  And He promises that our relationship with Him will change our lives both for eternity and now.

How have we sought to let our relationship with God redeem our lives?  If we’ve already accepted a relationship and are redeemed for eternity, how are we allowing it to redeem the life we are living now?  Are we allowing it to turn dispair into hope?  Bitterness into gratitude?  Are we allowing our lives to be redeemed?

The right relationship can change everything, if we let it.