Tuesday, September 11, 2012

A Love Story


The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” – Ruth 2:12

I can just imagine the conversation that must have took place around the time that Naomi returned from Moab with her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth.  I would imagine there were a group of men gathered together at Boaz home, and it would have gone something like this:

Israelite Man: “Did you hear about Naomi? She’s returned from Moab alone.  Her husband Elimelech, and both sons are dead.”
Boaz: “Yes, I heard.  Elimelech was one of my close relatives. “

Israelite Man: “And she brought a Moabite woman back with her – one of the son’s widows.  From what I hear, she refused to let Naomi come back alone.”
Boaz: “Is that right?  Did any of her family come with her?”

Israelite Man: “No, she left them all and came here to be with Naomi.  Naomi is old now.  She can use the help!”
Boaz: “But what about her gods? Did she bring statues and carvings into Judah?”

Israelite Man: “No, no, not at all.  In fact, she believes in our God.  She has accepted Him as her God.”
…and then I can just see Boaz sitting there, fascinated by this young woman willing to leave her family and all that she’s ever known to travel to a new country and take care of her aging mother-in-law.

The conversation may not have been exactly like that, but we do know from Ruth 2 that somehow Boaz knew all about Ruth, and what she had done for Naomi.  God had warmed his heart to her even before he met her. 
Ruth was a Proverbs 31 woman, a hard worker, a provider, and she took care of Naomi.  After first getting Naomi’s permission to do so, she went into a field where the grain was being harvested by the owners to gather the sheaves.  Sheaves were the remains of the harvest – the bundled plants after the heads of grain had been removed.  The poor would gather them, and then go through the bundle to find any heads that remained on the plants within the sheaf. 

This field had several owners, and most likely was planted, cared for, and harvested by them all at one time.  As Ruth made her way through the field behind the young men and women who were harvesting, she moved into Boaz’ field.  Boaz, being a wealthy and a God-fearing man, came into the field to meet those that were gathering the sheaves and pronounce a blessing on them.  And there she was…Ruth…this young woman among those he knew, but yet still unknown. 
After asking who she was, he learned that she was the one he had heard about that had returned with Naomi. She had come early to the fields, asked for the privilege to gather the sheaves, and they had let her.  His workers reported to Boaz that she had barely stopped all day long from gathering.

Boaz then did something very much like our Jehovah-Jirah, our Provider.  He spoke to her and asked her to remain in his field alone.  He told her to go behind the young women harvesting his field, and he commanded the young men in his field not to touch her.  He also instructed her to get water to drink when she needed it, and that the young men would draw it. 
Ruth was overwhelmed!  She’d not found this favor before in Judah.  She fell on her face before Boaz and asked in Ruth 2:10, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”  She expected to be treated like a second-class citizen.  After all, she was a Moabite.  But with God there are no second-class citizens, and Boaz, a man who followed the Levitical laws and tried to remain as close to God as he could, didn’t see her as second-class either. In fact, it was his love for God that drew him to Ruth.

Boaz answers Ruth’s question and says in Ruth 2:11-12, “It has been fully reported to me, all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you have left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and have come to a people whom you did not know before.  The Lord repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”

The “wings” of God that Boaz refers to are not wings on His back like an angel’s wings.  God is not an angel - He is the creator of angels.  The Bible says we were made in His image.  We don’t have wings, so neither does God.  Boaz is referring to God’s righteousness, but to understand that we have to un-translate the word “wings”, which is confusing, back to its Hebrew meaning.

The word “wings” in Ruth 2:12 comes from the Hebrew word kanaph (Strongs Hebrew 3671). It means the ends of a garment.  The Hebrews (now called Jews) wore prayer cloths or shawls around their shoulders and covered their heads with them when they prayed.  The garment was called a "talith" in Hebrew, which means "little tent”, which was due to their historic gathering to worship God in tents. 

The ends of the prayer cloth were called the “wings”.  During Biblical times, the “wings” had 613 knots tied in them – one for each Levitical law.  There were four tassels, called tzitzit, one on each edge of the cloth, which had a blue thread in it. The blue thread represents God’s holiness. The way they were tied was determined by family tradition, therefore each one represented the family.  If a husband were to cut the tassels from the edge of his wife’s prayer shawl it would be equal to a divorce.  

The tassels were made of linen and wool, and the wool represented the sacrificial lamb, the blood atonement for their sins. These tassels were to remind them of God’s commandments and help them to keep them.  The “wings” represented their righteousness and relationship to God.  (Note that some believe the little blue flowers we know as a Forget-Me-Not’s are named from these don’t-forget-ME-knots).

When a woman married a Hebrew, he would drape his garment over her, representing that she was now part of his household, and under his care and provision.  Boaz saw Ruth’s faith, and knew that her covering was that of Almighty God because she had openly chosen Him to be her God.  He paid her a high compliment, recognizing her faithfulness to God, when he says she is under God’s wings and that God would give her a full reward for her work.

Boaz also provided for her above what he disclosed to her in that he also told the young men to drop some of the barley they had harvested from his field in Ruth’s path to assure she found it.  This was an unearned gift, which today we would call a blessing.

God takes care of His people.  But we’re to take care of each other as well.  In Romans 12:10-13 we are instructed to “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality.”

It’s not that we’re not supposed to provide for those that are not Christians, but that the family of God should never have to look for help outside the family.  If we truly love one another, as Boaz loved Ruth, and as Jesus loves the Church, we will provide for each other.

The story of Boaz and Ruth is a love story.  The story of our lives with those brothers and sisters around us should be a love story as well.

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