Last week we started this series of diving into the book of Ruth as a way to begin to unpack how God works in our lives by looking at this story of two empowered women trying to just live in this world. We went through last week by looking at loyalty in love. We saw how Ruth a Moabite woman would not abandon Naomi, but was willing to follow her, it appears, to the ends of the earth. She sacrificed her God’s, her people, her community, her very livelihood in order to be a loving and healing presence for Naomi. We saw how God does the same for us. God gives us so much love and loyalty and promises that he will always remain by our side, and we unpacked how this story is an image of God in humanity as not only how God treats us but how we too treat others.
Now we continue on in our series by looking at the second chapter of Ruth. You have that scripture in its entirety in front of you, and as you can see from reading it that healing process is beginning to take place. Hope is beginning to poke its head through the muck and mire that is the grief that Naomi and Ruth are experiencing and living through. And oddly enough it happens through an avenue persons of that time may least expect.
We catch up with Ruth and Naomi this week and we see that they have no plan as to anything, but Ruth knows one thing they need to be provided for and she is gonna go out and collect for her and Naomi. We read, “And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.’ She said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’” (Ruth 2:2)
Now this idea of gleaning presents an interesting idea, because as we are about to discover as we move on it is that act of gleaning that presents this hope, not just for Ruth in finding a husband, but for Naomi as she looks toward an heir for her family.
But what is gleaning? If this is the act that changes the life of Ruth and Naomi lets learn a bit about it.
I am sure some of you have heard about gleaning, but gleaning is actually a very ancient action, especially in the Israelite tradition. We learn from Leviticus that farmers were actually supposed to cut corners in their fields and refrain from picking up crop that fell to the ground to ensure that “the poor and the alien” (Lev. 19:9-10) could come by after the harvesters and collect crop for themselves so that they may be fed. Essentially gleaning is taking what has been left, and even more so in our time it is using what has been rejected to ensure that those who are in need of food. This is so cool that in the law the ancient Israelites live by tell the farmers that they are supposed to leave grain and cut corners so that they can provide for the least of these, and that is the context in which Naomi and Ruth live in. Now we can assume that Ruth is taking the initiative for her and Naomi to collect food for them. Whether it is because of Naomi’s age or her grief, we do not know why she doesn’t go work, but Ruth in her ever-giving mindset tells Naomi that she will go and collect and glean food for them.
In the field, we are introduced to a coincidence. We were foretold in verse 1, “Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) However, it is not until verses 3 and 4 that we are formally introduced to Boaz, and as we see Boaz is a man of deep compassion. Boaz learns of who Ruth is when he sees her in the field. He learns that she is the daughter-in-law of Naomi and that she has traveled with Naomi back to Bethlehem.
Then once Boaz knows who Ruth is he goes out and approaches her. He tells her in no specific terms that as long as she gleans from his field she will be protected. While supposed to be a place of help and aid the gleaning field may have been dangerous…especially for women, who ran the risk of being beaten or even worse, raped. Boaz has heard of what this foreign woman from Moab has done for one of his kin and he has sought not only to have compassion, but to offer more on top of that to her so she may be cared for. He offers her a steady place to glean, water and drink while she is gleaning, protection from harm while she gathers. Boaz then goes on to invite her to dine with the harvesters, an unheard of invitation in this time. The gleaners while lucky to receive what the did were not usually invited into the owners house to eat during the time they were gleaning. Then Boaz offers for her to even glean in the areas of his field that have not even harvested and even offers some of his harvested grain to Ruth, knowing she is collecting for both herself and Naomi. And this is amazing the scripture tells us by the end of the day that she collected one ephor of barley, that is equivalent to about 22 liters or almost 5 gallons of dry barley. (WOW!!!)
So Ruth returns home with all of this barley and tells Naomi and Naomi responds to this story saying, “Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead! The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.” (Ruth 2:20) This word kin being the Hebrew word gaal, which can also be translated “as one who can redeem” (http://biblehub.com/hebrew/1350.htm)
What a great message that their is this person who can help to redeem all that has gone wrong, and Ruth just happened upon him in trying to glean and provide for her and Naomi. This is one of the ways the Lord works. Last week we met a grieving and despairing Naomi and we grieved with her. We sat in the love of God but life was still difficult with the loss. However, just as Ruth promised to be with Naomi and to help her heal so too God does the same, and in our lives that is the hope we live in. God sends us messages of hope in those dark times as we are looking to heal. God sends that one person who can help redeem us in our sorrow.
We too must recognize that there is redemption for us. God sent us redemption in Jesus Christ. God has been calling persons who can redeem throughout the ages. God called prophets, kings, saints, all these people to help people know God and to help them to heal from the wounds of their past. This hope and redemption comes in the least likely of places. It comes in places and times we may not expect. It comes when we may be gleaning the field trying to just scrap by on the only things that society might give us, but God is working to redeem none-the-less. We must be open to receiving that hope.
We must learn to recognize that hope to be open to hearing that hope, and then as we will explore next week we must be daring to act on that hope that is provided. However, this week I leave you with that hope that there is a redeemer in this story to help Ruth and Naomi. There is someone there to help. Learn what hope looks like. Learn how to be open to the hope that God gives us through that loyal and sacrificial love that is given to us. Because if we don’t find that hope how do we ever expect to heal. Just as we had to live in that grief to understand that God is there, this week live in that hope of God’s redeeming presence.