The book of Ruth is a great example of reversal, of tables turning in favor of God’s people. Speaking of God, He is clearly at the controls. That is, God is clearly orchestrating the events of this love story. In scene one of this story, Elimelech relocates his family to Moab because of a severe famine in Bethlehem. While in Moab, Elimelech’s two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, take wives Ruth and Orpah.
Then tragedy strikes Elimelech’s home – not only does he die but Naomi’s two sons die as well. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, are bereft of their husbands at a time when it was quite vulnerable to be a woman. Further, Naomi is a displaced foreigner in Moab, the most vulnerable of the vulnerable. By the end of the story, though, a great reversal occurs when the “empty” Naomi is now “full” – she gets a male grandchild. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, because Chapter 2 captures a crucial scene…
“Over and Above the Law” Generosity
In Chapter 2, we find Naomi, quite bitter from her misfortunes, and Ruth, now herself a foreigner, returning to Bethlehem. To provide for herself and her mother-in-law Ruth went looking for an opportunity to work. She “happens to find a field to glean in” that belongs to Boaz, a relative of her late father-in-law (Ruth 2:3). Upon returning from a trip, Boaz greets his reapers, “The Lord be with you.” Their response, “The Lord bless you,” suggests that Boaz treats his workers well and that his workers respect him.
Boaz then inquires of his foreman, “Whose young woman is this?” This young woman was, of course, Ruth, there to work. The foreman goes on to identify her as the “young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab” (Ruth 2:6). He also comments on her strong work ethic: “She said, ‘please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest ” (Ruth 2:7). Boaz encourages Ruth to stay in his field to glean and to keep close to his young women; moreover, he tells her that he has ordered his men not to touch her.
Ruth is taken aback by Boaz’s kindness and generosity. Boaz allows Ruth and others to glean in his field according to the law (see Deuteronomy 24:1922), but Boaz goes beyond “letter of the law.” Notice what he allows Ruth to do in Ruth 2:14-23. Boaz not only has Ruth “sit with his reapers at mealtime and serves her more than she can consume [but] he instructs his young men to let her glean among the sheaves not just at the edge of the field and to leave extra grain for her to gather.” By going over and above what the law required, Boaz “left quite a bit of money1 on the field” and he demonstrated that he was indeed a “worthy man” (Ruth 2:1). Yet Deuteronomy 24:19-22 reminds Boaz (and us) that we are to remember God’s generosity in saving us and to imitate His generosity to others.
Boaz allows Ruth and others to glean in his field. Instead of giving a hand out, Boaz allows Ruth, a foreigner, to work with her hands to provide for herself and her mother-in-law. The Theology of Work (TOW) Commentary on Ruth says this, “This gleaning law allowed the unemployed to work with his hands to provide for his family. Boaz could have had grain delivered to the home of Ruth and Naomi. On the contrary, Boaz allowed this foreigner to work with her hands and image God by working.”2
The TOW Commentary goes on to say, “The process allowing Ruth to glean or to work preserved her dignity, made use of her skills and abilities, freed her and Naomi from long term dependency, and made them less vulnerable to exploitation.” Contrary to popular belief, many unemployed in our culture are not looking for a handout; rather many are looking for an opportunity to image God by working with their hands.
Using ‘Wealth’ Redemptively
Wealth is such a relative term. Wealth is typically and commonly associated with money. However, many in society are ‘wealthy’ by having access to institutions others do not; many in our society are wealthy by having access to social connections others do not; many in our society are wealthy by having access to decision makers that others do not; and many in our society are wealthy by having power and influence that others do not.
Many of us are wealthy. Relatively speaking, we are all ‘wealthy,’ and God calls those with ‘wealth’ in general and those with economic privileges in particular to use it for the good of others. In other words, God calls us to use our ‘wealth’ redemptively. Boaz used his wealth – his influence, his position as the field owner, his position in society as a “worthy man” – for the good of these two widows and their future descendants.
Did you get that? Our decisions whether to use our wealth for the common good or not have ripple effects. We can impact future generations for good or for ill. Boaz was quite generous with his privileges in general and his economic privileges in particular. As a result, he did not enable Ruth by giving her a handout and making her dependent; rather he preserved her dignity as an image bearer of God by allowing her to work with her hands to provide for herself and her mother-in-law. Ruth’s work became a means to bless her mother-in-law, Naomi.
What would it look like if we, those who have ‘wealth,’ were to use this wealth to generously help the unemployed get gainfully employed to work with their hands, heads and hearts – to not only image God but to contribute to the flourishing of our families, communities, nation and world?
Dr. Luke Bobo has experience in the corporate, educational, and not-for-profit worlds. He is the Director of Resource and Curriculum Development of Made To Flourish (http://www.madetoflourish.org/) in Kansas City, MO.
Images: FreeImages.com/Michael Illuchine, Alicia Jo McMahan
1 The Gospel Transformation Bible, English Standard Version, p. 337.