The Book of Ruth is a dramatic and beloved story of hardship and hope. It’s a Biblical book but yet it is remarkably silent about the work of God. The chapters of this tale are not marked with phrases such as, “And the LORD sent his angels to Ruth …” or “The LORD blessed Ruth that day with …” or “The LORD said to Ruth …” None of that.
[The only reference to God’s intervention comes late in the book, and is a rather passive intervention at that. “The LORD let Ruth become pregnant” (4:13).]
I find this aspect of the Book of Ruth comforting. So often we go through life, or seasons of life anyway, not hearing a direct voice of God – you know, the heavens opening, lights flashing, and a booming voice from above telling us what to do. While this happens with some frequency in the Bible, let us remember that Scripture itself spans thousands of years. What looks like frequent occurrences of direct divine-human encounter in the pages of Holy Writ was probably less frequent than we think.
Yet this Book of Ruth, which is relatively silent about the direct hand of God, is found in our Bible. Our ancient ancestors knew this story to be a story of people acting in faith and blessed by God, even if the story itself doesn’t name the work of God.
Yet, this doesn’t mean that the voice of God is silent, or that the hand of God is not moving. No. For one, we believe that in the church the pastor and the congregation proclaim God’s love and grace in Scripture, preaching, prayers, and song. These voices are the very voice of God in our lives. And, as in the Book of Ruth, we can see in the stuff of everyday life the compassion and grace of God expressed through the words and deeds of God’s people.
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Which brings us to today’s reading – Ruth chapter 2.
After traveling from Moab to Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth the Moabite settled. Ruth went to glean in the fields – that is, to pick leftover grain from the harvest left behind by the workers. While this might sound like trespassing or theft in a modern context, in Biblical times this was not only allowed – it was mandated.
And so Ruth the Moabite gleans from the fields of Israel, previewing for we who are Christian the story of another foreign woman who sought blessings in Israel. A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and begs him to heal her daughter. Jesus responds by saying that he has been called to the people of Israel only. “But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table,” the Canaanite woman retorts. Immediately Jesus heals her daughter and praises her faith (Matthew 15:21-28).
In short order after arriving in the fields Ruth finds herself in the care of Boaz, a relative of her deceased father-in-law, Elimelech. Boaz instructs his workers not only to allow her to glean from the fields after they harvest, but also to leave behind additional produce for her to take. He also instructs his workers “not to assault” Ruth, nor to “humiliate her … [or] scold her.” As a young, immigrant widow to Bethlehem, Ruth is vulnerable. Naomi acknowledges this, telling Ruth, “It’s good, my daughter that you go out with his young women, so that men don’t assault you in another field.”
Boaz certainly arrives in Ruth’s life at a perfect time, as her protector. And for his compassionate and righteous care for Ruth, we give thanks to God. But the multiple references to assault of a young woman in a single chapter of a single book of the Bible should give us pause, particularly we who are reading this book during a #metoo moment of increased attention to sexual assault, harassment, and violence against women. The facts of sexual assault are undeniable, as is the persistent gap of social and economic parity between men and women. In faith we are called to prevent such harm to come to others, and to create a culture of care for all people.
In this passage we don’t see the direct hand of God, nor do we hear the direct voice of God booming from the heavens. But in Ruth’s persistent gleaning to provide for herself and her mother-in-law we see a holy hope that short term struggles are not the end of the story. In the face of great risks Ruth the Moabite works hard, trusting, knowing, expecting that things will get better. And in Boaz the protector, we see a man who faithfully follows the law of God, and who goes out of this way to protect a vulnerable immigrant from mistreatment. In both Ruth and in Boaz we have examples of faithful living.
May be be inspired by their examples this week and always, and seek to embrace in our lives the hope and the promise found in the witness of Ruth and of Boaz.