Sunday, October 24, 2010

Boaz

There was something about her that reminded him of his mother, Rahab. Rahab had hid the spies in Jericho because she believed in the stories she had heard about the God of the Isrealites. He had heard her first hand account of how the spies gave her a red cord to mark her house to spare her during the invasion, how the army of the Lord marched around the walls of the city and how the Lord caused the walls come down. Although his mother made a living from prostitution, she left all of that behind to begin a new life with the God of Isreal.

Rahab always told him how she met his father, and how his family welcomed her into their family even though she wasn't from their people. His grandfather, Nahshon, was especially attentive and kind towards her as well as his grand-aunt and uncle, Elisheba and Aaron. His mother's quick thinking and faith had been a catalyst towards a great victory and miracle by God! But his mother was always different. She had much to learn about the Law and the ways of their people, so the family was very patient in teaching her everything she needed to know.

He had heard much about Ruth--she had a good reputation even before she entered Bethlehem, as travelers on the road had witnessed about how Ruth meticulously and tenderly looked after Naomi. Naomi probably would have died without her. Boaz felt badly, that perhaps he could have sent servants to meet them and bring them home. But by the time he had heard they were coming, they already had arrived in town and settled in Elimelech's old house. Ruth also acted quickly by coming to work this morning, he thought. Boaz was impressed with her diligence and wisdom. His mother would have liked Ruth very much, if she were alive today.

Before the mid-day break and meal, he glanced towards the field where he instructed Ruth to stay with his female workers. Not only did she heed his words, she was smiling as she labored under the sun. That one, he surmised, will have no shortage of suitors. She will be married in a very short time. The thought made him happy and strangely sad at the same time.

Ruth Meets Boaz

Ruth observed the harvesting process, some fields were more orderly than others. She watched for awhile how the skilled paid workers cut down the grain and some gathered for the threshing barn. Then there were the unpaid workers, mostly women, who were cleaning up the fallen stalks left on the ground. The latter group were free to take the grain home with them, so Ruth introduced herself as Naomi's daughter-in-law to the foreman in charge and inquired if she could glean, too. He recognized Naomi's name and approved her request to work.

Back home in Moab, the owners of the harvests brought all the grain to be threshed and stored, the fallen grain and stalks were never left behind for the needy in the community. Although Ruth was still tired after her long walk to Bethlehem, she was glad to have something productive to do. However, her appearence and clothing set her apart from the rest of the workers-- Ruth felt like a crow in a field full of sparrows.

She worked without stopping all morning, for this was the food they were going to need to sustain themselves all year--there was no other food source for her and Naomi. She did answer the occasional questions from the other women as she worked: that Naomi was very tired from her ordeal and needed rest; yes, it's true that Elilemech and Mahlon and Chilion died in Moab; no, there are no grandchildren.

Finally, Ruth felt a little dizzy from being in the sun and left the fields to rest for a few minutes in a house set up for the workers. Just as she sat down, she heard it--the blessing she had heard from afar the day before--one man calling out loudly and joyfully "May the LORD be with you!" and the reapers response "May the LORD bless you!". The greeting made Ruth smile, and she realized that she hadn't smiled like this for a very long time.

The owner of the fields that she was working in was the the lone voice greeting the workers, and she saw him talk to the foreman for a minute and then walk up to the house she was resting in. Her first impression of Boaz was that even though he was older, he radiated strength and vitality. At the same time, his words were full of compassion and kindness.

"Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw."

For the first time in years, some one took notice of her and her needs. Ruth had no one to teach her where to go, where not to go and what to do in this foreign place. She had been alone for a long time in taking care of Naomi without anyone caring for her. The sensitivity and understanding towards her caused Ruth feel overwhelmingly grateful, so much that she cast herself face down bowing to the ground "Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?"

Boaz did not hesitate to answer. "All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the LORD reward your work, and your wages be full from the LORD, the God of Isreal, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge."

Joy pierced Ruth like an arrow. This was what Naomi was like back in the old days! She used to say things like this all the time! A man who knows Naomi's God! "I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants."

Ruth went back to work, but she couldn't stop smiling. She was truly comforted and blessed by God.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Ruth's Dilemma

Ruth woke up with a start. For a brief moment, she was confused as to where she was until she remembered she was with Naomi in Bethlehem. She laid back down on the hard, cool, earth floor and pulled her cloak tighter around her as she waited for her heart to calm back down. She had never been this far away from home in her life. As exciting as it was, she had several fears to contend with.

She looked at Naomi lying across the room in the dark and sighed. Her mother-in-law had clearly given up. All the challenges for their survival paled in light of this particular dilemma. Ruth never felt so helpless. But by now, she saw what Naomi wanted. God's blessing.

Ruth dried her tears and sat up. She was in the Promised Land now. How could such a wonderful blessing for herself come through Naomi's pain? For what reason? Her mind sifted through all the stories Naomi taught her. Joseph's words to his brothers during their reconciliation in Egypt came to her, "What you intended for bad, God used for good."

The thought spurred her to her feet and she started to prepare for the day ahead. She found a water vessel and found the local water supply. She picked up some firewood and made a fire. They had a little morsel of food left over from their journey, and Ruth made a bit of breakfast for them, which Naomi refused to eat after she awoke. Ruth left it next to her in case she changed her mind later. Ruth also gathered some hay to make a more comfortable bed for Naomi. With some water and cloth ripped from the bottom of her cloak, Ruth made soothing poultices for Naomi's sore feet. The journey was physically brutal, but even more so for elders.

As she applied the wet cloth to Naomi's feet, she asked her if she could work in the nearby barley fields. Naomi consented, "Go, my daughter" and laid back down. Ruth got up and glanced at her good dress that she had carefully folded and placed in a corner of their room along with her small vial of perfume. Maybe she could sell those items if they needed some money. But she wasn't ready to totally rule out a marriage. God had provided a husband before when it seemed unlikely-- if He wanted, He could certainly do it again. How He would do it without even a dowry or family connections--the basics for any decent match--was beyond her imagination. It was going to take a miracle. Like the bread from Heaven, called Manna, that fed the Isrealites in the wilderness.

She brushed her hair, washed her face and headed out, not knowing where she was going. God will help me, she whispered to herself, I am totally in the dark here. Over the horizon, the sun was rising for the new day, and Ruth took heart.

Monday, October 18, 2010

I Know God is For Me

"This is the reflex we should have: when we fear, we trust; when we fear, we have faith. This means that fear leads to trust which leads to praise. Christ is our promise and Christ is our grace. So we look to Him and conclude that “God is for me.” “I will not fear what man can do unto me” (vs. 11)." --Nancey Ann Wilson from her blog, Femina

Sunday, October 17, 2010

House of Bread

The sun rose upon fields full of ripe wheat and barley in the cool early morning. The pastoral scene took Ruth's breath away as she approached Bethlehem with Naomi leaning heavily on her shoulder. She saw the workers with their scythe blades flashing on their way to harvest, smelled the fresh aroma of the grain as it was bundled and carried away to the threshing floor. Both men and women were out laboring in the fields, Ruth noted as her stomach rumbled with hunger, each filling their assigned roles in the harvest. Such bounty! Ruth had never seen such abundance in her whole life!

And then she heard it--one man calling out a greeting "The Lord be with you!" and a multitude of voices responding "The Lord bless you!" in a distant field. Her eyes searched where the greetings had come from, but she couldn't tell. As soon as they entered the town and settled, Ruth planned to be out here the next morning. Maybe there was something she could do to support herself and Naomi. She wanted to be in that field where the blessing was.

Naomi had been quiet the whole journey back to her home. Ruth had hoped that she would begin to cheer up as they got closer, but Naomi seemed to regress even further. Maybe when she saw her old friends and family? She talked so much about them before the disaster in Moab struck, Ruth felt she knew some of them already.

Ruth suddenly felt conscious of her appearence. She had worn her good brilliantly colored robe under her plain outer garments and cloak, she wondered if she should make herself more presentable. In a pocket, she had some perfume that she hoped to wear at her own wedding some day, if God willed it. Instead of adjusting her appearence, she decided to pull her head covering more tightly over her head and face. It was Naomi's reunion, and she decided it was best she not attract any attention to herself. It was not her time for introductions, but probably a good time to observe the new culture that she was going to learn to live in. In fact, it was probably best to be quiet and blend in as much as possible.

At the outskirts of the town, Naomi pulled away from Ruth and straightened her back. She was more weary than she let on. Naomi walked ahead and Ruth followed a short distance behind her. As they rounded the bend into the main street, Ruth felt all eyes on them as they entered the main square. A crowd gathered around them as she heard some of the women ask each other if this was Naomi. Naomi turned to them, and said her first words since they left Moab.

"Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?"

Silence fell over the whole crowd and no one moved. Tears welled up in Ruth's eyes. She had no idea how deep Naomi's pain and anger had grown. It had grown very deep indeed. Ruth wanted to reach out and tell Naomi to take heart, but she kept her words to herself. The two women passed through the quiet crowd, towards a vacant dwelling place that Naomi somehow knew of and collapsed into a deep sleep without refreshing themselves after their long journey.

But Ruth's heart was full. Thank you, Lord, for bringing me to Your people. Thank you for bringing something good out of the bad.

Saturday, October 09, 2010

More Naomi, Orpah and Ruth

Orpah

After Naomi finished speaking, Orpah caught her breath and took a glance at her sister-in-law, Ruth. Usually, Orpah took a little longer than Ruth to understand Naomi, but this time they simultaneously got her meaning. After spending so much time together, Orpah and Ruth could read each other's thoughts without speaking.

That Naomi was too old to bear sons for them to marry was obvious-- yet, it was comforting to know that she would keep them in her family if she could. However, Naomi was not going to arrange marriages for them once they got to her hometown of Bethlehem. They were Moabite women, and there had been enmity between their peoples for some time.

In addition, no matter how carefully and completely Naomi taught them about her people and their ways and their God, Orpah had difficulty understanding and embracing it. The Moabites didn't worship one God, but many gods. When Orpah and Ruth joined the household of Elimelech, it was understood that they were not to bring their idols with them. Orpah missed her old traditions, and relunctantly adapted to the new ones.

Chilion, her husband and Naomi's son, was like his mother--very generous and loving, though. And most of their time together was pleasant. He teased her about her name, meaning "long necked one" and she teased him back about his odd name. Little did they both know, that the manner of his death eventually bore out the meaning of his name. He wasted away, and she gently and tenderly cared for him all those years. When he finally passed, Orpah decided that there would be no other husband who could ever replace Chilion. Furthermore, there was no other home for her but Naomi's home. But even then, Orpah did not believe in Chilion's God.

And now, here on this road, Orpah became acutely aware of the main difference between Naomi's people and Orpah's people. It was more than culture, dress and customs. After Naomi's final motherly kiss, Orpah turned her long, elegant neck away and headed back to her home in Moab.

Naomi

Tears streamed down Naomi's face as she watched Orpah walk away. She knew it was wrong that she and Elimelech left the Promised Land, and that it was wrong for them to find Moabite wives for their sons. Yet, she didn't fully comprehend that the price for their lack of faith would be blood. She should have. Their hunger and weakness drove them to desperation, despite their knowledge of the Law and History that Moses left. The people weren't delivered from Egypt to go to Moab. But she had hoped that they would eventually return with food to share with the community in Bethlehem, like Joseph's brothers of old.

Moab. When Ruth asked her about the original ancestors of her country, Naomi told her quietly and plainly. Both Ruth and Orpah wept at the story, each of their heads on each of Naomi's shoulders. Naomi consoled them that now they knew that they were very distant relatives. And even Moses had a Gentile wife. Yet while Ruth softened after this discussion, Orpah seemed more distant than before.

When Orpah left, it didn't surprise her all that much. When Ruth fell at her feet with the beautiful and heart-felt vow, she wasn't surprised either. We will see, she said to herself, if Ruth has real faith or not. But do I?

For the rest of the journey, there were no more stories, words or explanations. Naomi's silence grew even deeper. Ruth had many questions about how to behave in her newly adopted home, but kept them all to herself. She prayed that God would show her the way.




Thursday, October 07, 2010

About Naomi

Naomi didn't know what came over her, but she stopped in the middle of the road. She just wanted to be alone, all of a sudden. Orpah and Ruth had been by her side for nearly 10 years, and she didn't know what she would've done without them. There were hard times, for sure, but there was still hope that it would all turn around.

But it didn't.

All the stories, the songs, the teaching and the love she poured into the future mothers of her grandchildren so that they would know the ways of their God and people. It was for nothing. She didn't want to waste their time, their precious time. They had no idea how quickly the years sped by. One minute you are a busy young mother and the next, you are a childless widow.

What is there left to do but wait for God to finally take her? And then what would happen to Orpah and Ruth--they would be left alone in a strange country without her. In the middle of having been abandoned, she did not want to abandon them.

For the first time in months, Naomi felt an emotion welling up in her heart. She had been in shock and numb from pain. But this emotion was a new and strange one, mixed with her deep concern and love for her daughters by marriage. If God indeed was punishing her, then it would not be good for them to tag along to experience His anger. God is just, God is King and God does whatever He pleased. She prayed that He would spare them, that He would allow her little doves to fly and build their own nests elsewhere.

The famine 10 years ago was for disciplining God's people, but her husband thought that they would escape by fleeing to Moab. She knew he was trying to protect them and keep the family bloodline going by finding the best women for their sons in Moab. Naomi was surprised at his choices for their sons. They were not wealthy and had few resources to fall back on. He simply shrugged and said money did not matter this time. He picked these because they reminded him of Naomi in some ways. What, she asked, well they look nothing like me! You are right, he replied, but Ruth's friendliness and Orpah's industriousness are qualities that I see in you.

With that, she was content. Her husband always knew what to say to convince her. And he was right. Ruth was more than a smiling face, she was quick to listen and retained almost anything Naomi said or did. Orpah was more independent, but she was practical and organized. With intelligent wives like these, Naomi thought, much could be accomplished.

But now, here on this desolate road, she was about to break their hearts. They had grown so close, this was not going to be easy. But they had to know the truth. They had to be set free.

When Naomi opened her mouth, her voice was flat and her words heavy with despair. She didn't sound like herself, it was a long time since she tried to explain anything to them and it felt unfamiliar and strange to her what used to be a constant occurance as they worked side by side to build a home and a future together. They made a plan, but only God could make it happen and for reasons of His own, He had another one she knew not of.

About Orpah

Naomi took Orpah's hand as they walked with Ruth slowly down the road, away from the village she had lived in all her life. Orpah squeezed Naomi's hand back and reached out for Ruth's. The three lived together and suffered together as their husbands passed away. Each took their turn in comforting the other over the years, knowing well how it was in each other's shoes. It was a kinship and a bond that felt closer than she ever had with her own family or even husband. Just a few days ago, Naomi told them that she was going back home and Orpah was too busy getting ready to leave to stop and think what it all meant.

Orpah assumed without question that she and Ruth were going to accompany Naomi on this trip, even though Naomi never directly asked them to come. Naomi was strangely silent for the last month, in fact, saying very little. Under the circumstances, that wasn't unusual for a woman in mourning. Orpah reminded herself that whatever she suffered, Naomi suffered three times more with not just the loss of a husband but also two sons. The grueling task of simply surviving left Orpah very little time to reflect about why this happened to them, but the question came to her at night as she drifted off in dreamless slumber.

The question remained unasked but floated over her mind as she drove herself to exhaustion finding and preparing their meager portions of food as well as scant twigs for firewood. They were on the brink of begging on the corner and Orpah was tired of going to her childhood home to ask her father and mother for a measure of barley and oil to make into small cakes. Her family had enough of their own problems keeping food in their larder, she didn't want to be a burden as well. Where to find their next meal was constantly on her mind.

She was dismayed to see that Ruth packed very little food to take--barely enough to make it on a week long journey by foot. None of them could afford to lose any more weight, what if there was nothing when they got to Bethleham? What if it was just a cruel rumor that the famine in Isreal was over and the people there were just as thin and hungry as she was? How would she know for sure? As much as she loved these two women and as much as they had endured as fellow widows, she wasn't sure that she was willing to die in the middle of the wilderness with them. Now that she had time to think, she wish that her thoughts would stop.

They hadn't walked very far before Naomi came to a complete halt. Orpah looked behind them, the village was still visible just over the rise of a gentle hill. Ahead of them was wind, sun and lots and lots of sandy dirt. Naomi turned to her daughters-in-law and looked them both in the eye. Orpah noticed for the first time how much older Naomi appeared. It took her breath away. Suddenly, she felt older, too. How many lines were etched around her eyes and furrows across her forehead? Who would marry her, now?

Naomi just stood silently in front of them, as the wind whistled around the trio and whipping their cloaks into the air. Naomi dropped Orpah's hand but Orpah tightened her grip around Ruth's. Orpah respected and loved Naomi , but she had disappeared so within herself and her grief that Orpah didn't know her anymore. Now looking her in the eye, she realized that they had become strangers.

Naomi used to talk non-stop, back in the good days. She told stories, she sang and she taught them everything about herself, her God and her people and their ways. They never had much, but they had Naomi who went out of her way to welcome them into the family and make them feel comfortable in their new home with her. Oh, the laughter! The jokes! Working alongside Naomi was never work! Orpah had hoped that the old Naomi would come back, that this move back to Bethleham would bring her to life, but looking at her at that moment, she realized that it was not going to happen. It was going to take much more to revive her old friend.

Orpah knew that it was more than death that made Naomi despair. She didn't know what it was, and if Naomi revealed it, would she understand? She didn't understand the stories that she shared which kept Ruth in a state of rapture so much she would drop whatever was in her hands as she worked beside Naomi who narrated stories to them. Most of what Naomi said went right over Orpah's head.

And now, what was on Naomi's tongue to say to break her long wordlessness? If only her husband and sons could see her now--a silent Naomi used to be incomprehensible. But no one, not even Orpah, minded that she loved to talk because everything was said with joy and kindness.

Finally, Naomi began to speak, and Orpah felt like every word was a blow to her heart. There was kindness but no joy. Instead, a bitterness that pierced her like a sword. She reeled and sobbed. Her dearest mother-in-law was certainly gone and someone else had taken her place. Where was the real Naomi? Did she really even exist? Who was this woman?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

About Ruth

I began writing a story in August and just finished it tonight. I led an international women's bible study this summer in The Book of Ruth and The Book of Esther, which were the sources of my inspiration. You can read it here: http://theasideas2.blogspot.com/2010/08/about-ruth.html

This particular scene comes from my meditation about Ruth's mindset as she prepared to accompany Naomi and Orpah on the road back to Bethlehem. I wondered how she felt about Naomi and about what Naomi taught her. I wondered about her struggles and how she dealt with them. I wondered about her desires, and how these desires were a foreshadow of what was to come--her great grandchild was King David, an ancestor of Jesus' bloodline.

It was a lot of work for just these paragraphs, not sure if I have the time to invest more. But if the process helps me meditate on God's word, then it might not be a waste of time.