Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? (Ruth 2)

As chapter 2 opens, we are introduced to arguably the hero of this story, a man by the name of Boaz ("strength"). Boaz is apparently a wealthy in-law of Naomi, which will be very important to the story.

In the land of Israel, it was a custom that people who could not fend for themselves, namely orphans and widows, were allowed to walk in the fields during harvest time and "glean". Essentially, if the harvesters were gathering in the grain and they let some fall on the ground, they were not allowed to go back and pick it up, but they had to leave it for the poor (Leviticus 19:9,10). Ruth goes out to glean and as luck (fate? providence?) would have it, she ends up in Boaz's field.

That very day, Boaz drops by to check on the harvest, and sees this young foreign woman in his field. He asks who she is, and is delighted to find out that it's Naomi's daughter-in-law, as he's heard the story and apparently thinks highly of this young woman. Boaz goes to talk to Ruth and tells her to stay in his field during the harvest, because he's personally vouched for her safety there (apparently, gleaning was not always a safe activity). He also offers her a chance to eat and drink with the workers. Lastly, out of her earshot, he tells the workers that if they catch Ruth picking in a place where she wouldn't normally be allowed, they should let her, and if they see her gleaning near them, they should be sloppy and let more grain fall for her.

At the end of the day, she goes home to Naomi with a huge pile of grain, much more than should be expected. Naomi questions Ruth, and finds out that Boaz is behind this. Naomi praises God for their good fortune, and no doubt begins to hatch a plot that we'll see carried out in the coming verses.

So, on to the allegorical aspects of the story: Who is Boaz? Well, literally, he is actually in the royal line of Israel, being the descendant of Judah ("The sceptre shall not depart from Judah"-Genesis 49:10) and the ancestor of David. Boaz represents, in the allegory, God; particularly the person of Christ, who was a powerful man of Israel in the royal line who gave grace to the gentile nations.

Gleaning is an interesting concept, because while the land is given by the decree of God to Israel, the gentile nations have an opportunity to get a little bit of the blessing that comes through Israel from their land and general position in the world. Often throughout history the Israelites have been rather reluctant to share the blessings of God with outsiders, despite the fact that God ordained them to be a blessing to all nations. Isaac Asimov, who wrote extensively on the Bible, felt that the book of Ruth was supposed to be completely an allegory; a tale of tolerance for outsiders, as a woman of Moab (with which Israel had a bad history) is loved by a great man of Israel, and then becomes the ancestor of the Kings of Judah. I disagree with his view, but I think the sentiment is nonetheless there. Just as Boaz was kind to a foreign-born woman whom he knew to have a heart that yearned for righteousness, so Jesus ordered his disciples to give the Word of God to all nations.

No comments: