Friday, December 16, 2011

Women of the Bible Encouragement Series: Ruth ~ Rags to Riches

“You did what?” I asked, stupefied. The slow smile curling the corner of Ruth’s mouth told me I’d heard her right the first time. It was positively scandalous. Of course, I’d read the Biblical account of her story before this visit and knew it was coming, but just for the sake of comprehension, I needed to hear it again.

She laughed, ebony eyes sparkling in the lantern light. “I said, ‘I uncovered Boaz’ feet and lay beside him.’ ” She patted her grandbaby Jesse’s blanket-wrapped bottom while he lay in the bend of her elbow. “The surprise on your countenance is almost as satisfying as Boaz’ was when he awoke.” She looked up at the ceiling, sounding a chuckle that ended on a memory-laden sigh. “Oh, that man. His startled innocence touched my heart.
“You see,” she leaned forward conspiratorially, “we were at the threshing floor, a place where much nonsense was known to take place among the young men and women reapers after a big harvest was through. And poor unsuspecting Boaz, a single man of great wealth, woke to find himself in a very interesting situation.” Ruth laughed again, this time so hard the baby stirred and Ruth had to wipe tears from her eyes.
Then she sobered. “Remember now, I did all this only because I was advised by my mother-in-law, Naomi who had brought me with her from Moab after our husbands died. For all my pagan ways and upbringing, I was still a very somber young widow in those days and had some reservations. I was new to this country and had little knowledge of their ways, excepting the few traditions of my first husband, Mahlon, and Naomi, his mother. Though, I don’t think this was a normal occurrence even in her country. ”
            She smiled. “Whether or not she knew Boaz would accept my proposal that night, I’ll never know. Sometimes I wonder if she intended to use her knowledge of our evening together as a threat that would produce a proposal of his own, had he refused my advances.” She chuckled. "Oh, how I miss that woman!"

I tried to process this, all the while trying to picture Ruth as somber. From what I'd seen, she never stopped smiling. “What did he do then?”

“He jumped and twisted like a startled pup and asked me who I was." Ruth said. The words were barely discernible with all her laughter. The man was scared to death, I tell you. It was dark at the end of the heap of corn and my back was to the moon, giving me a perfectly lighted view of his panic-stricken face and rumpled hair, but not allowing him the same advantage. I said that I was Ruth, his handmaid, and told him to spread his covering over me. That he, as Naomi’s kin, was in a position to take me as his wife, provide for my mother-in-law and me and render a son to Mahlon’s name.”

Several seconds after hearing this, it occurred to me that my jaw was hanging slack and I should shut my mouth. “You woke him from a deep sleep after a hard day’s work and proposed to him with a reminder that he was your kinsman—that he was in line to take care of your financial needs? And it worked?”

Ruth laughed again. The baby stirred in her arms and I wondered if she'd ever get it to sleep. “Yes. But only, I think, because the Lord God had already been working in our unique situation. See, when I first came to work in Boaz’ fields (a happenstance on my part), he noticed me and asked his young men who I was. He heard from them that I was caring for my mother-in-law, Naomi, with whom I had recently returned from Moab. 
"Traditionally, widows and the poor were allowed to gather what the reapers left behind, but as was his nature, Boaz made sure, when the harvest was gathered, that his workmen left behind handfuls of barley on purpose for me to pick up. He also ordered them not to touch me. Even though I was a Moabitess, there were a few young men who were quite forward in their approach. In light of that, and my grieving for my newly deceased husband, it took me a while to notice Boaz’ interest for what it was. But he faithfully cared and provided for me even before we were married. He gave me permission to take meals with his workers, drink of the water they drew, and he urged me to work only in his fields.
“But back to the threshing floor… When I told Boaz my name and that he was a kinsman of mine, he blessed me for coming to him and not chasing the hotheaded young men, whether poor or rich. Indeed, he called it a kindness. He calmed my fears, assured me he would do all that I required, and praised me as one who had a virtuous name among the people.”

I smiled. “So there is your happy ending.”

“Oh, not quite,” she said and raised her brows. “Boaz knew of another man who was closer in the family line than he. My old ire reared a bit when Boaz first told me. He said if the man was willing to act as the nearest kinsman and take me as his wife, then so be it. I wondered at his indifference then, but now I know that my Godly husband would never have gone against the laws of the day. He honored his country and faith, even if it meant giving up his own desires.”
She looked up at me, confused. “Where were we?”

“The nearer kinsman.”

            “Ah, yes. Thank you, dear.” Ruth shifted the once-droopy baby and patted my hand, causing his eyes to pop open again. “Well, Boaz told me to lie down until the morning. The next day, before it was light enough to satisfy the eyes of ravenous gossips, he took my veil and filled it with six measures of barley! Then I went home under cover of darkness to wait with Naomi.” She leaned forward and groaned with distress. “I had never been so impatient in my life. It seemed days of waiting, when it was only hours. I was fretful and could hardly stop pacing, but Naomi told me to sit still until we heard how the matter would fall. She assured me he would not rest until the thing was finished that very day.
“In the meantime, Boaz was in town. He called aside ten men of the city, and bade them sit down. The man in question was confronted with his right to marry me and take possession of my husband’s land. He instantly agreed. 
"Then Boaz further informed this kinsman that his firstborn child would be required to bear Mahlon’s name and the man refused to do his part rather than put his own inheritance in jeopardy.
Ruth clapped her hands and hugged them to her chest. “Oh, I remember when he came to tell me! He was so happy. As the happy bridegroom, he brought more gifts into Naomi’s house than it would hold. I’d never seen such abundance.
“Even in Moab, I had never been wealthy. And compared to Naomi’s dwelling, Boaz’ home looks a palace.” She motioned around her. The room was well furnished. Woven rugs covered every inch of the floor.
Ruth stopped patting Jesse. The baby was asleep. She bent and laid his limp little body in the plush cradle. She caressed the wispy fuzz on his head. “I never dreamed then that I would have babies and grandchildren of my own.” She came and sat again. “My marriage to Mahlon had not been fruitful and at times I despaired, believing I was barren. But when Boaz and I came together, the Lord blessed our marriage and gave us our son, Obed. His name means ‘worshipper’. And his son Jesse,” she motioned to the cradle, “he is our Gift from God.
“For a long time I feared my children would never be accepted into the community since I am a Gentile, but the Lord has been good to me. As family of Boaz, the Lord has brought my name and the name of my children out of obscurity and into honor. 
"In more ways than one, Boaz’ love has changed my life. I came to this land a penniless widow and now I am the wife of a very influential man. But most importantly, I know that the God I now serve is the One True God--that he is faithful and hears the prayers of his servants. And none of this would have taken place if I had not met a little old woman who was determined to go back home to the presence of God.”  

The exciting story of Ruth is recorded in it's own book of the Bible. I've embellished quite a bit here, but still can't tell it as well as the Original Author. Read it for yourself. There are so many interesting things I couldn't fit into one post. I hope this was a blessing. 

Come back next Friday, Dec. 23,  for a short bonus post about Mary, Jesus' mother. It won't be an interview. In fact, I'll probably eliminate the first person altogether, showing the scene from her perspective. I'm hoping the fun tool of fiction will let us sample some of what she might have felt on that first Christmas night.

'Til then!

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