Rumblings from the Pastor’s Study
“As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz…” Ruth 2:3b
The Bible study group has just finished working through the book of Ruth, one of the best-loved, I think, books of the Old Testament, and the verse quoted above gives an example of one of the features of that book we discovered en route. Quite often—at least three times in four chapters—a statement is made like that above in which certain things appear to happen by chance in the story. In the verse given here from chapter 2, for instance, Ruth, “As it happened,” ends up seeking permission to work in a field which belongs to a man named Boaz, the very man she will end up marrying. In the same chapter, while Ruth is working on her first day, Boaz arrives from Bethlehem, just happening to arrive to inspect his land at the same time Ruth is present.
The writer of Ruth, however, does not want the aware reader to hear about these things and think of them as lucky accidents. There are no such accidents in Ruth. What they are, in reality, is God at work behind the scenes, setting things in motion that will bear fruit later in the story. There are no “miracles” here—God doesn’t make the sun stand still or part the sea. But God is everywhere present and at work throughout, making things happen that might be passed off as mere coincidence, but are not.
This is one common feature of the book. But what makes Ruth really interesting is how God then uses these “coincidences” to allow the characters in the story to act in faithful ways to each other. As God acts in quiet ways, creating advantageous situations, He continues to work by allowing fruit to grow from them—fruit which is the product of the characters in the book using these situations to treat each other as God would—with love and concern and care—with covenantal love or hesed. This term, hesed, is one of the most important in the Old Testament, often translated into English as steadfast love. Predominantly, hesed is what God shows to us—but God also encourages people to show hesed to others in imitation of Him. And this is what we see happening in Ruth. When given the chance, Ruth is faithful and loving to Naomi, Naomi to Ruth, Boaz to Ruth, Ruth to Boaz. There is an interconnection of people with people that God puts in play, but in which people have a role—they practice God-like love among themselves and thus make their community what God wants it to be.
God still often works this way with us—sets up a situation, then allows people to carry it forward, responding to it and to each other as God would have us—in the love of Christ—in the concern of the Spirit. It is not something we do unaided—we need God’s help and often God’s prodding. But it is yet our privilege to have a part in doing—a role we are called to play. And if we listen—if we act—our families, our congregations, our communities, grow into what God intends. If we do otherwise—well, the prospects are not nearly so good.
Ruth ends with a surprise. Through the covenant-keeping of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz in response to God’s occasioning, a child is born to Ruth who will have major effects on the nation. For the son of that child will be a man named Jesse, and he will have a son named David who God will use mightily for Israel. And finally, out of that family will come a man named Jesus whom God will guide and in who God will dwell to do even more mighty things. Surprising results come. And surprising results might still come even today if we were faithful as Naomi, and Ruth, and Boaz.
In Christ’s love, Pastor Steve.