Sunday, 19 January 2014

Ruth (Episode 3)

Hello All,
The part of the poem that we will be emphasizing on today is highlighted in blue. The black colour text in the poem is a recap of what we have already done for the past few weeks.

Before I begin, I would like to give credit to Tim Philips for I have used his sermon notes to pen the ‘Points for Reflection’ section for Episode 3.

Let us now continue our story with the third episode of Ruth…

Ruth (Episode 3)
By Joanne Liaw Sook Ling (3rd October 2013)
'Go to bed my dear child,' said Grandma Naomi
As she bent down to kiss his forehead tenderly
Obed was wide awake so he looked pleadingly
And said, 'Grandma, please tell me a bedtime story'

Naomi tried her best to think of an excuse
A valid one which she could effectively use
To lovingly and gently but firmly refuse
Her little grandson's request for her to amuse

But his pleading eyes completely melted her heart
His whims and fancies she had often failed to thwart
She sat by his bedside and pondered how to start
A true story of which she played a vital part

'In the days when the judges ruled in our homeland
There was a great famine which we could not withstand
Elimelech, your grandfather, of Bethlehem
Sojourned with my sons and I to another land

For ten years we settled in the land of Moab
Elimelech's death left me despondent and sad
Mahlon and Chilion, my dear sons, were all I had
They each took a local Moabite woman to wed

And then my dear sons died, leaving their wives and me
Orpah, Ruth your mother and I grieved mournfully
The widows were left childless and I’ve bitterly
Lost both my sons and blamed the LORD for judging me

And so I arose to return to Bethlehem
For I heard that God had given food to the land
Orpah and Ruth insisted to follow my plan
To return with me to Judah as helping hands

'Go and return to your mother's house,' I urged them
'May the Lord bless you abundantly in this land
For your kindness to the children of Abraham
May the good LORD bless you to marry other men'

Then I kissed them good-bye and they broke down and cried
They said ‘No, we'll go with you and be by your side'
'Turn back, my daughters, why follow me?' was my chide
'Return now to your homes and be other men’s brides'

'Have I yet sons in my womb that you may marry?'
'Turn back, for I am too old for matrimony'
'Even if I should marry miraculously
And bear sons, would you wait till they reach puberty?'

'No, my dear daughters, for it is exceedingly
Bitter to me for your own sake, regretfully,
That the hand of the LORD has gone out against me'
Then they lifted up their voices and wept sadly

Orpah kissed me good-bye and left accordingly
However, Ruth clung on to me obstinately
'See, your sister-in-law has just left and gone free
Return with her to your people and gods quickly'

'Do not urge me to leave you,' Ruth said tearfully
'For where you go I'll go,' she said with certainty
'Where you lodge I will lodge,' she clung on more tightly
'Your people shall be my people,' she said surely

'Your God shall be my God,' she said resolutely
'Where you die I will die,' she said devotedly
'And there will I be buried,' her kind words touched me
'May the LORD God do so and more also to me'

'If anything except for death parts you from me'
So determined was she that I had to agree
So the two of us started out on our journey
Until we reached Bethlehem, our little city

The whole town was stirred and asked 'Is this Naomi?'
'Do not call me Naomi, but Mara, for He
The Almighty has dealt with me so bitterly
I went away full but He's brought me back empty'

'Why call me 'pleasant' and why name me Naomi?
When the Almighty has testified against me
And the LORD has struck me with such calamity'
It was now the start of the harvest of barleys'

'My dear Obed, it is now time to go to bed'
'But Grandma, it's still early and not even late'
'My little child, you have heard what I have just said'
'Say your prayers now and then get ready for bed'

Poor Obed could hardly sleep the night through for he
Was anxious to know the ending of the story
The next morning, he jumped out of bed and quickly
Looked high and low in search of Grandma Naomi

He came to the kitchen where Ruth, his dear mother
Was kneading some dough for breakfast, lunch and dinner
She looked at him and said ‘My dear, what's the matter?'
She waited for poor flustered Obed to answer

'Where is grandma? She has not finished her story'
'Grandma is out of town today,' Ruth said gently
With a smile she asked, 'Now, what story could that be?'
He replied, 'She stopped at the harvest of barleys'

Ruth laid down her batch of dough and gazed dreamily
'Yes, it was the start of the harvest of barleys    
'Let me go to the field,' said I to Naomi
'And glean leftovers after him who would kindly

Permit me to do so and grant me his favour'
Naomi said to me, 'Go in peace, my daughter'
I went and gleaned in the field after the reapers
Who may leave some stalks and sheaves for me to gather

I came to a field section which unknowingly
Belonged to your dad, Boaz, a man so worthy
Who came from Bethlehem, our small little city
From the same clan of Elimelech's family

'The LORD be with you,' Boaz said to the reapers
'The LORD bless you,' was their glad and joyful answer
'Whose young woman's this?' he asked the supervisor
'She is the young Moabite woman, a foreigner

Who has come back here with Naomi together
So humbly she asked, 'Please let me glean and gather
Among the sheaves of your field after the reapers'
She is truly a devoted and hard worker

For she has been gathering from early morning
Till now, save for a short rest, she's not stopped working'
It was a fine day, the sun was hot and glaring
I was very tired and my limbs were aching

And then I felt someone pat me on the shoulder
I turned and Boaz said 'Now, listen, my daughter
Do not leave this field here or glean in another
But keep close to my young women and my reapers

Have I now not charged the young men not to touch you?
When you are thirsty, drink from the vessels anew'
I bowed on my face to the man of great virtue
My feelings of gratitude I could not subdue

And I said, 'Why have I, in your eyes, found favour?
Why should you take notice of me, a foreigner?'
But Boaz said, 'All your kindness and endeavours
To care for Naomi, I've heard from my reapers

Since your husband's death, you have left your family
And native land to come to Bethlehem city
To live with our people and sacrificially
Forsaking the security in your country

For what you have done, may God repay you fully
For taking refuge and seeking security
Under the merciful wings of the Almighty'
Then I said, 'I have found favour and great mercy

In your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me
And spoken to your servant benevolently
Though I'm not one of your servants but unworthy
Of your kindness, generosity and mercy'


Points for Reflection:
·         We saw in the last scene of Episode 2 that Naomi and Ruth had reached Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
·         So Naomi, a destitute Israelite widow, and Ruth, who was constantly referred to as a Moabite, or in other words a foreigner, were back in Israel.
·         They would have been in a very poor state indeed with no income and no possessions.
·         So Ruth decided to take action.
·         After all - her main purpose of coming to Israel was to look after her mother in law. So she was now going to make that a reality.
And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”
(Ruth 2:2)

·         You see, in God's law for Israel, the Mosaic law, provision had been made for people like Ruth.

“You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow's garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this. “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this.
(Deuteronomy 24:17-22)

·         Well Ruth qualified in all three aspects as one who should benefit from this law
·         Ruth was a Moabite – so she was a sojourner, a foreigner in Israel.
·         She was a widow.
·         And in a sense she was also fatherless because she had left her family in Moab behind for good. She was no longer under her human father's provision in any way.
·         So if an Israelite were being faithful when dealing with Ruth, he would remember the love that was shown to his ancestors by God when they were enslaved in Egypt. So they would have compassion on Ruth, letting her glean in their fields and letting her pick up any grain that the workers leave behind.
·         We are then introduced to one of these faithful, God fearing men. A man called Boaz…
·         Boaz is the last main character in the story of Ruth.

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.
(Ruth 2:1)

·         And we are told two key things about him in Ruth 2:1.
  1. Firstly – he was a worthy man. Which meant that he was greatly respected in Israel, a very capable man and rather wealthy too.
  2. Secondly - he was of the clan of Elimelech. He was in some way related to Naomi's deceased husband
·         Boaz had just returned from the city to his barley fields. He returned at the exact time when Ruth was gleaning in one of his fields. He noticed her and called the chief servant over and asked him who this woman was.

And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”        
(Ruth 2:6-7)

·         We know from further down in Ruth 2:11 that he had already heard about Ruth’s sacrificial love for Naomi. He already knew who Ruth was. But now he could put a face to the name.
·         So he approached her - but he greeted her in a very strange way. He called her daughter – he recognized her a fellow Israelite, not a Moabite!
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women.
(Ruth 2:8)   

·         He told her to stay in his field, she must not leave it for another. Boaz reassured her that she would not be attacked by his workers.
·         We know that all of this was happening at the time of the judges when men were doing as they saw fit. The molesting of helpless women would sadly have been a common occurrence in Israel. So Boaz's protection would have been a great relief to Ruth
·         She was also given the provision to drink water from Boaz's wells whenever she was thirsty.
·         Boaz was showing Ruth incredible compassion and generosity. Well beyond what the letter of the law in Deuteronomy demanded!!! All Boaz had to do was let Ruth glean behind the workers in his field. Nothing more.
·         And Ruth knew that she was being treated very generously. So she bowed to the ground and asked Boaz – why? ‘Why are you treating me so well???’
·         And then Boaz revealed to Ruth that he knew more about her than she realized. He knew what Ruth had done for Naomi. How she had left her home, her land and came to a foreign place with no guarantee of security. All for Naomi's sake. And Boaz in turn blessed her. He treated her as a fellow Israelite. He granted her provision in food and protection from thugs. Boaz prayed that the Lord would repay Ruth for her love towards Naomi and her faith in God. Because she had forsaken the security of her homeland and sought refuge in the God of Israel.
·         Boaz said that she had sought refuge under God's wings. A bit like when you see a ‘kampung’ (village) hen looking after her young. She would spread her wings over her young to protect them from danger. To provide them the warmth they need to survive.
·         Do you believe that God can work powerfully through normal circumstances today?
·         Friends, we face many big decisions in life. And when we need to make those decisions we often want clearer direction from God.
·         We might wish for some writing on the wall. Maybe a little bit of divine intervention to know exactly what he wants us to do. Maybe we are coming to the end of university and we cannot decide what kind of work to pursue. Or we are coming to a cross road in our career and we are not sure which path to take. Maybe we have met someone and we are trying to decide whether to pursue a relationship with them or not.
·         We want to know God's will on the matter, we want him to tell us what to do.
·         The book of Ruth challenges our understanding of how God's providence works in our everyday lives. Not once in the book of Ruth do we find the words – the Lord said do this, the Lord said do that. Not once were Ruth and Naomi given a clear sign of direction from God. In fact, God does not speak or act in an extraordinary way once in this whole book.
·         But we know that God was in his sovereignty working behind the scenes. Like the 'co-incidence' of Ruth stumbling across Boaz’s field. And Boaz's timely arrival, arriving just in time to see Ruth. The fact that Boaz had already heard about what Ruth had done for Naomi.
·         Those were normal situations that God was using to bring about his purposes! All Ruth had was a basic understanding of God's law from her Israelite family combined with faith, an unshakable trust in God.
·         In the same way, we as Christians today have God's law for us in the Bible. And sometimes the Bible will speak directly into our decisions.
·         If we are trying to work out whether it is ok to marry a non-Christian or get drunk, or deal dishonestly at work then the decision for us as Christians should not be that hard, we know from the Bible that those things are wrong.
·         But there will be times when the Bible is silent concerning our decisions. Is that the time start looking for signs? Should we start scouring the walls for that divine writing that will tell us what to do? Or should we wait for a vision and start reading into our dreams?
·         God can and does use special means to direct his people in specific situations. But more often than not God works today the same the way he did in the book of Ruth. He does not want us begging him for signs and not making a move till we get one. He wants us to honour him through obedience to his word. And that would not necessarily mean we have all the answers.
·         If you have two jobs in front of you and there is really nothing between them then go for one of them. The Bible is silent on what occupation you pursue as long as it is not immoral. Do not expect God to give you the answer through some supernatural means. He has not promised to do that although he could if he wanted to. He expects us to make decisions as we trust him. He has given us his Word to guide us. We know he is in control.

The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.
(Proverbs 16:9)

·         So honour God in all of your decisions. But do not be afraid to make them, even when you are not 100% sure.