Monday, 10 February 2014

Ruth (Episode 6)

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 Andrew Cheah for I have used his sermon notes to pen the ‘Points for Reflection’ section for Episode 6.

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

Ruth (Episode 6)
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'

'Come here and eat,' Boaz said to me at mealtime
'Here is some good bread which you could dip in the wine'
He spoke to me cordially, his eyes were so kind
So I came and sat beside the reapers to dine

He passed some fine delicious roasted grain to me
And so I ate, to my heart's content, heartily
But I still had some leftovers surprisingly
After meal, I thanked Boaz for his charity

And then I rose to resume my task of gleaning
Boaz gave instructions to his young men, saying
‘Let her glean even among the sheaves, do not sting
Her with reproach but help her as well by pulling

Out some from the bundles and let it lie loosely
For her to glean and do not rebuke her harshly’
So I gleaned until evening and delightfully
Had collected about an ephah of barley

Then I took it up and went into the city
Of Bethlehem where I gladly showed Naomi
My bounteous gleanings of an ephah of barley
And the leftover food he gave abundantly

‘Where did you glean today?’ she asked me curiously
‘And where have you worked?’ her eyes surveyed the barleys
‘Blessed be the man,’ she commented cheerfully
‘Who took notice of you,’ she nodded knowingly

‘Boaz is the kind man with whom I worked today’
Naomi said ‘May he be blessed in every way
By the LORD God whose kindness is new every day
He’s not abandoned us nor turned his face away

He has not forsaken the living or the dead!’
‘The man is a close relative,’ she also said
‘One of our redeemers,’ her face was glowing red
With excitement as she took a morsel of bread

I said, 'Furthermore, he said to me: ‘My daughter
Do not leave this field here or glean in another
But keep close to my young women and my reapers’’
Naomi uttered, ‘That is good news, my daughter’

‘Lest in another field you might be assaulted’
So I kept close to his reapers as instructed
I gleaned till the barley and wheat harvests ended
I stayed with Naomi in whom I confided

One fine day, Naomi told me what I should do
‘My dearest daughter, should I not seek rest for you
That you have children so it may be well with you?’
I waited to hear where her plan was leading to

‘Is not Boaz our kin?’ she asked rhetorically
‘With whose young women you were gleaning ripe barleys?
He will be at the threshing floor tonight, you see
For I know that he will be winnowing barley

Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your
Cloak to keep warm and go down to the threshing floor
Do not make yourself known to the man but wait for
Him to eat and drink his fill till he wants no more

When he lies down, observe where he lies carefully
Then uncover his feet and lie down quietly
And he will tell you what to do accordingly’
‘All that you say I will do,’ I said faithfully

I did just as Naomi had commanded me
I went down to the threshing floor accordingly
So Boaz ate and drank till his heart was merry
He lay down by the heap of grain and slept soundly

Then I uncovered his feet and lay down softly
At midnight the man was startled and hastily
Turned over and beheld, at his feet, a lady!
‘Who are you?’ he drew back his feet instinctively

‘I am Ruth, your humble servant,’ was my answer
‘Spread your wings o’er me for you are a redeemer’
He said, ‘May you be blessed by the LORD, my daughter
You have now made this last act of kindness greater

Than the first, for young men you have not gone after
Whether poor or rich, so do not fear, my daughter
I will do all that you ask, for we can concur
That you are a worthy woman of great honour

And now it is true that I am a redeemer
Yet there is still a redeemer who is nearer
Than I; if he agrees to be your redeemer
Then let him be, but if he declines the offer

Then, as the LORD lives, I will surely redeem you
Lie down till the morning comes and the night is through’
I lay at his feet, waiting for dawn to ensue
And then I arose when the morning was still new

And he said, ‘Let it not be known that a woman
Came to the threshing floor. So now, bring your garment
And hold it out,’ so I followed his instruction
Six measures of barley was the ample portion

That he measured out and gave me generously
Then I made my way quickly into the city
‘So how did you fare, my daughter?’ asked Naomi
Then I told her all that the man had done for me

‘These six measures of ripe barley he gave to me
‘You mustn’t go back empty-handed,’ he said kindly’
‘Wait till you learn how this turns out,’ said Naomi
‘For he will not rest but will settle this swiftly’’

Ruth paused for a while at this part of the story
She looked at her unfinished dough quite worriedly
‘My beloved, why did you halt so suddenly?’
Boaz said as he was eavesdropping secretly

‘Daddy!’ Obed ran to his father happily
He lifted him and swung him around playfully
He then turned and said to his beloved gently
‘Let the servants finish your work, do not worry’

Ruth said, ‘Yes, I think your advice sounds good to me
Why don’t you finish the last part of the story?’
He said, ‘Come, let us take a walk to the city
To the gate where the elders witnessed the treaty’

As they were strolling along the streets leisurely
Boaz continued the last part of the story
‘I called the redeemer and ten elders swiftly
To gather at the gate of Bethlehem city

‘Turn aside, friend; sit down here,’ I said courteously
To the redeemer who came and sat before me
‘Sit down here,’ I urged the elders of the city
Who sat down as ten witnesses to the treaty

I said to the redeemer, ‘You know Naomi
Who has returned from Moab to her own country
Is now selling a land which is a property
Of late Elimelech, our kin and family

So I thought I would inform you of it and say
‘Buy it in the presence of the elders today’
If you will redeem it, then redeem it you may
But if you will not, then affirm it with a nay

For there is none besides you to redeem the land
And I come after you so let me know your stand’
‘I will redeem it,’ the redeemer said offhand
I said, ‘There is a term that you must understand

Which states that the day you buy Elimelech’s land
And purchase that property from Naomi’s hand
You would also acquire Ruth the Moabite’s hand
In marriage, the widow of Mahlon from our clan

In order to perpetuate the name of the dead
In his inheritance,’ those were the words I said
‘Then I cannot redeem it for myself,’ he said
‘Lest I impair my own inheritance instead’

He then said ‘So now, take my right of redemption
Yourself, for I cannot redeem this possession’
He drew off his sandal as a confirmation
And gave it to me to affirm the transaction

Then I said to all the people and the elders
‘You are witnesses this day that I’ve bought over
From the hand of Naomi everything that were
The inheritance of Elimelech and her

Sons, Chilion and Mahlon,’ I paused and then pressed on
‘Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon
I, Boaz, have bought to be my wife from now on
To perpetuate the name of the dead, I have sworn

To spread my wings of refuge as a redeemer
That his name may not die out among his brothers
And from the gate of the land of his ancestors
You are witnesses this day, my fellow brothers’

‘We are witnesses. May the LORD let the woman
Who is coming into your house, be abundant
Like Rachel and Leah, who were blessed with children
And who built up the house of Israel, our nation 

In Ephrathah, our clan, may you act worthily
And be greatly renowned in Bethlehem city
Through offspring may your house be like the family 
Of Perez, from Judah and Tamar’s ancestry’


Points for Reflection:
·         The scene was at the gate of the town – the place where legal and commercial transactions took place in that culture.
Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down.
(Ruth 4:1)
·         The word translated ‘friend’ here is like a nothing word – in English we would say Mr. So and so or Mr. X. In other words, the narrator of the story purposely does not want to tell us the man’s name. And we will see why later.
·         Boaz called him to come and sit down – and so he did. And then he called 10 of the town elders to come and sit down and they did as well. 10 was the number needed for a legal quorum. There was business to be done.
·         You see, Boaz, being a relative, knew about some land that belonged to Elimelech.
Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech.
(Ruth 4:3)
·         Now there are two possible ways of understanding what was going on here.
·         It may have been that the land still belonged to Elimelech and it had not been distributed after his death because he was far away and no one knew about it. Naomi and Ruth were unable to farm it and wanted to sell it. So Naomi was selling it now on Elimelech’s behalf. And the next of kin – the kinsman redeemer, had the first right to buy it – in order to keep it in the family.
·         Or it may have been that there were other people on the land now who ‘bought’ it from Elimelech before he left for Moab. That sounds strange to us but in Israel – land was never meant to be ‘bought’ and ‘sold’ in the sense we buy and sell land now. If you bought a land it was always bought temporarily. Until someone in the family who owned it was able to redeem it or buy it back. So there may have been people on the land who would have to be paid if the redeemer were to buy the land and it would then revert to the family.
·         Either way, Naomi would make the land available to the kinsman redeemer.
·         So the redeemer had a once in a lifetime chance to buy land – permanently. As he was in the family, he was the closest relative, the land that was bought back would be his. There would be no need to give it back and no danger of it being redeemed by another. He would have bought it at market value – which was the same price as a piece of property that would normally be leased and subjected to redemption at any time. So in ancient Israel that would have been a great investment – in fact, a windfall. So Mr. So and so’s immediate response was of course, ‘I will redeem it.’
·         But then Boaz comes up with a caveat, in other words, a warning:
Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.”
(Ruth 4:5)
·         We saw last week how the law made provision to perpetuate and preserve the family name of someone who died childless. The brother of the man who died was to enable the dead man’s wife to have children on his behalf. So that his name would not be lost in the annals of Israel. Well this custom seemed to have extended to other relatives as well.
·         Since Mr. So and so was the closest relative, he would have that duty. He would have children with Ruth – but they wouldn’t be counted as his – they would be counted as Mahlon’s and therefore in the line of Elimelech. What Boaz was saying was that you could not take one without the other.
·         Now let us think of what will happen if Mr. So and So buys the land under these conditions. Yes he would get it at a good price but then ... It would not go to his own children. It would not perpetuate his own name and his own fame. Instead, it would go to the children he would have with Ruth. And the land would go on to be theirs – for they were heirs of Elimelech whose land it was. The land he was paying for with his own money would be theirs. That money would have otherwise have gone to his own children and boosted the inheritance that he left them. But now it would be used to perpetuate someone else’s name.
Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
(Ruth 4:6)
·         Mr. So and So could afford to buy the field if it would enhance his own fame and fortune. But he could not afford to buy it when it would be counted as belonging to someone else – even if it was his own flesh and blood. He would not sacrifice his own inheritance for the sake of anyone else. So he declined the opportunity to buy the field and have children with Ruth.
·         That was the complete opposite of Boaz wasn’t it? Boaz was willing to make that sacrifice. He was willing to pay – to lose the inheritance that goes with his name in order to obey the law and to show faithful and kind love to Ruth. He was willing to sacrifice his fame and fortune to obey God and display his faithful and kind love.
·         And you know what? God rewarded him in the end. For 3000 years later we are still talking about him and his righteousness. His willingness to sacrifice his inheritance means that he has gained a far greater one. He has a far greater name than he could ever have imagined.
·         But as for Mr. So and So – so concerned with his own inheritance and greatness - we do not even know his name.
·         Jesus said :
For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
(Matthew 16:25)
·         Whatever decisions we make, let us remember that.
·         Doing the right thing, obeying God’s word – in fact going beyond the letter of the law to show his faithful and kind love – that would cost us much. But it is worth it. In the end, whether in this age or the next, God will make it up to us. Do not miss out on eternal things because you are so concerned to maximize the benefits of things that would not last. Be like Boaz – not Mr. So and So. Do not forsake God for the things of this world.
·         The way was now clear for Boaz to take on the role and responsibility of redeemer. What remained was to legalize this. In our day, if someone wants to give us the right to something, we sign a legal agreement. Back then, they did it another way.
Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal.
(Ruth 4:7-8)
·         They therefore had an agreement– a legally binding one. Because of that, Boaz was now free to legally and properly marry Ruth. Which really was the whole point of the exercise.
Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”
(Ruth 4:9-10)
·         Unlike Mr. So and so, Boaz was willing to make the sacrifice. He did the right thing for Elimelech and Mahlon. And he did the right thing for Naomi and Ruth.
·         Hear what the people said to him:
Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.”
(Ruth 4:11-12)
·         Rachel and Leah were the two wives of Israel or Jacob – the mothers of the whole Israelite nation. On the other hand, Tamar, like Ruth, had also been left a widow. But unlike Boaz, Judah had to be tricked into providing her with children. Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah was an ancestor of Boaz – and probably of most of the local folks in Bethlehem at the time. So the people of the town wished Boaz well and they wished him many offspring through his union with Ruth.
·         Well at last it happened. Boaz took Ruth to be his wife. When the marriage was consummated, the Lord gave her conception and Ruth bore a son. The narrator wants us to see very clearly that God’s hand was behind it all.