Provision for the Barren Foreigner
Ruth has always been a study in contradictions to me: a woman out of place and out of time, who merits an entire book of the Bible.
This chapter of Vindicating the Vixens: Revisiting Sexualized, Vilified, and Marginalized Women of the Bible tackles the most glaring issue immediately: she's a Moabite, a tribe who descended from Lot sleeping with his own daughters. The Israelites were not to marry foreigners, and her husband broke God's law by doing so.
We're never told how the brothers and their father, died, but as Israelites in Moab, it's not hard to imagine death by violence, or perhaps simply the privation that had driven them initially from Bethlehem to Moab.
Orpah—the other daughter-in-law—bails pretty quickly into the narrative, and while it's easy to paint her as selfish, considering that Ruth stays, it's hard to blame her. She must have had SOME family to go back to, some system of protection and provision. As women without husbands or children, they had no social standing or worth. They would still have no standing or worth if they returned to their family of origin, but at least there they'd be guaranteed food and shelter.
Sounds bleak, right? It is. Your options were limited, and your greatest hope was that your dead husband had a brother who could step up and marry you and bear an heir in your husband's name. Since the family line had ended, Ruth and Orpah didn't have that hope, and Naomi points out wryly that there's no way she's having more sons in time.
And yet God provides. In this case, causing Ruth to choose faithfulness to her mother-in-law rather than seeking her own good, giving Ruth a purpose and Naomi a provider. This chapter of the Vindicating the Vixens points out something I hadn't thought about before: in choosing to return to Bethlehem with Naomi, Ruth was effectively denouncing her Moabitish (pagan) heritage and deities.
We can safely assume Naomi was too old to be out gleaning in the fields, but Ruth turns to this hard work eagerly, and we get to see God's provision for Ruth in the person of Boaz, a distant relative (which she does not know when she stumbles across his field).
I'm going to be frank here: if you're a single Christian woman, you'll have heard about Boaz a lot. He's become the standard, the personification of "The One" (which is a stupid 21st-century Western concept, for starters) you're supposed to be holding out for. THE BOAZ AND RUTH STORY IS NOT NORMAL AND IS NOT WHAT YOU SHOULD BE TRYING TO BASE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS ON. (Also, where are the books admonishing guys to look for a woman like Ruth? Hardworking! Faithful! Good at gleaning!)
But I kind of get it: God plainly put Ruth in the right place at the right time when she wound up in Boaz's field. Sexual harassment would have been par for the course for an unaccompanied woman—particularly a Moabite, who could have been viewed as disposable. But Boaz warns the workers to not go near her, makes sure she has food and water (it's not a stretch to read between the lines: in the early days of the harvest, Ruth didn't have the means to pack a lunch, since she saved the leftovers of her lunch with Boaz to bring home to Naomi), instructs the workers to leave extra grain behind above and beyond the "gleanings"—It's amazing that they were even to drop some of what they were carrying away. Yes, God's law required that "gleanings" be left in any field. Harvesters were not to strip the fields bare, and widows, orphans, and foreigners were to get first dibs on these gleanings, which is what Ruth was doing there in the first place. But in a place recently experiencing drought and a lack of food, extra scraps aren't something easily left behind.
Ruth collapses at Boaz's feet, asking why he's been this kind to her, and he essentially says "your reputation [of faithfulness and hard work] has preceded you."
There's enough to stop and think about right here, without continuing: yes, God's laws can at times seem harsh and unbearable, and yet, He never leaves us without provision.
That provision may not be what we had in mind, and we might not even be happy about the way God chooses to provide, or when, but it is there, whether we're faithful or not.
The next portion has always confused me. It's bizarre. Boaz, his heart "merry with wine," asleep on the threshing floor—Ruth, washed and anointed at Naomi's instruction, uncovering his feet, and asking him to "redeem" her—to purchase Elimelech's land, to become the inheritor his dead sons were supposed to be, to take Naomi into his home and provide for her, and yes, to marry Ruth and raise up an heir. I, like the author of this chapter, have a hard time concluding that this is a blatant sexual advance, particularly given the deliberate use of words as outlined in this chapter. She's in a tremendously precarious position, asking for something huge, and I think this speaks to both of their characters—that she trusts enough in his discretion to make the offer, and that he respects her enough to not abuse this privilege, even sending her away while it's still dark and everyone's asleep, to prevent gossip.
Ruth asks Boaz to step up, to go above and beyond, AND HE DOES. I'm always amazed by how vastly honorable he is, because she is young, desperate, and very much at his mercy, and he doesn't take advantage of any of this. His acceptance of the arrangement she's proposing even considers the fact that there's a closer relative, who has first right of refusal. (In a fascinating twist: we're not told whether Ruth knew this other guy or just picked Boaz.)
Boaz consults the closer relative, who takes a pass, and the story moves forward.
Boaz & Ruth are married, and in time she bears a son: Obed, father of Jesse, father of David.
Naomi, now ensconced in Boaz's home, given the honored place of a mother, cares for the child, getting to mother again in her old age after the grief of losing her sons, husband, and home.
Ruth, the foreign widow who is barren, becomes a citizen, a wife, a mother, a direct genealogical link to Christ.
God provides. Even for vixens, for the unfaithful, for those of us who are foreigners, for those of who cannot marry or have children. What an encouragement Ruth is for us to faithfully do the work set before us while we wait for God's provision.