Monday, August 18, 2008

Ruth: different fields

Last week we looked at how Naomi and Ruth returned to a bountiful harvest in Bethlehem. Their emptiness matched the fields of Bethlehem back when Naomi left. But now they came back (remember our discussion of “shub”) to a rich harvest.

There’s a parallel between those fields and the women. The womb of these women were like a field; their barrenness caused by a lack of seed. Their “fields” remained barren as long as they lacked husbands, who would provide the “seed” for the harvest.

We see the dangers to Ruth in the field. Presumably, there was some possibility that she might be molested as she gathered in the fields.

But she just happened to start in the field of Boaz. We learn quickly that he is of the family of Elimilech and we start to anticipate. But Ruth did not. She asked for permission to gather in this field, working hard since early morning to provide for Naomi and herself.

Boaz agreed, calling her “my daughter.” Although scholars think he was a generation older than Ruth, his words indicate that he accepted her into his family to watch over her like a daughter. And his immediate concern was that she not gather in any other field. She need not fear the young men in his fields, implying that she should fear the young men in other fields.

Suddenly our barren young widow was surrounded by fertility and sexuality: of the fruitful harvest and also of virile young men who might take advantage of her. It mattered where she gathered. There was the danger of her going to the wrong field and her emptiness filled by the wrong man.

As the story unfolds, Naomi realized that Boaz offered hope to restore her lands: He was a kinsman-redeemer. In other words, he had the legal right to redeem Naomi’s land.

We’ll look at that kinsman-redeemer process next time.

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