Devotion: Ruth 3:1-5In our passage this week Naomi continues to emerge from her bitterness. Gone is her self-pity and come is her craftiness. Ruth brought home a bounty, but Boaz continued providing food in his merciful stance toward both Ruth and Naomi. After a time, Naomi begins to feel secure in her place and the spell of self-focus is broken.
"Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, 'My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.' And she replied, 'All that you say I will do.' " -Ruth 3:1-5 ESVTragedy and crisis have a way of inviting selfishness. To some extent this is to be expected. When endangered or exposed we tend not to think beyond the self (and perhaps our family). The focus becomes securing what I need to survive. In my experience with people who have real questions about food/shelter, this self-focus because of that desperation is the rule. I have also seen it with families experiencing a significant, especially chronic, health condition. The focus turns inward and the disease and its effect on the family becomes almost an idol--a cruel and vicious one to be sure--that demands homage and inspires the family to invite others to its terrible worship.
What breaks the bad spell of self-focus in our passage is security. Ruth and Naomi have a place to live and food to eat. I have often said that by the standards of the history of humanity that if you have a place to sleep indoors tonight and you can reasonably expect that you will have enough to eat today you can consider yourself wealthy (or at least secure). Most anything beyond this (perhaps with the exception of adequate clothing) is luxury, but luxury is not bad. Indeed, Naomi's desire for Ruth is that she find rest. Ruth has been laboring to provide what the two women need and Naomi does not want to see her daughter-in-law (perhaps, just daughter at this point) continue to do so forever and never have the opportunity to marry and have children. Ruth is a young woman and the expectation of the time is that she be able to marry and begin a family.
Naomi's bad-spell of self-focus is broken in part by her secure position, but also by the good-spell (the Gospel?) of concern for Ruth. Naomi all of the sudden stops focusing on her own misery and sees the estate of Ruth and decides, "Alright, it is time I do something to help Ruth." That turn is one we all need from time to time. Naomi has legitimate reasons to grieve and mourn with the death of her husband and sons, but while the pain of loss may always be with her, it is time to get on with the life she still has to live. This is why she concocts the plan.
The plan is simple and could be titled: "Get Boaz to Marry Ruth." The plan begins with an observation that Boaz will be at the threshing floor that night. Winnowing is a process when the kernel of grain (barley or wheat) is separated from the husk around it (the chaff). This was accomplished on a large flat surface where the grain would be tossed in the air and the prevailing winds (stronger in the evening) would do the work. It was a process that could take quite a while and it was not uncommon for those winnowing to plan to stay at the floor until the task was done, even sleeping there if necessary. Since Boaz was a wealthy farmer with good lands and a bountiful harvest, Naomi knows it is all but guaranteed that Boaz would be at the threshing floor overnight guarding his crop. This is the moment that Ruth's life can change for the better.
The plan then involves ending Ruth's period of mourning. She is to wash and put on good-smelling anointment (a perfume-like oil). This is to indicate that her time of mourning for the loss of her husband is over and that she is eligible for marriage once again. The plan then gets bold. Ruth is to go to find Boaz in the middle of the night and expose his feet. Scholars go round and round about what this means, but it seems to me that if someone uncovered my feet in the middle of the night I would wake up to see what was going on (happiness is warm feet sometimes). What seems certain is that Ruth is making a bold proposal to Boaz that he should marry her. This is almost an outrageous thing for a woman, especially a foreign woman, to do in her day, yet Naomi is confident that Boaz will respond and instruct Ruth what to do next. Ruth, for her part, agrees to the plan.
Self-focus can make us numb to the plight of those around us, especially to those we hold closest and dearest. Naomi is snapped out of her self-focus and goes to work to help Ruth. Ministry to others can be a real blessing because our focus is repaired. Jesus is ever other-focused in his ministry to us. As his disciples we ought to be likewise.
News for You:
- Christmas Eve Service will be at 7 p.m. this year.
- There will be a Christmas breakfast potluck during fellowship hour on Sunday, December 10th. You can sign up at the Welcome Center or contact Sandee for more information.
- The Okanogan Community Homeless Shelter is looking for volunteers to be overnight hosts on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at New Life Church in Okanogan. December dates are the 12th, 13th, 19th, 20th, 26th, and 27th. Please see Pastor Bill if you have questions or are interested in filling one of the spots available.