Last year, this house was my home. I tended the flowers in that garden, sat in the shade of that fig tree, cooked in that sunshiny kitchen, enjoyed the view from that roof. But now the house has been sold, and I don’t know the owners. So I walk by on the other side of the street, looking wistfully at the children playing on the veranda.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do when my Bible finally falls apart. After a dozen years of use, the edges of its suede cover are worn smooth, the broad margins are crowded with smudgy penciled comments, and the spine is broken down by too many trips in my backpack.
I open it in the morning, looking for nourishment to get me through the day. I consult it during church; hopscotch from cross-reference to cross-reference during Bible study — finding treasures at every stop. I page through it when I’m seeking direction, recall it when I’m counseling, and quote it aloud to myself when I need to get a grip. I run to it pell-mell when I’m heartbroken.
Jesus wants me to abide in His word, but sometimes I abide in other things, instead. I check my e-mail in the morning, hoping to find nourishment for the day. I consult my friends when I’m seeking direction, wrack my own brain when I’m counseling, and complain aloud when I need to get a grip. When I’m heartbroken, I run pell-mell towards almost anything that will help me forget.
And then I’m ashamed to return to Him.
For as long as I can remember, the Bible has been my home. But sometimes, I still feel like a child with her nose pressed to the glass, wishing she could get in.
Perhaps I’m not that much different from Ruth.
“And it happened in the days of the judging of the judges, and there was a famine in the land….” So begins the Hebrew text of her story — in the typical “once-upon-a-time” style of ancient Israel.
But she is not Israelite. She’s Moabite: married and widowed, and still just a girl. When her Israelite mother-in-law turns toward home, Ruth is compelled to forsake her fiercely loyal clan-based society and cling to an unfamiliar culture, an unfamiliar country, and an unfamiliar God.
She leaves the high, fertile tableland of Moab, and winds down craggy slopes towards the heavy, hot atmosphere of the Rift Valley. She fords the slimy, mineral-rich waters of the Dead Sea at its narrowest point, and turning north, climbs into the Judean hill country, encountering cool, clear air, terraced hills, and tiny villages. She reaches Bethlehem just in time for the barley harvest. This time of year, as a matter of fact. Tawny grain fields are dotted with indigo-blue globe thistles, and the early summer sun beats down on the reapers.
Finding a job as a migrant field worker, she struggles to support herself and her mother-in-law. But perhaps she still finds time to write home to her sister-in-law.
* * *
I don’t think I’ll ever be accepted here. Their prejudice against us goes back a few hundred years to a time when Moabite women taught Israelite men about polytheism. It gets worse, though. Remember when our ancestor Lot fled from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and went to live in a cave? Did you know that his daughters thought there were no more people left in the world, so they got their father drunk and had children by him?
No matter how hard I work, everyone here still sees me as “the Moabite woman.”
I still can’t explain why I left home. I have little prospect of remarrying, or finding any sort of security. But somehow, I cannot be at rest away from this God who created everything that is, including me.
I miss you,
* * *
Naomi is trying to help me understand this culture, but it’s a slow process.
I did learn something today, though: anybody who cannot act for himself in a legal capacity can turn to his nearest relative for help. So if you’ve lost your land, your kinsman-redeemer can buy it back for you. If you’re enslaved, he buys you back. If you’re a childless widow, he might even agree to marry you. If so, his firstborn son carries on your dead husband’s name and inherits the family land. Could there possibly be a man that unselfish?
Certainly not on behalf of a Moabite widow.
* * *
I met somebody today. He’s the owner of the field I’ve been working in, and though he’s a nobleman here in Bethlehem, somehow he knew who I was! I can’t understand why. He went on and on about how I stuck with my mother-in-law. Then he said the most amazing thing: “A full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”See also: Psalm 17:8; Psalm 36:7; Psalm 91:4; Matthew 23:37; Malachi 4:2; Matthew 9:21; Matthew 14:36
Does this God care about me?
PS Naomi tells me that Boaz is a relative of hers. Maybe that’s why he knew my story.
* * *
I’m sure you’ve already guessed that Naomi has been trying to find me a husband. But you’ll never guess who she has in mind now. Remember Boaz, the nobleman? She has noticed his great kindness toward me, and thinks he would be willing to act as our kinsman-redeemer. Doesn’t she realize that he’ll only see me as just another immoral, idolatrous Moabite? My only relief is that Naomi wants me to ask him at night while he’s guarding the piles of wheat and barley. At least no one will be around when he rejects me.
* * *
There’s so much to tell you, I hardly know where to start!
My conversation with Boaz was nothing like I expected. It certainly was awkward, waking him up in the middle of the night to talk, but he was the perfect gentleman. Fortunately, when I blurted out, “Spread the wing of your garment on your slave girl, for you are our redeemer,” he immediately understood that I wanted his protection in marriage. But listen: Instead of rejecting me, he thanked me for coming to him!
First thing in the morning, he went to speak with the elders about another, closer relative who could redeem our land and carry on our family line. Of course, that relative was totally uninterested in the deal, as soon as he heard about me. Naomi says there is a passage in their law that allows for the humiliation of any man who rejects this responsibility. But Boaz refused to shame whoever-it-was, or even to tell me his name.Randall Buth’s Living Biblical Hebrew: Selected Readings with 500 Friends has been helpful in writing this article. In Ruth 4:2, the Hebrew says “Paloni almoni,” which Buth translates as “anonymous so-and-so.”
I didn’t know such a kind and honorable man existed! But that’s not all. Remember how afraid I was that Boaz would reject me as a foreigner? Well, it turns out that his mother was a Canaanite: a former prostitute by the name of Rahab, who helped the Israelites because she believed in their God. He says that God accepts women of faith into His nation, regardless of their background.
I am accepted by God? What an amazing thought.
* * *
I wanted you to hear from me personally about your daughter-in-law’s visit to the threshing floor last night. Frankly, I am surprised that you advised her to do this. It was, after all, an unusually vulnerable time for me: startled awake in the middle of the night, and my head slightly affected by the wine we had during our harvest celebration. I cannot tell you how deeply I respect Ruth for her refusal to take advantage of the situation — and the fact that she has chosen me over younger, handsomer men. She is a worthy woman indeed, and I am honored to take her as my wife.
Rest assured, my dear Naomi, that I will care for you as tenderly as Ruth has already done. I am aware that her marriage to Mahlon was childless, but I have confidence that God Himself will give us a child to carry on your husband’s name.
* * *
I can only spare a minute for this note, but I just had to let you know: we have a son!
* * *
Inside, Reaching Out
It’s clear from Ruth’s story that God wants us to be at home with Him, not standing on the outside, wistfully looking in. The Bible tells us that He “devises means so that that banished one will not remain an outcast.”2 Samuel 14:14 For Ruth, that meant a kinsman-redeemer: a unique man who recognized the value of faith; someone who had the authority to ransom her from poverty, widowhood, and childlessness.
But we need so much more. Within just a few generations, the Psalmist would realize:
Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.Psalm 49:7-9
What He had so carefully foreshadowed in the story of Ruth, God now carried out by sending a child named Jesus. Like Rahab and Ruth, his mother Mary was a woman of poor reputation — and great faith. Like unselfish Boaz, Joseph raised the infant as his own — and yet not his own. And at last we had a Redeemer powerful enough to buy us back from sin and death and hell. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law,” and “by [His] blood [He] ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”Galatians 3:13 and Revelation 5:9
Meeting My Redeemer
It is no longer than my hand, its blue cover worn, and its first pages dirty and covered with penned-in notations. Scribbled on a blank page is a poem that begins, “Come unto Me, all ye that are wounded and weary of war, and I will give you rest.” This little book of Psalms was my grandfather’s. I like to think that he carried it with him during the winter of 1944, when he lived in an unheated Army barracks in southern Holland. Perhaps, when he was surrounded by bombs and starvation, this little book was his refuge.
Now it is mine to carry.
This morning, I woke up convicted and discouraged. In the middle of writing this article, I’d been crying out for God’s help — and doing things my way. I’d been talking about His word — but looking for refuge elsewhere. The way I figured it, I deserved His silence.
Then I opened my grandfather’s book to Psalm 22, where David cries out in an agony of conviction over his sin: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I had just finished reading the story of King David’s adultery and murder. The way I figured it, he deserved God’s silence.
Then I remembered what Jesus cried out when He was on the cross for my sins: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Once I deserved God’s silence. Now He speaks to me. Once I was far off from Him. Now I am near.
What made the difference? Jesus redeemed me.
When I was a child, the Bible was simply a comfortable fact in which I lived; a familiar mansion I’d left largely unexplored. Too often as an adult, I find other places to abide. But Jesus continues to say, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”Jeremiah 33:3. See also Luke 24:45
Like Lucy’s wardrobe, there are whole worlds to discover within this book. And He is inviting me in.
Copyright 2009 Elisabeth Adams. All rights reserved.