Reflections on Ruth 2:19-3:9
He said, "Who are you?" And she answered, "I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer."
Ruth 3:9 (ESV)
All day, he didn’t whisper a word. Ruth doesn’t know. As she walks home that night, she still doesn’t know. If she did, it would have changed her story. When she asked him mid-morning, “Why have I found favor in your eyes?” Boaz could have told her then. He could have said what the readers already know. 1
“Ruth, we are family.”
But that’s not why he chose to speak to her. It’s not why he promised to protect and provide for her. It’s not why he lifted her up and sat her near him at mealtime. No, not because she’s family. And not because it’s his family duty.
But because she’s worthy of honor. She has excelled in all the ways she has prized Naomi above her own well-being. This love, this sacrificial love, is the reason Boaz heaps blessing on her. That’s what he wants her to hear.
Not the other. Not for now.
But that night, Naomi pressed Ruth. She has to know the man’s name: “May he be blessed who has blessed us!” When Ruth tells her, Naomi bursts into song for she knows God has done this. He has not withdrawn His kindness from them, nor her dead husband and sons. For this man is not just a wealthy, Law-abiding Israelite showing Ruth mercy and honor. This man is family!
He, according to the Law, has power to be their redeemer.
She tells Ruth but she doesn’t explain it. It’s enough for Ruth to accept Boaz’s invitation to stay in his fields. And Ruth does, gleaning every day, week after week, for the two months of the barley and wheat harvest. Does this mean he had her sit near him every mealtime? Were there more conversations between them? And what about the reapers -- were they as generous to her as they were that first day? If so, Ruth would have enough food for an entire year. 2
And for her, this would have answered all her prayers.
But not Naomi. She dreamed for more.
At just the right time, she explained everything to Ruth. All that’s written in the Law. All the customs and traditions of their day. What to do, how to do it, and when to do it. So, when the time came, she’d know how to ask the question.
And make it her prayer to God.
She follows Naomi’s instructions. She washes, anoints herself with perfume, dresses in the best of her dresses, and sneaks out into the night, the dangerous night. Alone. She makes her way to the threshing floor and, like her mother said, he’s there. She sees him but he doesn’t see her. No one sees her. So she hides in the dark until he’s finished eating. Till he finds a quiet place to sleep.
She waits a little while longer. Then she goes to him.
According to tradition, all she has to do is uncover his feet and stay there. This small act will tell him why she’s there and what she wants. But he sleeps. As the night passes, he suddenly startles. He sits up, knowing someone’s there but not knowing who. Too many shadows. He says it in a whisper, “Who are you?”
She speaks her name. She holds his uncovered feet in her hands. But still, lest the night’s sleep rob him of understanding, she says it in words. In a whisper back.
“Come, my redeemer, and hear my prayer.”
* * *
“Nelson, I gotta go,” I said, soon after he introduced me to Blake. He nodded slightly and I knew I’d guessed right. He needed time with Blake and Blake needed time to get re-acquainted with his daughter.
“Call me sometime,” Nelson said and I told him I would.
As I made my way to the car, I noticed two women passing by the house. They looked familiar but I didn’t know why. As I got to my car, I saw Eddie across the street talking on his cell phone. I knew him from Pastor Adam’s Saturday afternoon Food Pantry. When he saw me, he waved.
I crossed the street, shook hands, and waited for him. As soon as he got off the phone, he smiled at me and said, “Hey, how you doing?” We talked a while before I asked, “So what’s going on. What brings you here, Eddie?”
“Same as you,” he replied, pointing to Angel’s house across the street.
“You’re going in to see Nelson and Laqueta?”
“No,” he said emphatically. “We’re here to pray.” And then it clicked. I looked down the street and saw the two women now on our side of the street walking toward us. Eddie told me the one on the left was Alberta. The other, Gracie. “Can’t do this work without prayer. You know what I’m talking about?”
“Yeah,” I responded quickly.
“What you just saw? Blake showing up? That’s what I’m talking about. That’s the power of God answering prayer. It’s why we do what we do.”
I watched him put his phone in his back pocket.
“Few years ago, I went to Pastor Adams,” Eddie started. “I told him The Naomi Project was in danger of becoming a Good Works Club. You can see it on T.V. The news channels love to show off do-gooders. Somebody doing something for somebody else. So I ask Pastor, ‘What makes us different? ‘Cause if the kindness we give is the same as the kindness they give – something isn’t right.’
“So Pastor says, ‘Say what’s on your mind, Eddie.’
“And I told him. ‘You send a team to do something, you send the military with them. You can’t do kindness like God does kindness without the power that comes through prayer. We’re the secret forces doing battle for souls. We’re covering the teams going out and praying Jesus to bring victory. You want to see the kindness of God change lives, then do it His way. Send out the military!’
“Pastor Adams, he just stands there. I can’t tell what he’s thinking. Finally, he says, ‘What’s got you so fired up about this?’
“I say, ‘My Mama.’
“He looks at me funny and I figure I got his attention now. So I tell him, like I tell you, when I was twenty-five I was no different than Blake. Nobody got in my way. I ran the drug scene. I did jail time. I was out for me. Till one day, I was layin’ on my living room floor, drugged out. No idea I was near dyin’. I open my eyes and there’s Mama praying over me.
“’Lord, don’t You take my boy now,’ she says. ‘You can have him when He knows You. I’ll give him to you myself. But Jesus, Lord Jesus, not now. Don’t take my boy now. I ask You to bring him to Yourself. Change his sorry life. Free him from the devil’s power. Lord, hear my prayer. Save my boy.’”
Eddie shook his head. Just the memory took his breath.
“That prayer changed my life,” he finally said. “From that day on, I never looked back. The power Jesus Christ gives to save came into my life. And you know when Pastor Adams heard that, he said, ‘We’re never becoming a Good Works Club. You got that Eddie? If the Holy Spirit isn’t in charge, if what we do isn’t done in prayer, we’re not doing it. You’re heading up the military.’
“I told him I would. The rest is history.”
From behind me, Alberta and Grace came up alongside.
“You see that?” Alberta said.
Eddie and I looked over at the house. Nelson and Laqueta were standing outside the front door. Blake was sitting on the steps in front of them. Next to him, his daughter Angel, with his arm gently wrapped around her.
“That right there,” Eddie boasts, “is the power of God answering prayer. The Lion is lying down with the lamb.”
“Come on, Eddie,” Gracie pushed. “We’re not done here.”
“No we’re not,” he volleyed back and the three of them started walking. Eddie asked me to join them. And as I did, I heard Gracie asking the Lord to protect Angel’s heart, rescue her mother from addiction, and save her father’s soul.”
“Cover them, Lord,” Alberta urged, “and spread Your wings over this family. Be their Savior and Redeemer.”
Eddie, song-like and a little too loud, said, “Amen. Lord, hear our prayer.”
“Shhh,” Gracie said, poking him.
And on we walked. The secret forces. Quietly pushing back the powers of darkness in prayer so that every act of kindness in Jesus’ name would have the power to change lives.
1 In brilliant storytelling, the reader learns that Boaz is family at the start of chapter 2. Ruth learns his name on her first day gleaning but doesn’t find out he’s actually family until Naomi tells her in 2:20.
2 See Hubbard, p. 191