Relating Like Ruth

[This article will focus on: Chiastic Centralities and Thematic Overview of Redeemer, Covenantal Relationship, and Noble Character.

Biblically speaking, a chiasma is the literary center of a piece of text. For the purpose of this reflection, I am not going to get all technical about all the chiastic stuff and talk specifically about which chiasma starts where. I’m just going to state plainly what the chiastic centers are in the book of Ruth and my reflection/response, with the basic understanding that the self-highlighted chiastic centralities are purposefully made important by the text itself.

Chiastic centers to note:

  • Whole book – Plan laid out by Naomi and Ruth to ask Boaz to be their kinsman-redeemer (3:1-8)
  • Chap 1 – Noami is too old to conceive: there is no human hope (1:11-13)
  • Ruth’s speech/determination to stick with Naomi – “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” (1:16)
  • Chap 2 – Ruth: “Why have I found favor in your eyes?” Boaz: “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”. (2:8-13)
  • Chap 3 –  “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.” (NIV) (3:10-11)
  • Chap 4 – At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” (4:6,8)]

When I was first reading through Ruth, I was very bothered because here I was, trying to come before God, but I was so distracted by all of this romance business. I had to mentally re-avert myself and ask God what he was really trying to show me through this text. The first thing that immediately came to mind was the redeemer theme in Ruth 3:9: “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family” (NIV) or “Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer” (ESV). This brought up pictures of Ezekiel 16:8, “I spread the corner of my garment over you”, which is paralleled with Boaz “redeeming” Ruth by spreading the corners of his garment (or “wings”) over Ruth. This is clearly a foreshadowing of what God does to redeem his people.

Furthermore, I saw a much more personal parallel through God’s redeeming of his people. Ez 16:6, 8 was also a very apt description of God seeing me helplessly “kicking about in [my] blood]… and he said to [me], ‘Live!’… [God] spread the corner of [his] garment over [me]. [He] gave [me] my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with [me] and [I] became [his].”  Yet, I am like that woman of Ez 16, who goes on to willingly prostitute herself to mental, emotional, and physical comfort and to the idolatry of romance even after being saved from death and made beautiful only because of God. I am an adulterer against God because I so willingly run to lessor loves and I am unable to honestly say that God is my first love (Rev 2:4) all the time. I’m unfaithful to God everyday even though the only good things I have in my life are from him. As I was thinking about how God has shown himself again and again to be trustworthy in different areas of my life, like with finances, sense of rest/need for strength, and with romance. So, how can I not trust God now, particularly in the area of romance? He is making it so easy for me to trust in him now because he so clearly provided for me before.

I also thought about Psalm 63, which is a Psalm that I’ve often gone back to ever since doing Quiet Time (QT) through this Psalm about a year ago. I really appreciate Psalm 63 because this is a psalm that David wrote when he was in the desert, most likely running for his life. Yet, in the desert when he could have been worrying about the very real basic needs of food, water, and surviving through the sub-degree night temperatures while also not being caught and killed by his enemies, he says that he hungers and thirsts for God and thinks about God through the night. This is something that challenges me, especially when I worry about romance, because I want to hunger and thirst for God first and think about God through the night, instead of having lustful thoughts through the watches of the night. In particular, verses 6-7 came alive for me this time around: “I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.” Here it was again, that the part about “shadow of your wings”. All this time, this phrase was right under my nose in Psalm 63 but I didn’t really take notice of it until now!

With imagery from Ezekiel 16 and Psalm 63, it’s so beautiful to see Ruth coming to Boaz at night and asking him to spread his wings over her. Akin to Boaz, Ezekiel and Psalm paint the picture and point me back to God, my real redeemer, whose love is better than life (Psalm 63:3). Yes, Jesus is my greater “Boaz”. So I was very blessed through seeing this redeemer/ spread corner of garment/wings theme run through the book of Ruth through chap 1’s chiastic center (no human hope), hints in chap 2’s chiastic center (“The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge” – Ruth 2:12) and also chap 4’s chiastic center (“You redeem it” – Ruth 4:6).

Second to the redeemer theme, I had also seen glimpses of the “noble character”(NIV) or “worthy” (ESV) theme. Chap 3’s chiastic center was personally difficult to swallow (“You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now my daughter, don’t be afraid.. you are a woman of noble character” – Ruth 3:10-11 NIV) but I ended up needing to reaffirm again the fact that I needed to stop worrying about finding a husband and focus instead on being a woman of noble character (Prov 31:10 NIV) which is something that I was so lacking in. Furthermore, I didn’t need to just focus on being a woman of noble character just so that I could be a good wife – more than that, I ought to be concerned about being a woman of noble character for the sake of being able to bring honor and praise instead of slander to the name of the Lord. Though this particular theme was not majorly central, I saw also how the importance of noble character ran through Chap 2’s chiastic center which highlighted Ruth’s faith in God and faithfulness to Naomi. (Additionally, hints of being “worthy” also popped up with descriptions of Boaz in Ruth 2:1.) Overall, in order to be someone of noble character, I needed to have more trust and faith in God in this area of romance and be faithful to the covenantal relationships around me.

Now that I had thought about the aspect of redeemer and the (personally secondary) point of the need to be a woman of noble character, I struggled with the new obvious theme of covenantal relationship between Ruth and Naomi that also ran throughout the book. I was at first very bothered by the chiastic center in Ruth’s speech to Naomi, which is states in Ruth 1:16, “Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” This phrase troubled me because the order seemed backwards: it seemed like Ruth was committing to people above committing to God. Of course, this commitment to Naomi was beautiful in it of itself. But if Naomi followed Baal or Asherah, it almost seems like Ruth would have willingly followed Naomi to those gods, too, just because she was so committed to Naomi. At the time of that day’s QT, I was consoling myself with the fact that not everyone comes to God with pure motives; the important thing was that she converted and came to the right God in the end. However, what I couldn’t understand also was the chiastic center of the whole book of Ruth: that Naomi laid out a plan for Ruth to ask Boaz to be their kinsman-redeemer and Ruth obeyed. Although I could see why the sub-chiasms of the 4 chapters of Ruth were important, this overarching chiasma and therefore the central theme of the whole book of Ruth perplexed me because it seemed to me like the focus was on human understanding and planning to redeem themselves. This seemed so contrary to trusting in God to provide. Also, since I was working with another QT text about David not “working out his own salvation with [his] own hand” (1 Sam 25:33), I was brought into even more confusion while trying to figure out why it was so right in David’s case to withhold, but somehow “working out their own salvation” was central to Ruth.

However, this morning after QT in 1 Sam, a new thought dawned on me. The point of Ruth was not that they were not working out their own salvation with their own hands, as I had previously supposed. In David’s case, he refrained from “working out salvation with [his] own hand” because his “salvation” included acting out in wrath and vengeance. As Rom 12:19-21 says, we ought to leave room for God’s wrath and to “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” In Ruth and Naomi’s case, their “salvation” came with being “redeemed” by a kinsman-redeemer, of which Boaz could very well be since he was also “a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech”(Ruth 2:1), who was Naomi’s deceased husband. The path of redemption was potentially clear and there was no sin or evil in asking Boaz, who was already kinsman, to also be their kinsman-redeemer, especially because he had already shown Ruth great favor. The worst that could have happened was that he would say no and maybe would have gotten angry at them to the point of no longer showing favor to Ruth. But to simply ask was not a sin nor was it maliciously grasping for salvation, it was just a humble request that ultimately left the decision up to Boaz.

Maybe the reader at this point would still wonder, why did they have to ask in the first place? Why not stay mute, as woman usually were supposed to be, and let Boaz take note of the redemption path and act on it if he so wished? Still, why “take matters into their own hands” and potentially “work out their own salvation” by asking at all? Were they being presumptuous? Let’s take a step back and see where Boaz may have been coming from. First of all, to think that a man would notice a nuance like this might just be futile to hope for. But this might be a moot point. Moving on… in this case, Boaz seemed to have been a lot older than Ruth and was probably a lot closer to Naomi’s age. It probably would have made things awkward if Boaz wanted to ask for Ruth’s hand in marriage since Naomi was probably the “closer” option for the kinsman-redeemer route. However, we the readers already know that Naomi was getting along in years since from chap 1, she was considered to be too old to conceive (Ruth 1:11). In fact, that was the sub-chiasma of Ruth 1, that there was no human hope because Naomi was too old. So, for Boaz to initiate being a kinsman-redeemer, it would have been futile to ask for Naomi’s hand in marriage, who he might or might not have known if she was beyond the age of childbearing, and also it would have potentially been pretty embarrassing for all parties involved if he were to skip Naomi and ask her daughter-in-law, Ruth, who is young enough in comparison for him to easily address as “daughter”. Furthermore, he was not the closest kin. For him to initiate, per Deut 25:5-10, would be inappropriate because there was another who was closer in line. So for the reasons of Boaz simply not noticing, awkwardness, and him not being first in line, it made sense for Boaz to withhold from initiating. When Ruth did initiate, the not-noticing and awkwardness factors were gone, and he was happy enough to talk to the first kinsman-redeemer in line and step up to bat where the prior redeemer hesitated and refused the offer.

So, there is no problem with Ruth boldly asking Boaz to be her kinsman-redeemer, since this was not a situation in which Ruth and Naomi were stubbornly grasping to work out their own salvation which would have otherwise been contrary to God’s will. Rather, they were noting Boaz’s favor and graciously diffusing any awkwardness by allowing Boaz to choose to close the deal only if he so wished. Furthermore, it’s their right within God’s law to ask for a kinsman-redeemer, though in this case they were asking the second closest kin. So, we can continue being comfortable with the central themes of Ruth being: 1) covenantal relationships and 2) redemption. Since I am so bad at relationships in general, not to mention covenantal ones, of course I would be slow to see this… But here it was in front of me! How else could it be portrayed to us readers the importance of the themes of covenantal relationship and redemption, if not for intertwining the two altogether through this one moment: Ruth obeys Naomi when she asks Ruth to ask Boaz to be a kinsman-redeemer, who would redeem them both! Naomi, who covenantally loved Ruth, was hoping to find Ruth a redeeming husband in Boaz because she knew that she could not provide one herself. And Naomi, though not blood related to Ruth, would of course be redeemed through Boaz as well because Naomi and Ruth were covenantally bound, so much so that Ruth represented Naomi to Boaz and Boaz’s child is called Elimelech’s, or rather, Naomi’s. This is highlighted in the end of the book of Ruth, when after Ruth gives birth, the women say of the child, “A son has been born to Naomi” (Ruth 4:17). (Of course, Naomi was not the one who literally gave birth, but the son was born “to Naomi” because that’s what was understood in this whole kinsman-redeemer business.) Ruth, the vessel, was herself also “redeemed” through her finding a new husband and giving birth. So the fierce tie between covenantal relationship between Ruth and Naomi, as well as Boaz being the redeemer, comes to a head here in this book’s chiastic center, which is also a turning point: the plan is hatched by Naomi, and Ruth obeys and asks Boaz to be their kinsman-redeemer. Beautiful!

To pursue this covenantal relationship business further, I wondered to myself, “When did I experience covenantal relationships at its best?” (I am not very good at relationships, so at first I was hesitant to think about something when I could start to mix things up or be very wrong about it. But even so, I decided that I ought to think about relationships more anyway, even if I couldn’t come up with a good answer – better try and get it partially right than not try at all.) I thought about who I experienced covenantal relationships with and some names quickly came to mind. I could mention mentors, who put up with my clueless stupor during my younger days. Or, I could mention my friends who stuck it out with me through our different ups and downs. Or, I could name several other mentors, even who up until now have been dealing with me. However, the strongest and clearest picture that I have of covenantal relationships that kept coming to mind was when I was going through during the darkest period of time, about 2 to 3 years ago. I thought about this again, recently, because of our Easter service. I thought about how, for me, God was at his best when he found a depressed, hollowed out, confused church girl cowering under the weight of her sins because she had gone further and dived deeper in into the pigsty of idolizing romance, worldly ambitions/status, and bitterly isolated/selfish living and He reinstated the bleeding, unclean woman while she was still in her filth by embracing her through this community of faith and calling her “beloved daughter”, “forgiven”, and then, “fisher of men”. It was in that period of darkness that I saw so clearly how my mentors and older sisters embraced me even though I had nothing to offer them except brokenness and pain for their hearts. I was a drain on their time and I barely served – heck, I could barely manage to live beyond a zombie-ish, depressed existence for months because I was so literally godless, a brute beast (Psalm 73) at that time. I remember needing to retake a basic course on Christianity and at one point, just walking and showing up in front of a random house that she was in because I was so desperate. After I texted and called her to ask her to come out, I just begged her in tears to please teach me how to repent before God. I was that lost, miserable, and desperate. After that period, while my small group was going through “The Prodigal Son” book, I saw how clearly I was loved and embraced by the Father through this community even though I was that foolish prodigal. So, that was when covenantal relationships was clearest to me: when I was at my lowest and most pitiful state, yet loved and embraced anyway even though I still “smelled of the pigs”. Anyone could love and be friends with someone when the sky was blue and when the flowers were blooming. But for people to walk with me when I was struggling like that and when I cost them personal suffering through carrying me through my own suffering… I know for sure that that was love, that that was the stuff of covenantal relationships.

It feels very familiar to think that covenantal relationships inevitably shows itself to be the clearest and strongest when it’s forged through the roughest and worst of situations. Naomi and Ruth certainly had that: “they lifted up their voices and wept” (Ruth 1:9, 14) together at the loss of all of their husbands. Naomi had it the worst: she lost her husband and her two sons. She was the most desolate. Yet at the lowest of lows, Ruth clung onto Naomi while her foil, Orpah, left and returned to her own people. Naomi and Ruth shared the “bitterness” or times of “Mara” together. Another thing to note about covenantal relationships was that even in their own personally lowest times, they thought about what would be best for the other instead of what was best for themselves. Naomi wanted the best for Ruth and urged her to go back to her own people, even though she was most bereft, but Ruth probably anticipated Naomi’s needs to come and insisted on sticking with her even though she would be a foreigner in Naomi’s land. Ruth insistantly covenantally bound herself to Naomi to a point where Naomi “said no more”. When they had come to Bethlehem, Ruth offered to go to the field and glean grain for both of them, and Naomi agreed. Naomi wasn’t being lazy in not going herself; she was simply too old to work. The work that Ruth did was probably difficult or backbreaking labor (at one point Boaz puts 6 measures of barely on her, which is moderately estimated to be about 75 pounds.) So Ruth was pretty buff and able to work hard all day for the both of them, while Naomi was described as being past childbearing, so it’s reasonable to assume that she was probably too physically frail to join Ruth in this kind of labor. This was another special factor of Ruth’s covenantal relationship: that she was willing to faithfully bear the burden of work where Naomi could not.

Of course all of my mentors were willing to bear the burden for me where I could not, but as I am thinking about those who were with me in my darkest of times in particular, I think really do think about how happy they are for me when I’m uplifted even at their own cost, very much like 2 Cor 13, “For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for.” I also thought about the relationship that I’ve seen J have with M, where even though it seems like J takes special delight in annoying M like in unnecessarily poking at her orchids, she also takes special delight in serving M in any way possible in order to alleviate her burdens, like being willing to stay up late to do random tasks so that M doesn’t have to. Similarly, besides my mentors covenantally binding themselves to me by committing to carry me when I was crippled during my darkest periods, I saw how I had also wanted to bind myself to them as well, just like how J bound herself to M. For example, I was really happy to do any random extra video editing labor they needed to get done for H this past Thanksgiving. Even though they wanted to take everyone who helped out for good food afterwards and I couldn’t make it even at J’s repeated urging, I was honestly was just happy to be with them during the time that we worked together and was happy to have a chance to do anything to serve/help them because they had shown me so much love – love that I could never forget. I was more than willing to shoulder the burden when they needed it and I didn’t feel the need to be thanked or to eat good meat together to feel connected or happy, even though of course it would be nice to have that as well. Just as they had wanted to uplift me in my dark days, I wanted to uplift them even if it “cost” me extra effort and time.

Besides willingness to go through the roughest times, thinking of others’ needs above one’s own, and being willing to bear burdens for the sake of others, covenantal relationships also involves thinking for others and making helpful suggestions for them when they can’t think of those things on their own (because of the other party’s lack of wisdom or creativity). If Ruth never said anything, perhaps Ruth and Naomi would have just fared ok together for a long, indefinite time, with Ruth gathering wheat for the both of them. But Naomi saw something else in this situation: she asked Ruth to talk to Boaz. She begins this suggestion with, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1). Again, Naomi is thinking about what would be best for Ruth when she suggests this. Then she proceeds makes the devastating suggestion that turns this whole story around into a story of redemption. She was the chiasma maker. Ruth probably never would have talked to Boaz on her own accord… maybe she didn’t have a full grasp of the relational family tree or maybe she didn’t have the courage to do so. But because of Naomi’s wise suggestion, they end up both being redeemed. Just as Naomi was the one who made that suggestion that turned this whole story around, I cannot begin to describe how many of my mentors’ wisdom and suggestions have turned my life around, whether it was through deterring me from sin, helping me to understand the gospel better, helping me fight the battle harder, etc. Besides making other wise suggestions like in Ruth 3:22 (“it is good… that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted”), Naomi also asked questions and took notice of Boaz’s kindness like in Ruth 2:19 (“Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you”). Similarly, my mentors ask me or others questions and take notice of situations when I don’t know what’s going on, and in their wisdom, help me out in my life journey. On Ruth’s end, in her relationship with Naomi, she obeys. Paralleled to this, even if I don’t always get why, I need to also obey/submit to my mentors and have this attitude of “All that you say I will do” (Ruth 3:5). Even though Ruth may have been very flustered, embarrassed, or scared after talking to Boaz (her emotions about this whole encounter is not described to us, probably because the author of this story was male), we see Naomi saying: “Wait my daughter” (Ruth 3:18). So even to that detail, Naomi calms Ruth’s nerves and asks her to be patient, just as in other situations, Naomi asks Ruth to move.

Besides sharing in life’s lows or bitterness, or “Mara”, covenantal relationships ultimately also involves sharing in life’s joys and victories, just as Naomi’s name means “pleasant”. Ruth gives birth and her son is also called “Naomi’s son”. They shared deeply in their redemption and joy over this marriage and also over this son. Similarly, as a church, we share our joys in victory when we ourselves get freed from bondage of sin or when someone makes a salvation decision. No one’s freedom or victory is celebrated alone. There is no sense of “this or that group” got a student who made a decision, why didn’t our group get one? There is unity in the shared joy of salvation and in the end, we will share in our joys together eternally in heaven. Maybe a little bit more relevant to our day and age right now is something from tomorrow’s QT from 1 Sam 30:24-25, “For as his share is who goes down to battle, so shall his share be who stays with the baggage. They shall share alike. And [David] made it a statute and a rule for Israel from that day forward to this day.” It’s pretty clear that David is euphemizing for the sake of the men who stayed with the “baggage” here. I mean, even though there was a precedence of this in 1 Sam 25:13, this time around all of their stuff was stolen by the Amalekites so there was no “baggage” to speak of. David himself didn’t have food to eat or water to drink for three days and was only given food from a left-behind Egyptian that was brought to him. If that was David’s state, then it’s hard to imagine that the other 400 men with him had anything more than David himself. Furthermore, it was clear from 1 Sam 30:10 that the 200 had stayed behind because they “were too exhausted to cross the brook”. So, David was essentially saying, “As for his share who goes down to battle, so shall his share be who is a lame-o.” Even though not everyone was strong enough to fight, those who are too exhausted still shared in the victory because it’s not about “every man for himself”, it’s about covenantal relationship with one another above the self.

In closing, this is what covenantal relationships looks like while we are still on earth: to share in life’s bitter times and pleasant times, in victory and losses in battle, in wisdom and in submission, and in shouldering one another’s burdens and needs together. John 13:34-35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” That’s how God’s going to show himself to be The Redeemer here on earth: if we as Christians are covenantally bound to one another. I will definitely need to be thinking more about this.

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