“Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until the party is well under way and he’s had plenty of food and drink. When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He’ll tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:3-4 MSG)
It’s obvious that Boaz has only seen the worst of Ruth. First time he meets her and she catches his eye. She is still in mourning and wearing her Moabite gear. She has been working for hours, days and maybe even weeks and is covered in harvest dust, grime and chaff from following behind the other servants. Even so, she has caught the eye and attention of the farmer. We are not sure how long Ruth has been working in Boaz’s fields before Naomi decides to step things up. After however many days, or even weeks of this, Naomi wants to help Ruth create an impression. She starts with a bath!!
Hey, Ruth…bath time! Time to wash off the grime, wash off the dirt, the role you play, the working and mourning. Foreign girl image is about to change. We get to listen in on a conversation between Ruth and Naomi and I can’t help but think either one of these ladies must have shared this story with the grandkids with a sense of glee. Ruth is about to make an impression and you don’t want to smell the grime and sweat or the grief and tears of yesterday. Time to change things : new fragrance, new garments: symbolic…a new day.
Ruth, take off your garments that declare you are in mourning and unavailable. It is a new day. This story is one of absolute trust and faith. I love how Naomi helps Ruth step from her past into the present. When opportunity comes, it often comes while we are dressed in the clothes of our present or past circumstances. Naomi plays a significant role in bringing courage and clarity to Ruth and her situation. I look back over my life and love that significant people who have loved me have helped me take off the garments of mourning and step into the clothes that will prepare me for a new season. There have also been times when the ‘Naomis’ in my life have been so caught up in their own sadness, emptiness and circumstances they have not seen those moments. I love that Naomi is able to lift up her eyes and see what is going on and she takes responsibility for Ruth. She becomes a strategist, not only for Ruth, but for her own future. She is what we call an opportunist.
Ruth did not take off her garments prematurely. She had someone who had wisdom to know the right time to stop mourning and step into something new. She did not pretend everything was fun but when it was time, she could have chosen not to. She could have felt the love of her first husband overwhelm her and the loss lock her in, but instead she followed the wisdom of the woman who understood what was available to her.
Ruth doesn’t just have to bathe, remove her garments of mourning and put on perfume, but she will not be able to put these clothes back on. She could have argued that Boaz may not be interested or want to take on his role as redeemer, but instead she audaciously does what Naomi suggests.
I really like this woman, RUTH. She suffers loss of a husband, someone who was meant to provide for her and protect her and produce children and a legacy with her. She, in her mourning and grief, steps out of all that is familiar and covenants herself with a culture and God and future with no idea what it will lead to. She not only covenants to follow but work to provide and initiates a strategy to survive. She leaves her family and all that is familiar in Moab to go to somewhere she has never lived. She covenants to follow Naomi and love Naomi’s God at the risk of never having her own gods to worship again. She steps into the field of strangers to collect leftovers, working hard but being careful to not take what she is not allowed to take, careful to follow the other harvesters, knowing harm and ridicule are possible. Now she is willing to go ahead with an audacious plan to place herself once again in a vulnerable position that may backfire. She has entrusted herself to a connection with Naomi, that despite Naomi’s bitterness, she is willing to listen to Naomi for years and trusts her. She doesn’t pretend to know more than Naomi. Naomi is familiar with traditions and how things work, but even this plan seems slightly bold.
I want ‘Naomis’ in my life to help me step from the dark clothing and hard work of a difficult chapter in my life to into a new chapter. But where are they? They are often consumed with their own stuff. Where are the Naomis? The women who are familiar with Godly culture and what it looks like to step out in faith to lay claim to what is rightfully theirs?
Who will have the courage to help me see opportunities and help me strategise so that I am not left gathering leftovers in a field in the middle of the day for the rest of my life. I do not want the younger women, naive and misunderstood to be left gleaning behind the other gleaners because the Naomis refuse to provide their wisdom and withhold what they know, often because of bitterness or resentment, emptiness or busyness or they want Boaz for themselves?
As a Ruth, I want want their wisdom and experience to show me how to walk by faith.
Where are the Naomi women helping me see the story unfolding and helping strategise with me how to lay claim to what is rightfully mine?
Why are there so many Naomis who have had the biggest struggles in life not helping the Ruths experience a better life than they had?
I like Naomi. She listens to the story and hears grace and opportunity and doesn’t rob Ruth of her future because of her own difficult and broken story and because of her own pain, but, rather, positions Ruth for something beautiful.
There is great temptation for any one of us to withhold and withdraw because of our own story but this story tells me that so many women rob themselves of joy because they withhold their help and love and wisdom. Naomi’s joy is not the basis for her help. Her joy is a result. We are keen to help as long as there is something in it for me. Sure Naomi could see how Boaz could be their saving grace, but she would have been sure of the position of vulnerability she was placing Ruth in. She has faith that ignites a plan that is audacious and crazy and fun and to us, quite naughty. Faith does not have to wait for grief, bitterness or sadness to leave. They can co-exist.
At every opportunity to step out, Ruth is the brave!! But Naomi lends her own brave to the equation. Ruth is audacious and vulnerable at the same time. Who would do this crazy act of vulnerability? That, right there, is trust. It could have gone pear shaped but we know it doesn’t, but she didn’t know!!! She is walking by faith every step of the way.
Ruth was already doing life hard. This new step was part of her journey of providence and faithfulness to her covenant. Naomi was able to see this providence and knew how to make good of this act of providence.
My respect to the partnership of faith and brave and courage that the chemical equation of Ruth and Naomi produce.