Text: Gracia Grindal Tune: Southwell
The Yellow Fields of Food
The yellow fields of food stretched out toward Bethlehem as Ruth considered where she stood and longed to be at home.
Naomi said, “Go back!” But Ruth refused to go, “Return and find the son I lack.” But firmly, Ruth said, “No.”
“Your people will be mine; your God will be my God. And where you die, I’ll also die, be buried in your plot.”
The God she worshipped now was ready to surprise: when Boaz graced her, she bowed down
a beauty in his eyes.
He rescued her and gave her food enough to eat. She gleaned his fields, and she was saved by Boaz’ golden wheat.
And from them came the one, we call the living truth: King David’s seed, and greater Son, whose grandmother was Ruth. Copyright Wayne Leupold Editions
REFLECTIONS One of the greatest poems in English, John Keats’ “Ode on a Nightinga meditates on how the song of the nightingale pierces through melancholy and sadness, and the facing of death. My favorite lines are “Perhaps the self-same song that found a path/through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home, she stood in tears amid the alien corn.” The story of Ruth is one of the great books in the Old Testament and bears reading and rereading during one’s lifetime. It changes and grows greater each time we read it through.
Ruth is the story of a refugee seeking her fortunes where there is food, given the drought in Moab. These pilgrimages are common in the Old Testament as peoples migrate from one place to another seeking the sustenance life requires. It is there from the beginning—when Abraham and Sarah go to Egypt, or Joseph and his brothers end up there due to famine.
It is also a story of the outsider becoming central to the main story. If you remember the story of Moab, Lot’s daughters, aware there are not husbands around, trick their father by getting him drunk and then sleeping with him. The issue of those events are Moab, father of the Moabites, and Ben-ammi, father of the Ammonites. It is not a pretty story, and for it Judah shunned both peoples. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, has decided, after the death of her husband and two sons, to return home to her people. Her two daughters-in-law accompany her. When they arrive, Orpah, one of them, decides to return to Moab. But Ruth decides to go with Naomi in a declaration that has become one of the texts for a wedding song: “Whither thou goest I will go; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”
(Bing Crosby singing the song. https://youtu.be/QNOe6engjL0 )
This is quite a bold declaration for a young woman in a patriarchal society. In her declaration, she cuts herself off from her past, and connects herself to a future that is at the least uncertain. By trusting in Naomi, a smart and crafty woman we can see, she is also risking a lot. But she goes forward with her in faith and trust. And with Naomi’s smarts, Ruth’s future is secured. And so is ours, in a roundabout way!
Naomi connects with her relatives in Bethlehem and soon she has figured out that Boaz, her kinsman, is a likely suitor for Ruth. All this as she is also finding a way for them to eat—gleaning the fields already reaped. In doing so, she sets Ruth up nicely with the rich man and after some seduction, and transactions, Ruth has a husband, and Naomi has a grandson. Which she rejoices in with the baby, Obed, in her lap. The neighbor women bless her for finding a redeemer for them in Boaz. And, not to be missed, someone who will help her in her old age. It is a lovely ending seeing the baby in Naomi’s lap.
Even more, here we have the genealogy of Jesus. Obed is David’s grandfather. So Ruth, a Moabite, is an ancestor of Jesus, marked in Matthew’s genealogy. Thus Christ contains in his family tree, among others, mistreated women, rapscallions, outsiders and noted sinners. As Luther says, it is this heritage that makes him a Savior of us all. Although he was without sin, he was heir to everything of humanity, his blood ran thick with betrayers, adulterers, murderers, rapists, thieves, everything. He was sent, as Boaz, to redeem us, to purchase us out of our bondage and give us freedom.
We have been bought with a great price. While at first we may weep in the alien corn for the old world as the Israelites pined for fleshpots of Egypt, we will come to rejoice in the new world where the fields of golden wheat shine around us with food for body and soul. And as Boaz took Ruth unto himself, so Christ came to take us unto himself and redeem us for a new life in a new land forever. Praise God!
HYMN INFO This text was written at the request of some of my Old Testament colleagues at Luther Seminary. Simply telling the story was enough so I used an old English ballad form that has many tunes. Southwell is one; there is another tune by Iteke Prins who has set many of my texts. She was a refugee from Holland after World War II where she remembered great hunger and suffering as a young child being taken by bicycle from place to place to find food and warmth. (For more on Iteke see:
Another hymn on Ruth is the second one, set by James E. Clemens. In it I saw Ruth as a forerunner of Mary Magdalene among others. Her daring and willingness to lose everything and go forward are emblems of the Christian pilgrimage.
Southwell tune on harmonium
Southwell with pipe organ
Jesus the Harmony would make a nice Christmas present. It can be read devotionally over the entire year.