One of the key themes of Ruth is acting in a way that goes beyond the reasonable call of duty. One interesting aspect to this beautiful story is how this idea of being loyal beyond duty’s necessity gets played out in parallel. In chapter 1 we read of Ruth’s moving oath to Naomi. Remember, Ruth has already been encouraged to do the reasonable thing: go back to your people and your faith. In response Ruth pledges her commitment to: “where you go”, “where you lodge”, “your people”, “your God”, and even “where you die”. In essence, Ruth commits to Naomi in every sphere of life: journey, home, family identity, and worship. It transcends the normal bonds of community and extends even to death for they will be united in burial. Ruth is one with Naomi, her people, and her God. She even solemnizes her pledge by the name of Yahweh (1:17).
In chapter 2 we see that Ruth’s loyalty beyond the call of duty is paralleled by the great generosity of Boaz. Not only may Ruth glean from the field but she is to glean alongside Boaz’ harvesters, normally off limits to gleaners (2:8,9). Boaz not only orders his men not to interfere with her, but also grants her access to the water the men have drawn (2:9). He invites her within the intimacy of the mid-day meal, and provides so much she cannot finish it (2:14). As they resume the harvest Boaz commands the men to allow her to go beyond gleaning between the sheaves, and to harvest some of the gathered cut grain for herself (2:15,16). At the end of her day, when she has returned to Naomi, we read that Boaz extends a gracious invitation to Ruth to continue to the end of the harvests.
The story presents Ruth and Boaz acting out of generous freewill, rather than under legal obligation. Their ‘beyond the call’ generosity is contrasted in each case by a character who choses the sensible route. In Ruth’s case, Orpah chooses to return to home; in Boaz’ case, the closer redeemer chooses not to exercise his right of redemption (4:6). I think the author is careful not to judge the reasonable actions of these two characters, but rather uses them to emphasize the radical generosity of Ruth and Boaz that goes well beyond duty.
Something to Apply:
When faced with an opportunity to “do good”, who or what do you consult? Do you first get permission from your bank account or your energy levels? That is, of course, most sensible – and we all have limitations that need to be recognized. That being said, shouldn’t we first ask the Lord what he would like us to do, then trust him to provide the time, talent, or treasure? I take great encouragement from 1 Peter 4:10-11:“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace … whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies. (emphasis added)”