Themes of Ruth, Part 4: Boaz’s Wisdom
In a recent group Bible study, we have been working through the book of Ruth. As we go, I’ve been using Judges, Ruth: Revised Edition (The NIV Application Commentary) | K. Lawson Younger 📚 for extra personal study. I’d like to share some thoughts and reflections with you as I’ve been traveling through Ruth. If you have not read the book recently, these reflections will make more sense if you spend 10 minutes and read the book first.
The book of Ruth speaks of Boaz as a “worthy man” (Ruth 2:1, ESV). This word in Hebrew is gibbor and is usually used to speak of a mighty warrior. In this context though, it certainly refers to Boaz’s strength of character rather than his physical strength. He is well-known as a man of character.
There are probably many men of character, though, right? In Ruth 1:1, we learn that this tale takes place during the time of the judges when everyone did what was right in his or her own eyes (Judges 17:6). There was a famine in the land, and it probably happened because of Israel’s unfaithfulness. But we can go even further: in Ruth 1:19-21, the women of Bethlehem talk to Naomi about her return, yet no one seems to lift a finger to help two widows without food. No one, that is, except for Boaz. When Ruth was gleaning the field, it seems likely as Boaz arrived, she was leaving, perhaps because she was being sexually harassed while trying to draw water for herself (this seems to make the most sense of Boaz’s words in Ruth 2:8-9).
Boaz Keeps the Spirit of the Law
In Ruth 2:2, Ruth tells Naomi that she is going to look for a field to glean where she can find favor. Why does she need to look for favor though? Widows have the right to glean fields (Deut. 24:20). But it seems that this law was not often kept for widows like Ruth and Naomi. But Boaz doesn’t merely keep the letter of the law and allow Ruth to glean. He keeps the spirit of the law: God is concerned for the weak and powerless and commands the powerful to care for them. Boaz lets Ruth eat with him during the midday meal, he allows her to gather grain from the main crop, and he gives her extra food to take home to Naomi.
Boaz is Shrewd
Boaz not only knows the law, and not only keeps letter of the law, and not only keeps the spirit of the law, but he is shrewd in his application of the law for good.
When Ruth approaches Boaz with a proposal for marriage, Boaz knows the law and knows that there is another redeemer that has the right to marriage first (Ruth 3:11-12). He does the honorable thing and approaches the man directly, but his wording is clever.
The nearer redeemer could have agreed to take on both responsibilities. In fact, he is ready to redeem the field: “I will redeem it” (Ruth 4:4b). Thus for a brief moment, suspense builds. Will Boaz lose Ruth to this nearer nameless redeemer? But quickly the narrator relieves any troubling thoughts concerning this.
Boaz is a crafty fellow. He now drives home the second responsibility of the go’el: “On the day you buy (acquire the usufructary rights of) the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property” (v. 5).
The nearer redeemer is not up to fulfilling the social and moral responsibilities. He states: “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate [nahalah]. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
— (NIVAC: Judges, Ruth, Revised Edition, K. Lawson Younger, on section Ruth 4:1-8).
Boaz is crafty in how he approaches the problem to put the nearer redeemer between a rock and a hard place. He doesn’t hide anything that the nearer redeemer should know in order to make his decision, but he does present it in a way that makes the outcome he wants most likely. Jesus tells us, his followers, to do the same.
“Look, I’m sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as serpents and as innocent as doves.
— Matthew 10:16 (CSB)
Christianity Is True ✝️
Evidence That Demands a Verdict: Life-Changing Truth for a Skeptical World | Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell 📚 →
The truth of the Bible doesn't change, but its critics do. Now with his son Sean McDowell, Josh McDowell has updated and expanded the modern apologetics classic for a new generation. Evidence That Demands a Verdict provides expansive defense of Christianity's core truths and thoughtful responses to the Bible's most difficult and extraordinary passages. It invites readers to bring their doubts and doesn't shy away from the tough questions.
This is one of the best general-purpose books on Christian apologetics around. The original edition was written by Josh McDowell in the 80s, and while I enjoy Josh’s writing style, he is a popularizer of apologetics and not a scholar in his training (though he does have decades of experience). His son, Sean McDowell, has a Ph.D. in Apologetics from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, along with two M.A.s from Talbot School of Theology at Biola University. He has helped his father update this classic of Christian Apologetics and the result is a great overview with the tools to dig deeper.
The primary focus of this book is on the reliability of scripture. There is a prologue on evidence for a theistic universe, and the last section addresses modern philosophies like post-modernism and skepticism, but over 600 pages of this book are dedicated to defending the claims of scripture. There are sections on the reliability of the Old and New Testaments, addressing gnostic “gospels,” the resurrection, Old Testament era archaeology, how Isaiah and Daniel were written, and more. Its pages are filled with quotations and these provide the resources to dig deeper into various topics if you’re looking for more. Best of all, for the size and scope of the book, it’s very affordable.
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
How does prayer affect us? Change us? Neurologists have been studying the effects of prayer on the brain, and there are interesting effects.
As the brain sciences have progressed in the last several decades, that reductionistic tendency has come to apply to religious beliefs and experiences as well. While I am thankful for God’s grace shown in the countless ways people have benefited from being able to understand and treat maladies of the brain, these advances have produced a pernicious tendency in some to think of humans as merely bodies with central nervous systems. As such, everything we experience must be explained through neuroscience.
We have found that stimulation of the right hemisphere by application of weak, complex magnetic fields at the level of temporoparietal lobes produced a sensed presence in about 80% of normal volunteers. Individuals with more frequent experiences classically attributed to elevated temporal lobe activity within the right hemisphere describe more elaborate and personally profound “Sentient Beings” than those only exposed to sham fields. (“Are Our Brains Structured to Avoid Refutations of Belief in God?” Religion 39, no. 1 : 40)
Encounters with these “Sentient Beings,” it is hypothesized, are similar to encounters with divine persons reported in religious traditions, leading many people to conclude that such reported encounters are due to nothing more than unusual configurations of brain states. No god is needed.
If we can stimulate effects in the brain that feel to the person like God or like prayer, then is prayer merely an illusion? Sickler doesn’t think so. He has several responses, but he concludes:
In fact, it makes perfect sense from a biblical point of view that we would be primed to interact with God by having the cognitive capacities and propensities we do. We would expect the ground to be prepared through the way we are made, and that includes our brains. It is as if we have a runway for him to land on, prepared in advance through the common neurological structures we share as humans. How strange, then, that skeptics would conclude that the presence of a runway means there are no airplanes.
- God on the Brain: What Cognitive Science Does (and Does Not) Tell Us about Faith, Human Nature, and the Divine | Brad Sickler 📚
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Living This Christian Life 🤴👸
I believe that everyone has an experience of weariness. In laboring for money, for comfort, or even for the kingdom, most, if not all of us have an experience of feeling overburdened. Modern American culture prizes business and work, and that has been a part of human culture for as long as it has existed. Jesus is clear that the road to eternal life is hard (Matthew 7:14). Yet, Jesus also calls his people to rest in him (Matthew 11:28-30).
I don’t know about you, but it’s difficult to understand what it means to rest in Jesus. Bloom believes that the hardest burdens we bear are “soul-burdens — half-truths we believe about God, ourselves, others, the world, the future, and life that weigh down our hearts with sorrow, fear, anxiety, discouragement, or despair.”
The solution, Bloom argues, is hope. Keep reading to find out how.
Explore the Scriptures 📖
Many Bible translations highlight Mark 16:9-20, the last 11 verses of the Gospel, for closer inspection. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) translation, for example, places verses 9 through 20 in brackets and includes a footnote reading “later [manuscripts] add [verses] 9 – 20” to indicate that the earliest versions of Mark end with chapter 16, verse 8. In fact, the majority of scholars today, Christian and skeptic alike, do not believe verses 9 through 20 originally appeared in chapter 16 of Mark. As Christians, how should we respond to this claim? Is it appropriate to include verses in the Bible when there is widespread uncertainty about their authenticity?
In seminary, I learned about issues like this in scripture, and the first time I encountered this one, I was surprised. If you’re like me, then maybe it makes you uncomfortable to think that this section of Mark is probably not authentic. I promise you though, that there’s nothing to worry about. This passage doesn’t include any “new” theology that we hold dear. It’s not necessary for believing that the resurrection happened.
The truth is that hardworking scholars have found issues like Mark 16:9-20 precisely because of our desire to be faithful to the text and to what the eyewitnesses wrote. Modern translations put this section in brackets or footnotes because we as Christians want to be faithful.
- Questioning the Bible: 11 Major Challenges to the Bible's Authority | Jonathan Morrow 📚
- Cold Case Christianity | J. Warner Wallace 📚
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Listen and Reflect 🎧
Apologetics, the defense of the Christian faith, matters. It matters as the west creeps ever more toward secularism. It matters as eastern societies, already secular or atheistic, try to disprove or ignore God. But the apologetics of the 80s, 90s, and 00s, the apologetics focused on “Does God exist,” while still important, has been surpassed in “Gen Z”’s minds by another question: “Is God Good?”
One of the most difficult questions, perhaps the most difficult, is the question of God’s goodness with respect to the question of hell. Josh Butler sets hell in the context of the biblical storyline and tries to get rid of some of the myths we have built around hell.
- The Skeletons in God's Closet: The Mercy of Hell, the Surprise of Judgment, the Hope of Holy War | Josh Butler 📚
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
Mike Winger walks us through Proverbs 30:1-4:
The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The pronouncement.
The man’s oration to Ithiel, to Ithiel and Ucal:
I am more stupid than any other person,
and I lack a human’s ability to understand.
I have not gained wisdom,
and I have no knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has gone up to heaven and come down?
Who has gathered the wind in his hands?
Who has bound up the waters in a cloak?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is his name,
and what is the name of his son—
if you know?
— Proverbs 30:1-4 (CSB)
He believes this is a prophecy about Jesus (and I agree). I enjoyed this teaching because I hadn’t thought about this passage in a Messianic way before.
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
Blessed are the humble,
for they will inherit the earth.
— Matthew 5:5 (CSB)