The Wonderful Statutes of The Lord – What did the book of Ruth say about it?/Alex Hu/Translated by Grace Hu

The Wonderful Statutes of The Lord – What did the book of Ruth say about it? 

03-23-2015 Bible Study and Interpretations

The generous and kind system statutes of the Lord allow the nations to have long period of stability if they emphasize land economics and wealth justice.  If they depart from nation justice, repeated dynasty will occur and people will suffer in the soaring waves of changes.  The world will never have peaceful days. 

Alex Hu (Executive Director of Jubilee Foundation for Economic Ethics)

Translated by Grace Hu

To a Jewish immigrant family, the statutes of the Lord were wonderful.  In ten years they had repeatedly suffered economic blows and all the males in the household had died.  The family had fallen on hard times.  You can only use “les miserable” to describe their situation.  Even when we study the Book of Ruth today, we still feel compassionate to the family of Naomi.

Back then, if there was no male in the home, not only did it mean there was no productivity and income to live off, but it also meant the family lost its right to inherit their land in the year of Jubilee. There was no chance for them to stand their house up again.

What was the virtue of Naomi?

However, let us not forget David, Naomi’s great grandson, said before, “The law of the Lord is perfect.” Naomi manifested the law. Even on a foreign land like Moab, Naomi kept the law of the Lord on her lips and often meditated on its wonder day and night.

How do we know?

First, she must have compared Moab to Bethlehem and said with a sigh: Back in my hometown, even in the most difficult time, we had no one dying on the street “because the poor can go to the field and pick up the leftover grain (Ruth 2:2) from the reserved field corner.  They cannot be driven away because it is their right as written in our Law of Moses.”  Therefore, Moab was at a much greater risk than Bethlehem to receive an economic impact.  We should know that a society with people helping each other (equalization) can help lessen the blow of an economic depression.

Secondly, she understood the right of God’s people.  She said again with sigh, “Dear daughters-in-law, I no longer can give birth to sons.  If I had grown-up sons now, you could marry them and have hope for the rest of your lives.  For the land I have back home will return to me in the year of Jubilee or it can be redeemed by the kinsman-redeemer before then. Alas! Alas!”

Notice that Naomi often described the wonder of the law.  It is pleasing to God when we remember His law and meditate them day and night, including the promised economic right!

Naomi’s emotions did not frustrate Ruth’s heart.  On the contrary, Ruth had become attracted to and admired the wonderfully designed law as she listened carefully to Naomi’s talks (Ruth 1:16).

Notice that in the Book of Ruth, the center of all virtues was Naomi, the mother-in-law, who kept God’s wonderful law on her lips.  Ruth’s careful listening became the beginning of the journey to follow Naomi home.  We can say the faith that manifested on Naomi in the bitter situation made a mark on Ruth at the same time.

Admiring God’s law during a dark time

Indeed, the Book of Ruth is very ordinary.  But even during the darkest time, Ruth understood and admired what Naomi had told her.

Even though Naomi had never hoped to give birth to another son, Ruth nonetheless still listened intently.  Naomi’s virtue was not only being amiable, bearing hardship and taking care of others, but also being able to talk about God’s law and meditate on the wonder of it in such a difficult situation.

When Naomi felt helpless to give her daughter-in-law any guarantee (to give birth to a son and make him grow up immediately). Ruth on the contrary showed extraordinary wisdom, vision, and determination.  Ruth had said the most famous words, “Don’t urge me to turn back from you —– Your nation is my nation, your God is my God”. It is so moving!  Ruth was attracted to not only her mother-in-law’s virtue, but also the hope of a society governed by the law.  She was fascinated by God’s law.  When she said to Naomi, “Your (nation) God is my (nation) God”, it also meant, I love my mother-in-law’s God and the law of the nation!

This was the real reason why Ruth never retreated or gave up.  Here, I would like to point out that some people stop at the section describing the beautiful relationship between Naomi and Ruth because they do not see the central meaning and the truth of Book of Ruth.

From a ten-year family tragedy, to the hope of the vulnerable, their faith was built upon the economic law of the Lord.  In this declining family, Ruth never gave up the idea to stay with Naomi which showed how different she was from the other daughter-in-law.  It was because of her insight from heaven and her adventurous heart.

What was the real reason Ruth followed her mother-in-law?  It must have been some kind of divine hope from listening to Naomi, who shared the law-abiding society back home.  Even though there was economic ups and downs, people could return home and settle down to live with dignity by picking grains in the field as they helped each other.

There is a divine hope in life

Ruth followed Naomi back to Bethlehem with a low status.  From the beginning, she did not expect all the economic right such as “getting the land back,” which showed her faith.  In other words, she was prepared to glean in the field for twenty years if no kinsman to redeem the land for them before the Jubilee.

What Naomi had told Ruth was, of course, not just words without guarantee.  Psalm 27:13 “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  How wonderful were a group of people who were law-abiding in Bethlehem, including the kinsman Boaz!

At the time in Bethlehem, which was an occasional bright moment in the Book of Judges, this small group of people were keeping the law in good order.  They respected the teaching of Moses and followed the Jubilee rules to return the land to its owner, or by counting the years, to sell the land to the kinsman-redeemer according to the buy-and-sell laws.

Naomi and Ruth had a good mother-daughter relationship.  Ruth came home and would share with Naomi that she was taken care of while gleaning in the field.  To Naomi’s ear, this kind of heart to heart communication showed Ruth’s exceptional judgement and wisdom.  Besides, proclaiming the Lord bless Boaz, Naomi also told Ruth, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his servant girls, because in someone else’s field you might be seen.” (Ruth 2:22)

Moses’s law allows the orphans, widows, and foreign temporary residents to glean in the field without limiting them to which fields.  You can guess why Naomi had told Ruth this.  We can only respond with Psalm 16:2 “— apart from you, I have no good thing.” (also see Song of Songs 4:16)  Even though Ruth and Naomi understood the goodness of the law, they didn’t know God would get involved in those who loved His law during their return journey and afterwards.

As a foreigner and a woman, Ruth was in a low position when she gleaned in Boaz’s field for the first time.  It was obvious the working classes were in their order during the busy harvest time.  Under the master Boaz were the foreman, harvesters, servant girls (gathering the sheaves of grains) and then the lowest class. Ruth gleaned behind the servant girls.  However, Ruth also said, “Though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls, you have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to me.” (Ruth 2:13) 

Everything changed after entering Boaz’s field

Boaz was a boss who noticed the smallest detail in everything.  In his peaceful greetings with his workers, he soon found out there was a newcomer. “The foreman replied, “She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi.  She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.” She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2: 6-7)  This report was accurate and detailed, including that under Boaz’s authority, Ruth was allowed to work in the field.  It appropriately reflected the kindness of the Hebrew society at that time.  It also approved Boaz’s business culture (a shrewd and responsible high level manager) and his virtue of sympathizing with the foreign worker.

Earlier, Boaz had heard of this Moabitess who came here refusing to desert her mother-in-law.  He did not think that Ruth was here only to make a living, or she thought of herself as a boss to feed others.  Boaz was sure that Ruth “came to take refuge under the wings of God of Israel” and he blessed her: “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord”.

When we study the Bible, we also respect and admire Boaz’s faithfulness.  His conversation with Ruth had crossed over the rank and made her work more convenient.  He even told the men not to touch her, and she could get a drink from the water jars (She did not get the water herself) which were filled by the men (whose position was higher than hers).

Hearing this, Ruth felt so unworthy that she bowed down with her face to the ground and thanked Boaz. (Ruth 2:10)  He never liked to listen to gossip, but he was keenly observant to the respectable news in the society.  Ruth 2:11 “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.”

Even at mealtime, Boaz made an exception to let Ruth and the harvesters eat together with him.  With his body language, he lifted this foreign woman’s status.  He gave an order to his men: “Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her”. (Ruth 2:15)  He also told the men to “pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:16)  In the workplace, Boaz had demonstrated the following virtues: 1) a kind relationship between master and servant, 2) a straight-forward communication without barriers, 3) clear and gracious instructions. 4) a complete grasp of news, 5) a practical demonstration with actions, 6) to work together with details, 7) a command from well-used authority, and 8) to put faith in perspective.

A law-abiding person does things in precise order

Finally, the scripture recorded the conversation between Naomi and Ruth.  It seemed that Naomi was almost certain her plan would work, and she took a big risk.  However, Boaz was worthy of Ruth’s proposal, so she played a theme of proposing marriage at midnight.

Honestly speaking, it was unthinkable for Ruth to have the courage to follow the plan step-by-step if not encouraged by her mother-in-law.  She successfully brought up the marriage proposal without being rejected.  Boaz was a mature man and he was familiar with the law.  He clearly knew who was the kinsman-redeemer and that person had the priority to marry Ruth.

At dawn, Ruth went home abundantly carrying six measures of barley. Naomi was nervous but also wild with joy. She was joyful because Boaz was a good man.  This righteous man realized not only the desperate need to be the kinsman-redeemer but also that it was better to do it sooner than later.  He wanted to protect Ruth’s name, for he knew there was risk of leaking the marriage proposal secret.   He wanted to remove any barrier to marry the bride immediately.  Boaz’s reaction was just like what Naomi had expected: a law-abiding man’s wise reaction.

Jewish society’s blessing was admired  by its neighboring country

It seemed that Naomi’s prediction was accurate.  However, to her, all Boaz’s behaviors and proceedings were natural for a shrewd man who obeyed the law.

Besides, readers can also pay attention to Boaz’s “familiarity to the proceedings” and how he understood the buying and selling the land, the order of the right to buy the land” and “open witness” processes.  We will be surprised that the law of Moses was still respected by this Bethlehem community during the “dark era of the judges”!

It seemed that even in the Book of Judges when there were no formal kings, the law (commanded by the Lord) was still able to be realized  We can see the kindness relationship and rescue system were not disintegrated in that society.  It was a blessing so unthinkable yet so admired by the neighboring Moab.  Ruth believed in “this hope,” and that’s why she was attracted to Naomi’s unwavering faith to the law.

We can guess that Naomi and Elimelech sold their land with a “reasonable price” ten years ago. (According to Leviticus chapter 25: the annual drop harvest value x years left until Jubilee = the land sale price).  They used the money to migrate to Moab.  Although in retrospect it was a questionable family decision, Naomi knew very well the right of the family in the future.  She felt sorry and “helpless” for her daughters-in-law and had urged them to leave her because she could not provide them with a good life.

Pursuing land justice returns to the gracious and kind law

Bethlehem shone in the era of the judges because there was a group of people like Naomi and Boaz who obeyed the teachings of the law.  Everybody’s economic life was protected because they helped each other.  It even surpassed the era of the kings when the rich “added house to house, joined field to field” for personal gain.  Therefore, the rich and the poor became as unequal as warned by the prophet Isaiah because the law had been abandoned!

Next, an economic new start

Boaz’s generosity and prosperity were the redemption for the poor family.  However, the system set up by the Lord had a long lasting effect.  It was not only a design to give people the privilege to pick grains in the field but also to retrieve their land so they were able to have a dependable income in the long run.  If there were no Canaan, there was no development opportunity.  Even if there was Canaan, if people did not share with each other and were not given an opportunity to start over, it would have become a polarized society and its economic system would eventually be disintegrated.

The generous and kind system statues of the Lord allowed the nations to have a long period of stability if they emphasized land economics and wealth justice. If they departed from nation justice, repeated dynasty would occur and people suffered in the roaring waves of changes.  The world would never have peaceful days.  Therefore, the wisdom and essence of Jewish economics always gives people the right of dawn and brings blessing to their countries.  Is this recognized by all the nations and people at the present time?

Jubilee’s land economics is to let the poor (everyone who has the image of God) to have food to eat every day in the short term.  In the long term, every family in the 50th year can restart their livelihood and completely change their fate.  In Jubilee, they can have all the debt forgiven and the lost land can also be retrieved without any condition.  Therefore, no matter how vulnerable and low-status a person is, he is most honorable and his economic need will be taken care of by God.  There is one condition: we must return to the place where God’s law is applied, such as Bethlehem at that time.

Today, the polarized phenomenon of “extreme richness” and “extreme poverty” happens everywhere.  The more developed world is, the more serious the poverty problem.  This system is exactly the argument in Henry George’s “Progress and Poverty” published in 1879.  Influenced by the idea of “the Jubilee”, he discovered the land problem was the nature of wealth inequality of the current nations.

Henry George promoted simple tax system which influenced our founding father Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s land theory and the following idea of “state-owned land used by people”.  Both men were giants of the era who stood by the Bible teaching.

After we read the Book of Ruth, how about let people of all ranks in this society have hope, especially the young people.  Let them not be oppressed by debt but have a livelihood to rely on.  No matter how heavy their debt is, it should all be deducted in the year of Jubilee.  Even the poorest family should have the right to retrieve their small piece of land to start making a living again at the end of the 50th year cycle.  If young people have the divine hope like Ruth’s, will they not love the society and nation they belong to?  Surely we will not see anyone who takes his own life because he has no hope for tomorrow!