How People Grow

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Throughout November we’re taking an in-depth look at Ruth, the little book that helped pave the way for God’s Messiah to come into the world.

No Girls Allowed

That sign might make sense on a “private clubhouse” for elementary school-age boys.

But it’s painful to note the restrictions on the lives of grown-up women that remain in place in many parts of the world.   

According to the laws of Saudi Arabia, women are forbidden to drive.  In China, women cannot study mining – geological engineering is considered “inappropriate” for females.  In Indonesia, unmarried women are not permitted to share a motorcycle with a man.  In Iran, females cannot attend public sporting events.  In Yemen, a woman cannot leave her own house without the consent of her father or husband.   

Such restrictions were widely embraced in classical antiquity, and that included the Near East during Bible times. 

For all intents and purposes, those who harvested grain in Israel hung up a sign that said No Girls Allowed.  Female servants and impoverished women like Ruth might glean a few sheaves during daylight hours, but the final stages of the harvest were For Men Only. 

Male harvesters would typically sleep on the threshing floor to protect their piles of grain from thieves.  They would drink enough wine to fall asleep, but certainly not enough to lose track of who might be coming and going during the night. 

We come at last to Naomi’s crazy plan.  Since is still 3,000 years away, she’s looking for a way that Ruth can signal her interest in Boaz as a potential life partner.

Naomi’s idea is that Ruth should put on her best clothes and a dab of perfume, sneak into this ancient world version of a Boys Club under the cover of darkness, find the place where Boaz is asleep, uncover his feet, lie down next to him, and then see what happens when he wakes up. 

Do you remember the movie Mission Impossible, where Tom Cruise has to steal top secret files from CIA headquarters?  Compared to Naomi’s plan, that was a piece of cake.

A lot can go wrong here.  Somebody may see Ruth either sneaking into the threshing floor or sneaking out.  People would quickly conclude she’s exactly what everybody always told them about those Moabite girls – she’s trash.  What if Boaz wakes up and says indignantly, “Who do you think you are?”  Relationally that would be the end of everything.  On the other hand, what if Boaz wakes up and Ruth finds out that he’s actually a creep and she has played right into his hands?

This is a huge gamble. 

Ruth and Naomi have been blessed by Boaz’s generosity over the past two months.  If this plan blows up, they may be throwing away the one lifeline they’ve had since returning to Bethlehem, and their reputations may be tattered beyond repair. 

We may presume this chapter is not part of a biblical instruction manual on how to pick up cute guys.  What are we supposed to learn from their example?

We can learn from their courage

This is not just any opportunity.  Naomi and Ruth believe this is a God-provided opportunity – perhaps the only moment in which Ruth will have the chance to risk everything on a single bold play.  Is this then like a Hail Mary pass – a desperate throw into the end zone at the end of the game because all hope is lost? 

It’s more accurate to say that Naomi’s plan is a calculated, faith-based risk.  She has begun to suspect that God is actively at work in this story.  God was playing matchmaker long before she entered the picture. 

Therefore Ruth and Naomi will not be passive.  They will not wait to see what happens.  Putting one’s hope in God always calls for a measure of courage.

Nevertheless, if this daring and provocative plan really is from the Lord, why didn’t he just give them specific instructions on how to proceed? 

The answer is that God doesn’t usually operate that way.  In C.S. Lewis’ spiritual adventure series The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan the Lion – who represents Christ – never intervenes or solves a problem that the children can solve by themselves.  When teachers want their students to grow, they don’t give them the answers – even though in our darkest moments as students we all wished we could receive a magical piece of paper with every answer spelled out. 

Good teachers give their students problems that must be pondered, wrestled with, and ultimately solved.  That’s how we grow.

And that’s what makes life meaningful.  We were created for far richer experiences than just avoiding the possibility of failure. 

Have you ever heard someone say, “God will never ask you to face something you cannot handle”?  Rest assured that idea didn’t come from the Bible.  God routinely brings us face to face with problems that we ourselves cannot handle…for the simple reason that he wants us to rely on him. 

As the sun sets on the harvesters in the book of Ruth, it’s time for courageous risk-taking. 

And the girls are going to lead the way.