By Andrea Lennon
The barley harvest took place during the spring, marking a time of renewal. It is not a coincidence that Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest. Even though Naomi and Ruth were at a low point in life, God was at work. He was positioning them for healing and restoration. Life-changing hope was never out of reach.
As Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem, they returned to a place that was full of life and activity. Harvest time was a busy time. Everyone in the community took part in the process. Gathering, threshing, winnowing, and storing the barley were familiar activities for the people of Bethlehem.
As the barley harvest began, Naomi and Ruth settled into life in Bethlehem. Scripture is quiet about the details; we are not told where they lived or how the people treated them once the shock of their return faded. What we do know is that the barley harvest provided a chance for them to collect grain, whether to store up for later or to meet their current needs. Maybe both! According to the Jewish laws, found in Leviticus 19 and Deuteronomy 24, widows, foreigners, and the poor were entitled to collect whatever was left over after the bulk of the harvesting had been done. (In fact, landowners were instructed to not gather the gleanings but to leave them for others.) These laws provided a glimpse into God's heart for the unlikely. They were never forgotten by their Heavenly Father.
At some point Ruth assessed the situation and began to make a plan. Ruth said to Naomi, "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor." (Ruth 2:2) Naomi replied, "Go ahead, my daughter." (Ruth 2:2) Because of the Jewish laws, Ruth had every right to go to the field and ask to glean. Ruth left the place where she and Naomi lived. She came to a field and once again asked permission to pick up the leftover grain, and the foreman agreed.
Scripture notes an important detail here. "As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz." (Ruth 2:3) The fact that Ruth found herself in Boaz's field was not an accident. Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted his harvesters. Boaz looked around and, seeing Ruth, asked, "Who does that young woman belong to?" (Ruth 2:5) The person in charge replied, "She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, 'Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.' She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter." (Ruth 2:6-7)
For just a moment, put yourself in Ruth's position. Imagine yourself in an unknown land and surrounded by unknown people. I wonder if Ruth thought, "Will I ever find a place to belong?" "What is going to happen to me?" No matter what questions filled Ruth's mind, she did not allow them to stop her from engaging in life. In the middle of an uncomfortable situation, Ruth displayed initiative. Ruth recognized the authority of others. And Ruth worked diligently until she completed her task.
Initiative. Ruth displayed initiative when she identified the opportunity to glean. She knew that the barley harvest was taking place and that leftover grain would be available in the field. Ruth knew that she had the ability to pick up the grain and thresh it in order to provide food for herself and Naomi. Ruth did not wait for someone else to collect the grain. Ruth did not hide behind the excuse that, as a Moabite woman, she had no opportunity in Bethlehem. Instead, Ruth engaged in life.
Authority. Once Ruth had a plan, she included Naomi - her authority figure- in the process. Stop and visualize the moment. Ruth went to Naomi before she left her house to glean. "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor." (Ruth 2:2) For many of us the idea of asking permission is difficult to accept or is simply a step that is easily forgotten. We enjoy our independence, and our culture encourages us to do whatever we think is right. This independence becomes a problem when we step outside of God's line of authority. We do this by ignoring Him or the people that He has placed in positions of authority over us.
Diligence. Once Ruth was in the field, she worked steadily. Ruth's work ethic caught the attention of the field manager, who commented (maybe even bragged?) to Boaz about her. "She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter." (Ruth 2:7) Think of what might have happened to her reputation (and Naomi's) if the overseer had noticed her napping, flirting with the harvesters, or whining about the hard work!
God was at work in Ruth's life. Every step of the way, through the decisions and discussions and gleaning, God was providing! Ruth chose to engage in life. She did not give up or decide that all hope was lost. Instead, she set out to make the best of her circumstances and as she did, she discovered that God had orchestrated a beautiful solution. The same can be true for you! Each day God will help you to display godly initiative, establish authority over your life, and work hard to complete the task before you. Do not give up! Do not fall short! Engage in life as you press on with all your God-given might! (Excerpt from Andrea's new book: On the Road with Ruth: Faith for the Journey)