In and through the sheltering and kind presence of God, Ruth is given the grace to devote herself fully to work. The scripture says, “So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except a short rest.” I do not think this passage alone justifies stringent versions of the Protestant Work ethic. Using one verse to justify peculiar doctrine is dangerous anyway (i.e. cult formation). Nevertheless, I believe this passage beautifully illuminates how desperately we need God’s presence in our work and how with his presence we can be amazingly diligent and work to our best ability.
When Ruth, through the working of God’s sovereignty, ‘happens’ to enter Boaz’ field, she ‘happens’ to also take refuge under the wings of the God of Israel. It is a safe and welcoming place. Indeed, it is an abundant field of salvation: salvation from the dead and broken ground of her former life and salvation from all enemies around her. Boaz, calling Ruth ‘my daughter’, graciously offers to Ruth his field for reaping for the sake of her protection and material well-being. With authority, he has charged the young male workers not to touch her; with control, he generously offers her food and water, bread and wine; and with presence with her, he eats with her and passes to her ‘roasted grain’. What a marvelous work environment and corporate culture!
The threat from the male workers was dreadfully real. Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, hints, not so subtly, at this, when she says, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted”. Boaz’ gracious hospitality is equally real. Ruth, the Moabitess, was a stranger, worse a former pagan, in a strange land, yet, Boaz’ every move and utterance is for her protection and welfare. It is in this real place, this real land, this real presence of the Lord, where Ruth flourishes in her work. The evidence of flourishing: Ruth gathers an ‘ephah of barley’, which was enough to support Ruth and Naomi for at least two weeks. Ruth also works in peace.
In our modern and anxious world, we desperately need God’s presence with us as we work. Without Him to call upon, I would eventually fall into despair. This past week, I found that my mind was often restless and not prone to peace. In between phone calls from angry and fearful constituents, I found myself flitting back and forth online between the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, trying to fill the blank spaces in time with words and substance. The phone kept ringing. As the calls poured in, each ring seemed more and more to shatter any illusion of peace. The callers, mostly older men and women, with visions of nefarious Syrian refugees pouring into our borders, prophesied the future destruction of America. More than 50 times, I was able to ‘comfort’ these callers with the dim assurance: “Yes, ma’am, Senator Tillis co-sponsored a bill a few days ago which does just what you hope for: no more Syrian refugees until further security measures are established”.
Ruth brought in. Syrian refugees kept out. How overwhelming and terribly ironic. Without God’s presence, work in the office of a Senator would be incredibly difficult and despairing. I had calls to take and letters to write. This was my barley to gather in. In the midst of restlessness and futility, I needed to hope in something beyond my work, indeed beyond myself, so that I could flourish in the work I was tasked with, even ‘work unto the Lord’.
Just as Ruth became more aware of God’s sovereignty through Boaz, in work I need to trust and know that God directs my steps and daily offers me a gift of new hope, life, and light. I have this ‘alien righteousness’ given by Christ. He takes pleasure, delights, and smiles on me. He protects me from unseen enemies. He offers me food and drink. Quite literally. In the middle of the workday yesterday, we celebrated a ‘Tillis-giving’ dinner, with each staff member bringing in a dish they had made. One of the Legislative Assistants even said grace and thanked God for providing us all with a boss [Senator Tillis] who “fears and knows you”.
What a picture of God’s grace. What a reflection of Boaz’ kindness to Ruth and what a foretaste of the great feast to come in the new heavens and the new earth. This week I was unusually productive. Able to focus and devote myself fully to work because of God’s presence, I wrote 6 or 7 letters and answered maybe 60 or 70 phone calls. Naomi certainly would have asked, “My son, where did you glean today?”