Meditations in Ruth : 9. Coincidences
Ruth 2:3 So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.
We concluded chapter 1 noting that when Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem, they returned “as the barley harvest was beginning.” (1:22) and we commented then on coincidences. The process of the harvest and, having been told the famine was over, we may assume it was plentiful this year, was as follows: a) cutting the ripened standing grain with hand sickles (usually done by men), b) binding the grain into sheaves (usually done by women), c) gleaning, i.e., gathering stalks of grain left behind, d) transporting the sheaves to the threshing floor–often by donkey, sometimes by cart e) threshing, i.e., loosening the grain from the straw, f) winnowing–done by tossing the grain into the air with winnowing forks (Jer 15:7) so that the wind, which usually came up for a few hours in the afternoon, blew away the straw and chaff, g) sifting the grain to remove any residual foreign matter; and h) bagging it for transportation and storage. It is as well to know that to understand what follows.
Today we have ‘benefits’, financial handouts to help the poor. In those days there were no such things but in Israel it was the duty of the family to care for poorer members and the general duty of society to make life easier for them. When it came to harvest, the Law made provision for the poor of the society: “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien,” (Lev 19:9,10) and this was expanded in Deuteronomy: “When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow.” (Deut 24:19-21) That was the principle that operated to make some provision at least for the poorer members of society, and of course Naomi and Ruth now fall into that category.
We are then told something else which at first sight has no relevance but soon becomes a key piece of information: “Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.” (2:1) Boaz, we are going to see shortly, was a farmer who owned fields to be harvested. Ruth has a good heart and has presumably learned the ways of this culture and so we find, “And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” (2:2) Note she is still called ‘the Moabitess’. She proposes that she will go and do what the poor do and make some provision for her and Naomi. Naomi approves of this: “Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”
So it is that we then find, “So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” (v.3) Look at those words we’ve underlined: “As it turned out.” Coincidence? She goes to collect the left-overs in a field being harvested only find that the field she has been doing it in, belongs to a relative of Naomi’s. This in turn is going to have implications.
So consider the factors bringing this together:
1. Timing: they just happen to arrive back at harvest.
2. Law: the provision is for the poor at harvest
3. Good heart: Ruth is willing to go out on behalf of Naomi.
4. Chance? She finds herself working in a field of a relative.
Now, as we said, in what follows, the fact that Boaz is a relative of Naomi’s is highly significant because we will see, and as we’ve hinted at already, families had responsibilities in respect of their poorer members. Purely by chance (????) as she conforms to the Law and provides for her mother-in-law, Ruth will find she has put herself before one of Naomi’s relatives and will be drawn to his attention. If this hadn’t happened he might never have actually met her.
So the obvious question must be, was this pure coincidence or was God guiding her? Well the answer has to be, we don’t know because it doesn’t say. But isn’t this how it so often is with life. In Christian teaching we so often speak about God’s guidance (and the Bible is full of it) but when it comes down to every day living, things happen that leave us wondering, “Was that Him?” It seems so often things happen and the sceptic will shout, “Coincidence!” However, I used to have a friend who said, “People say to me answers to prayer are pure coincidence, but all I know is when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening.”
I am sure God does intervene on our behalf in the circumstances of life and sometimes the coincidences seem so big you just have to attribute them to Him. Could He have prompted Naomi to return to Israel so it coincided with harvest? Could He have prompted Ruth to look out gleaning? Could He have guided her to the right field? Yes to all these. Yes, He could. The cynic says, “Yes, well, maybe, but maybe not,” but the man or woman of faith says, “Whether or not it was God, the outcome was good. Lord thank you for the outcome, and doubly so if you had a hand in it. Thank you that you do that sort of thing!”