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Friday, June 25, 2010

Beating the Rat Race (Part Five)

Another command to be still appears in a somewhat unexpected place in Scripture, in Ruth 3. The scene recorded here may seem somewhat less intense than the frightful situations that faced Moses at the Red Sea and Jehoshaphat in the Wilderness of Jeruel, where in both cases the people involved were commanded to "stand still and see the salvation of the LORD" (Exodus 14:13; II Chronicles 20:17). However, despite Boaz' many kindnesses toward her, Ruth was likely a bundle of nerves and anxieties when she presented herself to him at his threshing floor that evening—she might as well have been facing an advancing army!

We are familiar with the story of Ruth. She and her mother-in-law, Naomi, return from Moab after losing their husbands. Still a young woman, Ruth wants to be married again, especially because of the security and sufficiency that a husband would bring to her and Naomi. She happens to glean in the field of Boaz, and he generously helps her, giving her special privileges and a great deal of grain.

Being a responsible mother-in-law, Naomi designs a scheme to get Boaz to marry Ruth. She instructs Ruth in what to do, and the young woman follows them precisely. Boaz is a good man, and perhaps, too, very predictable. He does exactly what Naomi had figured he would do. He responds to Ruth's request to "take your maidservant under your wing" (Ruth 3:9) in this way:

"And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman. Now it is true that I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I. . . . But if he does not want to perform the duty for you, then I will perform the duty for you, as the LORD lives! Lie down until morning." So she lay at his feet until morning, and she arose before one could recognize another. . . . Also he said, "Bring the shawl that is on you and hold it." And when she held it, he measured six ephahs of barley, and laid it on her. Then she went into the city. When she came to her mother-in-law, . . . she told her all that the man had done for her. . . . Then [Naomi] said, "Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out; for the man will not rest until he has concluded the matter this day." (Ruth 3:11-16, 18)
What sort of emotions do about-to-be-betrothed couples exhibit? Certainly "excitement" just begins to describe the emotions going through a bride-to-be's mind. Ruth was probably in turns ecstatic, nervous, relieved, and uncertain. Remember that she was a Moabitess in Israel. She had likely considered her chances of finding a husband to be slim to none.

Nor should we discount the fact that Boaz had given her six ephahs of barley. We fail to realize just how generous a gift this was. If nothing else, it meant that she and Naomi would not go hungry for quite a while, as six ephahs equates to three bushels or 132 liters of grain—it was a wonder that she could carry so much home! It also amounted to a small bit of wealth because not only could they eat it, they could also sell it.

Even so, the barley was probably not the primary reason for her excitement. All atwitter, she spilled out her story to Naomi, tripping over her words in her giddiness, pacing the floor, grabbing her mother-in-law's hands and hugging her, imagining everything that could go wrong, and despairing that it would. And Naomi, being older and wiser—and surely tired from a long night of waiting—says, "Ruth, just sit still and see how all this turns out."

To get the lesson from this charming story, we must recall that Boaz is a type of Jesus Christ, and Ruth represents the newly called individual. Boaz, here, is redeeming Ruth, just as Christ redeems us from the death penalty that falls on us when we sin. Not only that, like Christ, Boaz was preparing his bride, as it were, smoothing the road for himself to take her as his wife.

In addition, Naomi is a type of the church, the one responsible for instructing this young woman who was just beginning to have a relationship with Boaz. Her advice, to sit still and see how her redemption would work out, is just as timely today for all Christians, new and old. Our God is going to redeem us, but we are often ignorant or blind to the way He is going about it. If we will simply sit still, be patient, and let events run their course without trying to interfere in them, we will soon learn how God works and build faith in Him. Only when we are still and focused on seeing God at work can we see His intimate involvement in our affairs.

Psalm 46 is a beautiful song. It is so full of hope and faith that our hymnal contains four different songs adapted from it. It is well worth quoting in full:

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah. There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. Come, behold the works of the LORD, who has made desolations in the earth. He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah. (Psalm 46:1-11)
At first glance, "Be still and know that I am God" may seem to mean the same as "Be still and see the salvation of the LORD," but it does not. This new command should lead us to another conclusion: that when we are still, we are enabled to know God. In true stillness, we are not distracted by other things—the noises, interruptions, trials, tumults, and catastrophes that frequently intrude into our lives. We can pursue the one, true object of life: to know God.

Distractions, whether major or minor, not only get in the way, but worse, tend to drive us away from God. We often think that troubles drive us toward God, but in reality, they are often so distracting that we are apt to become absorbed in the trial and not in God, who is busy working matters out for our salvation. As James 3:18 says, "Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace." In other words, we are more likely to grow spiritually—not in times of trial, conflict, turmoil, and disruption—but when we have found a peaceful environment, a still place, where we can come to know God. Only in peace do we have the time and the space to take stock and work on improving ourselves and our relationship with Him.