George Matheson – ‘O love that wilt not let me go.’
- O joy that seekest me through pain,
- I cannot close my heart to thee;
- I trace the rainbow through the rain
- And feel the promise is not vain
- That morn shall tearless be.
Whilst light is not a prominent symbol in Ruth, Chapter three, the image of light amidst darkness, significant across the entirety of the Bible, to me represents the hope, relationship and prospects that the narrative of Ruth displays. The hymn above was referenced by Jonty in our sermon at The Globe Church. He compared the image of the lyrics to the renewed hope of Naomi, to the realisation that God continues to give and to give and to give to us in times of darkness, whether or not we notice, whether or not we are worthy of it.
As we come to the latter half of the book of Ruth we see how the two women, Ruth and Naomi have come from a place of loneliness, poverty and suffering to a position of hope, fulfilment and refuge. In Ruth, Chapter Three we see the progression of the relationship between Ruth and Boaz. The chapter begins with Naomi’s selfless plan; she sends Ruth to Boaz, who has shown her great kindness, to lie on the threshing floor at his feet as he sleeps and, upon his waking, request his protection and, perhaps in other words, to ask for marriage. Although in shock, Boaz, after waking, shows great kindness to Ruth. He promises her that he will do as she asks, stating ‘I am a guardian redeemer of the family’. As a ‘guardian redeemer’ it is Boaz’s duty, in the contemporary culture, as a relative of Ruth’s former husband, to provide for her. However, he tells Ruth that there is actually another, more closely related man, and that he must be given his opportunity to do his duty as a guardian redeemer. This means that Boaz is under no obligation to provide and show kindness to Ruth, and yet he allows her to sleep on the threshing floor, a place in which society did not allow, until morning, sends her to her mother in law with a great amount of barely, and promises that if the closer relative does not fulfil his duty, he will gladly ‘redeem’ her.
This passage is clearly quite confusing and perhaps not a scenario we would find ourselves in today, however, in the sermon at The Globe Church and likewise at the Christian Union weekend away, my eyes were opened as to the true significance of this chapter…
Both sermons began with a focus on the actions of Naomi, both preachers talked of her selflessness and practicality. They describe how she is trusting in God’s word, how she has faith that God will do as promised and will provide to those who find refuge in him. I felt that there was a lot to be learnt in the way that Naomi focussed upon God’s kindness and what God had given her, having been through such bitter experience. Her focus is taken away from her past and her suffering and given to Ruth. Naomi sees God’s work in her life, she sees His unchanging, unending loving kindness for us and she assists Ruth in finding her ‘guardian redeemer’.
A month on from the sermon at The Globe Church I still remember how the next image described impacted me. At this point Jonty quoted the hymn above. He spoke with great excitement of how wonderful it is to, even in our darkest times, look to God, and see what he has given us. He took one line ‘trace the rainbow through the rain’ and made it into an even more beautiful image, he talked of tracing the rainbow back to the cross, from which flows God’s kindness. And with inspiration he told us to get hold of God’s love, of God’s kindness and begin to act, to show others the same love that He has shown us.
In the poem below I have used the structure of Matheson’s hymn and have combined it with the imagery of light and dark, highly significant without the bible to create a devotional poem, alongside the image created by Jonty in the sermon. When writing, I had in mind many friendships and relationships from my favourite books that have been very dear to me throughout my life. I wanted to show how natural it can be to have a personal relationship with Jesus and yet how glorious this can be too.
With the structure and the imagery I have tried to create a sense of becoming stronger and becoming whole. The rhyme becomes more consistent towards the end, whilst hope that the presence of light becomes more prominent, from a ‘candlelight’ to ‘flooding ceaseless down from that tree’. Whilst the ‘tree’ is a simple image of the cross on which Jesus died, the ‘you’ in the poem is Jesus and the ‘I’ myself. Whilst writing a had a clear image of the Patronus light (from Harry Potter of course) in my mind, a force and a source of light that embodies and reflects one’s soul, ‘a projection of the very things that the Dementor feeds upon – hope, happiness, the desire to survive’. And whilst, the last lines refer back to second chapter of Ruth (He Noticed Me), the image of a light in darkness reflects the feeling of hope amongst suffering, the very feeling that Naomi presents in this book of the Bible.
And yet the beautiful message of Ruth, Chapter Three does not end with Naomi. We see the bold faith of Ruth and her changing identity. Whilst Ruth had previously been referred to and potentially defined as ‘the Moabite’, the word ‘Moab’ is absent in Chapter Three. Her identity is placed in something else. When Boaz wakes in the night and finds a woman at his feet, he asks ‘Who are you?’, to which she responds ‘I am your servant Ruth’. We realise now that she is no longer a foreigner, that she is defined by her position with Boaz, by her position with God. Both preachers showed me how we can learn from Ruth’s boldness. In the statement below Ruth claims her right, she is both humble and bold.
Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian redeemer of our family.
Jonty, our pastor, spoke of how we must learn to approach God with both humility and boldness. He speaks with personal experience of how we define ourselves so much by our sin, when there is something far more wonderful by which we can define ourselves. We have a new identity under God’s wings, a new identity in Christ.
And we see, ever more strongly, in Boaz’s response, the figure of Jesus. Boaz acts with purity and kindness, he is under no obligation to marry Ruth; in fact, by marrying Ruth he takes societal shame upon himself. He honours her, he takes shame upon himself so that he may cover her, protect her. Boaz acts in love, just as Jesus acted in love for us. In the original Hebrew, ‘garment’ and ‘wings’ are represented by the same word. In Boaz’s promise to ‘spread the corner of his garment’ over Ruth, to marry her if the other relative does not, I am reminded again of the verse:
He will cover you with His feathers and under His wings you will find refuge.
We see in Boaz’s devotion to Ruth a picture of God’s devotion to us, to his people. We see in Boaz’s sacrifice a suggestion of a greater sacrifice. As Boaz covered Ruth’s shame, so Jesus covered ours in taking on our sin. Ruth is a foreigner who has come take refuge under God’s wings, just as we are foreigners and have the opportunity to do the same. Though we may not quite realise, I think we long for our shame to be covered and I think that if you come to Jesus with boldness, he will protect you, he will devote himself to you. And I think this because he has already taken on our shame, he has already taken on our sins and died on the cross so that we may be forgiven. Because he has already shown his love for us.