By Erica Campbell
“And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone whose eyes I find favor.’” Ruth 2:2
Often while reading about Ruth, the little girl in me finds the romantic, fairytale elements of her story so captivating that I inadvertently gloss over other key details that lend to the power of this narrative. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love that part of the story! Ruth finding her kinsman redeemer (ancient Israel’s version of a knight-in-shining-armor) will forever remain a beautiful picture of God’s provision and redemption. However, as I’ve studied this story again, I find myself particularly drawn to the word, glean. Before we get to that, though, let’s have some back story.
When we first meet Ruth, she’s a destitute Moabite widow living with her equally destitute, Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, who is also a widow. Stricken by misfortune and having no husband or sons to provide for her, Naomi decides to return to her homeland, Israel, insisting that Ruth returns to her own land. But, as the story goes, Ruth surprisingly and adamantly insists on returning with Naomi, rather than parting ways. After some deliberation, Naomi consents, and the two women travel home to Bethlehem together. When they arrive home, their misfortune leaves them with severely limited options. Desperate for relief, Ruth takes to gleaning left-over wheat from the fields of one of Naomi’s remaining relatives, Boaz. And from there, I’m tempted to fast forward to the good parts. But Ruth’s gleaning is what I’d rather focus on.
What do we know about gleaning? For starters, when it was time to harvest wheat and barley, by Israelite law, landowners were not allowed to harvest the edges of their fields. Additionally, any wheat that fell to the ground while harvesting other sections of their fields were to be left so that the poor could gather them up. It’s also important to note that gleaning in those days was no easy task. In many ways, gleaning was harder than regular harvesting. The corner of the fields lay in a heavy thicket, and the fruits that remained were usually few, harder to find, and harder to pick. Couple this with the fact that Ruth lived in Israel during the time of the judges, when great moral corruption and lawlessness ruled the people, in many ways this put her at risk. However, these gleaning laws were poignant evidences of God’s compassion for the poor, the widow, and the foreigner. Our main character, Ruth, easily fits into all three of those categories.
Of the many lessons we can learn from Ruth, one, in particular, stands out to me: she did what she had to do while hoping for something better. By no choice of her own, tragedy threw her from provision to destitution. Once, she had a husband; now, she didn’t. Once, she was provided for; now, she wasn’t. Once, things were simple; now, they weren’t. But how did she respond? She humbled herself and took action. Nowhere in scripture is Ruth recorded complaining about her circumstances. Rather, in poverty of spirit, she chose to glean while she waited and hoped. And she did it faithfully, at that.
So, how do we apply this gleaning principle to our own lives? Perhaps our circumstances aren’t what we would like. Maybe, we’re waiting, wishing, longing for something better. Some of us even may be trying to just make it from one day to the next. But instead of giving ourselves over to despair while we wait, let us do what we have to do, in hope. Be encouraged! In every season, good or bad, there’s an opportunity to glean and place our hope in God’s compassionate love for us. It may be challenging or require bravery we don’t feel we have. There may be days where we can’t seem to find the end of the tunnel. But just as God saw Ruth gathering wheat, He also sees you in your field gathering what you can and being faithful in that. God’s provision will meet you where you are. Glean while you hope.