Thursday, May 27, 2010

Pentecost: Giving of Bread (Part 2)

Last week I did some thinking about  the unique connection between the first Pentecost and the day of Pentecost recorded in Acts 2. We briefly considered Pentecost in Exodus: Giving of Instruction in Part 1 in an earlier post.  Now I would like to consider Pentecost in Ruth before we make our way to Acts 2.


In the story of Ruth we see God’s covenant love displayed in a beautiful and clear way. Like the story of the beginnings of the nation of Israel, the story of Ruth begins with a series of crises.  Prior to the giving of instruction in Exodus 20, the children of Israel faced major crises.  In a similar way, Naomi (and then Ruth along with her) suffered major crises.  Here’s a list of the crises that preface the story of Ruth.
  • Famine in Judah
  • Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, dies
  • Naomi’s two sons die
Notice the parallels between Exodus and Ruth: famine, emigration, and death (Jacob in Ex.).

Another similarity between the story of Israel and Ruth is the departure from a pagan land to return to the land of promise (see Ruth 1).  The timing of the return of Naomi and Ruth is significant for our understanding of why the story of Ruth is traditionally read during the Jewish celebration of Pentecost.  The last phrase of Ruth 1:22 notes that the two women “came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” The beginning of barley harvest coincides with the Feast of Unleavened bread, and this feast marks the Exodus from Egypt (Ex.12:17).  The children of Israel prepared unleavened bread because the urgency of their exodus from Egypt.

Ruth 2 tells the story of Ruth gleaning in the fields “until the end of the barley and wheat harvests” (2:23). Wheat harvest began later than barley harvest. The beginning of the wheat harvest is celebrated during the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost). No mention of any Festival days is to be found in the book of Ruth, but this story captures the heart of the celebration in that we see the benefits of Yahweh’s covenant of love enjoyed.  Whereas many of God’s children view the Law as a burden, Ruth sees the benefits inherent in the Law. As the psalmist sings of the delights of the Law (consider Ps. 19:7-11), Ruth actively delights in them.

The most descriptive passage explaining the proper observation of the Pentecost is Leviticus 23:15-22. This passage concludes with the following stipulation:
And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 23:22)

Deuteronomy adds to this stipulation:
You shall not pervert the justice due to the sojourner or to the fatherless, or take a widow’s garment in pledge, but you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this.  When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. (Deut. 24: 17-22; See also Lev. 19:9-10)
According to Ruth 2:12, Ruth sought refuge under the wings of the God of Israel; these are the same wings upon which Israel was borne out of Egypt (Exodus 19:4).  Even more, Ruth had shown the same unfailing love toward her mother-in-law as God had shown his people through their election and constitution as a nation and a treasured possession. Because Ruth had shown this loyal love, Naomi blesses her (1:8), then Boaz blesses her (2:11-12; 3:10), and then the people of the city bless her (4:11-12).  Ultimately, Yahweh blessed her according to his covenant promises inherent in his holy instructions. Iin her time of great need, Ruth took advantage of the provisions available to her in Yahweh's instruction, and he bountifully provided for her and blessed her according to his promise (Deut. 7:12-16).  To Ruth the instruction of Yahweh was a covenant of kindness.

So, from the first Pentecost in Exodus where God gave the GIFT OF INSTRUCTION, we made our way to Ruth and saw the significance of her story in the celebration of Pentecost; the heart of this celebration is the GIFT of God's COVENANT KINDNESS.  Next we should look at the preeminent celebration of Pentecost recorded in the New Testament (Acts 2).