As mentioned in my earlier blog Going the Extra Mile -- my favourite Hebrew word is HESED. In English it is often translated as “lovingkindness”, “faithful love” or “kindness”. But those words seem too weak to carry a word of such weight. Its true meaning is borne by my favourite story in the Old Testament of the Bible, the book of Ruth. It is a story where the word HESED pops up at crucial moments to help us understand what is going on.
At the end of Part 1, Naomi (and Ruth) had returned to Bethlehem empty. Instead of saving her family, she had lost them. She was filled with bitterness. But Ruth didn't wallow in self-pity. She put herself to work - gleaning grain in the field. And "it just so happened" that she ended up in a field owned by Boaz.
Boaz is my favourite male figure in the Old Testament. He's a man's man. He's described as a "man of standing" (NIV) which is the translation of a Hebrew term used to describe mighty warriors. He's from the same clan as Naomi's husband, Elimelek, and is therefore a tribal elder. And he's a successful businessman. When he arrived at his field, he did two important things.
First, he spoke God's name into his workplace. He greeted his employees, the harvesters, with the traditional greeting "The Lord be with you!". We realise that during this time of the judges, when everyone was doing as they saw fit in their own eyes, Boaz applied God's principles to his business. He allowed the poor to glean his fields, just as the Torah commanded. He didn't seek to maximise his profits or recoup his losses from the famine. He acted obediently to God's command.
Second, he asked his overseer about Ruth. We aren't told whether he asked about anyone else. But it appears that Ruth is the only poor person he didn't recognise. And when he was told who she was, he already knew her story. He was a wealthy, successful business leader who cared about those in need in his community.
And because of his care for Naomi and Ruth, he didn't stop at just fulfilling his obligations under Torah. He went the extra mile. We see this in two ways.
First, Ruth is repeatedly described as a Moabite (v.6), a foreigner (v.10) and of low social standing (v.13). But Boaz addressed her as, "My daughter" (v.8), commended her for going the extra mile with Naomi (vv.11-12), and invited her to eat with him (v.14). He treated her as an equal.
Second, he set it up so that she gathered more grain than she was entitled to. In fact, she gathered an ephah's worth of grain, which was about two week's wages. I don't know when the last time was that you got paid 2 weeks' wages for 1 day's work, but I don't think I ever have! Surely, after years of famine, don't you think Boaz was entitled to keep his grain for himself? Instead, he is incredibly generous.
When Ruth arrived home with a bulging sack of grain, Naomi was amazed. She declared "He has not stopped showing kindness (HESED) to the living and the dead." (v.20) Who was Naomi referring to? God or Boaz? In Boaz's action of going the extra mile, Naomi recognised that God had not given up on her yet.
We live in a world of obligations – social obligations and legal obligations. We are expected to pay our taxes and, perhaps, give a little to the local charity. When we meet these obligations, we feel good about ourselves. We think we've done our bit.
But God's generosity far exceeds our giving. He knows our desperate need - and he "gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
After we ignored our obligation to God, and spent everything he gave us on ourselves, he went the extra mile. He was humiliated on our behalf. He spent himself on our behalf. He continued to go the extra mile.
As we receive God's generosity, we are then able to be truly generous to others. And others may recognise, in our acts of generosity, the HESED of God.
Please read part 1 of Going the Extra Mile