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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Scriptural Speculations 3: The Heavenly Boaz

When one comes to a conviction that the Eucharist plays a more central role in the worship of the church than is typically practiced in Evangelicalism, it’s amazing how frequent one finds bread and wine together throughout Scripture. In a singles’ group I’ve been attending on Sunday evenings, we recently finished up a study of the Book of Ruth. But the relationship of the following verse to the Eucharist didn’t occur to me until the other day:

And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. (Ruth 2:14)

In the context, Ruth has gone to glean in Boaz’s field in order to provide for herself and Naomi. After working through the morning, the workers have broken for lunch. Boaz wasn’t required to provide for her lunch too, only to allow her to glean after his field hands. But he not only tells her not to go to any other field to glean (2:8-9), but he also calls her to sit and feast among his servants, in essence treating her better than her status as a poor person of the land would dictate. The similarity with James’s instructions on loving one’s neighbor (James 1:27 – 2:17, as well as other verses in James’s epistle), not to mention Jesus parable of the wedding feast (Luke 14:7-11) should not go unnoticed.

But in addition to this is the appearance of bread and wine in the passage. When Jesus instituted the Eucharist, we shouldn’t suppose that he was starting all over with elements that had never been seen in the history of Israel before. God not only foreordained the appearance of these things in the history of Israel, but allowed them to appear in the Hebrew Scriptures for all to see.

The last phrase in the verse also signals us to Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand (Mt. 14:13-21; Mk. 6:30-44; Lk. 9:10-17; Jn. 6:1-13) and the feeding of the four thousand (Mt. 15:32-38; Mk. 8:1-10). The fact that the crowds, like Ruth, are described as being “satisfied”, as well as the comment that in each case there was food left over, suggests not only that the Gospel writers were intending to point out the parallel with Ruth’s situation, but that God Himself intended the similarities.

We might also note the number of baskets of food left in each case. In the feeding of the five thousand, there were twelve baskets left, no doubt pointing to the twelve tribes of Israel. In the feeding of the four thousand, there were seven baskets left, no doubt pointing to the seven day week God had instituted in the creation, and specifically to the Sabbath rest God had given to the world and which he had especially given to Israel. Incidentally (or Providentially), when one adds the one ephah of barley that Ruth gleaned in ch. 2 (vs. 17) with the six “measures” (presumably also ephahs, as the word describing the measurement is absent in the Hebrew) of barley that Boaz gives her in ch. 3 (vs. 15), we find that Ruth gains seven measures of barley from Boaz.

“But there is no wine at the feeding of the five thousand, or at the feeding of the four thousand,” you might be thinking. True enough, and that’s why Jesus’ discourse on being the bread of Heaven (John 6:22-71) is so important. This takes place the day after Jesus fed the five thousand (Jn. 6:22). Jesus criticizes the people for seeking Him only because he fed them and not because He can give them eternal life. But most significant for our discussion is that Jesus, toward the end of his discourse, tells the people that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life (Jn. 6:53-56). In that our Lord referred to the cup as his blood in the institution of the Supper, we can be assured that his words here are meant not only to point back to Old Testament passages like the one we find in Ruth, but also forward to his institution of the Supper.

As Boaz became the bridegroom of Ruth, so Jesus came as the Bridegroom of his New Israel (also in John, 3:29). And just as Boaz called Ruth to feast with him, so our Boaz calls us to feast with Him.

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