Freemasonry is
Ruth in Boaz’s Field, by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld, 1828

As masons we know much of our ritual revolves around the building of King Solomon’s Temple which occurred about 3,000 years ago. The story of Ruth took place three generations before the building of Solomon’s Temple.

In lodge, during the opening ceremony the Chaplain recites Ruth, Chapter 2, Verse 19. ‘And her mother in law said unto her where hast thou gleaned today?
And Where wroughtest thou? Blessed be he that did take knowledge of thee. And she shewed her mother in law with whom she had wrought, and said the man’s name with whom I wrought today is Boaz.’

This story begins near Bethlehem. Two central characters are Elimelech and his wife Naomi who had two sons – Mahlon and Chilion. These people were farmers and they journeyed from their home near Bethlehem to the country of Moab seeking better land. The two sons married local women, one of whom was Ruth.

The family lived in Moab for about ten years when Naomi’s husband Elimelech died and a short time later the two sons also died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law. Naomi decided to return to her family near Bethlehem. Ruth decided to travel with Naomi while the other daughter-in-law remained in Moab. Ruth said to her mother-in-law ‘...for where you go I will go and where you live I will live. Your people shall be my people and your God my God, where you die I will die.’ And so Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth returned to Bethlehem in the land of Judea. Naomi had relatives in the area and she reclaimed her dead husband’s land. It was the beginning of the barley season and harvest was in full swing. Times were tough for Naomi and Ruth.

Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelech had a brother who was a wealthy and influential person. His name was Boaz. Ruth went to Boaz’s barley fields to glean the barley which was a custom of the time whereby the landowner ensured some grain was left by the harvesters to be collected by relatives and those less fortunate in station. Boaz noticed Ruth as she gleaned the barley fields and he was attracted to her – and so Boaz made inquiries regarding her background and was informed of Ruth’s devotion to her mother-in-law and her commitment to caring for Naomi. Obviously Boaz was impressed. He instructed his reapers to leave extra barley for Ruth to collect.

Ruth in turn was attracted to Boaz – a fact which was noticed by Naomi. Naomi advised Ruth to dress in her best clothes, anoint herself with perfume and, late at night, to go to Boaz after the harvest festival when he is drunk and to hide herself quietly under his rug. When he wakes and discovers her there he will not be able to remember the events of the night before and might assume he has taken her unto himself. Which is exactly what happened.

 Ruth sleeping at Boaz’ feet, as illuminated by William de Brailes in a manuscript of Bible pictures, c. 1250 Ruth sleeping at Boaz’ feet, as illuminated by William de Brailes in a manuscript of Bible pictures, c. 1250Ruth and Boaz were in love, but there was a problem. It was customary at the time for the oldest brother to take on the affairs of any younger brother who pre-deceased him in order that the name be preserved. The custom was for the older brother to buy the land of the younger brother and also to look after his wife and family. So there were three brothers involved in this story – Naomi’s deceased husband Elimelech, Boaz and the elder brother [name unknown] so according to custom the elder brother had first claim not only to Naomi’s land, but also to Naomi and Ruth.

Boaz decided to see his brother with a view to claiming the inheritance of his brother Elimelech. Boaz knew his elder brother passed by the gate at Jerusalem at a certain time each day and that at that time numerous elders would be present as witnesses. As his brother passed by the gate Boaz presented himself and said to his brother ‘Ho, such a one! Turn aside, sit ye down here.’ And so Boaz and his elder kinsman negotiated the inheritance. When asked if he intended to redeem the inheritance the older brother declined, advising Boaz that he had his approval, as next in line, to redeem the inheritance himself.

As was customary at the time, the deal being done, Boaz plucked off his shoe and gave it to his elder brother, thus sealing the bargain. Perhaps in a similar manner to sealing a deal by shaking hands in later times. This custom is referred to towards the end of the mode of preparation ‘Now this was the manner in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and concerning changing, for to confirm all things; a man plucked off his shoe, and gave it to his neighbour; and this was a testimony in Israel.’ An ancient custom that explains the candidate’s slipshod shoe.

And so the way was clear for Boaz to marry Ruth – which he did. Verse 13 of Chapter 4 of the Book of Ruth tells us ‘So Boaz took Ruth, and she was his wife’. Boaz and Ruth had a son called Obed. Obed later fathered a son called Jesse and Jesse had a son who he called David. David in turn had a son called Solomon. So the Bible reinforces the ritual of the first degree – and confirms that Boaz was ‘the great Grandfather of David, a Prince and Ruler in Israel.’

I believe this most interesting and ancient story enhances the ritual and symbolism of the First Degree. The story can be confirmed by reading the Book of Ruth which is located in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible.

 

Article extracted from Freemason magazine, June 2020, pages 28 and 29.

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