“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 and gave it to his neighbor…” Ruth 4:7 (Masonic Bible)
During the ceremonies of the Entered Apprentice Degree, the candidate is instructed about the above-referenced passage of scripture from the Masonic Bible, which is meant to indicate both the confirming of a contract, as well as the commitment to fully perform the terms and conditions of that contract. In Freemasonry, this symbolism is intended to convey the sanctity of the contract made between the candidate and the Masonic institution when he assumes his vows. For the Israelite of Ruth’s era there was nothing more essential than shoes, or sandals without which men and women were compelled to walk across hot sands, dirt and rock. Consequently, giving a shoe to another person not only conveyed the importance of the commitment, but a sense that the person to whom the shoe was given was as important as the person giving it.
This symbolism is repeated throughout Masonry by way of different lessons, because it is the purpose of the Craft to ensure that each Mason appreciates the importance of his vows and promises. Entire charitable institutions rely upon the keeping of such commitments. Hospitals operated by Shriners would vanish if Masons suddenly decided it was unimportant to care for the helpless. Homes for the aged would no longer receive funding if groups of Masons turned their backs on the needs of others. Members of individual Masonic lodges would never experience random acts of kindness by their brethren if Masons concluded that self interest was more important than assisting others. It is the agreement, or covenant made by each Mason that guarantees that the world will experience the fruits of Masonic labor. Yet, as with other Masonic symbolism, there are also other esoteric lessons to be learned from the Masonic Bible scripture found in the book of Ruth.
“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 and gave it to his neighbor…”
“Plucking off one’s shoe and giving it to another” also symbolizes redeeming and changing and is equally important to Masons. For those who regularly attend religious services and observe as the collection plate is passed, it is intriguing to note how often people toss in some change, a dollar or two, or perhaps nothing at all. To some simply having attended the service is sufficient enough, for it represents the sacrifice of time, if nothing more. Similarly, the Mason who works for a living has quite likely observed fellow employees voice support for the needy during holiday times, but how often does he observe real acts of charity – the giving of time, food, shelter and compassion? It is within this realm that redeeming and changing apply.
Theologians frequently remind their audiences about man’s original fall from God’s grace, commonly referred to within those circles as “original sin.” The villain here is temptation, about which much has previously been written. Temptation represents the transition from obedience to disobedience. The man who has given in to the temptations that have invaded his life is truly in need of redeeming and changing to recapture his original obedient nature. The Holy Writings offer us the allegory of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to convey to us the importance attached to all men making an effort to subdue the passions and to keep them within due bounds toward all mankind.
In the Masonic Bible book of Genesis, Eve listened to the voice of the serpent, saw that the tree of knowledge was good for food and took and ate what she desired in complete contravention to God’s command. There is no greater symbolism of disobedience recorded anywhere in our Holy Writings, or elsewhere in any other traditional story. The voice of the serpent represents the living being whose intelligence is most advanced and whose consciousness is turned toward the horizontal, or material plane rather than the vertical, or spiritual plane. The intelligence of both Adam and Eve before the Fall was entirely vertical. Their eyes had not been opened to their own “nakedness” and they were conscious of everything vertical, or of God. After the Fall, their understanding about their condition changed radically. Suddenly aware of their nakedness, fig leaves were adjusted to cover the most private of human body parts and their entire consciousness was consumed with things related to the material plane.
Here, the serpent symbolizes the principle of power apart from God. The remainder of the histories and stories set forth in the Holy Writings relate to man’s journey back to the living God. Temples are erected in His name; prophets admonish generations to obey His laws; wars are waged in His cause; men suffer in obedience to His word; and, man searches for a messiah to deliver salvation. Along the way, man also discovers that the true principle of obedience is devotion without reserve to the sole voice from above. It is precisely at this juncture that Freemasonry generally steps aside to allow Masons and their families to seek their own route to salvation, for be it ever known to all men at all times and in every place that Freemasonry is not a religion.
Those who follow the Jewish faith find the way to redeeming and changing through the law of Moses, including the Ten Commandments. Buddhists travel the road of inner serenity, as do the Hindus, each seeking the peace within themselves that illuminates the soul. Christians resolve to accept the divinity of Jesus Christ. Moslems attempt to align themselves to the teachings of Mohammed and his descendants to ensure a proper place in the world of obedience to God. But what of the Mason who has not selected a formal religion to follow? If he does not adhere to a particular dogma, is his journey from the Fall back to obedience destined to fail? Freemasonry tells such a man that he will not fail, if he devotes himself without reserve to the sole voice from above – the voice of the Supreme Architect of the Universe.
All human existence is about choices – the choice to live in the light, as well as the choice to live in darkness. Mankind is offered a plethora of religious doctrine from which to choose and is surrounded by the philosophies developed by the greatest minds that ever lived. History, literature and science also weigh in lay before each and every person a literal banquet of choices. He who has chosen well has selected the path that leads him directly back to obedience. Man is both redeemed, or reclaimed by the Creator, and changed when he resolves to ask God to reveal His will; seeks to understand how to apply that will to his own life; and, knocks at the door of the Great Architect with faith that the door will be opened. One never opens the door by force. One waits for it to be opened by God’s will.
It is relatively easy to discern the obedient person. He avoids anger and replaces it with kind words to his fellow man. He acknowledges his own faults, apologizes for his slights to others and resolves to do better next time. He freely gives of his precious time to serve, comfort and compassionate others. He visits the widows, orphans and elderly. He avoids disputes and builds harmony. He understands different points of view and keeps self-pride well under control. And, he regularly kneels in humble praise and supplication to the Almighty Father of the Universe – the one living God. Simply stated, he is a Freemason.