Thanks for joining me again today. We’re continuing in our new series on Ruth as we look at chapter 2. I’m including the video overview of the Book of Ruth by the Bible Project again, in case you might find it helpful.
Here is the video of my sermon, which I have also included in text to help you share it or read along if it’s difficult to hear me in the video.
Welcome back to our series on the book of Ruth. This week we will be reading chapter 2, so without any further delay, let’s read that together.
Many of you know that Sarah and I were blessed to welcome our new baby Anna into the world in March. We’re adjusting to life as a family of four, on top of all the other adjustments that we’ve all had to make during this time of pandemic. We have to parent our two children differently of course. If Anna cries and needs something, we rush to get it for her. Clean nappy, milk, winding. Whatever she needs, right away! It’s different with Timothy. Often, Timothy will ask us for something, and we’ll say, “Okay, you go get it,” or “Yes, after you tidy up your toys,” or, sometimes, “No.” It’s not because we love Timmy any less, not at all! It’s just that Timothy’s nearly four now, so a big focus of our parenting is trying to develop good character in Timothy. We do of course still do a lot for him, because he’s still quite young, but the reason we’ve stopped babying Timothy is because one day he will – God willing – be a man. We want him to be a good man. We want him to be a man who takes responsibility and who is not afraid of work. We don’t want him to be a man of bad character, spoiled and selfish because his parents pampered him all his life. We love him, so we want to develop in him a good character. Personally, I find it hard sometimes. I kind of want to just give him the world. I would quite easily spoil him, but good character is important, so I deny that instinct most of the time.
Character is a big theme in this chapter of Ruth, and it’s also where we get introduced to the final main character: Boaz.
“Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.”
Boaz is introduced to us as “a man of standing”. Now that phrase doesn’t necessarily mean anything in English other than that he was an influential person. A big deal in Bethlehem. However, the phrase can also be translated as “a mighty man of worth”, or “a mighty man of valour”. That could possibly give us a good indication of the kind of man we’re dealing with here, right at the first mention of his name.
Now look at the first words that Boaz himself speaks in this book:
“Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, ‘The Lord be with you!’
‘The Lord bless you!’ they answered.”
The first words out of his mouth are “The Lord be with you,” in an era in Israel’s history that is famous for the people falling again and again back into apostasy and faithlessness this is a faithful man. Boaz is a man of God and that’s evident from even the way he says hello to his workers.
Saying hello to his workers is not what we remember Boaz for, but good character is evident in small and mundane things just as it is in big heroic things.
Boaz spots the new woman in his field and asks about her:
Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, ‘Who does that young woman belong to?’
The overseer replied, ‘She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.” She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.’
We’ve already seen the remarkable character of Ruth in chapter 1, when she chose to stay with Naomi even though it meant leaving her homeland, and we see here that that wasn’t an anomaly. This is just part of who Ruth is, it’s character. Her act of loyalty and goodness wasn’t just a once off, it’s evident in daily life as Ruth humbly asks if she can glean, and then works hard to do so, only taking a short rest in the shelter out of the sun. Ruth asks if she can glean even though it’s written into God’s law that she’s entitled to do so. God’s law forbade his people from gathering right to the edges of their fields or going through the field a second time to gather anything they had missed. That was to be left for the poor. As a widow with nobody to provide for her, Ruth was entitled to this and yet she has no sense of entitlement, but humbly asks and then works hard to provide what she can for Naomi and herself.
Ruth even took the initiative to provide for her and her mother-in-law. Right at the beginning of the chapter we can see Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law displayed in her initiative:
“And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour.’
Naomi said to her, ‘Go ahead, my daughter.
So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.
She’s taking a risk in going out to glean. She’s an outsider, a foreigner, on her own. She doesn’t know what type of people she’s going to encounter. Thankfully she goes to a field that happens to belong to Boaz.
So, Boaz and Ruth meet:
So Boaz said to Ruth, ‘My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.’
At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, ‘Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?’
Boaz replied, ‘I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’
‘May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,’ she said. ‘You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant – though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.’
Again, we see the noble character of both Boaz and Ruth. Boaz instructs her to stay in his field, it keeps her safe and he’ll be sure to look after her. Ruth, still not showing any sign of entitlement, is commended by Boaz for sacrificing so much to take care of Naomi. It’s clear now that people have been talking about Ruth, Boaz has heard all about what she’s done.
Boaz continues to show grace and kindness to Ruth. Ruth continues to work hard to provide for her mother-in-law and herself. The grace and compassion of Boaz meets with the selfless hard work of Ruth. And the result? At the end of the day Ruth not only has leftovers from her lunch thanks to Boaz, she has about an ephah of grain too. That was about 22 litres of grain and would do herself and Naomi for about 2 weeks. It’s a testament to her hard work and Boaz’s kindness.
Now. Wait a minute. I hope you don’t stop watching or reading there. Whether you know it or not, we’re in a dangerous place at this point! It would be very easy to look at this passage and think it’s just about personal character and take it as a lesson in morality. You could leave thinking that the message of this chapter is that you’re to go out there and work hard and make something of yourself, or to be generous with the wealth and power you have. That might do for some motivational talk but I’m not a motivational speaker. If I take you down that road, I wouldn’t be handling the word of God rightly. What you must remember is that the Bible is about God. The Book of Ruth is about seeing God working in and through the lives of ordinary people in the kind of situations that happen in normal life.
You could look at this chapter and think “Wow! Ruth is so dedicated and hardworking!” or “Wow! Boaz is so gracious!” and completely miss God in all this.
So now, let’s see God at work. Ruth didn’t know where she was going that day. She went to a field to gather leftover barley. She just so happened to go to the field of Boaz. Boaz, a faithful man of God during a period of biblical history infamous for the faithlessness of God’s people. Boaz just so happens to be a guardian-redeemer of Elimelech’s people – someone who was able to recover the losses and the dignity of the family of Elimelech and make sure that his family continued on. Of all the fields she could have gone to it was Boaz’s field. God is at work here.
God works in the lives of these people and through them. What is it that makes Boaz so gracious? What is it that makes him humble enough that, despite being a big deal, he takes notice of the new face among the needy that have come to his field? Where does his good character come from? Boaz embodies the teachings of God’s law. His character has been shaped by God’s law. He is reverent. He cares for the widow and the foreigner. Boaz belongs to God and God works in and through him.
What about Ruth? She left everything of her homeland to stay with Naomi, but not just that. Remember from last week. She said, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16). Boaz heard about all that Ruth had done, leaving her homeland and people and her tireless work in the field to provide for herself and Naomi and he describes it like this:
May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’
Taking refuge under the wings of God like a little chick in search of shelter. That’s Ruth. And God is sheltering Ruth who has sought refuge with him. She finds the right field. She finds the right man.
This is our relationship to God, little chicks seeking refuge. We bring nothing. We earn no credit. We can boast of nothing. And God gives us shelter. He rescues. That’s who God is. The Rescuer. The Redeemer. We see that nowhere more clearly than in the cross of Jesus. If you come to Jesus as your Saviour and Lord, you know that there is nothing that you can boast of in terms of your salvation. Your sins are paid for by Jesus on the cross, not by your own good behaviour. You are sheltered in Jesus, covered by his righteousness and faithfulness on our behalf. You’re a little chick who has been given shelter under the wings of God.
But when we come to God we are changed. He changes us to be who we were meant to be, to reflect him, to become godly. Come to God through Jesus and you will receive the Holy Spirit. God himself will set up camp in you and begin changing you from the inside out. You will reflect God as he works in and through you.
The grace, faithfulness, and love of God is reflected here through Ruth and Boaz.
When Ruth returns home, Naomi is shocked at how much food she has:
Her mother-in-law asked her, ‘Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!’
Ruth tells her about Boaz, still not knowing who he is. And Naomi rejoices. She tastes the sweetness come back into her life.
‘The Lord bless him!’ Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. ‘He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.’ She added, ‘That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.’
I love the ambiguity of that phrase: “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” Who is Naomi referring to here, Boaz or God? It could be either. I think it’s intentionally ambiguous and it kind of sums up this chapter and indeed this book. Who is being kind to them? God or Boaz? Yes. Both!
God works in and through normal people. Forget kings, great warriors and miracle workers for a moment. They’re fine but forget about them for a moment. A farmer. A widow. The setting of this great work of God is not a battlefield but a barley-field. People noticing each other and caring about each other. Normal stuff. It happens all the time. And God is powerfully at work in all this “normal stuff”. He is powerfully at work in your life too.
It’s Christian Aid week this week. Normal fundraising cannot go ahead due to the Coronavirus pandemic, so this year Christian Aid week is moving online. In the video below, Michael from Christian Aid Ireland will lead us in prayer. Please see caweek.ie for more information or to make a donation to Christian Aid Ireland.
Some videos (including one recorded specially by Christian Aid Ireland) which I hope will help you to sing worship to God today.