Ruth 2:1-23 Hope in Providence
July 15, 2012 Series: Hope | The book of Ruth
Topic: Old Testament Passage: Ruth 2:1–2:23
Intro: God’s Providence
The first chapter of the story of Ruth provides a dark picture of the pain of loss and the feelings of hopelessness. We are introduced to a family who, living in one of the most unfaithful and dark times in Israel’s history, experiences tragedy upon tragedy upon tragedy. With every verse, from famines to death to infertility, the situation becomes darker and their need for rescue more desperate. Through their story, we are given some insight into the cause of suffering. Namely, suffering sometimes comes through bad decisions we can control and sometimes through bad circumstances that we can’t. At the center of the story is two widows, an Israelite named Noami and a Moabite named Ruth, her daughter-in-law. And even though the book is named after Ruth, Naomi is really central to the story. I would contend that most of us experience heartbreak like Naomi, where our pain is BIG and our God is SMALL, and we feel bitter and hopeless. But as the story unfolds, Noami comes to hope again and, like Ruth, is rescued from herself
To that end, Ruth chapter two could not be any more different than chapter one. The purpose of chapter 1 was to reveal how BIG our need is, chapter two is designed to reveal how BIG our God is. In a way too mysterious to explain, we see that whatever chaotic circumstances we find ourselves in, we can trust that God has, is, and will be invisibly at work. Our confidence comes not in the presence or absence of suffering, but in the conviction that we have a God who is sovereign, a God who is good, and a God who is providentially involved (carefully guiding and directing) in every part of my life; so that what I think I see, feel, or know may not be the true reality. How BIG is your God?
V. 1-3 Ruth Acts
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.
A Warrior & a Moabite
The first verse speaks of a man named Boaz, who will end up being the redeemer in the story (Jesus), in such a way to emphasize his greatness. HE is called a “WORTHY man of the clan”, some translations will call him a “MIGHTY man of valor.” This word is often translated warrior, and carries the meaning of a man with a good reputation, with integrity, and honor. He is a great man with great power and great wealth. Throughout the entire book of Judges, and even into Ruth, no man, no judge, no one else is identified this way. Conversely, the second verse reminds the reader of Ruth’s lack of greatness by identifying her as the Moabite. She is a foreign widow, generally despised, and marginalized by law. Deuteronomy 23.3-4 3 “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever, 4 because they did not meet you with bread and with water on the way, when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.
Act in Faith
Ruth may be helpless, but she is not hopeless. Unlike Noami, who in her depression musters up the strength to say three words, we see Ruth moving to glean in the fields—hoping someone will show her favor and not deny or abuse her. Gleaning is the practice of allowing the poor to follow reapers in the field as they harvest barley, wheat, or vineyards. By Law, the Israelites were not supposed to strip their fields bare, but to leave a remnant for those without means. In the time of Judges, they were breaking the FIRST COMMANDMENT (no gods before me) so it was unlikely they’ll be real faithful to an obscure law like this. But this Law was God’s tool for providing for the poor who cannot provide for themselves (Lev. 19.9-10). But this is not God’s welfare program. God blesses those who provide by making them more fruitful AND he blesses those who partake by giving them dignity of work. And all of it is designed to preach about God, not just to meet a tangible need. 19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. (Deut 14.19-22). As we consider God’s providence, it should be noted that this story is the only place where this seemingly obscure and meaningless law is employed in Scripture.
Just happens to come
So Ruth begins to reap in the fields and the text says she, “JUST HAPPENED” to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, Naomi’s relative. This statement is used by the writer NOT to say “she was lucky”, but in fact as literary tool (hyperbole) to undermine any rational explanation of what is going on here. Essentially, it refines our understanding of Providence—how God carefully guides and directs all things to bring about His purposes. Consider some of the “just happens” so far…Ruth and Noami just happen to come at the time of barley harvest : The beginning of the barley harvest is marked by the celebration of Passover. They would have been coming to town at a time when the city was memorializing God's past sovereignty and his current provision. This is a lesson for them. And we’ll see that Ruth just happens to come to Boaz’ field, who just happened to be a bachelor and a godly man, Ruth just happens to find favor in the reaper’s eyes to allow her to work, and Ruth just happens to be working at a time when Boaz shows up. All of this just happens to be taking place in Bethlehem: The place forever remembered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus—a lesson for us, in hindsight, that God is working together the events of the present to bring about the culmination of His providential plan.
V. 4-10 Boaz Arrives
4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” 8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
Boaz arrives just when it seems Ruth is leaving the field. He doesn’t recognize her and inquires to his foreman whose wife or daughter she is? The foreman does not say her name, but says she is the MOABITE woman who came back with Naomi—a story that everyone clearly knows. According to him, she requested to glean in the field behind the reapers. They allowed her to glean and she had done so from the morning until the time she took a short rest, probably a break for water, after which she has is now leaving. It is likely (due to what Boaz says) that, as godly as these young men appear to be, she had been harassed. He stops her and invites her to glean in his field, to work with his female servants, to drink freely of the water, and not to worry—he is a solid sexual harassment policy.
Ruth is overwhelmed by Boaz’s compassion—she falls on her face and worships. Ruth feels unworthy, unlovable, unredeemable. She is very self-conscious of her cultural acceptability and her unworthiness to be loved as a widowed foreigner who has nothing. Why would you love me? Ever asked Jesus that? Ruth’s response is probably what a genuine response to grace is. One can only respond to the grace of Christ when they recognize how truly unlovable, and yet how loved, they really are. And we see Ruth experience grace upon grace.
V. 11-17 Boaz’ Grace upon Grace
11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” 13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” 14 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. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.” 17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
God’s grace, through Boaz
Boaz redemptive grace is a response to her faith. He praises her radical abandonment of one life and her radical commitment to God and His people, namely Noami. In faith, she had done what did not make sense—walked with conviction the foolish path—she had pressed into her helplessness, trusting that God would be gracious. He describes her action as having taken REFUGE under the wing of God. And even though Boaz identifies God as the source of blessing, he does that as he acts to bless. God’s grace does not fall out of the sky into the laps of the needy---it comes through the faithful actions of men and women who know God’s grace. God’s providential plan works through the actions of men. So what does that mean? It means that our actions have meaning, that God is made known through doing. Just as the grace of God comes through Boaz, we are to be a grace to others—to those who culture deems unworthy—to the extent that it is inconvenient, difficult, and costly. There is no program for that. It’s noteworthy that out of all the things that Boaz shares, his wealth, his food, his fellowship, his protection, and even his reputation—he doesn’t share his relationship to her. Even though he knows he is a redeemer (3.12), the only source of salvation he confesses is Jesus. He does not rob God of His glory.
The question remains, why is Boaz doing this? Is God’s providence worked out in the Holy Spirit coming down and pup petering all of our actions to accomplish his plan? No. But our Creator created everything that makes you who you are, and has guided and directed your life in any infinite number of ways—through different people we’ve loved or hated, different good and bad desires, different decisions we felt in our control, even different circumstances out of our control. Our Eternal Creator has invisibly orchestrated all of these things so that HE is revealed as LORD, and that HIS good plan will come to pass. HOW this all happens is a mystery, but we get some insight in this story…
God ordains when and where we live—Acts 17.26 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,God ordains how long we live and when we die God ordains what we look like and how we think—our looks and our personality (Maybe Ruth was good looking, maybe not).God ordains how we are raised—who are parents are and how they parent. (Why did Boaz “take notice” of Ruth? Consider that Boaz’s mom was Rahab—a foreign prostitute who proved faithful and became part of God’s people).God ordains who we marry, if we marry—who and what attract or repel us.God ordains where we work—what we like to do and what we are good at doingGod ordains when all of this “just happens”—timing of everything even chance interactions
God’s providence should not paralyze us. The fact that a sovereign and good God is involved in his creation, carefully bringing about his perfect plan, should free us to live, to make decisions, to take risks, to not fear sorrow, to not avoid relationship because of possible disillusionment, to get out of the harbor and trust God’s winds will take us where He leads (George Gray Poem). In hope, this is what Ruth did. And now it brings Hope to Noami.
Conclusion: v. 18-23 Hope for Relief and Redemption
18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” 21 And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’ ” 22 And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” 23 So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
Hope for Relief
Hope begins to return as their suffering is temporarily relieved. Ruth returns with enough flour to feed them for weeks. The amount is 10X more than would be expected. If, as Boaz has promised, she continues to work as she has for the next four weeks, she will have enough to feed them for nearly a year. But, for the most part, we see that Naomi and Ruth’s situation has not really changed. They are safer and a bit more secure, but they are still unwed widows, still living alone together, and still surviving day to day. We need more than relief.
Hope for Redemption
There is no real hope in God’s plan if his ultimate goal is only to relieve our earthly pain and suffering. It might make me feel good temporarily. But there is no goodness or security in writing me a check to help in my situation if he doesn’t transform my situation all together. If I’ve lost the use of my arms and legs, and I’m drowning in a disease infested pool full of piranhas, I don’t need someone to encourage me to swim or throw me water wings. I need some to rescue me.
Naomi knows they need more than relief. And when Naomi hears the name of the man who owns the field, she has hope for redemption. Boaz is a kinsman redeemer, meaning, he is one of the men charged with the responsibility to rescue them both. Boaz pictures Jesus Christ. A great man with great wealth and great power, who enters into our suffering to do more than relieve, he came to rescue us. And like Boaz will do, he does through more than just giving his food or money; he does that through entering into a marriage relationship with us.
He looks at what is unlovable, unworthy, and unwanted, and he cleanses us. He forgives our sins, he cleanses us from the sins of others, and then he removes our fears and our shame, freeing us to live with a new identity. And he does this not apart from pain or suffering, but through the cross, transforming our own from something that destroyed our faith to something that refines it. By a power too mysterious to comprehend, through faith, within that suffering he gives us new life, new strength, new joy, because of a LIVING HOPE in resurrection –the proof that He can rescue us.
Prayer: Peter 1.3-10
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
Benediction: Isaiah 40.28-31