Jul 09, 2017 | Joel Gilbert
Several weeks ago, we began this series of sermons on the book of Ruth, looking at a biblical perspective on family and how God works. We started by looking at the “Hidden Dangers that Face our Families” and how Naomi and their family faced a famine and death.
We looked at what happens “When Commitment Fails” and how Orpah, Naomi’s daughter in law jumped ship during a difficult time. We’ve also seen how bitterness can have an impact in who we are and how commitment is needed to keep a family together.
Last week, we looked at how “God Faithfully Orchestrates His Plan” as we began to see a change happening in the lives of Naomi and Ruth. By the way, if you’ve missed any of the previous weeks, you can get them for free on the church website or on the church app (the QR code is in the bulletin).
Over the last several years, game system and software developers have been working with virtual (oraugmented) reality technology. Virtual Reality allows someone to don a special set of goggles and become immediately immersed into another reality. This could be underwater scuba diving, or climbing high mountains or observing great works of art in a foreign museum all from the comfort of ones own home. While there are some fascinating educational opportunities to virtual reality, there are also some dangers. People can become so enthralled in this environment that they isolate themselves from others and can even begin to blur what is real with what is augmented or virtual.
Now there are many people who engage in this kind of entertainment, but there are also a lot of people who engage in a sort of virtual theology. They base their view of God on what is popular in culture and not what is presented in Scripture. As a result, they/we can tend to live with faulty ideas of who God is and how He works.
Today, as we continue to look at the book of Ruth and how God is working to bring this family from crisis to contentment, I want to point out a few principles or virtuous realities that we see in this verses.
These realities not only inform how we should live but give us a greater understanding of Who God is and how He worked in Ruth’s life and ultimately how He is working in our lives.
Let me just make sure that we’re up to speed on the story. Elimilech, Naomi, and their children flee from a famine in Israel and move to Moab. Their sons marry Moabite women – Orpah and Ruth Elimilech, and his boys die, leaving all of the women as widows. Naomi urges the women to leave and Orpah returns to her family. Ruth vows to remain with Naomi as they together move back to Israel, to Bethlehem. Recognizing their great need for food and supplies, Ruth begins to glean in the fields around Bethlehem.
She ends up in the fields of Boaz, a relative of her late father-in- law. Boaz meets her and begins to show favor to her.
Now that we’re all on the same page of the story, the first virtuous reality we get to see in this story is that…
People of character attract people of character (8-11)
Or we could say that another way: that you “attract what you desire.” 2
As Lee has been pointing out over the last few weeks, we see in Ruth a woman of great character. She left her people and her family in order to support and I think ultimately honor her mother in law. Back in chapter 1 verses 16-17 we get to see her character lived out in her conviction.
16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 3
We don’t know what Ruth’s home life was like, but it seems clear that the Spirit of God was working in her, leading her to abandon everything she knew for a life among a people that she did not fully know. It seems like her primary influence in Jewish life was through Naomi’s family – a family that had run from famine and experienced death. Which in some ways gives me hope that even in the midst of our darkest times, God can use us to be a positive influence in the lives of others. Boaz even recognizes her conviction has he recounts to her why he has looked on her with favor. (Read 2:11-12)
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.
4In a small town like Bethlehem, word would have travelled regarding Naomi and her foreign daughter-in-law, both widows. Ruth’s actions were probably seen and recounted by others and Boaz had heard, he had just never met her until this day. We don’t have a great understanding of how much time passed from the end of chapter 1 until this encounter. It may truly have been just a few days, but word does travel fast, especially in a small town.
Application Point: Which makes me wonder - What word is travelling about you and me? Do our neighbors, coworkers, family members see us as men and women of conviction?
Beyond just her conviction though, we see Ruth’s character lived out in her work ethic.
(Read verses 3, 5-7)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…. 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 sheavesafter the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.
Lee has pointed out before about the law prescribed book of Leviticus regarding gleaning as a means of provision for the poor and needy. Essentially this law urged landowners to leave the edges of their fields un-harvested so that others could come and take the left-overs. Ruth must have been aware of the law or at least the cultural allowance.
But she didn’t just get up at any old time. The Hebrew word that we see rendered as “early morning” in the ESV refers to the break of day – or dawn. In late April or early May, sunrise would have been just before 6AM.
Beyond just getting up early, she worked persistently. The supervisor of the reapers said that she didn’t stop but for a short break. She knew that she had a job to do and was going to work until it was completed.
Ruth lived with conviction about her family and worked with a strong ethic. She was a woman of character.
As we see in this principle as well, people of character are attracted to each other, which makes us ask, what about Boaz?
When you consider Boaz’, we see a man who is… Godly (read v. 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.
– while his greeting may have been culturally appropriate in his day, it also references the fact that he was a man who was devoted to God. As a boss, he seemed to establish an environment that was mutually beneficial for himself and his workers – as seen by his supervisor’s response to his greeting. One commentator writes
Appropriately, Boaz, the landowner, initiates the conversation, but he does so with two simple but profound words, yhwh ʿimmākem, “May the LORD be with you!” From the outset we sense that Boaz has provided a positive work environment for his people. In this regard he serves as a model of true covenant ḥesed for all who supervise others in their work; his speech from beginning to end is characterized by grace. And with a boss like this it is no wonder that Boaz’s workers respond with a blessing of their own: yĕbārekĕkā yhwh, “May the LORD bless you!” Unlike Boaz’s greeting, this blessing follows the traditional pattern (cf. Num 6:24). 7
His godly character is not only seen in his greeting, but also in his instruction to his workers, urging that they not touch Ruth (vs. 9). We may be reading into the context a bit, but for him to give that instruction to his men indicates that gleaning may have been an environment where women were abused or even raped. The New American Commentary writes, “Boaz is hereby instituting the first anti-sexual- harassment policy in the workplace recorded in the Bible.”
Just as God looks out for the good of His people, Boaz, as a man of godly character was looking out for the good of Ruth. Not only is Boaz godly, but he is…
Generous (8-9) 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.” 9
– Boaz is urging Ruth to glean in his field. This may have impacted his bottom line, but that was okay. As a generous man, he wanted to be a blessing to her. His field was for her work; the resources reserved for his workers (water, etc) were available to her as well. He even went to far as to encourage his workers to leave some extra for her (15-16) - 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.”10
Ruth and Boaz, as people of character, were drawn together. We’ll see in the next chapter how she sought his protection and he obliged, calling her “worthy” (3:9-12).
One of the challenges we face in our current society is that people often want only to look on the outward appearance and for what will feel good now. The dating scene involves going to parties or bars and becoming impaired by a variety of means (drinks, drugs, peer pressure), in order to attract someone for a moment, hoping it will result in a longer-term relationship. After multiple missteps and mistakes, many people end up settling for someone who will do and live lives of “quiet desperation.”
What Boaz and Ruth did well is that they worked on being people of character first, allowing God to direct in the rest. Which brings me to our next virtuous reality. You see the book of Ruth is more than a love story. It’s a story of seeing the way that God works in individuals and in families. It’s a book that reveals that God cares and is intimately involved in the affairs of people.
We’ve seen in this chapter that people of character are attracted to each other. In looking how God works, we can see that…
God is the refuge, we are His instruments (12)
When Ruth left Moab with Naomi, she abandoned her old ways and the gods of her people. She may have had familiarity with the God of Naomi and the Israelites, but her customs and her people worshipped many other gods – they were “henotheists.” One commentator writes about the Moabites being people of Chemosh,
But being henotheists rather than monotheists, they venerated one god in particular because he was considered their divine patron. He was the god to whom they looked for protection, prosperity, and internal order.
This is the culture then that Ruth abandoned.
When she went to glean in the fields if Bethlehem and ultimately Boaz, she was seeking favor among the people. (2:2 - “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” 12 ).
Warren Wiersbe writes, When Ruth set out that morning to glean in the fields, she was looking for someone who would show her grace (v. 2, and see vv. 10 and 13). Grace is favor bestowed on someone who doesn’t deserve it and can’t earn it. As a woman, a poor widow, and an alien, Ruth could have no claims on anyone. She was at the lowest rung of the social ladder. 13
But when she and Boaz meet and talk, Boaz clarifies that while it may be his field in which she is gleaning, it is ultimately God who is providing the refuge. Look at verse 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! 14 It is almost as though he is clarifying her theology, helping her realize that God is the One who is protecting her, he (Boaz) is merely an instrument.
When we consider this from a modern standpoint, it can truly help us to live life with open hands. We can see that God has blessed us in so many ways, and yet, so many people are in need. The principle of gleaning was God’s way of providing for those in need. He urged his people to leave something left over; a sort of God-orchestrated welfare.
Psalm 112:5 states, It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. 15
We see that lived out in the life of Boaz.
James 1:27 goes on to talk about how God’s people should look after those in need… Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. 16
As you may know, I have been driving a bus for several years. What started out as a means of helping at the school where my kids attend and helping us to pay for tuition has become a means of practically seeing this principle of the shelter of God’s wings. The owner of the bus company is a man named Bob Coughlin. For nearly ten years, I’ve had the opportunity to drive in the mornings before coming here to work for my children’s school and other schools as needed. God has provided that work through Bob.
But beyond that, Bob has lived open-handedly with his buses, allowing us as a church to use them from time to time. I think he is a bit like Boaz. He is a good and kind businessman and boss, but he also recognizes that God is using him as a means of providing work for roughly 50 people who are then able to provide for their families. He has told me multiple stories of how people have come across his path and because he had the means through his company, he was able to give them an opportunity. From time to time allowing a little church in Rockville a means of building community by allowing people to travel together.
Application Point: God is the refuge, how are you and I doing as his instruments? Are we leaving enough left over to bless others?
There is one final virtuous reality that I want us to look at today. That is that we should…
Remain where God is working (8-9, 22-23)
In the Experiencing God study, there is a principle of discovering where God is working and going there. I believe the principle is also that same that we should remain where God is working. In verses 8 and 9, Boaz tells 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.” 17
Now, it’s difficult to fully understand how these fields were laid out, but from what we can see by some of the context, it appears that Boaz lived in the town of Bethlehem – a town about six miles from Jerusalem. Fields that were owned by various different people surround this town. If you look in verse 2:3, Ruth goes out in the fields and “happens” to come to a portion of the field belonging to Boaz (sounds like a Providential Coincidence to me). In verse 4 we see that Boaz came from Bethlehem to his field. As Ruth was gleaning, there were probably many other fields around. Some may have looked better, some worse. Boaz urges her to continue to glean in his fields. He wanted to provide for her. He knew he could protect her there.
If we fast-forward to the end of the chapter, Ruth comes home to Naomi with about 5 days worth of food and tells her about all that happened. Naomi said (2:22)… “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” 18
And so, in living out this principle, the narrator of the story summarizes the next several weeks for us by stating (2:23)…
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. 19 Ruth and Naomi came at the beginning of the Barley harvest, which is in the end of April and the beginning of May in Israel. She remained until the end of the wheat harvest which concludes in early June. 20
There are so many times when in our lives when the work that is before us is difficult. We may feel like the fields are better elsewhere, whether that is a different job or a different spouse or a different locality or a different church.
We have to recognize that in God’s provision, running to another place may (probably will) be outside of where God is working, therefore outside of the shelter of his wings. It’s very important that we carefully consider whether God is leading us to leave something or someone, otherwise take the risk that God may not be working “over there.”
Over the last few days, Danielle and I have had the opportunity to reconnect with some of our friends from high school. We graduated from Montrose Christian in a class of about 30 students. Because of the small size, we worked with some of the classes right after ours in making a combined 25ish year reunion. In addition to reconnect with classmates, we had the pleasant surprise of getting to reconnect with one of our teachers. Mr. Peer taught at Montrose from 1979 until last year. He specialized in high school math, physics, and mechanical drawing. In addition to the great deal of faithfulness and longevity that he exhibited teaching there, he taught with a great deal of conviction. Over the years, the school had seen some ups and downs as church leadership changed. He told me yesterday that even in the toughest times, he sort of felt like he was called to be there to be a stabilizing force. Even when the educational model and philosophy changed, he persisted (even with a 30% pay cut), in order to be faithful to what God had called him to. He left only when God made it clear that it was his time to go. During his career at Montrose, Mr. Peer stood before classes roughly 20,000 times, being a godly example for a ton of students, including Danielle and me. To me, he exhibited what it looks like to remain where God is working – even when it’s difficult.
There is really so much that we can consider in this chapter. These virtuous realities are only a few. As we wrap things up, I want to ask you and me a few questions to consider;
How is your character?
Are you seeking to attract others by outward appearance or style or are you attracting others by who you are?
How are you and I doing as being God’s instruments of blessing/provision for others in need?
Are we leaving enough left over?
When trials come at home or at work or in the community, are you tempted to run away?
Throughout the story of Ruth, we can see the hand of God carefully and gently orchestrating the circumstances surrounding her life. We see His faithfulness. We see protection even in difficult circumstances. We see how He is working through Boaz.
We also see Ruth responding – first by leaving behind her old ways in order to join in with what God is doing. We see her developing her character in order to honor her mother-in- law and help to meet her needs.
The Bible says that God is near to the broken hearted (Ps. 34:18). Ruth, in the wake of her husband’s death made a commitment to Naomi to follow God. God rewarded her. As we wrap up – let me ask you to close your eyes for just a moment. I want you to hear me without the distractions of what’s around you.
If you’ve never responded to the call of God on your life, maybe today is the day that you do that. You see just as God has been near to Ruth, providing a means of salvation for her, He has provided a means of salvation for you as well. Jesus gave his life in exchange for the consequences of your sin and mine.
Maybe today is the day that you, like Ruth, will leave behind your old way of thinking and turn and trust God for salvation.
You can simply say “God I know I have messed up. I know my old ways are not accomplishing your perfect plan in my life. Please forgive me. I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sin. Please take me under your wing of salvation and make me your child.” If you pray something like that, you will be a child of God, you will have a place with Him for eternity.
Christian – maybe you’re in a place like Naomi was. You know the story and faithfulness of God and yet don’t practically believe it. You’re trying all sorts of other things and as a result your character and your witness has been compromised. Let me encourage you to come back to God. Get back under the shelter of His wing. Get back to where He is working and allow Him to work through you.