Open your bibles to Ruth 2:1-16. Last week, looking at chapter one, we dealt with the primary problem of Naomi’s bitterness and emptiness. Despite the incredible display of faith and the unwavering commitment of her daughter-in-law Ruth, Naomi remained pessimistic regarding her chances of surviving in Bethlehem. She no longer wants to be called Naomi, but Mara, because the Lord had dealt very bitterly with her (1:20).
Have you tried to relate? Are you able to put yourselves in their shoes? Have you imagined the tremendous sting of the famine? The loss of their husbands, and Naomi’s sons has left them absolutely devastated. I know, at some level, all of us can relate to that sense of desperation and hopelessness. That is the state we find these women at the end of chapter one.
But, once again, we concluded with a note of hope. “They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest” (1:22).
Before we read the passage, let’s ask the Lord for his help in understanding it.
Heavenly Father, we depend upon you every time we open your Word. May we expect to hear from you as we read your Word and sit under its preaching. Give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts that are softened by the truth in this passage. Help us to know and experience something of Your kindness this morning. The same kindness that you showed to Ruth more than 3,000 years ago. We ask that your glory may be magnified, in Christ’s name, Amen.
Ruth 2:1–16 ESV
In Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, there is a character named Ms. Havisham who had been stood up on her wedding day. She immediately stopped all of the clocks in her house, boarded up all of the windows so that no sunlight could enter, and isolated herself from everyone but a handful of people. She never went outside. She never ate in front of others. She simply grew in her bitterness and hatred. The darkness of her home is an illustration of the darkness of her heart.
The trajectory of Naomi’s life was from fullness to emptiness, and we have seen how it has driven her into bitterness and despair. But the trajectory for the people in Bethlehem was the opposite. They went from the emptiness of the famine to the fullness of harvest.
Will Naomi continue to spiral into a deeper despair and depression? Or will she be able to snap out of it as she sees God’s restoration of her people?
Big Idea: The generous grace of a kind Redeemer strengthens our faith.
The Initiative of a Servant (1-7)
Ruth happens to glean in the field of Boaz (1-3)
Once again the structure of the first three verses are important and provide a clue as to the author’s intentions. Boaz is introduced to the reader as “a worthy man…” This is a moral attribute. It is suggesting that he was a man with a good reputation. The description of Boaz as “worthy” is also used of Ruth (3:11).
Notice the phrase “clan of Elimelech” appears in v.1 and again at the end of v.3. Inside those outside brackets you have “Boaz” (1b, 3d) and then you have the subject of gleaning in the fields (2b, 2d-3c). Finally, and most importantly, right in the middle of this passage you read “after him in whose sight I shall find favor” (2c).
Thus, we open chapter two on the subject of favor or grace. At this point Ruth doesn’t know who might show her favor, but she is hoping someone will.
It will be helpful to begin with a few references from Leviticus and Deuteronomy in order to understand something of the gleaning laws that Ruth is able to take advantage of in this passage.
Leviticus 19:9 ESV
“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.
So the edges of the land are to be left alone, as well as the gleanings that fall to the ground. Later on we read why this law existed…
Leviticus 23:22 ESV
“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.”
So the law exists in order to show compassion to the poor and sojourner. Notice however, this is not a simple welfare program. The poor did not merely receive handouts. They were required to work in the field.
Work is a good thing and actually serves to provide the poor with a sense of integrity.
But we learn something else in…
Deuteronomy 24:19 ESV
“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.
The Lord’s blessing would follow obedience to this law.
Now, think about this, if you were a shrewd farmer, you would ensure that the workers in your field had a high rate of efficiency when it comes to the amount of sheafs they retain versus the amount they “forget in the field.” It would be economically wise to find workers who were careful not to drop anything they collect.
However, the verse also attaches a promise of blessing to those who abide by this law, “that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.” In other words, operating in a way that makes the most economical sense, would seem to forfeit the greatest blessing from God.
Frederick Bush suggests,
Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 9: Ruth, Esther Comment
However, the large number of passages in the law that accord special privileges to the widow (e.g., Exod 22:22–24; Deut 10:18; 14:29; 16:11; 24:17) and those in the prophets and elsewhere that charge Israel with their oppression (e.g., Isa 1:23; 10:2; Jer 7:6; Job 24:3, 21; Ps 94:6) clearly attest that the refusal of this right must have been common.
Well, back to our passage in Ruth, we see that God has guided Ruth, without Naomi’s help, so that she might glean in the field of Boaz “who was from the clan of Elimelech” (3).
James, “We can reasonably assume that both women are battling depression…In the dismal aftermath, even the simple task of getting out of bed in the morning can be asking too much.” While Naomi has turned completely inward in her darkness and despair, Ruth is strong and determined.
Rather than waiting for a miracle, she used the strength and energy God gave her to find some food. And it is important to recognize that the work she set out to do was not easy, and apparently it was not always safe.
She knew that Naomi was unable to do much. Ruth would need to find food for both of them. James writes,
“The gospel (even in its most primitive Old Testament form) has the power to rescue a believer from drowning in herself by moving her to think of someone else.”
Boaz arrives and inquires about Ruth (4-7)
The introductory greeting of Boaz and his workers (4) seems routine, but it is unattested elsewhere, probably indicating it to be a bit unconventional. At the very least it reveals that he honors the Lord and that his workers respect him.
What seems clear is this was a common occurence. Boaz is a “worthy” man because he personally cares for his workers. But remember, this was happening at a time when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Boaz ran his field in a different fashion.
Boaz observes someone he does not recognize among his workers. He inquires about this “young woman.” Don’t impute romantic notions upon Boaz at this point. Nothing indicates Boaz is scoping out this beautiful maiden among his reapers. It would be highly unlikely for him to notice her in that way. His fields were the last place he would go in search of a bride!
Ruth must have thoroughly impressed the overseer of Boaz’s servants because he provides Boaz with an encouraging account of Ruth.
1. She had returned with Naomi from Moab
2. She had asked permission to “glean after the reapers.” The typical process would have been for men to cut the stalks and lay them on the ground. Then the men were followed by female workers who would gather the stalks, bind them in bundles, and cart them to the threshing floor. Finally, the gleaners would come last to gather whatever the women missed. In other words, Ruth was boldly taking the initiative to ask for a position among the women (to glean behind the harvesters 2:7).
3. She had worked tirelessly
Now that the story has turned away from Naomi, we come to two exemplary characters in Ruth and Boaz. Both are full of compassion and integrity. This is important. Compassion apart from integrity turns into meaningless sentimentality. And integrity apart from compassion becomes proud self-interest. Do you have the integrity of a good work ethic? Do you have compassion for others and show it by your actions towards them?
The Generosity of a Redeemer (8-16)
Exceeding Kindness (8-10)
Boaz encourages Ruth to remain in his field and promises her protection. Furthermore, he treats her like one of his servants allowing her to take from their water supply. He is going out of his way to show her kindness.
[Note: At the risk of making too much out of something about which we can say very little, it is interesting that it is the men who fill the water jars. It would seem Boaz expects his male servants to serve his female servants in this uncharacteristic fashion.]
The last sentence of the foreman’s explanation (7) is difficult to translate. Based upon the greeting Boaz gives to Ruth afterwards, we may actually depict something under the surface of the comments that happened. Some commentaries suggest that when Ruth went to get a drink, maybe one of the men hooted at her, made some embarrassing remark, or possibly even touched her inappropriately. That is why Boaz encourages her not to leave and assures her that he has “charged the young men not to touch” her (9).
We cannot make too much out of this because the text is difficult to translate, but the fact that Boaz has to say anything like that would suggest the vulnerability of Ruth’s position.
Ruth falls down onto her face and bows to the ground (10), overwhelmed by the unexpected kindness of Boaz. She anticipated things being much more difficult on her because she was a “foreigner”. Naomi had filled her mind with such unfavorable expectations of how she would be treated. So she inquired about his motives and he provided her with an…
Assuring Comfort (11-13)
Ruth’s reputation had gone before her. In spite of Naomi’s blindness to the kindness of Ruth, the people of Bethlehem had taken notice of her actions.
Boaz acknowledges Ruth’s reputation and then he pronounces a blessing upon her (12). The metaphor Boaz uses is common in Scripture. In Deut. 32:11-12 we read:
Deuteronomy 32:11–12 ESV
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
that flutters over its young,
spreading out its wings, catching them,
bearing them on its pinions,
the LORD alone guided him,
no foreign god was with him.
We see something similar in Exodus 19:4.
Ruth is grateful yet she remains humble (13). This is the first time the author records words of encouragement to her. I have already pointed out how Ruth is taking the role of a servant. Here she makes that explicit with her response to Boaz.
Lavishing Grace (14-16)
Boaz invites her to enjoy the meal given to his reapers. In fact, rather than asking others to serve her, he does so himself! In fact, he gave her a double-portion so that she would be completely satisfied, and able to return with leftovers.
Boaz has already shown Ruth exceeding kindness. He has assured her with comforting encouragement. But now, he is lavishing grace upon her.
After eating, Ruth returns to the field, and Boaz orders his servants to allow her to “glean among the sheaves” as well as to remove some from the bundles for her to glean as well. In other words, she isn’t getting typical gleanings from the field. She now has access to the choicest grain!
Iain Duguid asks some penetrating questions:
Esther and Ruth Divine Coincidence
Whom do you see? Are you consciously looking for those who are on their own? Do you have eyes to see the poor and needy in your own neighborhood, the outcasts and neglected in your own church, or do they remain invisible to you? Boaz went far above and beyond his mere duty in order to take care of the poor and include this outsider. He took time and care to build ties of relationship with her, and paid the costs of her provision out of his own pocket. Do we have a similar heart of compassion for those who seem to have little or nothing to offer us in return?
We’ve talked about Naomi’s primary problem being that she was empty and bitter. But Ruth had a problem too. She was a Moabite. The author has emphasized that several times (2, 6, 10, 11). Israel was to have nothing to do with the Moabites. In fact, the prohibition of Deut. 23:3 clearly forbid Israel from receiving a Moabite into the assembly of the Lord.
Deuteronomy 23:3 ESV
“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,
Ruth could not escape the fact that she was a Moabite. It was a part of her nature. She was cut off from communion with God. And there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.
But here’s the point, we are all in Ruth’s position. Psalm 24:3 asks:
Psalm 24:3 ESV
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
The next verse the answer:
Psalm 24:4 ESV
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
In order to stand in the presence of a perfectly holy God, we must become like him.
For Ruth, that was impossible. She wanted it, but she couldn’t have it. And yet, the same law that forbid her full enjoyment of communion with God and his people, provided the means for her to be accepted.
The prohibition against Moab is in Deut. 23, but the gleaning law is in Deut. 24. Being a Moabite would seem to have disqualified Ruth from receiving the Lord’s kindness, but the fact that she was a stranger, fatherless, and a widow gave her access to receive grace.
Iain Campbell writes:
Ruth: A Devotional Commentary Barriers in the Fields of Boaz
God, in his grace, reaches out to those who have no natural right to his blessing, and no natural access to his throne. There is no breach of law, no injustice at all, in the way God saves. By nature we are excluded from the covenant community, but in the death of Christ, God has upheld his law and put honour on it.
God’s law forbids entrance into his presence, but the invitation of grace sounds forth through the gospel. It is a gospel proclaiming a finished work – a work that paid the debt of all who place their hope Christ Jesus.