In chapter one of the book of Ruth we saw how dark circumstances led Naomi into bitterness. There was a famine in Israel so Naomi followed her husband Elimelech, taking along their two sons, to Moab. Shortly after arriving there Elimelech died. Naomi’s sons married Moabite wives, which was another act of disobedience. And within ten years, both her sons are dead.
Naomi described her circumstances at the end of chapter 1 in verses 20-21, “Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
Have you ever thought to yourself, “I know God exists, but I’m not sure that he is good?” Have you ever looked at your circumstances and thought, “Why? How could a ‘good’ God allow these things to happen to me?” Many of us have asked this, or something like it, at some point in our lives. Maybe you have gone through some trials recently and you are thinking something very similar to this.
That seems to perfectly describe Naomi’s attitude at this point of the story. She doesn’t question God’s existence. In fact, she acknowledges his sovereignty. She knows he has allowed these circumstances to occur in her life. And it is because of her recognition of that fact, that she has such a hard time praising him, and blessing him. Instead, she grows bitter and cold.
If that’s you this morning, I want you to realize something very important. The first chapter of Ruth is in the Bible for a reason. By seeing this suffering believer struggle, by seeing her holding on by a tiny thread of hope, you are given permission to voice your thoughts and questions too. Her plight shows us that God did not abandon her. When her faith was weak, he was faithful. When you take your honest doubts and frustrations to God, He meets them with tender care.
Those who have suffered tragedy often talk about experiencing a deeper communion with God. And their outlook on life is radically altered. Carolyn James shares the story of a man named Wolterstorff whose son died. “The death of his son drew Wolterstorff limping into a deeper, almost frightening connection with God. ‘The world has a hole in it now,’ he sorrowed. ‘I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.’” I love that perspective! “I shall look at the world through tears. Perhaps I shall see things that dry-eyed I could not see.”
Notice something before we move forward, because I think it sets us up for the subject of our text this morning. Did you catch what Naomi said in her statement at the end of chapter 1? She said, “I went away full…” Really? That surely wasn’t what they were saying when they left. They were probably saying that they had nothing. There was no food in the land. They were probably telling others that they felt like they had no other choice than to flee to Moab. But now, in hindsight, she can see that there was so much in her life to be thankful for. At a time when she and her family thought they were empty, was really when they were “full”. Keep that in mind as we continue in chapter two.
Last week considered the desperate situation that Naomi and Ruth were in and the events that led to a dramatic turnaround in their lives. Ruth 2 discusses the very beginning stages of how God provides for his covenant people. Ruth recognized her neediness and then she sought refuge under the wings of the Lord.
Big Idea: The Lord cares for his people through his people.
This does not mean that the Lord only cares for his people through his people. There are certainly other means at God’s disposal with which he comforts and provides for his people. But I would venture to say that the primary method God uses to care for his people is through his people.
Consider the example we have throughout the book of Ruth. The narrator only makes two explicit references to God’s intervention. The first is in 1:6 when God puts an end to the famine in Israel. The second occurrence is found in 4:13 when God enables Ruth to conceive a child with Boaz. Yet we see the hand of God throughout the book. The main characters are repeatedly referring to God’s sovereignty and provision. It is through their words and actions that God speaks into the lives of his people.
We might also take this concept too far. We can become so focused upon the “one anothers” of Scripture, our horizontal relationships, that we lose sight or minimize the relationship we have with God (which should always be the foundation of our relationships with one another). There is a constant need to check the scales, to ensure that we are properly balanced in our spiritual life.
So as we read this passage, notice the ways God works for his people through his people. But before we read, let’s ask the Lord for his help in understanding it. Let us pray.
Read Ruth 2:17-23
“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. 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.”
- Ruth Shares (17-18)
- Naomi Recovers (19-20)
- Boaz Protects (21-23)
I. Ruth Shares (17-18)
Let’s look back for a second at the way God has already used Ruth in the life of Naomi. On the journey home, you will remember Naomi made several attempts to convince Ruth to turn around and go to her mother’s home. Orpah returned home, but we are told that Ruth clung to Naomi. When Naomi was broken and discouraged and bitter in her grief, Ruth was right by her side. God would not let Naomi go. We see God’s covenant faithfulness exhibited to Naomi through the loyalty and affection of Ruth.
Now, back in Bethlehem, surely Naomi is reminded of her deceased husband and sons. People and places would constantly remind her of her family and the time they spent not much more than a decade earlier. The last time she was there, her husband and sons were with her. The memories would have possibly sunk her into an even deeper depression than she was already in. She might have felt like she was at the end of her rope, like she would never be able to recover.
Also, we can imagine Naomi sitting at home worried sick about her daughter-in-law. She was probably pacing the house, wondering how much misery Ruth was enduring. Maybe she questioned whether or not Ruth would return. We know, from her warning at the end of the passage that working in fields was often accompanied by abuse (possibly even physical abuse). So Ruth would have been in a state of despair coupled with anxiety. She was probably a wreck when Ruth came through the door.
Ruth took home what was probably the equivalent of 15 days worth of food. She was carrying anywhere from 25-30 pounds of barley. This was a massive amount for anyone to glean. It would also have been a heavy weight to carry back home. I’m worn out just carrying the dog food from the trunk of the car to the garage. Think of the soreness Ruth must have felt when she flung the barley off of her shoulder. Could you imagine the expression on Naomi’s face? She would have been flabbergasted.
So what do we learn from Ruth’s circumstances? We see a dramatic reversal of fortune. Naomi spoke of leaving Bethlehem full and returning empty. We see the exact opposite experience with Ruth. She went out empty, but returned to Naomi full. God has just begun to show his loving kindness to her and it is more than she has ever known.
We could point to several aspects of Ruth’s life that call for emulation (i.e.; industrious, grateful, committed, caring), but in the end this passage is about the vindication of God’s character which had been severely called into question by Naomi’s statement at the end of chapter 1. Naomi was questioning God’s goodness to her. Well that can no longer be the case. God, once again, has proven himself to be merciful and gracious to Naomi and Ruth. And that evening…
II. Naomi Recovers (19-20)
Not only did Ruth come home with 30 pounds of barley, she also brought out a bag of food that she had left over from her lunch with Boaz. Despite Naomi’s bitterness and coldness (1:18 and 1:21) Ruth loved her and cared for her, and she thought of her as she enjoyed her lunch that day. She saved what was left over to give to Naomi.
The Lord resurrects this lifeless Naomi. At the end of the first chapter we saw a bitter Naomi. She was someone who was struggling to see the goodness of God in her life. But now everything has changed. She has experienced God’s blessing through the hands of Ruth who was sharing in the blessings that came to her through Boaz. Her lips no longer speak in “bitterness,” they are now full of blessing because she has experienced God’s covenant kindness.
In a moment the fog of depression clears away. In an instant her despair departs.
Do you see the hand of God working in your life? Do you see his hand working in the life of others? This is a cause for rejoicing. We too should recognize God’s blessing.
Let me make an important point though. This doesn’t mean that Naomi had forgotten her sorrow. It wasn’t as if her demeanor necessarily turned from a frown to a smile. She may have been feeling her sorrow even at that moment. But she praised God in the midst of her sorrow. She expressed the kind of godly joy that was thankful even though she was still in so much pain. Let’s not equate rejoicing with worldly happiness. As if, the only way to rejoice in God’s blessings is if you are jumping up and down or laughing. No, there is a way to rejoice in the blessings of God even from the depths of sorrow.
G.K. Chesterton wrote,
“Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all…As long as matters are really hopeful, hope is mere flattery or platitude; it is only when everything is hopeless that hope begins to be a strength.”
Isn’t it amazing that the “little things in life” become the greatest sources of comfort when you are at the end of your rope. The smallest signs of affection can be very moving. A hug when you come home can seem routine, but a hug at a funeral can carry so much more emotion and feeling. A phone call or a text message can mean so much more to you when you are sitting home alone.
I guess what I’m getting at is that we shouldn’t shy away from helping others because we don’t know what to do for them. You don’t have to come up with some elaborate plan to show compassion. Most often, it is simply giving them your time. Being with them, sitting down, and listening is all most people want.
“If someone gives you a pair of gloves when the sun is shining and your hands are warm, it doesn’t mean that much. If you’re well-fed and have plenty of food in your cupboard, a sack of grain and a ready-to-eat meal seem ordinary and perhaps a little boring. Prosperity tends to dull our senses to the presence of God’s hesed in our lives. But, when trouble strikes and you’re sitting in the darkness with a heart that aches for him, the slightest sign of his presence is monumental. A load of grain, a cooked meal, or a pair of gloves sends a signal – faint though it may be – that he is here and he hasn’t forgotten.”
III. Boaz Protects (21-23)
The term hesed, translated “kindness” here in Ruth, is found roughly 250 times in the Old Testament. The majority of those occurrences refer to God Himself. The term speaks of God’s covenant faithfulness, his covenant loving kindness. In this passage we see the term used with reference to Boaz.
In addition to his kindness, Boaz is a kinsman redeemer. What is that? The Hebrew word is goel and it is used to refer to several different things. Fundamentally, the term means to protect (Atkinson, 86). The Lord protects Ruth through Boaz. We will see much more of this role in the chapters that follow, but we need to have some understanding of the concept in order to get what Naomi is saying here. If the term fundamentally means to protect, that is exactly the picture that we have of Boaz. He has told Ruth to stay in his field until the end of the harvest and Naomi confirms that she may be persecuted in the fields of another.
The goel was responsible to keep land within the family (Lev. 25:25-28). He was also responsible to buy back any family member who sold themselves into slavery (Lev. 25:47-49). He must avenge the murder of a kinsman by putting the murderer to death (Num. 35:16ff). There is also the idea of paying back the debt of a deceased kinsman (Num. 5:8). However, none of these technical situations fit the circumstances of Naomi and Ruth. But the term is used throughout the Old Testament to refer to God’s redeeming activities in general. This is the way Naomi is using the term. She is simply saying that he is a near relative who can come to their aid.
The point is this. Nothing in the law required Boaz to care for Naomi and Ruth. He was under no obligation to provide for them. If he was going to act on their behalf as a kinsman-redeemer it was going to have to be out of his sheer grace.
Boaz has already shown Ruth and Naomi the characteristic protection of the goel. Now, we have a foreshadowing of the rest of the story. Will he graciously act as their redeemer as well? Was Boaz simply concerned with the law’s obligations? Or had he been so touched by the Lord’s covenant faithfulness to him that it would overflow to the lives of Ruth and Naomi?
Ruth was able to share the abundance she received with Naomi because Boaz took notice of her. The text does not indicate that Boaz had romantic intentions. No, Boaz was different than his culture. Remember, this was during the time of the Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Boaz stands out as someone who was faithful to the commands of the Lord.
Not only did he honor the gleaning laws, doing what was right in God’s eyes, but he was generous to this foreign outsider. Ruth came to the field of Boaz as an outsider. She came as a foreigner. In addition, she came with nothing to offer. She came empty. And surprisingly, she received great compassion.
Why was Boaz so generous to a foreigner? Boaz was generous because he knew a generous God. At the end of the book of Ruth we learn that Boaz’s father was Salmon, but we learn about his mother in the genealogy of Matthew. In Matthew 1:5 we read that Salmon was “the father of Boaz by Rahab.” His mother was also a foreigner. He would have grown up hearing his mother’s story. He knew about how she was brought into the covenant community. You know the story well.
Rahab lived in the city of Jericho which was surrounded by a great wall. This city would become the first city Joshua captured. It was miraculously captured, it was captured in such a way that no one but God would receive the glory. Just prior to the fall of Jericho, a couple of spies were sent into the city. When they were discovered a certain woman, Rahab, took them into her home and protected them. She covered for them and because of her faith in God (Heb. 11:31) and the mercy she showed to the spies, she was protected during the attack.
Boaz was treating Ruth with the same kindness that God had shown to his mother. In fact, I think it goes deeper than that, God himself was showing kindness to Ruth, and he was doing so through the hands of Boaz. Much like God had enveloped Boaz’s mother into the covenant community, God was now showing that same hesed (loving kindness) to Ruth.
The last phrase of the passage, “she lived with her mother-in-law,” points to the remaining need that Ruth had. When she followed Naomi back to Israel, she was giving up the possibility of ever having another husband. She was giving up the possibility of ever having a child. She might have never had the opportunity to be a mother.
Remember Naomi’s statement in 1:8-9? Naomi prays that the Lord would show hesed to her daughters-in-law, providing them with husbands. Now, as they are beginning to receive hesed through the care of Boaz, the reader recalls Naomi’s prayer and wonders at the possibilities.
The fact that she is living with her mother-in-law may seem to state the obvious, but it serves as a reminder from the narrator that there are still some things waiting for restoration.
As a kinsman-redeemer Boaz beautifully foreshadows the Redeemer of God’s elect.Boaz represents the sacrificial love of the Lord Jesus Christ. As our redeemer Christ paid the cost of his life. He was under NO obligation to descend from Heaven, live a perfect life, and die an undeserved death upon the cross in our place. He endured the wages of our sin, so that us foreigners might be received into the covenant community. And by the imputation of his life and death on our behalf, we become joint heirs of the covenant promises of God. Because of Christ, we become fellow citizens in the kingdom of God.
We don’t stand in amazement at the example of Boaz. We are moved to worship God because of who Boaz foreshadowed. We glorify God because of the gospel of his Son Jesus Christ.
Regardless of your circumstances this morning, that is cause for rejoicing.