Listen to audio version
Bible Passage: Ruth 2
The best days are the ones you didn’t expect to be great. Your expectations were low, but the day turned out much better than you expected. Have you ever had a day like that?
If we kept that attitude, we might realize that most days are far better than we deserve. We are only disappointed when we think we deserve better.
Last week, we started a brief study in the book of Ruth. Ruth was a young woman from Moab, probably in her mid to late 20s. Her husband was from Bethlehem. He travelled to Moab with his family during a famine. Ten years into their marriage with no children, Ruth’s husband died. Instead of staying in her home country, which was the sensible choice, she followed her mother-in-law (Naomi) back to Bethlehem.
At the end of chapter 1, Naomi and Ruth are in a tough situation. To help us understand why, I want to show you where these women were on the social ladder.
- Judge of Israel
- Tribal leader (Judah)
- Clan leader (Bethlehem)
- Clan sub-leader (Boaz was probably 3 or 4)
- Older father
- Father (Naomi’s dead husband, Elimelech)
- Eldest son
- Wife (Naomi)
- Male servant
- Female servant
- Female servant lower class
- Resident alien
- Male foreigner
- Female foreigner (Ruth)
This was the social ladder. Naomi was a widow with no children. Ruth was at the very bottom. This is critical to understanding the story. Now, let’s dive into chapter 2.
2:1 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.
“Worthy man” is gibbor hayil in Hebrew. It means Boaz was a man of character, wealth, and valor. He was probably also a great warrior. His name means “man of strength”.
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.”
Ruth decides to become the bread winner of the family. She becomes a common laborer to support them both.
And we should ask the question, why isn’t Naomi helping? She’s probably not that old… maybe 45. The text leads us to believe that maybe she is depressed, not that she is too old to work. And that makes Ruth’s sacrifice even more special. She volunteers without judgment.
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.
The writer wants us to know that Ruth had no idea who the field belonged to. Twice in Hebrew is says she “chanced” upon his field.
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.”
This is important because it tells us that Boaz worships the Lord. It also tells us something about his relationship with the servants. They bless one another. Boaz was a good boss – a good man in a time of wicked men. Remember, this was the period of the Judges.
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.”
I need to pause here and explain a few things.
“Gleaning” is something God had commanded his people to allow. Landowners were forbidden from harvesting their fields entirely. They were morally obligated to leave the corners and the edges for the poor. This was the grace of God, built upon the idea that everything belongs to Him anyway – not to us.
But in practice, it was often abused. There was fierce competition for these leftovers and the people doing it were looked down on. Think of a person digging through the trash outside a fast-food restaurant. No one wants to have to do that. No one wanted to be gleaning. And it was especially tough for women. Ruth put herself in a very high-risk situation.
But there’s another hidden nugget in the text. Ruth had made a very bold request. She broke the rules of her culture by asking to glean behind the reapers.
During a harvest, the men would go first with sickles and cut the sheaths of barley. The women would come next and gather the sheaths. The gleaners were supposed to wait until last. Ruth asked to go out with the other women!
Boaz could easily be upset by her actions. She broke the rules. But Boaz surprised everyone, even Ruth, with his response.
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?” 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.”
Boaz and Ruth were opposites. Boaz had no cultural or practical reason to be interested in Ruth. And actually, I don’t think he’s doing all this because he thinks Ruth is a marriage prospect. This is not the love story we think it is. Tribal leaders did not marry foreign women gleaning in their fields, especially not a woman with a reputation for being barren. It was no secret that Ruth had been married for ten years with no children.
I think Boaz was just a good man trying to honor a good woman. This was radical generosity. It would have shocked the field hands. He gave her a seat at the table. He brought her to a place she didn’t deserve to be. And Gospel alarm bells should be going off now. But let’s finish the story first.
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.
That’s about 29 pounds of grain. This is unbelievable. A typical male worker would only bring home a pound or two as wages from a day’s work. Ruth brought home at least 15 times that much in one day, as a gleaner! This is shocking generosity.
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.”
Circle that word “redeemer”. We will come back to it next week.
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.
Are you starting to see the fingerprints of God in this story? Do you think she ended up in that field by chance?
That’s the first of three major applications I want us to walk away with. God is providentially concerned with the care of His people. There are no coincidences in the kingdom of God. Nothing happens by chance. God’s works of providence are His most holy, wise, and powerful preserving and governing of all His creatures and all their actions.
To us, it may feel like we are stumbling into blessing or testing – but God knows exactly what He is doing. All things work together for good for those who love God. That’s an important note.
Second, we need to talk about this generosity.
The gleaning law was an important check on the hearts of the wealthy. How big is the corner of a field? How wide is an edge? What is my responsibility to the poor? The spirit of the law was that God’s people should feed the poor… that no one went hungry.
Don’t forget, the immediate need of Ruth and Naomi was hunger. They were literally hungry and had no reliable source of food. God met that need with His grace first. We see the same thing happening in Jesus’ ministry. How many times did Jesus meet the physical needs of people in order to get at their spiritual need? We saw it in the early church when we studied Acts – radical sharing of resources within the church. No one was hungry.
God was not finished blessing Ruth and Naomi, but first he resolved their hunger. This is an important reminder for us as a church. Very often, God calls us to meet the physical needs of our neighbors FIRST – so that we can communicate the spiritual need and meet it with the Gospel.
Finally, we need to talk about God’s love again.
This is as much about Naomi as it is Ruth and Boaz… Naomi sat at home all day; no doubt worried for Ruth. We know she was probably depressed. We know she’s having doubts about God’s faithfulness at the end of chapter 1. She thinks that God’s favor for her has run out.
And then Ruth comes home with literal heaps of favor. Naomi could never have expected this kind of grace. God blows her expectations out of the water.
And in verse 20, she uses that word again – “hesed”. That’s how she refers to God’s favor. Remember, last week we called it “love without an exit strategy.” But now we learn something else about God’s “hesed” love. It’s a one-way kind of love. It always involves two people, but only one of them can deliver.
Someone has a need but no power or ability to meet that need. Someone else has the power to meet that need in an unexpected way. It is a one-way choice to meet the need.
We see it in Ruth as she goes to work the fields alone to provide for Naomi. We see it in Boaz as he breaks the rules of his culture to protect Ruth. We see it in God’s provision for Naomi when she was full of doubts and discouragement. And ultimately, we see it in Christ Jesus.
God’s love for us in Christ is a one-way kind of love. He chooses to meet our spiritual need in Christ, forgiving our sin and providing righteousness, not because we are that good but because He is that good. One-way.
While we were yet sinners…
We love because He first loved us…
That’s the kind of love that humbles. It’s the kind of love that transforms. It gives hope to the hopeless. It gives us the power to forgive. It helps us love people who do a terrible job of loving us back, even our enemies.