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Study of the Book of Ruth – Part 2
God Behind the Seen
Bruce A. Hess
I invite you now to take out the Word of God and turn in it, in the Old Testament, to the Book of Ruth, Ruth, chapter number 2. We’re involved in a study of the Book of Ruth that we’ve entitled, “God Behind the Seen.” Bible Teacher, Tommy Vinson, has suggested that when you come to chapter 2 a title that we could use for chapter 2 would be, “What a Difference a Day Makes.”
That has been true in many people’s lives. For example, the life of Moses in Exodus, chapter 3. He is eighty years old, and he is shepherding sheep in a remote area of the wilderness and the Lord speaks to Moses out of a burning bush and commissions him to be the lead deliverer of the nation of Israel from their slavery to Egypt. When you see that, think about that, what a difference a day makes, right?
We see it also in 1 Samuel, chapter 17. We see a young David there; he is a young shepherd boy. As these events transpire, some of his brothers are off fighting the Philistines in the area. And his dad says to young David, Hey I want you to take some lunch to your brothers. He goes to deliver the lunch and a series of events happen and he ends up killing the lead guy of the Philistines, a guy by the name of Goliath, with a rock and a sling. Immediately, this young shepherd boy becomes a hero to the whole nation. I mean, what a difference a day makes.
The same thing could be true in my life. It’s my freshman year, January 1970, I am in room 1029 of Abel Hall at the University of Nebraska when a man—who was a little bit pudgy and nearing forty years old—knocks on my dorm room door. After some conversation, he says to me, I want to disciple you. And I am a baby Christian, a baby Christian who swore he would never be a pastor. The ultimate result of that day is that–here I am, now pastoring for forty-three years and so I would say, yeah, what a difference a day makes.
This same thing is going to be true in Ruth, chapter 2. In Ruth, chapter 2 we have two widows who arrive in Bethlehem. One you will remember is Naomi and she is an older widow. She has also lost her two adult sons. She comes to Bethlehem confused and bewildered, and yes, embittered, feeling like she had been abandoned by Yahweh God.
Then, the other widow of course is Ruth, who is a young widow from the land of Moab. Moab was an enemy of Israel and because she was from a foreign place and now, she is in Israel, it is very likely that she was going to experience ethnic discrimination, yet she was committed to follow Yahweh God and to serve her mother-in-law.
Then, we come to chapter 2 of the book of Ruth and what a difference a day makes. Another title we could give to chapter 2 is this, The God Who Works in the Ordinary. Sometimes we think of God just working only in a spectacular way, but God also works in the ordinary.
Now, we shared last time a little perspective to ponder and that is this: mystery in His plan does not mean there is no purpose in His plan. If you missed the first message in this series, I would encourage you to go back and make sure you capture that, because that did a great job of setting up the book and explaining chapter one.
So, we shared last time an outline of the book of Ruth, and I just simply want you to focus on chapter number 2, because in chapter 2 we see providence and grace. We see it occurring in a field. It occurs, the events, over a period of weeks. Then, we also see in chapter number 2, Ruth’s devotion and for the first time we see Naomi encouraged.
When you come to chapter 2, there are multiple ways that chapter 2 can be outlined. I would like to share with you a Hebrew outline of chapter 2. It is called a chiastic outline. A chiasm means that you are alternating. For example, you would have A, B, B and then back to A. That is the type of outline that we see in chapter 2.
It begins with this Prologue in verse 1.
Then, it moves to Ruth and Naomi in verses 2 and 3.
Then, it moves to Boaz and his staff in verses 4-7.
Then, in the middle of all of that we have Boaz and Ruth in verses 8-14.
Then, we double back to Boaz and his staff in verses 15 and 16.
Then, we double back to Ruth and Naomi in verses 17-22.
Then, we return not just from a prologue, but now we have an Epilogue in verse 23.
So, that is one way to outline chapter 2 of the book of Ruth. One of the things that is really intriguing about the book of Ruth—I don’t know if you’ve noticed this or not—but 56 of the 85 verses of this book are dialogue between people. It is very unusual in that regard.
What we want to do now is, we want to move to the Prologue there that we see in verse 1. Notice it says, “Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.” Really what the author of Ruth is trying to do is, he is giving us a hint here of what is to come. He is saying, be alert a little bit. There was this person who was a kinsman; he was from the same clan as Naomi’s husband, Elimelech. Now, that is going to have significance when it comes to the laws of Israel as we get into the book a little bit later.
But he is described there in verse 1, in the New American Standard, as a man of great wealth. The ESV translates it, “He is a worthy man.” The NET Bible adds the word “prominent” to that. The New Living Translation adds the word “influential” to that. The NIV translates it, “He was a man of standing.” You say, why all these various descriptives? Well, the term that is used to describe him can mean all those things. It can mean someone who has great wealth, who is worthy, who is prominent, who is influential, who is a man of standing. We could add to that also—it could be translated—a man of moral excellence.
So, there is this individual and the one who wrote the book of Ruth takes special note of this guy, whose name was Boaz. The name Boaz means ‘strength.’ It is a relatively rare name. It is interesting that in 1 Kings, chapter 7, and verse 21, when a guy by the name of Hiram of Tyre is hired to build Solomon’s temple, and in that temple, there were two main columns. And he gave names to those two columns and one of the names was Boaz. Strength…there would be strength that would hold up the structure of Solomon’s temple. Really, what the author is saying to us, it is a little bit of a hint ahead of time, is keep an eye on this guy, keep an eye on this guy.
Which then leads us to Ruth and Naomi in verses 2 and 3. What happens, we’re not going to read every verse, but what happens in verse 2 is, Ruth makes a proposal to Naomi. She says to Naomi, “Let me go and glean grain in the fields.”
Now, there are three things I want us to notice here. The first one that we need to notice is she is described as Ruth the Moabite or Ruth the Moabitess. Remember we talked about this last time. It was a derogatory term ultimately. It would be like saying in our day, maybe ‘Ruth the Russian.’ The reason why this term is used, it’s a reminder that there is an atmosphere in Israel for someone who is from Moab to be ripe to experience ethnic tension. Think about Ruth, she has come here, she has never been here before. She has no food; she has no friends. Humanly, she has no future at all.
The second thing I want you to note from verses 2 and 3 is we can learn that Naomi has taught Ruth God’s Word. She had taught Ruth about the Lord’s laws related to gleaning. What do we mean when we say ‘gleaning?’ Well, here is the way it would work—these are parts of the law of the Lord. As one would begin to harvest grain, the instruction was to not harvest the corners of the field, to not harvest the far edges of the field. The idea was to allow the poor people to pick the leftovers of the harvest. So, gleaning meant that you were going to get grain from the corners of the field, and you would get grain from grain that had been dropped as part of the harvest. This was a type of food bank that the Lord had designed.
We see in several places, for example in Leviticus 23:22, it says that you are to do this, as those who are farmers and agricultural heads, and it should be allowed that an alien, or an outsider, or someone who was poor, or someone who was needy could glean the field.
In Deuteronomy 24:19 it says that if someone was an orphan or was a widow you were to allow them to glean the field. Again, this is part of the care and concern from the heart of God for those who struggle.
What is interesting about Ruth is, she was a triple qualifier. She was an alien; she was poor; and she was a widow.
The third thing I want us to notice from verses 2 and 3 is that Ruth takes initiative here and she is industrious. Gleaning was hard work. What is interesting to me is, given all of Ruth’s circumstances, she does not go passive. She doesn’t sit around idly; she doesn’t wallow in her circumstances. She says to Naomi, let me go out and work and get some food.
It reminds me very much of what Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 3, and verse 10, where he says, “If anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat either.” A little different approach than sometimes what we see in our day-to-day world.
Let me read verse 3 for you. It says, “So she departed (Ruth did) and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and (then it says) she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.” It is important to understand that things were a little different with farms in that time. There were no extensive fences around everybody’s farms with signs – “This is the Hess field”; “This is the Robinson field.” You didn’t have that.
So, it says that she happened to come to the field of Boaz. Now, the writer writes that with a wink in his eye. She just happened to come to the field of Boaz. No, it is God’s providence that leads her to the field of Boaz. Remember, Providence is God’s purposeful acts in governing the world in accordance with His eternal plan and for His ultimate honor and glory. She was led by the providence of God to the field of Boaz.
Which then leads us to the section on Boaz and his staff. Now, remember, Boaz is a man of moral excellence; he is a man of influence; he is a prominent businessman. What we get in the next few verses is some insight into his spiritual heart. Look with me, if you would, at verse 4. It says, “Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, ‘May the LORD be with you.’” May Yahweh God, the God of relationship, be with you. “Then they replied back to him (their boss), ‘May the LORD bless you.’” It is interesting to me that Boaz brings his faith to work. His walk with the living God, with Yahweh God, was an everyday thing for him.
As the story unfolds, we’re going to see that Boaz was carefully following the principles of the Law of the Lord. Remember, this was the era of the judges, where everyone did what was right in their own eyes. That means despite what God’s Word may have said about allowing the poor to glean in the fields, many ignored that, many discouraged that. But, as we are going to see, it is almost as if Boaz had a sign out – ‘Gleaners Welcome,’ gleaners welcome here.
Now, I want you to look at verse 5, “Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi.” See the word had already gotten out, “from the land of Moab.” He goes on to say, “She said to us, “Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.” Thus, she came and has remained (working in the field) from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house (basically taking a break) for just a little while.” Now, that tells us something about Ruth. Ruth asked for permission to glean in the field. That was not required, but it is a great mark of humility.
So, what happens is Boaz shows up right in the middle of the harvest and he notices there is somebody out there I don’t recognize, because again, he would be aware of who the normal poor people would be, the normal people struggling who would glean.
There are a few commentators who come along, and I think they conclude incorrectly that really what is happening here is Boaz is sort of ‘checking out’ [to look for or seek someone you find attractive] the gals in the fields. You know, he is sort of looking for the newest hot babe that might show up on the scene. I don’t think that is what was happening here at all. In fact, as we work our way through this, I think there is no way that had anything to do with what was going on at this point.
Which then leads us to looking at, notice how we’re working our way down to Boaz and Ruth, in verses 8-14. What we see in these verses is Boaz’s kindness to Ruth. Down in verse 8 he says to her, ‘don’t switch fields. I don’t want you to go off to another field to glean, I want you to stay here in my fields and glean. Now, why does he say that? It is because he knew some of the other landowners. He knew how unscrupulous some of them were. He knew it could be unsafe for a single woman to be out there gleaning, it could even be outright dangerous to her. So, he says ‘don’t switch fields.’
Then, he goes on to say, he shares this with her, he says, “I have commanded my servants not to touch you.” Now, again, she is young, she is female, and she is a foreigner. And Boaz knew it was very likely that if she was in certain fields and maybe even in his field, it would be likely that she might receive racial insults, religious insults—remember the god of Moab was Chemosh. And even worse than racial and religious insults, she could possibly be exposed to sexual attack. So, he tells her that he told his people, don’t touch her. One other reason why I think he said that—and most of us don’t know this—but it was very common at harvest time for the local prostitutes to come out. I mean, the men working the fields would have extra money and so there was some anticipation that the prostitutes might show up. So, he says, regarding Ruth, don’t touch her, don’t touch her.
Then you come to verse 10. Notice how Ruth reacts, “She fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to Boaz, “Why have I found favor in your sight?” You know, I’ve been reading this a number of times and when I come to that question, why have I found favor in your sight, it chokes me up a little bit, because that is a question I often have for the Lord Jesus. Why have I found favor in Your sight? I mean, Ruth is a Moabitess, I am a sinner. That is often a thought I have when I really think about God’s love and grace, why have I found favor in Your sight?
In Romans, chapter 5, verse 8, “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” That doesn’t even make sense to me. Why have I found favor in Your sight? Why did You do that for me?
1 Corinthians, chapter 4, verse 7, you’ve heard me share this verse many times, where Paul asks, “What do you have that you did not receive?” And the answer to that is absolutely nothing! Everything you have in your life, or I have in my life is something we have received. Whether it is our intelligence, our personality, the blessings we have, the opportunities we’ve had, they are all gifts from the hand of God. Why have I found favor in Your sight?
Isaac Watts, in the 1700’s, when he wrote the song, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, part of the verse goes, Love so amazing, so divine demands my soul, my life, my all. So, when I read her saying those words, I think of me saying those words to my Savior, why have I found favor in Your sight?
See, here is what is interesting, when you get a true view of His love and grace, it takes your breath away. It takes your breath away!! And she is experiencing that very same kind of thing.
Then, if you will look to verses 11 and 12, notice verse 11, Boaz says, your reputation precedes you. “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth and came to a people that you did not previously know.” He says, your reputation precedes you now that I realize who you are. By the way, our reputation preceding us, that is what it usually does. That is why we need to be careful about our reputation. He is basically saying to Ruth, I am fully aware of your choices; I am aware of the character that you have shown; I am aware of your committed care to Naomi; and I am aware of your commitment to the Lord. She had trusted in Yahweh God and taken refuge under His wings.
Makes me think of Psalm 57:1 (ESV). This is really what Ruth had done, she had ultimately said to God, “Be merciful to me, Oh God, be merciful to me, for in You my soul takes refuge.” What a beautiful picture, “In the shadow of Your wings (the protection of Your wings) I will take refuge until the storms of destruction pass by.” See, Boaz was a man of character and as a man of character he values character in other people.
So, in verse 13 Ruth is touched with his kindness and then in verse 14 Boaz says to her, Hey it’s midday, join us for lunch. Then, a couple of things stand out there. First of all, here you have this very prominent, very wealthy guy who has lunch with his workers. Think about that. He doesn’t say, I’m going to have a steak sandwich over here while the workers are having beans over here. He is sitting down with his workers and having lunch.
The second thing that stands out from these verses to me is that Boaz himself serves Ruth lunch, the cooked grain that they had made for lunch, he serves her. Which indicates several things to me. First of all, you got servant leadership going on here with Boaz. Secondly, he is communicating to Ruth what? He is communicating to Ruth compassion for her situation, and he is communicating to her acceptance.
That leads us to, having looked at Boaz and Ruth, we want to look at Boaz and the staff in verses 15-16. Notice in verse 15, he says again to his servants, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her.” I want no shaming; I want no disparaging remarks. This may be the very first anti-sexual harassment policy in human history. You know, Boaz has a mindset to protect women, not prey on women.
I don’t know if you are like this, but when I’m reading through Scripture like this, I like to go, hold on, time out for a minute. Why is Boaz like that? Why is Boaz like that? I think there are several reasons why. One is that he truly knew and he walked with the Lord. Because he truly knew the Lord and he walked with the Lord, that is a big part of why he lived the way that he lived.
A second reason why I think that Boaz was like that is that he was really a truly humble man who lived out his faith and walked with the Lord in a very open way.
Why is Boaz like that? Well, I think there is a third reason why Boaz is like that. That is, his mom. You go, well, who is Boaz’s mom? Well, his mom was a lady by the name of Rahab. You might remember Rahab. She was a pagan Canaanite prostitute from the city of Jericho. You go to Joshua, chapter number 2, and Joshua sends two spies into Jericho before they are going to attack Jericho and what she does is, she chooses—this prostitute, Canaanite prostitute—to hide the two spies.
In the process of all of that, she becomes a follower of Yahweh God. In fact, when you go to Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 31, she is in the Hall of Fame of faith. So, she protects the spies, she comes to know the Lord and in Joshua, chapter 6, and verse 23, we learn that she and her extended family are rescued by Joshua’s order. Joshua was thinking, when we are going to destroy the city, I want you to go in and get Rahab and her extended family and take them out.
Then, in Joshua 6, verse 25, the last we really hear of her, it says that “She has lived in the midst of Israel to this day.”
You know, if you end it right there in Joshua 6, you are thinking, what’s the rest of the story? What happened to Rahab when she came to live in Israel? You know what I think happened? She was very likely labeled ‘Rahab the Canaanite prostitute,’ that’s the way they talked about her. She was a female foreigner. No doubt when she came to live in Israel she was on the receiving end of insults and scorn. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe even an assault that happened to her. Some likely thought, I mean she’s a prostitute, despite what she claims about knowing the Lord.
What happens to her? Well, in Matthew, chapter 1, verse 5, we learn she met an Israelite by the name of Salmon (S-a-l-m-o-n). They got married and they had a son whose name was Boaz. I can only assume that Rahab shared with her son her story. She shared about the reproach, the ridicule, the rejection, the ostracizing that she had to overcome. And I would assume that she said to her son, Boaz, I want you to be alert. I want you to be a true man of the Lord. I want you to be different than many of these other men in Israel and I want you to honor the Lord at all times.
I have no doubt that Rahab went through rough times. You know, she trusts in the Lord, she ends up in Israel, but not treated so well when she is there. No doubt Rahab had questions, Why Lord have you led me here? I mean, why am I here, why am I going through these things? No doubt she was confused; no doubt she was tempted to be embittered; no doubt she experienced an emotional famine like Naomi also did. But God in His providence uses what happened to Rahab as part of His plan.
You remember when we recently did a series on being Divinely Designed to Serve and we talked about how God’s plan is to shape us for ministry? An acronym, the S stood for Spiritual Gifts, the H for Heart Passion, the A for Abilities, the P for Personality, and the E was our Experiences. God will use our experiences, even our painful ones, to shape us to minister to other people. God never wastes anything; God utilizes everything in our life. In that series we often said, there is purpose in your past. I think the same thing was true of Rahab.
Now, that then leads us back to Ruth and Naomi, in verses 17-22. We learn in verse 17 that she gleaned until evening, she gleaned until dark, and she was able to collect an ephah of barley. You say, well, what is an ephah? Well, it was about 2/3 of a bushel. They tell me that would weigh about thirty to forty pounds. Now, most gleaners in a day would collect one to two pounds. Remember, if you go back in the story, one of the things that Boaz had told his men was to drop some extra out there in the field for Ruth to pick up. An ephah of barley was about a half of a month’s wages. One person’s estimate was that an ephah of barley would feed fifty soldiers for one day. What would it mean to two poor widows?
I want you to think about this—Ruth’s off, all this is happening, what’s going on with Naomi? There are no cell phones, you can’t text back and forth. You have to wonder what she was thinking. She had to be thinking, is Ruth okay? I mean, this is a brand-new town for her, could she have gotten lost? Has she been mistreated? Even worse, could she have been attacked out there? In verse 19, Ruth comes back with all this barley grain, and Naomi is so encouraged to see her, and she says, where were you and who helped you out? She gives a prayer in verse 19, she says, “May he who took notice of you be blessed.” Then, Ruth says, well, the guy’s name is Boaz. Then, in verse 20 there is a second prayer that Naomi gives, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” May Boaz be blessed by Yahweh God. And Naomi is encouraged that the Lord hadn’t forgotten about their situation with the death of three men. Then she adds, by the way, he is one of our close relatives, which we are going to see a little bit more about as we move on in the book.
Then Ruth, in verse 21 says, Well, he said I could stay there until the end of the harvest. And Naomi says, that is a great idea. It is a lot better than going out there and getting in a random field and maybe getting attacked.
Which leads us then to the Epilogue in verse 23. We learn there that Ruth worked in Boaz’s field to the end of the barley harvest and also to the end of the wheat harvest, which would be multiple weeks. Yes, we would say, what a difference a day makes.
Now, I want to just draw it all together here and talk about two Life Lessons. There are many we could do; I want to talk about two life lessons. The first life lesson is this, God is willing for any to come to Him. Matthew 11, verse 28, “Come to Me, all who are weary and carry heavy burdens and I will give you rest.”
Men and women, it makes no difference whether we are a great sinner; whether we are a prideful religious person; whether we are a raw pagan; whether we are a radical Islamist, Jesus loved you enough to die in your place and pay the penalty for your sins. And He invites us, He invites us, to find spiritual rest under His wings. If you’ve never done that, I would encourage you to do that. When you do, you also can marvel and ask the question, why have I found favor in Your sight?
The second life lesson is God’s goodness hasn’t forgotten you. Some of you may be feeling that it has. I like this thought: Providence is more easily recognized in the rearview mirror. I mean, often when we are going through life, we can’t see where He is leading, but He has a plan, and He is there, and blessing may be no more than a day away.
I love what Antoinette Wilson wrote. This is incredible stuff. She wrote this, Are you standing at “Wit’s End Corner?” That means you are at your wit’s end [completely at the end of yourself with no sense of what to do] because of what is happening.
Are you standing at “Wit’s End Corner,”
Christian, with troubled brow?
Are you thinking of what is before you,
And all you are bearing now?
Does all the world seem against you,
And you in the battle alone?
Remember – at “Wit’s End Corner”
Is just where God’s power is shown.
Are you standing at “Wit’s End Corner,”
Blinded with wearying pain?
Feeling you cannot endure it,
You cannot bear the strain,
Bruised through the constant buffeting,
Dizzy, and dazed, and numb?
Remember – at “Wit’s End Corner”
Is where Jesus loves to come.
Then, she goes on to write this,
Are you standing at “Wit’s End Corner”?
Then you’re just in the very spot
To learn the wondrous resources
Of Him who faileth not.
No doubt to a brighter pathway
Your footsteps will soon be moved.
But only at “Wit’s End Corner”
Is the “God who is able” proved.
Wow! That is some great perspective, and I would conclude with these words.
That God is at work IN us (Philippians 2:13)
God is at work WITH us (Mark 16:20)
God is at work FOR us (Romans 8:28)
Bow with me in prayer if you would. Father, we thank You again for the Book of Ruth. We thank You for how magical this book is. We pray You would help us to really be men and women who understand Your providence and how it is at work. Lord, for all of us, in a fresh way, maybe You would just simply encourage us to have that response that Ruth had, why have I found favor in Your sight, Lord? Why have You done that? Why have You given me Your grace, Your mercy, Your love? We thank You for who You are, we thank You for all that we are learning, and we thank You in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Questions for Reflection
God Behind the Seen
Ruth chapter two
1. Think back—can you remember a time in your life where you felt like you were at “Wit’s End Corner?” [when you were truly at your “wits end”] Share some.
How did God give you grace and lead you through it?
2. Bruce suggested one subtitle of the chapter could be, What a Difference a Day Makes. How you ever experienced a “big turn-around” from one day to the next? Elaborate.
3. Another potential title for chapter 2 could be, The God Who Works in the Ordinary. What are some possible ways in our ordinary day where God can be at work? (for example, discussing with your kids what they learned in Sunday school, volunteering at school or at Wildwood, finding ways to get to know your neighbors). Make a list. Pray that God would inhabit those ordinary events.
4. Who might be a Naomi in your life (one who is facing difficult circumstances that could cause one to despair and grow bitter), or one who is a Ruth (unconnected and disadvantaged in life)? Brainstorm and pray about ways God could use you to express compassion and acceptance to them.
5. Boaz was in essence saying to Ruth, your reputation precedes you (which it usually does for all of us). In a humble way, what reputation issues in your life might the Holy Spirit be poking/convicting you about right now? Be transparent.
6. When is the last time you had the thought before the Lord: Why have I found favor in your sight? If it’s been a while, take some time to thank Him again for His mercy, grace, and faithfulness to you.
7. The story of Rahab clearly demonstrates that God can use even our painful experiences to shape us for ministry to others—He never wastes anything. Thank Him that there is purpose in your past even if you don’t fully understand yet what that means.
Never forget that God is at work IN us (Philip. 2:13), at work WITH us (Mark 16:20), and at work FOR us (Romans 8:28)