Ruth 2 — THE Most Important Question of Life

[This sermon is from a series on Ruth taught at Community Covenant Church in Rehoboth MA where I currently have the privilege of serving as the Intentional Interim Pastor.]

The title for this sermon is THE Most Important Question of Life (this side of heaven) and we’ll be looking at Ruth 2. Why Ruth? The primary reason we are studying Ruth is that transition and change has become so common in our contemporary culture that we can become numb to it. You’ve probably heard the phrase, “The only thing you can really count on is change.” In addition to the transitions and changes each one of us, and our families are going through, we’re also experiencing transition and change as a church. And my challenge to us is to ask the question, “God, what do You want to teach me, to teach us, through the significant transitions of life?” Ruth is a narrative account of some pretty severe and significant transitions and we get to see how the main characters handle them. Here are 3-takeaway lessons from chapter 1:

  1. Even in the midst of dark, difficult, and chaotic times God still works on our behalf for His glory and our joy.
  2. Even when we’re disobedient it does not thwart the sovereignty and the ultimate purpose of God.
  3. There is a great benefit in being in community in the same way that Naomi and Ruth needed one another.

Today we will be introduced to the third main character: Boaz. So, we’ll be reading all of Ruth 2.  You might be asking are we going to be reading whole chapters every week?  This month, yes.  I would remind you of Paul’s exhortation to young Timothy in 1 Tim 4:13: “Until I get there, focus on reading the Scriptures to the church, encouraging the believers, and teaching them.”:

“Now there was a wealthy and influential man in Bethlehem named Boaz, who was a relative of Naomi’s husband, Elimelech.  One day Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go out into the harvest fields to pick up the stalks of grain left behind by anyone who is kind enough to let me do it.’  Naomi replied, ‘All right, my daughter, go ahead.’ So Ruth went out to gather grain behind the harvesters. And as it happened, she found herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz, the relative of her father-in-law, Elimelech.  While she was there, Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters. ‘The Lord be with you!’ he said.  ‘The Lord bless you!’ the harvesters replied.  Then Boaz asked his foreman, ‘Who is that young woman over there? Who does she belong to?’ [a poor translation, “who is” is better] And the foreman replied, ‘She is the young woman from Moab who came back with Naomi. She asked me this morning if she could gather grain behind the harvesters. She has been hard at work ever since, except for a few minutes’ rest in the shelter.’  Boaz went over and said to Ruth, ‘Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.’  10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ she asked. ‘I am only a foreigner.’  11 ‘Yes, I know,’ Boaz replied. ‘But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’  13 ‘I hope I continue to please you, sir,’ she replied. ‘You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.’  14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, ‘Come over here and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.’ So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some leftover.  15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, ‘Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!’  17 So Ruth gathered barley there all day, and when she beat out the grain that evening, it filled an entire basket.  18 She carried it back into town and showed it to her mother-in-law. Ruth also gave her the roasted grain that was leftover from her meal.  19 ‘Where did you gather all this grain today?’ Naomi asked. ‘Where did you work? May the Lord bless the one who helped you!’  So, Ruth told her mother-in-law about the man in whose field she had worked. She said, ‘The man I worked with today is named Boaz.’  20 ‘May the Lord bless him!’ Naomi told her daughter-in-law. ‘He is showing his kindness to us as well as to your dead husband.  That man is one of our closest relatives, one of our family redeemers.’  21 Then Ruth said, ‘What’s more, Boaz even told me to come back and stay with his harvesters until the entire harvest is completed.’  22 ‘Good!’ Naomi exclaimed. ‘Do as he said, my daughter. Stay with his young women right through the whole harvest. You might be harassed in other fields, but you’ll be safe with him.’  23 So Ruth worked alongside the women in Boaz’s fields and gathered grain with them until the end of the barley harvest. Then she continued working with them through the wheat harvest in early summer. And all the while she lived with her mother-in-law.”–Ruth 2:1-23

My wife, Linda, and I enjoy watching a few television shows together…We’ve enjoyed many of the British detective dramas because they are not nearly as violent or eerie as their American counterparts. One of the American crime shows that we have enjoyed is Bluebloods. When I was a kid watching a television drama there was generally only one plotline. As I got older, I began to notice TV dramas had two simultaneous plotlines that intersected at the end. A while back it occurred to me that Bluebloods usually has three simultaneous plotlines…And that’s is what we find here in the 2nd chapter of Ruth—3 overlapping plotlines. In this chapter we find:

  1. Boaz is introduced as the third main character (after Ruth and Naomi)
  2. The interaction of God’s grace and human responsibility
  3. The “Christ Connection” in Chapter 2

So, let’s look at them one at a time…Boaz is introduced as the third main character. Three things about Boaz…The first thing we learn about Boaz is that he is wealthy and influential (v.1). The second thing we learn is that he is a relative of both Naomi’s and Ruth’s deceased husbands.  This is where we really begin to see the clouds part and a ray of hope emerge—for two reasons…It turns out that Boaz is one of Naomi’s and Ruth’s kinsman-redeemers. A kinsman-redeemer is a male relative who had both the privilege and the responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, in danger, or in need of vindication. Naomi identifies Boaz, at the end of v. 20 as, one of our family redeemers.” And it’s interesting that Naomi hadn’t told Ruth about Boaz being a relative. It’s another indication of Naomi’s good theology and that she was trusting in the covenant God of Israel as her and Ruth’s ultimate provider. What we find, by God’s merciful providence, is that Boaz can buy back the family farm that Elimelech and Naomi gave-up to move to Moab. There’s a catch though. If there was a widow (like Ruth), the kinsman-redeemer would marry her in the hope that the family name could live on.

Another reason for a ray of hope to shine through is that in addition to being wealthy and influential, Boaz is a godly man. In v. 4 Boaz arrives at the field where Ruth is gleaning and greets his crew with God-focused greeting. If we wanted to know something about a businessman or woman’s relationship with God, we would not necessarily look at how they act on a Sunday but how they greet and treat their staff (or colleagues) on Mon morning. How far down has God penetrated into the details of their everyday life? I think that’s the reason the author adds that seeming bit of trivia. Another thing we need to know about Boaz is just a tiny bit controversial. There is some subtle flirting going on between Boaz and Ruth right from the get-go. As we consider this, it’s important to clarify that nowhere in the text does it state that Ruth was beautiful, or that Boaz was handsome. And furthermore, the text indicates that Boaz was older than Ruth. We know this because he addresses her as “daughter” in v.8. Ruth’s age is probably 25-30 and some theologians think Boaz was in his 40’s, or even his 50s.  (I have daughters so; I’m going to go with 40s :). Notice in v. 5 that as soon as Boaz arrives, he sees Ruth and asks about her. And then they almost instantly get into this intense and politely intimate conversation. And the reason I brought up that the text doesn’t say they were Ken and Barbie lookalikes is because what seems to be at the heart of Boaz’s attraction to Ruth is her kindness and generosity toward Naomi—and then, even more importantly, in v.12 Boaz acknowledges her conversion to the covenant God of Israel when he says, May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’ In v. 13 Ruth responds to Boaz saying, ‘You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.’ The literal translation of the word “kindly” is “heart.”  So, what Ruth is saying is: “You have consoled me by speaking directly to my heart.”  Boom, love is in the air.

In v.17, other translations say that Ruth gleaned about an ephah of barley that day. Do you know how much that is? It’s about 40-pounds of barley or enough to make about 70 loaves of bread. As we read in the text, Boaz made sure Ruth and Naomi would have plenty of barley to eat and to trade for the additional necessities of life.

God’s grace and human responsibility work hand in hand; they are not contradictory. We see this dynamic tension at play here in chapter 2 as we encounter the further unfolding of Ruth’s godliness and character. Last week I introduced the Hebrew word hesed, which has no English equivalent but describes the longsuffering, pursuant, extravagant, unrestrained, covenant love of God. Here in chapter 2, we see Ruth pursuing God’s grace, or favor.  The Hebrew word is chên and it’s used 3-times in this chapter.  I find it a bit more clear in the NASB:

  1. V 2: Let me go and find favor
  2. V 10: Why have I found favor?
  3. V 13: May I continue to find favor

From the beginning of her life with God, we see Ruth demonstrating a consistent life of humility and surrender, which are the markers of true conversion. Yet, at the same time, Ruth demonstrates a proactive resourcefulness. I see in Ruth both humility and assertiveness.  She is both realistic and hopeful. It’s amazing maturity—whether we’re talking about a new convert or a twentysomething. I would see Ruth as one of those people who starts out as the receptionist and eventually becomes CEO of the company. You may find it interesting that in the Hebrew Scripture the book of Ruth comes directly after Proverbs, where many of us will remember that the last 21 verses are a description of the virtuous woman. It’s assumed that Solomon had Ruth in mind when he wrote Pro 31. We saw this humble assertiveness and realistic hopefulness in chapter 1 and we see it even more profoundly here in chapter 2—and we will see it blossom fully next week in chapter 3.

The “Christ Connection” in Chapter 2…This is where we ask of the text, how does this chapter point us to the person and the work of Jesus Christ? (Lk 24: 27) This is a pretty easy call now that Boaz is on the scene. I hope you can see that Jesus Christ is the better Boaz who leaves the comfort, majesty, and perfection of heaven to become our Kinsman-Redeemer that He might redeem us from our sin.

As we begin to land the plane—and having established that Jesus is our Kinsman-Redeemer and Boaz “may be” Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, I want to take you into the conversation between Boaz and Ruth in vs. 10-12:

Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ she asked. ‘I am only a foreigner.’ 11 ‘Yes, I know,’ Boaz replied. ‘But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’

What we see here is Ruth absolutely humbled by the kindness and generosity of Boaz. And we see Boaz complementing Ruth on the kindness and generosity she has shown to Naomi.  But what is also happening, at a deeper level, is that Boaz is acknowledging Ruth’s conversion to the covenant God of Israel. Look at v. 12 again:

May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.’

The OT is full of references to God’s people taking refuge under the wings of God. Here’s one:

“For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.” –Psalm 63:7

With that in mind here is the big idea for today:

We are awakened to the unfathomable riches God’s grace as we take refuge under His wings.

I would like to suggest to you that Ruth’s question to her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, ‘What have I done to deserve such kindness?’ is THE most important question of our lives. Have you ever been so enraptured with the beauty, the grace, the majesty, the wonder of God that you, maybe tearfully or joyfully, or both, asked God, “Why me, what have I done to deserve the kindness of Your salvation?” And the answer, of course, is nothing. We have done nothing to deserve the kindness of God’s salvation. When you were at your very worst Jesus Christ died for you.  When you were shaking your fist and cursing God, He pursued you with hesed and loved you with kindness, mercy, and saving grace.

If you haven’t asked the question, “Why me?” you might not be a Christian…

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