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Ruth

Character In Action

Ruth 2

One of the reasons this story is so beloved is that it shows character in action. There are no villains in this piece; only troubles. So let us see how character deals with those troubles.

(Ruth 2 NIV) Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz. {2} And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor." Naomi said to her, "Go ahead, my daughter." {3} So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech. {4} Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, "The LORD be with you!" "The LORD bless you!" they called back. {5} Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, "Whose young woman is that?" {6} The foreman replied, "She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. {7} She said, 'Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.' She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter." {8} So Boaz said to Ruth, "My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. {9} Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled." {10} At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, "Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me--a foreigner?" {11} Boaz replied, "I've been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband--how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. {12} May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." {13} "May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord," she said. "You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant--though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls." {14} At mealtime Boaz said to her, "Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar." When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. {15} As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, "Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don't embarrass her. {16} Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don't rebuke her." {17} So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. {18} She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough. {19} Her mother-in-law asked her, "Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!" Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. "The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz," she said. {20} "The LORD bless him!" Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. "He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead." She added, "That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers." {21} Then Ruth the Moabitess said, "He even said to me, 'Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.'" {22} Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, "It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else's field you might be harmed." {23} So Ruth stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.

The character of Ruth

The Targums of the Jews say that Ruth was the daughter of the king of Eglon. This is unconfirmed by the Scripture, but if it was true, then you can imagine what a fall it is to go from the daughter of a king to someone who is gleaning grain in the fields. Character is developed in hardship; it is also seen in hardship.

Humility

Just because you’re in poor circumstances doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve learned the lesson of humility. The proud poor are often with us. But notice the signs of humility in Ruth:

  • She’s the one that makes the suggestion that she should glean the grain. She doesn’t wait for Naomi to tell her to do it; she accepts it and does not let pride get in the way of necessity.
  • Note that she asks permission to glean in the field.[1] By the Old Testament Law, the owner of the field was to allow such. That doesn’t mean she had the “right” to glean; it just meant he was commanded by God to allow it. How many of us go before God telling him what we are entitled to. We have missed the meaning of his grace by demanding our “rights.”
  • We can see this again in her reaction to Boaz, as she bows and asks him why she is so favored. This is the humility which comes of setting your expectations correctly. It is a model for us in our dealing with God; we need to know we are not worthy; we are loved.
  • But there is one thing we can give to God, as Ruth does here: honest gratitude.
Industry

There is no substitute known for hard work.

  • Note that she gleans as long as there is light. How many of us are good at beginning, but tire during the work!
  • You never know who notices these things. With what did the foreman commend her to Boaz? She’d been at it all day with only one short break. We, as Christians, never know who is looking and drawing conclusions.
Her care for Naomi

Scripture says very little about care for your family, for the simple reason that it is assumed that any idiot would know that this is a serious duty. You can tell from the way Naomi counsels and blesses Ruth just how well Ruth did this.

  • Naomi shows the proper concern that a mother would – instructing her that it is both polite and safer to stay in the fields of Boaz. Ruth has no words of reproach for the fact that Naomi is not gleaning (probably due to age).
  • Note how Ruth shares out the grain with Naomi. There is a sense of love in this; we may have little to share, but share it we should.

The character of Boaz

There are many men who are pious and good fellows on Sunday. If you want to know what they are really like, check on Monday morning at work.

His relationship with his workers

Boaz is rich. He is a prominent man in the community. It is instructive to see how such a man does not carry himself with arrogance, but with the easy grace – it is humility in the rich – of a man who accepts all things as a steward, not with greed.

  • He greets his workers in the Lord; they reply in kind. The basis of his relationship with them is not master/servant. It is that of a man of God who has been placed in the position of being rich by God. Therefore, he blesses and is blessed in that name. How many of us can say the same?
  • Note his foreman’s diligence. He already knows all about Ruth; he has already given permission for her to glean. This shows he knows his master’s mind, and acts accordingly. It’s a great example for us; know your Master’s mind – and act accordingly.
  • Boaz has come to inspect the work. For those who are in positions of responsibility in the church, here is a lesson. Check and make sure that things are going well; then set the example for your workers.
  • It is a little thing, perhaps – but there is a tent to provide shade from the sun as the workers take a break. This man provides for the comfort of his servants. For those in authority, here is another example. Does our Lord meet our every need? Then what should we do for those under us?

Boaz is a model of the servant-leader; an example of what such a man should be.

His care for strangers

One of the great tests of the faith is this: how do you treat those who cannot possibly repay the favor?

  • Boaz – and we can tell from his foreman he does this consistently – obeys the commandments of God, particularly in the matter of gleaning.[2] Obedience is the foundation of faith.
  • Note the detail of his care; he has her stay with his servant girls – lest there be any impropriety towards her, an alien in Israel.
  • He tells his servants to be generous in this to her. He could have let her glean just by the Law; he could have given her the grain outright. Instead, he spares her harm and especially embarrassment.
  • He treats her like the gracious host he is; in essence, he feeds her lunch. (My father taught me that no one was to leave our house hungry; it would be disgraceful. Disgraceful = dis (not) + ful (full) + grace)
  • As Naomi says, this is kindness to the living (the two of them) and the dead (meaning her late husband.) If there is ever a favor which must be rewarded by the Lord, it is a favor to the dead. It is a measure of a man that he does kindness to those who absolutely cannot repay him.
A man who honors righteousness

When Boaz first meets Ruth, he praises her for what she has done for Naomi. It may seem a small point – after all, the two women have had plenty of nothing but troubles – but even the humblest may share. Boaz sees this, and honors it. This is a man who has trained his conscience to the things of God.

Lessons to be “gleaned”

There are a number of lessons here just itching to pop out of the text.

Gleaning

Harvesting is hard work. Gleaning is even more so. But it is a model of Christian behavior, if we see it correctly:[3]

  • Gleaning is done bit by bit. What an example of patience is this woman, Ruth. How many of us make the good beginning but falter over the long race; it should not be so.
  • Gleaning is done with eyes open. So often the Christian today assumes he can learn nothing about God and His will except in the church – when God is trying to teach him every day.
  • In gleaning, you stoop to succeed. It is a humbling experience; you must bend over to pick up every little bit. It is hard; it is also required.
  • In gleaning, what you gather you must hold on to. It is of no use to pick it up if you can’t keep it. So it is with us; how many of us need to be re-taught the same basic lessons simply because we won’t apply them the first time, and keep on applying them?
The providence of God

“As it turned out” – she wound up in the fields of Boaz. Did you think there are such things as accidents? You are watching the providence of God. See one other characteristic of God’s providence: it is more than sufficient. Ruth did not just “get by;” she came away with more than her daily need. So it is with those who will trust God.

Under his wings

One hates to give away such things like this; I do so wish I could charge you all for this and become fabulously wealthy. Alas, our Lord has arranged it so that you can read it for free in his marvelous Word! Here is the secret in this story:

(Ruth 2:12 NIV) May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."

How often in your difficulties have you gone to God and said, “Help me!” Yet he seems to do nothing for you, and your difficulties remain. Would you like to know why?

You go to God and you say, “God, help me. I’m too fat (or too poor, or hooked on pornography, or an alcoholic, or whatever). I need some help from you in this.” Sound familiar?

There are two kinds of “help.”

  • If I have to move a table, and I ask you to pick up the other end, that’s help. But it’s help between two equals. You and God are not equals.
  • There is also the cry for help of the one who has given up all thought of doing any part of it themselves. It is the cry of the victim for the police; it is the cry of the Christian for refuge under the wings of God.

Until you take refuge under the wings of God, you will not see his help. When you do, you will not see the end of it.


[1] The law in California prohibits gleaning. We have come a long way.

[2] Leviticus 19:9-10

[3] I am indebted to C. H. Spurgeon for this point.

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