Ruth, Part 6
Well, we’re continuing with our incredible love story between Ruth and Boaz, found, not surprisingly, in the book of Ruth. We’ve discovered along the way that this love story pictures so well the love story between God and us. And that portrait continues today.
One of the words we hear in terms of what happens when a person becomes a Christian is “redemption.” Christians are often referred to as “the redeemed.” Familiarity, however, can lead to contempt, and we’re not actually sure sometimes what the word implies. But through the events in Ruth today, we’re going to learn what redemption is all about.
Redemption in the Old and New Testament comes from a word meaning exchange or trade. Think of a marketplace. You see something you like and something you want. You deem that thing worthy of possessing. The merchant will want to know what you are wiling to exchange for that thing. And if you and he can agree on the price, the exchange is made, and you get that thing you deemed worthy of having. In doing so, you just redeemed that item.
The point is that our salvation in Christ is a redemption, an exchange. We’re told in scripture that it’s a free gift, and it is, sort of. It’s free to us, but it was purchased for us. Someone had to exchange something for it for us. There was a cost—the wages of sin is death, scripture tells us—and someone had to pay that cost. And that makes salvation precious. It’s like if your husband has been saving up for a big fishing trip to Canada with the guys for several years, and he now has the $10,000 for it. But instead of doing that, he sacrifices the trip and guys you a $10,000 diamond necklace. You’re blown away, right? Not just because it’s a free gift, but because that free gift to you cost him something precious, something he sacrificed to make it happen. This is what Jesus did for us, sacrificing his own life to purchase this free gift for us, and it should make us awestruck.
So, today we look at the redemption of Ruth, and it’s one of the clearest pictures in our bibles of that reality.
We found out last week that Boaz and Ruth have a problem. They want to be together, but there is a relative who is closer to Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, than Boaz is, and he has first dibs. So, Boaz determines to go meet with this relative to see if he can exchange something and win the right to redeem Ruth. For you and me, the thing standing in between God and us having this wonderful relationship is sin, and it’s got to be dealt with before we can live happily ever after with God.
I want you to notice something in this part of the story. It’s all about Ruth’s redemption, but she’s nowhere to be found in it today. She’s completely off stage, like Macavity in Cats. There are only two actors—Boaz and this other fellow. And this is a lot like our redemption—we had nothing to do with it, either. We don’t contribute to it. And this flies in the face of a bunch of people sitting in church pews who do believe that, while God is good and great and all, we really do contribute to our redemption from all the good works we do. But our redemption is not Dutch treat. When Jesus went to the cross, He went alone, and the discussion about our redemption involved only two individuals—God the Father and God the Son.
So, now, we pick up the action in Ruth, chapter 4, as Boaz goes to meet this other fellow.
Ruth 4:1-2 - Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, "Turn aside, friend; sit down here." And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, "Sit down here." So they sat down.
Notice that scripture seems to go out of its way to avoid giving this other fellow a name. He’s called “friend” in the English Standard Version. In the original Hebrew, “friend” is actually a two-word play on words that the New Jewish Publication Society translates as “Mr. So and So.” Boaz heads to the city gate, kinda lurking and looking for this guy to show up. When he does, he calls him over, and he also gets 10 notables to sit with them. The 10 notables are called a quorum, and it’s what’s necessary to establish a legal and binding exchange. So, the stage is set.
Bear in mind, then, that our redemption by Jesus also requires a legal and binding exchange. And the receipt for that exchange is Jesus Himself, with the proof of purchase being nail prints in his hands and feet, skin torn off his back, scars on his head and side, and ultimately, a death. And that’s why we get to go to heaven—because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Ruth 4:3-4 - Then he said to the redeemer, "Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, 'Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.' If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you." And he said, "I will redeem it.”
Oh-oh. This is a huge monkey wrench. This can’t be happening. Mr.. So and So hasn’t surfaced at all in this story. He can’t possibly be the right guy for Ruth. But, hey, he’s wooed by this great opportunity. Naomi is old. She’s not having any more kids. I’ll just buy the land, take care of her until she dies, and the land reverts to me. What’s not to like? It seems that Mr. So and So is completely out of the loop in knowing anything about Ruth. This is like every romantic movie, where there’s some crisis that looks like it’s going to keep our lovebirds apart.
Ruth 4:5 - Then Boaz said, "The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.”
And just like those romantic movies, resolution comes. It turns out that Boaz, after roping in Mr. So and So, now comes in with the fine print. Not only do you have to buy the land and take care of Naomi, but Ruth comes with the package. And you’ve got to give her children so that the land ultimately will stay in that other family. Oh, and by the way, Ruth is a Moabite, not some sweet little Jewish girl. Yeah, you might have some social ostracism for taking on a Moabite wife. Good luck to ya, buddy!! All of a sudden, the cost to Mr. So and So has just gone up exponentially, and at the end of the day, he gets nothing for himself.
Ruth 4:6 - Then the redeemer said, "I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
Mr. So and So quickly recalculates and backs out of this deal. It turns out he was interested in ministry only if there was a payoff for himself. And here’s the interesting thing—by seeking to protect his legacy this way, he ends up staying nameless, missing out of having a share of the greatest legacy of all—a place in God’s plan of salvation for all mankind.
We think, “What a knucklehead! If only he knew what he was passing up!” Well, before we’re too hard on him, let’s ponder who this Mr. So and So might be in our lives. Commentators have debated this endlessly over the years. Here’s what I think. It’s mankind. It’s us, thinking we’ve got the goods to redeem ourselves, that we can be good enough to earn our way to heaven. Or, it’s our faith in some close relative. I know a lot of husbands who think they’re headed to heaven because they had Christian wives. I know kids who think they’re in because they had moms and dads who dragged them to church. But then Jesus shows up and asks, “Ok, what do you think? Can you redeem yourself?” And we go, like Mr. So and So, “Yeah, I think I can. I think I will.” But then we find out the fine print, that redemption requires us to be as good as God, to have never sinned, to be holy. And if we’re aware, we’ll say the same thing Mr. So and So said, “I’d sure like to, but I don’t have the goods. Based on what’s required, there’s no human on earth who can pull this off. I need a redeemer that’s better than any man, woman, or child. Who could that be?” And all of a sudden, Jesus comes into focus. He’s the only one who’s ever had what it takes for our redemption. And it’s why scripture says that Jesus is the only name through which one might be saved, the only one who has the goods to make the great exchange for our redemption.
Ruth 4:7-8 - Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, "Buy it for yourself," he drew off his sandal.
All this sandal stuff is simply the legal transaction whereby Mr. So and So grants Boaz the right to redeem Ruth, and Boaz commits to following through. Happily ever after is now possible.
We’re going to see the conclusion of this story next week, but before we go there, let’s ponder for a second. Do you think Ruth is going to be faithful to this man, Boaz? After all he’s done for her, do you think she’s going to be sneaking off to have affairs, emotional or otherwise? If you knew she was going to do that, you’d be upset, right? You’d want to grab Boaz and tell him that maybe he should rethink this whole thing. Because that would be a betrayal of monumental proportions.
Well, just so you know, that doesn’t happen. But here’s the thought for us. Given what our Boaz, Jesus, has done for us, isn’t if fair to say that we often have strayed as Christians? Haven’t we gone after things that aren’t Jesus? Haven’t our eyes and hearts pursued things He has told us are bad for us and bad for our relationship with Him? If we were honest, shouldn’t we have told Jesus before He paid the price that, while He is far more than we thought, we certainly are not?
But here’s where it gets amazing. Jesus already knew that about you and me, and He paid the price anyway. His love is so deep and unending that He’s willing to endure our betrayals, and forgive us over and over, counting on His ongoing love to lead us to trust Him more and more over time and to draw us closer and closer over time, leading to the happily ever after kind of relationship with Him for real.
It really is amazing grace, and how sweet is the sound of it. It might be good to spend some time rejoicing about that.
Ruth, Part 5 - It’s All or Nothing
Ok, here we go. We reach fever pitch today in this love story involving Ruth and Boaz. And, as we’ve seen, this love story mirrors in so many ways the love story playing out in the spiritual world between God and his people. Boaz, like Jesus, is the Prince Charming, capable of bestowing favor on the hopeless widow from Moab. Like Jesus, he knows about Ruth and seeks her out when she has no clue who he is. And, like Jesus, Boaz’ kindness begins to soften her heart towards him. Today, we watch Ruth discover that Boaz is far more than she thought. He’s not just a nice guy. He is, like Jesus, so much more. And it leads to this incredibly risky step that will determine what the rest of her life will be. Let’s pick up the action in chapter 2, verse 17.
Ruth 2:17-19 - So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 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. 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, Naomi sees this enormous amount of grain Ruth lugs home—probably about 50 pounds—and she knows two things. Ruth is some kind of specimen, because that’s a lot of weight! She also knows Ruth didn’t get all that from just working hard. Someone had to make it possible.
Ruth 2:19-20 - 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.” 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.”
It’s pretty clear Ruth has no clue as to who Boaz is. She didn’t purpose to head to his field, hoping to meet him or anything. She’s just wandering around, hoping to find some food, doing the best she can. And out of nowhere, Boaz shows up. Ruth’s lot like us before we met Jesus. We had no clue that Jesus was actually very much aware of us and had plans to seek us out. Ruth goes on:
Ruth 2:21-23 - 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.'" 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." 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.
Some good advice here from Naomi. You’d be smart, Ruth, to hang out as close to Boaz as you can get. He’s a redeemer. He’s related to me. He can, should he choose, use all of that wealth and influence to change our lives for the good. And Ruth buys in. Boaz continues to make it easy for Ruth to gather grain. We don’t know whether they had more chats over lunch as they did that first day when Boaz suddenly arrives in the field. All we know is that Ruth purposed to stay as close as she could, just in case Boaz decided he was interested in more than just seeing that she and Naomi got some grain.
Ruth 3:1-5 - Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, "My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do." And she replied, "All that you say I will do.”
And, like every great romantic epic, here comes the crisis that threatens to separate our lovebirds. Yeah, the harvest is all but over. The final stage of the harvest is underway--winnowing time. And when that’s over, Ruth will have no excuse to be on Boaz’ property, no reason to be in close proximity to this person who could bring that “happily ever after” conclusion we all want in a great love story. So, what to do?? Because “staying close” hasn’t gotten the job done. Boaz has not shown any willingness or interest in being more than just a nice guy who ensures Naomi and Ruth get some grain to eat so they don’t starve to death.
Naomi comes up with this desperation move. Boaz and his team will be finishing up the winnowing—separating the grain from the chaff. And when he’s done and the grain all gathered into the barn, a huge celebration will occur. After that Boaz will literally sleep at the foot of the grain to keep anyone from robbing him. Ruth, you go then, when he’s asleep, uncover his feet and lay down at his feet. He’ll surely wake up when his feet get cold, and when he does, you just do what he tells you.
And Ruth’s got to know this is a huge risk. A single woman, out alone, after dark? And a Moabite to boot? She’s already aware that she’s at risk for being assaulted. And what if Boaz gets angry. We might not be allowed to glean in his fields next year, and then how will we get food? But desperate times call for desperate measures, and Ruth agrees to this crazy idea.
Before we move on, this really does paint a nifty picture of the cross for us. Our Jesus figure, Boaz, has separated the wheat, the good grain, from the chaff. He would burn the chaff but bring the good grain, those who have come to Him for salvation, into his barn and protect it. This is what the cross does for us. It’s where Jesus has made possible the rescue of everyone who would ever come to him in faith. The hard work is done, and He can rest, knowing it’s all secure. And it’s at this point that Ruth comes to Boaz.
And Naomi tells Ruth to get prettied up. Why? Because Ruth is not just curious. She means business. And that’s how we come to Jesus, too, not just on Christmas and Easter like many people. But desperate and serious about Him taking us for His own. And she’s going to lay at Boaz’ feet, in desperation, serious, and in submission, knowing he is her only shot. She uncovers his feet, and she waits, hoping against all hope that this ends well, that he won’t think she’s like the Moabite women of old who only wanted to seduce and lead men to worship false gods.
Ruth 3:6-9 - So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, "Who are you?" And she answered, "I am Ruth, your servant.
Note those last two words—your servant. She’s referred to herself a few times this way earlier, and she does it again here. And this is how we come to Jesus. We are not his equals. And if we want Him to save us, it comes down to our recognizing that Jesus is King, and we are servants. A lot of people approached Jesus in the the New Testament, and many of them left disappointed that it required this level of commitment to get salvation.
Ruth 3:9 - Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
And then this precious little verse. This is where Ruth departs from the game plan outlined by Naomi. She doesn’t wait for him to tell her what to do. Instead, she blurts out this sentence. And what’s she’s asking for is for Boaz to take her as his wife. She wants not even one second of ambiguity about her intentions. She has no intention of having Boaz think she’s there to seduce him.
Ruth 3:10 - And he said, "May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.
Of course, her first kindness was committing to take care of Naomi when their husbands died. And as grand as that we, Boaz is even more impressed that she didn’t go after some young hunk.
Ruth 3:11-13 - And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”
Now, put yourself in Boaz’ place. A young woman whom you’ve helped and been nice to suddenly shows up at your feet in the middle of the night proposing marriage. I mean, you’ve not even been dating! What do you do? Immediately accept the offer? I think not. So, this tells me a little something about Boaz. He probably has fallen in love with Ruth, and she doesn’t even know it. But he figured, “Hey, I’m kinda old for her, and she’d never want me anyway. She’s going to have her choice of guys.” It’s just me, of course, because we don’t have this recorded in Scripture, but I suspect Boaz really wanted Ruth as his wife—he was just to afraid to pursue her in that way for fear of rejection. Why else would he jump at the chance to make it happen so quickly?
And into this perfect ending is thrown the monkey wrench. Boaz would love to marry her, but wait, there’s another relative who has dibs. Boaz commits to going and see if he can work this all out.
Ruth 3:14-15 - So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, "Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor." And he said, "Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out." So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her.
This is a great verse, not only in our story of Ruth and Boaz, but in our story of God and us. Boaz, confirming his intention to marry Ruth and his commitment to working everything out with this other relative, gives Ruth a down payment from all his wealth as a good faith gesture that he’s coming back for her. This is similar to the down payment Jesus gives us that He’s coming back for us. Check out Ephesians 1:13-14. It tells us the the Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our inheritance in Christ until we actually acquire possession of it.
Ruth 3:16-18 - Then she went into the city. And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, "How did you fare, my daughter?" Then she told her all that the man had done for her, saying, "These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, 'You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.'" She replied, "Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”
And there you have your role spelled out in your salvation and your eternal life, your happily ever after. Absolutely nothing. You just wait. Jesus went away to deal with that payment required by our sin. He’s risen, seating at the right hand of God the Father. He’s preparing a place for us, and He’s coming back for us so we can be with Him where He is. And while we’re waiting, we have the Holy Spirit, not only to empower us to live the life of Jesus down here, but as a constant reminder that Jesus is coming back for us.
Next week, we get to see if Boaz can pull this off. Since Jesus didn’t fail, there’s a good chance we’re headed for a happy ending!!
Ruth 5, Message Recap from The Surge
We should be more grateful.
There is a fair amount of talk about the 1%, but if you look at things from a worldwide perspective... we're already there for the most part. The global median annual salary is $1225 per year, as an example. The threshold required to make it in to that elite group of the 1% is lower than you might think - just $34,000 per person. In America, where food and opportunity are plentiful, we take a lot for granted.
Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 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." 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. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, "The Lord be with you!" And they answered, "The Lord bless you." Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, "Whose young woman is this?" 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. 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."
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. 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." 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?" 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. 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!" 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." 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. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, "Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her." So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
One, We Should be Grateful for Acceptance
Ruth 2:10 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?"
Any act of immigration is a drastic act. The change of country, of family, of language and culture is not done lightly. Immigrants do what they do for hope, for themselves and for their children, a chance at a better life. The irony is that, by the normal measures, Ruth's immigration was made without hope. She was exchanging a secure place with family for an insecure place of poverty. A place where she knew the culture and language for a place where things would be unfamiliar, and not just unfamiliar, potentially hostile.
We have to learn to see not just the outside, but through God's eyes. Ruth's green card said, Moab, vagrant, not much of value here... but God's scorecard said, giant of the faith, a powerhouse spiritually and someone God handpicked to be in the genealogy of Jesus. Because Boaz saw her as God saw her, she came to a place of unexpected acceptance and she was grateful.
Two, We Should be Grateful for Safety
Especially in the light of the recent tragedies in Orlando and California.
In Ruth, there were three references to her possibly being harmed... and it seems that the animus towards foreigners and Moabites might make them the objects of violence. Why else would Boaz specifically order his men not to harm them? They were members of a hated race and in jeopardy.
Ruth was one of “them”, not one of “us.” But Boaz saw something more in her than just a foreigner and he moved to ensure her safety. He provided a safe place for her to work and ensured that she would have a safe place through the harvest season. Ruth was grateful for acceptance, and she was grateful for safety.
Three, We Should be Grateful for Provision
Ruth 2:14 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.
Ruth came hungry, but she didn't stay that way. God brought some amazing provision to her personally, right when she needed it. And not just in food... but also in community.
The poor coming to glean didn't normally get invited to the meals for the workers. But it wasn't just buying her lunch, he invited her into the community... his acts of inclusion and provision were much more than anyone would expect. And the result was that the amount of grain she acquired was over the top. An “ephah” of grain is just under a bushel, in the case of barley right around 50 pounds. God loves to surprise us with blessing and sometimes we'll have an “ephah” moment – like Ruth let's not forget to be grateful when God blesses our socks off.
Four, We Should be Grateful for the Unseen Layer
Sherlock Holmes in The Adventure of the Naval Treaty, deduced his way to God’s goodness and our deserved gratefulness through looking at a rose he had picked. He remarked:
“There is nothing in which deduction is so necessary as in religion. Our highest assurance of the goodness of providence seems to rest in flowers. All other areas, our powers, our desires, our food are really necessary for our existence in the first instance, but this rose is an extra. The rose’s smell and color are an embellishment of life, not a condition of it. It is only goodness which gives extras. And so I say that we have much to hope from flowers.”
He seemed to me to be saying that any God who would give something like a flower is a good God, which produced some gratitude for it.
In the same way, understanding Ruth is about seeing the unseen. There are no miracles, no dreams, no visions, no prophets thundering away. But what we do have is friendship and loyalty and hope and making the best of a bad situation and an attitude of appreciation and gratefulness.
And God working behind the scenes to bring people together at the perfect place in the perfect time
Ruth 2:11-12 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. 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!"
Boaz directs Ruth's thanks to God and it's a nice move.
So what do we do? We need to learn to see the gospel in the lines of this story and in the lines God is writing in us.
Maybe you're Ruth and you feel lost. You're a stranger in a strange land and you don't know what tomorrow will bring. Know that God values you for who you are and who He created for you to be. His heart is to redeem you, and to bring you to His table and to His family. Step into His love and be grateful for His acceptance.
Maybe the circumstances of your life are such that you feel like things are too much in flux. Maybe you don't feel safe. Know that God has your back. Step into the center of His will and take refuge in His wings. Be grateful for the safety He provides.
Maybe you need provision... maybe that's financial, maybe it's something else. Ask God for it directly – He knows what you need but scripture tells us to ask – so ask! And then go where He wants you to go and do what He wants you to do... I promise you provision will show up and it won't be short.
Too often we don't see God working behind the scenes, we don't have the full picture, we don't see Boaz coming. We don't understand that God is looking both at us now, but also at generations to come.
Let us find it in our hearts to thank God for what He's doing now behind the scenes for things we don't even see. He is working and He loves us and good things are on the way.
Ruth, Part 3 - Knowing God’s Will
Last week we cracked the door open to look at knowing God’s will for our lives, and we promised to dig in a little deeper this week. And we’ve found that our gal, Ruth, as a new believer in this God of ours, is doing some incredibly smart things to allow God’s will to be revealed.
As we said last week, pastors don’t get a lot of questions related to God’s will in terms of what is right or wrong. The answers to those questions are found out easily enough from a general reading of scripture. We know from God’s word that we’re not supposed to kill each other, steal from each other, lie to each other, or drive 65 in a 25 mile per hour speed zone.
"God’s will" questions can arise from just the good and bad stuff that happens to us as we navigate this planet on our few years here. You get promoted, you get laid off; you get a good report from the doc, you get sick; you win a free trip to Hawaii and your plane lands safely, another airplane elsewhere goes down; an aunt dies and leaves you a bunch of money, you get mugged on the way home.
We love the good happenings. It’s the bad we have trouble with. Some of them are the result of living in a fallen world. Some could be the result of dumb decisions we’ve made. For example, we mishandle our money and end up financially strapped. And some hard things we experience might not result from anything we did—maybe it’s just God growing us to look more like Christ in some area of our lives. Our job in those is just to trust that God knows what He’s doing and hang on.
In reality, most of the God’s will questions involve less right and wrong and more right or left—do I go to this college or that one, marry this guy or gal or that one, take this job or that one, move to this city or that one. We discussed last week that discovering God’s will is a lot more about having a heart that’s willing to be led by God than getting all the specifics from God on how everything’s going to play out. Here’s a verse that helps with that:
Prov. 3:5-6 - Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all of your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
So, trust God and obey him today, then do it again tomorrow, and then again the next day. You get the trend, right? And this attitude of daily faithfulness is illustrated for us Ruth. She is a picture of how a Christian ought to live. So, we’ll grab about 15 verses here from Ruth, chapter 2, and I want to pull out four things from the text as it relates specifically to discovering God’s will. This will be a little different than my normal expository lesson where we go through a text verse by verse, but I hope it’ll bless you just the same. Here’s our text:
Ruth 2:2-17 – 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.” 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. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 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. 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.” 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. 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.” 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?” 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. 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!” 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.” 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. When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves and do not reproach her. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.” So, she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
Point Number 1: You have to have a proper view of God, that he is someone you can trust.
Ruth 2:12 - 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!”
What we have in this verse is something theologians refer to as a zoomorphism—assigning an animal characteristic to God to help put something of God in a context we can understand. This concept of coming under God’s wings is something Israelites would say to someone who was not a believer in Jehovah, who didn’t believe in a coming Messiah, and who didn’t expect a Jesus to show up and make a way for the forgiveness of sins, but who came to believe in Him. God was likened to a great mother hen chicks would scurry to when fearing for their lives. And the hen would cover them with her wings and be willing to die to defend them. Boaz sees this kind of faith in Ruth, a foreigner who has come to believe in the God of Israel. And he’s essentially praying that this God would deal kindly with Ruth for that faith, knowing that God is a lover and protector of his own children. We have to trust that God will never drop the ball on us. We may not think we’re that special, but God says we are to Him, so we just have to continue to believe that every day.
Point Number 2: Ruth is faithful in areas she can control in the present, knowing God can use that faithfulness to open doors in the future she can’t know anything about.
A gleaner is essentially a person on welfare, going along after the reapers to scrounge for bits of grain left behind, just hoping to get enough to keep from starving to death. It’s admittedly not a great situation, but Ruth isn’t angry or bitter or miserable. She continues to exhibit likability and character and hope even under such stress. She doesn’t demand to glean; she asks politely. And given the opportunity, she makes the most of it, working hard all day. But Ruth went out that day expecting that God would use her efforts to lead her to the land of someone who would show her favor.
I’m learning, when people approach me asking about a job change or new venture and whether it’s God’s will, to ask questions related to faithfulness in the present tense. "Tell me about your prayer life. Tell me about your time in God’s word. Tell me about your relationship with your family, your spouse, your kids. Tell me about how you handle your finances." And when you ask those questions, you find out a lot of the time that people are not being faithful to what God has asked of them in the here and now that they can control, but they sure want God to guide them in things down the road they know they have no control over. Here’s the hard truth—God’s will probably has little to do with the decision they’re making. It’s most likely about their will, not God’s,and they just want God to rubber stamp it. And, He’s not a rubber stamp God, if you haven’t noticed before.
I served for several years on a missions board at a church immensely committed to foreign missions, and here’s what I learned the hard way. Missionaries who felt called of God to go start churches overseas need to have been building the church right here at home first. Be faithful here at home, where you know the turf, the language, and the culture. Lacking that, I saw missionary families, just as they were finally reaching the point where they could make a difference, go belly up and crawl off the mission field. The trick is to be faithful in the here and now.
A great example from scripture is David. He’s anointed by the prophet Samuel to be the next king of Israel. The problem? He’s a whipper-snapper teenager with the job of shepherd. You don’t go lower on the totem pole than that in Israel. He’s got to be wondering, “How in the world is this ever going to happen?” So, he just continued to be faithful out in that field, taking care of sheep. In his spare time, he’d write songs and play the harp. If a wild animal ventured by and grabbed a sheep, he’d chase it down and kill it. He didn’t have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to maneuver things to become King. God had it all under control. Little did he know how all that faithfulness would pay off later. God ends up sending a demon to harass King Saul, and his team began to look for someone who could play some soothing music. One of the young men around the King had heard about David and his music. The next thing David knows, he’s sitting in the equivalent of the White House playing for the President.
Point Number 3: Prove faithful for the long haul, no matter what.
Things had gone south for Ruth in a big way. She marries a young Israelite, who then dies, leaving her a widow. Her faith in God, however, pushes her to make the trip back to Israel with Naomi, her mother-in-law. But there, prospects are virtually nil. Just to survive, she hits the fields to find scraps of food. It’s a pretty low point. But she remains faithful and expectant in God making a way.
We see a similar illustration in the story of Joseph, a snot-nosed teenager who had a dream all his older brothers would one day bow down to him. He makes the mistake of sharing that dream with them. Add to that the fact that Joseph was daddy’s favorite, and you’ve got some dysfunctional family stuff going down. His brothers eventually decide to sell him to a passing caravan headed to Egypt. And Joseph goes through about 15 years of things going from bad to worse. Sold into slavery, accused of attempted rape, imprisoned, and seemingly forgotten. But not forgotten by God. Nor did Joseph forget God. He just remained faithful no matter what. And out of nowhere, he is plucked in an instant out of prison, brought before Pharaoh to interpret a dream, and ends up as the Prime Minister of the entire country. But that all was made possible because he did not stop being faithful even during those 15 years of misery.
Point Number 4: Your heart, molded by God and spurred into action, will be the crowbar that opens doors.
As you read the conversation between Boaz and his foreman, you see Ruth become more and more elevated. First, she impressed the socks off the foreman when she asks so politely for permission to glean. And then he watched her work hard all day long, only taking one break in the hot sun. This testimonial fit what Boaz had heard about Ruth on his own, so he goes to her and just shows her incredible favor. She asks why he would do such a thing, and we find his answer in verse 11:
Ruth 2:11 - 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.
It’s her heart, demonstrated by actions, that opens the door to this favor from Boaz.
So, we see how God’s will gets manifested in a life—have a proper view of God, that He is someone who can be trusted; be faithful to do all God has asked of you in the here and now so that He can lead you into paths He has for you that you know nothing about; continue to be faithful no matter what, knowing God can move in an instant; and realize that it’s your heart, transformed by God and spurred into action, that will be the crowbar that opens doors.
We may be put off by the epic stories in scripture of people like David, or Joseph. But realize that Ruth is no superstar. She's just a regular person who’s fallen on hard times. But in those hard times, she has placed her faith in God, and she simply chooses to trust Him to lead. You and I can do that, too. Fortunately, Ruth’s story shows us how to do it. It’s probably true that our problem is not that God isn’t willing to lead us; it’s far more likely we’re less interested in being led. So, let’s knock it off. Ruth’s way is the only way to discover God’s best life possible for each of us.
Ruth, Part 2
Our text this week was Ruth 1:19-2:3:
Ruth 1:19 - 2:3 - So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, "Is this Naomi?" She said to them, "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, 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?” So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 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.” 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.
We’ll spend the next two weeks looking at the answer to a question pastors get all the time: How do I know the will of God? Usually, that question doesn’t revolve around what’s right or wrong. We know most of those things, right? We shouldn’t kill each other, steal from each other, lie about each other, go into debt, have sex with someone who’s not our spouse, submit to governing authorities as long as they don't require us to do anything God has said “No” to. Because of that, we know we aren’t to go 65 in a 25 mph zone. The list goes on. God’s will is pretty clear on those because He’s cataloged them for us in His word.
Most of the time, questions about God’s will has to do with right or left. Do I go to this college or that one, marry this girl or that one, take this job or that one? We’re after whether God has a plan for our lives and whether this step or that step is a good one for keeping in step with God’s ideals for me. You’re not the first person to ask such a question. Paul, in his letter to the church at Corinth, answers such a question. He tells them that the Holy Spirit distributes spiritual gifts to followers of Christ just as He purposes. And that means, those gifts are given to us with a purpose. And that means you and I have a purpose. Paul also told them that becoming a Christian didn’t necessarily mean that they were to change jobs or go into a new career field. Not every Christian is supposed to go into full-time ministry. You can be a minister right where you are—teacher, dock worker, doctor, apartment manager, musician, stay-at-home mom, a programmer, whatever.
When Paul became a follower of Christ, God came to Ananias and told him to go find Paul and baptize him because—and this is key—“Paul is a chosen vessel that will carry my name before kings and rulers.” So, God had a role, a purpose, a will for Paul’s life. How do you find yours. I hope you’re a bit better at it than the guy who persuaded himself he was to marry this drop-dead gorgeous gal because she had a Chihuahua like he did and it’s right ear was bent the same way his was. I dunno. I have a suspicion that had she been homely, he might have looked at that ear differently.
Well, to help us out, along comes Ruth, because her account contains some very good counsel and steps to discover God’s will for our lives. Ruth, as you may recall, was a Moabite girl who married one of the sons of Elimelech and Naomi, a couple who fled Israel during the time of famine. In short order, Elimelech and those two sons die, leaving three widows. Naomi, after 10 years, decides it’s time to go home. One of the daughters-in-law opts to stay behind. But Ruth will have none of that, and she testifies of his commitment to Naomi, to Naomi’s people, Israel, and to Israel’s God, Jehovah.
Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Israel, to the town of Bethlehem, just as the barley harvest is underway. This is fantastic news, because a harvest means that there’s been rain. And rain means that God’s judgment because of Israel’s disobedience in worshiping other gods has been lifted. And we know from scripture that that’s because the people repented and turned back to God and prayed for relief. And God, as He had done so many times before, comes through for them. Nevertheless, the prospects for these two are not great. Naomi’s family has land, but it’s worthless because there’s no one to work it. You can see from the text that Naomi’s at a low point. That said, she’s aware that all this calamity she’s having is due to God’s chastening. While she may not be real happy about it, she is willing submit to it, recognizing that God’s behind it and that He cares enough for her to not let her stray or stay too far away. We’re not sure, however, that she anticipates life being anything other than barely scraping by to survive. Quite a downturn for a family who left Israel wealthy.
I personally believe that it’s Naomi’s response to God’s discipline that begins to open doors she can’t even begin to imagine happening. We, however, can begin to imagine them, because chapter 2 opens with information for we readers that Naomi and Ruth aren’t privy to. We are told that Naomi has a relative named Boaz, who is a kinsman of her husband. Two things to note. One, in Israel, God had set up a system to ensure land would stay with a family that fell on hard times. If a man died, his brother could marry his widow, give her children, and then give that land back to the family. Also, if a family fell into bankruptcy, only a family member could purchase it so that that land could be returned to the family at some point. The family member who would do such a thing was called a kinsman—a word that actually means “redeemer.” Interesting stuff, especially when you consider that Boaz is a type of Christ—a person who became a member of the family of humans by becoming a man and purchased salvation for mankind through a sacrifice of his resources—in His case, His life--for mankind. We’re going to see that picture become clearer and clearer as the story unfolds.
But, back to knowing the will of God. In chapter 2, we are going see some incredible coincidences that end up with Ruth and Boaz coming into contact. The question we have today is this: How in the world does this happen? And is this relevant for us today? Can we live in such a way that we allow God to maneuver those coincidences in our lives that lead to the discovery of His will for us? We’re going to see some practical tips, but before we get there, just a quick warning. God rarely, if ever, will reveal to you and me the ultimate path our lives will take. That’s His business. What He calls us to do is to be faithful in following Him every day. The good news is God will tell us right now what we’re supposed to be doing. And people who are faithful to what God has told them to do today just seem to be the people that God’s “coincidences” happen to.
So, for me, I know that today, I’m to be a good friend, a submissive and hard worker under the elders at The Surge, a good citizen, a good husband, father and grandpa. I’m supposed to study and teach and love on the people God sends me today. I believe if I do those things faithfully, God will show up and direct my path.
To whet your appetite, there are four things we see in our text today that Ruth is or does that demonstrates faithfulness and a heart that is being transformed and led into action by this new God of hers.
First, she is incredibly likable. Don’t dismiss this. Tim Sanders, a New York Times best-selling author and former Yahoo executive, Tim has written much about the train of “likability.” Likability tends to win people over. Ruth here is very polite, not demanding or entitled. She asks permission to go into the fields and glean. Gleaning is grueling work, going into a field after the harvest is done looking for little bits of grain, hoping to get enough to not starve to death.
Second, Ruth puts others first. She asks Naomi to let her to go the field and glean. Naomi, by this time, is an older woman, and Ruth is essentially saying, “You stay here at home. I’ll go out in this new land, among people who don’t know me, and I’ll do the heavy lifting for us.”
Third, Ruth doesn’t just say she’ll go out and glean, she does it with gusto. She’s a hard worker.
Fourth, Ruth is actually expecting God to show up along the way. She has no idea where to go, really, and knows no one, but it’s almost as if she’s prayed, “God, please lead me to a field where someone will give me permission to glean. So, she’s looking for God to direct. I wonder how many times you and I have missed God-ordained “coincidences” in our path because we were not expecting them and walked right on by?
So, remember the big idea here. If you want to know God’s will or plan for your life, don’t bother to ask Him about all the specifics. He’s not going to tell you. Just obey Him today, be faithful today, do what He ask you to do today. Love God, love others. Do what you do with all your might. Listen, if you’re not doing this today, you should not expect God to lead you into His will tomorrow. We’re told in the book of Chronicles that God looks all over the earth for the one whose heart is tilted His way, and when He finds such a person, He is delighted to move strongly in that person’s life. You and I doing what we’re to do today opens up all kinds of doors for God to take care of all of the tomorrow questions.
We’ll see more on how this plays out for Ruth, with applications for us, next week.
At The Surge we love doing things together... that includes writing a blog! Here are a few of our main contributing authors:
Our fearless leader, Dwaine is the lead pastor at The Surge. His experience in counter terrorism with the CIA prepared him for ministry and he likes dogs and babies even more than E does.
E (short for Eric Reiss) is the Wingman at The Surge and likes dogs, music, Mexican food, his wife Karen and his little girl Evangeline... not necessarily in that order.