Bitter Finds a Friend
Preached by Jason Abbott, senior pastor
1 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. 4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” 13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.”
14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” 21 And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’” 22 And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” 23 So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
1. Ruth is meek.
She does not assume any rights though rights may have indeed been hers. Look at verse two with me:
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” (v. 2).
The clause after him in whose sight I shall find favor was “a formula used in the royal court by a subordinate addressing a king or a ruler.”1
For example, when David must flee from Saul, who is trying to kill him, he takes refuge in Philistia. As he does so, he comes before Achish the son of Maoch, the king of Gath. In requesting refuge, he takes the same humble approach as Ruth. He uses the same submissive formula. He says to this prince:
“If I have found favor in your eyes, let a place be given me in one of the country towns, that I may dwell there” (1 Samuel 27:5).
In this formula, there is much more than common courteously. David and Ruth are acknowledging their “dependence on the superior to provide the thing requested… By implication, the phrase suggests that Ruth would not glean without requesting permission from some authority.”2
Yet, did she have to make this request? She probably did not. The law prescribed that gleaning was her right. Consider these two verses from Leviticus for example:
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God (19:9-10).
Ruth would have certainly understood her rights as a sojourner in Israel since she was the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Yet, she doesn’t assert them but humbly determines to seek the favor of the owners in whose fields she will glean.
Ruth continues forward in this humble way. So we find out that she does indeed ask for permission to glean. Boaz’s foreman tells him of Ruth’s request and of her strong work ethic. He reports:
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” (v. 7).
Further instances of Ruth’s humility can be found in verses 10 and 13 as she (though shown great favor by Boaz) maintains a respectful and submissive position before her Israelite host. She does not assume that she has made it! She does not press her luck!
Ruth instead serves and thinks of Naomi before herself. She even brings some food from the meal back for her as well as the gatherings from the harvest!
In application, consider how different this is from our default demeanor today. We assume that we should receive. We like to assert our rights. We imagine we deserve to be served instead of serve. We struggle to place the needs of others above our own!
Let me illustrate this. A story is told about D. L. Moody (the 19th century evangelist) having some European pastors visit Massachusetts for a Bible conference. They left their shoes outside the door to be shined and cleaned by the servants overnight as was the custom in Europe.
Walking through the halls that night, Moody noticed the shoes and recognized the cultural disconnect. Not wanting to embarrass his guests, he asked for help from some of the American Bible students who had various excuses for why they couldn’t. Nonetheless, the next morning, Moody’s European visitors found their shoes cleaned and shined outside their doors. 3
How natural it is for us to make excuses; how rare it is for us to humbly and quietly do the work of a servant. Yet, inside the Church, humble service (like Ruth’s) must characterize us since it is the humble service of Jesus that has saved us. Where are you being called to humbly serve?
2. Boaz is gracious.
While Ruth can be described as extraordinarily meek or humble, Boaz can likewise be described as extraordinarily gracious. He goes above and beyond what would have been expected of an Israelite landowner.
Instead of merely allowing Ruth to glean in his fields, as the law prescribed, he extends a hand of protection over her and treats her as a part of his farming operation. Look at the text with me:
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” (v. 8-9).
As a foreigner in Israel, Ruth would have been vulnerable. As a woman in a patriarchal society, Ruth would have been vulnerable. Boaz knows this and tells her to stay in his fields where he has the power to protect her. So he says:
Have I not charged the young men not to touch you (v. 9).
Furthermore, he isn’t merely offering her protection from harassment but, at least, partial acceptance into his farming operations. So, as one commentator puts it, he gives Ruth access to the water cooler.4
Boaz is going above and beyond! He is protecting Ruth and providing for Ruth. The original readers would have wondered at his generosity. They would have marveled at Boaz’s graciousness towards Ruth!
Yet, his graciousness doesn’t stop there. When mealtime rolls around, Boaz once again invites Ruth to enjoy his hospitality. Look again at the text with me:
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” (v. 14-16).
If the original audience thought Boaz generous before, they are now floored by his gracious welcome of this foreigner!
In this passage, there are at least three ways that Boaz is graciously elevating Ruth beyond any hospitable expectation:
a. She sat beside the reapers-she is not merely a gleaner any longer now she enjoys the benefits of being a reaper. “She now belongs to [Boaz’s] circle—an amazing rise in status!”5
b. Let her glean even among the sheaves-with this command, Boaz gives Ruth access to the harvest. His harvest is fully open to her.
c. And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean-not only will she be able to glean among the sheaves, now Boaz is instructing his workers to insure that she has an overabundance! They will basically do the work for her!
Ruth has shown great humility! Boaz has demonstrated incredible generosity past anything that could be earned or expected! He has elevated this humble foreigner to a place she could never have imagined possible. Indeed, Boaz is exceedingly gracious towards Ruth. So we must ask: What is going on?
3. God is working.
One of the main lessons throughout the book of Ruth is that God is at work. God is at work when we face tragedies. God is at work when we don’t see it. God is at work in and through our relationships. God is at work!
At the end of this passage, Naomi recognizes this. For the first time in our narrative, Naomi begins to hope for restoration from God. When Ruth tells her in whose field she has gleaned so generously, Naomi says:
“May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead” (v. 20)!
What she recognizes is that it is ultimately God who has brought this generous turn of fortunes about! She recognizes that it is God who has remained faithful to her and provided abundantly! She recognizes that God is indeed at work! We should recognize this too.
The sum total of this passage (the meekness of Ruth, the graciousness of Boaz) simply highlights the character of God. It simply demonstrates the activities of God in this fallen world. For the Bible tells us this again and again about God:
- For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly, / but the haughty he knows from afar (Psalm 138:6).
- Toward the scorners he is scornful, / but to the humble he gives favor (Proverbs 3:34).
- Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted (Matthew 23:12).
This is the heart of the good news.