Comforted and Satisfied (Ruth 2)Series: Ruth (Emptied and Filled)
Naomi was bitter. She felt God had emptied her. Naomi’s husband moved the family hoping to find provision in Moab. Now, ten years later, Naomi’s husband and two sons were dead. Except for her daughter-in-law Ruth, Naomi returned to Bethlehem alone. Even the people of Bethlehem could see Naomi’s misery. Was there any reason to put hope in pleasantness from God’s hand when he had testified against Naomi like this? Such is the situation many of God’s people find themselves in from time to time. We push on through difficulty in hopes of better days, but tragedy after tragedy strikes us and leaves us feeling lost. Is there any reason to hope in God again while we sit at the bottom? Logically, we know God can do anything, so we say “yes.” However, this knowledge does not always help us hope in God because we think he has to work nothing short of a miracle to help us. We think, “How else could he deliver us?” While we shouldn’t rule out the miraculous, Ruth 2 helps us with this struggle by quietly pointing us to God’s subtle work through his people in a dark, wicked time. Naomi felt empty and alone, but notice how God comforts and satisfies Naomi and Ruth as we read Ruth 2.
Ruth’s Humility and Labor
To see why we should hope in God again, we must first notice the emphasis on the worthiness of Ruth and Boaz. Naomi is despondent, but in verse 2 Ruth states that she will attempt to glean in the field of the one who graciously allows her. After Ruth gains permission to glean, the foreman makes it clear in verse 7 that she works hard. When she finishes gleaning, verses 17-18 tell us that she beat out what she gleaned and carried the equivalent of 30-50 pounds of barley into town. Ruth is a young, widowed foreigner in a wicked land. Ruth had every excuse to sit inside - afraid and hoping Naomi would provide. But Ruth took initiative, worked hard, and muscled through the day to provide food. Verse 23 even says Ruth worked like this until the end of the barley and wheat harvests - for 6-7 weeks.
And yet, though Ruth takes initiative and works with strength and endurance, her words in verses 2 and 7 show her humility. God’s law commanded Israel to leave the edges of their field and any missed sheaves for those who were foreigners, widows, or fatherless (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 24:19-22). This practice did not lead Ruth to presume upon anyone’s generosity. She says, “Please let me glean…” Further, when Boaz speaks kindly to her and tells her how he has heard of her kindness to Naomi, Ruth is nothing but humble and grateful in verses 10 and 13.
The Holy Spirit gives us a living example of a worthy woman through Ruth. Ruth has an uncommon balance of character. She takes initiative, she works hard, displays surprising strength, and never expects a handout; yet, she is humble, grateful, and generous to her mother-in-law. This balance of strength and humility is rare. Many gracious, thankful, and humble women are often afraid to take initiative, be strong, and work through difficulty. On the other hand, many self-starting, bold, strong, and hard-working women can often be self-satisfied, arrogant, and judgmental toward others.
Few would fault Ruth for missing this balance. It had to be difficult, but the benefit to Naomi was great. Women, when you work hard for your family, take initiative to help the weak, muscle through difficult problems, and yet simultaneously cloth yourself with meekness, humility, gratefulness, and trust in God, it matters. Keep doing what you do. Grow in it. In a world filled with women who are either spineless or brutish, take encouragement from the example of Ruth and other women here who embody this worthy, righteous character. Ruth is not perfect and you will not be perfect, but when you strive by faith for this character, you can be a breath of fresh air and a blessing from God to the hurting. God sees the the humble, hard work you do for others when no one is looking.
Boaz’s Kindness and Generosity
Boaz also displays admirable character here. Before we even see Boaz, the Holy Spirit makes sure we know in verse 1 that Boaz is a worthy, prominent man of character. The way Boaz and his workers greet each other in verse 3 may seem minor, but the Spirit included this for a reason. This tells us that Boaz is kind toward his workers and that Boaz is a man who trusts in the Lord. Boaz also shows great kindness to Ruth and to Naomi by extension. When Boaz speaks to Ruth in verses 8-12, he is gentle and actually takes responsibility for her safety. Boaz tells his young men to not harass Ruth and tells her to drink the water the men have drawn. Verses 14-16 are especially impressive. Boaz not only eats with his workers, verse 14 makes sure we know that Boaz himself served Ruth the roasted grain. Furthermore, the Law only commanded land owners to leave the edges of the field and any sheaves accidentally missed for the poor. Yet, in the spirit of loving his neighbor as himself (Lev. 19:18), Boaz goes beyond the Law and tells his workers pull sheaves from the bundles for Ruth to glean.
Since the Book of Judges precedes the Book of Ruth and since Ruth 1:1 says these were the days of the judges, Boaz’s kindness to Ruth should come as a shock. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” How are young, foreign women without husbands normally treated in godless nations like Israel? The end of the Book of Judges shows us that not even Israelites sojourning in their own cities were safe. Women were raped, treated as property, and snatched from their families. Naomi’s statement in Ruth 2:22 about Ruth needing to go out with Boaz’s young women so she is not assaulted in another field reminds us that Boaz’s kindness and generosity is not normal. There was hardly anyone in Israel who would stop Boaz or care if he took advantage of Ruth and refused to let her glean, or allowed her to be mistreated by others. Boaz’s generosity is also impressive when we remember that the famine has only started to end (1:6). What normally happens when people are blessed with provision after experiencing lack for a long time? People normally hoard it and fearfully excuse themselves from generosity. “We would be presuming God’s generosity to let her glean here.” But Boaz gives more than the Law commands.
Remember, Boaz gains nothing from this. He has no “romantic” or hidden agendas. It is sad how our perversely sexualized culture makes it hard to imagine this. A man can simply be kind and generous to a young woman - not because he wants to get in bed with her - but because he knows God is watching and it is the right thing to do.
Boaz was not a perfect man, but he also is an excellent example of biblical manhood. Being the men God designed us to be is not determined by whether we speak with a gruff voice, carry a gun, or get the pretty girl. John Piper put it well when he said that the character of a man is not simply determined by where he is on Sunday. To see the character of a man, we need to ask the questions religious people often forget. “How does he greet his workers?” “How does he treat foreigners?” “How does he treat the poor who ask him for help?” “Will he share his table and serve food to the least of people?” “How does he treat a woman when nobody cares how they are treated?” The text and the character of Boaz imply excellent questions for us to ask about ourselves. Even if no one around us cares, it matters how we speak to those under our authority. It matters how we treat the widow, the fatherless, the foreigner, and young women. We can be a breath of fresh air to those who are hurting. Let us conduct ourselves as godly men so we do not fear answering questions about our character!
Yahweh’s Protection and Kindness
Boaz and Naomi show us that Ruth and Boaz are only a supporting cast behind the main character of this scene - the Lord. Notice verse 12. When Ruth wants to know why Boaz is being so kind to her, he tells her that he has been told of all she has done for her mother-in-law before saying, “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 recognizes here that he is simply the Lord’s instrument of repaying Ruth for what she has done for Naomi. When Ruth came to Israel and to Boaz’s field, she was taking refuge under the wings of Yahweh. This focus is later emphasized by Naomi in verse 20 when she says of Boaz, “May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” For someone who has been reading this book too quickly, this may sound odd. Naomi is praising God for his kindness, yet this scene may seem to be about Ruth’s hard work, Boaz’s kindness, and a lot of barley.
The text gave us an early clue that someone greater than Ruth and Boaz is at work here. After Naomi declared that God brought her back empty at the end of chapter 1, the narrator tells us that she actually returned with Ruth at the beginning of barley harvest. Then verse 1 of chapter 2 alerts us to another important detail: Naomi also had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man whose name is Boaz. As Naomi later reminds us (2:20), close relatives were “redeemers.” Leviticus 25 instructs redeemers to help their poor family in a variety of ways. After telling us of Boaz’s existence and importance, the narrator alerts us to a “phenomenon” in verses 3-4. Ruth “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.” The Hebrew literally says, “and her chance chanced her upon” Boaz’s field (Block, 653). Some balk at this interpretation, but this is a significant statement which is meant to point us beyond mere fate to the subtle work of God. Read this from the perspective of someone who knows King David’s great-grandparents are Ruth and Boaz and the love story that results between these two. When the narrator alerts us to Boaz’s significance and says Ruth “happened” upon Boaz’s field, the narrator is saying, “wink, wink” and “see what God is doing!”
Ruth could have “happened” upon many fields. She could have happened onto the field of a godly person who was not a redeemer. She could have happened on a redeemer’s field who was not godly. Yet, she “happens” upon the field of the one man who is both a redeemer and a godly man who is willing to do something about this family’s misfortune. Both Boaz and Naomi recognize that this is no chance encounter and they give glory to Yahweh as the one “repaying” Ruth and “not forsaking” Naomi and her family. Proverbs 16:9 hints at how God does his work. “The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.” Naomi was bitter and felt as though she was completely empty; yet, God in his subtle providence worked so that at the end of this chapter she and Ruth were both comforted and satisfied.
As Boaz says in verse 12, this is what happens when we take refuge under the wings of Yahweh. when we trust the Lord and take refuge under his wings, we will find the Lord “chancing” our steps towards his generous provision. Let us not miss that his provision very often comes through his humble, hard-working, kind, generous, faithful people.
1. When there are no miracles in sight, God’s subtle providence gives us plenty of reason to hope in God when we feel like we have lost everyone and everything. This is because, even in the most wicked of times, God has preserved a faithful remnant. Elijah had to be reminded of this in his dark days and Paul reminds us of this as well (1 Kings 19:18; Romans 11:4). We ought not confuse hoping in “Moab” in the past with the results of hoping in God. When we hope in God, he can work through his people in ways we never see coming. We simply do not know how God is directing our path towards future provision and comfort. We may not even see how he worked until ten or fifty years later. Give glory to him then.
2. When no one is living righteously and when it seems that people are completely helpless, still make sacrifices big and small for the fatherless, foreigners, and widows. Though it seems like no one is looking, God sees. Though it seems like it will do no good, let God work out the big picture in his providence. Even if we simply share our table with someone, we do not know the good God can bring from these things.
When we feel like we are at the bottom, let’s hope in God to comfort and satisfy us. When we see others who are hurting, let’s be extensions of God’s hand to comfort and satisfy them.