[This sermon was preached on Ruth chapters 2 and 3 on Sunday, April 9, 2017, at Christ Church Paarl by William King. The audio version can be found here.]
Naomi returned with her daughter-in-law Ruth from Moab as a bitter woman (chapter 1). The following 2 chapters (2&3) will tell us what happened back in Israel. Ruth, with the sense of responsibility towards her mother-in-law, immediately sets out to find a way to supply food (2:1-3). She approaches the workers of Boaz to ask permission to pick up after them (2:6-7). Boaz arrives on the scene, eyeballs Ruth, grants her permission (2:8-9) and tells his workers not to hinder the foreigner (2:15-16). In fact, he goes further than that. He orders them to leave behind some of what they harvest!
Ruth returns to Naomi, with a very positive report (2:17-19). Naomi, up to this point a very bitter, and no doubt, depressed woman, has a major change of heart (2:20), and immediately starts planning what should happen to her daughter-in-law’s future (3:1-4). This leads to the very strange act by Ruth to go to Boaz while he is asleep and climb in at his feet (3:5-7)! After a discussion between him and Ruth about what the future might hold, and his position in and responsibility towards the family, he sends her home with the order to wait for the outcome (3:8-18).
I want to focus on each of the three main characters in this section of history that we have in these two chapters. In each of them, we discover so much about the heart of God and how it will play out in His relationship with humanity.
Ruth the humble refugee
What strikes us about the character of Ruth is her humbleness and her faithfulness. She made a huge commitment in 1:16-17, where she not only denounced her own background, but committed herself to Naomi, her people and her God!
This commitment now plays out as she moves to put food on the table. She has one dilemma though. She is a Moabite woman – a foreigner in a foreign country! Sure enough, she made the commitment to a new life, but how would the natives respond? This is where her commitment to her new life was met by her humbleness.
This is evident in her approach to gathering grain. She did not rush in and start gleaning! She approached the harvesters and asked permission (2:6-7). There was no “name it and claim it” approach, as if she had the right to it – although God’s word did order this (Leviticus ??).
It is also evident in her response to Boaz in 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?”
In her mind, nothing could warrant the kindness Boaz was showing toward her. There was no merit that would explain why he is showing favor.
Boaz does verbalize the reason for his kindness in verses 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!”
According to this testimony, Ruth’s clinging to God and finding refuge under His wings, changed her whole life to such an extent that she is worthy of his kindness. Boaz did not repay her, or rewarded her as a result of merit earned, but purely out of kindness toward Ruth.
It demonstrates the way that God bestows kindness and mercy on us. Nothing in ourselves can earn it. It is purely his kindness that allows us as foreigners into His kingdom. We are but humble slaves, grateful receivers of His kindness.
Boaz the Benevolent
Boaz knows God and he shows it. In fact, he shows it in abundance. His life was one drenched in kindness, and in this, he typifies the attitude of Christ towards mankind. We see this in the way he addresses his workers:
The Lord be with you. (2:4)
It is also evident in the way he supplies for Ruth with food (2:8; 2:14, 15-16; 3:15), water (2:9) and protection (2:9). According to the text, his kindness was more than what Ruth ever deserved.
The interaction between Boaz and Ruth is very significant. It is the kind and benevolent taking the foreigner under his care and protection. We read of the two encounters they had with each other, the first in chapter 2 and the second in chapter 3. These 2 are related in a remarkable way. In chapter 2 Boaz commends Ruth’s life, especially her placing herself under the “wings” of God. For this he not only bestows overflowing kindness, but he prays that God will reward her for her choosing to cling to God.
When Ruth snugs up at his feet, she makes the request
Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer. (3:9)
Other translations use “the cover of your garment”, but the ESV translates it correctly here. The Hebrew word used (כָּנָף kanaph) is the same in both instances, literally referring to a wing.
We know from Scripture that the “wings of God” is an expression of His protection towards His people (Psalm 17:8; 57:1).
He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. (Psalm 91:4)
But there is another meaning in this, which Ruth refers to in her request. She mentions that Boaz is a redeemer, and therefore, he can cover her with his wings. This refers to a marriage covenant. Ezekiel 16:8:
When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine.
In Boaz’s prayer for her, he wished that God, with whom Ruth entered into a covenant when she made Him her God, would repay her and reward her for entering that “marriage covenant” with God. Little did he know he would be the one to fulfil that prayer towards this foreigner.
In these two, we see the interaction between Christ and His bride. His kindness towards her is in abundance, more than she could ever imagine. It is poured over her, not because of what she earned, but purely because of his own boundless, overwhelming goodness. She is a foreigner, but to Him, she deserves restoration, repayment and reward.
Naomi the Theologian
When Ruth brings back food and good report, Naomi flickers up (and it seems that now her brain goes into overdrive).
Not only does the penny drop on God’s total involvement in all areas of life, but a new hope is starting to rise within her.
Naomi’s theology of God’s existence and sovereign control did not change at this point to think that He is now the one who is responsible for the good only – which results in a prosperity god. Far from that. Her theology remains consistent, but the application broadens in scope. Not only is God in control of the immediate situation, whether it be bad or good. He is in control of the end purpose as well. Now Naomi is starting to realize that in all of what she had to endure, God was silently and purposefully in control, busy allowing the bad to bring about the good. This must’ve been a wow! moment for her.
And this good was embodied in Boaz and the possibility of an offspring after all, for He
has not forsaken his kindness to the living (herself and Ruth) or the dead (her husband and sons). (2:20)
Note the transformation: she leaves Moab hopeless and bitter with no thought of an offspring. Now she acknowledges that God is working toward His own purpose with them, not forgetting the family name.
Naomi’s realization spurred her into action: find a husband for my daughter-in-law (and it better be Boaz)! To this end she applied the Law of God to the situation, which obligates the kinsman redeemer to marry the daughter for the name of the deceased husband to live on (Leviticus 25:23-25).