The Character of a Redeemer - Ruth 2:1-23
Sermon Series: Redeemed
Before the days of Facebook and on-line match-making services some couples met through what used to be called a “blind date.” It was called a blind date because the individuals would plan to meet one another and spend the evening on a date, even though they knew little to nothing about the other individual. They would not know what the other individual looked like, what his or her personality was like, or what he or she did for a living prior to the date, unless their mutual friend shared some of that information with them. Because little to nothing was know about the individual he or she would be spending the evening with it became popular to refer to that kind of date as a ‘blind’ date.
There aren’t many individuals who experience a true “blind date” anymore. Today individuals may be set-up with another individual and may have a date arranged with that individual, but because of web-sites like Facebook or Match.com individuals can learn about the individual they will be spending the evening with. They can find out what the other person looks like, they can find out what types of hobbies he or she enjoys, and they can find out what they have in common. Today there aren’t very many truly ‘blind’ dates.
As we get ready to examine our text today, I want you to start by thinking about one aspect of a blind date that you might not have ever thought about. When two individuals were going to meet for a blind date there had to be some established clues that would help them to identify one another. If they did not know what the other individual looked like they would have a difficult time determining who they were there to meet and spend the evening with. So they would have to communicate clues to the other individual through their mutual friend. For example, the man may tell the mutual friend, “Tell her I will bring a red carnation for her. When she gets to the restaurant she can look for the guy holding a red carnation.” Or the woman may tell the mutual friend, “Tell him that I will be wearing a purple dress and carrying a small, matching, purple purse.” These clues would help the individuals to know what to look for and help them to be able to distinguish their date from all of the other individuals who might be around.
God had to do the same thing for the people who lived during the days of the Old Testament. He had promised to send a Messiah - One who would rescue them from their sin and provide spiritual redemption for them. But a big question was, “How would people recognize this One when He came if they did not have any clues to help them identify Him?” So God had to articulate what this Redeemer would be like – particularly in regards to His character – so that when He showed up, everyone would be able to clearly identify Him as God’s promised Redeemer.
Last week, in our examination of chapter 1 we discovered the major need of the book of Ruth. The two main characters of chapter 1, Naomi and Ruth, had husbands who had died, leaving both women without anyone with whom they could identify, without anyone to provide for them financially, and without anyone who could provide them with a sense of hope and security for the future. They were women who were in need of redemption. We also discovered that their present circumstances didn’t look very promising. Naomi had no living sons, was too old to have any more, and she was living in the land of Moab where she had no relatives. Ruth was a widow and a foreigner who was returning with her mother-in-law to a land and a people who were not her own. So at the end of chapter 1 the chance for redemption didn’t look good at all.
In chapter 2 the emphasis transitions away from these two women and the problem they had, to a new character – a man by the name of Boaz. The author’s intent in the second chapter was to turn his readers’ attention and their focus onto this man and his character. So let’s do the same thing we did last week – let’s dive back into the story and look at how chapter 2 advances the story and the details that stand out. Then, after we have examined how the story has advanced in chapter 2, we will go back and look at it through the lens of Christ to see how the story continues to point towards Him.
“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 the barley harvest. Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.” - Ruth 1:22-2:1
Verse 1 of chapter 2 should immediately grab the attention of the reader. When chapter 1 ended there was a great need for redemption. Then in the first verse of chapter 2 the author introduced a man who was related to Naomi. The introduction of this new character begs the question, “Could this individual be a potential redeemer for Naomi or for Ruth?” Much of the answer to that question would be tied to this new individual’s character – and verse 1 gives us the first reason to hope. The author described Boaz as a ‘worthy man.’ The word ‘worthy man’ in its simplest sense meant that Boaz was a man of wealth and standing in his community, but it also suggested that he was noble in character. The author’s use of this word to describe Boaz meant that Boaz was no ‘regular’ Israelite – he stood out in terms of his wealth and character. And this was insight given to the reader (insight which Ruth did not possess at the time) to cause the reader to start paying attention to Boaz. At the end of verse 1 the reader should be asking, “Why has the author introduced this new character?” “Why has the author described him as a worthy man?” “What role will this new character play in the lives of the women we were introduced to in chapter 1?” As readers we now have to pay attention to this new character to see how he is going to fit into the story which has already begun.
“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” (verses 2-3).
To ‘glean’ was not the same thing as to ‘harvest.’ To ‘harvest’ meant to go out into the fields and to collect the produce of the fields for consumption or for selling. It was work done by servants or individuals who had been hired by the individual who owned the field. To ‘glean’ meant to go out into the fields and to collect the scraps (i.e. the leftovers or the ears of grain that had accidentally been dropped). Servants and hired individuals did not ‘glean.’ Gleaning was typically done by orphans and widows who would come into the portions of fields that had already been harvested by the servants and hired workers to gather what scraps they could. It was a practice that God, Himself, had made provisions for earlier in the Old Testament: “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 the sojourner: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:9-10; also 23:22). “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord you God may bless you in all the work of your hand” (Deuteronomy 24:19). So what Ruth asked Naomi to permit her to do wasn’t anything unusual – widows would often have had to rely on this type of work for their own food. But Ruth added something unusual to her request when she said, “after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” While God had commanded that provisions be made for the orphans, widows, and sojourners, we must also admit that this would have been easier to do when there had been an excess of produce. But this had not been the case in Israel. Israel had been suffering from a famine for more than 10 years. For more than 10 years the fields had produced such little produce that the people of Israel had been incredibly hungry. It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that the mindset of many landowners who had struggled through such a difficult season would be to gather up everything. This would be their chance to fill their own stomachs, to sell more than they normally would to others who had gone hungry for so long, and to capitalize on the fear that most people probably had (i.e. not knowing if another famine was looming). It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine that many landowners probably had given instructions to their servants and hired workers not to leave anything behind and to chase off any who might be looking for handouts. So Ruth seemed to believe that if she was going to have any success gleaning, that she was going to have to find favor in the eyes of some landowner.
Verse 3 tells us that Ruth “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” This seems to be a literary technique used by the author to make the reader ask the question, “Did this really happen by chance?” The answer actually seems to be ‘no.’ In chapter 1 we already saw the providential hand of God at work in the lives of Naomi and Ruth. In 1:6 we saw God at work visiting His people and taking away the famine from Israel; in 1:22 we saw God’s hand at work in causing Naomi and Ruth to return right at the beginning of the barley harvest; and now God has providentially caused Ruth to come to the field of Boaz. A potential redeemer for Naomi and Ruth would have to be both a relative and a gracious man. A non-relative could not redeem Naomi or Ruth, and a non-gracious man wouldn’t take the trouble upon himself to redeem another. It is easier to see the hand of God at work in all of this as He has led Ruth to the field of a relative who has already been described as a ‘worthy man.’
“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.’” – Ruth 2:4-7
As the author turned the focus back onto Boaz in verse 4, the reader is once again forced to recognize the character of this man. Boaz seemed to be a man who genuinely cared for his workers, not only greeting them upon his arrival but doing so by pronouncing a blessing upon them. Then in response the workers didn’t ignore him or whisper negative responses under their breathe, they answered with a word of blessing back to him. The care that he has demonstrated to his workers has resulted in their gratitude and appreciation for him. In addition to his pronouncement of blessing upon his workers, Boaz also appeared to know his workers well enough to recognize that there was one individual who was out of place. Boaz asked the question in verse 5, “Whose young woman is this?” Boaz had noticed that she was out of place. And in the servant's response, Ruth’s name was never mention; but he identified her as a foreigner who had returned with Naomi and he informed Boaz of both her request and of her diligence in the field.
“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.’” – Ruth 2:8-13
In verse 8 this well-to-do, Israelite landowner initiated a conversation with a struggling, widowed, foreign woman. That alone is amazing! But what he had to say to her was even more amazing! He began by calling her ‘my daughter.’ From the beginning of his conversation with Ruth, Boaz sought to tear down any dividing barriers. Barriers of ethnicity, economics, and standing were torn down when Boaz called Ruth, ‘my daughter.’ Then he instructed Ruth not to go anywhere else to glean. She was to glean exclusively in his field, literally ‘clinging’ to his young women, not fearing any form of sexual harassment or assault from the young men, and helping herself to the water drawn by the young men from his wells. What an unbelievable act of kindness, mercy, compassion, and generosity! Boaz was demonstrating the ‘hesed’ (i.e. kindness) that Naomi asked God to show to Ruth back in 1:8. Ruth was overwhelmed by Boaz’s kindness and generosity and fell on her face before him asking why she – a foreigner – had found such favor in his eyes. The answer to that question seemed to be that God had been working to prepare Boaz’s heart to be kind and generous to Ruth. Boaz’s response to Ruth was that he had already heard the reports about her and the ‘hesed’ she had demonstrated to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Additionally, she had demonstrated great courage – courage just like Abraham had shown – when she departed from her father and mother and the country that she was familiar with to return to Bethlehem with Naomi. Boaz seemed confident that God was going to take great care of Ruth since she had not only left her family and country behind, but had also left the false god of her country behind to believe in and take refuge under the God of Israel (see 1:16). (The picture Boaz used to illustrate what Ruth had done is a beautiful one – it was a picture of a bird who had spread out its wing to provide protection to and care for its young.) Then we continue to see how Boaz’s kindness towards Ruth had made an impression upon her. She realized that from a worldly perspective she did not deserve anything from Boaz. From a ‘class’ perspective she was as lowly as one could be – she was a servant. Boaz did not have to interact with her or to treat her kindly - especially because she wasn’t even one of his own servants. And yet Boaz had looked on her with favor. So Ruth told Boaz that he had comforted her. In other words the kindness that he had shown her had brought her relief.
“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.’” – Ruth 2:14-16
Some time transpired between Boaz’s last dialogue with Ruth and what we see taking place in verses 14-16. Verse 14 began with the words, “and at mealtime.” The language there suggested that this was a different time. And for a second time we see the amazing character of Boaz being put on display. In verse 14 Boaz invited Ruth to join his workers and himself to eat. The fact that Boaz was eating with his servants spoke volumes about his character (that he would fellowship with and demonstrate love and concern for his workers by eating with them). And yet once again we get to see Boaz showing extraordinary kindness, mercy, compassion, and grace to this foreign widow. Boaz invited Ruth to come and to share in the meal with them. Then he went even further by himself serving Ruth. The master, the one with great possessions and standings, was serving the one who had nothing. And he did not hold back! He served her with more than enough to satisfy her present desire and made sure that she had some to take with her. Before the workers returned to the field he also gave an unbelievable word of instruction to his young men. Boaz told them to go beyond permitting Ruth to glean in the field, he told them to allow her to glean among what they had already harvested. Scraps and leftovers weren’t going to be good enough for Ruth – they were to permit her to even take from the best of what they had harvested and to pull out and leave out some of their harvest for her. That was extraordinary generosity and grace! And this was a man of extraordinary character!
“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 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.’ And Ruth the Moabite said, ‘Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harves.’’ And Naomi said to Ruth, her dauther-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.” – Ruth 2:17-23
The author tells us that Ruth gleaned until the evening and that when she had finished gleaning she took all that she had gathered and beat it out. Due to Boaz’s generosity the text tells us that she brought home about an ephah of barley (that’s approximately 5.8 gallons – or a little more than a 5 gallon bucket worth). That was a HUGE amount for someone who had spent the day gathering scraps (i.e. gleaning). In fact to “glean” that much barley in one day was probably unimaginable. So it comes as no surprise that Naomi was so incredibly surprised when Naomi got home. The 5 gallon bucket worth of barley was beyond what she ever imagined Ruth would bring home – and on top of that she brought out the left over roasted grain that she had been served at mealtime. The quantity of food Ruth brought home had more than provoked Naomi’s interest. So twice Naomi asked Ruth “where” she had worked and gleaned. But it wasn’t the ‘place’ that had been the blessing to Ruth or the ‘place’ that had showed such mercy, grace, compassion, kindness, and generosity – it was a person. So rather than answering Naomi’s question and telling her where she had worked and gleaned, Ruth answered the question by telling Naomi with whom she had worked and gleaned. She said that she had gleaned in a field which belonged to a man named Boaz. Ruth understood that it was a person who had demonstrated unimaginable generosity, grace, and kindness in her life.
When Ruth told Naomi that she had spent the day in Boaz’s field, Naomi spoke a word of thanksgiving and praise to God. Naomi understood that God was demonstrating His ‘hesed’ to her family – He was showing His faithfulness and loving-kindness to her and Ruth through Boaz. So Naomi asked that God would bless Boaz. She also revealed to Ruth that Boaz was a close relative of her husband, Elimelech, which made him a potential redeemer. Then Ruth added to the good news: what she had brought home that day wasn’t just a one time gift! Boaz had instructed her to glean in his fields until all the harvest had been completed. Barley was the first produce to be brought in during the harvest season. Wheat would be harvested later. So Boaz had done more than give a one time gracious gift of food – he had instructed her to glean among the safety of his fields where she would be graciously provided for every day until the harvest season was through. Naomi recognized how good and gracious of an offer that was and encouraged Ruth to do as he had instructed. And chapter 2 concludes telling the reader that that is indeed what Ruth did. She kept close to Boaz’s young servant girls and gleaned until the end of the barley and wheat harvests.
So the focus of chapter 2 is a person: Boaz. And the author wants the reader to focus on his character in particular. From the beginning of the chapter (verse 1) we see that he is a “worthy man.” And as the author works through the chapter we see example after example of what he meant by that. Boaz was a good and caring businessman who was kind to his servants and hired help. He was attentive to those who served him and noticed when he saw someone out of place. He initiated a conversation with a needy, widowed, foreigner and addressed her in a way that removed all ethnic, ecomomic, and class barriers. He then instructed this needy, widowed, foreigner to glean only in his fields and to refresh herself with water from his wells – kindness which Ruth said had brought comfort to her life. Then he invited her to eat with his workers, at which time he, himself, took the initiative to serve her and gave her more than enough to satisfy her hunger. And when it was time to return to work he gave instructions to his young men to allow her to glean not only among the scraps, but also among the best of the harvest and to even pull out some of what they had harvested for her. This is the character of the one who would serve as Ruth’s physical redeemer.
Yet last week we noted that Naomi and Ruth also had a sin problem and that they needed more than just physical redemption – they also needed spiritual redemption. And so in this chapter what we have to realize is that Boaz is serving as a model and example of the character that the greater spiritual Redeemer would possess. And so we see in Ruth 2 a foreshadowing that would help us recognize the Redeemer that God has promised.
Like Boaz the greater Redeemer would be a worthy man (vs.1) of truly noble character. And like Boaz, the greater Redeemer would be one who would come from Bethlehem (vs. 4). But the greater Redeemer would do more than come and pronounce the blessing, “The Lord be with you” (vs. 4) – when the greater Redeemer would come, the Lord would be with us. (“‘She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” – Matthew 1:21-23) Jesus was fully divine – God residing with man in the flesh! Like Boaz the greater Redeemer would take notice of foreigners and would initiate a relationship with them (vs. 5, 8). Like Boaz the greater Redeemer would work to tear down the barriers that would separate others from Himself. And like Boaz the greater Redeemer would call those in need of redemption to find their hope exclusively in Him and to be satisfied and refreshed exclusively by His water (vs. 8-9). (Is it any coincidence then that in the NT Jesus makes such exclusive claims like John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That type of exclusivity sounds a lot like Boaz’s instructions to Ruth not to glean in any other field. Boaz alone would be the sole provider for Ruth’s food needs, and Jesus alone would be the sole provider of humanity’s salvation need. Neither can it be a coincidence that hundreds of years later Jesus (a Jew) showed up at a well talking to a Samaritan (foreign) woman. If we will recall the conversation in John 4:7-15, we will remember that Jesus asked that woman for a drink from the well. Surprised by the request the woman asked Jesus why He (a Jew) would ask her (a Samaritan) for a drink. Then Jesus responded, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water. . . Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” So like Boaz, the greater Redeemer would come calling foreigners to drink from His water and be satisfied.) Like Boaz, the greater Redeemer would come to provide comfort to hurting and weary souls (vs. 13). And like Boaz, the greater Redeemer would be incredibly gracious and generous – giving more than enough to satisfy, and providing more than just scraps, but providing the very best (vs. 14, 15-16). (Again, can it be a coincidence that Jesus had another encounter with a foreign woman who would have settled for scraps, but who got more from Jesus? “But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of Him and came and fell down at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered Him, ‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ And He said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’ And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.” – Mark 7:25-30) Finally, like Boaz, the greater Redeemer would personify the Hebrew word ‘hesed.’ He would be compassionate, gracious, merciful, loving, and kind in all of his actions. The author of the book of Ruth paints this picture of Boaz in this way because Boaz would serve as a living clue to what the character of the greater Redeemer would look like.
And when we encounter the good news of the greater Redeemer, the question we are left with is the question Ruth asked, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (vs. 10) and which the psalmist asked in Psalm 8:4, “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” We have nothing to offer to Jesus – all we have is our sin. All we have is that which should drive us away from Him; and yet He still loves us, He still pursues us, and He still endured the wrath of God and the death that we deserved for us. WHY?!?! Perhaps we will never fully understand why. But that doesn’t change the truth of what Jesus has done for you and me. He came to be our spiritual Redeemer and to call us to follow after Him. So what has your response been? Are you looking toward your own good works or your own morality to answer the question, “Where has your salvation come from?” Or have you answered that question the way Ruth did, proclaiming “with Whom you have found your salvation?”
Connection Point Questions for Discussion:
1. Think about a time when you needed someone to give you clues to help you. (Maybe it was landmarks to go along with driving directions, or maybe it was clues to help you identify a specific person you were supposed to meet, etc.) Why were those clues so important for you during that time? In our text this week we said that Boaz's character served as a foreshadowing of the coming Redeemer (i.e. the promised Messiah) - in other words Boaz was a kind of clue to help us identify the coming Redeemer. In what ways did Boaz serve as a foreshadowing of the coming Messiah and why was it necessary for God to provide those clues?
2. In verse 10, Ruth asked Boaz, "Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?" Talk about this question. Why did Ruth feel this way? What made her ask this question? Should it be a surprise to us that we have found favor in Jesus' eyes and if so, why? How does it make us feel when we think about the favor we have found in Jesus' eyes?
3. In verse 13, Ruth told Boaz that his kindness and generosity had comforted her? In what ways might have Boaz's kindness and generosity have comforted Ruth? Has Jesus ever brought comfort to you in the past, and if so how?
4. After Ruth returned home with the barley she had gleaned and the leftovers from her meal with Boaz and his workers, Naomi asked her twice, "where" she had worked. Instead of telling Naomi "where" she had worked, she answered "with whom" she had worked. Why was it signficant that Ruth answered "with whom" she had worked? As followers of Christ, we are called to tell others about the salvation that we have. Why is it important that we emphasize "with whom" we have found our salvation?
5. In chapter 2 we noted that Boaz took the initiative to demonstrate his loving-kindness, his compassion, his graciousness, and his generosity to someone who was in great need of those things. Are you presently taking the initiative to demonstrate loving-kindness, compassion, and generosity with another? Is there someone in your life right now who needs this demonstration of God's love and character in his/her life? How can you take the initiative to be that person this week?