Soon after Elimelech died his sons took wives and soon they made them widows. Men, many are affected by the choices we make. Marry in the faith. God warns "be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers."4 It is forbidden. Many a young Christian girl has married one of the sons of Moab, thinking that they will be able to turn their heart to God, as easily as they had turned their heart to themselves, but find out otherwise. For everyone who is won to the Lord, a hundred are lost. Ask Solomon. Don't seek marriage in Moab.
Sometime after the funerals, Naomi heard that the LORD had visited his people, in giving them bread. It was as if she were hearing the Gospel all over again. Talk of such blessing awakened a slumbering faith. She wanted to go home. She was as drained and broken as the prodigal son (she herself admitted "God sent her out full, but brought her home empty"). The prodigal son said "I will arise and go to my father."5 The Good News about bread in Israel quickened her otherwise deadened spirit and revived her from the stupor caused by her surroundings. Believers do not fare well in Babylon unless they are there on a holy errand like Jonah to preach in the gates of Ninevah. Saints have no business in Moab except that they be there as missionaries. It was time to go home. "Train up a child in the way that he should go and when he is old he shall not depart from it."6 Naomi, now given the opportunity, wanted to go home.
Our lives are the product of the choices we make. Be careful in what you choose. She remembered Bethlehem. "Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God."7 Every message calls for a response. To do nothing is to remain forever in Moab.
Faith is a very personal matter however. Naomi could not believe for Elimelech, nor for Mahlon, or Chilion. They will each have to stand before God and give an account of themselves. Sometimes an altar call pulls in those weak in character as well as weak in faith. Sometimes when Peter says "I go fishing, others who seldom think for themselves say "we go also."8 The Bible says "Let every man be persuaded in his own mind."9 Children should follow their parents. Sometimes that might lead them to Moab. They must live under authority. Yet there comes a time when they must decide for themselves if they will follow Christ. Faith is personal.
For this reason Naomi released her daughter's-in-law and told them to go back home. Naomi was honest. It was almost as if she learned from the Master who turned to the crowd and said "foxes have holes and birds of the air have their nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head."10 She was sending them back to their mothers and to the house of their father's. She was going to do the same. This was good-bye. The girls wept.
As of verse ten both girls would follow Naomi. They were determined to go. Naomi made it harder, not easier. She made it clear that she had nothing to offer them. She basically said, "I have nothing left, but God."
Evangelical Christianity often makes it too easy for hypocrites to go to Bethlehem. Yet while it may be possible for a hypocrite to reach Bethlehem (or church) without a true conversion, it is impossible to reach heaven without the new-birth. We sometimes give the impression that a sinner need only walk from the back to the front of the church for "everything to be alright." Too often we cheapen the Gospel in order to get them to follow us. And that is exactly what they do. They follow us. The altar call should never be to join the church, but rather to join Jesus.
The words of Ruth were gathered up by God and recorded for us in this eternal volume. These words are so lovely and majestic that they have been used in wedding vows for millenium. "Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee; for wither thou goest I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge, thy people shall be my people and thy God my God.
To be sure Naomi made a real impact on Ruth or she never would have considered (let alone longed to go) with her mother-in-law. Would to God that every mother-in-law could evoke such devotion from their son's spouse. But there was something more, there was a greater depth in the decision Ruth made than immediately meets the eye. This was more than feelings, this was faith. "I want thy God to become my God."
No preacher ever asked his congregation to turn to the book of Orpah. Orpah was last seen walking back to Moab and the gods of Moab. Only God knows what happened to her. Behold, thy sister-in-law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods" (1:15). Perhaps there would be 67 books in our Bibles today if Orpah had only made a different choice. Hebrews six speaks of people who once tasted the things of God and then turned away from them. I suspect there is someone in Hades who is begging Abraham for a drop of water upon her tongue. She had her opportunity. She made her choice. I have decided to follow Jesus. How about you?
1. Jn 4:4 7. Ro 10:17
2. Ju 21:25 8. Jn 20:3
3. Pr 14:18 9. Ro 14:5
4. 2Cor 6:14 10. Mt 8:20
5. Lk 15:18
6. Pr 22:6
After God finds us he feeds us. "But my God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus."1 Ruth had to live by Grace. She had nothing else. She had no resources of her own. She lived out the text, "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is a gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast."2 If there was any boasting, she would later boast of Boaz and not of herself. We imitate our sister for we are only too glad to boast of Christ. This poor woman had nothing with which to buy or barter, and yet she would have all she needed. Jesus could very well have meant her when he said, "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." 3 There was not an ounce of pride, nor a speck of presumption in her. Like Nathanial she seemed to be without guile. Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. After God finds us, he feeds us.
What may be attributed to faith through an infantile understanding of salvation is soon seen as grace. It is not us, but it is "God that worketh in you, both to will and to do his good pleasure."
Naomi had heard that there was bread in Bethlehem and so she and Ruth returned to the house of bread. Grace somehow raises hope from the dead and gives it strength to go on. Ruth, the Moabitess, never dreamed to ask for a loaf but, like the Syro-Phenician woman, was willing to settle for the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. "God resists the proud."4 Grace is given to the humble. "Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, and he will lift you up."5
"And Ruth said unto Naomi, Let me now go to the field, and glean ears of Corn after him in whose sight I shall find grace. And she said unto her, Go my daughter" (2:2).
The Bible is the field of Jesus, my Kinsman Redeemer "Let me now go to the field." It is to this field that I come hungry each day. It is in this field that I see the amber waves of grain, of corn and of barley. It is in this field that I find the staple of my spiritual life. I come like Ruth, hoping to find grace. I deserve nothing. I can really demand nothing. Even if Naomi might have some genetic right, I am a debtor to mercy alone.
Look at that word "Moabitess." That stain is enough to keep me at a distance. That word should be enough to disqualify me forever. I come from a family that ill-used God's people and brazenly objected to God's will. I am a sinner and the son of a sinner. The law shall shut me out, but grace will take me in. Numbers 21:29 says, "Woe unto thee Moab." And Deut. 23:3 "no Ammonite or Moabite shall enter." The law came by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.
"The LORD bless thee" (2:4). No work will go well unless the LORD bless thee. Boaz began the workday by invoking God's blessing. The reapers had their sickles, no doubt, sharpened and ready. They were well rested by a night of slumber and were full of strength before the day, but they dare not go into the field without the blessing. "The Lord bless thee and keep thee, the Lord make is face to shine upon thee and be gracious unto thee, the Lord lift up his countenance upon thee and give thee peace."6 Proverbs tells us "the blessing of the Lord maketh rich."7 Those riches come in different currencies, however. God may pay you with the coin of children's laughter, or with the currency of peace. There are many things more valuable than money. Boaz began the day with a blessing. Let every worker remember, "except the Lord build a house, they labor in vain that build it."8 Let us not lift a fork to our mouth, nor a finger to our labor without first asking for God's blessing.
He who appeals for mercy surely finds grace. "I pray you let me glean." Jesus said, "he that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out."9 Boaz would not cast this poor woman out. Little did he realize that he was making room for the great-grandmother of our Lord. Many have entertained angels unawares. Grace welcomes us. And it bids us stay. "Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here close to my maidens." Foolish Christian, will you who have been welcomed by grace wander off to search in the fields of another? Will you who have found the fruit of grace, try to eat the husks of the law? Shall you so ungratefully turn away from such heavenly hospitality and feed at the feeding troth of the world? No, once we have found our way into the fields of Boaz no other field can compare. Besides, where else would we go, "thou Lord hast the words of eternal life."10
The rule of graciousness allowed the hungry of Israel to glean from the corners of the field. The rule of grace, amazingly gives us more. This book (the Bible) is the field of my Kinsman Redeemer, and through it I am fed. I would settle for the corners. I would settle for the things others have missed in the harvest. I would be happy with crumbs that fall from the rich man's table, but grace gives me more.
Boaz quietly instructed his reapers to drop "handsful on purpose" (2:16) Ruth, who would have been happy with little, got far more than she expected. It is always that way with God. "He is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all you ask or think."11
When she came home her mother-in-law asked her a question. "Where hast thou gleaned today?" I ask you my brother,
my sister, "Where hast thou gleaned today?" Are you not hungering and thirsting after righteousness? Have you gone into the fields of God's word to gather up enough for yourself and for those you love? Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.
1. Phil 4:19
2. Eph 2:8
3. Mt 5:3
4. Ja 4:26
5. 1Pet 5:6
6. Num. 6:24
7. Pr 10:22
8. Ps 127:1
9. Jn 6:37
10. Jn 6:68
11. Eph 3:20
Ruth's faith carried her all the way from Moab to Bethlehem. However, this princess of faith wore no satin slippers. She was poor by earthly standards, but she was rich in faith. He who drew her to the house of bread would also find a way to feed her. Naomi understood her daughter-in-law's needs. God often uses our own hurts and sorrows to make us sensitive to the needs of others (2Cor 1:3-4).
Security is important to every woman. "My daughter, shall I not seek security for you " Man is the hunter, woman is the gatherer. Men are by nature more likely to risk the calm and the comfort of home while chasing some herd or seeking some adventure, but the woman has different priorities. The nesting instinct demands a measure of security. The fairer sex needs to stop and find rest. The Bible calls her the "weaker" vessel. That does not mean inferior. It means more delicate, and therefore more precious.
One would not open the workings of a swiss watch to the elements of a dust storm. No, the workings are too delicate, too sensitive, too important for that. Instead the jewels, wheels, and workings are covered and protected. The jeweler takes great care and precaution when he opens such a precious and complicated thing. Likewise, the female of the species has been designed by God to be a more delicate and fragile creature. Some would say "more sensitive." In order for her to do what she does best, she needs to find a place of rest, a place of security.
God is our hiding place. He is our rock and our fortress. He is our strength. Yes, "He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide in the shadow of the Almighty."1 God knows our needs (Matt. 6: 32). "Birds of the air have nests," said Jesus, and "foxes have holes" and young widows with broken hearts have needs too. And Ruth had an advocate and a counselor. She had Naomi. Naomi looked, not so much upon her own things as upon the things of another.
Naomi wanted it to "be well" with Ruth (3:1). To wish one well and do nothing is not to wish them well at all. James said it best "what good is it to say be warmed, and not give those things that are needful to the body?"2 Naomi would do like Mary and her spiknard; "she did what she could."3
The older women are to teach the younger (Titus 2). Blessed are those who have godly counsel. Naomi pointed Ruth in the right direction. There were certain laws and customs that fit this desperate situation. This was not a case of "security at any cost." This was not merely a case of survival. Ruth was not out to "snag a man." Neither was she about to sell herself. Some things must never be for sale. There are many who sacrifice their principles, lower their standards, and compromise their convictions in order to "make it" in the world. Ruth was no Tamar out to trick someone, nor was she about to become a worm on a hook. Her demeanor and her deportment was always honorable and couched in integrity.
Ruth is instructed to make herself presentable. Jesus taught his disciples not to wear long faces when they fasted. She is to wash herself, and anoint herself and put on her best garment. You may be poor, but you never need be dirty. Faith not only has feet, it has clean feet. Ruth is about to find a place at the feet of Boaz. She prepares herself.
Real faith brings us to the feet of Jesus. He who realizes the nature of this relationship prepares himself. "Moses, take off your shoes for the ground on which you stand is holy ground."4 A man dressing for court or courtship dresses with care, should one who comes to worship do less?
"Notice the place where he lies(3:4)." Note well his place in the light if you would find him in the dark. Eyes in love have a way of noticing everything. May we only have eyes for Jesus. May we be able to find him in a darkened room. John the beloved seemed to never take his eyes off the Savior. While others visited with one another he made his way to a place next to the Master. It was he who "leaned on Jesus' bosom." If we lose sight of the Lord, we certainly shall have difficulty finding him in the night. Boaz lay down near the pile of barley. How rich he is, yet Ruth eyes not the riches, but the Redeemer. "Notice," said Naomi. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, said the song writer.
Real faith has feet. "All that you say to me, I will do (3:5). Notice that word "all." Sometimes our cakes do not bake well, because we leave important ingredients out of God's recipes. A pinch of this and a pinch of that, we think no one will notice, but God does. "All." God does not ask for things except they be necessary elements in the alchemy of grace. Be it sweet, or bitter each powder plays an important role in the mystery of faith. Ruth would leave nothing out of the batter.
If our dough fails to rise, the fault lies not with God's recipe, but with
our failure to obey His simple commands. Faith did not come that night making demands. Instead, it came "softly and laid down." This talk of faith demanding its inheritance is audacity. It is folly, not faith, that demands or commands God. Real faith is always humble. It was bold enough for her to come, but faith should not insist God do this or that. Ruth never forgot from whence she came. Neither did she fail to remember who she was.
Boaz awakened with a start. There at his feet was a quiet figure. "Who are you?' he asked. "I am Ruth, your maid servant, and your close relative." A sacred society has its responsibilities. Her request that he spread his "skirt" over her was a cultural idiom and an appeal for security. He that cometh to the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. May I find a place under your wing.
There is room for any broken-hearted sinner under the shadow of God's wing. Jesus lamented man's failure to appreciate such a privileged position. "How often I would have gathered you as a hen gathers her biddies under her wing, but you would not."5 Ruth sought shelter under the wings of her kinsman redeemer.
Boaz knew who Ruth was. He knew her situation, he knew her need, he knew her integrity. "All the people of my city doth know that thou art a virtuous woman." Man looketh on the outward appearance, God looketh on the heart. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Ruth may have been poor but she was pure (at least, pure in heart).
Love leads us to the feet of God, to the feet of the Lord Jesus- To the foot of the cross. My faith has found a resting place. We willingly give our heart to Christ.
O Love, that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in Thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in Thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be
There was another kinsman who was closer than he legally. Boaz would ask him first. All things must be done decently and in order. A man must strive lawfully, if he hopes to be crowned. There can be
no short cuts to finding and doing God's will. Boaz would do things according to the law. Yet he would not send this handmaid home empty. God may not always give us what we want- he will always give us what we need.
Spread out your shawl and watch in amazement as God fills it with six ephahs of corn. God never sends us away empty. Sometimes he fills our container with grain, and sometimes with grace. But whatever it is, it is what we really need.
Boaz does not send her to seek out someone who may be a closer relative. That would be too humiliating, besides- he loved her. He would be her advocate. He would speak to the relative himself. We have an advocate. His blood shall speak for me.
1. Ps 91:1
2. Ja 3:14-17
3. Mk 14:8
4. Ex 3:5
5. Mt 23:37
Faith makes us part of the family. It is one thing to come for a visit, it is another to belong. Through faith we belong.
There are many doors of opportunity in life. No door is more important than salvation. Going through that door changes us forever. Most go by the door unaware of their need to enter. Others, unimpressed by its lack of grandeur reject it and look for another more worthy of their dignity and importance. Others reject any notion that this single door is the only door of salvation.
In chapter four we all sit in the gate. Jesus said "strait is the gait, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it."1 Every believer has been there.
In Old Testament times the gate was a kind of county seat; it was the courthouse. The gate was the place where the elders would sit to hear and deliberate on important matters. Boaz had some very important business to attend to. This gate would become the place of redemption for Ruth. It would mark the spot for time and all eternity as the place where a widowed Moabite woman would be redeemed and engrafted into the family of God.
"Now Boaz went up to the gate." Two thousand years ago Jesus, my great Kinsman Redeemer, went through a gate of suffering, anguish, shame, and guilt in order to purchase me. I was not worth anything, but he gave his all for me.
E. Stanley Jones knelt at an altar after anxiously feeling for his soul at the Fredrick Avenue Methodist Church in Baltimore. Years later when the building was to be torn down someone thought to rescue a section of the railing. It was made into a prayer desk and placed in the new building. It had a little plaque that said "At this spot E. Stanley Jones knelt and gave himself to Christ," then it invited people to do the same as Stanley had done. Tradition says that Zacchaeus used to go up to water that old sycamore tree in which he first met the Lord.
Ruth had a sacred spot in her life. If Ruth could, she would have carried that gate upon her back as Samson carried the gates of Gaza and made a memorial for her children to see and her children's children
to remember that great day- but she had no need to do so. For God would with these words make a memorial that will stand for time and all eternity as a testimony to this all-important transaction.
Boaz had some very important business to attend to. He would place a bid for the hand and heart of Naomi's daughter-in-law. When they went home that day they were husband and wife. So it is with our salvation. Salvation is the epitome of love. Calvary was the "high water" mark of God's love for man- but it is more. It was a legal transaction, and a binding oath and contract. It was more than a place of sentimental love, it was a place of great legal importance. It was a place of business, where Christ purchased my soul and ransomed me.
If you have ever engaged in closing an important business deal, if you have ever negotiated, if you have ever struck a bargain, you can appreciate what Boaz was feeling as he sat down in the Gate of Bethlehem that day. If you have ever been in love, if your heart ever began to race at the sight of your beloved, you can appreciate what was going on in the heart of Ruth- who perhaps thought she would never love or be loved again.
If you have ever sat with your lawyers, with contract and pen in hand, you can in small measure appreciate what is taking place in the fourth chapter of Ruth. Boaz was not about to steal Ruth. Love was not about to circumvent decency and order. Love was not going to usurp the right of another and build on duplicity, selfishness, or malice. Boaz would first launch a title search and determine if there was to be any other claimant.
Boaz brought into this business another "close relative" who had for lack of a better expression, and in keeping up the metaphor, a "lien" on the property or a "first option." Gathered there also were ten men, elders who would not only bring their witness, but also their wisdom. The writer of Proverbs tells us that there is wisdom in the multitude of counselors.
The situation is explained to the "relative" who carefully listens to the story of the land once belonging to Elimelech, Naomi's deceased husband. "Redeem it," urges Boaz if you want it. This land belongs in the family and it would be a reproach to lose it. Naomi owned it, but it could not sustain her, nor could she defend it. Land is usually a good investment, and a man with money often finds himself open to such good opportunities. "Yes, I will buy it," responded the relative. But there is more to this than land, there is also love. Not only did Elimelech leave a legacy in a barren piece of property, there was the matter of a childless heritage. He left no heirs, he had no living children, yet there was this young widow named Ruth. The transaction
must not leave her out.
That changed everything. It was not a matter of love for this relative, nor was it a matter of life. The introduction of another heir into his family line would complicate and confuse the inheritance of his own children and place his own estate in jeopardy. On second thought, he would have to pass.
When we are saved, we are made a full member of God's family with all its attending rights, responsibilities, and privileges. We become heirs and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:17; Gal 4:7). Our redemption was not only one of great importance legally in time past, it also holds with it great riches and rights. "Giving thanks unto the Father which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light."2 .
No one could afford to pay for my soul. The worth of a human soul in incalculable, and yet there was one and only one wealthy enough, and able enough, and willing enough to buy the rights to my soul, and that was Jesus. "Redeemed, not with corruptible things like silver and gold, from your vain conversation, received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as a lamb without blemish, and without spot."3
What took place in Ruth chapter four was the redemption of one. What took place on Calvary was the redemption of many. "Blessed Redeemer, precious Redeemer, seems now I see him on Calvary's tree. Wounded and bleeding, for sinners pleading, blind and unheeding dying for me."
Tradition had it that such a business transaction be sealed with the taking off of one's shoe and giving it as a witness and reminder. The church of course, looks not to a sandal, but to a cross as the symbol of its great redemption .
Boaz took Ruth home with him to be his bride. Ruth not only saw Boaz as her savior and redeemer, but as the restorer of her life. It was as if she were "born-again." God had for her, done "exceedingly, abundantly above all that she could ask or think."4 That's the way it is with God. She conceived and gave birth to a son. God gave her life and a reason to live.
Soon Ruth would have a baby and name him Obed. If they were like normal women, Ruth and Naomi would have naturally searched the baby's face for some resemblance to Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion. The baby was a link in a long golden chain connecting them to the past, as well as one which would lay promise to a future. The birth would no doubt somehow erase the pain of any loss she had in the
land of Moab. She would care for this little one, this gift of God. This is how the grandfather of David was born. This is how a broken hearted widow from Moab came to be an ancestor to the Lord Jesus. This is how the blood of providence runs through the veins of the humble, bringing them into the family of God. This is how amazing grace reaches out to the every kindred, tongue, people and nation. This is how God works. This is redemption.
1. Mt 7:14
2. Col 1:12
3. 1Pet 1:18
4. Eph 3:20
1. Dear Lord, I realize that the choices I make will determine my life and my destiny. You have given man the power to choose. My sinful human nature, if left to itself, is prone to choose the lower life of Moab, or the bondage of Egypt, or the slimy places of Sodom. Thank you for the grace you give which gives me the ability to seek those things which are above, those things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report. Thank you for the grace that enabled me to choose Jesus, and in so doing to choose life. Help me to continue to choose only those things that will increase my faith, hope, and love for you. Lord, like my sister Ruth, today again I choose to follow you.
2. Dear Lord, thank you for the house of bread. Thank you for Bethlehem. It is where Ruth found hands full on purpose. It is where the wise men would find the Christ. Lord, may I enter the fields of your eternal word with the same hunger as Ruth entering the fields of Boaz, and with the same spirit of humility. May I be content with the good grain left there for my good in every sacred text. May I faithfully read your Word each day. May I take each day enough for my soul and the soul of any others who may come hungry to my door. May I never take for granted your Holy Scriptures, the only food that will nourish my faith.
3. Dear Lord, may my faith have feet that lead me to thy foot. May I quietly come to you in devotion, even in the darkest night. As Ruth made her way to the side of Boaz and assumed a posture of submission and trust, I bow before you as both my lover and my Lord. Lord, I willingly see you as my sovereign, and yield to your will. I present my body a living sacrifice, knowing that your will is good, and
acceptable, and perfect. I come to you only with the purest and highest intentions, fully confident that you are holy, honest, and in everything honorable, realizing that your blessed feet were pierced and wounded for my iniquity.
4. Dear Lord, I thank you for making me part of thy family. And as sure as the transaction that took place in the Gates of Bethlehem engrafted Ruth into the very blood line of your Son, so I hold up your legal birth certificate in faith. "But to as many as received him, to them give he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe in his name." I am your child today, but as part of your church, I will be part of the bride of Christ tomorrow. I would keep myself clean and pure even as part of the espoused. I am bought with a price, and I am no longer my own, nor am I the world's. I am humbled to think you would want me and that you redeemed me out of poverty, drew me close in charity, and cancelled my sinful nativity. I am my beloved's and my beloved's mine.