August 5, 2001
In God’s kindness and compassion, the law of Moses made provision for those who were bereft, alone, and in need. While Boaz’s act of kindness toward Ruth complied with the covenant law, it was not done out of any sense of compulsion or legalism. Rather, as Alistair Begg teaches, Boaz demonstrated the character of God as he graciously and lovingly made a widowed foreigner part of his family. Boaz points us forward to the one who longs for all to become members of His eternal household.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now, if you’ll take your Bibles, and we’ll turn to the book of Ruth in the Old Testament and to the second chapter. Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, and Ruth. And we resume the story at 2:14:
“At mealtime Boaz said to her, ‘Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.’
“When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, ‘Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.’
“So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.
“Her mother-in-law asked her, ‘Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!’
“Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place [she’d] been working. ‘The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,’ she said.
“‘The Lord bless him!’ Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. ‘He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.’ She added, ‘That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.’
“Then Ruth the Moabitess said, ‘He even said to me, “Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.”’
“Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, ‘It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.’
“So Ruth stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”
Now, before we gather around the Lord’s Table this evening, we continue our studies in this lovely story. Things have actually turned out really well for Ruth. It’s true to say that her circumstances are not the best. People in the neighborhood would have known that she was living with her widowed mother-in-law, that she herself was a widow, and that, frankly, they were very poor. However, their poverty has not neutralized them, and Ruth has shown herself to be an initiative-taking kind of young lady. She had told her mother-in-law that she was going to go out and to glean in the fields to pick up leftover grain.
And as we saw in our last study, she had a strategy; she was hoping to go into the fields and find someone in whose eyes she would discover favor. When she got there, she made the very discovery for which she’d been hoping, causing her to exclaim in verse 10, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you [even] notice me—a foreigner?” and then, in verse 13, expressing her hope for the future, “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord.” And there in that thirteenth verse, you will notice that she’d been touched by both the provision and the protection afforded her by this individual called Boaz. And this was striking to her, because she knew herself not to have the standing of his other servant girls, as she mentions in verse 13, and Boaz himself, according to verse 1, was “a man of standing.” And her lack of standing was more than matched by his standing, and she remarks on the fact, “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant.”
One of the things that we’re discovering in this lovely little book is that it is just touched with so many insights into human life and nature. And we notice in passing, as we’ve said before, that long after eloquence are forgotten and long after human wisdom has been consigned to the annals of history, kindness will live on in the recollections of men and women. And so it is of his kindness, of his kind words, of his comfort, that she is caused to remark—made all the more striking on account of the fact that the home that she had set out from earlier in the morning was a home that, frankly, was marked with very little by way of prospect. It was, as we’ve said, a fairly poor home, and it was in many ways a sad home. You remember that Naomi thought that she would be better called “Mara” in 1:20, “because the Almighty ha[d] made [her] life very bitter.”
And now as the day has unfolded, surely, in the same way as when something good happens to you at your work, one of the prospects that keeps you going through the remaining hours of the day is the prospect of being able to go home and share the good news with those that matter most to you. And as this day unfolds, Ruth’s spirits must have lifted within her as she said to herself, “I can’t wait to get back and tell Naomi what has been going on today. This has been a day to be remembered.” She may even have felt that by the time she reached what we have as verse 13, she had completely maxed out. Surely, it had been a wonderful day. There couldn’t be very much more that she could enjoy, surely, of the kindness and favor of this individual.
This was a wonderful thing, this God of Israel, under whose wing she had taken refuge. When she had committed herself to God, when she had heard of him from Naomi and from others, she had only wondered at the prospect of what it would mean. She could never have known just how dramatic would be the provision of this wonderful God. She had taken refuge in him, and now she was discovering that he was able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that she could ask or even imagine. The day started, “I think I’ll go out into the fields and pick up the leftover grain. Maybe there’s someone in whose eyes I find favor.” That seemed like a distant memory even now in light of all that has unfolded.
Now, what I want to do is just give you three phrases to summarize the balance of the chapter. Verses 14–16 we might consider under the heading all that she wanted and more. All that she wanted and more. Notice the invitation that is extended to her at verse 14: “At mealtime Boaz said to her, ‘Come over here. [And] have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.’” It was a gracious invitation. We’ve learned in the past studies that the law had made provision for those whose circumstances was as Ruth’s. But the law was given within the framework of God’s covenant care. Therefore, for the law to be applied demanded that the application of the law be made in such a way as to reinforce the character of a covenant-keeping God. He had revealed himself as one who “executes justice for the fatherless and the widows, who loves the foreigners and gives them clothing.” This is how God has revealed himself in the Word; he said, “I execute justice for the fatherless and for the widows, I love the foreigners and I give them clothing.” Then he gives his law to his people, not in order that they might become legalists, but by their obedience to his law, they might display his character. So that as Boaz takes up the instruction of the Old Testament and puts, if you like, hands and feet to it, this girl Ruth discovers the heart of God in the hands of Boaz.
And Boaz is a wonderful example of God’s grace. As you look at him operating here, there is no sense in this scene of him operating on the basis of some grudging legalistic servitude to the demands of the law—you know, “Oh, well, I’ve got a foreigner here, and it says, you know, in the law that you’re supposed to look after them, so I suppose I’ll have to look after her. Who brought her in here? Why did she have to show up? Now I’ve got to do all this”—some grudging, hopeless thing. No, you find in him just the overflowing generosity of someone who has discovered who God is and has discovered that he has been entrusted with the provision of making this God known. Listen, how does an invisible God become visible to the twenty-first century? By the hands and the hearts of those who declare themselves to be members of his covenant family. How does the twenty-first century meet God? The invisible God becomes visible in the care of his people. If you doubt that, go back and read 1 John.
So the invitation was a gracious invitation, and it was a generous invitation. She had already enjoyed the privilege of being shown around, as it were, by the boss. He had taken her all around in a very magnanimous fashion, and he’d shown her the way to the watercooler, there in verse 9. And she might have said to herself, “Well, that’s wonderful; at least I know where I can get a drink of water. I am foreigner. I’d better go sit where foreigners sit.” And then when she goes to take her place, he says to her, “Excuse me? Why don’t you come over here? Come over here and sit with us.” And so she’s invited to join the harvesters and to participate in their meal.
Now again, just try and get your head into this. Here’s a girl who leaves in the morning. She says to her mother-in-law, “I think I’ll go and see if I can scrape something up in the fields.” And it’s only the early afternoon, and look at her: she looks like she’s a member of the group; she looks like she’s been there forever. What a wonderful picture of grace and generosity! It’s the way it ought to be in the church. Somebody says, “I think I’ll go and see if God is around. I think I’ll go and try church. I think I’ll go and find out what it’s about.” And there ought to be a sense in which by the early afternoon they have been gathered up in the company of the faithful, because of the kindness and the generosity and the expressions of God’s covenant care. Oh, would that it might be so in increasing measure, when the widow and the poor and the homeless and the bitter decide to go in search of this God!
And she received the roasted grain from his hands, and she ate until she was satisfied. And in verse 14, she even had some left over for what you Colonial types call a doggie bag. This is one of the early doggie bags of the Bible as far as I can see. Somebody came to her and said, “Would you like a doggie bag for that?” and she said, “Yes I would. I’m not sure what it is, but I will have one.” She ate all she wanted, and she had some left over. There’s just this wonderful sense of generosity and grace, isn’t there?
So the invitation was gracious, the invitation was generous, and I would like you to notice that the invitation crossed economic, social, and racial lines. The invitation crossed economic, social, and racial lines. Boaz ate with the harvesters, and he made them happy by his company. He could have eaten by himself and found his happiness in his isolation, but he ate with them and found contentment in their satisfaction.
He makes provision for this foreign girl and serves as a bridge into the company of these strangers. There’s a great commonality in that picture there, isn’t there? “Come … here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” And you almost get the picture that it’s a kind of the thing where you dip those things in… fondue, yes! It’s like a fondue meal. There is a commonality to it, there a communion in it. They’re not separated from one another, but they’re actually participating in the very same thing. He’s the bridge that says, “You know, I know you come from a foreign place, but you’re part of us now. Under the shadow of God’s wings you have come to dwell. I heard what you said for Naomi,” and so on. “Now, come here and join with us.” So she’s a foreigner, she’s an alien, she’s a stranger, she is from a completely different ethnic and racial background, but she’s welcome as a result of the invitation of Boaz.
I just came back from Alabama. I’ve never been there; I always wanted to go. I read about it, I saw the pictures, and with you, I cringed. But never was it so vivid for me as to get down there and walk those streets. And while I was reading my Bible in relationship to this, I was thinking about history with respect to that. How could it possibly have been that only fifty years ago, apparently right-minded people either completely ignored the Bible or distorted the Bible so as to reinforce separate water fountains, separate buses, separate restaurants, separate restrooms, on the basis on the color of a person’s skin? But it was here, and it was now, and it was apparently Christian.
Well, they didn’t get it from the Bible. And the more I read the story of Ruth, the more I wonder if there isn’t in this story a very strong word from God concerning this very issue. If you turn for a moment—and this is a slight detour, but it is an important detour, because I want to tackle these issues not in abstraction but when they come to us from the Scriptures—if you turn to Deuteronomy chapter 7 for just a moment, I want to point something out to you. Deuteronomy chapter 7: “When the Lord your God brings you into the land [you’re] entering to possess and drives out before you many nations—the Hittites, [the] Girgashites, [the] Amorites, [the] Canaanites, [the] Perizzites, [the] Hivites … [the] Jebusites, seven nations larger and stronger than you—and when the Lord your God has delivered them over to you and you have defeated them, then you must destroy them totally. Make no treaty with them … show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons.”
Now, just stop there for a moment. It is that kind of passage of Scripture which historically has been used in support of apartheid—the notion being that somehow or another, the people of God were defined in racial terms. But if you read the fourth verse, the concern was not racial; the concern was theological. The concern was religious. The reason that God did not want intermarriage was not because the races would be interwoven, which was not ultimately a concern, but was because the purity of monotheism would be eroded as a result of that. Therefore, the concern was not to take “your daughters to their sons or … their daughters for your sons,” why? “For they will turn your sons away from following me to serve other gods.”
In other words, the reason for the prohibition of intermarriage was not race; it was religion. It is not possible to defend, as some have tried, racial segregation, racial discrimination, on the basis of some supposed biblical principle of racial purity. And indeed, the first principle of the whole idea of the Christian discussion of the question of race needs to be built on one significant statement in Acts 17:26, when Paul, in speaking to the intelligentsia in Athens about the way in which God has created the universe, he says to them, and he says to them with great clarity—Acts 17:26—“From one man he made every nation of men.” Therefore, as far as mankind is concerned, there is only one group. There’s only one group. And the issue can never be a color issue or an ethnic issue or a racial issue; the issue is only the purity of loving God with all our hearts. And the invitation to become a member of the covenant people of God was made as a result of a response to faith in his promise, which was universal in its appeal and which was immediate in its application. It had nothing to do with color or with ethnic background.
And so the emphasis of the New Testament is that the gospel transcends all racial barriers. And you say, “Well, how did you get to that from here?” Because I think that this truth is foreshadowed in the activities of Boaz from Bethlehem reaching out to Ruth from Moab. Otherwise, he is a violator, as we will see in chapter 3, of the very law of God, which demanded, apparently, the purity of race. It couldn’t be! What was going to allow them to share the same life, to share the same bed, to share the same future? The awareness that they had been made one in the covenant love of God. And people say, “Well, you know, the Bible, it’s really got nothing very much in it at all, you know.” Well, we’ll leave it there, shall we?
It was a gracious invitation, it was a generous invitation, and it was an invitation that crossed social and economic and racial barriers.
The provision that was given or granted was discovered by Ruth on the path of duty. Boaz gives orders in verse 15: “If she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. … Pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” What’s stopped him from actually just saying, “Hey, don’t go back there this afternoon? You don’t have to go back in there. You did a great job this morning; you’re done with that. I like you. I’ll give you some stuff to take home to Naomi. I’m the boss! I mean, it all comes to me, in any case.” Why didn’t he do that? Well, we don’t actually know, but presumably because if he had done so, he would have deprived her of a sense of accomplishment, he would have deprived himself of the wonder of watching this girl fulfill her strategy and complete her commitment, and he would have deprived her of the tremendous sense of achievement that would have been hers when she went back up the street carrying this phenomenal bundle.
I mean, if somebody had given it to her, she said, “Well, I got it given to me.” But when she gets home, she says, “You know what? What a day! What a bundle! What a God under whose wings we have taken refuge! I think I can call you Naomi tonight; I don’t need to call you Mara. The bitterness has been replaced with bounty.” We may go out with weeping, and then we return with joy, you know, bringing in the sheaves.
And her activities in making discovery of this provision were unhindered by rebukes or by embarrassments. You see the humanity of this: “Now guys, I’m sending Ruth back out there. Now listen, don’t embarrass her. Don’t be doing any ethnic jokes. Okay? Don’t be doing any of those Moabite jokes. Don’t do that! It’s not going to go over well. Don’t do that. And don’t make her feel bad if she starts fiddling around in the wrong places. In fact, in order to make it good for her, why don’t you pull some stuff out and let it drop?” So in other words, he knew that the law demanded that he shouldn’t deal with the perimeter. But when the love of God fills a heart, that’s not sufficient for Boaz—just to give people the dribs and drabs off the corners. He says, “Give her the stalks out of the very heart of it,” you see. It’s a wonderful picture.
You need to ask yourself the question—some of you are in the kind of work situation where, on a routine basis, new people come. Do you make them welcome? Do you take satisfaction in making a stranger feel comfortable, or do you find it more pleasant to make your poor neighbor seem unhappy, at least for the first few days? Do you introduce them to others? Do you bring them into the core of things? Or do you just let them sit and find it all out for themselves?
The Christian ought to be the first one to include. The member of the covenant love of God should be the first to say, “You’re welcome, we’re glad you’re here, please participate. I know you’ve no one to sit with. Why don’t you join me?” And yet, unless we’re brave enough to stand against the tide, which is often perverse, we may find ourselves caught up in the wrong side of the equation, knowing what we ought to do and yet failing to do it.
In a question and answer session some time ago down in Orlando, I was in the company of Sinclair Ferguson. And someone asked a question, said, “What did you ever do that was bad when you were a boy?” I thought, “What a strange question!” And he took the microphone and he paused for a moment, and I wondered what he would say, ’cause I never thought Sinclair did anything bad when he was a boy. I thought he was just good all the time. And he said this: he said, “Well, I can think of many things, but one thing I remember. One afternoon I was out with my brother, and some boys in the neighborhood made fun of him and started to laugh at him. And to my shame, I joined them in their laughter.” Now, I thought two things: one, “If that’s the baddest thing he ever did, I need to spend more time with him”; and two, “That is profoundly touching.”
All that she could have wanted and more.
Now, we need to move on, and maybe we can’t finish this. But verses 17–20 I put under the heading nonstop kindness. Nonstop kindness. The opening sentence of verse 17 combined with the second half of verse 7 provides a further picture of Ruth as an industrious worker. You don’t have any sense here—it says that she “gleaned in the field until evening”—there is no hint of her attempting to leave early on the strength of her boss’s interest in her. Rather, she threshes out the barley—she separates the good stuff, the edible stuff, from the chaff. That makes her burden lighter, but scarcely could a burden have felt lighter as she was filled and thrilled with the prospect of sharing it with Naomi.
She had put together, we’re told, “about an ephah.” There’s all kinds of commentaries about what the size of this is: it’s five gallons, it’s this, it’s that. Frankly, I’m not sure what it is, but the best I found was that somebody said that it was a name that was given to a vessel large enough to carry an average-sized person. So, if you imagine that an average-sized person is, let’s say for the moment, five foot four, and you could fit them in a drum, it’s like a fairly substantial garbage can full of this stuff. And this is what she’d managed to put together. The kind of stuff that she’d put together would have taken somebody half a month to do. But here, as a result of her industry, she was on her way home with a superabundance.
“She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law was watching out the window.” That’s my paraphrase. Verse 18: “[And she] saw how much she had gathered.” You can imagine her eyes popping out of her head as she sees dear Ruth coming up the road with this thing, probably tied, you know, around her forehead, and then hanging down her back, a great gigantic burden—pounds and pounds and pounds of the stuff. She’d gone off in the morning, “I’m gonna go and see if I can find favor.” By the middle of the day she’s asking, “Why have I found favor?” By the early afternoon, she says, “Can I keep finding favor?” And by the early evening, as she makes her way up the road, she is overwhelmed with favor.
And do you know how much God is prepared to open the windows of heaven to you and pour out the choicest blessings upon your life? Do you think that, somehow or another, he wants to eke it out an ounce at a time? That he wants simply to bless a church, you know, with a wee bit here and a wee bit there? We make our God too narrow by false limits of our own.
And she goes up the road. And Naomi says, “Whoa!” And Ruth says, “If you think this is good, wait till you see what I’ve brought you,” and out comes the doggie bag, which reinforces what had happened earlier in the day. She’d eaten all she wanted, and she had some left over. She who was the beneficiary of leftovers would have been unjust and inhumane if she hadn’t in turn shared what she’d discovered.
And so, verse 19, Naomi, full of questions spilling from her overjoyed heart: “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you! Who was the man who took notice of you?”
“Hey, calm down, Naomi! Hang on, give me a minute, let me get my shoes off here now, then I’ll just give ya the whole story. His name was Boaz.”
“Woo-hoo,” said Naomi. “Two things you need to know: He is a man of continual kindness,” and the word here is checed. It is the word of the loving-kindness, merciful provision of God. This man is marked by the checed kindness of God. “He has shown kindness to us in bereavement. He has shown kindness to us in encouragement. And my dear Ruth, here you are, back with such a bundle! May God bless this man for his continual kindness! And by the way, just”—and we can talk about this later—she may have said, “but I have to tell you, this man is a close relative. He is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”
“Oh,” Ruth must have said to herself, “well, I wonder what that means,” just in the same way that you are. And in our next study I’ll explain to you exactly what that means.
But notice, finally, nonstop kindness in verses 17–20, all that she wanted and more in verses 14–16, and in verses 21–23, she said, he said. Then “Ruth said,” “he said,” “Naomi said,” “Ruth said,” and so on. It’s just “he said, she said,” if you just read it. “So she said to him…” “Do you know what he said? He said to me—oh, you’re gonna love this, Naomi—he said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’ So, guess what? I have a job. This isn’t a one-day wonder. Tomorrow I have a place. Tomorrow I have protection. Tomorrow I have provision.”
And Naomi said to Ruth, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls.” Huh? You see? The maternal instinct is coming out! “I get to go with his workers!” “I’m very pleased, and I hope you’ll have a nice time with his girls! I don’t want you in the field with any Tom, Dick, or Harry, do you understand that, Ruth?”
Now, it may be that Naomi’s already thinking two steps ahead. She says, “Boaz, he’s a continual kindness, he’s a close kinsman; I mean, there’s an opportunity here that I don’t want to see squandered. You stay exactly where I’m telling you to stay, and when you get in his fields, you stay with his girls, do you understand that? Don’t you be coming up the road here tomorrow afternoon with some guy called Fred. You just stay with his girls—you stay with his girls in the fields!”
Listen, and listen carefully—and I’m not going to say it in my own words; I say the words of a Scottish commentator from a hundred years ago: “What [number] of young persons take rash steps in the journey of life, which cannot be retraced, because they rather choose to follow the impulse of their own passions, than to ask and follow the [advice] of those who brought them into the world!”
And verse 23: “So Ruth [did exactly what she was told; she] stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz,” and she gleaned “until the barley and [the] wheat harvests were finished.” She stuck with the job, she stuck with Naomi, and you have this wonderful story, as it has this beautiful balance in it. And she kept working, and she kept living with her mother-in-law “until the barley and [the] wheat harvests were finished,” making the reader say to himself or herself, as he closes the book before he falls asleep in the evening, “I wonder what’s gonna happen now that the harvests are over! And I wonder if Ruth’s got something going with that Boaz guy.”
How good that Ruth and Naomi loved one another! How good that they lived in the company of one another! How wonderful that they lived in peace and unity with one another! How wonderful to live under the shadow of God’s wings, in the companionship of those who have taken refuge in him!
Father, thank you for this lovely story of your grace and favor. We’re beginning to see this man Boaz as he points us forward to the one who said, “I am the bread of life. If you eat from me, you’ll never hunger.” To the one who didn’t point someone to the water fountain but to the one who was the water fountain. To the one who called across the boundaries of Jew and Gentile, and barbarian and Scythian, and bond and free, “Come unto me, all ye ends of the earth.” Lord, I pray that you will teach us lessons from these studies. Teach us about compassion, about kind words, about comfort, about the way we do our jobs, about relationships, about interracial issues—about this and much more, teach us, Lord, we pray. And turn our gaze afresh to the cross, for we understand that there all the bits and pieces fall into line. Teach us then afresh what it means, and we bring to you tonight our offerings as we come to gather around your table. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 See Ephesians 3:20.
 Deuteronomy 10:18 (paraphrased).
 Deuteronomy 7:1–3 (NIV 1984).
 Deuteronomy 7:4 (NIV 1984).
 See Psalm 126:6.
 George Lawson, Practical Expositions of the Whole Books of Ruth and Esther (Philadelphia: Wm. S. Rentoul, 1870), 92.
 John 6:35 (paraphrased).
 Isaiah 45:22 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.