Grace is never late!
The story so far…
…famine in Israel – a certain man from Bethlehem and his wife and two sons go to Moab – the man, Elimelech, and his two sons die in Moab and his widow, Naomi, and two daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah who are Moabitesses are left destitute and alone. They set out to return to Israel but Naomi persuades Orpah to return to her family. Ruth however refuses to leave Naomi and the two return to Bethlehem – the famine is now over but these two women have nothing!
We know from the end of chapter 1 that the barley harvest has just begun.
- 1. An open secret. (1)
Illus.: TV quiz shows – the audience and viewers are told the answer in advance but not the contestants.
Well we have a similar technique with Ruth 2:1 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz. (NIV)
At this point in the story neither Naomi nor Ruth know that within reach of their home there lived a man of considerable wealth and influence who was related to them – he was a relative / kinsman of Naomi’s late husband Elimelech. It is only at the end of her first day of gleaning when Ruth tells Naomi about her encounter with Boaz that the full significance of there relationship to him dawn on the two women.
Who is Boaz and why is this information so significant?
Two things we are told – he is a relative – he is a man of standing.
He is a relative – Family ties in the OT were very important. The family had much wider meaning in OT than does our meaning of a modern nuclear family. Families were united together by blood ties / and also by living under the same roof. Being tied to a family also meant being tied to the family land.
Family ties were closely linked with economic and social stability.
If we are wise we realise that the same is true today – I fear for the future of the Western world where family ties are weak – where fierce individualism takes priority over community – these things will eventually lead to economic and social breakdown.
He is a man of standing – The word used here to describe Boaz has various meanings:
- A valiant man – as of Gideon, a mighty man of valour.
- A man of substance / riches.
- A man of moral worth /virtue – indeed use of Ruth in 3v11
These add up to Baoz being a man of integrity / influence / means.
- 2. Providential Coincidences. (2-3)
OT law made provision for the poor, the needy and the stranger. Gleaning is an example: Leviticus 19:9-10
9 ” ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God. (NIV)
This concern for the vulnerable and needy of the world reflects the character of God. Because God is a God who rescues slaves (as Israel from Egypt) who cares for the poor, helpless, needy, so the socio-economic laws of the land are to express this human concern. The land and the people belong to God and their pattern of life is to reflect his nature. This is the principle behind the Year of Jubilee – where the land is again fairly distributed.
It is a reminder that ultimately God owns the land and all its resources and we are at best just stewards of his provision. This raises significant issues for Christians (God’s people) living in rich Western Countries which have a Christian heritage – are we not under obligation to relieve the plight of the poor and needy and suffering of God’s world?
In spite of the gleaning law it was only helpful to the poor if the landowner obeyed it graciously – Ruth understood this: Ruth 2:2
2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour.”
If it was law why did Ruth need to find a gracious landowner? Because an unscrupulous owner could make life difficult for the gleaners – Surely the purpose of being in business – farming or otherwise – is to maximise profits. It is not enough to make a profit they have to squeeze out every penny even at the expense of the poor and needy. Is there a message here from God to companies who exploit poor workers to appease fat-cat shareholders? Is there a message for the rich nations in their treatment of the poorer ones?
ILLUS.: When a country like Mozambique is spending more on interest payment to Western Banks than on care of their own people then something is not right –
I believe that the Church / Christians have a responsibility to speak to these issues.
Ruth 2:3 3 So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, [it happened] she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech. (NIV)
She ‘happened’ to go to a field belonging to Boaz – we, the readers, know that this was no accidental happening – What to Ruth was coincidence in an unplanned set of circumstances was in fact the outworking of God’s providential care. Or as the song puts it “He’s got the whole wide world in His hands”. All the events of this world’s apparent chance are in the hands of God who has a purpose for his world –
– or a the Apostle Paul puts it …Ephesians 1:9-10 9 …, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ. (NIV)
God is sovereign and he will fulfil his purposes HOWEVER we must not think of God’s plans as static and deterministic. People are not divine puppets!
In fact the Bible teaches that human choices and responsibilities are very much our concern – God is sovereign but we are responsible for our decisions and actions.
The story of Ruth clearly shows this. God’s gracious providence does not over-ride human decision.
We see Ruth’s request to go and glean, Naomi’s encouragement, Ruth’s apparent arbitrary choice to glean in Boaz’s field, Boaz’s free choice to harvest his field at that time – all these are huamn free choice which God uses as instruments in his hand.
God is at work to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Our coincidences, our accidents and even our mistakes God can and does use for His purposes and for our good.
ILLUS.: When we arrived in UK – happened to have acquaintances at Hindhead – who happened to invites us for a weekend – at their church we happened to meet a lady who had a house to rent in Godalming. Janet happened to meet Rachel at a hospital staff meeting in Midhurst and happened to mention that I had trained as a pastor at a time when George happened to decide it was time to retire as pastor ….
- 3. Grace …
…rights and responsibilities.
We now have unfolded before us the circumstances surrounding the meeting of Ruth and Boaz.
We have seen Boaz as a man of integrity – now we see him as a man who openly expresses his dependence on God and his faith in God by caring for Ruth. He doesn’t stand on his rights he goes way beyond what the law required – Grace is motivated by love NOT law!
Ruth 2:8-9 8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” (NIV)
Later he instructs his men to deliberately drop grain for Ruth to pick up.[v15-16]
Ruth also shows the evidence of grace in her life by accepting her responsibilities and refusing to stand on her rights.
Ruth 2:7-13 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ ….
10 .., she bowed down with her face to the ground. ….
13 “…. — though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.”
Ruth had the right to glean, she did not need to ask permission – but she has humility and a respect that doesn’t presume to stand on her rights.
And when permission is granted first by the foreman and later by Boaz Ruth is grateful and humble in her acceptance of care.
It doesn’t only take grace to give – grace is also needed to receive. If we are those who will never accept help / care / appreciation from others we are very ungracious – if we think we are so self-sufficient that no-one has anything to offer us then we are probably proud and ungracious.
IF we are God’s people then the grace of God needs to be reflected in us. Jesus was gracious – he didn’t stand on his rights but gave them up in his responsibility as Redeemer.
He also was gracious enough to receive – water from the women at the well – perfume anointing from the woman with the alabaster box – foot washing from the town prostitute – hospitality from Mary, Martha and Lazarus ….
Don’t be too mean to give – Don’t be too proud to receive!
…Recommendation and Reward.
Ruth 2:5-7 5 Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Whose young woman is that?” 6 The foreman replied, “She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” (NIV)
Ruth was not looking for a free ride – she was prepared to work hard without drawing attention to herself or expecting special favours – she didn’t want a handout if she was able to help herself. BUT is was not a cocky arrogance – “I can make it on my own and I don’t need help from anyone”
There are three things that the foreman reports to Boaz that commends Ruth:-
- Loyalty – to Naomi – she had left her own people in Moab / her loyalty was at cost to herself. Does our commitment to what we say we believe only go as far as our comfort zone or is it an unconditional loyalty to Jesus.
- Humility – she did not presume upon her rights to glean, she asked permission. She was prepared to do the menial tasks – In God’s kingdom there is no shortage of people wanting the limelight and the recognition. The test is “Am I prepared to do the menial task that no one sees or thanks me for?”
- Tenacity – she stuck at it all day in spite of the fact that gleaning is discouragingly unrewarding. How is you stickability at the difficult, unrewarding tasks?
In Ruth case someone did notice these characteristics – Boaz was a spiritually observant man – his greeting to his workers in verse 4 “The Lord be with you!” shows his sensitivity to the fact that he lived in the presence of God.
So he says to Ruth – Ruth 2:12 12 May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, ….
The idea of doing good / being good in order to be reimbursed / rewarded makes us uncomfortable because it does not fit with the Bible’s teaching that grace is free and salvation cannot be earned. However the words Boaz uses here mean more than simply material remuneration – they included a sense of peace and making good what has been lost.
Naomi’s and Ruth’s lost was more than material – it was a loss of peace and security that family brings / it was a loss of relationship and a place in the community. Boaz prayer is that God will restore to Ruth these things and more.
Jesus warned against doing good in order to be rewarded – But he did teach that there are rewards for those who do good unselfishly for the benefit of others and for the glory of God. The rewards are primarily in relationship with him – peace with God.
“An enriched relationship with God is the ‘proper reward’ of loving obedience to him in response to his gracious initiative of love. We see something like this in his words to Abram Genesis 15:1.., the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.”
Boaz’s prayer for Ruth is that in her new found faith she would experience an enriched relationship with the God of Israel in whom she had placed her trust.
… ‘wings of refuge’.
The Bible gives this wonderful picture of God as an eagle caring for and protecting her young – Song of Moses – Deuteronomy 32:11 like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.
SAFETY – Psalmist – Psalm 17:8 …. hide me in the shadow of your wings (NIV)
REFRESHMENT – Psalm 36:7-8 7 How priceless is your unfailing love!
Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings.
8 They feast in the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. (NIV)
STILLNESS IN THE STORM – Psalm 57:1
1 […] “Do Not Destroy”. Of David. ... When he had fled from Saul into the cave.]
Have mercy on me, O God, have mercy on me,
for in you my soul takes refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed. (NIV)
HELP AND RELAXATION – Psalm 63:7 Because you are my help, I sing for joy in the shadow of your wings.
HOPE IN THE MIDST OF UNFAVOURABLE CIRCUMSTANCES – Psalm 91:1-4 1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 … 4 He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
Safety, refreshment, relaxation, help, hope, stillness – these are associated with God’s wings.
There is a basic human longing for God – picture in the Prodigal Son longing for home – capture in the words of St. Augustine “The heart finds no peace until it finds its rest in God”.
How comforting was this for Ruth – a foreigner and a poor widow Being assured that God is there; God cares; God rules; God provides!
As the rest of the story unfolds we find that in fact it is through Boaz himself that God answers this prayer.
Boaz was one of God’s covenant people and it is incumbent upon the people of God to both experience the refuge of God’s wings and to be ready to be the means by which others may experience it also.
If God has blessed us and we selfishly hoard those blessings for ourselves we are betraying our name CHRISTIAN.
Ruth entrusted herself to the grace of God – Grace is never late – God always meets our needs, whatever they are, as we take refuge under his wings.
Under his wings I am safely abiding,
Tho’ the night deepens and tempests are wild;
Still I can trust him – I know he will keep me,
He has redeemed me and I am his child.
Under his wings , under his wings,
Who from his love can severe?
Under his wings my soul shall abide,
safely abide forever.
Under his wings, what a refuge in sorrow!
How the heart yearningly turns to his rest!
Often when earth has no balm for my healing,
There I find comfort and there I am blest.
Under his wings, O what precious enjoyment!
There will I hide till life’s trials are o’er;
Sheltered, protected, no evil can harm me,
Resting in Jesus I am safe evermore.
William O Cushing 1823-1902
GRACE IS NEVER LATE!
1. AN OPEN SECRET. v1
… he is a relative
… he is a man of standing
2. PROVIDENTIAL COINCIDENCES. v2-3
- 3. GRACE… v4-13
… rights and responsibilities
… recommendation and reward
… ‘wings of refuge’
- stillness in the storms of life
- help and relaxation
- hope amid adverse circumstances