This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
(Sermon 2 of 4 in a series on Ruth.)
Scripture: Ruth 2:1-23
In the Book of Ruth there are two kinds of people and they can be described either as “EMPTY” or “FULL”
Those who are empty tend to lean more towards a “What about me” mindset. Because they run on empty, they tend to:
- Focus on scarcity.
- They never have enough
- They always want more
- They are negative
- Prone to worry
- Hold grudges
- and hoard
Those who lean toward empty live out of the mindset that says “I have nothing to offer.”
Those who run on full, on the other hand, lean more toward loving God and loving others. And generally they tend to be more:
- and kind
Those who run on full live by a mindset that says, “I have so much to give.”
What would happen if a whole community operated out of the “FULL” mindset? Well, according to the Bible, what you get is something called favour. The Psalmist says, How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity. . .For there the Lord bestows his blessing (or favor), even life forevermore. (Psalm 133) So let’s see how this plays out in Ruth 2.
Now, when we begin chapter 2, we are introduced to a new character. The Bible says: Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz. (Ruth 2:1)
Let’s stop there for a moment because there are a couple of things for us to notice. First we note that in the book of Ruth names are important. The name Boaz means strength. And he is a man of standing. He is also a very rich fellow. So in many ways, Boaz can be described as “Full”. The other thing to notice about Boaz is that he is from the clan of Elimelech which means My God is King.
So here is the writer reminding us that God is king, and he has covenanted to fill us with life. But what does that have to do with this well resourced rich guy named Boaz? Well, let’s keep reading.
The Bible tells us that 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 favor.” (Ruth 2:2) Now, again, let’s stop here for a moment. Notice how the writer identifies Ruth. Notice that she is not Ruth the mother of . . . or Ruth the wife of . . . or Ruth the daughter in law of . . . But she is Ruth the Moabites.
In other words, the writer is reminding us of the circumstances in Ruth’s life. First she was a woman, second she is a widow, third she is childless, and finally she is a Moabite. She was born on the wrong side of the tracks. So she has no income, no land, and her opportunities to move up the ladder are pretty slim. So considering all that Ruth had going against her, if we had to place her in a category of either empty or full, we would probably put her in the EMPTY category, because on the surface it would seem that she has nothing to offer, right?
Well, when we look closely at the story, Ruth has plenty to offer because she has a heart full of love for Naomi. And because she has so much love for Naomi, see doesn’t see her life as empty; she sees her life as full! So she looks at what she has and she thinks to herself, “Hey, I’ve got two strong arms a strong back and permission from Boaz to glean in his fields. And the fact that she could glean in the fields was a gift from God.
You see there was a law in the Bible that said: “When you are harvesting your crops and forget to bring in a bundle of grain from your field, don’t go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigners, orphans, and widows. Then the Lord your God will bless you in all you do. (Deuteronomy 24:19) And so we read in Ruth 2:3, “So she [Ruth] went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters.” (Ruth 2:3a)
Now before we go on, there are a couple of things we need to know about the practice of gleaning. You see just because God had given permission to do this, it was still pretty risky for a foreigner. Especially if that foreigner was a single young, unattached, childless woman. She would be easy prey for some of the hired men in the field. So as Ruth gleaned, she had to watch her back all the time.
Another reason why Ruth had to watch her back was that even though she was given permission to glean behind the harvesters, in reality that would mean that she would get to glean behind the Israelite gleaners. So, first you get the harvesters, then you get the Israelite gleaners, and then you get Ruth--a Moabite--picking up whatever is left over.
So you can imagine the huge disadvantage that Ruth is up against as she tries to gather some food for Naomi and herself. But Ruth doesn’t seem to care. She is determined. She somehow believes that this Israelite God is going to fill her, so that she in turn can go and fill Naomi.
And so Ruth gleans. As she does, the Bible tells us, “it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” (Ruth 2:3b) There’s that name Elimelech again. If you remember, Elimelech means “My God is King”. And if we know the story, we know that God, the King, has covenanted to fill his people with life. But what does that have to do with this guy named Boaz? Well let’s keep reading.
Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they called back. (Ruth 2:4)
Now as we read these words, it seems obvious that Boaz is living out of the mindset of “FULL”. He seems to come to the field thinking, “You know, God has blessed me with so much. I wonder who I can bless today. Who needs to be filled?”
Let’s keep reading vs 5-9. Boaz asked the foreman of his harvesters, “Whose young woman is that?” In other words, Who does she belong to? Where does she fit in? The foreman replied, “She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi. 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.”
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. 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.” (Ruth 2:5-9)
Let’s pause there for a moment. Notice what just happened here? Do you notice what Boaz did for Ruth? Did you notice what he calls her? He calls her, “My Daughter”. In other words he doesn’t think of her as a foreigner; instead, he sees her as family. Then, because he knows how hard she has been working to try to provide for Naomi, he removes her disadvantage. He takes her from the back of the line and puts her in the front of the line. And just as Jesus said, “The last shall be . . first”.
You see, in God’s family, when we offer God’s grace to others, what generally happens, according to the Bible, is that we get grace in return. The Bible says, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: ‘He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.’ Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-11)
So the Bible is saying that when we live in this community of grace, and if we live out of our Fullness, and we contribute generously to this community, then we can expect that this generosity will come back to us. But if we live out of EMPTINESS and we are not generous to the community, and we think “I don’t have enough to give”, then we can’t expect that grace is going to come back to us. Listen to what God says through Paul to the Thessalonian Church.
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. . . For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:6; 10-12)
So what Paul is saying is that there are some people in the church community who always have their hand out. And they are not contributing generously to the community They live out of the Emptiness mentality and they think, they don’t have anything to give. And Paul says that in the community of faith, if you always have your hand out, there is going to come a point and time where there aren’t going to be any handouts anymore. In the church, everyone can be a to be a contributor.
And Ruth, with all that she had going against her, was a contributor. She didn’t make up excuses, she just gave out of what she had and she gets grace in return. But she certainly wasn’t expecting it. The Bible tells us:
At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?” Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:10-12)
So what Boaz basically says is this, “Ruth, I’ve been hearing stories about you and I know how much you want to fill Naomi with love and to provide for her needs. But I also know that you lack the resources to do this. But I have the resources to help you. I can fill you so that you, in turn, can fill Naomi.”
Now sometimes people wonder, “Why is Boaz so generous to Ruth”? And some have suggested that it was probably because Ruth was a knock out, and even covered with dirt and sweat, she was drop dead gorgeous. And that could be. But the Bible suggests a couple of other reasons. First of all, Ruth is Naomi’s daughter-in-law and Naomi is family and in those days and in that culture, family was extremely important. You always look after your family.
But there is another reason why Boaz is so generous to Ruth. You see if you turn over several pages to the New Testament to Matthew 1, you discover who Boaz’s mom is. She is Rahab the prostitute from Jericho. In other words, Boaz’s mom was a foreigner. And not only that, but she was also a prostitute. Talk about being born on the wrong side of the tracks! So Boaz is fully aware what it is like to live life at a disadvantage. He is fully aware of his roots and where he came from.
He knows very well that had it not been for the forgiveness and the grace of God, he would never be where he is at today. You see, when Boaz looks at all that he has, he doesn’t see it as something that he’s earned and something that he deserves. Instead he sees it as a gift from God. If it were not for the forgiveness and the grace of God, he would have none of this. He would be empty.
So when Boaz sees Ruth, a foreigner who has given up everything in order to show love to an old woman with a broken down soul, and when he sees all the disadvantages that she is up against, obviously, he’s going to help her because he understands. Just as Jesus said, “Whoever has been forgiven much loves much.” (Luke 7:47)
Well, once again Ruth thanks Boaz but Boaz isn’t finished giving to Ruth yet. The Bible continues:
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. (Ruth 2:14-17)
Let’s just recap all that Boaz gives to Ruth. He moves her from the back of the line to the front of the line. He welcomes her to his own table where he offers her delicious food, more than she can eat. He tells the servants to go beyond what the law required and let Ruth have more. And when Ruth is done for the day she collects an ephah of food. That is a month’s worth of food. And this isn’t just for one day, because we know from Ruth later in the story that this continues through the entire barley harvest and the wheat harvest. So this adds up.
And the question is, “Why does Boaz do this?” Well, think about this from Boaz’s perspective, because we know from the story that Boaz observes the law of God pretty closely. According to the law of God, the people were required to give 10% of their income. And this 10% and this was called the “tithe”. But besides tithing, the law also had other giving laws which affected a person’s income. For example, there were Sabbath year laws which took place every seven years (Leviticus 25:2; Deuteronomy 15:1). And according to the Sabbath year laws, fields were left fallow. That meant giving up income every seventh year. And all debts were cancelled. So in total the Sabbath Year affected 14% of a person’s income.
In addition, there was the Jubilee Year: Leviticus 25 says every 49 years there would be no planting or harvesting, debts were forgiven, slaves were set free and land returned back to original owner. This law affected 2% of income.
Finally, there were gleaning Laws. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22) Basically these were laws that told famers to be messy with their harvesting so that the poor would be able to gather food as well. So gleaning laws affected 4-5% of income.
Now do the math. When we add up the percentages, what we discover is that the total income affected by these laws is 30%. In other words, when it comes to our income and possessions, God is telling his people “Be Generous”. And that is what Boaz does. He doesn’t just give his obligatory giving. He doesn’t just give according to the law. He gives over and above what the law required. Because when we are living with a FULL mindset, then giving isn’t an issue. It is actually a joy.
And it’s a joy because we get blessed three ways. First we are blessed because we get to see someone else’s life get topped up. Second, we are blessed because we start to experience the freedom of generosity, and finally you get to see God’s grace shown in your life in ways that you never expected. Which is exactly what happened to Ruth.
After Ruth receives this gift from Boaz the Bible tells us: She [Ruth] carried it [the ephah] 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 had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. (Ruth 2:18-19)
Well you could have knocked Naomi over with a feather. Did Ruth just say, “Boaz?” Naomi can’t believe it. “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.” (Ruth 2:20 )
Now in case anyone is wondering what a kinsmen-redeemer is, the Jewish law stated that if a person fell into debt so bad that they had to sell themselves into slavery, one of their relatives could cancel the debt by buying them back or redeeming them. In other words, if someone in the community found themselves on EMPTY and had no way to get free, someone else in the community who had the resources could restore you, so that once again you could be a contributor.
When Naomi sees what Ruth brings home, her bitterness begins to turn to sweetness; her emptiness turns to fullness because she sees that there is hope. God’s favor has not left her. He still loves her, and he is going to fill her emptiness through this redeemer named Boaz.
And just as God provides a redeemer named Boaz for Naomi and Ruth, he also provides a Redeemer named Jesus for us. Through his death on the cross, our moral and spiritual debts are cancelled. Through his open grave, we now have the power and the resources to love regardless of our situation. The Bible says, What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32) In Christ we lack nothing. In Christ, we can all be contributors. In Christ, there is no reason for us to live in EMPTINESS.
Well, our story finishes with these words, 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. (Ruth 2:22-23)
Now did you catch that last line? Ruth lived with her mother-in-law. Ruth is still a widow, she is still childless, she is still a foreigner, she has all kinds of stuff going against her. But as we’ve already seen, Ruth isn’t empty. She is full. And that fullness is about to spill over into the life of Naomi.
You see, that’s how it works in the church. Anytime two or three or more people come together in his name, and anytime we live out of the fullness of what they have in Christ, and anytime we choose to contribute forgiveness and love, patience, generosity, hope, and grace into the life of another person, then the Bible tells us that this is where God lives. This is where his favor is, this is where he wants to be, because this is the community that is a taste of heaven on earth.
And every single one of us can experience this regardless of our circumstances. Why? Because my God is king. And my God will meet all our needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:19)
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank you for the fullness that we have in Christ Jesus. We thank you that no matter how bad life gets, we are never lacking because everything we need is found in you. So help us to live out of the fullness that you have provided for us in this day, and we pray these things in Jesus name. Amen.
Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Isaiah 55:1-2
Silent Prayer: Concluded with: #634 Father We Love You
God’s Greeting: Dear Lord, as we gather together in your name we thank you for the grace, mercy and peace which are ours today in the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen,
Opening Hymn: #438 When Morning Guilds the Sky
God’s Will for Our Lives:
Confession of Sins: Psalm 51:1-12 (as a prayer).
Assurance of Pardon: 1 John 1:8-9
Hymn of Praise: #462 Amazing Grace - How Sweet the Sound
Hymn of Preparation: #547 Fill Thou My Life O Lord My God
Prayer of Illumination
Scripture Reading: Ruth 2
Prayer of Application
Hymn of Response: #483 How Great Thou Art
God’s Parting Blessing: As we leave today to serve in your world, may we be comforted in the truth that you are with us always, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we pray. Amen
Doxology: #632 To God Be the Glory