Favor to Foreigners
“Favor to Foreigners”
Have you ever felt as though God’s hand was against you? Do you find yourself at a time when all the chips are down? Do you struggle to know that God is good and that his timing is perfect?
Such was the case with one of our key characters in the book of Ruth. As you may recall, Naomi had left Bethlehem with her family because of a famine in the land. And rather than repenting and trusting God to provide, her husband Elimelech chose “to do what was right in his own eyes.” He led his family to go to the land of Moab – a nation that had been in opposition to Israel.
While in Moab, Elimelech died and their two sons died – leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law to fend for themselves. Sin has consequences. And it would appear that this is the case here. Having heard that the Lord had provided for his people, they set off to return to Naomi’s homeland. Along the way, Naomi challenged both of the women to choose a path that would be favorable to a new life of protection and provision for them. Orpah chose to return to Moab and Ruth put everything on the line to follow after Naomi and her God.
Throughout the rest of chapter 1, it seems as though Ruth is the one who is full of faith and Naomi is the one who is bitter against God. She seemingly blames him for her situation and does not accept any blame for herself. She openly pities herself in front of the people of Bethlehem and exemplifies little faith in God.
We recalled how Naomi missed much of God’s plan in the midst of her circumstances because of her bitterness. In fact, she cannot see beyond her immediate situation. Bitterness affected her relationship with God, to her family, and to her townspeople. This is a very direct correlation in our relationships today. Bitterness will cause you to see things with a distorted perspective. You will not view God favorably. You will not trust people that you should. You think, like Naomi, that everybody is against you. This may lead you to become divisive, rather than promote unity. It is pervasive.
And yet the story doesn’t end here. Even at the conclusion to chapter one, the author points out this sliver of hope. It is indicated that “Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” And the curtain falls.
It’s as if while watching your favorite show, there is a “to be continued” at the bottom of the screen. You are left wondering what will happen next. Will Naomi snap out of her funk? What will happen to this foreigner named Ruth? Will the people accept or reject her? Will this relationship between the two women go well? Will the circumstances prove beneficial to these women and to the town?
With the entrance into chapter 2, the tone of the music has changed. You realize how strategic the use of music is in movies and such. Throughout chapter 1, we would have experienced a somber selection of music. But with chapter 2, it’s as if you might begin to hear an upbeat tone and tempo. Things are changing. But we have yet to see how.
Turn in your Bibles to Ruth 2 if you have not already done so. And we’ll read it together as we get underway. READ.
Our first point this morning is God’s Providence. The author begins with the introduction of another character into the story. I sort of read this story as a play. You can hear the voices in the many dialogues that take place in the story. And you come upon verse one and it’s as if the narrator speaks like this: “Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name is Boaz.” And so, right out of the gate, we are like “Hey, I wonder who this guy is…” And we’re given some very helpful information about him. Boaz is a “worthy man.”
This description of “worthy” can be understood in a couple of ways. First, it denotes a man of “substance and wealth” a man “of standing in community.” And yet it also refers to being noble with respect to character. And so his actions would be deemed heroic. This is essentially a broad commendation of Boaz’s ability and courage and success. In the end, he is an admirable man. And we will see this as the story unfolds.
With this new information, the story continues in verse 2 by indicating that Ruth got up and made an effort to change their situation. We will begin to see some noble character qualities of Ruth as well. She rises, approaches Naomi and requests her permission to go to work. She says, “Let me go to the field and glean ears of grain in whose sight I shall find favor.” We do not know why Naomi does not also attempt to go with her to make provisions. Perhaps her bitterness has lead to depression and despair. Whatever the case may be, we see that Ruth steps out in faith. Faith also involves action. It does not sit around and wait for things to drop from the sky. Ruth understands that it is as we do what we are called to do, and as we trust God, that he will provide for our needs. Ruth does not know where she will end up but the only way to find out is to trust and get to action.
On the side, this is where government systems often fall short. We have an obligation to care for the poor and needy. But the solution is not handouts, but providing the opportunities for the poor to work for their own needs and the needs of dependents. So we need to think through how we can improve on providing more of these opportunities and avoid neglecting the poor. Ruth got it.
Upon receiving the approval of Naomi, Ruth sets out. She goes out and gleans in the field after the reapers. To “glean in the field” was to come behind the hired workers and pick up any scraps they may have left behind. In fact, provision was made in the Mosaic Law for the poor. In Leviticus 19:9–10, Moses records “9 “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10 And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God.” And in Deuteronomy 24:19–21 “19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. 21 When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.”
So Ruth has gone out into the field and look at the next phrase, “and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was part of the clan of Elimelech.” It just so happened that she found herself. In today’s language, this would likely be rendered “as luck would have it.” But because many of you know your Bibles, you would respond with a different understanding – God’s providence. The purpose of this statement in verse 3 is to undermine any rational explanation for human experiences and to refine the reader’s understanding of providence. “She happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” We begin to see that the same hand that had sent the famine to Israel and later provided food is the same hand that brought Naomi and Ruth to Bethlehem at the right time of harvest and has now guided Ruth to that portion of the field belonging to Boaz. As Ruth trusted in the Lord, he directed her steps unwittingly to exactly the right location. Proverbs 16:9 9 The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord establishes his steps.
In verse 4, we begin to understand more fully the character of Boaz alluded to in verse 1. Boaz enters the field where the workers were and greets them with a blessing. Wouldn’t it be nice if, when you return to work on Tuesday) that your boss would greet you with a word like this: “The Lord be with you!” And the workers respond with “The Lord bless you.”
I’ve worked in lots of different environments. And, as you know, the character of your superiors can play a big role in your job satisfaction. I’ve worked for bosses that were consumed with the “almighty dollar.” And I’ve also worked for Christians who understood the balance of time spent at work and time spent with family. I’ve worked for those who take advantage of people and for those who treated people fairly. And though, we have opportunity to testify of Christ in both environments, I would prefer to work for a guy like Boaz. Boaz has provided a positive work environment for his people. He honors the Lord in his work and is respected by his workers. Boaz seems to be such a God-fearing man that his business and relationships to his employees was saturated with God.
Then Boaz looks around and sees a new face in the crowd. “Whose young woman is this?” he asks of his field supervisor. And he responds by informing Boaz, that she is a young Moabite woman that came back with Naomi from Moab. And then he goes beyond the question and relays the request from Ruth and even her diligence in her work.
Yet again we see the humility of Ruth. She doesn’t demand a handout. She doesn’t demand to glean on the edge of the field. She only desires to gather up the leftovers after the reapers. And she asks permission. We see also that she is industrious. Ruth is an amazing worker. She does not consider herself a helpless victim. She understands that she must work hard to provide. And she does so without hesitation.
God, in his providence, is working out the events of this day. He has worked through the steps of Ruth to bring her to this precise field at this precise time so that she would encounter a worthy man from the clan of Elimelech. And the story continues.
The second point is God’s Provision and Protection. Note the dialogue beginning in verse 8. Boaz says to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter…” From the first time that Boaz speaks, his tone is saturated with compassion and grace and generosity. His address to Ruth as “his daughter” is meant to break down the barriers that separate her from him. He does not point out the distinctive – Moabite, woman… Rather, he says “do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”
Can you just imagine what Ruth may have felt here? These are probably the first kind words that Ruth has heard since she left her homeland of Moab. On the road out of Moab, she placed all her eggs in one basket, she counted the cost and followed after Naomi and her God. Her future was an uncertain one. She traveled with a bitter old woman to an unknown “small town” where they were met with questions. They had nothing. She didn’t know what tomorrow held for her. And yet Ruth determines to set out and trust God. And on the first day, she comes across a worthy man named Boaz! She just so happened to find herself there...
Boaz says, “I got you. Don’t go to another field. You’ll find everything you need here. Keep close to the other women. I’ll make sure the men don’t touch you.” Apparently there was a great risk of harm that comes from a woman gleaning. Verse 22 seems to confirm this. Boaz, a man of great wealth and character has crossed paths with Ruth. And he has chosen to protect her.
Beyond this, he says also that he will provide water when she is thirsty. At the beginning of each day, as the servants left the town for the fields they would stop to draw water from a well or cistern and carry it in containers to the place where they harvested. One commentator notes that “in a cultural context in which normally foreigners would draw for Israelites, and women would draw for men, Boaz’s authorization of Ruth to drink from water his men had drawn is indeed extraordinary.”
These words and events overwhelm Ruth. In verse 10, she drops to the ground and asks why she has found such favor this day. I’m sure Ruth had no idea that things would turn out like this when she woke up that morning. She had hoped for the best. But this was certainly beyond her greatest of expectations. With great humility she asks why a man such as Boaz would take notice of a foreign woman.
Ruth is different from most people today. In these times, we have a sense of entitlement. We expect kindness and are surprised and even indignant if we don’t get our “rights.” People today think that they are more important and more deserving. Ruth knows her situation. She realizes that she deserves nothing. And from this position, when she is confronted with such generosity, the only response is overwhelming gratitude.
Boaz responds in verse 11. He indicates that he has received word of Ruth’s kindness to Naomi in the midst of their trying circumstances. Boaz has heard of her courage and her commitment to Naomi. He understands her difficult choice and her commitment to follow after the Lord God. Listen to the way that he puts it. He says, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” The Bible refers to the protection of God over his people as having them “under his wings.”
But it gets better! Look at verse 14. There must have been a slight gap in time between verses 13 and 14. Fast forward to mealtime. Boaz calls out to Ruth and invites her to dine with him. This is not normal. In this culture, meals served more than just the opportunity to refuel the body. Meals were an expression of hospitality, to celebrate special occasions, treaties were climaxed over meals, and people ate and drank together for a good time.
It seems as though Boaz ate with his harvesters. As unusual as this may have been, he extended this to include an outsider and Moabite woman to join him and his workers for mealtime. Though he owed her nothing, he supplies her with provisions and a meal! He offers her bread and some type of vinegar or sauce to dip it in. She eats some of the roasted grain and ate until she was satisfied. Ruth likely hasn’t eaten this well for a very long time. We can’t really relate to what it would be like to be impoverished and to appreciate what a blessing this would be! Not only does she eat until she is satisfied, Ruth has leftovers! I believe that this is included here with the primary purpose of pointing out Boaz’s extreme generosity to Ruth. And yet Boaz continues. He tells his young men, not only to allow Ruth to glean what they drop, but to pull out some from their bundles for her to glean!
God’s Providence has led Ruth to God’s Protection and Provision. Our third point is God be Praised!
In verse 17, Ruth continues to work the afternoon away and walks away with an ephah of barley. Can you believe it?? A whole ephah!! Don’t you know what an ephah is? Neither did I. I found out that an ephah of grain on one day’s labor is an extraordinary feat! Some of the scholars I consulted suggested that “depending on the quality of the grain… an ephah of barley could have weighed from thirty to fifty pounds! And she had to carry it home.
And that’s what she did. She took her harvest home to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi’s jaw dropped to the ground. It doesn’t say this explicitly, but it must have. Because Naomi says, “Where did you glean today??” “Where have you worked?” The order and redundancy here reflect her utter amazement at her success. And I think that it was about this moment that Naomi’s attitude begins to change. She begins to praise the man and God in verse 20. Ruth tells her that the name of the man is Boaz.
In verse 20 also, Naomi recalls the nature of her God. She remembers that he is a God of “covenantal love.” It is the word “hesed” that she uses. “Hesed” refers to the love, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness, benevolence, loyalty, and covenant faithfulness. Naomi recognizes Yahweh’s covenant grace to her family. His kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!
We’ll explore next week the concept of “redeemer” that Naomi mentions here. Boaz is a close relative. However, he is not a brother to a dead man. By describing him as a close relative and redeemer seems to indicate that he had some kind of familial obligation. However, there were plenty of loopholes that Boaz could have slipped through and removed himself of legal responsibility. But he was a worthy man and had been touched by God’s covenant faithfulness.
Naomi says in verse 22, “You know, you should continue to go out with his young women…” I agree. Good idea. She will be provided for. She will be protected. And this is precisely what Ruth did. In verse 23, “So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests.” This was likely for six to seven weeks, from late April to early June. “And she lived with her mother-in-law.” They began to settle in and get into a routine together.
Let’s consider a last brief point, Our Perspective.
I see some clear parallels in this account between Boaz and Ruth with Jesus and Christians. It should be extremely obvious in this passage that a major factor in seeing Boaz’s generosity is the recognition of Ruth being a foreigner. She would have had minimal rights in this setting. And yet Boaz immediately breaks down the distinction. He says, “my daughter.”
Ephesians 1 tells us that though we are sinners, God predestined us to be adopted as sons. Before trusting in Jesus for our salvation, the Bible says that we are foreigners – even enemies. Romans 5:6–11 “6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
Ruth was a Gentile. Even from the account of Ruth, we begin to see that God’s plan of salvation includes foreigners, Gentiles. And so are we. Ephesians 2:11–16 11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross.”
God owes us nothing. If he gave us salvation alone, that would be cause for eternal rejoicing. But just like Boaz, he continues to overwhelm us with blessing. Ephesians 1 tells us that God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.
God is also long-suffering with his rebellious children. He doesn’t just allow us grudging admission to glean in his field, he invites us to his table to partake in his feast – like the prodigal son coming to the Father. He feeds us until we are satisfied and there is yet more in abundance!
I thought of Ruth and her perspective on her life. She was completely overwhelmed by the generosity of Boaz because she understood her position. She was utterly dependent on him and his provision. And she knew she was entitled to nothing. She was humble.
John Piper in his book, A Sweet and Bitter Providence says, “Proud people don’t feel amazed at being treated well. They don’t feel deep gratefulness. But humble people do. In fact, they are made even more humble by being treated graciously. They are so amazed that grace came to them in their unworthiness that they feel even more lowly. But they receive the gift. Joy increases, not self-importance. Grace is not intended to replace lowliness with pride. It’s intended to replace sorrow with joy.”
Are you amazed this morning at the grace of God in your life? How could you not be? Perhaps you feel as though you somehow contribute to your standing before him. Or maybe you feel a sense of entitlement with him. If you believe the former, you need to reconsider what true repentance and faith look like. When you understand that God is a completely holy God, you will come to know that there is absolutely nothing that you can contribute to your salvation. You are utterly dependent on him. The Bible says that “all of our righteous acts are as filthy rags.” You must have nothing but Jesus.
If you think that you are entitled to something, you don’t understand God or yourself. The only thing that God owes us is judgment – because of our sin which is an affront to him. It is only by the grace of God that we draw our next breath. And it is only by the grace of God that we can be reconciled to him.
If you do not know Jesus Christ as your Savior this morning, would you consider that “it just so happens” (in the providence of God) that you hear of him this morning? Don’t remain a foreigner and an enemy with God. God demonstrates his love for you in that while you were still a sinner, Christ died for you. Repent and believe on him today.
For the rest, I want to challenge us on something. I’ve said this before. If you are a Christian, I challenge you to look deeply into the grace that has saved you. Consider your state apart from Christ. Then ponder the cross and his love for you. I guarantee that this will humble you and overwhelm you as you consider how lavish his grace to you. Like Ruth, the only appropriate response is to fall on your face, bowing to the ground and say to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” Let’s pray.