GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
Ruth and Boaz
2 Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz.
Now that Ruth and Naomi have arrived in Bethlehem in Judea, our author introduces the man who will be the key in the rest of the story. He was Boaz, a “man of standing” (gibbor hayil). Recall that Gideon was called by the same phrase in Judges 6:12, where we translated “mighty warrior.”
Boaz was related to Ruth’s late father-in-law, Elimelech. Since our author does not say something like “the brother of Elimelech,” we take him to be a somewhat more distant relation, but not through Naomi; only through Elimelech. This fact shows us that Boaz was in line to redeem what was lost through the widowhood of Naomi’s daughter-in-law. The appearance of Boaz is the first spark of new life in Naomi’s emptied life, like a tiny green shoot pushing up through parched soil. There was still life in Naomi’s family line—just. It would take coaxing, care, and cultivation. Naomi would use whatever was available to her.
2 Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me go out to the field, and gather fallen grain from the sheaves of barley, behind someone who might favor me.” Naomi said, “Go, my daughter.” 3 Ruth went out, and entered a field and gathered fallen grain behind the reapers. As it happened, she had come to a piece of the land that belonged to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
Ruth’s words are only about the moment’s need. Ruth would do whatever she must to take care of herself and the woman she now called her mother. If that meant hot, hard and humiliating work, she would do it gladly—because Naomi had brought her safely to this place that could be their home.
Barley harvest happens around the time of the Passover, in late March or early April. Ruth wanted to glean, or pick up fallen or dropped sheaves behind the workers. God has commanded: “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. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 23:22). Ruth was both poor and an alien, and as we shall see, she didn’t fully understand the ways of Israel or the harvest.
Ruth’s prayer—spoken as a wish to Naomi, but surely a prayer to God in her heart—was that someone might favor her. By this Ruth meant that she hoped that no one would act cruelly to her, or abusive, or with some evil intention. She wanted to be left alone, and even helped if possible. She had no need to expect anything other than what would be spontaneous and not forced (as Paul said, Philemon 14), but she prayed that God would help her, and that his angels would surround and protect her. They are, after all, ministering spirits “sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb 1:14).
Our author shows us the hand of God. “As it happened,” he says, but this “happening” was the work of God and his holy angels. The field Ruth chose belonged to Boaz, and we are reminded yet again that he “was of the family of Elimelech.” This was no coincidence.
Sometimes God moves us around with hints and suggestions. Sometimes he picks us up and puts us down like chess pieces. I will always remember the day at Northwestern College when I was walking across the campus after class musing or mooning to myself about a crush I had, when one of my professors casually asked as he passed me, “Smith, when are you going to ask that Meyer girl out?” That “Meyer girl” and I were married later that year. Like I said—sometimes God moves us around with hints, and sometimes more like chess pieces. But if we remember to do whatever we do to his glory, then even the decisions we make (like who to marry) will be blessed, no matter how frightening or challenging they seem to be.
There is a popular series of commentaries by Moody Church pastor Warren Wiersbe. Generally, the background and explanations he gives are correct and sound. But he consistently gets the personal applications backwards, and since the focus of the whole series is on what we should “BE” (the name of the series), it’s important to point out the error he makes. In the volume on Ruth, he says: “If we want God to work in our lives and circumstances and accomplish his gracious purposes, then there are certain conditions we must meet.” (p. 33). After this, he gives three conditions which he overlays on his outline of Ruth chapter 2: (1) We must live by faith in the Lord (2:1-3), (2) We must live by the grace of God (2:4-16), and (3) We must live in hope (2:17-23). He has confused the Bible’s teachings of how we are saved and our response to salvation (justification and sanctification). He has made being a Christian contingent on being a good Christian.
Ruth already knew her God, and had pledged her life to him like a bride promising to be faithful to her husband. She did this by pledging to be a confessing, lifelong member of the only true, confessional church she knew: Naomi (1:16-17). We are not saved because we join the right church, but we show our faith to the world by means of the church we join. Some people want to stay “solo Christians” their whole lives, and miss out on the gracious blessing of God to build up the faith of others by worshiping and praying with those others. Ruth understood the value of showing her faith through worship and through every aspect of her life.
Our confession summarizes this: “We believe, teach and confess that if we would preserve the pure doctrine concerning the righteousness of faith before God, we must give special attention to the ‘exclusive terms,’ that is, to those words of the holy apostle Paul which separate the merit of Christ completely from our own works and give all glory to Christ alone. Thus the holy apostle Paul uses such expressions as “by grace,” “without merit,” “without the law,” “without works,” “not by works,” etc. (Rom 6:46; 3:20,21,24,28; 11:6; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:9; Titus 3:5). All these expressions say in effect that we become righteous and are saved “alone by faith” in Christ.” (Formula of Concord, Epitome III,10).
So Pastor Wiersbe would be better to say “God works in our lives…and so we should want to…” rather than the conditions be places on God’s blessings, and the terror he strikes in the hearts of his readers—a terror that is not soothed by any gospel, because he has turned the gospel into a law. We need to understand the difference. This is the difference between these statements:
A. Give God your faith and your trust, and he will promise to be with you to everlasting life. (Law)
B. God has promised to be with you to everlasting life, therefore give God your faith and your trust. (Gospel)
Thank God for his gospel!
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota