Return to Sermon Archive
Ruth and Boaz
Tom and Judith
One Sunday morning Tom pulled out of his driveway in his sports car. It was a convertible, but he had the roof up because of the hard driving rain. He was headed for church, but as he turned onto the main road, he saw ahead of him three bedraggled figures huddled under a single umbrella at a bus stop. One was old Mrs Archer. She still insisted on getting to church by herself, despite her arthritis which was always worse in wet weather. Another was Dr Smith. A year earlier Dr Smith had diagnosed a dangerous disease that Tom had contracted, so Tom virtually owed him his life. The third person was Judith. Judith was beautiful; at least that is what Tom thought. Tom had had a crush on Judith for the past six months, but had never had the courage or the opportunity to ask her out.
Tom had five seconds to decide what to do. The sports car had only one spare seat, and here were three deserving people. To whom does he offer a ride? It was a tough problem, but Tom was the kind of person who could, as modern jargon has it, "think outside the box." He pulled to a halt, jumped out, gave the car keys to Dr. Smith, helped Mrs Archer into the passenger seat, then modestly waved them good-bye as he huddled close to Judith under the umbrella. Judith was so impressed by his act of generosity that she gave him a kiss on the cheek, and Tom finally got up the courage to ask her out.
Will God Do It, Or Shall I?
In matters of romance, apparent chance and good sense often go together to bring about a happy ending. In many areas of life, Gods will is brought about by a combination of divine providence and human responsibility.
Will God do it, or shall I?
A question for bye and bye.
Do I act, or does God act?
The answer is simple fact.
Yes and no, both God and I.
A Love Story
The book of Ruth is an illustration of this spiritual principle.
The book of Ruth is a love story, which is appropriate for the Sabbath after Valentines Day. A beautiful young woman marrys a young man from another country. Tragedy strikes. The young husband dies, as well as his brother and father. There is a mother-in-law. Now when someone says, "Let me tell you about my mother-in-law," we expect some kind of negative statement or humorous anecdote--not so in this case. Naomi was a good mother-in-law and a great woman of God. But Ruth, our heroine, had to leave her homeland and go to a strange place. There she met another man who brought her happiness. It is better than the usual lust-in-the-dust romance novel. The book of Ruth has been called the most beautiful short story in the world, and that alone would be reason enough to read it, but we also have other more spiritual reasons to study Ruth.
As I said, Naomi and Ruth returned from Moab after a series of disasters, widowed, without any visible means of support; and seemingly without hope. For Ruth it was worse because she was a foreigner. What is more she was without a dowry. She was apparently unable to have children, having been married for ten years without bearing a child; therefore, her marriage prospects were poor. All told, the future of Ruth and Naomi was grim, a future of loneliness and poverty.
In 1:20 when women come to greet Naomi upon her return to Judah, she tells them to call her not Naomi, but Marabitter because she says, God has made life bitter for her. She has gone out full, but God has brought her home empty. Naomi does not doubt Gods existence. What she doubts is that God is with her. What she does not see at this stagein chapter one--is that her personal disasters are not happening by chance--nor is God punishing her for leaving Judah. Rather, things are happening as they are in order to bring Ruth into this situation as part of Gods plan of salvation. The scale of this plan is cosmic. It began with a small group of descendants of Abraham; it would eventually be extended to the whole world. Ruth, the pagan Moabite , will become the great grandmother of David and the ancestor of Jesus Christ.
There is a great old hymn by William Cowper, number 112 in our hymnal, that begins:
God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.
He plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm."
The book of Ruth is a lesson in Gods mysterious ways. Back in chapter one, It would appear at first glance that Elimelechs decision to take his family to Moab was a big mistake. That was certainly Naomis conclusion. Yet if Elimelech had not made that mistake, none of the rest of the story would have happened. Apply this then: how many times have we heard Christians saying that they missed out on Gods best because they made some wrong decision in the past? How often have we heard preachers teaching that sort of idea?--as though God was bound by circumstances or by our poor judgment, as though if we do not get every decision right in our life, we have to settle for Gods second best. What sort of God are we talking about here? Where in the Bible have human mistakes ever stopped God from doing anything?
Have we made mistakes in our lives? Of course we have. Dont let those mistakes bind you. Confess them and get on with your life. Thank God that God can use even your wrong decisions to bring about his purposes. And of course, learn from your mistakes so you dont make the same mistake twice.
Further evidence of Gods providence is found at the beginning of 2:1. Naomi we learn has a relative on her husband's side who lives in Bethlehem, a man of wealth whose name is Boaz. Naomi does not know yet, but God will use Boaz to work out his plans.
The Israelites had a sort of rough-and-ready welfare system. Leviticus 19:9-10, read: "And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest. And thou shalt not glean thy vineyard, neither shalt thou gather every grape of thy vineyard; thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger." When crops were harvested, some grain was left behind by the reapers for the needy.
In chapter two, Ruth asks her mother-in-law if she may go and pick up some of this leftover grain. Coincidences begin to multiply: In vs. 3 we read "as it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz". In vs. 4 we read "Just then" Boaz arrived from Bethlehem, and noticed Ruth gleaning in his field.
The words "as it turned out" and "just then" make it seem like these things just happened, but nothing just happens. Life is not a game of chance. When we have a problem and someone comes along to help us, it is not a coincidence, God sent that person our way. We live in a society that believes in luck. Buy a lottery ticket and if you are lucky, you will be an instant winner. We are quick to say "Good luck." Actually there is no luck. Things do not happen by chance. God is in charge of what happens, always.
Ruth is gleaning in Boaz field and Boaz happens to stop by to check on the harvest. The poor widow who has given up everything to care for her mother-in-law meets the rich and handsome farmer. Electricity flies. He has to know who this strange woman is. She hurries home at the end of the day to tell Naomi all about this wonderful man. And Naomi again sees the hand of the Lord at work, but this time for their good. She says of Boaz "Blessed be he by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!" Naomis faith has been tested, but now it springs back to life.
God has done his part in this tale of romance and love; now it is up to Ruth and Naomi and Boaz. Human responsibility enters in. To return to Tom and Judith, God buts Judith by the bus stop, but Tom has to find a way to get himself under the umbrella.
Naomi recognizes what is needed. At the start of chapter three, she explains it to Ruth. Ruth is to go to Boaz in the middle of the night and lie down with him at the foot of his sleeping mat. Notice how she is to get ready. She is to wash and anoint herself, and put on her best clothes. Nothing has changed has it? Spray on the perfume. Put on that slinky red dress. Wait until he eaten and drunk and is in a relaxed mood. Then act. Do you get the impression Naomi knew what she was doing? So Ruth goes down to the threshing floor, waits for Boaz to lie down and fall asleep and then lies down at his feet.
Which brings us to Boaz. Even before he appears on the scene, we have a hint of what Boaz is like. The way his workmen treat Ruth is an indication of how their boss would treat her. The fact that his servant girls are allowed out in the fields to glean shows that Boaz took Gods law seriously and made sure his workers did too. Boaz appreciates the sacrifice Ruth has made in leaving her country and coming to a strange land. He gives her the protection of his workers. He offers her food at lunch time, and even tells his harvesters to leave her some extra stalks of grain to gather, and not to stop her if she picks some stalks out of the standing sheaves. You can tell that he is already in love.
But now we come to the scene at the threshing floor. It is midnight, and Boaz is lying in the dark when he stirs and feels something against his feet. That wakes him up. He rolls over and there is a woman. So what does he do? He has found a woman lying in his bed, just asking for trouble and what is his response? Does he take advantage of her? She certainly had taken the risk that he might. But no, when he finds out who she is he treats her with great respect. More than that, he is flattered by her advances. He talks about how kind she is to approach an old guy like him when there are all those younger men around.
Notice what Ruth says to him in v9. She says: "I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman." Now look back to 2:12 to the way Boaz blessed Ruth when they first met: "The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust."
Its as though Ruth has taken the earlier words of Boaz and is now saying, "If I am to find refuge under the wings of the Lord, it will only be if you take me under your wings. That is, if you marry me." She loves Boaz. Moreover, she has a claim on him because he is a kinsman.
Boaz understands this and obviously likes what Ruth has said and done, but he knows something Ruth and Naomi do not. He knows someone who is more closely related to Ruth than he is and who therefore has first right of refusal of Ruth as well as of any property that belonged to Elimelech. Boaz tells Ruth he will deal with this other claimant.
He completes his kindness to Ruth by telling her to stay with him while its too dark to walk home by herself, but then sending her off before it gets too light so no shame will fall on her for being with him during the night.
Then, we discover that not only is Boaz a righteous man, but he is a wise man. If he were to simply go to this other man and ask if he wants to marry Ruth, Boaz would leave himself open to some serious bargaining. Instead, he implies that he is acting on behalf of Naomi. Boaz meets the man with ten elders as witnesses and begins to negotiate over the sale of Elimelechs land. Then, when the kinsman says he will buy the land, Boaz adds that with the land comes Naomi and Ruth. The implication is that if he takes Ruth as his wife he will be expected to father her children and her first born son will inherit the land that belonged to Elimelech. That way the land will stay in his family. This other kinsman decides he does not like the sound of that. Why should he work Elimelechs land if his own first-born son will not inherit it? So he changes his mind and Boaz gets the answer he wanted. Boaz and Ruth are soon married. Soon they have a son, and Naomi a grandson.
Waiting and Doing
What we discover in this Tale of Two Widows is that faith in God is passive and active. Faith is passive in that it depends on God acting. Sometimes faith in God requires us to wait, to see what God will do to bring about his purposes. Paul reminds us in Eph 1:11 that God "accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will." But that doesnt mean that faith equates with inaction or complacency. Faith is not fatalism. While faith requires us to trust God, it also demands action. Imagine how this story would have ended if Ruth and Naomi had just sat around waiting for God to do something. Nothing would have happened. Faith implies acting on what we know about Godnot necessarily on what we know about the world. Heb 11:8 NRSV) says, "By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going." Sometimes faith requires us to take risks, to act without knowing what will happen, but trusting that God will be with us and will fulfill his purposes in us. The fulfilling of Gods purposes is tied up with the interaction between Gods providence and human responsibility, between Gods provision and our initiative. Thats the tension in which we need to live. It is a tension between waiting and doing. We do not just wait for God to act, nor do we act without God. We walk the narrow path of patience and enterprise. In other words, we walk by faith. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2000 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified, 3/4/02