March 11, 2012

Famine To Fullness

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Ruth Scripture: Ruth 2:1–23


Famine to Fullness

Ruth 2:1-23
Sunday, March 11, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith

Maybe it's dealing with years of affliction myself. Maybe it's witnessing so much miserable pain in other's lives. All I know is that the older I get the tender my heart becomes and the more I personally struggle to see people suffering. To some degree we are all dealing with pain. At times the pain is a result of our poor decisions. Other times it seems like we have simply been dealt a cruel hand of unfavorable circumstances. I feel for you and I want to help you this morning by providing the best advice that is guaranteed to restore your joy. Neither I nor God want you to be miserable.

Last week's lesson from Ruth chapter 1 was about suffering. The story takes place during the "judges," arguably the most spiritually depressed time in Israel's history. In the span of a few verses we learned that Naomi lost her husband and both sons. She was without food and all she had was her daughter-in-law, a young Moabite woman by the name of Ruth. Desperate for food she returns to the Promised Land, ashamed and feeling forsaken by God. She tells her friends to call her "bitter."

Now, I am not sure what you are going through in its entirety, but I can probably guarantee that most of you do not have it as bad as Naomi. So if there is hope for her, there is hope for your situation as well. And as we begin chapter 2 today, we see God turning her life around and restoring her to a place of joy. God can do the same for you.

You can stay miserable because of your situation and waste precious years of your life away or you can surrender to God's plan and allow the healing to begin. Even if your circumstances never change, you do not need to hold on to the bitterness. You do not need to continually burden the world with your problems. You do not need live in fear and anxiety. Freedom is at hand. The shackles can be broken. It is God's will that you rejoice and enjoy the fullness of your salvation. The only question is, as Jesus said in John 5, "Do you wish to get well?" (Jn. 5:4).

We were never built by God to carry our own burdens. We were never built to focus primarily on ourselves and be consumed with ourselves. We were never built to live for the unstable and temporary things of this world. It is idolatry when we expect from ourselves or the world around us that which we should be seeking from God. And a clear indication that we are no longer seeking God is an absence of joy and peace. Yet God in His mercy is forever willing to make the first move. He is forever breaking us down to reorient our focus on Him in order for us to find in Him our deepest heart desires. Then trusting in His sufficiency will bring us the greatest satisfaction. And when we are most satisfied in Him, we will bring Him the greatest glory. So while the storms in our life may appear unchanging, a deep faith in who He is allows us to rise above the circumstances to quit living like an atheist and embrace the fact that He is in control (sovereign) and that He is working all things together for our good. And with that, our joy can be immovable, regardless of what the world sends our way, and our testimony for Jesus Christ will shine brighter than ever.

Chapter 1 ends with Naomi's bitterness. She is unable to change much in her life. But with God there is always hope. And chapter 1 also ends with a glimmer of hope. We read in verse 22 that they came back during the "barley harvest." God was answering her prayers for food! And they returned not only to the Promised Land, which was a return to God, but also to Bethlehem. That may have been incidental to them, but soon Bethlehem would be prophesized to be the Messiah's birthplace (Mi. 5:2). And the story of the Messiah when it comes to our minds is the greatest story of God claiming victory in the apparent grips of defeat.

It took desperation, but we can see that Naomi is welcoming God back in her life. She is surrendering. The faith is eroding the bitterness. And when we return to God, despite all that we messed up in the past, He works beyond our wildest imagination. We'll see this in today's sermon in the life of Naomi and in the life of Ruth.


As we begin the first point, we are immediately introduced to Boaz in verse 1. We learn that Boaz is a relative of Elimelech, Naomi's late husband. The man's name means, "strength" or "mighty one" and the verse calls him a "man of standing" (NIV). He is a worthy man of integrity. We will learn where he fits into the story in a moment.

For now we simply have two very hungry ladies. Let's not forget that just because food was available in Bethlehem, there were no guarantees for these ladies. Someone still had to "bring home the bread." Ruth took the initiative - a key component in godliness. Naomi and Orpah made calculated decisions. Ruth took risks. And a risk it was to do what she was about to do. I believe that is why she asks Naomi in verse 2, "Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor." Naomi responds by saying, "Go, my daughter."

A little historical background. There was a provision in the Law of Moses that provided food for the poorest of the poor (Lev. 19:9-10; 23:22; Dt. 24:19-22). We could call it the Hebrew welfare system. Simply put, it was the extras that farmers needed to leave behind (dropped crops and the corners of their field) during the times of harvest. Farmers were allowed one pass-through. The poor were then to be permitted the leftovers. It was a process called "gleaning."

Yet as we know from our society, just because there are laws it does not mean people will follow them. And the more spiritually dark the times (as they were then), the more likely people will be lawbreakers. For a young woman from Moab to wander on to another's field and take food she didn't pay for right after a national famine took incredible courage. Yet they needed food and Ruth took initiative; she ventured out in faith.

And where does she end up? Verse 3, "So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech." She winds up on the field of Boaz. I love the author's choice of words: "She happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz" (NIV- "As it turned out"). Dripping with irony! A woman commits herself to the Lord. She is desperate for food. Prayers are offered and "it just so happens"… Any serious reader of this story will see the hand of God working through her circumstances. Naomi made no suggestions as to where to glean. This was God leading Ruth!

There is no such thing as luck or chance. This is God's providence working in the lives of His people. God does not only work when He performs miracles. From a human perspective here it was nothing spectacular. From God's perspective, divine design for the good of His people. Sometimes we can see it. Oftentimes we can't. But either way we praise God that He is sovereign and that He is good. We walk by faith and not by sight.


So we move to the second point, which is Ruth's encounter with Boaz.

Verse 4, "Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, 'May the Lord be with you.' And they said to him, 'May the Lord bless you.'" Right off the bat we see this as a godly man. He enters the scene and he immediately greets his workers in the Lord, "May the Lord be with you." And they greet him in return, "May the Lord bless you." Could you imagine if your boss treated you this way? He walks into the office room and shouts, "May the Lord be with you" and one hundred heads pop up out of their six-by-six cubicles like gophers coming up out of their holes and respond like Boaz's workers saying, "May the Lord bless you." What a man of valor in the dark days of the judges! Maybe things are not as hopeless as Naomi first believed!

Verse 5, "Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, 'Whose young woman is this?'"

I remember when I first read this account it seemed that Boaz was only helpful to Ruth and a Moabitess to top it off because of his attraction to her. We must not arrive at that conclusion too fast. First, on the surface let's remember that she was working in the field all day so I'm not sure if this was love at first sight. And second, the author does not permit us to go there. To read between the lines in that manner disparages the primary purpose of this story. Most guys will do anything for a girl if he has "the hots" for her - nothing necessarily noble in that. This is a story about honor. This is a story about human loving kindness and the providence of God. We will see that what impresses Boaz about Ruth was not her physical attractiveness, but rather her spiritual integrity. And my single and married friends, we too will go a long way when we begin to evaluate people not based upon externals, but rather based upon their heart for God.

No doubt in a small town Boaz was made aware of the return of Naomi with her daughter-in-law Ruth. Now the servant in charge of the reapers makes it clear in verse 6: "She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab." He continues, verse 7, "And she said, 'Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.' Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while."

Their first conversation between the two begins in verse 8. "Then Boaz said to Ruth, 'Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.'"

In the ordinary events of everyday life, we see the hand of God providing for His people. The respect and honor that God has for women is seen in God providing a man after His own heart. This is not about using a woman for one's personal gains as we see today. This is about chivalry ("women and children first" - Titanic versus recent Costa Concordia ship tragedies). "No need for you to glean in Farmer John's field. You stay close to me. I'll protect you and I'll provide for you." This man went beyond the cultural standards and even beyond the requirements of the Law to lavish grace onto this dear lady. And here is what we need to see: A man that loved God and because of His relationship with God overflowed with goodness. And a woman who loved God, and God providentially providing for her needs.

Ruth's response is understandable in verse 10: "Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, 'Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?'" Good question! "This is beyond anything expected of you, Boaz. Why are you being so nice to me?"

Beginning in verse 11, "Boaz replied to her, 'All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know. May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge'" (Ru. 2:11-12).

Young single ladies, do you want a man to bless you like Boaz? Then seek after a man like Boaz that loves the Lord because only then will he be able to love you. "Well pastor, I brought him out to church a few times and just last night when I pressed him hard enough he said he believed in Jesus!" Please don't just settle for that! Look deeper into the man's heart! Because if he really loves Jesus, it will be seen in the way he acts. Because Boaz loved God, he didn't use this woman for himself; he sought to meet her needs through personal sacrifice. And why did he sacrifice, as Ruth asked in verse 10? It was because of his deep respect for her faith seen in verse 11.

Young ladies, people who love Jesus will be impressed more than anything by the things that impress Jesus. Boaz heard how this woman cared for her mother-in-law. Boaz heard how this woman ventured out of Moab in faith. Boaz heard how this woman sought refuge in God's care. What made Ruth attractive to Boaz? Was it her Mediterranean tan? Was it her waistline? Was it her six-figure salary? No, she was an outcast, digging in dumpsters for food and living with a crazy mother-in-law. What impressed Boaz was her heart for God that was seen in the choices she made. That turned Boaz on! That made him want to bless and encourage her all the more! That is the man you single ladies should be desiring! And married men, I hope this impresses you most about your wife!

The end of verse 12 again, "The God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge." It comes back to our main theme. Understanding our weakness and the assaults of the world and finding our protection under God's mighty wings (Psm. 36:7; 57:1; 61:4; 91:4). The symbolism is clear. God does not help those who help themselves. Rather He helps those who cannot help themselves, know it and rely on Him. That is where our hearts find security. Why? As I have been saying, because God is great enough to perform what He says He will do and good enough to want to perform what is best for His little chicks.

This story is a picture of our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are Ruth - only worse, helpless in need to physical and emotional support. Helpless to save ourselves from the consequences of our sin. And Jesus Christ is Boaz - only better, caring for us when we do not deserve it. Going beyond what is expected, even to the point in the case of Jesus Christ of laying down His life that we might be eternally forgiven of our sins. Ruth would have been a fool to glean in another field. The Bible sets it up that we would be a fool not to receive Jesus Christ for the protection He provides. Ruth rejects Boaz and perhaps she dies physically. We reject Jesus and we will die spiritually as only He has paid the ransom to reconcile us with the Father. And as Jesus Christ not only redeemed us, but also lavishes grace upon grace in our lives, likewise, we see Boaz continue to flood Ruth's life with acts of grace. Verses 14-16 even provide more evidence of this.

But at this point we need to ask a question of the text. Perhaps it is something that has been buzzing around in your head since the start of the sermon. "Weren't Israelites forbidden to befriend and show favor to the Moabites according to the Law of Moses? Deuteronomy 23 reads, "No…Moabite shall enter the assembly of the Lord… You shall never seek their peace or their prosperity all your days" (Dt. 23:3, 6). So was Boaz violating this Old Covenant restriction by showing so much favor to Ruth the Moabitess?

In a sense he was. But what was the intent of command? The avoidance of mingling with foreigners was not to prevent bigotry, but rather to steer clear of idolatry. God knew the weakness of the Israelites and how close association with these pagan nations and their pagan gods would pull the hearts of His people away from Him (Dt. 7:3-4). He wanted His people pure and set apart to Him - not for the purpose of sanctified isolation, but rather for the purpose of most effective evangelism. Israel was called to be a light to the nations, and the only way they could minister this message of grace was to be distinct in their lifestyle and devotion to God.

Here is where Ruth was different. She was no longer seen as a Moabitess. She was now seen as a daughter of the living God. Not being an Israelite made no difference, because the true people of God are not those of flesh and blood (Rom. 2:28-29; Phil. 3:3). Rather, those that are children of God in their hearts become that way as a result of a new spiritual birth (Jn. 3:3). How was her faith any different than Abraham's or the overwhelming majority of us who are Gentiles?

Boaz understood covenant grace. Ruth was no longer a foreigner. Rather her heart was circumcised. She was accepted by God and therefore she was accepted by him. And this message, one that even the apostles struggled with, is true for us today. How can we treat anyone inside the church as a second-class citizen? God graciously accepts all who come to Him regardless of their cultural, economic and moral background. When we show indifference toward any of His people, intentionally or unintentionally, we are setting aside someone God has already received.


Let's briefly turn to the final point, Ruth's return home to Naomi.

Beginning in verse 17, "So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley [about 30-50 pounds - compare with Isa. 17:5-6]. She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied. Her mother-in-law then said to her, 'Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.' So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, 'The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.' Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, 'May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.' Again Naomi said to her, 'The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.' Then Ruth the Moabitess said, 'Furthermore, he said to me, 'You should stay close to my servants until they have finished all my harvest.'' Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, 'It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field.' So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law."

Up until this point it is tough to find a flaw in Ruth's character with the possible exception of her mother-in-law! But even now we see Naomi's heart softening. She is seeing the prayers answered. Once it was bitterness, now she is found praising God. She observed God's control of this situation and how good He could be to those who commit themselves to Him and His people.

God has blessed His people, but as we will see next week, it gets even better. The harvest season would end and the food would eventually run out. But God would come through again. Because as Naomi said in verse 20 of Boaz, "The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives." That is significant, and we will see how that plays out.

This story reminds me of another story of when Jesus Christ also came across a foreign woman at a Samaritan well (Jn. 4:7). Most male Jews of the day would have rejected her, but not Jesus. He embraced her. And while her concern was on physical water, Jesus took it to a higher level, a theological level. He said when we come to Him, "[We] shall never thirst; but the water [He gives] will become…a well of water springing up to eternal life." (Jn. 4:14). Ruth found something greater than physical bread when she found the true God. And only in Jesus Christ do we find the deepest needs met for the greatest satisfaction of our souls for hope in a painful world and hope for eternity in His presence.

other sermons in this series

Mar 25


Redemption Accomplished

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Ruth 4:1–22 Series: Ruth

Mar 18


Risk, Redemption, and Reward

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Ruth 3:1–18 Series: Ruth

Mar 4


Hope When All Appears Hopeless

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Ruth 1:1–22 Series: Ruth