Under His Wings
Passage: Ruth 2:1–23
God’s love is a redeeming love that comes to us in our most desperate need.
A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help.
Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it's OK, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowboat went on. Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the motorboat went on. Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I'm praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.
Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn't save me, you let me drown. I don't understand why!” To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”
Today we are continuing a four week sermon series called Redeeming Love in the Old Testament book of Ruth. In chapter 1, we were introduced to Elimelech and his family: his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. There was a famine in Israel, so Elimelech moved them all to Moab for survival. But while there, Elimelech died. Mahlon and Chilion married two Moabite women, but after ten years, Mahlon and Chilion died, leaving Naomi with only her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. Eventually Naomi hears that God has provided food for his people in Israel, so she decides to move back to her hometown of Bethlehem. At first, both of her daughters-in-law want to accompany her, but she convinces Orpah to turn back because it makes no logical sense for them to go with her. They have no future with her. But she isn’t able to convince Ruth. Ruth commits herself to Naomi no matter what. So they return to Bethlehem in Israel where Naomi tells people that God has dealt bitterly with her and has testified against her. She left Bethlehem full but God has brought her back empty. Chapter 1 introduced us to Naomi’s tragic suffering.
In chapter 2, we will see that God is not against Naomi and has not stopped loving her but is active in her life, writing a better story for her than she would have written for herself. [Make it personal] How has God been active and present in your life this week? Where have you seen his loving guidance and care? If you are like me, you might have trouble answering that question. If you are like me, you tend to only see certain parts of your week and schedule as “God-time”: worship gatherings, reading your Bible, prayer. If you add those up, maybe it comes to around 4 hours of your week. There are 168 hours in the week so 4 hours would be about 2% of our week seen as “God-time.”
This second chapter of Ruth introduces us to how God is active and present in the ordinary, everyday lives of ordinary, everyday people. In other words, it shows us how God is active and present in our lives. This chapter has three scenes. Let’s look at the first scene.
Ruth’s Plan: Looking for Favor (2:1-3)
The last verse of chapter 1 said this: “And they [Naomi and Ruth] came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest” (Ruth 1:22). To Naomi, her situation was bitter without much hope. But this verse offered a ray of hope in this dark situation. Previously there was a famine, but in chapter 1 verse 6 we were told that God had given his people food. Chapter 1 verse 22 tells us that Naomi and Ruth arrived right when that food was ready to be harvested. Barley was the first crop to be harvested each year and would be ready in late April or early May.
Another glimmer of hope is given in verse 1 of chapter 2:
1 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. (Ruth 2:1)
When you are reading through the Old Testament, almost every time you see the word “now” at the start of the sentence, the author is giving you critical information for the story. The existence of this worthy man who is in the clan of Naomi’s husband is key and we will find out later.
So, yes, God provided food for his people, but how does this help Ruth and Naomi? They haven’t planted a crop and they have no money to buy any food. In that culture, women were dependent on men for provision and protection. Neither Naomi nor Ruth had husbands or sons. As widows, they were very vulnerable.
But God gave Israel a law which applied to this exact situation. It’s stated three different times (Lev 19:9–10; 23:22; Deut 24:19–21). One of them is Leviticus 19, which is where the command “you shall love your neighbor as yourself” comes from. Leviticus 19:9-10 says:
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. 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. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
When the law is restated in Deuteronomy 24:19, it lists the sojourner, fatherless, and the widow as those who are to benefit from this practice. In some ways, you could think of this as a welfare system except the government doesn’t provide the welfare: your neighbor does. Sojourners, the fatherless, and widows are vulnerable people in society. Sojourners are travelers or foreigners in Israel who don’t have land. The fatherless were orphans. Widows had lost their husbands. These were all people who lacked provision and protection. So God commands that fields and vineyards should not be picked clean at harvest time. Some of the harvest should be intentionally left for these vulnerable people to eat.
The book of Ruth shows us this law in action because Ruth sets out to take advantage of this law. She tells Naomi:
“Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” (Ruth 2:2)
Naomi’s only response is, “Go, my daughter.”
Verse 3 summarizes the result of Ruth’s going out:
3 So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. (Ruth 2:3)
Between this verse and verse 4, imagine the TV screen fades to black and says, “6 hours earlier.” Verse 3 tells us what happens in the end, then verse 4 backs up and tells us how it all happened.
Boaz’s Provision: Finding Favor (2:4-17)
Scene 1 is about Ruth’s plan and scene 2 is about Boaz’s provision. Scene 1 is about Ruth looking for favor and scene 2 is about her finding favor with Boaz. This scene starts us from Boaz’s perspective.
Ruth just so happens to go to Boaz’s field. Then Boaz just so happens to show up at his field while Ruth is there. He gives his reapers a godly greeting of “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” During a time of spiritual decline in Israel, Boaz’s spirituality shines warmly and brightly.
Then Boaz notices someone in his field that he doesn’t recognize. He asks his foreman, “Whose young woman is this?” In other words, he is asking, “Whose daughter or sister or wife is this?” The foreman reports:
“She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” (Ruth 2:6-7)
Let’s pause to learn a few important terms. The “reapers” were typically men in charge of reaping, meaning they would cut the stalks of grain down, possibly with a sickle or scythe. The handful of stalks of grain in their hand was called a sheaf. As they went, they’d drop these sheaves to the ground. Then there would typically be a group of women who would gather those sheaves, bundle them together, possibly stand them up so they could dry, or transport them to the threshing floor to be threshed, which was removing the grain heads from the stalks. One method would be to beat them with a stick or to drag a sled pulled by a labor animal over them. After this, it would need to be winnowed, which is separating the grain from the chaff. This would perhaps be done with a winnowing fork where the grain and chaff are both tossed up into the air and the wind blows away the chaff and the grain falls to the ground. Gleaning is gathering leftover grain from the field, either stalks that the reapers didn’t cut down or stalks that weren’t gathered. This is what the poor, sojourners, fatherless, and widows were allowed to do after the reapers and gatherers had gone through.
In the Hebrew, it’s a bit unclear what Ruth asked to do but here’s how I understand it. Ruth has arrived to glean while the reapers and gatherers are still in the field harvesting. She wants to glean earlier than the gleaners are allowed to go into the field. This shows how desperate she and Naomi’s situation is. They can’t wait until the end of the harvest. They have no food. They need food now.
It seems that Ruth asked the foreman for permission to do this but Ruth has asked for special privileges that go beyond what the law required of landowners. Because of this, the foreman either denied her request or more likely he didn’t have authority to grant her request. So Ruth has been waiting for the landowner to show up who has the authority.
Boaz doesn’t even respond to what the foreman said. He just turns to Ruth and addresses her. He says:
“Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 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.” (Ruth 2:8-9)
Boaz grants her the privilege Ruth asked for. He doesn’t make her wait until the reapers and gatherers are done before she gleans leftovers but allows her to work with his female gatherers who are picking up the best of the harvest behind the reapers. He tells her not to go to any other field so he basically takes her on as an employee for the harvest season except she isn’t gathering grain for Boaz but she is gathering grain for her and Naomi. He charges his workers not to harass her in any way. Then he shows her around the worksite, giving her privileges to drink from the employee water cooler. Boaz gives Ruth both provision and protection.
Ruth responds with immense gratitude. Verse 10 says:
10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10)
Ruth set out looking for favor (2:2) with someone who would let her glean early and in Boaz she has found that favor. But she feels totally undeserving. Three times since Ruth has arrived in Bethlehem, her foreign status has been mentioned: Ruth the Moabite. But Boaz is treating her as an insider even though she is an outsider. Why?
“All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 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!” (Ruth 2:11-12)
Boaz has been told about Ruth’s commitment to Naomi. She left her own people to come with Naomi to Israel. And now she has come under the wings of the Lord, the God of Israel, for refuge.
“I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.” (Ruth 2:13)
At mealtime, Boaz invites her to come eat with the rest of the reapers and makes sure she has plenty to eat and even leftovers to take home. When she gets up to go back to gleaning, he instructs his workers to let her glean from the sheaves they are dropping to the ground and to even pull out some barley from the bundles being collected for her to glean. Ruth is “gleaning”, but she isn’t getting the leftovers. She is working right among the gatherers, getting access to the best of the crop.
Verse 17 summarizes that she gleaned until evening then beat out what she had gleaned, removing the heads of grain from the stalks. Then she took home an ephah of barley, which would be about a week’s worth of food for her and Naomi.
Ruth Reports to Naomi: Praise for Favor (2:17-22)
In the final scene, Ruth brings her gleanings home as well as her leftovers from mealtime for Naomi. Naomi is a bit astounded. She asks, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” Naomi is wondering who let her glean this early. Ruth reports, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.”
Naomi bursts out with praise, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” (2:20) From verse 1, we already know who Boaz is. But Ruth has no idea. Naomi informs Ruth, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” Ruth shares that Boaz has not only allowed her to glean today but to do so throughout the whole harvest season. Naomi responds, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” Remember, this is a dark time in Israel, a period of moral and spiritual decline. So there are no guarantees that Ruth will be treated with respect as a foreigner, a woman, and a widow. But Boaz is giving both protection and provision. So we are told that Ruth gleaned with Boaz’s young women through not only the barley harvest but also the wheat harvest.
There are two key statements in this chapter that are connected to one another. One of them is made by Naomi right here in verse 20. She says to Ruth, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” The word “kindness” is a very powerful word in Hebrew that’s hard to capture with just one word of phrase.. It’s the word hesed, which is compassionate, loyal love expressed to someone in dire need with whom you are in a relationship. In Ruth 1:8, Naomi prayed that God would deal kindly - would show hesed - to her daughters-in-law as they had dealt with the dead and her. And now she recognizes that hesed - kind, compassionate, loyal love - has been shown again. But whose kindness is she talking about? Is it Boaz’s or God’s? And the answer is: “yes”. Boaz’s kindness toward Ruth and Naomi is an expression of God’s kindness toward Ruth and Naomi. This verse is the turning point in this story.
The other key statement was made by Boaz in verses 11 to 12. He tells Ruth that she has come under the wings of the God of Israel to take refuge. This is one of my favorite images in the Bible: of God gathering us under his wings like a mother bird (Ps 91:4). But let’s ask: how is Ruth experiencing refuge under God’s wings? She is experiencing it through Boaz who is a reflection of what God is like. Boaz is giving her refuge in her dire need through provision and protection. Even in this dark time in Israel’s history, there were godly people.
Naomi hints towards an even deeper refuge and kindness when she says that Boaz is one of their redeemers. This means he is in a position to create a more permanent solution to Ruth and Naomi’s plight. A redeemer in a family is someone who saves that family line from extinction. For Naomi, her husband and her sons are dead meaning there is no male in her family to inherit her husband’s land granted to him by God. A redeemer marries a widow in a family with the goal of then having a son who can inherit the land. He redeems the land from being lost and the widow from poverty and childlessness. This is another bud of hope that comes into full bloom in the next two chapters.
The takeaway in this chapter is about how God is working in Naomi and Ruth’s lives. Both Boaz and Naomi talk about how God is taking care of them and loving them. God gets the credit. But where have we seen God in this story? Think back to that opening story with the guy on top of his house in a flood. He’s in a dire situation. He needs to be rescued. He believes God is his only hope. But how does God show his love for this man? God sent a rowboat, a motorboat, and a helicopter. God sent people as an expression of his love for this man. In this story, Boaz is a visible expression of God’s love and refuge for Naomi and Ruth. Boaz is a reflection of what God is like to them. God’s loving care enters Naomi and Ruth’s lives through a person.
We also see God’s loving guidance. Verse 3 said that Ruth “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” This is the author winking at us because people don’t “just so happen” to go someplace. God was active in connecting Ruth to Boaz. We need to learn to watch for God’s invisible hand in the events of our lives.
It’s easy for us to miss God’s presence and activity in our lives. We want God to show up big and obvious. We may think about those powerful moments in the Bible when God appeared to people. We may think about God speaking to Moses from a burning bush, leading the people of Israel with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, writing on the wall to get king Belshazzar’s attention in Daniel 5, or of angels coming to talk to Mary and Joseph about her pregnancy with Jesus. We’d like God to show up in those big and obvious ways! We’d like to see a message in the sky, a clear “sign”.
The reality is that many times, God works in more subtle ways, in more natural ways. And actually, having God make himself known in big and loud ways doesn’t make us any more likely to trust him or do what he says. When God rescued the people of Israel from Egypt, they saw the plagues, they saw God part the Red Sea, they were led by the pillar of cloud and fire, they were fed by bread from heaven, they saw the cloud of thunder and lightning on Mount Sinai and heard God speak from it. And yet, they grumbled and complained about their situation. They doubted God’s power and ability. They wanted to go back to Egypt. They didn’t trust God despite all the big and loud things he had done for them. Judas saw all of Jesus’ miracles and still betrayed Jesus. All the disciples abandoned Jesus when he was arrested.
We might think, “If God would be more obvious in my life, if he would be more big and flashy, if he would just show up loud and clear, then it would be way easier to follow him.” The history in the Bible shows us that this isn’t the case. And the truth is, God is always present and active in our lives, especially if we have trusted in Jesus. The key for us isn’t for God to show up in our lives big and loud, but for us to learn to hear his voice and sense his loving guidance and care in the variety of ways he shows up in our lives.
Consider that there are 168 hours in a week. We tend to see some of those hours as “God time”, perhaps when we are at a church service or when we are praying or reading our Bible. Let’s say that adds up to 4 hours in the week. So we would label four hours of our week “God time” and the other 164 hours as “non-God time”. And we think if we want more of God in our life, we have to dedicate more time to doing “God stuff”. It’s less about finding more “God time” and doing more “God stuff” and more about becoming attentive and receptive to God’s presence and activity all the time. If you are listening to the radio in the car, someone might tell you about a really great station. You’ve never heard of it before so you’ve never listened to it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist and they aren’t broadcasting. It just means you haven’t tuned into the correct frequency to hear it. We need to tune our hearts to the correct frequency. From her place of bitterness, Naomi is starting to get tuned in to see that God does love her through Ruth’s actions and Boaz’s. And Ruth is learning what Israel’s God of love is really like through Boaz’s actions.
We see God showing loving care and guidance to Ruth and Naomi through Boaz in this chapter. And a key task for us as disciples of Jesus is to learn to see God’s loving care and guidance in our lives. We each have two stories to look at.
First, we have the gospel story. We are told in Scripture that we were in a dire situation, all humanity was. God so loved us that he sent Jesus to redeem us out of our dire need. Boaz is God’s love made visible in this story. In this chapter, Boaz rescues Naomi and Ruth from death in the short-term and by the end of the book he will rescue their family from death in the long-term by marrying Ruth. Jesus is the far-off grandson of Boaz who has come to redeem and rescue us from death due to our sins. Jesus loved us and gave himself up for us. In this story, we are Ruth and Naomi, in desperate need of someone to show us undeserved, unearned favor. Ruth says, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” And we can say the same thing, “God, why have I found favor in your eyes since I am [blank].” Since I am a sinner. Since I have lived as your enemy. Since I don’t love you with my whole heart. Since I have wandered and strayed. And Jesus is our ultimate redeemer who pulls us under his refuge like a mother bird with her chicks.
That’s the gospel story. And we have our own personal stories. And we need to begin to see how God has been present with us. When we look to the past, we need to see that God was there. When we look at the present, we need to see that God is here. When we look to the future, we need to see that God will be there. We need to see that no matter what happened, is happening, or will happen, God loves us. Whether we look at the rearview mirror, the driver’s seat beside us, or the windshield in front of us, God is there. God is behind us, beside us, and before us. He is the author of our stories from start to finish.
The problem is that oftentimes, we tend to filter God through our story rather than our story through God. When we filter God through our story, we look at what is happening in our life and we make conclusions about God. We see the pain and the problems and decide God must be against us or he isn’t around at all. But if we filter our story through God, we will look at God and make conclusions about our story. We know he is good, we know he is loving, we know he is with us, and so whatever is happening does not mean he isn’t good, loving, or present. We can trust that he’s always active in our lives and we can see how he is. This is learning to live the “God with us” life.
The gospel story and your own personal story are your two testimonies of what God has done in your life. If we aren’t seeing God, then the problem is our sight, not that he isn’t there. Ruth shows us the key to receiving it: humility. She expresses great gratitude and the key to gratitude is humility. Because if we aren’t humble, we believe that we are entitled to and have a right to everything we have or are given. We’ve earned it. We deserve it. We are entitled to it. Ruth is humble so when she is shown favor, she is grateful. Humility puts us in a position to see God in our lives. And when Ruth received Boaz’ favor, she said it comforted her. Seeing and receiving God’s undeserved favor is comforting and relieving.
God’s love is a redeeming love. It’s a love that comes to us in our most desperate need and dire situations. It’s a love that doesn’t wait for us to have something to offer. It’s a love that doesn’t require us to clean ourselves up or get ourselves together. It’s not a love that turns us away because we aren’t good enough. God’s love makes enemies into friends. God love makes outsiders into insiders. God’s love pulls sinners close. God’s love is an “even though” love: even though we are weak, needy, and sinful, he shines his favor upon his. God loves those who are in desperate need of his love.
The other amazing part about this is that God will use us in other people’s lives just like he used Ruth in Naomi’s life and Boaz in Ruth and Naomi’s lives. You could be the way someone sees God in their life - the way someone sees God loving them. You could be part of someone else’s miracle.
God calls us to be a community of his love where we receive God’s love through each other and we give that love out. That's what it means that we are the body of Christ. God does his work on earth in us and through us.
More in Ruth: Redeeming Love
November 21, 2021Witnesses of Redeeming Love
November 14, 2021“Cover Me”: The Interactions of Three Normal, Godly People
October 31, 2021Emptied