There are lots of great love stories in our culture – "The Notebook" – great love story with Ryan Gosling and Rachael McAdams. From a while ago now, all the movies with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan: You’ve Got Mail - Joe Versus the Volcano – and of course, Sleepless in Seattle – great love story. The night I asked Nonie to marry me, we had a lovely dinner, watched Sleepless in Seattle then I proposed – she said ‘YES!’ – good times! Shrek was a great love story – Crazy Stupid Love – Steve Carrell, Ryan Gosling (again), Emma Stone – it’s hilarious and romantic – and good fun.
Then there’s Terminator 2 – another great love story – it’s true! Arnold Schwarzenegger is a Terminator T-800 Model 101 – and if you think a machine can’t love – think again! As the movie rolls on – Arnie grows to love John Connor and his mother, Sarah – so much that he not only spends the whole movie saving their lives and getting shot about a thousand times in the process – but at the end he gives his life to save humanity – great love story! It just has lots of guns and explosions and car chases – the perfect date night movie – keeps husband and wife happy!
Anyway, as good as those love stories are, they’re not a patch on the Bible. The whole Bible is a giant love story. God made us and loves us so much that despite the fact that all humanity have turned their backs on God, and to varying degrees, done exactly the opposite of what God requires of us and yet God’s love for His creation remains. To the extent that God becomes a man, Jesus, so that we can see exactly how much God loves us by giving His life for ours. He takes our sin and replaces it with His righteousness so that we can be reunited with God and enjoy Him forever. The Bible is the perfect love story.
Ruth is a short book in the Old Testament, there are only 4 chapters but it’s a mini version of that giant love story and it’s one of the most beautiful things in the Bible, I love it!
In case you missed last week let me catch you up to speed. Like any love story you’ve got to meet the characters. We meet Naomi’s family, Naomi is the wife, her name means ‘pleasant’ – great name! Elimelech is the husband, his name means ‘My God is King’ – another great name! They had two sons, ‘Mahlon’ and ‘Chilion’ – not sure what happened there, but Mahlon’s name means ‘sick’; and Chilion’s name means ‘destruction’. Probably not the best names to give your kids…
Anyway, there’s a famine in Israel and Elimelech decides to move his family to Moab. In case you’re wondering, that’s a bad decision, Elimelech should have stayed in Israel and trusted that God would provide for his family. Anyway they move and stay in Moab for 10 years, the boys grow up and get married, only there aren’t any Hebrew women who know and love the God of Israel to marry, so they marry Moabite women, who worship a false god, called Chemosh. Things are going from bad to worse. But then Elimelech and both his sons, Mahlon and Kilion get sick and die. Not really a surprise if you name your kids ‘sick’ and ‘destruction’ – but there you go.
That leaves Naomi a widow with 2 daughters-in-law who are now also widows: Orpah and Ruth. Naomi decides to go back to Israel, its the first good decision in the story, Orpah decides to stay in Moab but Ruth…Ruth is different, her name means ‘Companion’, ‘Friend’ or ‘Vision of beauty’. She’s had a conversion experience somehow and she’s come to trust the God of Israel completely. Although Naomi urges Ruth to stay in Moab, Ruth’s having none of it. She says this beautiful line in Ruth 1:16-17
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” (NIV)
You can only say something like that if you completely trust the God of Israel. So off they head 75 kilometres, on foot, which is the same as walking from here to a bit past Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, they get back to Israel and in Bethlehem. Naomi decides to change her name from Naomi, which remember means ‘Pleasant’ to Mara, which means ‘Bitter’ well she’s a widow, her daughter-in-law is a widow, her husband and both her sons are dead, so bitterness is reasonable. That brings us to Chapter 2 where we meet Boaz, he is the dude of dudes and his name means ‘Strong man’. When Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem it had two massive pillars holding it up, he named one of the pillars ‘Boaz’ after this bloke we meet in Ruth – it’s great name!
What we see in Ruth 2 is godly people behaving in a godly way toward each other and honouring God in the process. Both Boaz and Ruth are faithful people and they love God and they love His people and we get to see that faithfulness lived out here. Gentlemen, we look at the way Boaz treats Ruth and we get to see how God expects believing men to treat women, all women and, no surprise, it’s the polar opposite of what our culture tells us, but my goodness, if only more men were like Boaz then all the women we know would be so much safer than they currently are in our world. And ladies, you get to see a demonstration of the way you should rightly expect to be treated by Christian men.
So, we already know from Chapter 1 that Ruth loves God and trusts Him, in Chapter 2 we see what that faith looks like in her life. She trusts that God will provide because she knows God’s character, so she puts her faith into action. It’s harvest time in Israel and the Old Testament Law had a provision for poor people that the harvesters would not collect the grain right to the edge of their fields and they wouldn’t pick up everything that fell onto the ground. Poor people were allowed to walk along behind the harvesters and collect the stalks of grain that fell out of their bags and they could harvest the standing grain that was left on the edges of all the fields. God provided this law to bless poor people and Ruth was poor but trusted God and put her faith into action by going out and collecting the grain to keep her and Naomi alive.
Now, it just so happens that the field Ruth went to belonged to Boaz, we see that in verse 3. That’s Jewish humour, in case you missed it! Whoever wrote Ruth is telling us that God knows exactly what’s going on and while it might look like Ruth just stumbled into this particular field the author wants us to see God’s hand at work in the background. God led Ruth to this field because she has an appointment there with Boaz it just so happens.
In verse 4 we meet Boaz, the dude of Dudes! And it turns out that he’s an Anglican minister! You mightn’t be familiar with the old Prayer Book Anglican church service but that’s OK, don’t feel bad, it was originally written in 1549…and revised in 1662 but the first words the minister says in the old Prayer Book service are: “The Lord be with you!” And the people are meant to respond, “And also with you!” Only difference here is that all the blokes who work for Boaz are Baptists, so they say, “The Lord bless you!” Which is close enough.
Anyway, Boaz is a single bloke. He’s wealthy and he owns a decent farm and has a heap of people working for him and you can see by the way he greets his workers that he’s a godly bloke with a strong and living faith in God. He asks God to bless his workers and the way they respond tells us that they know they’re working for a good guy and they ask God to bless their boss.
Imagine how cool it would be to work for a bloke like that! Imagine you’re working away and your boss walks in and says, “The Lord be with you!” Ray says this to all of us all the time because he’s a great boss! If you’re a manager or in some sort of leadership role at work maybe it wouldn’t be a bad thing to somehow let your team or your staff know that you are the kind of person who wants God’s blessing to be on those around you. You mightn’t say it like Boaz does but you can say it in other ways and the way you treat your staff or your team can demonstrate it. My guess is that it would be quite a powerful thing in a secular workplace.
Anyway, in verse 5, Boaz asks his foreman, “Who does that young woman belong to?” If this was a movie, there’d be some strings playing in the background and maybe the cameras would be in soft-focus as they’d pan around to Ruth working away in the field collecting grain behind the harvesters. The foreman tells Boaz she’s the young woman who came back from Moab with Naomi, and it turns out she’s been working since early morning and it’s now later in the afternoon so she’s sweaty and dirty, her hair is a mess, she’s tired and if you asked her, she’d probably say she’s not looking her best. But notice that Boaz isn’t just looking at her outward appearance, he’s seen something more than her looks. He’s heard of this young woman, everyone has, you don’t turn up as a foreigner in Bethlehem with Naomi whom no one has seen for a decade and go unnoticed. People know that Ruth loves Naomi and cares for her and they also know she has come to trust in their God as well. Boaz sees Ruth’s character.
Our culture is almost the opposite, isn’t it? These days we’ve got Instagram and Facebook and all the other social media apps, all of which focus on the outward appearance of people and you can photoshop images of yourself to make you look the best you can, everything is about what you wear or what you’re not wearing more often. But God and God’s people should be paying much more attention to the heart to the character. This is what Boaz does and Ruth’s character is worth noticing.
Now listen to the way Boaz talks to Ruth. What I want you to hear as this conversation goes on is Boaz’s character. Remember, in this culture, a woman like Ruth was about as vulnerable as a woman can be. She’s a foreigner, she’s a widow so there’s no man to protect her, she’s alone and new in town. Moab and Israel were often at war with each other so even though people know she’s looking after Naomi there would have been some people who hated her just because she’s from Moab. And although she trusted God, there would have been some fear in her heart when she went out that morning because back then, as now, any terrible thing could have happened to a woman in this position. But listen to the godly example Boaz gives to men who love God and want to honour Him in their lives: Ruth 2:8-9
So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” (NIV)
Imagine how this would have sounded to Ruth. She now knows she’s safe with this man. She probably would not be safe anywhere else. He’s told his workers that if any of them touch her that’ll be the last thing they touch. If she’s thirsty, his water is her water and the other women in the field they are now your community and Ruth will be safe with them. Ruth 2:10-12
At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me, a foreigner?” Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (NIV)
He’s not only provided a safe place for Ruth to work and gather food for her and Naomi, now he’s praying for her, that God would bless her for the kindness she has shown to her mother-in-law. And for her part, Ruth knows that socially, she wouldn’t normally be on the receiving end of this honourable behaviour from Boaz. Ruth 2:13
“May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.” (NIV)
Boaz isn’t finished, Verses 14-16
At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (NIV)
Boaz isn’t just offering his protection to Ruth, he’s going over the top in making sure she is well fed and has plenty of grain to take home to Naomi so she can be well fed also.
At this point in the story, there’s no romance going on here. This isn’t love at first sight, it’s respect and honour at first sight, because that is Boaz’s character. We find out in Chapter 3 that Boaz is quite a bit older than Ruth and when it looks like there might be something going on between them, he’s genuinely shocked that Ruth hasn’t gone and chased one of the younger men in town. So, this is just a good and godly man, acting in a good and godly way toward a younger woman he’s treating as if she was his daughter. Gentlemen, this is how each of us is meant to treat all the women we know. This is how God expects us to treat women, all women. Respect. Honour. Care. Protection. Provision.
I very rarely feel vulnerable, physically. Most men I know are the same, you don’t have to be 6’2” and almost 100kg to feel safe, you just basically have to be male. But you talk to any of the women you know, of any age, and it turns out that most women rarely feel safe and very often feel quite vulnerable. I can’t image that, if I’m honest. The world is not a safe place for the vast majority of females.
One of my friends is a young woman I met through LiT and KYCK, she’s more like a daughter than a friend really. She was a strong Christian, crazy gifted in so many ways, and beautiful. She was travelling overseas and met a bloke who spiked her drink then sexually assaulted her on a beach. There was no one around to help her, there was no Boaz to make things right. When she told me what had happened to her, I cried, a lot. The world is not a safe place for most women, which means it is up to men, and particularly Christian men to make it safe. So, gentlemen, no matter where you are, if you see a woman in any sort of danger, it is your responsibility and mine, to stand between her and whatever or whoever is threatening her as quick as you can. This is exactly what Boaz is doing for Ruth, because he knows this is what God expects of him.
Ruth knows she is safe with Boaz, so in verse 17, after having something to eat, she goes back to work. As the chapter finishes, we learn that Ruth goes home to Naomi with about 13 kilos of Barley, that’s enough food for a week at least and Naomi is beside herself when Ruth comes home, and like many mothers-in-law, she has a bunch of questions! Where did you glean? Who’s field were you in?
Ruth tells Naomi she was in Boaz’s field and the penny drops for Naomi. Now, as I said before, there’s no love interest going on between Ruth and Boaz just yet but you can’t help feeling like Naomi is already thinking of how she might give Ruth a nudge so she might keep getting in Boaz’s way so he’ll notice her a bit more. And there’s a good reason for this. Look at Verses 20, 21
“The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’” (NIV)
One of the interesting provisions God made for His people was a law called ‘the Levirate Law’. Say you have a married couple and the husband died before they had any kids. The dead husband’s brother, or if he didn’t have a brother, another close relative, would marry the widow and provide her with children. This would do two things, it would keep the dead husband’s name alive so that it wouldn’t be lost plus it would provide the widow with children who would look after her as she got older. So while it might seem a weird law to our ears, it actually meant that widows would be cared for, it’s a lot like the law about not harvesting grain to the edge of your field so the poor could get some food, there was no government welfare back then, so God put several laws in place to provide for vulnerable people.
It just so happens that Boaz is closely related to Elimelech, which makes him what Naomi calls a ‘Guardian-redeemer’ that means it would be possible for Boaz to marry Ruth and provide children for her and grandchildren for Naomi, thus meaning they would be cared for as they got older and continuing the family line of Elimelech.
We’ll see how that plays out next week when Ray looks at the last 2 chapters of Ruth. But as we finish up Chapter 2, the glaringingly obvious message of this chapter is that even while life has taken several tragic turns for Naomi and Ruth, God is orchestrating one of the great comebacks for this family. He got them safely back to Bethlehem from Moab. He led Ruth to gather grain in a field that just so happened to belong to Boaz. Who just so happens to be a man of distinctly godly character. Because Boaz is God’s man in this situation, he provides for Ruth in so many ways: he gives her heaps of food; he gives her a community of women her age to do life with; he gives her absolute protection from anyone who would seek to do her harm; he prays for God’s blessing to be over her life. And on top of all that, it just so happens that Boaz is one of the few men capable of enacting this Levirate Law that God had put in place to provide for widows among His people and he can marry Ruth and provide a family for her.
One of the things I love about the Bible is that God tells us all these things about His people, warts and all. We read about their good times and their hard times, which, I don’t know about you, but I find heaps encouraging because I have good times and I have hard times as well.
What I find so encouraging about Ruth though, is that this is what good looks like. A mate of mine is a leadership coach, he spends time with ministers and church workers all over the place, training them in leadership and development and all that sort of thing. When he meets his clients, he has a series of questions for them, the best one, is this: ‘What does ‘good’ look like?’ All of us can ask this question of ourselves, our work life, our family life, our Christian life, our relationships. What does good look like? When you answer it, you figure out what you need to do to go from where you are to where you need to be as a husband, or a wife, as an employee or a manager or a boss, as a friend or a mentor, or just as a Christian.
Ruth 2 tells us what good looks like on so many levels. What does ‘good’ look like for Ruth? She’s got a strong faith in God, and she puts that faith into action by working hard and providing for Naomi. So for Ruth, good looks like trusting God in hard circumstances. She’s taking responsibility for herself and not expecting handouts or asking someone else to pay her bills. She receives kindness from Boaz and she accepts it joyfully, thanking Boaz for his kindness and also thanking God for His provision for her. Perfect.
What’s ‘good’ look like for Boaz? For Boaz, good looks like thinking, speaking and acting in a way that honours God in everything he does. He blesses his employees, he notices Ruth and speaks so kindly to her, praising her character and her hard work gathering grain for her and Naomi. He provides her with his protection and he makes her not just feel safe, but actually be safe. He provides way more food for her than she needs and places her in the community of women who work for him so that she will have an instant group of friends to share life with. Boaz provides everything Ruth will need to flourish in her new life in Israel, gentlemen, Boaz is one of the very best examples God has given us as we do our best to live in a way that honours God.
Ruth is a great love story, but it’s way more than just a love story. As I said in the beginning, Ruth is a mini-version of the enormous love story of the whole Bible. Boaz gives us a mini-version of the way God has provided for us in the Lord Jesus. Everything we need to flourish in this life, God has provided for us through Jesus. And more than that, everything we need for the life to come, God has also provided for us through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus.