Sermon for Sunday, June 4th, 2023 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)
Old Testament reading:
[Rth 2:1-23 ESV] 1 Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 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. 4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered, “The LORD bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “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.” 8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “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.” 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?” 11 But Boaz answered her, “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!” 13 Then she said, “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.” 14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.” 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. 18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” 21 And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.'” 22 And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” 23 So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
New Testament reading:
[1Pe 5:1-11 ESV] 1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, 7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. 8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. 10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. 11 To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.
[Mat 10:40-42 ESV] 40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”
The second chapter of the book of Ruth is a story of character and courtship, a story of being in the right place at the right time, and even a love story. Yet, above all, it is a story of God’s protection of those who have come under his wings for refuge.
That is the main point that we shall reach. God is THE refuge for His people.
But first, it is valuable that we look into those other storylines as well.
The story, now in the second chapter, takes place in a field in Israel where the workers are reaping the grain. This is the context, and it is is the earthly or physical side of the story, as opposed to the Godly or spiritual side to be noted later on. In the field where the reapers work. But with refuge under the wings of God.
Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth have gone back to Israel following the calamity of the death of their husbands while they all had been sojourning in the land of Moab.
And now back in Israel, surely hungry from their travels, Ruth goes out into the field to GLEAN.
This word is not the most common to us in our day. But gleanings are like leftovers. After the reapers harvest the grain there are bits remaining. And people come out there to pick up the bits. It isn’t illegal to do so; it is even the law of God that the reapers are not to harvest their entire crop.
It says in Leviticus:
[Lev 19:9-10 ESV] 9 “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. 10 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.
So whether of grain or of fruit, some is to be left for others.
To glean can mean “to gather information bit by bit.” So the author A. W. Pink has books called Gleanings in Genesis, and Gleanings in Exodus, and so on. As we learn from the word of God, we are to glean what we can. Bit by bit, slowly increasing in knowledge and understanding.
But in our context “To glean” means to gather grain left by the reapers. [REPEAT: “To glean” means to gather grain left by the reapers.]
It is noteworthy that the Levitical system of gleaning is one by which the poor can eat … if they work for it. It is merciful but not enabling of poverty. A public policy expert would be paid big bucks to find an idea like this, but here it is laid out for us in the word of God.
A. Character and Courtship
Well, as Ruth is gleaning in the field she happens upon the land owned by Boaz. And, in fact, soon happens upon him in the field.
Here we see the character of each of them and how it is involved in their courtship.
Boaz is seen to be a godly man. He is first noted as “a WORTHY man of the clan of Elimelech.” And his actions back this up. When he sees the reapers he says “The Lord be with you.” And they respond “The Lord bless you.” He is a believer in God, and he employs fellow believers. And he cares for the traveler, the foreigner, giving Ruth protection, giving her food, and allowing her to glean among the sheaves, the bundles of grain already harvested. In all of this we see that Boaz shows mercy as God is merciful. His character is excellent.
As for Ruth, she has been gleaning “from early morning” “except for a short rest.” She is supporting not only herself but her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth is an honorable woman, making good on her promise to Naomi to go where she goes and lodge where she lodges. (The text tells us that throughout this period “she lived with her mother-in-law.”) This is a promise of honoring family, and as Naomi gets older, it is a promise of Ruth’s support for her mother-in-law. Then, we also see Naomi’s character in the fact that she has chosen Israel over Moab. Boaz notes Ruth’s character well when he says “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’s character is excellent. She has chosen the Lord.
The good character of Boaz and of Ruth sets the stage for their courtship. They’ve had just this one brief conversation, but much has been learned about one another. And, they must certainly be impressed by one another’s character.
This is what we should emphasize to our children. No doubt, the appearance of a person may be that which initially attracts. But for a godly life, character should be developed in us, and character should be looked for in a prospective partner. Not only should a couple be “equally yoked” in that they both confess Christianity, but they should care about character.
Indeed character is not only for courtship, but for life. This character involves (1) speaking kindly to all, even employees in the field, (2) praising God (not self), (3) being merciful and helpful to travelers, (4) and working hard for family, especially for the elderly who can no longer support themselves. We see some great examples of character in this chapter.
B. The Right Place at the Right Time
Another storyline then is this idea of “being in the right place at the right time.”
Ruth has happened upon Boaz, or Boaz has happened upon Ruth. Ruth clearly didn’t know who he was. And Boaz only knew some about Ruth after the workers had given him information.
But you have to wonder if Naomi is in on this. Did she bring herself and Ruth to this specific place in hopes that Ruth would meet Boaz? We don’t know.
But we do know that God planned this. Even though the travels of Naomi and Ruth were without a direct message from God, He yet led them. They didn’t have a pillar of smoke or a pillar of fire leading the way, they weren’t given a new star in the sky to lead them to Bethlehem, nor were they giving a vision or a dream. But the Lord led them nonetheless. And we should consider that God leads us though we do not receive specific guidance.
The story also requires that Boaz arrive at the right time. He is no less guided by God to be there.
These people – Boaz and Ruth – are ancestors of David and of Joseph and Mary as well. The genealogy of Christ in Matthew and in Luke differ a bit, and it seems that Matthew’s genealogy is for Joseph, and Luke’s list is for Mary. Boaz is mentioned in each of them. (Ruth is mentioned only in Matthew).
So the “chance encounter” had to be, because Christ had to come.
C. A Biblical Love Story
Then, another storyline is that we have a love story. Here, you can be an oblivious man (like myself sometimes) and see no explicit elements of a love story here. Or you consider human nature, and realize that every step of the way in this story contains that tension, those steps of interest between the two that are drawn together, Ruth and Boaz. For example, why is Boaz so interested in this lady in the field? Even before he sees her character it seems he is struck by her beauty. And, again, why is he so kind to her? He is being drawn to her.
Ruth, no doubt, was glad to “have found favor in his eyes.” And she probably is thinking that Boaz wouldn’t give such favor to just anyone. He certainly has taken a liking to her, has he not? Ruth even tells Naomi about him.
Naomi sees that Ruth has come home with a large yield, an ephah of barley. This is 7 ½ gallons; quite a days work. And so she realized that someone has been kind to Ruth. She asks “Where did you glean today?” and “where have you worked.” She doesn’t ask WHO the man is that has helped, but merely says “Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” And Ruth is more than happy to tell Naomi about Boaz. She says “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Naomi hadn’t even asked for the name. Somebody is falling in love.
And perhaps there is a little hint to the way things work in life. People are often forgetful with names. But no one forgets the name of the person they are interested in.
Well, that is all for this Biblical love story in this chapter, but it continues in the next. And Lord willing, we’ll get there next week.
But while there are these various storylines woven into this text, we have an overall, ultimate idea in this chapter: God is the refuge for His people.
We see this in a number of ways.
(1) How God leads his people. Ruth to Boaz and Boaz to Ruth
(2) How God is providing for Naomi through Ruth’s gleaning.
(3) The words of Boaz that Ruth has “come under the wings of God for refuge.”
He says: “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!”
Yes, Ruth has decided to come to the land of Israel, where the people worship the true God. She takes refuge in this land. But even more she takes refuge in God. She had said to Naomi in the first chapter “Your God shall be my God.” It wasn’t just that she would lodge where Naomi lodged. There was something more than the physical move to Israel. There was the spiritual move to worshipping the True God. As Boaz says, Ruth has taken refuge under the wings of the Lord.
She has trusted God, trusting that He will provide for them. But yet she gleaned in the field. For the Lord does provide; he provides through the gleaning. And he’s about to provide Boaz, not only as a benefactor or patron, but as Ruth’s husband, her very kinsman-redeemer, a term we’ll look into more deeply next week, Lord willing.
Ruth has taken refuge in God. Of course, we know that God has worked faith into her. But it is nevertheless true that she takes refuge in God, even if it is through the work of the Holy Spirit in her.
God does not speak in this text, nor even in the book. He’s mentioned in the greetings between Boaz and the reapers, when they say “The LORD be with you!” and “The LORD bless you.” And the blessing of the Lord is mentioned both by Boaz to Ruth and by Ruth to Boaz. Though the blessing Ruth receives is proximately by the hand of Boaz, it is ultimately by the hand (or wings) of God.
So are all our blessings. They come through certain channels, but are ultimately all from the Lord. So, to whom but the Lord should we give praise? And IN whom but the Lord should we take refuge?
Conclusion: Taking Refuge in God
Indeed, we are called, we are beckoned to take refuge in the Lord.
The Old Testament speaks about “cities of refuge.” Places to flee when you’ve accidentally killed someone and are on the run from the would-be avenger of blood. Cities of refuge are places where you won’t be killed. Where you are safe.
Now, the Lord God is the greater refuge.
In 2 Samuel 22:3 David said: “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence.
And in Psalm 7:1 we hear David again say “O Lord my God, in you do I take refuge, save me from all my pursuers and deliver me.”
Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
We need need a refuge. Death is at the doorstep. You may have years yet, but time is quick and death yet is inevitable.
Flee to the refuge that is Christ.
There is no other refuge.
There are many references to the refuge of God in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms. But only one in the New Testament. In Hebrews 6 all who are believers in Christ are said to have “fled to refuge.” Flee to Christ.
Doing so, we have left the old world behind, left the old self behind, and taken refuge in Jesus Christ.
Is He your strength? Have you fled to Christ? Where else is there to go? As Peter said, “Lord to whom shall we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
In the refuge of God there is eternal life.
Psalm 34:8 – “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!”
Psalm 34:22 “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”
Flee to Christ. Take refuge in the Lord.
We do so, of course, only by the grace of God.
And so we must ask that great question, why have I found favor in God’s eyes?
Ruth asks Boaz “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” Ruth is poor, but she finds favor in Boaz’s eyes.
And we are wretched sinners, yet we have found favor in God’s eyes. Why have I found favor in God’s eyes? Why has He brought ME under his wings for refuge? It is certainly not for anything that I have done, but purely by the love of God. He loved us while we were still enemies. He loved us while we opposed him. We were foreigners to God, but He had mercy on us.
And so God is our refuge. He keeps us safe not only from external evil, but form ourselves, that internal evil that is sin. We have found favor in his eyes. Praise be to God that in Christ we have a refuge.
Let us pray.