The book of Ruth is a great love story. It reads like four acts of a Shakespearian play. So many times it looks like things are going to work out, and then something happens to threaten it. Even if it did not have anything to do with the genealogy of Jesus, the theme of redemption, and a prototype of the Messiah, the book of Ruth would be a great piece of ancient literature.
But is does have all that. Woven in and out of the pages is the story of love and redemption. God's unseen hand is behind the scenes taking care of Ruth, Boaz, and Naomi. Oftentimes we find ourselves in tough situations and we wonder if God cares - does anybody care? Ruth is a book that cries out; God cares.
(Read Ruth 2:2-7)
A boy fell in love with a girl he met in another town. He wrote her letters to express his love and devotion to her. His love was so great that it was not uncommon for him to write seven or eight love letters a week. This went on for months. At first she replied with letters of her own just as often as the boy did. But after several weeks they began to taper off, and at the end of three months, the boy was no longer receiving any letters.
In desperation he wrote one last letter, demanding to know if she still had feelings for him or if this short relationship was over. The girl wrote to the disheartened boy and informed him how she would wait on the porch and look for the postman to bring the mail. She confessed that her feelings toward the boy had diminished until they were practically gone. Then she explained why: Every day for the past three months, the postman had dropped by with his letters, and now she was marrying the postman.
Love is strange in how and where it shows up. The same is true for Ruth. After all, who would ever expect to find love in a field?
I. Ruth's awful situation
Look at what has happened to Ruth prior to gleaning from another's field. She is a widow. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, is Jewish and decides to go back to Bethlehem. Ruth makes a decision to go with Naomi and leave all that she knows. Part of that decision is accepting that she may never marry again. She becomes a foreigner in a strange land. She has no job or means of getting food, so she is left to gleaning - the Jewish equivalent of a welfare program.
Don't make this a Hollywood movie and romanticize her situation. Ruth has only one companion, she is completely out of her element, and is living off the generosity of others. There is no pretty way to paint this picture. She is down to her last nickel and at the end of her rope. One more bad break and it may spell the end for Ruth.
However, just when we think all is lost, hope shows up. Ruth isn't the only one to experience that. When Jesus walks on the water in chapter 14 of Matthew, he shows up in the fourth watch of the night. That is between 3 and 6 in the morning. The disciples were in that boat all night long, certain that they were going to die, and Jesus shows up right before dawn. I don't know why God operates like that sometimes, but I do know this. If I expect Jesus to do what I tell Him to do when I tell Him to do it, the roles of servant and master have been reversed.
II. Our awful situation
We are not so different from Ruth. We are in an awful situation as well, only we may not be aware of it.
E. Stanley Jones, the great missionary, tells of his experience traveling in a ship across the Caspian Sea. He states that there were more passengers than there were rooms for them. when he spotted a man in a cabin by himself. When Dr. Jones inquired about being seated there, the porter returned to say, "I am sorry, but the man says that he could not ride with you. He is a French diplomat and you are only a missionary.
Dr. Jones said, "He is a French diplomat that represents a shaky kingdom with numerous governments. I am an ambassador to an unshakable kingdom that has only had one ruler."
Later in the trip the diplomat managed to get himself locked in a bathroom, and in desperation was calling out for help. It was Dr. Jones who arrived to extricate him. Dr. Jones reflected on how amusing it was for the ambassador of the kingdom of God to extricate the diplomat from the kingdom of France. But then isn't that what the ambassadors of the Kingdom must do? Extricate the diplomats of this world who have boxed themselves up into the bathrooms of impossible ways of life and are saying, if they only knew it, "Please, sirs, extricate me."
Sin has alienated us from God. If something is not done to extricate us from this situation we will not only live separated from God, we will die eternally separated from God. This is the awful reality of our spiritual situation. Ruth did not hide from the desperate nature of her situation, and we cannot either. We may fill our lives with things that distract us from this reality, but none of them can alter it.
III. Ruth treated to abundant love
Ruth never complains. She keeps trying to make the best of her situation. What she finds is not only a field to glean in, but an owner who shows her favor. When Boaz shows up to inspect the work going on in his field, he inquires about this new woman.
Notice what the men tell him.
- First, they know all about her terrible situation. It may be gossip, it may be pity, or it may be matter of fact, but they know about Ruth.
- Secondly, she is polite and observes the customs of the land. She knows that she is a foreigner and might not be welcomed, so she asks permission to participate in the Jewish custom of gleaning.
- Finally, they tell Boaz that she is a hard worker. She has worked all morning, only taking a short break.
What he sees and hears stirs the heart of Boaz, for he will ask Ruth to not visit any field but his, invites her to have lunch with him, and instructs the workers to make sure they leave grain behind for her. Boaz showers abundant love upon Ruth.
IV. We are treated to abundant love
Later, when Naomi hears of how Boaz has treated Ruth, she asks "Who showed you such favor?" The word here for favor is "chesed," and the best translation we have for it is "loving grace". It is a combination of the expression of love and unmerited or undeserved grace. Nothing Ruth did obligated Boaz to shower his love upon her. Boaz more than fulfilled Jewish law by allowing a foreigner to glean in his field. But Boaz went far beyond the bounds of the law. He demonstrated an undeserved and unearned love for Ruth.
A husband who had battle a mysterious illness for some months found himself at the hospital with his wife, undergoing a series of tests. After the last test, the doctor told the man he could get dressed, and motioned to his wife to follow him out into the hall. He explained to the wife that her husband had a rare blood disease and immediate treatment was necessary. She responded, "Certainly, doctor. What do I need to do?"
The doctor explained how the man needed rest, that he should not work, and a 2-3 hour nap in the middle of the day was essential. On top of that diet needed to be considered. The husband needed three well balanced, home cooked meals every day without exception. The cleanliness of the house was another issue the doctor was concerned about, any bit of dust could be taken into the lungs and alter the husband health adversely. Finally, the husband required three massages a day in order to increase the blood flood to the limbs and through out the body.
The doctor asked if the wife understood all this and that without such an approach the disease would claim her husband's life. Wiping the tears from her eyes, she nodded that she did understand and thanked the doctor for his time and attention. She collected herself and walked back into the examination room where her husband was putting on his shoes. He looked at her and asked, "What did the doctor say?" To which the wife replied, "The doctor says you are going to die."
It is one thing to love people when we see how we can receive love in return, but it is something else to love, with no promise of love returned. Boaz has no guarantee of Ruth returning his affection. But that is the nature of abundant, "chesed", grace-filled love.
God demonstrates his unearned and undeserved love to us and for us in numerous ways. The ultimate example though was while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. The Bible tells us, "No greater love has a man than this, that he would lay down his life for his friends." In the midst of our awful situation, God has shown up and showered His love and favor upon us.
V. Ruth discovers amazing hope
Ruth is overwhelmed by the mercy and kindness of Boaz. His generosity of love is more that she could have hoped for. She went hoped to gather enough food for her and Naomi to have a meal that night. Because of Boaz, she had enough for a month. Her best hope that morning was for a place to glean. Because of Boaz, that afternoon she found exceeding kindness. She would have been satisfied with fair treatment. Because of Boaz, Ruth returned home with the hope of a kinsman-redeemer.
In Jewish law, a widow would often become the wife of a close relative who would provide for her. Boaz was that kinsman-redeemer. He could marry Ruth and rescue her from her desperate situation.
VI. We have amazing hope
According to Jewish law, there were three requirements a kinsman-redeemer had to fulfill.
- He must be a kinsman, someone of close relationship to the deceased.
- He must be able to financially support his new wife.
- He had to have the desire to fulfill that position.
What we need is someone who can rescue us from our desperate situation. Notice how Jesus fulfills the requirements of the kinsman-redeemer. He is a close relative, for the scriptures refer to Him as the Second Adam. He is able to care for us, because He is the all-powerful creator and sustainer of the universe. And finally, Jesus has a great desire to be our redeemer. The creator of the universe, the one who became a man so He could die for us, wants to redeem you.
You may have come here this morning needing a spiritual pick-me-up, just to get through the week. Maybe you were just looking for a place where you could meet some people and find companionship. It could be that you would be pleased with some great music, a few interesting thoughts, and a nice handshake. However, this morning the owner of the vineyard has shown up and He wants a relationship with you. You have caught his eye. He knows your past and your situation, and He is showing you with His unearned, undeserved love. This morning you may be just trying to survive, but hope has shown up.
Several years ago a ship rammed an S4 submarine off the coast of Massachusetts. The sub sank immediately. While the rescuers attempting to save the seamen, a diver heard a sound coming from the sub. He put his helmet next to the hull and heard someone tapping out Morse code. "Is there any hope?"
You may think that you are trapped in your desperate situation with no way out. You are pounding out a message on the hull of your life, "Is there any hope?" Jesus answers that there is hope. He is the Hope. This morning would you exchange your awful situation for an amazing hope and discover His amazing love?