Lesson # 2

Note: Ruth Lesson # 1 appeared in the May 2012 Web Articles

The first lesson in Chapter 1 ended on a very dark note, but in this lesson, the story turns from darkness to light.  New characters and a new perspective emerge.  A man named Boaz is surprised by love, and a woman named Ruth is overwhelmed by grace.  Before God changes our circumstances, He wants to change our hearts. His purpose is not to make us comfortable, but to make us conformable.  A Christ-like character is the divine goal for each of his children.  Naomi was bitter toward God, but Ruth was willing for God to have his way in her life; so God began his gracious work with her, and eventually with Naomi.  However, they had no idea that as they turned home, they would be part of an eternal plan that would fulfill God’s promise to Abraham: that his seed would be a blessing to the whole world.  Ruth’s story began with the death of a husband, but it ended with the birth of a baby.  Her tears would eventually be turned into joyful triumph.

A young lad named Louie lived in England in the early 1800’s, but at the age of nine a tragic event happened in his life.  Louie’s father was a leather worker employed by the English royalty to craft harnesses for their horses.  Louie grew up watching his father work with his hands, and also helping as he could.  I remember as a kid that my dad and my grandfather worked with tools in the shop, and some of those tools were too dangerous for me to use.  Louie was in the same situation.  There were tools too sharp for him to touch, but one day he would be able to use them under his father’s guidance.  That day finally arrived when his father introduced Louie to a small leather punch.  As he punched with the tool, it hit at a wrong angle and the punch glanced off of the metal plate and lodged in Louie’s eye.  Numerous surgeries could not repair the vision, so the eye was lost.  To make matters worse, the infections that followed caused Louie to lose the sight in the other eye.  At the age of nine Louie was completely blind, and that was especially tough for a young boy in England in the early 1800’s.  Yet he displayed great faith when he said that he believed that God allowed this trouble for a very important reason, and he would soon find out; if not in this life, then in the life to come.

We all can identify with Louie, not necessarily with the loss of our eyesight, but with the fact that trouble come to us in this fallen world, and we sometimes do not know why.  But the real question that emerges is: How do we respond to trouble and difficulty? It will come.  There are problems which will come our way and we do not always understand the reason, but trouble always lies at our doorstep, and sometimes it comes inside.  I can remember that our oldest daughter at age four would exclaim as she saw her younger brother coming down the hall, “Oh no, here comes trouble!”  She was right.  How do we respond when trouble comes?

The text reveals that God has three desires, or expectations, for us in times of trouble.   The first expectation is that we must live by faith in the Lord. (Read 1:19 – 2:3).  We are told that “without faith it is impossible to be pleasing to God” (Heb. 11:6).  So, how do we respond to trouble?  We don’t sit and stew in our sorrow as we first saw with Naomi.  By contrast Ruth begins to step forward in faith.  As they returned to Bethlehem, the women of the town first noticed Nomi and Ruth.  As they called Naomi’s name, she admonished them to call her instead, Mara (which means bitterness).  This was a play on words, for the name they originally knew her by was Naomi, (delight,  pleasantness); while now she wants to be called Mara (bitterness).  She said, “I went away full and God has brought me home empty (1:21).”

But notice the literary skill of the author at the close of chapter 1.  He described the arrival of Naomi and Ruth to Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest.  In an agrarian based culture, when it was time for the harvest, things were good, the city was moving, commerce was building, and the community was vibrant and full of life.  That is when they returned because God was at work preparing something great.  In all the sorrow that was still going on with Naomi, it was Ruth that did what we are supposed to do in troubled times: live by faith in the Lord.

We are now introduced to a relative of Naomi on her husband’s side by the name of Boaz.  While not much is known about Boaz, but if this were a melodrama, the audience would clap and cry, “Yeaaaaa!”  Since he was from the genealogical line of Elimelech, Hebrew readers would know that this man might be able to help in the midst of great sorrow.  However, Ruth maintained a positive perspective by volunteering to go into the fields to glean, ie., to pick up leftover grain.  Ruth claimed a right offered her under God’s laws to his people (Lev. 19:9-10).  God was already far beyond any political or governmental system that existed before or afterward.  He had built into the Mosaic Law a strategic welfare system, because God has always been interested in helping those who could not help themselves (Deut. 24:19-22).  His was a plan that intended for His people to be a beacon of light to those who needed it.  God has always been about the business of having His people, who are blessed with abundance, help support those who have nothing in order to display the very love of God to hurting hearts.

So Ruth stepped out in faith in the midst of troubled times.  She moved forward, one foot in front of the other to glean in the fields.  Sometimes in great moments of pain, God simply desires that we just move forward in faith; to just stand up and say, “Lord, today is a new day, and by faith I’ll trust you this day.  I don’t know what tomorrow, next week, or next year may bring, but today I trust you.  Today I will stand because you allow me to do so!”  Stand in the confidence of the living God who will give you the strength to make it today by faith in the Lord.  Ruth moved forward as proof of God’s concern for the poor with generosity (Prov. 22:9).  This is especially amazing because Ruth was not only a poor widow; she was an alien.  But she too was included in God’s provisions (Deut. 10:17-19).  To live by faith means to take God at his word and to act upon it.  It’s not just talking theology, it is living theology.  That is why scripture says, “Faith without works is dead faith” (Jas. 2:20).  Hers was certainly an act of faith because Ruth was a woman, a widow, a foreigner, and a stranger:  a vulnerable combination in that society.  Yet God was at work preparing a man named Boaz, whose name means “in him there is strength” to appear on the scene to reward Ruth’s faith.

As it “just happened,” Ruth found herself gleaning in a portion of the fields belonging to Boaz.  Archeological digs have identified stone walls and historical boundary markers  around the outside of the city of Bethlehem identifying plots of ground belonging to the various clans who resided in Bethlehem.  As Naomi and Ruth arrived, they witnessed a buzz of activity in the fields because harvest time was in full swing.  It was “providential serendipity.”  Ruth “just happened” to enter the fields of Boaz.  How about that!  The providential workings of God are both a delight and a mystery.  God is at work in our lives with us, in us, and for us, to accomplish his great purposes, and sometimes we are aware of it, and sometimes we fail to see it; but that is what faith is all about.  It is His assurance of things not seen (Heb. 11:1).  Ruth went out to glean, not to lie down and sulk.  It was her faith modeling what God wanted from his people.  When it was discovered that Dasson Trotman, the founder of Navigators, had drowned in a nearby lake, tears of disbelief covered the faces of many standing along the shore – all except one, his wife Lila.  As she walked upon the scene, a close friend shouted, “Lila, he’s gone.  Dasson’s drowned!”  To that she replied in a calm assurance of faith, “But our God is in the heavens, He does whatever He pleases” (Psa. 115:3).  What a response of faith in the midst of great tragedy!  How do we respond to tragedy?  Our first lesson from Ruth is to respond by faith in the Lord.

The second lesson in response to tragedy is to live by the grace of God. (Read 2:4-16).  There now is a little romantic tension in the story.  As Ruth set out in the fields to glean she was looking for grace, because grace by definition is favor on someone who doesn’t deserve it and can’t earn it.  As a woman, a widow, and an alien, Ruth could have no claims on anyone because she was the lowest rung on the social ladder.  But the channel of grace for Ruth was a man named Boaz.  How good it is to know that in the midst of dark and chaotic times, God has good people living in bad times!  That is what God has called us to do – be good people in bad times standing ready to share God’s grace with others.  Boaz is a picture of God’s goodness and grace to Ruth.  This is a great scene as Boaz arrives from town.  He greets his workers with “The Lord bless you,” and they return the greeting.   Then his peripheral vision kicks in, and his first words after the greeting was, “Whose woman is that (2:5)?” What a typical guy!  In Hebrew he must have shouted, “Hot diggity dog!  Who’s that? WOW!  There’s a good looking woman in my field!”

When he found out who she was, the thing that impressed him was not her outward beauty; rather it was her inward beauty.  In this case, however, she had both.  That’s how he identified her.  He had heard of her love to Naomi and her commitment to her.  He had heard how she came to a people not her own and how she had embraced the God of Israel.  She could have turned back like Orpha, but instead she clung to Naomi and in faith embraced the God of Israel.  God was already at work preparing a man named Boaz as a mediator of His grace.  Observe five things that are pictures of God’s grace in the way that Boaz relates to Ruth.

  1. Boaz took the initiative. While Ruth took the initiative of faith to go and glean, it was Boaz who initially talked to her.  Boaz is a picture of God.  Grace means that God made the first move to come to our aid when we were in trouble.  He sent Jesus to bear our sins on the cross.  We dare not boast of anything we did to help save ourselves.  He took the first move because we had no ability to pursue Him.  We were dead in our sins, and dead people cannot do anything.  Someone once referred to God as the hound of heaven!  He pursued us, not the other way around.
  2. Boaz spoke to Ruth (2:8).  She would not have dared to speak to a man, let alone the lord of the harvest.  Yet Boaz spoke to a poor stranger in the field.  What a lesson for us!  Those of us who are grace recipients are required to be grace givers.  When Boaz took the initiative, he spoke to her.  God will put people in our paths with whom we need to speak.   Sometimes it takes just a brief word, and sometimes it takes more involvement into their world of pain.  We are called to be a Boaz (2 Cor. 5:17-20).
  3. Boaz promised to protect Ruth and provide for her needs (2:9).  He called her “daughter” simply because she was younger; but it was also a term of endearment as he would treat her like a member of his family.  She would be protected by his servants, walk with the other women, and be given first chance at the best of the gleanings.  Boaz ate with her and gave her food to eat.  What a picture of God’s grace, and what a challenge for us!  While Boaz could have gone on his merry way and failed to show grace to Ruth, he did not. To whom do you need to be a Boaz?
  4. Boaz encouraged Ruth. In the midst of Ruth’s problems, he provided hope.  As a result, she responded with humility.  The character traits of these two people began to manifest themselves in abundance.  A man of standing and grace identified a woman of great integrity.  No wonder in the Hebrew Bible the book of Ruth follows Proverbs 31 describing the worthy woman.  Ruth believed his promises and rejoiced in hope because of Boaz’s encouragement.  The wealthy lord of the harvest now would care for both Ruth and Naomi based upon His promises.  Ruth never looked back at her tragic past.  She rested in the promises of her lord.  What an example for God’s people to follow!  We can do the same by fixing our eyes on Him (Heb. 12:2).  We can stand on His promises (2 Pet. 1:4).
  5. Boaz made sure that Ruth was satisfied. He told her that she was now under the protective wings of the Lord (2:12).  This was a phrase from Psalms 91:4, a picture phrase of protection of a mother hen.  Boaz reminded Ruth that she would be satisfied in this analogy of protection both physically and spiritually.  Boaz was not ashamed to identify himself with Ruth because he ate with her and offered her food along with all the other workers.  He even told his men to provide extra grain along the gleaning paths.  It is always encouraging to see others growing in the faith and satisfied as they walk with the Lord.  “How great it is for them to taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psa. 34:8)!

The last lesson to learn in response to tragedy is to live in hope. (Read 2:17-23).  All day Ruth labored with a happy and a hopeful heart.  She had food when she was hungry, she drank when she was thirsty, and she had a place of rest when she became weary.  Now, for the first time came new words from Naomi’s lips: a glimmer of hope.  She used the word, “Blessed.”  Naomi had moved from bitterness to blessedness.  What a change can come when our perspective moves from darkness to hope!  Naomi began to piece the story line together at this point.  She realized that Boaz was no ordinary man; and that of all the fields around Bethlehem, Ruth arrived in the field of Boaz.  Her expression was this, “Oh Ruth!  You have no idea what is going on.  Boaz is one of our kinsman redeemers.”  This term, while introduced earlier, now comes to life in the characters of the story.  It will be developed fully in a subsequent lesson.  Naomi finally understood that God was at work in all of this (2:20).  As a kinsman redeemer, Boaz had the potential to ultimately rescue them from great poverty and give them a life of new beginning.  She had hope because of Boaz’s kindness to Ruth by taking personal interest in her situation.  Here is a clear picture of Jesus Christ in the life of Boaz.  When we most needed protection, provision, and kindness, God stepped into our darkness in the person of Christ and met all our needs.

No matter how dark it seems, the love of God is still there.  Whatever tragedy has come, whatever trouble will soon arrive, the love of God is still there.  God had not stopped working in this story.  When it all seemed to be falling apart for Naomi and Ruth, God was still on the move.  He had a great unfolding of His plan for his people.  There is no reason to feel hopeless when we remember that God is still on the throne.  “The Lord is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him” (Hab. 2:20). He is the God of all hope.  We have the hope of hope and the message of all messages in Jesus Christ.  In troubled times we must live in faith, live according to grace, and live in hope – even when our situation seems hopeless.

Remember Louie, the boy in England who lost his eyesight?  Not long afterward Louis was sitting outside in the garden when a pinecone dropped from a nearby tree and landed on his head.  While he couldn’t see it, he felt it, touching its design and needle-like points.  As a result, he gained a fantastic idea.  He thought how great it would be for blind people to be able to read by feeling letters.  So Louie developed a system of letters designed with various raised points to represent the letters of the alphabet.  His name was Louis Braille.

Don’t ever forget what God can do in the midst of your darkness.

Mark Yarbrough lives in Forney, TX and is a Vice President and Adjunct Professor at Dallas Theological Seminary