Writing in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Ted Kruger writes:
“I have many memories about my father and about growing up with him in our apartment next to the elevated train tracks. For years we listened to the roar of the train as it passed by. Late at night, my father waited alone for the train that took him to a factory where he worked the night shift. On this particular night, I waited with him in the dark to say good-bye. His face was grim; his youngest son had been drafted. I would be sworn in at six the next morning while he was at the factory. My father didn’t want them to take his child, only 19 years old, to fight a war in Europe. He placed his hands on my shoulders and said, ‘You be careful, and if you need anything, write to me and I’ll see that you get it.’ Suddenly he heard the roar of the approaching train. He held me tightly in his arms and gently kissed me on the cheek. With tear-filled eyes, he murmured, ‘I love you, my son.’ Then the train arrived, the doors closed him inside, and he disappeared into the night….and I left for boot camp. One month later, at age 46, my father died. I am 76 as I sit and write this. I once heard Pete Hamill, the New York reporter, say that memories are man’s greatest inheritance, and I have to agree. I’ve lived through four invasions in World War II. I’ve had a life full of all kinds of experiences. But the only memory that lingers is the night my dad said, ‘I love you, my son.’”
What an incredible power can be found in a father’s blessing! What empowering for life grew from such a simple but vital inheritance! I mention the story because in this lesson I want us to carefully consider the empowering that comes from our Heavenly Father’s blessings, given in love. I admit, the story found in Ruth 2 is an emotional one to me, because God has so richly blessed my life, I cannot imagine what I would be like had I not been shown the love of both my earthly father and my Heavenly Father.
To draw us back into the story of that blessing, we must first go back to the story of pain – for it is in the backdrop of the dark and dreary days and long sleepless nights that we find the birth of a new day…
Last time we opened this little book, we learned when looking in Ruth 1 that God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if it will place us where He can best use us. That is an uncomfortable truth, but one that many believers can easily attest to from their life experience. Though God does deeply love us (according to His Word) He doesn’t see that love as something that requires Him to keep us from troubles, discomforts and even pain. He seems content to let us go through things that will eventually yield good fruit, even if there is a time of throbbing trouble along the way.
Consider His beloved people Israel as they walked through the wilderness of Sinai. Passing through a place of intense heat by day and nothing short of “bone-chilling cold” by night, God met them. In all their national experience they never saw God more clearly, even though they were never more vulnerable, more uncomfortable and more uncertain. God led them through.
In the story of Naomi captured in the Book of Ruth, God seems to have even intentionally increased discomfort in the life of an older woman (a wife and mother) to bring her into a relationship with a much younger woman. That relationship would eventually pull a young Moabitess into a new place, a new home and even give her a role in bringing salvation to the world as a mother in the line of Jesus. God’s rich place for Ruth was only found by plotting a course through pain in the life of Naomi. I have to admit that this side of heaven, there is little doubt in my mind that Naomi wouldn’t find much comfort in God’s path to redemption until she stood in Heaven’s gate.
She bore, raised and buried her sickly sons. She lost her farm for a time to famine. She buried her husband. She was broken, but in the breaking, God re-positioned her to bring the line of Messiah into the world.
Pick up the story at the beginning of chapter two. As the curtain rose on the second act of this four act play in Scripture, Naomi and Ruth were back in Bethlehem. Naomi wore on her face the part of the embittered old widow suffering under God’s hard hand. If you have ever had the opportunity to live with one who was broken, I dare say that she was probably not really a “joy” to live with at that point! Yet, Ruth hung tough and looked hard at the circumstance, stubbornly unwilling to give up hope and see a blessed future in spite of what looked like a cursed past. Watch as she attempted to take a proactive position to direct a hopeless friend back to seeing the whole picture of God at work. She helped her understand blessing. You will see…
Key Principle: God isn’t only involved in taking from us, but He is the One Who has staged our restoration and blessing.
We learn to “grow in God’s love” when we understand that He is the One Who is setting the stage for every blessing we have ever received, or ever will receive. He is at work, even in the emptying of our life to ready the very blessings He desires to use in our restoration!
First, note God had stored resources available that Naomi lost track of because of her intense pain.
It is hard to see promise through searing pain, but it was there…
Ruth 2:1 Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.
The verse offers two pieces of new information: Naomi had family in Bethlehem and some of them were people of means.
The first you hear about “other family” is AFTER the return, AFTER the bitterness and AFTER hope has slipped from the scene. It seems Naomi didn’t calculate everything – she tallied up only the bad things. Though she didn’t feel it, God wasn’t done with her, and her life wasn’t a wrecked waste. It did feel that way to be sure – but we are warned in Scripture all the time not to trust our feelings to discern truth. It is natural to feel deep pain and think, “I guess it is over now!” The problem is, what may be a “natural feeling” in this fallen world is often not a godly impulse. Naomi knew what God took and couldn’t see what God guarded in place to give her a future.
In verse one, it is impossible to miss that Elimelech had an extended family with other male members in Bethlehem. If he had a brother that was living, that alone would have provided some comfort and assistance to Naomi, because of the Levirate marriage (Hebrew: “yibbum” mandated in Deuteronomy 25:5-6) where the brother of a deceased man was obliged to marry his brother’s childless widow in order to give a possibility to raise up a son in his name if God allowed. The term Levirate isn’t a reference to the Levitical tribe, but rather is a derivative of the Latin word “levir” which meant “husband’s brother”. There is a story in Genesis 38 where it was not honored and God was not at all pleased. In the case of a Levirate marriage, the first child born to the brother’s widow would be deemed the heir of the deceased. If either of the parties refused to go through with the Levirate marriage, both were required to go through a ceremony known as “halitzah” or “the renunciation” Today, most contemporary Jews renounce instead of practicing this.
Verse one indicated that Boaz was a relative, but not a required Levir, so his help was not demanded, though it was obviously welcome. If you look more closely, though, Boaz was a man of means. He could have aided in many ways that didn’t include child bearing! As you keep reading, God had more help in store for Naomi…
Second, note that in addition to possible financial help, God had emotional resources available to Naomi as well!
Listen to both the words and the tone of Ruth’s words to Naomi as you keep searching the text:
Ruth 2:2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”
The text offered some interesting things. First, can you hear respect in Ruth’s words? Her words were bathed in humility and caring. This was not the sound of an overly-privileged and demanding youth; it was the soft sound of a woman who tenderly looked to help. Entitlement sounds shrill to the hurting ear; humility offers a welcome tender tone.
Ruth carefully approached Naomi. She asked for permission to lend a hand. She pressed Naomi to look beyond despair. Sometimes that is all we need to help us shake off the fog of depression – the quiet voice of someone who loves us and wants to help. It doesn’t always work, but it is always right to try. After all, God may have taken her husband and sons – but he gave Naomi a loving daughter-in-law that would not leave her and wanted to help restore her life. Naomi seemed unable to get up and get ready for “end gleaning” – but Ruth could step in – and she did!
A second thing to note in the text (I love the way verse two ends) is the reply of Naomi in a word of affection. Naomi doesn’t snipe at her, but tells her to “Go, my daughter.” After her nasty and embittered words in Ruth 1, it looks like Ruth’s testimony is beginning to work in her.
Here is the truth: That is how a testimony works. It slowly, carefully drips love out on the object of affection. It isn’t a flood, but it doesn’t run when the other person reacts as one embittered. If you are going to have an impact on someone, it is going to take time and require persistence – even when they don’t seem to be responding. Testimony isn’t built overnight. It takes time, patience and persistence in the face of resistance. At long last, you may see a small “crack” in the stone-wall face of your hurting friend. Ruth would tell you, “Keep trying!” They may not be ready to receive love at first, but they will need love that doesn’t retreat to be restored to a healthy life. God provided Naomi with more than relatives. He provided her with a young woman that was emotionally sensitive to her long season of pain. There is more to the story, for God provided more.
Third, God provided a bridge between the assets of provision and the needs of her life.
Ruth went out and did what she needed to do, but that wasn’t a guarantee of anything if there wasn’t enough at the edges of the field to keep them alive. Keep reading…
Ruth 2:3 So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.
There is no indication that Ruth had any knowledge of Boaz’s property lines. All textual indications are that she was simply diligently following what was available, field by field. She came to glean at this field by happenstance, from her point of view (though with God there are no coincidences). This is the point of the verse – God was at work. Mature believers should readily understand that a God of providence doesn’t need luck to put together assets and needs. Look at how effortlessly Ruth drifted into the place of God’s blessing. She didn’t plan it, and she didn’t know it was about to happen… and most of the time, you won’t either.
I am not arguing that it didn’t take diligence and work on her part. She didn’t lay in bed and hope for a check; she got a job. At the same time, God worked behind the scenes to track her path directly into oncoming blessing. That is how He works. Watch the progression:
God blessed her because of a believer “close by” (Ruth 2:4)
Ruth 2:4 Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”
How often God uses a believer who walks intentionally with Him! The text oozes with a man of godly stature in Boaz. The first words from his mouth in the text are wishing blessing from God on other people. Do you know people like that? I do! I know people who God has blessed and they have responded with a deliberate thankfulness and a heart to share God’s gifts. They have been at work in my life this week.
One dear man gave $100,000.00 to our work in Africa this week. I have never met him. I may never meet him this side of Heaven. I can tell you this: people will be reached with God’s Word because of his impulse to give. God brought this man into my life because he watched videos on YouTube and grew in the Lord. He wanted to find our work and give to it. He was “close by” digitally, and God brought together asset and need.
Don’t forget when you are struggling, there is more than your money and your month. God is there. He knows how to care for His children. He knows how to bless. In fact, you have never had a single delight, a single moment of blessing that didn’t come from His good hand. Yet, God had more in store…
God not only covered the need but He exceeded the need! (Ruth 2:5-9)
Despite how some people pray, God isn’t broke and He isn’t stingy. He has what you need – because He IS what you need! Watch the story unfold for a moment…
Ruth 2:5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7 And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.”
Humanly speaking, Ruth had the wrong heritage to expect blessing from a “man of God” in Israel. She was a Moabitess, and that alone made her suspicious in the eyes of Israel. After the famed temptresses from Moab were used by God’s enemy to help derail the blessing of the Promised Land near the end of the life of Moses, Ruth couldn’t comfortably show up in downtown Bethlehem with a sweatshirt displaying “Moab University” on it. She was a foreigner in a land that was held by a closed clan, and she came from the region of a long remembered enemy. I think it is interesting that Boaz’s servant knew her whole backstory when asked to give her identity. Ruth didn’t just follow the Law and go to the edge of the field to glean – she ASKED to do what she did. She explained who she was. That couldn’t have been easy! When the servant recounted Ruth’s words, they dripped with humility once again.
Don’t skip that God was at work in the background right there. Keep reading you will realize that God was about to dump blessing on an unsuspecting young woman… Boaz walked up and met the young lady. He told her that he was going to stand in the place of provider for her and for Naomi. The text recalls:
Ruth 2:8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. 9 Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.”
God touched the heart of Boaz and the man responded with kindness. Is that how we look at those who we come into contact with who are displaced by life and in need of help? I hope so. It is easy to be jaded. It is easy to see someone trying to get something in a culture saturated in entitlement values. Boaz didn’t think twice. He considered her story, and lent a hand. What happened next surely helped assure him that he was helping the right person…Look at her reaction:
Ruth 2:10 Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
The proper response to God’s blessing is not to feel like we deserved better, but to feel a sense of deep appreciation, and fill our mouths with praise and celebration. Did you notice what Ruth felt about herself that came out of her mouth. She exclaimed: “I am a foreigner!” She was saying aloud what she clearly felt within, “I cannot expect even the nicest of these people to help me. I am not one of them. Anything I get will be more than I could normally expect.”
Just as God’s Word teaches us to be givers; it offers counsel to those of us who have been on the receiving end of blessing. Don’t demand it and don’t expect it. Don’t coach yourself into thinking you deserve more than people have offered. It isn’t wise, it isn’t thankful and it isn’t going to produce good things in your daily walk. Consider for a second the attitude Jesus told His followers to have when offered honor and blessing.
Tucked into a portion of Luke 14, there was a story of Jesus entering the house of a Pharisee after synagogue services one Sabbath afternoon. Reclining around the table in the home of a wealthy man, Jesus spoke:
Luke 14:7 And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, 9 and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. 10 But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who [g]are at the table with you. 11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Men and women, because we live in a time where self-touting is considered near a necessity in business and has nearly taken the place of a virtue in our culture, it is again essential to speak the words of the Savior concerning a humble spirit. Healthy believers don’t echo entitlement. They sound surprised daily at the sheer size and nature of God’s manifold blessings to them. They see themselves as LESS than the honor they receive. God resists the proud, but gives manifold gifts to those who think themselves less than they are!
The Apostle Paul warned the Romans in the letter to them:
Romans 12:3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.
God doesn’t want you to hang your head in perpetual shame. He loves you and loves to bless you. At the same time, we need to be thankful and careful not to overplay our relationship as though we did something to deserve His love. We didn’t. That much is painfully clear in Scripture.
“Wait!” you may say. “Didn’t I work hard? Didn’t I ask Jesus to walk with me today?” Perhaps you did. The fact is that your conscious and deliberate choice to ask Jesus to guide you through the day, however, will benefit YOU much more than Jesus. Despite how the world shapes a positive self-image, we need to be mindful that we bring little to God when we bring ourselves. Look back at Boaz’s words to Ruth. Her behavior DID invite blessing. Her loving and humble spirit DID attract attention. In short, hers was a demonstration that God blesses those who are faithfully dedicated to be what He wants them to be (2:11).
Ruth 2:11 Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know.
Remember that God doesn’t ignore your sacrifices on behalf of others. We need to remember that our children may not remember all it took to get them where they are, but God was watching. Our boss may not readily acknowledge all we sacrificed for the company, but God knows those who do their work with diligence. Boaz heard because Ruth DID. If she was slack, he may have been less inclined to shower blessing on them.
I love that Boaz made very clear the blessing was from God and not merely from him. He told Ruth:
Ruth 2:12 May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
Boaz blesses Ruth, and claims his goodness is merely her “maskoret” – the word translated “wages.” Boaz believes that Ruth deserves his response through her choice to follow Israel’s God. Did you notice that Boaz didn’t make her focus on his benevolence at all? He gave, but he made clear that God was rewarding her for her sacrifices. How often we are tempted to use even our giving as a way of showing others our goodness? When we focus attention on US instead of on God, we rob Him of His due. We have nothing to give that He did not give us!
It is true that God connects the assets to the needs. Yet, we should recall two more things about God’s blessings:
Fourth, God doubly honors a thankful heart.
You can’t help but read the response of Ruth and celebrate with her! The text records:
Ruth 2:13 Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”
Here is the moment we get a model response to God’s blessing. What do we see? Our response should be one of thankfulness. It should contain a frank acknowledgement of both God’s goodness and the giver’s generosity. Look at how specific she was:
• You brought me comfort – she acknowledged the effect of the gift.
• You spoke kindly – she made clear his approach was a blessing in itself.
• You treated me with care not normally given to one like me – she showed surprise for his extraordinary goodness.
The secret of Boaz’s giving (seen clearly in verse 12) was that he saw the hand of God in the testimony of Ruth. He was a good guy, but he saw God at work in and through her. I think of a little poem that sometimes helps put things in perspective:
Look at self and be distressed,
Look at others and be depressed,
Look to Heaven and you’ll be blessed!
In times of distress, one of the greatest ministries we can have to someone is to bring them comfort from Scripture. When people feel inferior, we can bless them by making them KNOW we don’t see them that way because God doesn’t see them that way at all.
Finally, consider that God’s objective in blessing is to refocus us.
Go back to the scene and watch what happened when mealtime came…
Ruth 2:14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. 16 Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may 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 She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied.
Boaz showed through public action that he was fine with everyone hearing what he thought about Ruth, and he wasn’t ashamed to be identified with her. She trusted Israel’s God, and cared for one of Israel’s daughters. She proved her faithfulness by cleaving to her mother-in-law when few could bear her negativity and bitterness. She became a part of the people of Israel in Bethlehem, even when she felt like an outsider. If she got the message, Ruth walked home that night with a different sense of herself.
Follow her to the small home of Naomi, and listen in as the older woman was changed by God’s blessing…
Ruth 2:19 Her mother-in-law then said to her, “Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.”
Can you believe the change of expression in the woman that had been so embittered before? God blessed her home, and her whole vocabulary began to change. In verse 19, she called on God to bless the man who blessed her home. In verse 20, she specifically asked GOD to bless the man. Can you hear her heart changing?
It wasn’t simply the grain that changed her, though hungry people don’t usually feel as blessed as full ones. It was the sense that the hard hand of God had been lifted, and God was restoring Naomi’s household through the kindness of another. The same woman who tried to push away the help of Orpah and Ruth a chapter ago was now calling on God to bless the one who shared with her household.
God used the time of hardness to empty Naomi’s hands. He used the time of blessing to refocus her on His goodness. He was not being cruel; He was readying people for enormous blessing.
Let me ask you pointedly: Do you trust God when things aren’t going well? Do you trust that God is good when the economy isn’t? Do you see Him as righteous when you work hard but find the one who was a slacker got the promotion over you? Do you see Him as just when things don’t feel fair?
I believe one of the profound reasons some of us don’t understand God’s blessing may be that we “hedge our bets” in the world in case we feel “God lets us down.” We don’t let go of this world completely. Let me explain with a story…
In April of 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortez sailed into the harbor of Vera Cruz, Mexico. He brought only about 600 men, and was vastly outnumbered if he thought he would defeat Montezuma with all his thousands of warriors in the Aztec empire. Cortez was eventually victorious. How did the small force win? One way Cortez motivated his men was having all his ships disassembled (some say burned) after landing. His men stood on the shore and watched as their only possibility of retreat destroyed. From that point on, they knew beyond any doubt there was no return, no turning back. The general clearly understood that same power of making a “point of no return” commitment.
It is important for us to recall that God cannot be judged by today’s circumstance, nor can we trust our feelings about our life to be a reliable measure of God’s true purpose for us. Here is the truth from God’s Word…