Summary: God provides wonderfully for those who place their hope in his unfailing love.
We meet Boaz in our study today. Do you know what kind of man Boaz was before he got married?
Answer: he was Ruth-less.
The book of Ruth teaches us to look for God’s blessings even in our bitterness. Naomi, just like you and me, had hopes for her life: a husband, happy kids, a healthy family, and a home in which to enjoy them. Nothing wrong with that!
But God does not leave her alone with dreams of comfort and ease, lest nothing greater grip her soul. His hand of providence falls hard. A famine leaves the cupboard bare in the “house of bread” and drives Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, to move his family to a foreign land… where he dies, leaving Naomi with only her two sons. Desperate, she negotiates marriages for them, and they remain in this land of “Moab” for ten years. But the tragedy worsens: Ruth 1.5: “Both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.” God shuts himself off from Naomi’s tears. Broken and bitter, the woman drags herself back to Bethlehem to survive without hope or happiness.
In this painful and emotionally fragile condition, poor Naomi cannot see God planning and providing a better future, a more glorious promise, a greater good. She knows: 1) God exists, 2) that he is Almighty over all, and 3) that he has afflicted her. What she cannot yet see is the possibility of blessing. She complains: “Do not call me Naomi [i.e., Felicia, which means ‘pleasant’]; call me Mara [‘bitter’], for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” Her dreams are shattered; her hopes for a happy life crushed.
Now we are part two, where the mercy of God begins to break out so brightly that even gloomy Naomi must see it from behind the clouds of her depression.
[Read Ruth 2.1-23. Pray.]
In 2008, the World Bank published For Protection and Promotion, a book explaining how to design and implement effective social programs for the poor and vulnerable. The authors say that these programs, commonly called “safety nets,” “contribute to poverty reduction and social risk management. Yet their appropriate scope is a fraught subject, revealing deep ambivalence and controversy among policy makers, analysts, and the general public in many countries. The wide variation in attitudes toward safety nets can be seen in the following paraphrasings of commonly held views: ‘We must provide for our poor—we can’t let our children starve or the elderly beg.’ ‘Transfers discourage work among recipients and among those taxed to support them.’ ‘We don’t need to give people fish, we need to give them fishhooks.’”
This is not the time or place to discuss or debate social assistance programs or the role of government in a “war on poverty.” We should note, however, how God expects his people to care for those with financial need in the community.
Leviticus 19.9-10: 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. 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.
The right to gather the scraps after the first pass of the harvesters (known as gleaning) was part of the social contract, or covenantal obligation of landowners, and a privilege of the poor and the alien. Without this legislated compassion, Ruth and her mother-in-law could not have survived.
I bring this to your attention because the word, “glean” appears twelve times in this chapter. When the Bible repeats a word often in a small section, we should look for the significance. God wants us to feel, even with Naomi’s trouble and bitterness, his provision for her and Ruth’s needs.
In fact, when Moses repeats and reapplies the Leviticus law to the changing circumstances of Israel as they headed into the promised land, he adds the widow (specifically) to the list of those cared for by the law of gleaning and elevates the practice to a condition of blessing.
Deuteronomy 24.19: When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.
Lest we fear that God does not care, hear the word, “glean.” God provides, and his graciousness can be felt. Like when the orchestra plays and the instruments come together to make a beautiful sound. We may not discern the gentle chime of the triangle in the background. But when we listen for it, we can pick out its beautiful sound and discern how it contributes to the whole.