The Gospel According to Boaz
Ruth 2:4-18Food and family.You need both to survive in this world. If you go without food, your body will starve. If you go without family, your soul will starve. If you don’t have food, you’ll do whatever it takes to get it. The same is true if you don’t have a family.That’s what the book of Ruth is all about. When Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem, they were broke and alone. It’s hard to imagine a more desolate situation than two widows--one old and one young--trying to make their way in the ancient world. The fact that one of the widows is from a despised race means their plight was desperate indeed.
Boaz was a truly great manOur text shows us how God began to meet their need for food and family. He does it through an unlikely hero named Boaz, a prosperous man of noble character who had been successful as a farmer in the fields near Bethlehem.Someone has commented that the book of Ruth could just as well be called the book of Naomi because it starts and ends with her. That’s true, but you could also make a case for calling this the book of Boaz because he shines just as brightly as the two women do.If we made a list of the greatest men of the Bible, we would undoubtedly put names like Abraham, David, Moses and Daniel on that list. Boaz deserves to be there too.While listening to a sermon on Ruth 2 by David Platt, I heard him mention “the gospel according to Boaz.” That’s an apt description of this good man. The way he helps Ruth illustrates how the Lord Jesus Christ rescues us. Let’s look at the text and see how God used Boaz to begin to meet the need for food and family.
1. He Finds the Outcast.
Later, when Boaz arrived from Bethlehem, he said to the harvesters, “The Lord be with you.” “The Lord bless you,” they replied (v. 4).In the Bible first words offer a glimpse into a person’s character. In this case, we learn Boaz was a godly man who cared about the spiritual needs of his workers.
Boaz asked his servant who was in charge of the harvesters, “Whose young woman is this?” The servant answered, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the territory of Moab. She asked, ‘Will you let me gather fallen grain among the bundles behind the harvesters?’ She came and has been on her feet since early morning, except that she rested a little in the shelter” (vv. 5-7).When Boaz asks, “Whose young woman is this?” he wants to know who she is and what family she comes from. He knows about Ruth but has never met her until this moment. When J. Vernon McGee wrote about Ruth, he pointed out that nowhere in the story do we get a physical description of her. No emphasis is put on outward appearance. We don’t know her height or her hair color or anything about her eyes or any other part of her body. The Bible emphasizes her character qualities, not her looks. Every picture I’ve ever seen of Ruth portrays her as an attractive young woman. That may be true, but it’s not mentioned in the Bible. As the story unfolds, we’ll see that Boaz was attracted by the kind of woman she was, not by her physical appearance. Elisabeth Eliot expressed this truth in modern terms: “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian does make me a different kind of woman.”
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Don’t go and gather grain in another field, and don’t leave this one, but stay here close to my female servants. See which field they are harvesting, and follow them. Haven’t I ordered the young men not to touch you?When you are thirsty, go and drink from the jars the young men have filled” (vv. 8-9).The text twice mentions Ruth’s Moabite background. She is an outsider, a stranger, an immigrant, and in a sense, a kind of refugee. As the saying goes, she’s not from around here. Bethlehem was a tiny village where everyone knew everyone, which meant they knew she was a from a different nation. The Moabite language was different enough that every time she opened her mouth, people asked, “Where are you from?” Those who have been transplanted from one culture to another can understand her difficulty.
The Bible doesn't mention Ruth's physical appearanceWhen Ruth volunteered to be a gleaner, she was signing up for hours of hard labor. It meant constantly bending over to retrieve a few stalks of barley left by the harvesters. The foreman reported to Boaz that she had worked hard all morning, taking only a short break in the shed. From a human standpoint, her prospects were bleak. She and Naomi were both widows at a time and place where widowhood put them in a desperate situation. As a young woman, she faced danger by following the men in the field. It was a set-up for rude treatment and possible physical abuse or sexual assault. Boaz told her to stay in his field because he had ordered the young men not to bother her.Finally, notice the proof of his welcome. He instructs her to drink from the jars the young men have filled. That’s amazing. As a woman, her job might be to fill those jars for the men. Instead, Boaz says, “Go ahead and have a drink from the same jar the men are using.”
2. He Favors the Weak.
She fell facedown, bowed to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor with you, so that you notice me, although I am a foreigner?” “My lord,” she said, “I have found favor with you, for you have comforted and encouraged your servant, although I am not like one of your female servants.” (vv. 10 &13).Ruth twice mentions the word “favor” in this passage. It means “to be gracious” or “to show unexpected kindness.” As far as Ruth was concerned, the fact that Boaz even noticed her was a gift of grace she didn’t deserve. After all, she is a foreigner. Every day in a thousand ways she was reminded that she didn’t come from Bethlehem. She was an outsider and an outcast who deserved nothing at all. Why should a man like Boaz pay attention to her?
Boaz answered her, “Everything you have done for your mother-in-law since your husband’s death has been fully reported to me: how you left your father and mother and your native land, and how you came to a people you didn’t previously know. May the Lord reward you for what you have done, and may you receive a full reward from the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” (vv. 11-12).Boaz had heard of her kindness to Naomi. No doubt the whole village knew about her. Notice how he puts it:You left your parents.You left your native land.You came to a people you didn’t know.
Ruth was an outsider.Why should Boaz pay attention to herHe uses a beautiful image to describe the deeper implication of her decision: She has committed herself to “the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.” Having left Moabite idolatry, Ruth now trusts in the God of Israel. She is “under his wings,” which is the safest place she could be. Knowing her desperate need, God arranges things so that under his wings she will find both food and family.
3. He Feeds the Hungry.
At mealtime Boaz told her, “Come over here and have some bread and dip it in the vinegar sauce.” So she sat beside the harvesters, and he offered her roasted grain. She ate and was satisfied and had some left over (v. 14a).Hospitality is deeply embedded in Middle Eastern culture. In one sense, Boaz is merely showing kindness to a young woman in need, but if you go deeper, you realize he is doing something remarkable. In this short book of only 85 verses, the word “Moab” or “Moabite” pops up 11 times. That’s the writer’s way of telling us that Ruth’s background is key to the whole story.She is a woman.She is a widow.She is a widow from Moab.
The Jews and Moabites were bitter enemiesShe belongs to a nation that is hostile to Israel. The Jews had a long memory of the antagonism between their people and the Moabites. In their eyes the Moabites were degraded pagans from the mountainous region east of the Dead Sea. They remembered the Moabite women who led the Jewish men into idolatry and immorality. As a result of that compromise, God sent a plague to Israel that killed 24,000 people (Numbers 25:1-9). You don’t forget a catastrophe like that. Deuteronomy 23:3 offers this blunt warning:
No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, not even in the tenth generation.God couldn’t have been clearer. His people were to have nothing to do with the Moabites. Don’t live among them, don’t marry them, don’t follow their gods, and don’t invite them to worship with you.At this moment in the story, it appears Boaz has decided to ignore these plain warnings. It’s amazing that he would allow Ruth to drink water alongside his male workers. That’s shocking in itself, but now he welcomes Ruth to his table. This story teaches us something important about God’s heart. He welcomes anyone who comes to him with sincere faith.Not only does he find Ruth.Not only does he welcome her.Not only does he protect her.
Feasting at the TableNow he goes a step further: “Ruth, you can sit at the table and eat with my men. Find a place and eat all the roasted grain you want.” As I pondered this, my mind went to the story of Daniel refusing to eat the king’s food. Because of his convictions, he would not defile himself by sharing a meal with the Babylonian king (Daniel 1:8). What’s that all about? For one thing, the food at the king’s table certainly didn’t follow the kosher laws of the Old Testament. For another thing, it involved eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols. For a third thing (and this may be the ultimate reason), Daniel knew that sharing a meal at the king’s table implied a kind of spiritual equality. Eating together suggests friendship, support, and shared values. Now take that concept and apply it to this story. Boaz understood the power of a shared meal. It’s one thing if you say, “Ray, here’s $30. Go get something to eat.” It’s something entirely different if you say, “Ray, I know you’re hungry. Come to my home, sit at my table, and share a meal with me.” The first says, “Let me supply your need,” but the second says, “Let me make you part of my family.”
God welcomes anyone who comes to him with sincere faithIn that culture a woman would prepare and serve the meal to the men. If she was not related to them, she would wait to eat until they were finished. But here we have a foreigner— a widow!—who instead of serving is being served and is eating with the men at their table.
When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her” (vv. 14b-16).Here we see what grace looks like up close and personal. Boaz does something Ruth never asked for and never even imagined. He tells his workers to throw down “handfuls on purpose.” That phrase from the King James Version offers a perfect picture of grace. “Men, not only do I want you to leave some for the gleaners, but I want you to take some stalks of barley on purpose and leave them for Ruth so she will have food to take home to Naomi.” This is grace in “good measure, pressed down and running over.” Boaz intends to do more than meet the need; he wants to make sure Ruth has all the food she can carry home.
So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough (vv. 17-18).Two things are happening here. First, Ruth carries home an ephah of barley—which would amount to 30-40 pounds, which tells us Ruth had to be in good physical condition to carry that much grain. Second, she also brought the leftover roasted grain from the table of Boaz. It’s like going to a fancy restaurant, eating all you want, and taking the rest home to share with your family. This is truly “above and beyond” grace to Ruth and Naomi.
Boaz shows Ruth "above and beyond" graceRuth had come to dwell under the wings of God, but she experienced that protection by gleaning in the field of Boaz. God’s kindness to her came through the heart of a godly man who respected who she was and what she had done. In ancient Israel most men would never show such kindness to a Moabite widow. It just wouldn’t happen. But Boaz had a heart that saw beyond racial differences and reached out in grace to one who did not expect anything and had no claim on him.
No DifferenceIf Boaz points us to the Lord Jesus Christ, then Ruth the outsider represents all of us. When Paul wanted to make his point that “all have sinned” in Romans 3:23, he prefaced it with this phrase in verse 22: “For there is no difference.”No difference between rich and poor.No difference between young and old.No difference between male or female.In the deepest sense, there is no difference between Jew and Moabite. Boaz understood that truth even if his Jewish neighbors didn’t. He intended to include Ruth in his family even if his friends thought he was nuts.
We sin in different ways,But we are all sinners nonethelessThis is what grace looks like.We all stand condemned by our sin, and all of us are under the judgment of God. We sin in different ways, but we are sinners nonetheless.We’re all in the same boat, and the boat is sinking.If God doesn’t do something, the whole human race will go down to destruction.Boaz points us to the grace of our Lord Jesus who died to create a new race of men and women redeemed by his blood. If we read this story and think, “I need to be more like Boaz,” we’ve missed the point. Boaz is an admirable man, and we ought to emulate his kindness in the way we treat others. But that’s not the main message. I need to read this story and think, “I’m just like Ruth. I’m homeless and hopeless and desperate and hungry, and I have nowhere to turn. I’m an outsider to God’s grace. I have no claim on the Lord. If God does what is just, he will condemn me because I have sinned more times than I remember.” Just as Boaz provided what Ruth needed but did not deserve, even so the Lord Jesus comes to us and opens the door of heaven. He came for sinners who had no hope of forgiveness. He came for the ungodly who hated him. He died for his enemies so he could make them his friends.
Is there any hope? Yes!Are we sinners? Yes.Are we condemned? Yes.Is there any hope? Yes!No one need perish in their sins when a door to heaven has been opened. Just as Ruth could do nothing but accept the kindness of Boaz, the only thing we can do with grace is receive it. We can’t pay for it, which means either we come to God with empty hands or we don’t come at all.Let me make one final point, and I am done. The text emphasizes that Ruth ate all she wanted and had plenty left over to take home to Naomi. That’s how grace works. We never run out of grace because “there’s plenty more where that came from.” Grace comes to us like the barley came to Ruth. She had all she could eat, with plenty to share, and more on the way.
God never runs out of graceIt happens that I am writing these words from my room at Word of Life Philippines, where multitudes of young people meet Jesus Christ every year. It’s always bracing to visit the mission field because you catch a glimpse of what God is doing around the world. Is the harvest big enough for everyone? Will there be food for the hungry when they come to Jesus? Or will God say, “I’m sorry. We’ve reached our quota. No more grace today?”No, a thousand times no!God never runs out of grace.He has enough for today, enough for tomorrow, and enough for eternity.
First the Famine, Then the HarvestAfter the famine comes the harvest. It’s still true today. Sin takes its bitter toll, but God will have the last word. Sin robs us of our dignity, destroys our joy, and leaves us hopeless and helpless. We end up hungry and alone, with nowhere to turn. But then comes the harvest of grace.In Christ we are fed and clothed.In Christ we find a home and a family.In Christ orphans become the children of God.It’s a big harvest, and there is plenty of grace to go around. Iain Campbell puts it this way: “I am saying that the fields of Boaz are full to overflowing, while the fields of Moab offered nothing but loneliness and heartache and grief.”
Jesus is the greater BoazThat’s exactly right.Whatever we need, we find in Christ who is the greater Boaz. Like Ruth, we had no claim on him, no reason to hope, but in the cross of Christ we find the favor of God poured out on sinners like us.Fling open the doors and say to the hurting world, “Good news! There is a Savior who died for you. Come to him, and he will not turn you away. He is the water of life and the bread of heaven. Come, eat and drink, and be made full.”
Mercy triumphs over judgment!Mercy triumphs over judgment!Grace wins over sin!Life conquers death!Let’s preach a bountiful gospel of grace that offers hope for everyone. Jesus’ blood is more than enough for needy sinners in every nation. Let’s say to this broken world, “Come to Christ, and you will find rest and peace and hope and forgiveness and all the things you want but can’t find on your own.”There’s good news from the harvest field. Tell the hungry to come and eat because God never runs out of grace.
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