Have you been living in poverty before or still living in the margin? What was your attitude when you are lack of money? Are you going to steal, gamble, or sitting on the sofa all day and waiting for good fortune to come by itself? Have you ever asked the question where is God when you are in need? I remember the university years when I could only afford $5 lunch of Potato with Bolognese at the UNSW canteen. And I had the same lunch for almost two and a half years.
And to those of us who have never been in hunger before because of wealthy parents. Have you met any friends or family members in need? What did you do in response to their need? What is your attitude to the homeless people in general?
In today’s passage, we will be looking at how God will provide for Ruth and Naomi the poor widows, and we will learn the righteous attitude of kindness through Boaz, a new character in the story of Ruth.
1) Ruth’s gleaning in the field
At the beginning of chapter 2, we are introduced to Boaz, a relative of Naomi from the clan of Elimelek. And Ruth asked Naomi for permission to collect the leftover grain from other farmers’ fields. This is called “gleaning”. In the Old Testament, God gives the Law of gleaning to provide economic opportunities for poor and vulnerable people.
As it is written in the Book of Leviticus, “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)
When the farmers in Israel harvest the field, they will have leftover at the edge or drop some grain on the floor, and it was by the Law that they have to left it for the poor and foreigners to pick it up for food. This is an ancient economic welfare system like today Centrelink to keep the poor alive. God is a compassionate God, and he always looking after those who have misfortune. And God’s Law protects the welfare of the poor among his people. Ruth’s status in Judah is the lowest of all, both being a poor widow and foreigner. So Ruth looked for anyone who has sympathy over her misfortune, and she gleaned for leftover grain that is left behind by the farmers. What she did is equivalent to begging for food as a single woman, which is very dangerous because widows are often targeted to be taken advantage of by the others. But still, it is better to die in hunger, so, Naomi gives Ruth permission to do so. Instead of depending on Naomi or waiting for good fortune to happen, she took the initiative. Ruth went to work. She was not afraid of admitting her need or working hard to supply it.
By God’s grace, when Ruth went out to the fields, God provided for her. If you are waiting for God to provide, consider this: God may be waiting for you to take the first step to demonstrate just how important your need is. All you need to do is to take the first step to show how urgent your need is.
And by the grace of God, Ruth gleaned at the field that belongs to Boaz from the clan of Elimelek, her father-in-law who died at Moab. And Boaz is interested in who is this foreign girl doing in his field. Boaz heard from his men that Ruth is the Moabite who came back with Naomi, his relative. God has set up a scene for her future, but Ruth knew nothing about it yet.
Also, from verse 7, we learn that although Ruth’s task is unskilled, boring, repetitive, very tiring, low and perhaps degrading, it was done faithfully. When we compare our attitude of the tasks given to us each day, ask yourselves this question: “What is your attitude when the task you have been given that is not up to your true potential?” I repeat, “What is your attitude when the task you have been given that is not up to your true potential?” The task at hand may be all you can do right now, or it may be the work God wants you to do. Or, as in Ruth’s case, it may be a test of your character that can open up new doors of opportunity. Not many of us know how to foresee our future; you never know what God wants you to do ten years from now. It might be very different from what you have dreamed or expected to achieve in your life.
In this passage, we find that Ruth’s life exhibit some admirable qualities: She was hardworking, loving, kind, faithful, and brave. These qualities and characters gained for her a good reputation among the men hired by Boaz, but only because she displayed them consistently in all areas of her life. Remember, the keyword of good reputation on what you do at work or in school or life, in general, is “consistency”. Wherever Ruth went or whatever she did, her character remained the same. Look what Boaz said to her:
“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:11-12)
Our reputation is formed by the people who watch us at work, in town, at home, in church. A good reputation comes by consistently living out the qualities we believe in – no matter what group of people or surroundings we are living. God is watching; everyone around you in your life is watching. Do everything diligently and put your heart into everything as you are serving God, be consistent in all you do, and it will bring you a good reputation as a faithful follower of Christ. Be a hard worker and live for the glory of God in everything you do like Ruth.
As it is written in Proverbs 3:3-4, “Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favour and a good name in the sight of God and man.”
Mother Teresa, the winner of 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, had left Europe to spend the rest of her life in the lowest slums in India. She dedicated her life to help the poorest among the poor and set up many charity organization, schools to provide medical and educational contributions to the most impoverished community in India. She served in her mission to the poor from 1948 until her death in 1997 at the age of 87. For the 49 years of labour in charity under the condition of extreme poverty, countless people were helped because of her extraordinary work. Still, Mother Teresa said, “Do not think that love in order to be genuine has to be extraordinary. What we need is to love without getting tired. Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”
We all need to learn to love without getting tired. We all need to learn to be faithful in everything we do, even small things. We all need to learn the working attitude of Ruth.
2) Boaz’s kindness
Another character in this story is Boaz. He is a classic example of good people in action. What should a righteous man do if he follows God’s way of living? Look at Boaz. He went far beyond the intent of the gleaners’ Law in demonstrating his kindness and generosity. He said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” (Ruth 2:8-9)
He then offered Ruth food and drink, and “15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:15-16) Not only did Boaz let Ruth glean in his field, but he also provided her with a meal to regain strength from her hard work, and he told his workers to let some of the grain falls in her path in purpose. Out his abundance, Boaz provided for the needy. How often do you go beyond the accepted patterns of providing for those less fortunate? Do more than the minimum for others.
Our attitude when we help people is important because God looks straight into our hearts and the Lord see how we treat other people around us. When you are helping the poor, do you only help them with the minimum effort because you see it merely as a religious obligation, or will you go an extra mile to help others in need because you love them?
Do you ever feel that the Holy Spirit is calling you to provide or to protect someone vulnerable, or someone you know who is in need? Did you follow the guidance of the Spirit and display the kindness of God as God’s people like Boaz did?
Apostle Paul in the New Testament era said the same thing; he wrote to the Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” (Colossians 3:12) Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience are the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They are the mark of God’s chosen people.
I remembered many years ago, I was working at the Rocks for a marketing company, under the Sydney Harbor Bridge. During wintertime, it was quite cold with the freezing breeze from the oceans under the bridge. One morning, as I walk toward to my office, suddenly I saw a dirty and homeless man lying down on the pedestrian path on the road next to a famous pub, coughing with one hand holding his chest. All the people who walk passed him from the pub and the walkers ignore his existence, walking passed him or walk over him on the street. I asked myself, what would Jesus do to this poor man? After a short prayer, I went over to the homeless man and gripped him under his arm, trying to help him to sit up. The rotten smell and his breath were vomiting, and I was so scared that the dirt would make a stain on my work clothes. Anyway, I asked him is there anything that needs, and he asked for a hot cup of coffee to warm him up. So I went into the pub and ask for a cup of takeaway coffee for him. As I handed him the black coffee, and said to him, “Jesus loves you”.
In the next couple of months, when I looked at the homeless people spreading from the Circular Quay and The Rocks to Town Hall in Sydney, I always saw a Bible lying next to many of them. Some good-hearted Christians must have been sharing the gospel to them and giving out Bibles on the street, and some of the homeless people had been sharing the good news. Sometimes ask I talked to them, they admitted that they believe in Jesus. These homeless people are our brothers in Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matthew 11:5) The Good News of Christ must be preached to the poor.
Jesus said, “34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:34-40)
What Boaz did to Ruth and Naomi has displayed the Christian attitude of loving-kindness. It is what a Christian supposes to do for his brothers and sisters in Christ who are in need. God uses the story of Ruth to tell us what good people is like in action. But the Bible is not just asking us to be good and kind people. God is asking us to love one another with the genuine love of Christ so that we will be the salt and light of the world – with our physical actions that we display the love of Christ to the others. As we are working in the deeds of kindness and righteousness, it matches the good news of Christ that we proclaim to the poor. When Jesus calls us to love one another, not just listen weekly in the church, but to walk the daily walk side by side with Jesus. Let us learn from Boaz, learn how to show kindness to his people Naomi and the gentile believer like Ruth. Let us deal with each other. It is a life lesson to learn.
3) Ruth sits securely under God’s mighty wings
At the end of today’s passage, in verse 17, “So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah.” (Ruth 2:17) Ruth worked so hard and took full advantage of Boaz’s offer. An ephah is about 40 Litres of barley flour. That means Ruth can make bread for herself and Naomi for months ahead out of hunger. According to the historical record, in the Old Babylonian period, the ration of a male worker at Mari rarely exceeded 0.45 to a Litre per day. This meant that Ruth collected the equivalent of a month’s wages in a single day. Can you see Boaz’s generosity and Ruth’s hard working to provide for her family? Her attitude of work to support her family put many young men of today to shame. I was wondering how many trips did Ruth ran to just bringing the barley home. Ruth is undoubtedly a hard worker who tried to support her old mother in Law.
But we also see in this story, how God, who Ruth devoted to had provided her and Naomi much. God was behind her good fortunes. Ruth sits securely under the protection of God’s mighty wings. God used Boaz, the rich relative of Elimelek to secure the welfare of Ruth. After meeting Boaz, she gleaned, gathered, threshed, carried, brought out, and gave of her harvest to Naomi, gladly and gratefully. In His kindness, God has blessed the poor widows with abundance through Boaz. Boaz was generous to his needy relatives, but God does not make him anything poorer. The one who can give is always to receive more blessing than the one who receives. Our Great God is a God of provision, and he takes care of the poor and vulnerable in their misfortune. This story teaches us how to rely on God under difficult circumstance. And the positive attitude we should have when we feel the suffering of poverty — trusting in Christ without moving.
However, there are still unanswered questions remained. When and how might Ruth receive “full payment” of her labour and love to her in-law? Also, what about an heir for Naomi? How would her family line escape from extinction? Does the fertility of Boaz’s field hint that he might help solve the problem? We will need to wait until the coming few weeks, and learn from Neil as he continues the story next Sunday.
Stay tuned, and let us give thanks to the Lord for his provision. We ask God to change our attitudes of work and bless us with a heart of kindness toward our neighbours in need in the love of Christ.