A Story of Kindness, Ruth

What is the most beautiful thing in the world to see?  What sight stirs more positive emotions and makes you smile more than any other?  Is it the view up in Glacier National Park?  Is it a coral reef full of colorful life?  Is it the northern lights?  Is it a star filled sky?  Is it a sunset view over a wheat field?  Is it a herd of elk in the mountains?  Is it a woman?  Is it a 1962 Ferrari GTO in mint condition?  Or is it for you (as that song says), my front porch looking in?  Is it your family gathered around a table smiling and laughing?

One of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen was when Greg Claridge and I were in the Philippines a little over a year ago.  This young man, 28 years old, named Oey, who had just finished 10 years of college to be a doctor, traveled with us for a few days to visit various churches and carried with him some basic medical equipment, a stethoscope, a blood pressure monitor, his prescription pad of paper, and at every church, after our singing and lesson and prayers, he would tend to the people that normally could never afford medical care.  He’d check their blood pressure, listen to their medical problems, give advice, and write prescriptions for them, not for a single peso, just out of love.  Another beautiful sight to me was Vince Ellingson up on his tracker, drilling post holes for somebody else that needed a fence built.  Another is Sierra and Paula washing dishes after they just invited a bunch of people over and provided them with a wonderful dinner.  And Randy sitting across the table from folks at the Samaritan house asking about their lives, and about their struggles, and asking if they have a church family.  The ukulele group playing for the residences of the Bee Hive assisted living place across the street.  Tab and Marcy providing a Thanksgiving dinner for whoever wanted to come.  Those ladies downstairs teaching the little kids on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings week after week.  Mary and Sellia and Diane downstairs hanging clothes endlessly for the upcoming clothing drive.  My wife cleaning the house of a friend while she was away on vacation so she could come home to a pleasant surprise, a clean house…

Kindness, unselfishly serving for the good of others, love in action, is to me perhaps the most the beautiful thing in the world to see.  It’s Godlike.  And it’s beautiful in God’s sight as well.  On the day of judgment Jesus is going to say to several, “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; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’  And they will say, “When, Lord, did we see you that way and take care of you?”  And He will say, “Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.”  Kindness the Lord takes very, very personally.  Hebrews 13:16, “And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”  He is made to smile, if you will, at the sight of kindness in His people.  It’s beautiful to Him.

If you’ve kept up with the daily Bible reading then you’ve read this last week a beautiful story, the little 4 chapter book of Ruth, a story full of kindness, demonstrations of the kindness of God, and the kindness that can be in people and that God loves to see in people.  I’d like us to just run through this story of kindness and then I want to point out a few things that have stood out to me from it about God’s kindness in particular.

Ruth 1

The first verse tells us that these events took place in the days when the judges governed Israel.  And if you’ve read the book of judges just before Ruth you know it was generally a horribly unkind and dark world.  It was a time when there was no king in Israel to guide the people in the ways of the Lord.  Pretty much everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes, and what’s right in the eyes of people is often evil in the sight of the Lord.  There were ups and downs to Israel’s faithfulness to God during this period.  But by in large it was a time of moral decline and violence that reached a point, in the closing chapters of the book of Judges, where you have some of the most gruesome accounts in the entire Bible; accounts of gang rape and murder and dismemberment and genocide and kidnapping.  But in the book of Ruth we see that not all was lost during this dark time.  There was always a remnant; a few special individuals with good and honest hearts who sought to do what was right in the sight of the Lord, unlike the world around them.

The story begins with tragedy.  We start at the town of Bethlehem and it says there is a famine in the land, which is kind of ironic because the word “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.”  There’s no bread in the house of bread.  And so this Bethlehem family of four, a man and his wife and two sons, move southeast to the land of Moab where there was more food at the time.  In the land of Moab the man dies.  Then his sons marry Moabite women.  And for ten years they’re married, but their wives are barren.  Then those two sons die like their father.  So this family is reduced to three widowed women, a mother-in-law named Naomi, who has also been bereft of her children, and two daughter-in-laws, named Orpah and Ruth.

Eventually Naomi hears that the LORD has ended the famine in Israel and provided food again.  She decides to move back to Bethlehem.  She advises her daughter-in-laws to go back to the homes of their parents in Moab and find new husbands.  She wished them well.  “May the LORD deal kindly with you… May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.”   Neither wanted to leave Naomi to be by herself, but she explained to them, “There’s nothing for you if you come with me.  I’ve got no means to provide for you.  I’m too old to have a husband and more sons.  And if I were to have more sons you wouldn’t want to wait til they grow up to marry them.  The men in Israel will likely not want a widowed Moabite for a wife.  You’re far more likely to find a husband if you stay in Moab.  And you don’t want be with me because the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.  It’ll be better for you if you separate from me.”  Orpah with tears took her mother-in-law’s advice and went back to the home of her parents.  But Ruth clung to her, and said, “I don’t care what you say.  I’m not leaving you, Naomi.  Where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge.  Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.  Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.  Thus may the LORD do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”  What kindness!  As far as Ruth knew she was accepting a future of widowhood and childlessness and poverty, but her mother-in-law needed her.  And I think Ruth had also come to believe in the God of Israel and wanted a relationship with Him (see 2:12).

So Naomi and Ruth travel on together and arrive at Bethlehem.  Naomi’s old acquaintances say, “Is that you, Naomi?”, which is a name that means pleasant or sweetness.  And Naomi says, “Don’t call me Naomi.  Call me Mara [which means bitter], because the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  I went out full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.”  These two women are destitute and desperate.  They have no money, no employment, no social security checks on the way, no real close family, nothing but each other.

The opening chapter begs a question.  Is God kind?  Naomi charges God with unkindness, at least to her.  It’s sort of like the book of Job, where from Job’s perspective, when he’s suffering God seems to be harsh and cruel and unfair.  But is He?  Well, let’s see what unfolds here.

Ruth 2

It’s the beginning of the barely harvest.  And God’s law for the Jews commanded a provision to be made for the poor and needy in the land.  It commanded that landowners not reap to the very corners of their fields, but to leave the corners for the needy.  And it also commanded that in the process of harvesting, if the reapers dropped grain on the ground, they weren’t to pick it up.  They were to leave it for the poor.  It appears that some landowners observed that law and Ruth was aware of it.  And so she asks permission of Naomi to go to the fields and glean a little grain for them to eat.  It was a dangerous task, because of the character of many of the field workers in that day.  A young lady out by herself, especially a foreigner as Ruth was, ran the risk of being abused or taken advantage of, or even killed.  But it looks like it was their only possible means of survival, so Naomi agrees that this is what Ruth must do.

The text says in 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.”  This man Boaz was related somehow to Naomi’s husband who passed away.  And he’s wealthy and he’s a man of faith and morals.  And these poor widows need to connect with someone of their family.  It says that Ruth “happened” to come to his field.  The Hebrew text is much richer.  It reads more literally something like “her chance just chanced to hit upon the field belonging to Boaz.”  It just so happened “coincidently” that she found herself in this field.

And then it just so happened that Boaz decided to come to his field while she was there.  This is like one of those sappy love story movies you watch with your wife about how the most perfect man in the world who’s been through tragedy and is lonely and the most perfect woman in the world who has been through tragedy and is lonely just so happen to bump into each other, and there’s this series of coincidences that unfolds that makes them fall in love with each other.  And if you’re like me as you’re watching it unfold you’re thinking, “This is absurd!  Things never happen like that!”  And as soon as you’re about to speak up and say “This is ridiculous,” you look over at your wife and she is in tears.  That is the kind of thing that happened here, because there is a divine writer and director of the drama of our lives.  And sometimes He does write in some awesome just-so-happened kind of things (adapted from sermon by David Platt).

Boaz comes to his field and kindly greets the workers and says, “May the LORD be with you.”  And they say, “May the LORD bless you.”  And Boaz sees Ruth and asks a worker, “Who is that?”  And they say, “She’s the young Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi that came with her back from the land of Moab that you’ve heard about.”

And I want us to read 2:8-16 and listen to the kindness in the interaction between Boaz and Ruth.  “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.”  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?”  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.  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.”  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.”  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.

Naomi was probably expecting Ruth to come back with maybe a cup of grain, enough to get them through another day.  Ruth comes back with 5 or 6 gallons of grain.  And she says, “Whoa!  Where?  How?  Who?”  And the narrator, as he record’s Ruth’s answer, keeps the name of the man who has provided for them to the very end.  Her answer builds up to the pronouncement of his name (Like in those reality shows where the announcer builds up to the name of the contestant who won).  Ruth says, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is [and you can see the anticipation on Naomi’s face] Boaz.”  And Naomi’s face lights up like Ruth has never seen.  And Naomi says “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.”  And she says “You know he’s one of our relatives.”  And if the end of verse 20 is translated literally it says, “He is one of our redeemers.”

The Law of Moses had a couple of laws that were perhaps in her mind when she said that.  One was that if anyone in Israel became so poor that they had to sell their land, then it was the duty of the nearest relative to redeem it, to buy it back for them.  Naomi and Ruth were going to have to sell the land that belonged to Naomi’s deceased husband (see 4:3).  Also, the Law of Moses commanded that if a married man died without having any children, then either his brother or whoever was the closest male relative was to marry his widow and father a child by her.  And that child would have the deceased man’s name and his property.  It was a way of ensuring that the man’s property would not be lost to his family and his memory would extend into the future (Deuteronomy 25:5-10).  For one to fulfill his duties as the nearest kinsmen, according to the Law of Moses for these widows, he would have to do both of those things.  He would have to buy back their land for them, provide for them in that way, and he would have to marry Ruth and father a child with her that would inherit all that belonged to her previous husband who passed away.  Naomi says, “This man Boaz is one who could do that for them.”

Well, Ruth gleans at his fields where she’s safe through the rest of the harvest season.

Ruth 3

This is where the mother-in-law begins to scheme and plot.  She says, “Ruth, Boaz is going to be sleeping at the threshing floor tonight.  Shower, put on some fragrance, put on your dress.  Sneak over to the threshing floor.  Wait until he’s finished dinner and gone to bed.  And then go and uncover his feet and lie down at his feet.  Be the hot water bottle for his feet.”  In that day and culture I guess it would be a gesture to say, “I would like to be close to you and submissive to you.  I would like to be your wife.”…  “Here’s your one chance, Fancy, don’t let me down,” Naomi was saying.

So in the middle of the night Boaz is startled and bends forward and there’s this woman at his feet.  “Who are you?”  “I am Ruth your maid.  You’re a redeemer.  Will you spread your covering over me?”  The word for “covering” is the same word translated “wings” in 2:12, where Boaz said that Ruth had sought refuge under the wings of the God of Israel.  Ruth asked him, “Will you spread your wings over me?  Will you be the one God uses to protect and take care of me as my husband?”  Boaz is thrilled at the proposal, and surprised that Ruth has gone after him, an older guy, and not a younger man.  And he says, “Well, I would love to take you as my wife and be your redeemer.  Everyone knows that you are a woman of excellence.  But there’s one other closer relative who has first dibs on you according to the Law.  But I’ll tell you what, I’ll set out first thing in the morning to find out if this closer relative will redeem you or not, and if not then I will.”  And in the morning before he headed it out he sent Ruth back to Naomi with a cloak full of more barely.

Ruth 4

Boaz sits down by the city gate that morning to wait for this man with first claim on Ruth to pass by.  He sees him and tells him, “We have some official business to talk about.”  And he summons the elders of the city to witness so that the agreements and decisions they come to would be official and legally enforced.

Boaz is strategic in the way he presents the situation to this kinsman.  He says, verse 3, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech.  4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people.  If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’“  And he said, “I will redeem it.”  By itself, buying Naomi’s land for her was a good deal for this guy financially, because Naomi was old and wasn’t going to have another husband or sons, and so once she died the property would belong to him and then it would be passed on to his kids.

Verse 5, “Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.”  So Boaz explains that it’s actually not going to be a good deal for you financially.  It’s going to be very expensive, because you’ll have to have a child with Ruth in the name of her deceased husband and that child will inherit all the land that you bought.  And also Ruth is a Moabitess.  Yuck!  And so the man said, “I can’t do it.  Boaz you may have my rights of being the nearest kinsmen.”  And Boaz said, “I’ll take it and I’ll be their redeemer.”  And everything was witnessed and confirmed according to the customs of the day.

Let’s read verse 13, “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her.  And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.  [She was married 10 years to her first husband and couldn’t have a child.  But now the LORD opened her womb and she bore a son.] 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel.  15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”  16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse.  17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!”  So they named him Obed.  He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.”… who is the father of the line that culminates eventually in Jesus Christ.  Is God kind or is He kind?  God is vindicated of Naomi’s charges of unkindness.

Let’s just notice some things from this story about the kindness of God.  Number one…

God’s kindness sometimes hurts.

Chapter 1 is full of tragedy and loss and heartache.  It begins with a famine in Israel.  But you know why if you know Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28 and the cycle of events in the book of Judges.  Famine came in Israel when Israel was unfaithful to God.  It came to get their attention and turn them back to God.  It was painful, but it was necessary.

And then in chapter 1 there were the deaths of Naomi’s husband and sons.  And Naomi was so hurting that she said (end of verse 13), “the hand of the LORD has gone forth against me.”  And when she returned to Bethlehem and they said, “Is that you Naomi, pleasant?”  And she said, “Call me Mara, bitter, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”  And in verse 21 “He has afflicted me.”  “God’s unkind to me,” she thought.  But the rest of the book shows us that in that sorrowful tragedy in her life God was setting the stage for great and surprising blessings.  We see God doing that all through Scripture, in His sovereignty ordaining tragedy to work out greater blessing.  Think of the life of Joseph, when his brothers sold him off into slavery.  It looked like God was against Joseph.  But it was setting the stage so that Joseph might rise in Egypt to be the Savior of his family and many others.  You see in I Samuel 1 in the life of Hannah when she was barren and her sister-wife constantly ridiculed her about it, that was just setting the stage for great blessing.  If you’re walking through difficulty this morning I hope you take this to heart.  In the moments when God may seem farthest from you, He may actually be setting the stage for the greatest displays of His kindness to you.  In your suffering God may actually be plotting for your greater good.

You can all see in this story…

The kindness of God to all

1:6 says the Lord visited His people in giving them food.  Food is a kindness from God.  And God is called in this book the Almighty.  He’s in control of the world.  For every good and pleasant thing we enjoy we have him to thank.  And in 4:13 He enables Ruth to conceive and have a son.  Children are from Him.  God is viewed as the source of all good things in the book of Ruth.  It’s as Jesus said, “God is kind to even ungrateful and evil men.  He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

And then when you get to the lineage at the end of the book about how Boaz through Ruth fathered Obed and Obed fathered Jesse and Jesse fathered David, you can’t help in our position with the rest of the Bible, to think about where that lineage was headed, to the fact that from that lineage God sent another redeemer from Bethlehem, a redeemer for all who have gotten themselves into dire straits in sin.  God is so kind to ungrateful and evil men that He’s made it available to everyone to come and lay down at the feet of the One sent to be their redeemer, to express a desire to be with Him and to submit to Him, and He will welcome their proposal and be their redeemer.  He’s that kind to all.  Unfortunately, so many will not come and lie down at the feet of the redeemer He sent for us.  So they will not be redeemed.  But it’s not because God wasn’t kind to them.

But we can also see in this story…

God’s special kindness to those who trust Him and reflect His kindness to others

What a happy ending and special blessings God gives this kind, little, believing family, to Boaz and Ruth and Naomi.  They’ve been made famous in every generation ever since them, and privileged with a place in the lineage of the Messiah.

Listen carefully to something the Lord Jesus said to His disciples in Luke 6.  “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.  32 If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners love those who love them.  33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you?  For even sinners do the same.  34 If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you?  Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount.  35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men.  36 Be merciful [Don’t get even with people.  Don’t make them pay if they cross you.  If they’re in need don’t leave them in need.  Be merciful.], just as your Father is merciful.  37 Do not judge, and you will not be judged; and do not condemn, and you will not be condemned; pardon, and you will be pardoned.  38 Give, and it will be given to you.  They will pour into your lap a good measure — pressed down, shaken together, and running over.  [It will be abundantly given to you if you’re kind and generous to others.] For by your standard of measure it will be measured to you in return.”  God is watching the way that we treat other people, and we can expect to ultimately be treated in accordance with how we treat others.

– James Williams

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