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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

Above and Beyond


 

Ruth asks Boaz a question in Ruth 2:10 - ‘why?’ There is something implied by her question. We often ask ‘why?’ when something unplanned, or unexpected happens. We want an explanation.

In Ruth’s case, Boaz had behaved towards her in a way that she hadn’t predicted. Ruth was a lady of low social position. In the time and place that she was living, she was on the bottom rung of the social ladder. In fact, she wasn’t even on the ladder. Ruth was living in the land of Israel. She was a widow. She shared her life with her mother in law, Naomi, who was also a widow. They were dependant on the charity of others in order to survive. Also, she was an ‘outsider’. She was born outside of Israel. In fact, she came from the country of Moab which was an enemy of her newly adopted home. Her status meant that she expected little. Ruth anticipated a life of toil with little help from others.

But, someone did notice her, and they did give her help. Ruth asks ‘why?’ Boaz’s actions were different to what she expected, perhaps different to what she had experienced from other people. Ruth’s question goes to the heart of this man’s character. In fact, much of this book is about character. The bible draws our attention to the character of Boaz. The bible wants us to notice. We are being told to look, and also to learn.

The Lord’s gracious providence had already been wonderfully displayed in the way that Ruth had been brought to settle in Bethlehem. Naomi and her husband and sons made a poor life choice when they chose to leave Israel. But the Lord overruled.

It reminds me of the statement Joseph made when he finally revealed his true identity to his own brothers in Egypt. In their jealousy, they had sold him as a slave many years before. They were afraid. Their brother was now in a position of authority. Humanly speaking, he held life and death in his own hands. Genesis 50:19-20 tells us this, ‘But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”’

Naomi, Elimelek, Mahlon and Kilion had made a bad decision. But God intended it for good for the saving of a life. Ruth is led to the land of promise where the Lord’s providence continues.

There is a wonderfully understated sentence in Ruth 2. In verse 3, we read, ‘As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz’. ‘As it turned out’. ‘As it happened (NLT)’. This is written from a natural perspective. As it happened, she did find herself working in a field that belonged to Boaz. But this did not happen by chance. This happened by God. Once again, the gracious, guiding hand of God reaches into this lady’s life to bring about good.

So Ruth is working in Boaz’s field. Boaz arrives at the field and talks to his harvesters. This instructs us about this man’s character. He greets them with ‘The Lord be with you.’ They respond with ‘The Lord bless you’ (Ruth 2:4). Boaz’s heart is for the Lord, the God of Israel. He needs God. We need God to be with us and to bless us. As Jesus reminded his followers, ‘apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

Boaz notices that there is someone in his field who he hasn’t seen before. He is informed that this person is Ruth, ‘the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi’, who has requested to ‘glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters’ (v.6-7). Ruth wanted to ‘glean’.

Gleaning was an important provision for the poor in Israel. It was a commandment in the Israelite Law given by God to his people, through his servant Moses. The commandment is given and reinforced in various places in the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Leviticus 23:22 says, ‘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.’ In the various instructions which Moses gave this theme is extended. The Israelite land owners and their workers were not to go all the way to the edge of the field when they cut the crop. They were told not to make a second pass over their crops. They were told not pick up the small bits of crop that were on the ground and anything they dropped accidently, should also be left. It made economic sense. The farmer could reap what could be reaped in an easy and straightforward manner without worrying about every last grain. And a wonderful provision was then left for those that would otherwise have been without. Under this law, the poor were welcome to come and take what was left. It wasn’t stealing, it was theirs, given to them by God.


These laws are accompanied by this statement, ‘I am the Lord your God’ (as Leviticus 19:10). It is as if the Lord is saying, ‘Yes, you are the landowner, you are ‘Lord’ over your piece of land. But I am Lord over the whole land. Ultimately, it is all mine. And I am giving part of my crop to those who don’t have land, those who are without’.

In Deuteronomy 24:19, the command to leave some harvest for others is accompanied by a promise of blessing to those who obeyed. This verse seems written with Ruth the Moabite in mind. ‘When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.’

The foreigner, the fatherless and the widow’. On all three counts, Ruth qualifies. She had left her own family back in Moab, to cleave to Naomi’s God and Naomi’s people. Even assuming that he was still living, Ruth could not have expected financial support from her own Father, miles away in another country. To all intents and purposes, Ruth was fatherless. She was also a foreigner, and she was a widow.

So, was Boaz a landowner that obeyed the letter of God’s law? No, he wasn’t. He was much more than that. The apostle Paul talks about God’s law in Romans 7. In verse 14 of that chapter, he says, ‘We know that the law is spiritual’. God’s commandments, whether those given under the old covenant to Israel, or those given to his believing people under the new covenant, have a ‘spiritual’ dimension. Our spirit and our motive in obeying God is vitally important.

In the Old Testament account of the Lord’s rejection of King Saul as ruler over Israel, God speaks to him through his servant Samuel. Saul had disobeyed the Lord. He had disobeyed because his heart was not right with God. Samuel prophesies about Saul’s replacement as king, who was actually Boaz and Ruth’s great-grandson, a man named David. Samuel says, of David, ‘the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart’. What was true of David, was also true of Boaz. Boaz had a ‘heart’ motive that was inclined towards God.

Boaz understood God’s commandments about gleaning. He really understood them. Boaz didn’t just act according to the letter of the law, he grasped its very spirit. He didn’t think it was enough just to conform to the exact written specifications of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. This is abundantly clear in what we find in chapters 2 and 3 of this book. In Ruth 2:8-9, he says 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. 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.’

Evidently, Boaz was an older man than Ruth, and that age difference was significant (this is clarified in Ruth 3:10.) Boaz calls her, ‘daughter’. In effect, he has grasped her situation. She is ‘fatherless’. That is why she is in his field looking for scraps. Boaz shows his intent to act in place of her own father and provide for her now. Added to the provision that God’s law made for her as a gleaner, Boaz lets her know that she also has his permission to find food for herself on his land, and that he doesn’t set a time limit on her stay. He isn’t reluctantly following the law. This ties in with the New Testament teaching on giving that Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 9:7. That passage uses reaping and sowing as a metaphor, and includes this, ‘each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.’

Boaz’s words encourage Ruth. We see this in her response in verse 13 where she says, ‘You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant’. Boaz’s actions are not just good for Ruth’s physical wellbeing, but good for her mental wellbeing also.

And it doesn’t end there! He offers her protection, ‘I have told the men not to lay a hand on you’, and he supplies her with refreshment, ‘whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink’.

And it doesn’t end there! He then instructs his men not just to not pick up any stalks that are accidently dropped, but to drop some on purpose! Also, if she is reaping in the areas not strictly reserved for gleaning, then they are to let her be (v.15-16).

And it doesn’t end there! At mealtime, he supplies her with food (v.14).

The bible is drawing our attention to Boaz and his heart. His character and his behaviour are linked to what motivates him. How can we sum up Boaz? Boaz doesn’t just do the bare minimum.

This is so important for us who seek to follow the rule of our Lord under the new covenant. Do we read God’s word and list its commands to us; what we should do as believers, and what we shouldn’t do? Maybe we don’t write these things down, but do we compile a mental list? And then do we feel it is enough to try to keep to the ‘letter of the law’, as it were? Do we feel that the bare minimum is enough, that this is what the Lord is looking for? Actually, I think we are often worse than this. Often, the question that we ask ourselves, when we are considering what to do in a given situation, is not ‘what do I need to

do to be right with God?’, but ‘what do I need to do to appear right in the eyes of others?’ In fact, we may ask, ‘what is the bare minimum that I need to do in order to appear to be a good person?

How do I know this? Am I looking at one of you? No. In this, sadly, I only needed to do the bare minimum! I just looked at my own heart. I didn’t need to go deep. There it was, on the surface, standing loud and standing proud. It causes a question to arise. That question is this – Is this what the Lord wants of me? The answer to that question is a resounding ‘No!’ Jesus dealt with this subject over and over again in his teaching. Tim covered this recently in his message on the Samaritan women at the well and the contrast between the outward and the inward. So often there is a gulf between what is visible to others in a person’s actions, and what actually motivates them internally. Appearances can be very deceptive.

In Matthew 6:5, Jesus said this, ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.’ The belief of Jesus was that the most hypocritical people, in his day, were those that claimed to be the most righteous. This should serve as a massive red flag to Christians, but often it does not. In Matthew 23:27-28, Jesus spoke directly to those who, outwardly, were the most religious. This was the Jewish teachers of the law and those who belonged to the strict religious group called ‘the Pharisees’. He said, ‘‘Woe to you... you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

It is all about the heart in God’s estimation. On the outside we can appear clean and right, indeed ‘beautiful’ people as judged by our fellow humans, while at the same time being unclean, wicked, hypocritical and with a heart that is ‘dead’ towards God on the inside. Other people may only see what is on the surface but God sees right through us. This question of motive is so important. As believers in Jesus we should be ready to honestly appraise our motive in the things that we do. If we don’t, then we can as easily deceive ourselves, as we can other people. But God is not deceived.

In the account of Samuel’s anointing of David, to be King of Israel, recorded in 1 Samuel 16 (v.6-7), Samuel himself gets it wrong initially.

He looks at the outward appearance of Eliab, one of David’s older brothers. Eliab was evidently a fine figure of manhood. Samuel thinks, ‘surely the Lord’s anointed stands here!’ But the Lord gently reminds his servant of the truth - ‘The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’

So, to finish, let’s get back to Ruth. Boaz’s heart was evident in his words and his behaviour. And Ruth asks the question, ‘Why?’ We read, ‘At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, ‘Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?’

The answer is that Boaz had a heart that was inclined towards the God of Israel. He did it because God wanted him to. The Lord wanted it, because it is so in line with God’s own character.

Jesus spoke of the devil as being ‘the prince of this world’ in John 14:30. We find similar things in Ephesians 2:2 and Ephesians 6:12. Satan rules. Before we came to Jesus, Satan was our ruler. He was the ruler of our hearts. We were citizens of his country. We were foreigners to God and we were his enemies. Ephesians 2:12 expresses it in the bleakest of language, ‘you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world.’ The following verse then details the wonderful transformation that took place because of the death of Jesus Christ at Calvary. ‘But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.’

Should not believers be asking the same question as Ruth did? – ‘Why? – Why, Lord, would you save someone like me?

The Lord does not save us to fulfil some rule, or obligation, or to appear to be good? No, it’s because he is good. Psalm 136:1, tells us, ‘he is good. His love endures for ever’. It’s all to do with the loving heart of the God of love. And God’s loving heart is demonstrated in his actions towards us.

I’ll finish with the words of Romans 5:8. ‘...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’

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