If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Ruth chapter 2, verses 1 through 7.
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.
2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.
4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they answered.
5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”
6 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi.7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
This is the word of the Lord.
My original outline for this sermon, which I wrote months ago, said, “Open With Johnny Cash Joke.” By the time I sat down a few weeks ago to flesh the outline into a full sermon manuscript, I had no idea what that was talking about. So apparently, at one point, I had a Johnny Cash-themed joke that somehow tied into the book of Ruth – but whatever it was, it’s gone. So, y’know, pretend I just told you a really spot on Johnny Cash-themed joke that ties into the book of Ruth.
There’s a sizable plot of land in Bethlehem that used to belong to Naomi. We don’t know exactly what happened, but her husband Elimelech let it slip through his fingers during the famine. So they owned their own land before the famine hit, but it didn’t do them any good now that Naomi and Ruth were back in Bethlehem. It’s somebody else’s land, now. Which means if Ruth and Naomi wanna eat, they’ve gotta go glean from somebody else’s property.
This where we meet the character, Boaz. The author calls him a “prominent man of noble character.” We see just how prominent he is when Ruth arrives at his field and is surrounded by hired workers. He’s got enough land that there’s no way he can tend to it himself, and he’s creating enough capital off of it that he’s able to keep the place incredibly well staffed. That says something.
But we also see exactly how noble his character is in the next few verses, when Ruth finds her way into the portion of his field that was devoted to the poor. Now, that sounds like something different than it is.
Take a look with me at verse 2, where Ruth asks Naomi, “Will you let me go into the fields and gather fallen grain behind someone who allows me to?” and Naomi says, “Go, my daughter.”
Ruth wasn’t asking to go seek out charity. Deuteronomy 24:19 says “When you reap the harvest in your field, and you forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to get it. It is to be left for the foreigner, the fatherless, and the widow, so that the Lord may bless you in all the work of your hands.” Somewhere between Moab and Bethlehem, Ruth has begun to learn about the Laws that God gave to Israel through Moses, and God’s Law is good news for people like Ruth and Naomi. But that’s like, the shallow end.
Leviticus 23:22 turns up the heat, and says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you are not to reap all the way to the edge of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and the foreign resident; I am Yahweh your God.”
God gave Israel these commands during the lifetime of Moses for when they entered the Promised Land permanently, but as soon as they entered the Promised Land, they started to systematically abandon the commands of God, so that by the time of the Judges, when Ruth takes place, next to nobody was observing God’s Laws, and it made Israel a hard place to exist for everybody who wasn’t already powerful.
So if Ruth had ended up in a different field in Bethlehem, things might have gone differently. God had commanded the Israelites to leave a significant portion of their fields unreaped so that the poor could come and reap the edges of their fields to feed their families if they needed to, but in a time like the period of the Judges, when, according to Judges 17, “Everyone just did whatever was right in their own eyes,” next to nobody actually did that. All throughout the book of Judges we see the Israelites trampling on God’s Law, and when God’s commands are disregarded, the poor are the ones who suffer the greatest.
So if you were an Israelite who ran into hard times during the period of the Judges, you might lose your home after bad weather destroyed your harvest yields, get expelled from the land that’s been in your family for generations, and be out of options. So you’d take your family to the nearest field to harvest the unreaped edges, just like God commanded, and when you’d get there, you’d find them empty.
So you’d move on to the next field, and your daughter is crying from hunger at this point, and when you finally arrive at the edges of the next guy’s crop, he’s harvested the edges of his field, too, and so you move on to the next closest field, and you can feel the strength draining from your body, and when you finally arrive, you see that the edges haven’t been reaped yet, so you start to gather up grain, or barley, or anything your kids can put into their stomachs to keep going for a few more days or hours, but as you’re reaping the edges of your neighbor’s field, he shows up with a couple of hired hands and tells you to drop the produce and leave.
And you say, “My family needs this, we lost our land, we’ve got nothing.” And he says, “You’re on my property and I’ll remove you if I need to.” And you quote Leviticus 23 to him and say, “God has commanded you to leave these edges for people in my family’s situation – please don’t send us away.” And the man says something like, “I don’t see any God around here these days, do you?” while his two hired hands come and grab you and drag you off the edges of his field.
And if Ruth had happened onto anybody else’s field besides the field that belonged to Boaz, it’s entirely possible that her experience would’ve played out exactly like that, or worse. But we see exactly how noble Boaz’s character was because, in the midst of Israel’s godless disobedience, Boaz was faithful right down to the least convenient of God’s Laws. Boaz didn’t just obey the Laws that already came naturally to him. He also obeyed God’s Laws that required him to give his own food to the poor. He obeyed where it hurt.
And this is weirdly controversial, right? Every generation has different tendencies, every generation gravitates towards different things, every generation has different idols. And what all of that adds up to is that each new generation is, kind of, soft-wired to obey some of God’s commands on reflex and to violently reject the others.
The founding of the Southern Baptist Convention is a perfect example of exactly that. In the mid-nineteenth century, just before the Civil War hit, a group of influential Baptist ministers from across the Southern United States gathered together to form a splinter group from the primary Baptist association – they were uniting around a common vision of an America swept up by revival, in which, to quote one important Baptist leader, “every child in America could count on a full stomach, a good education, and a loving family,” every man could count on finding or creating a secure and productive form of employment – and every land-owning male throughout the South could fulfill his destiny of purchasing a litany of slaves off the auction-block and then working them to death on his developing plantation.
That vision takes a nosedive toward the end, huh? As a result, in our early years, we managed to be both an overwhelming force for good and a nauseating force for evil; We built world-class orphanages and overturned unjust civil legislation in order to create productive jobs that pulled people out of poverty – and we kidnaped runaway slaves and sent them back to the plantations to die, or worse. Because every generation gravitates towards different idols, so every generation has different “pet sins.” It was no different then, and it’s no different now.
Like, you’d be hard-pressed, today, to find a Southern Baptist who’s just pining for the days of Antebellum slavery. But there are more Baptists than anybody has the fingers to count who absolutely refuse to be told who they can-or-can’t have sex with. Plenty of folks today are on board with God’s good commands about “protecting widows and orphans,” “protecting the foreigner and the destitute,” but the idea that God created us to embody our sexuality in a certain way, in a certain context, with our spouses and nobody else, is just outside the bounds of what we’re willing to accept – because every generation gravitates towards different idols, so every generation has different “pet sins.”
In the 1850s, our over-arching idol was power, so we refused to repent for the sin of slavery, today our over-arching idol is probably “autonomy,” or “choice” – our entire way of life is oriented around shopping from a pool of seemingly unlimited options, and so anything that doesn’t function like the market seems repressive or unnatural.
So if you tell somebody in 2019 that God has created us in order to express our sexuality in the context of a marital relationship characterized by gentleness, patience, partnership and affirmation; that sex isn’t just something you do with another person – that it’s a conduit by which you enjoy one another and only one another; that by definition sex stops being sex when you introduce additional partners, that it becomes a fundamentally different thing, that introducing competitors into the mix by having other sex partners or gratifying yourself to an image on a computer screen turns sex into commerce, or worse;
When you say that to people in 2019, they call you repressive, because you’re asking them to give up some of their autonomy. You’re asking them to forego the luxury of having unlimited options.
You’re inviting them to abandon the illusion that two sex partners can satisfy them any better than one sex partner, or zero. You’re calling them to smash their idols, and most folks won’t smash the idol of “autonomy” any more willingly than the old slave apologists would smash the idol of “white power.”
But “being like Boaz” means being faithful to God’s commands even when they don’t come naturally to you. So if you were a Southern Baptist gentleman in 1850, “being like Boaz” might’ve meant granting your slaves a certificate of freedom and then hiring them back at wages that would enable them to buy their own land, build their own house, acquire their own livestock, and build a sustainable family farm that’ll last for generations. “Being like Boaz” today could mean any number of things – only you know what it’s gonna mean in your life, specifically – but it’ll always mean submitting to those commands that God gives us that grate against our desires.
So looking back at our text, Ruth
turns up on the land that belongs to Boaz and asks if she can gather from the
unreaped edges of his field, and his hired hand grants her permission. So she
gets to it, and one
of the things we learn about Ruth is that she out-works most of the people around
her, so that when Boaz shows up that evening and notices a strange face out in
his field, his hired hand says that Ruth “has remained” at work in the field
“from early morning until now, except that she rested a little in the shelter.”
So what we see about Ruth is that she could’ve leaned back on the fact the Laws God gave to Israel through Moses provided for her protection – and after the hell she’s been through it would be difficult to fault her for that – but that instead she steps directly up to the plate and volunteers herself as the tool that God uses to provide for her mother-in-law, Naomi.
The people of Bethlehem have a God-given obligation to care for Ruth and Naomi’s needs, but Ruth doesn’t wait around for help to arrive. She heads off to Boaz’s field and starts gleaning the unharvested edges. And when she gets there, she outworks the folks that Boaz is paying to harvest the inner sections of his property. There’s a kind of kitschy saying, that “God prepares the chosen, rather than simply choosing the prepared,” and as a result, sometimes God has to drag you kicking and screaming onto the path that he has set out for you, but with Ruth he doesn’t have to.
Because even as a brand new convert who grew up amidst the pagan gods of Moab, Ruth already understands something that very few people ever catch on to: That 90% of the time, discovering “the will of God for your life” just means doing the things you already know are God’s will.
You know what I’m talking about? Like, there’s a whole cottage industry of Bible studies and books and videos and songs about “finding out God’s will for your life,” and they get increasingly complicated – each new one has less and less and less and less to do with anything in the Bible, and at the end of all of it, if you follow all the steps they give you, you get nowhere. You have to get nowhere, because they have to sell you the next book about “finding God’s will for your life.” You spend the whole last 40 years of your life searching for God’s will for your life when the reality is that God has put nearly everything he has to say directly to you in writing. Right?
It’s in writing. God’s will for your life is in writing. You know where Ruth looked when she wanted to figure out God’s will for her life at a crossroads in Bethlehem? She didn’t spend 17 years going to a prayer closet and saying, “God, give me a sign about what I’m supposed to do.” She looked at Leviticus. What helped Ruth find God’s will for her life wasn’t a special message God sent directly to her, it was reading the Bible. So there might be a principal in that.
That’s not a one-to-one thing, obviously. When people say that “the Bible has all the answers,” they don’t mean that the Bible has direct answers to any direct question you might have.
What they mean is that when you spend your life seeking out the will of God by immersing yourself in the scriptures, the story that the Bible tells becomes your own story: The story of God’s good creation, of the mission that he gave to us as the stewards over the Earth, and then of our Fall in the garden, of our being cast out of God’s presence;
And of God’s mission, from the beginning of time, to rescue us from our Fallenness, reconcile us to himself, restore everything that we have broken, and renew the heavens and the Earth to rule over it, and to work the fields of creation forever alongside us in a world in which God has wiped away every tear and righted every wrong and made all things new – that becomes the story of your life; that becomes the story through which you read everything that happens to you, every encounter you have, every relationship, every struggle, every uncertainty, every difficulty.
When that story is the story of your life, you don’t have to spend 17 years seeking out some elusive “will” that God has for your life, because his will for you is clear.
tell you “God’s will for your life”: God’s will for your life is that you would
be reconciled to him through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and
that as a person reconciled to God through the blood of his son for the forgiveness
of your sins, you would be grafted into God’s own mission in the world, that
you would become one of the tools that he uses to draw people to himself,
rescue them from their Fallenness, and invite them into his mission alongside
So Ruth didn’t head to LifeWay and buy 7 books on “how to know and do the will of God.” She acted on what she already knew. She carried out what she already knew about God’s will, and as she was actively doing the will of God as it had already been revealed to her in the scriptures she was already familiar with, God continued to reveal the particulars to her.
So she was out gleaning in Boaz’s field, because that is “God’s will for the destitute,” and as she was carrying out God’s will by gleaning in Boaz’s field, God further revealed his will, so that we will see in the following weeks that Boaz is also following God’s will as it is revealed in the scriptures, that as a result he agrees to marry Ruth, buy back the land that used to belong to Elimelech and his family so that Naomi can live safely on the land that used to be her own, and not only is the tragedy that Ruth and Naomi have been put through turned into triumph, it also leads us directly to the cross: Ruth has a child with Boaz named Obed, and Obed has a child named Jesse, and Jesse has a child named David who becomes the king of Israel.
And God promises to Israel that he will one day undo all of the evil things that have come about through the Fall by sending a savior through the family line of David. So when we fast-forward to Galilee in the first century, we see the man Jesus, a descendant of David, a descendant of Ruth, who doesn’t just redeem the land and family line of a poor widow like Naomi. He redeems the whole world by his blood.
That means you. God’s will for your life is that you would be redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. Just about every week, at some point in the service, we say it again, like a broken record, that our role in God’s mission, as a church, is to spread this gospel into every corner of Louisburg, of the Gold Sands area, of the Centerville area, because these are the communities that we are embedded in. And if you had the fortune-or-misfortune of visiting Mount Zion Baptist Church this morning, you very well may be one of the corners we are called to spread the gospel into. If that’s you, I’d love to meet with at the altar at the front, or I’d love for you to flag me down, we can set up a day and time to meet, and I’ll walk you through the process of submitting yourself to the God that Ruth and Boaz submitted themselves to, to be redeemed by the blood of Jesus, to be rescued by his mercy, to be invited into God’s family, God’s kingdom, to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus Christ.