International Sunday School LessonStudy Notes
Lesson Text: Ruth 2:8-18Lesson Title: Empowering the Needy
Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi back to Bethlehem was one of the most important decisions in her life. Although both Naomi and Ruth were in great need when they returned, they would quickly realize that true help in time of need comes from God working through His people and the community of faith. That fact is still true today. There is not a government or social agency on the face of the earth that can meet the needs of humanity without help from the Christian community (Mark 9:41).
The story of Ruth is the story of a Moabitish woman becoming part of the people of God. Ruth married into a Jewish family who had moved to Moab during a famine. After the death of her father-in-law, husband, and brother-in-law, Ruth returned to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth arrived in Bethlehem having made the choice to leave the security of food, family and home. She committed to follow her mother-in-law and came to Bethlehem to live with Naomi, her people, and her God.
In Ruth 2, we find Ruth having arrived in Bethlehem and taking the initiative to go right to work. She was permitted to glean in the field of Boaz according to the law of the stranger having access to the corners of the field during harvest time (Leviticus 19:9-10; 23:22). More importantly, Ruth is in a field that belongs to Boaz, who is Naomi's relative. Boaz's godly character is evident from the way he greets his workers (Ruth 2:4), and is further revealed in his kindness toward Ruth. Recognizing the vulnerability of a foreign woman and the needs she must have had, Boaz gives Ruth both protection and provision. Behind Boaz's actions, we clearly see the providential hand of God.
The actions of Boaz are amazing when you consider that this story takes place “in the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1). If you have ever read and studied the Book of Judges you might conclude that there was not a kind and compassionate person left on the face of the earth. But God always has a remnant and He always has individuals who know Him, love Him, and are willing to show compassion and grace to those in need.
Question: Have we become so frustrated with those in need who take advantage and misuse the gifts they are given that we have stopped reaching out to them altogether?
The Directions of Boaz to Ruth (Ruth 2:8-10)
At this point in the story, neither Naomi or Ruth have a clue that just a short distance from their home lives a man of great influence and wealth by the name of Boaz. Upon her request to Naomi to go glean in the field (Ruth 2:2), Ruth goes out and ends up in the field of Boaz and starts gleaning (Ruth 2:3). A gleaner is one who followers the reapers, to gather up the stray stalks of grain which have been passed by as the reapers tied the sheaves into bundles. Most of the time during this process, the gleaners were overlooked because they were poor and basically insignificant to the reapers and owners of the field. But on this occasion, the owner of the field, Boaz, took notice of Ruth and asked his servant, “Whose damsel is this?” (Ruth 2:5). His servant replied, “It is the Moabitish damsel that came back with Naomi out of the country of Moab…” (Ruth 2:6). Once again the providential hand of the Lord is seen even in the conversations taking place. Have you ever noticed that God often uses the most unlikely people in the most unusual places to bless us and meet our needs? The Proverb writer says, “A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
Note: As an Old Testament type of Christ, Boaz takes a special interest in the foreign woman who is in need. The reapers scarcely noticed Ruth but her soon to be husband took note of her. Blessed be the name of the Lord for taking notice of us when we were just strangers in need!
Ruth is approached by a man she has never met and a man who is going to be the center of her life from now own. What must have she thought as she saw the owner of the field approaching? According to the Law of Moses, the landowner was to make special allowances for the stranger and the needy during harvest time. The landowner was not required to advertise or seek out gleaners, much less make them welcome or comfortable. But Boaz is an exception to the rule! He not only sees Ruth, He is about to speak to Ruth!
First words are often important. “Then said Boaz unto Ruth, Hearest thou not, my daughter…” is a unique way of saying, “listen my child to what I’m about to say.” “My daughter” is a fatherly expression appropriate when an older man is addressing a younger woman. “Go not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens.” His directions to Ruth to “go not in another field” means she never has to leave. His directions to “abide her fast by my maidens” means she will never be lonely or have to worry about how she is treated. All of these directions from Boaz were to Ruth’s advantage. She is in need and Boaz is meeting needs she probably don’t even know she has!
Boaz basically repeats the directives he gives her in verse 8 but in a different fashion as he directs her to “go thou after them” or, follow the maidens who were working behind the reapers. This put Ruth in a great position to glean! He continued to give her assurance when he says, “Have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee? and when thou art athirst, go unto the vessels, and drink of that which the young men have drawn.” The word “touch” means Boaz has spoken to the young men and warned against any mistreatment of Ruth, verbally or physically. She need not worry!
Ruth is also directed to “drink of that which the young men have drawn.” When water was drawn by the young men, the maidens would carry the filled jars to the resting-place. Gleaners did not expect to get the free water which someone else had drawn. But Boaz made Ruth free, and thus conferred on her a great privilege, that must have been at once most acceptable and most valuable.
Note: If you haven’t picked up on it yet, Boaz is a type of Christ, the bridegroom from Bethlehem and Ruth is a type of the church, the undeserving gentile bride, who had nothing with which to commend herself or to offer to this man meeting her every need (Philippians 4:19)
Ruth’s response to all of Boaz’s grace, mercy, kindness, protection, attention and provision is one of heartfelt gratitude and surprise. She did not respond by telling Boaz how hard things had been and how bad life had treated her. She didn’t even say, “You know Boaz, the old devil’s been on by back…” She did have questions but they were good questions. If you ever want to ask God “why,” here is one “why” that might be appropriate. As she bowed “on her face…to the ground” Ruth asked Boaz, “Why have I found grace in thine eyes, that thou shouldest take knowledge of me, seeing I am a stranger?” She is a Moabitess. From a natural viewpoint she doesn’t expect any favorable treatment. Wow! Isn’t that a different attitude than we get today from the proponents of the health and wealth gospel who teach that God owes us salvation and healing just because we plant a “seed of faith.” Had Ruth been exposed to Christian television she might have “claimed her field” and said, “I knew something good was going to happen to me today!” But Ruth is different from others in the land and in the field. She senses her unworthiness. She humbles herself in the presence of the one who supplies her needs. She’s not in Boaz’s field to manipulate him or take advantage of him. She is there because God made provision for her to be there even before she knew there was a God named Jehovah.
Question: God still supplies our daily bread. He still gives us water to drink, clothes to wear, and homes in which to live. Every breath of air we breathe is a gift from the Almighty!
The Discernment of Boaz Concerning Ruth (Ruth 2:11-13)
“It hath fully been shewed me, all that thou hast done unto thy mother-in-law since the death of thine husband…” At some point and through some means not recorded in the Bible, Boaz had heard the story of Elimelech’s family and what happened in Moab. It is possible that his servant or overseer had informed him. He had also been informed of the kind way Ruth had treated her mother-in-law and how she had committed to following Naomi back to Bethlehem. “How thou hast left thy father and thy mother, and the land of thy nativity, and art come unto a people thou knewest not heretofore” indicates that Boaz recognized the difficult decision Ruth had made and wants her to know he is aware of her needs.
Ruth 2:10 proves that Ruth showed no desire to take any praise or credit for herself so the encouraging words of Boaz must have strengthened her. Verse 10 and 11 is a beautiful illustration of our Lord’s words in Matthew 23:12, “And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.”
“The LORD recompense thy work, and a full reward be given thee of the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings thou art come to trust.” Boaz tells Ruth that she is not being rewarded the privilege of gleaning in his field because she loves Naomi, but because in her condition, a helpless threatened soul, she came to Bethlehem with Naomi and sought refuge and hope for life in Jehovah God. She left the refuge of her mother and father in Moab because she found a far superior life.
Naomi had asked that the Lord “grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband” in Ruth 1:9. When she asked for that blessing she probably was thinking about Orpah and Ruth both staying in Moab. But God in His mercy is in the process of answering Naomi’s request as He providentially brings Ruth and Boaz together. The very phraseology of Boaz's words indicate the working of God in this story. He sees Ruth cowering trustfully under the outstretched wings of Him who is “good to all, and whose tender mercies are over all his works” in all lands (Psalm 91:1-4). The metaphor, says Fuller, “is borrowed from a hen, which, with her clucking, summons together her straggling chickens, and then outstretcheth the fan of her wings to cover them.” “Who would not,” says Topsell, “forsake the shadow of all the trees in the world to be covered under 'such' wings?” (from The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database. Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)
Question: Have you ever found shelter under the wings of the Almighty?
Ruth’s request to Boaz is that she might continue to “find favour in thy sight, my lord…” These words mean she humbly accepts the favor and blessings he has graciously given to her. She expresses her desire to continue to stay under his protection and provision. Is there any reason she should desire otherwise? Ruth’s words, “For that thou hast comforted me, and for that thou hast spoken friendly unto thine handmaid, though I be not like unto one of thine handmaidens” may give us some insight into her expectations as she went to glean in the field. She may have expected to be spoken to harshly. She may have expected to be rejected, judged, or verbally ridiculed for her race and religion. Yet, Boaz had spoken graciously to her, soothed her sorrows, and relieved her fears. “Comforted me” means Boaz had spoken to her heart.
Question: How do we speak to the needy? How do we treat those who are in need? What words do we use to describe the less fortunate?
Ruth realized she was “not like unto one of thine [Boaz’s] handmaidens.” In other words, she does not have the reputation or the standing to deserve such treatment. She is using the same language that prodigal son used when he returned home to his father after wasting his life in a far country (Luke 15:17-19).
The Desire of Boaz for Ruth (Ruth 2:14-18)
Not only was Ruth impressed with Boaz, but he was now impressed with her! And as a result of her reactions to his mercy and compassion, he desired that she dine with him. He said, “At mealtime come thou hither, and eat of the bread, and dip thy morsel in the vinegar.” Remember, she is a Gentile, not an Israelite. Yet, Boaz said, “dip thy morsel in the vinegar.” She was told to take the portion of bread she was given and dip it into the special sauce provided for Boaz’s workers. He is offering her a special taste that strangers and foreigners usually did not receive.
“And she sat beside the reapers: and he reached her parched corn, and she did eat, and was sufficed, and left.” Sitting beside the reapers is personal. Some of the reapers may have wondering what this woman was doing at the table. Boaz wanted to remove that possibility and he does so by his actions. When Boaz “reached her parched corn” it was personal. He didn’t just pass it down the line. He had her in mind when he “reached” for the corn!
“Sufficed” means everything he did, the way he did it, and all that he did was sufficient. It was gracious and personal and when Ruth left the table she was completely satisfied.
The next day when Ruth went to “glean, Boaz commanded his young men, saying, Let her glean even among the sheaves, and reproach her not.” In other words, Boaz said, “Don’t just leave the grain on the ground. When you’re walking back to the barn with the bundles, make sure you let some of it drop so that it lies there, and she can get more than usual.” “Handfuls of purpose…leave them…that she may glean” are not normal words the owner of the field would use. This is not normal conduct for the owner of the field. These verses reveal that something is happening in Boaz’s heart. This doesn’t add up! God’s love never does! Especially when it relates to our needs.
“Reproach her not…Rebuke her not” means don’t say anything to her when you see her picking up this special provision left for her. Don’t give her a dirty look. Don’t make her uncomfortable during this process. Boaz has all the bases covered and Ruth is the beneficiary.
Question: Do you help the needy out of obligation or love? Do you help because you checkbook says you can or because your heart says you should?
After all Boaz has given to Ruth she is still a very diligent woman. “So she gleaned in the field until even, and beat out that she had gleaned: and it was about an ephah of barley.” Today, most people would have never returned to the field. They would presume that since they were eating at the land owners tables they would no longer need to work. When God does meet our needs we are not to become lazy and apathetic.
Ruth gleaned all day and gathered “an ephah of barley” which is a little over a bushel or about 50 pounds. That is much more than the average gleaner would have gleaned in a day. She probably wrapped it in her apron and carried it all the way back up the hill to Bethlehem. She “beat out that she had gleaned” which means ground it out for use. Proverbs 10:6 says, “Blessings are upon the head of the just…” Ruth was tender yet tough. She was faithful, hardworking, and thankful. As a result, God met her needs in ways she never could have imagined.
Illus. In 1897, Johnson Oatman, Jr. wrote the words to the hymn, “Count Your Blessings.” The last verse says, “So amid the conflict whether great or small, Do not be discouraged, God is over all; Count your many blessings, angels will attend, Help and comfort give you till your journey’s end.”
If verses 16-17 gives us some insight into the toughness of Ruth, verse 18 lets us see the trustworthiness of Ruth. “And she took it up, and went into the city: and her mother in law saw what she had gleaned: and she brought forth, and gave to her that she had reserved after she was sufficed.” What Ruth had gleaned would have been enough to feed her and Naomi for about 4 or 5 days. But there is more in this verse than her just bringing Naomi “what she had gleaned.” The “reserved after she was sufficed” goes back to her meal at Boaz’s table in verse 14. Evidently, Ruth, after she was full, took some “parched corn” home to give to Naomi. God had been gracious to Ruth and now Ruth wants to be gracious to Naomi.
Question: Has God been gracious to you? To whom are you being gracious?
It is obvious that Ruth had needs. A widowed Moabite in a strange land among people she had never met must have been stressful and trying to say the least. She immediately sought for a place of work to provide for her food. But it wasn’t long until she met a man who took away her fears and supplied her every need. Ruth’s needs quickly took a back seat to the person of Boaz. It would be Boaz that would dominate her life. No complaining about the past. No worry about the future. She was thankful to the one who showed her mercy. She did not allow her needs being met to cause her to be lazy or think she was entitled to special treatment.
Ruth began the day with nothing and came home with everything. And all because someone she never knew treated her with grace. Why has Christ treated you so graciously? The answer is, because, like Ruth, you sought eternal refuge under His wings. Like Ruth, you committed yourself to God’s care. If God has been gracious to you, why not be gracious to someone in need.
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