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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:God's grace displayed in a human face
Text:Ruth 2:20 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2012-07-08
Added:2012-07-08
Updated:2012-08-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from the 1984 Book of Praise

Psalm 25:1,4

Psalm 33:6

Psalm 126:1,2

Psalm 130:4 (after sermon)

Psalm 25:6,7,10

Read:  Ruth 2;  Romans 8:18-39

Text:  Ruth 2:20

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

What an amazing story!  The book of Ruth is fresh and engaging, with the author drawing us in to the Israelite world of more than three thousand years ago, a world so different to our own and yet so intriguingly familiar.

The book of Ruth reads like a good story, a love story where boy meets girl.  First we read about Ruth, a young lass from Moab.  A pretty girl, more than likely, the stranger with the dark brown eyes, the kind of girl that many a young man would take more than just a passing interest in.  (I take that from Ruth 3:10).  But more than just a pretty face, Ruth is a godly woman and the model daughter in law and so she wins the hearts not just of the people in her days but even our hearts today.  She’s the hero of our story and we wish her well, hoping that she gets her man.

And then in chapter two, Boaz comes into the scene.  A rich man, we are told: a wealthy landowner.  And not only that, but chapter 2 verse 1, verse 3 and verse 20 makes it clear that he is of the house of Elimelech.  (That sounds interesting – we wonder what that might mean?)  Boaz is rich, he is popular and, more importantly, he’s godly.  We read nothing about a wife in chapter 2 and we get the impression that Boaz just might be available – and perhaps he is even interested! 

But there are barriers to cross.  The biggest barrier was the religious one, but that had already been resolved with Ruth declaring her allegiance to the LORD in chapter 1 and Boaz acknowledging that in chapter 2.  But there is also the social barrier of Boaz being a wealthy upper class citizen and Ruth being the poorest of the poor.  Then there is the racial barrier since Ruth is a foreigner.  And then there is the age barrier with Ruth appearing to be quite a bit younger than Boaz. 

But by the end of chapter 2 nothing happens, and with the end of the barley season we are left wondering how this is all going to be resolved, if Ruth will ever end up with Boaz – and if so, who is going to make the first move.

So the book of Ruth is indeed a marvellous story of the love that grows between a rich land owner and a poor foreign girl.  A pleasant story of joy and hope that is set in the dark days of the Judges.

But the book of Ruth is more than that.  Much more than a love story between a man and a woman, it is a story about the steadfast love of God for His people!  It is a story of our covenant God, the One who delights to freely give all things to those who seek refuge under the shelter of His wings.  It is a story of how in the days when Israel had no king the LORD was preparing the way for Him to raise up a king for them, a king after His own heart.  It is a story that reveals to us the nature of our God, the One who has not forsaken His kindness, His steadfast love, His grace to His people.  It is a story of how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of God’s people.  It is a story that demonstrates that the kindness of the LORD is a kindness that goes beyond what we could ever ask for, think of, or imagine!

I preach to you the word of the LORD as we have read it from Ruth chapter 2 as well as Romans 8 under the following theme:

God’s grace displayed in a human face.

His grace seen in:

1.    Present kindness.

2.    Future redemption.

1. His grace seen in present kindness.

Ruth chapter 2:20 contains one of the richest, most beautiful words in the Hebrew Bible.  It is the Hebrew word hesed[1] and is translated as kindness where Naomi exclaims,

“Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!”

The word “kindness” is a correct translation of the word hesed, but the Hebrew word is so much deeper and richer than that.  It is a word that speaks of grace, of loving kindness, of steadfast love.  Hesed speaks of the kindness and the loyalty of God.  He declares Himself to be our God and Father and adopts us to be His children.  He does this not out of a sense of sense of duty or obligation, but from a heart that is overflowing with grace.  Hesed, then, is the demonstration of God’s steadfast love for His covenant people.

Now at the end of Ruth chapter 1, Naomi had despaired of ever seeing the hesed, the kindness of the Lord again. 

“The hand of the LORD has gone out against me”

she said in chapter 1:13.  And verse 20,

“Do not call me Naomi, but Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.”

But now things have changed.  Now Naomi once more experiences this hesed, these kind acts of steadfast love.  It looks as though God has not forgotten her after all!  Yes, she had come back to Bethlehem poor and destitute, a widow.  Yes she really thought that she had come back empty.  Yes, she was bitter and had no sense of hopeful expectation of be blessed under the shelter of the wings of the Almighty.  But when Ruth comes home with a big of barley and tells her that it was all because of Boaz, Naomi could once more speak of being blessed with kindness!  

But what exactly was Naomi saying here?  Who was it that was showing such kindness?  Our Bible translation, the New King James Version, says that it was God’s kindness that Naomi was speaking about: it speaks of His kindness with a capital “H”.  But the original Hebrew text does not make it clear if Naomi is speaking about the kindness of God or of Boaz!  This is clear for example in the ESV (English Standard Version), which translates what Naomi says in verse 20 like this:

“May he [that’s Boaz] be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”

So the kindness can refer to either the LORD or to Boaz.  And of the Bible commentaries that I read, about half said Naomi’s talking about Boaz, while the other half thought she was referring to the LORD.  But perhaps in some ways we can see this kindness as referring to both!  I do think that Naomi is referring to God in the first place.  Naomi has received an answer to a prayer that in all likelihood she had not even dared to think or to pray!  But the kindness of the LORD is shown through the kind acts of Boaz!  God’s kindness, then, is displayed in a human face!  It is God’s steadfast love, His kindness, His hesed, that causes Boaz to do what he does!  Boaz is one of God’s covenant children.  He has received God’s favour and has been redeemed by Him.  And now Boaz lives out of that redemption reflecting the loving kindness of God, bearing the image of His covenant Father.

And I want you to understand that:  in showing such kindness, Boaz reflects the image of his covenant Father.  For that is a result of our redemption, of having received the loving kindness of God.  In the New Testament, in Romans 8:29, the apostle Paul wrote,

“For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son …”

He predestined us to be conformed to the image of His Son!  Sometimes we think too little of the work of Christ and His Holy Spirit.  Sometimes we think His work is just about having our sins forgiven and finally making it to heaven.  But from the beginning, God’s plan was much more than that!  From the beginning He predestined us “to be conformed to the image of His Son.”  We were created in God’s image in the first place, reflecting His righteousness and holiness, but this image was distorted by sin to such an extent that we no were no longer able to be true image bearers.  But when you are redeemed by the blood of Christ you are also renewed by the Holy Spirit to once more reflect the image of God!  And that is then how you are to live – as God’s image bearers, so that in you God’s grace might be displayed in a human face!  The favour, the grace, the kindness and the love that God has poured out on you must then be channelled through you so that God’s goodness will be seen in you.

And that is why God gave us His law.  His law is not some random set of rules, but His law teaches us what He is like!  And so when we obey His law from a heart that is changed by the grace of God and renewed by His Spirit, then we will reflect Him, we will once more bear His image!

And that was the same in the time of the Old Testament!  The Gospel was the same for them as it is for us!  First He redeemed His people, and then He taught them how they were to live before Him.  And in His laws God them taught His people about Himself, and what He is like.

Now some of those laws were given to teach the people of Israel how they were to care for the poor, the widow and the alien.  The LORD commanded His people not the harvest the very edges and corners of their fields, nor to go over their fields a second time to pick up the grain they had left or dropped: that was to be kept aside for the poor.  And in this way the LORD showed His people something of His hesed, His loving kindness to the poor and the helpless.  And so when God’s people obeyed His law in a heartfelt way, they were then reflecting His loving-kindness.  They were His image bearers!

And that is what motivated Boaz to treat Ruth in the way that he did.  Boaz was a child of God and he lived out of his covenant relationship with God.  He therefore did not see the law of God as a burden to be minimized as much as possible, but as a blessing, as a love and a delight.  And we can see this from Ruth chapter 2.

When Ruth first asked the foreman of Boaz to glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves, the foreman gave her permission to do so.  Evidently the foreman was confident that his master Boaz would approve.  And Boaz did more than just approve:  he told Ruth to stay with his servant girls and keep gleaning in his field.  He told her to drink from his water jar and then he called her to sit with him and his workers at meal time, eating his bread and dipping it in his vinegar.  And he even gave her a delicacy to eat, freshly parched grain.  And, perhaps for the first time in months, Ruth ate and was satisfied, and even had left-over’s to take home!  And then, when she went back to work, Boaz told his workers to let her glean wherever she liked and even to purposely drop grain so that Ruth could pick it up!  What Boaz did here was well and above what the law of God had commanded.

And why did he do it?  Why did he take such notice of Ruth?  Why was he so kind to her?  Well, when Ruth asked him that, he did not say that it was because it was, regrettably,  his duty as a relative of Elimelech, nor because the LORD had commanded Him to do this.  And nor is there any hint that at this time Boaz had taken a shine to Ruth, that there was some sort of a physical attraction between them.  No the reason why Boaz took such notice of Ruth was, he told her in verse 11 and 12, because she had taken refuge under the wings of God and because he had heard all about her and what she had done for her mother in law.  “May God bless you!” he said, and Boaz was pleased to be the one through whom the LORD would bless Ruth and Naomi.  The kindness, the hesed of God, was poured out on Ruth and Naomi through Boaz a child of God.

And this is how God wanted it to be!  And this is how He still wants it to be!  And if Boaz could do this as one of God’s redeemed covenant children in the Old Testament, how much more can we display His kindness today!  For we have received the full hesed,  the full kindness of God in Jesus Christ!  And now through His Holy Spirit God conforms us to the image of His Son so that people might see Jesus Christ in us, so that we too might show that same loving kindness that before He has shown to us.

2. His grace seen in future redemption.

I’d like you to imagine for a moment what the scene would have been like when Ruth made her way back to the house that she and Naomi were living in.  It would have been the end of a long day.  Naomi, for whatever reason, had not gone with Ruth to glean, but now she was waiting for her.  She may well have been hungry, hoping that Ruth’s delay meant that she had found a field in which to glean.  And with evening coming, She may also have begun to be just a little bit concerned.  Is everything all right?  But then she sees Ruth staggering somewhat towards her.  And Ruth is smiling:  all is well!  And on her back she’s carrying what must be . . . it must be a whole ephah of barley!  An ephah!  That’s is more than twenty kilos!  It is, in fact, up to two weeks in wages!  And on a single day – the first day, it appears, that Ruth had ever gone out to glean!  And then the questions came pouring out!

“Ruth!  Where have you gleaned today?  Where did you work?  How amazing!  You really did find favour in the eyes of someone!”

And Ruth in turn excitedly tells Naomi about her day.  About how the foreman had allowed her to glean, and how a man, a rich man, had shown such kindness to her. 

“He told me to drink the water of his servants!  And at meal time he called me up to sit with the reapers and to eat!  And do you know what he gave me to eat?  Parched grain and bread with dip!  Oh, it was so good!  And he gave so much that I could eat no more.  And look – he even gave me plenty more to take home!  And after the meal, I don’t know what he said to his servants, but they treated me so well and they let me glean as much as I liked and wherever I liked!  And now look how much I’ve gleaned.  An ephah, a whole ephah of barley!”

“Oh Ruth!  That’s is so wonderful!  Blessed be the one who took notice of you!”

“Yes, mother Naomi!  It is amazing.  I don’t know why I found favour in his eyes.  I must have looked a sight – skinny as I am, covered in dust and sweat and wearing such ugly clothes!  But when I asked him why he said something very strange.  He said it was because he had heard all about me.  And he told me that it was because I had come for refuge under the wings of the God of Israel that he wanted to show such favour to me.”

“Oh Ruth, how wonderful!  What a wonderful thing has happened to us today!” 

“Oh, and mother Naomi, the man’s name with whom I worked today, his name is . . . Boaz!”

Boaz?  Yes, Boaz!  And with that name Naomi’s heart begins to stir with excitement!  For she knows who Boaz is!  Not only is he a rich man and a godly one, but he was of the family of Elimelech – a close relative!  And if Boaz would go above and beyond God’s law in giving food to a poor widow girl from Moab, could he perhaps be prepared to do even more?

“This man” she told Ruth, “is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.”  (Ruth 2:20)

That may not have meant too much yet to Ruth, but it was a big thing for Naomi!  For God’s law also had much to say about the responsibilities of a close relative, a Goel, as they were called in the Hebrew language or a Kinsman Redeemer, as it has traditionally been translated in English.  And in God’s Word, in Leviticus 25 the LORD had taught His people how a close relative was to care for his family, could buy back their sold property and redeem them from poverty and slavery!  In this way too they were to reflect the LORD their Redeemer, who had redeemed His people from slavery in Egypt.

And so Naomi starts thinking.  For if Boaz was to do that, was to buy back the inheritance of Elimelech, then what was to stop him from doing even more?  For Deuteronomy 25 said that then, where possible, the man would marry his brother’s widow.  And if Boaz was to marry Ruth, and if Ruth was then to receive children, her first son would be counted as coming from the line of Elimelech!  Oh, the very thought!  Bless the LORD for His loving kindness.  Bless Him for sending Ruth to the field of Boaz!  And bless Him for causing Boaz to take notice of Ruth!

When Naomi heard that the man who had shown such kindness to Ruth was Boaz, then she knew that what he, a close relative of Elimelech, had given Ruth was more than a few extra grains of barley.  In this gracious act of Boaz, Naomi saw the glimmer of a future redemption for the living and the dead.  No, there was no obligation for Boaz to become a redeemer for Naomi and Ruth.  He was not a son of Naomi, nor did the law mean that a son would even be expected to marry a foreigner, a Moabite.  But Boaz was still a close relative and so it just might happen that he, a godly man, would take them under his wing and provide them with a future and with a place among the people of God.

Naomi’s circumstances have not yet changed.  Yes, she has food for tonight, but she is still poor and life will still be hard.  But Naomi has experienced the kindness of the LORD through Boaz.  She would not be Mara tonight, for the LORD had not dealt bitterly with her but had looked upon her once more with favour.  Naomi and Ruth had returned to Bethlehem, and taking up their place among the people of God in the covenant of God, they once more began to live under the grace of God.  And if this is what He provided them with today, what would tomorrow bring?  If Boaz, that man of God, might continue to act out of the grace and the kindness of the LORD, he just might be the redeemer they had no reason to expect to receive but of whom they were in desperate need.

But now think about this.  Think about just how great God’s loving kindness really is.  In Ruth 1, Naomi goes with her husband Elimelech because they’ve given up hoping to see God’s kindness in Bethlehem any time soon.  Then, having lost her husband and son, in verse 6 Naomi hears that the LORD had visited His people by giving them bread.  She goes back to Bethlehem but hopes for nothing since the LORD had made her life bitter.  But things start looking up.  Ruth goes out to glean, hoping for a bit of favour, just enough so that she might find a few grains of barley for a meagre meal.  But Ruth finds a lot of favour!  On what seems to be her first day out, Ruth comes home not just with barley, but a whole ephah of it!  But it gets better!  Because not only that, but she even has some tasty morsels of parched grain!  Naomi won’t even have to cook tonight!  And then the story gets better:  the man who showed such kindness is Boaz, a close relative!  And then, even better, Boaz tells Ruth not to go anywhere else but to stay with his servant girls for the next few months, all the way through to the end of the harvest!

You see, that is what God’s kindness is like!  We often live impoverished lives because we under-estimate just how great the steadfast love, the kindness of the LORD really is.  We often chase after and are too easily satisfied with the vain things of this world and a mediocre relationship with God.  But the book of Ruth calls us to look up and beyond the things of this world and our present circumstances to see something of the height and the breadth of the grace and the kindness of God.  Naomi had returned to Bethlehem expecting to live out the rest of her days as a poor, destitute widow but now, seeing an ephah of barley she blesses the LORD for His kindness.  And then she even begins to have hopes that Boaz might one day become some sort of future redeemer.

But Naomi’s hopes are still far too small, for God’s kindness is far greater than that!  Does Naomi dare to hope for a Kinsman Redeemer for the house of Elimelech?  Well God is planning something far greater than that!  He’s planning for a redeemer for the house of Israel!  He has plans that through Ruth He might provide Israel with a  king, a king after His own heart!  And not only king David but from his line would come the Great King, the Great Redeemer, Jesus Christ.  He is planning for the coming Messiah, the Human face that would perfectly display God’s amazing grace!

And you are blessed because you know the rest of the story.  You know not just how the story of Ruth and Naomi ended, but also how the LORD used Ruth to show His kindness in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ. 

So then, how should you live?  Romans 8:31,32.

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

The LORD has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead, but He has given us His Son, the Great Redeemer.  And there is nothing that shall separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  And so, if Naomi could once more begin to hope for redemption on the basis of a sack of barley, how much more can we hope for our complete redemption and to receive the fullness of the love and the kindness of God?

His plenteous salvation

He will send you from above.

He will redeem His people,

You- His chosen Israel,

From all your sin and evil,

That you, His praise may tell.[2]

Amen.



[1] In the pronunciation of the word Chesed, the Ch is soft as in loch and the letter “e” is a short letter, as in bed.

[2] Adapted from Psalm 130:4, Book of Praise, 1984.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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