Hope for those who are Empty
February 5, 2012 / No. 3605
Dear radio friends,
Today, in our series in the book of Ruth, we are going to look at the second part of chapter 2. I have entitled this message “Hope for Those Who Are Empty.”
Earlier in the book Naomi had been brought back by God to Canaan after she and her husband sinfully moved away from the promised land to Moab. She comes back a widow and brings back with her Ruth, a daughter-in-law, who is also a widow. They come back poor, empty. And even though there is a plot of ground that is rightfully theirs, it is not of much use to them. It will provide them no food on their return.
So Ruth goes out to glean. That is, she goes out to gather grain after the harvesters. When she does this, God leads her to the field of Boaz, who happens to be a close relative of Naomi—a kinsman, which, we are going to see, is a very important fact in this little book. In fact, it is key to the whole book of Ruth. Boaz is a kinsman.
In the passage that we look at today, that point is central too. It is a thing that gives hope to these two poor widows. In verse 20 Naomi says to Ruth: “The man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen.” What a ray of hope. He was a man whom Naomi had completely forgotten about, who not only had the right to redeem them, that is, to buy their land and to provide for them, as well as to marry Ruth and give children to their family, but he was also a kind and a godly man who showed an interest in Ruth. He provided food and protection for her when she came into his fields.
We should remember that Boaz stands in the Old Testament as a type of Jesus our Redeemer. He was a picture in the Old Testament of Jesus Christ. As we go on in the book of Ruth, we are going to see Christ coming through more and more in the character and the behavior of Boaz.
Ruth and Naomi find themselves in a desperate situation of poverty. Their family line is threatened with extinction. What should they do? It may be that in this situation Naomi was anxious. But a cooler head prevails and Ruth goes out to glean. Her attitude is: Jehovah will provide. We need to worry about just today. God will take care of tomorrow. She thinks to herself, “I will go out and get the food that we need for today.” And when she goes out to glean with this quiet trust in the Lord, He provides for her in a marvelous way that she and Naomi could never have expected or dreamed of. In one day their whole outlook on life and on their future changes. There is hope here for the empty.
That comes out in verses 17-23 in Ruth, chapter 2. First, in verse 17, they are given hope for the day. Ruth goes out in the morning, not knowing what to expect. Will there be a field for her to glean? Will there be a farmer who will allow her, a stranger, to pick up barley from his fields? Is it going to be safe for her to be out there in a man’s world?
And what does she find? She finds not only a field with harvest workers who are willing to let her follow and pick up stalks of barley, but when lunchtime comes she also meets the landowner, Boaz, who greets her kindly and tells her to help herself to the food and drink that he has provided for his workers. He tells his servants to drop not stalks of grain but bundles of grain for her to pick up. And he commands them to protect her.
So, first, what an amazing change of circumstances in one day for Ruth. But also, there is hope here for Ruth and Naomi for the immediate future beyond this one day. At the end of the day Ruth has an ephah of barley. That is enough food for at least two people for two weeks. And, besides, Boaz invites her to stay in his fields for the entire barley harvest and, in fact, for the entire summer—to the end of the wheat harvest. And that means provision for many months to come. What hope comes to these empty widows in one day!
But more. There is hope for these widows long-term. That comes out in the conversation that Naomi and Ruth have when Ruth returns home in the evening. One of the beautiful features of the book of Ruth is the deep relationship between these two women. That comes out especially in their conversations with each other. They shared their life and its burdens and hopes with each other. They did not live selfishly. Ruth is concerned about Naomi, and Naomi is looking out for Ruth and for her safety and her future in a strange land.
Verses 18 and 19 tell us that when Ruth came home with all this barley and with food for her mother-in-law, that Naomi immediately noticed that things had gone well for Ruth—that someone had shown her extraordinary kindness. In amazement she asks: “What hast thou gleaned today? Blessed be he who took notice of you!” And Ruth says, “The man’s name with whom I labored today is Boaz.” Then there is this little detail that suddenly occurs to Naomi. She says, “That man is near of kin unto us, one of our next kinsmen. Blessed be he of the Lord.” And then Ruth continues by telling Naomi that Boaz has invited her to stay in his fields till the end of harvest. And Naomi says, “That’s good. Stay there!”
Now the hope that is expressed in the words of Naomi that he is a near kinsman is much more than simply that now they will have sufficient food for many days to come. We have to understand what this discovery of a kind kinsman meant to Naomi. It means, perhaps, that someone would be willing to buy her land so that she had financial resources beyond the harvest. But it also meant that there may be a husband for Ruth. Naomi, we saw in chapter 1, was too old to provide one. But maybe, just maybe, this Boaz was the man. And the significance of that, for Naomi, is that the first child from such a marriage would take over the family name and property of Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband. So Naomi, when she says, “He is a near kinsman,” is expressing a long-term hope. “Ruth, this is going to be good for us in the long-term. He is a man who can revive our otherwise extinct family and who can restore to us a place in Israel with God’s covenant people.”
The spiritual significance of this is that it gives them an eternal hope. This kinsman/redeemer, Boaz, points us to another Redeemer. Without the redemption that will come through Boaz later in the book of Ruth, that other Redeemer will not come. And, you see, God is raising up this family, the family of Elimelech and Naomi, from nothing—in order to bring that other Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Boaz will redeem the land. He will marry Ruth. And they will have a son, Obed, who will become the father of Jesse, who was the father of David, from whom Christ will be born. And even if Naomi and Ruth did not see all of that here, this was what God was doing. He was raising up the line of Christ, the true Redeemer that they and we will need. Naomi’s longing here for a name and an inheritance in Canaan was an expression of her hope in the coming Messiah, her eternal hope. She wanted her place in Canaan. She wanted her family to participate in the coming redemption of God’s people through Jesus Christ. Here, for two empty widows, there is a great and an eternal hope.
And, as we consider this, we should see the parallel to Jesus, our Redeemer. Apart from Him we are empty. We are poor sinners, hopeless and lost in this world. We have no hope for the present and our struggles in the present. We have no hope for the immediate future and the fears of tomorrow. We have no hope for the duration of our lives till death. We have no hope in death and no hope beyond death in eternity. Without the Redeemer, we are hopeless and empty. People who live in this world without knowing Jesus have a hopeless existence. In Ephesians 2:12 and 13 the apostle Paul describes it this way: “That at that time [that is, in the unconverted state] ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: but now [he says to the Ephesians] in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.”
If you are an unbeliever, if you do not know Jesus Christ, if you do not put your faith in Him as the only hope for sinners, if you do not believe the gospel of the cross and suffering of Jesus Christ as the only payment for your sin and the only deliverance for sinners, you are in a hopeless situation, on a hopeless path that leads to the eternal damnation of hell.
But what a change there is for those who know the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Ruth came to know Boaz. What a change. When Jesus graciously comes to us in the gospel with promises and when we, by His grace, hear His Word and see what He has done and believe on Him and repent of our sins and find our salvation in Him, how bright our eternal future becomes. What a change that brings in our present lives. We still live in the same world, with the same struggles, but now as creatures of hope.
If you are a believer, rejoice in that hope. What has Christ done for you? He has raised you from darkness and sin. He has removed the guilt of your sin. He has freed you from what your sin deserves—the punishment of sin in hell. He has freed you from the power of sin and Satan and the ways of this world. He brings you, in your salvation, great joy and blessing in knowing Him. He has put you in the company of the redeemed. He has included you in the church, which is His bride. He has given you an inheritance that is eternal, that fades not away, in the heavens.
There is great promise for God’s people. A great promise, not only for the present, but one that reaches into eternity. Our hope is fixed, not on the things of this life, but on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. In the hope of Naomi, we express our eternal hope in Jesus our Redeemer.
There are several more things I want to point out in this passage. The first is the explanation for the change of circumstances in the lives of Ruth and Naomi. What explains this change? Was it because of the man Boaz and his generosity that everything changed for them? Well, partly, it was. In reality, Boaz was under no obligation to these women. As we see later in the book, he was not the nearest relative. And he was not a brother to the deceased. He was a gracious man. Maybe we are tempted to stop and admire Boaz here. But let us not stop there because, behind Boaz, God is at work.
Naomi acknowledges this in verse 20 when she says, “Blessed be he [that is, Boaz] of the Lord, who hath not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Behind the goodness and graciousness of Boaz Naomi saw the work of God’s grace in creating this kind spirit in Boaz. And she also saw God’s grace to her, to Ruth, and to her family. And even to God’s covenant people. “The Lord,” she says, “who has not left off his kindness to the living and to the dead.” In other words, Jehovah has remembered His covenant mercy. Those are the words here.
The word that is used here for kindness refers to God’s particular love to His elect people. Because of that love, God promised to send the Savior. All through the Old Testament that promise can be seen—in the promise to Adam and Eve, the promise to Noah, the promise to Abraham, the promise to Moses and Israel in Egypt, the promise to Israel as they came into Canaan, the promise to David, all the promises in the prophets. And again and again, God, in spite of the sinfulness of Israel, preserves them and keeps them. He did this so that He might fulfill His promise and keep His Word concerning the coming Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
That was beautifully expressed by Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, when he said: “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel who has performed the mercy promised to our fathers and remembered his holy covenant.” He was speaking of the birth of the Savior: God has remembered His covenant promise.
It is God’s remembering that covenant promise that explains the change in circumstances here for these widows. God, remembering His mercy, fills their emptiness with hope. Jehovah is merciful. In His grace He filled Boaz so that he was merciful to them. Boaz could have been a hard, ruthless man. But knowing the grace of God himself, Boaz was a gracious man. This grace explains the conversion of Ruth. This grace explains the rich relationship that developed between these two women from two different ethnic backgrounds. They knew God’s grace. And in His grace, God remembers His people in the hopelessness of their sins, and He sent the Savior, the Redeemer, Jesus Christ. So you have here the hope of the widows. And the explanation for it is the grace of God.
And now, lastly, I want to point to the perseverance of Ruth. Ruth and Naomi have hope. But they have a long way to go before their hope is realized. And so Naomi says to Ruth in verse 22: “It is good, my daughter, that thou go out with his maidens, that they meet thee not in any other field.” She is saying to Ruth, “Now that you’ve found the place of blessing, stay there, even if it means hard work and much waiting.”
From the lips of Naomi, that is a remarkable change. For she and Elimelech, because of difficulties, had left the place of God’s blessing in Canaan and had gone to Moab. In these words she expresses her repentance. This is what she had learned. And Ruth, you see here, listens to Naomi. Verse 23 tells us that she stays gleaning through the barley harvest to the end of the wheat harvest, that is, a full summer of work in the fields—from spring to fall. Field labor is hard labor, hot, dusty, and unpleasant. But Ruth perseveres because she is in the place of blessing and safety and hope for her.
There is encouragement in this for all of God’s people—to remain in the place of God’s blessing—even if that is difficult. Where is the place of God’s blessing? It is the place where God has put you today. And remaining there means living in obedience in that place. Maybe it is difficult. But God says, “Stay there, wait. Your hope will be realized.” The place of God’s blessing is the place where you are with God’s people in the church, where truth is maintained and taught, where God’s Word is honored and obeyed. There God, the Redeemer, affords to His people safety and blessing.
Let us pray.
Lord, keep us close to Thee. Help us to live in faithfulness to Thy Word in the place that Thou hast put us in life. Keep us in the company of Thy people. Fill us with hope and blessing as we live in this world from which we have been delivered. Give us the hope that Thy Son’s death on the cross affords us. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.