With an election coming up, there are many campaign visits happening across the country. Candidates are hoping to drum up some support for their platform, their causes, and thereby hope to either extend their tenure in office, or move into it. When they come to town, it’s a big deal. Life seems to stop; particularly along the routes where they travel. It’s a lockdown where Secret Service details and advance teams have scouted out all the possible areas of concern well before, and local police are called to help block roadways and maintain security as the President or candidates move from place to place.
I remember working during one of these Presidential visits in 2012. When President Obama passed my location, traveling at a high rate of speed, I remember seeing one of the Secret Service agents manning a machine gun in the back of one of the vehicles, ready to fire on anyone who was deemed harmful. Clearly they are always trying to cover every possible scenario which would be unwelcome to the President!
Last week, we thought about what it might look like for God to visit his people. Naomi and Ruth, hope-depleted widows, returned from the land of Moab to an unknown future. How will they find food? Where will they go? What will life be like? And who will protect them in such an uncertain place and time? What would God’s visit mean for them?
Having made their way back to Bethlehem, Naomi and Ruth are now faced with how to survive in their new home. While the location was familiar for Naomi, her lost husband and sons no doubt brought a newness, even an unfamiliarity to her old hometown. And Ruth? Save her attachment to Naomi, she was a fish out of water. A Moabite in the land of the LORD. What did all of this mean? Consider the widowhood and barrenness of these women, add to it Ruth’s status as an alien in the land of promise – and one from a country who was an enemy of Israel – and the odds seem to be stacked innumerably against this duo. This would be the equivalent of middle Easterner and his elderly father coming into town the day after 9/11, looking for asylum in New York. Not welcome. Not wanted. Not trusted. How likely would it be to get their needs met in this type of environment?
Unable to wait, they must survive, hence Ruth’s statements in verse two, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” Ruth’s trust in God’s sovereignty, that he will provide for them is evident. She wants to bring home some food, but only from someone who looks on her with approval. Don’t we often want favor in our lives? Many times we experience good from God, and we attribute it to our favored standing before him. We must be doing things right down here for this blessing to have come our way. And for many in the world, even in the Church, we are sometimes caught saying things like, “Well, I was just lucky.” Or, “Just by a stroke of luck!” We attribute good circumstances to ourselves, or to fate. Neither of these options is Biblical, however, for as we’ve seen in chapter one, favor, as our world defines it, doesn’t always follow the believer. God orchestrates our steps in such a way that his plan comes to fulfillment, even though we are unworthy recipients of his grace and mercy. We like to take credit for our good position, or to give it to the false god of luck. We see the error of this thinking in verse three, where the narrator tells us that Ruth “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz,” whom we have already been told is a relative of Naomi’s husband, “a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech” (v.1). Our world does not operate by chance! But would Ruth be treated with favor?
The rest of chapter two tells us just what being worthy means, and it shows us through the descriptions of Ruth and Boaz’s actions. We first notice this in Ruth’s character traits. Seeking food for her aged mother-in-law, and herself from the start of her arrival in Bethlehem. This showed a willingness to work hard for her provision. Seeking to glean only from someone who would show kindness and dignity to her (v.2), which would show her respect for whoever owned the field she would work in. She asked for permission, rather than assume she was allowed to glean (v.7). We have already discussed what it was like for her to be a foreigner from Moab during this time in Israel’s history. Many landowners would likely not have allowed her to glean due to their mistrust and judgmentalism. Ruth also possessed a heart of gratitude and wonder at her treatment; that a worthy man should take notice, provide for her, and protect her, a foreigner, not even a servant (vv.10, 13).
Boaz is a testcase in worthiness (v.1). His arrival at the barley field begins with a passing of the peace as it were to his workers, “The LORD be with you!” Answered quickly by his employees, “The LORD bless you” (v.4), we get the sense that this is one of worth. Taking note of someone new in his group of workers, he asks his foreman, “Whose young woman is this?” This is a man of respect. After hearing the foreman’s description, he speaks directly to Ruth, and give’s her more than she asked for! A place among his young women in the field, protection from his young men, unlimited water from the drinking vessels when she thirsted (vv.8-9), sharing in his meal, and commands to his workers not to reproach her as she gleaned, even to pull some out from the bundles or her to glean (vv.14-16)! Boaz did not merely follow God’s law, leaving the corners of the field and dropped grain for the needy; he saw the need, and responded to the need with kindness over and above what the law required.
Arriving at home with Naomi, Ruth is asked where she gleaned, and she informs Naomi that she gleaned in the field of Boaz (vv.19-20), which excites Naomi. She knows this relative, this redeemer of theirs. And her statement in verse 20 rings full: “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” But what does Boaz have to say about this turn of events, this chance which chanced to befall Ruth? He tells Ruth in verse 12, “The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Whose kindness? It is the LORD’s kindness to his people, through his people, in small ways. That is a welcome visit indeed!
Thankfully our God does not visit us every four years, but all throughout our lives in circumstances both favorable and unfavorable. He does this not in impressive shows of force, but quietly, in small gracious ways. Where have we allowed our loss and fears to cloud our view of God’s grace in our lives? Where have we foolishly attributed his blessings to ourselves, or blindly to fate? How might our view of God change if we open our eyes to the people he brings into our lives? How might we be a blessing to others, not in the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the law?