Sometimes following God's will doesn't seem to produce immediate blessings. For Ruth, it meant leaving behind her family and friends and trying to scrape a living in a foreign country. But as she gleaned in the fields of distant relative day after day, she soon realized she was gleaning in the fields of grace.
Gleaning in the Fields of Grace
The Wisconsin State Journal interviewed several personnel managers of some of the nation’s largest corporations for their most unusual experiences interviewing prospective employees. Several responded with some of the more interesting applicants who came to their office to be interviewed for a job.
One applicant challenged the interviewer to arm wrestle – as if that had anything to do with getting the job.
Another applicant wore earphones to the interview and the interviewer could hear the music playing. When asked to remove them, the applicant explained it was no problem because he could listen to the interviewer and the music at the same time.
Another applicant who was bald headed, suddenly excused himself and then came back in a few minutes later wearing a full toupee. Evidently he’d left it in his car.
A young applicant said she’d not had time to eat her lunch before arriving for her interview and then promptly began eating her hamburger and fries as the interview commenced.
Still another applicant actually dozed off during his interview.
Then there was that applicant who explained the reason he’d never actually finished high school was because he had been kidnapped and kept alive in a closet in Mexico.
Obviously, none of the above landed the jobs they wanted.
The Wisconsin State Journal, reprinted in Parade, citation:preachingtoday.com
Grace has it limits. Besides, when it comes to getting the job you believe you deserve, it has nothing to do with grace. It has everything to do with deserving the job you get.
For the average Christian who picks up the Book of Ruth, one of our problems in appreciating the sheer beauty of God’s grace in her life is assuming everything that happens to her is something she deserved.
- Why of course ends up in the fields of Boaz;
- Of course, he’s immediately smitten by her;
- Of course he takes pity on her;
- Of course he treats her with kindness.
She deserved every bit of it, right?
Actually, she deserves none of the favor Boaz will show her – she is an outsider, a foreigner, a former idolater and a destitute widow with absolutely nothing to offer him . . . except gratitude.
This is the rich truth of God’s grace.
Grace is undeserved, unmerited favor. Grace is God condescending to us, not because we deserve it, but because He is gracious.
Grace is God choosing us, not because we were the best applicant for the job, at the head of the class and superior to all others . . . far from it.
The Apostle Paul spelled it out; God chose to be rich in mercy toward us, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, He made us alive to gether with Christ . . . so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
What we are about to witness in the fields of Bethlehem is nothing less than a demonstration of grace; sheer, glorious kindness toward someone entirely unlikely and certainly undeserving.
Ruth just so happens to be gleaning in the fields of grace.
At least six principles of grace will be played out in flesh and blood; between Boaz – an illustration of Christ, and Ruth – an illustration of the believer; the Bride of Christ.
- Principle #1: Grace takes the initiative and makes the first move.
Notice in chapter 2 and verse 8 – it is Boaz who speaks first to Ruth. With kindness he says, Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.
In this culture Boaz immediately is obviously acting with grace toward less worthy Ruth, a foreign widow occupying the lowest rung of society as a reaper.
My wife and I had the privilege of touring some of the sites throughout London and Scotland a couple of years ago; of course we saw several palaces of Queen Elizabeth II and were told that whenever the queen was in residence her flag would be flying above the palace. We decided to visit one particular palace where we arrived outside a massive, gated entrance. It was locked, of course. That didn’t keep me from trying it. So we simply stood there looking through the iron grating toward the elaborate castle several hundred feet away. We knew the Queen was in – we saw her flag flying above the palace roof.
Just imagine if Queen Elizabeth suddenly appeared at the castle door, waved at us and then came over to the gate to shake our hands. Imagine her saying, “I decided to come out here and have a chat with you straightaway.”
That wouldn’t happen without a massive breach of protocol. Queens don’t normally chat with tourists standing outside her gate. Maybe a wave . . . or a nod . . . but that would be about all.
Reminds me of a senator who recently got a phone call from the newly elected president of the United States; assuming it was a prank, she hung up on him. He called her back and introduced himself again. She hung up on him again. She thought it was a gag. I watched her being interviewed later and she laughed, “I don’t get phone calls from the president!”
Who would expect a call from the president; who would anticipate a conversation with the Queen of England? Unless you’ve done something to deserve it; unless you’d done something heroic.
Do we take for granted this stunning announcement – God, in these last days has spoken unto us by His Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2)
Grace is God speaking to unworthy, less than heroic peasants; illustrated centuries before the coming of Christ when Boaz spoke to Ruth. That conversation was no less remarkable in their culture than the Queen talking to us at her palace gate, or the president calling our home.
- The second principle of grace expands on this truth; grace surprises us with provision and protection.
Would you notice after Boaz rehearses to Ruth what he will provide for her, the first words in response to him were disbelief. She can’t believe his kindness. She can’t comprehend his care.
In fact, don’t miss the very first word she ever says to Boaz in their very first conversation is the word, “Why?!”
Why are doing this for me?
Recipients of grace are usually surprised; they know more than anyone that they are undeserving.
Ruth didn’t respond to Boaz, “I knew I’d catch your eye . . . I knew you’d single me out . . . I’ve been expecting your gracious help.”
Far from it.
I am fairly convinced that when we arrive in heaven and gasp at the splendor of His preparation on our behalf and begin to grasp our eternal role as the Bride of Christ, we will kneel at the feet of our Boaz, and probably ask, “Why?”
Why would the King do all this for me?
That’s grace. And the recipient is left speechless as kindness dawns scattering the shadows of unbelief.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me,
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
John Newton, Amazing Grace -1760
- Principle #3: Grace is willing to play the role of servant to someone less worthy.
There is an elapse of time between this first conversation at the end of verse 13 and what happens next in verse 14.
Ruth evidently goes off to spend the rest of the morning gleaning in the fields, no doubt stunned by this incredibly kind landowner.
Before long, it’s time for lunch. As instructed, Ruth sits near enough to get water to drink, perhaps munching on raw grain she’s already gathered – if she has anything to eat at all.
Boaz has been watching for just this moment . . . the timing was perfect.
Notice verse 14. At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.”
This implies Ruth doesn’t have any bread of her own and Boaz effectively asks her to eat with him.
You could call this their first date and the open fields of Boaz were the original Outback restaurant.
Okay, it was a group date . . . but it was a start.
Don’t take this moment for granted. Ruth would have been amazed all over again; a gleaner was one step away from begging on the street corner; in fact, they were so poor that a satisfactory meal was an unexpected blessing.
Adapted from Robert L. Hubbard, The Book of Ruth (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 175
Verse 14 informs us that Ruth was invited to take some of their bread and dip it into their vinegar-based sauce which was customary for this culture.
But then it gets even better. So she sat beside the reapers, and he served her roasted grain and she ate and was satisfied and had some left (verse 14).
From his own skillet he knelt down and, as was their custom, brushed some roasted kernels onto her mat, or into her lap.
Did their eyes meet? Did they both blush by the obvious implication of this spontaneous kindness?
You’d better believe it.
The other reapers and Boaz’s employees are watching every moment and probably wondering if they ought to slip away and leave these two alone!
Ruth eats and then, the text implies, she rose to go back to gleaning while the rest of the employees were still resting. It’s possible that she was a bit too embarrassed at the curious looks and the wondering glances in her direction.
Nobody had missed that moment – Boaz the prince had treated a servant girl as if she were a member of his closest circle of friends.
The Prince had taken the role of servant and stopped to serve an impoverished widow.
- Principle #4: Grace works behind the scenes to provide for the object of its affection.
As soon as Ruth gets up and leaves, Boaz adds more surprises to his stunned friends and co-workers. When she rose – that is, left – to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. 16. Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her (verse 15)
Okay, this is not normal behavior. Was Boaz actually telling his team of reapers to throw grain in her path?
A. Boyd Luter, God Behind the Seen (Baker Books, 1995), p. 52
They were probably thinking, “C’mon Boaz, just ask her to marry you; it’ll be easier on all of us. Get it over with.”
One can only imagine Ruth continuing t glean, not aware that special provisions and specific instructions have been made on her behalf.
So she works away, unaware . . . oblivious to the plans of grace.
We too are most often oblivious to the gracious work of God behind the scenes. Every once in while we catch a clue or a hint of our Groomsman; most often, we . . . most often we work, oblivious to His hand which is busy providing on our behalf.
- Grace does not eliminate a response of diligence and discipline.
God works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure, Philippians 2:13; God works everything out for us Romans 8:28, but God also works with us Mark 16:20 says, “And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them.
God works in us, for us and with us.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed (Victor Books, 1993), p. 30
Recipients of grace are far from lazy.
So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barely. She took it up and went into the city.
She didn’t ask the servants to beat out the barely. She didn’t ask somebody to carry what amounted to 25 pounds of grain back to the village and she didn’t even ask Boaz for a ride back home.
There’s a Latin proverb that says, “Providence assists not the idle.”
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed (Victor Books, 1993), p. 29
That’s another way of saying even God won’t steer a parked car.
This is the principle of collaboration. Ruth went out to work and Boaz was working everything out.
In many ways, this illustrates the work of the church – the Bride of Christ. We toil to advance the gospel and we work to make disciples.
J. Vernon McGee quipped in his little commentary on this text, “So many Christians sing at the top of their lungs, ‘We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,’ and then go out and do nothing.”
McGee, p. 82
An old gospel song asks the penetrating question, “My house is full, but my field is empty, who will go and work for me today?”
Even our Lord pointed out, The harvest is plenteous, but the laborers are few. (Matthew 9:37) The gospel of grace is a collaborating effort between Christ and His church.
Even though Ruth is in need of help from God, she is willing to work for God as God allows.
And now, after a very long day, Ruth arrives home exhausted, but satisfied.
Perhaps you’re able to identify with her as you work hard in some volunteer or vocational ministry; perhaps juggling the time demands of two jobs; facing challenges on a campus or at that corporate scene where you are striving for excellence in order to glorify Christ; you’re undergoing strenuous tests of your faith; maybe you’re tirelessly raising a family to understand the gospel and you pillow your head at night, exhausted, but satisfied.
Maybe just exhausted . . . and not so satisfied. There is still so much to do.
Have you noticed that so often Christians you can count on to carry out some new responsibility are the people who already seem to have so much to do.
Recipients of grace rarely take it for granted. And they’re usually not sitting down. The Apostle Paul cheers us on in Romans 12:11, Don’t lag behind in diligence; be fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.
As someone put it, when I die I hope my body leaves skid marks.
Frankly, grace often goes about its business in the lives of people who could really use a nap.
- Grace takes the initiative and makes the first move;
- Grace surprises us with provision and protection;
- Grace plays the role of servant to those less worthy;
- Grace often works behind the scenes to provide for the beloved;
- Grace does not eliminate a response of diligence and discipline;
One more principle of grace, gleaned from the fields of Boaz:
- Grace at work in one person’s life has a way of spilling into the lives of others
Ruth takes up an ephah of barley – enough grain to live on for at least a month – and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left – a reference to her leftover meal from Boaz which means Naomi can immediately eat a meal without having to cook anything – Her mother-in-law then said to her, “Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.” Trust me, he will be!
So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20. Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives – literally, he is a potential kinsman redeemer.
One look at 25 pounds of barley and Naomi is hearing wedding bells. In fact, this is the first time we read of Naomi praising God.
The grace of God in Ruth’s life has spilled over into Naomi’s life.
And don’t misunderstand here – Naomi’s joy is not based on Ruth, Ruth’s testimony or experience. Nor is our hope in somebody else’s experience or testimony.
The key thing to see here is that Naomi has hope in Boaz! Who Boaz was; what Boaz had said to Ruth and what Boaz could do for them both.
This is the lasting formula for Christian joy. We don’t pin our hopes on anybody or anything other than who Christ is; in what Christ has done for us and in what Christ has promised to do for us, his beloved.
The next day, Ruth will return to these fields of grace. Verse 23 informs us that she will glean there until the end of the harvestwhich would have been around 7 weeks or so.
Did they enjoy lunch together again? We’re not told, but you can easily imagine conversations and noon time luncheons, not to mention baskets of grain explained only in terms of grace.
At the end of the harvest, Ruth and Boaz are deeply in love.
Before we leave this scene for now, let me suggest two more observations about grace.
- Grace does not deal sporadically in your life, it deals continuously.
Whether we notice it or not, grace is at work even now. We tend to notice the mountain top demonstrations of God’s grace at work.
Take heart, He’s working behind the scenes even as you trudge through some valley of difficulty or challenge.
Grace isn’t fickle . . . your beloved Redeemer is committed for life.
- Secondly, you do not come in and out of the presence of grace – you live there.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. (2 Corinthians 9:8)
We are literally surrounded by grace. Oh for eyes to see and for hearts to sense and minds to appreciate the grace of God at work in our lives.
Ask your Redeemer to help you see and sense His love and provision for you, His Beloved, as you go through a new day with new pressures, new challenges and new demands.
Ask Him for help, both to appreciate and understand that you, like Ruth, are literally working, serving and living . . . gleaning in the fields of grace.