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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise
Psalm 91:1,5 (after sermon)
Read: Ruth 2:1-13; Ephesians 2.
Text: Ruth 2:10-12
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Who is the God that you serve? What is He like? How would you describe Him? As a kind and benevolent Father who is always ready to give us whatever we want? Or do you see Him as One who is often cold and distant, and as unpredictable as a stormy sea?
Do you believe that He has your good and eternal well being in mind? What is it that gives you confidence to trust Him, to commit your life into His hands?
Or, when it comes to the crunch, don’t you?
And what about the blessing you receive at the end of the church service? The one from Numbers 6,
“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace”?
Is that blessing for you too? Does God really mean it? Will His face really shine upon you and be gracious to you? Or do you perhaps feel that “my way is hidden from the Lord”? Or that you’ve messed up your life so much that you blew it, that God’s grace and favour is no longer something you can count on?
Are you afraid of God? Afraid of getting too close Him or to His people? Afraid of His wings?
For many of us the question of who is God and how we understand Him to be are real questions that sometimes give us reason to pause. But you need to be very careful how you begin to answer these question. There is a danger that you develop an understanding of who God is on the basis of what you experience or perceive. There is the danger that you either think about God how you would like Him to be, or how you fear Him to be. But you may not do that. Instead, God calls you to see Him and serve Him in accordance with how He has revealed Himself to us in His Word.
This was also the case for Naomi and Ruth. In Ruth chapter 1, Ruth had had her share of troubles. Her father-in-law, her brother-in-law and her husband had died. But now, poor and destitute, she accompanied her mother-in-law Naomi to Bethlehem, and pledged herself not just to Naomi but to the people of Naomi and the God of Naomi.
But what could she expect? Would there be a place for her among the people of God? And could she hope that the LORD would make His face to shine upon her and be gracious to her? Would she find shelter under the wings of the Almighty? Who is the God whom Ruth has pledged herself to, and what would become of her determination to be joined to His people?
This morning I wish to preach to you about the nature of our covenant keeping God and the sure blessings that are yours when you belong to God and are counted as one of His people. I preach the Word of God to you under the following theme:
God’s favour rests on those who seek the shelter of His wings.
1. Favour sought
2. Favour shown
1. Favour sought.
In the Ruth chapter 2 a word that keeps coming back is the word “favour.” In verse 2 Ruth says to Naomi her mother in law,
“Please let me go to the field and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favour.”
Then, having been shown favour first by Boaz’s foreman and then by Boaz himself to an extent she could never have hoped for, Ruth asks Boaz in verse 10,
“Why have I found favour in your eyes?”
And in verse 13 she responds to Boaz by saying,
“Let me find favour in your sight, my lord; for you have comforted me, and have spoken kindly to your maidservant.”
So this portion of Scripture has much to do with seeking and receiving favour. The word in the Hebrew for favour also means grace, kindness and compassion. So by using this word, Ruth shows us that she did not come to Bethlehem with the idea that she had the right to demand a certain level of care or support, nor did she go out to glean in the barley fields with the expectation that this would necessarily go well. Rather, went out relying on the charity, the grace and the favour of God and of the people with whom she wished to be a part of.
But would the LORD be gracious to her and would God’s people show their favour upon her? You see, although Ruth wanted to be joined to God and His people, there was no denying the fact that she was a foreigner. The writer of the book of Ruth reminds us that she was not just Ruth but Ruth the Moabitess. Chapter 1:22 makes this very clear, as does chapter 2:2. Then when Boaz asks his servant who she was, Boaz was told in verse 6 that
“It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab.”
And then in verse 10 Ruth wonders why she had found favour in the sight of Boaz
“… since I am a foreigner.”
Ruth had come to Bethlehem along with Naomi, determined to become a part of the community of the LORD but the question she must have wrestled with was, “Will I find favour in the eyes of God and of His people? Because I am a foreigner and a daughter of Moab.”
And that is a big question! For what is God like? And what should His people be like? Will God be pleased to receive this daughter of Moab as one of His people? Could a stranger and a foreigner from the country of Moab dare to hope for the blessings promised to those who were a part of the household of God?
For us today that might not seem to be much of a question: of course Ruth could join God’s people! Of course she could expect to be shown His favour! Was it not her right to expect, even to demand, to be included as one of God’s people?
But for Old Testament Israel this would not have been so obvious. Ruth could not fully expect or demand this. To be included as one of God’s people, to find refuge under His wings, was not something she deserved; if it ever happened, this would be an act of God’s grace.
You see, not only was Ruth a foreigner, but she was a Moabitess. And there had been some interaction between Moab and Israel before this, and this interaction had not been good. In the time when Israel had wandered through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land, first Balak, the king of Moab had hired Balaam to curse them. And then later, Numbers 25 says, the women of Moab invited the men of Israel to commit harlotry with them and to sacrifice to their gods. The Moabites were therefore a threat to the people of Israel as they pulled God’s people away from their worship of Him. And as a result of this, not only did the LORD kill 24 thousand Israelites at that time, but He also strictly commanded Israel to remain separate from the people of Moab. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 23:3-6 -
“An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever, because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you. Nevertheless the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam, but the LORD your God turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever.”
There was then, to be a permanent separation between the people of Israel and the people of Moab. Israel was not to seek a peace treaty with Moab, nor were they to allow the possibility of Moab being absorbed into the people of God.
But what then was Ruth thinking when she declared her allegiance to the LORD and His people? Who was this God under whose wings she had sought refuge – and how could she ever hope to find shelter there?
In order to find an answer to these questions – as well as an answer to who may hope to find refuge under the wings of God today – we need to understand just what is going on here. It is important to realise that Old Testament Israel were not encouraged to be xenophobic, fearful or hateful of strangers. To the contrary, a place was made for the stranger and the alien in Israel, and God even put laws in place to protect the stranger and the alien. Nor were the people of Israel encouraged to consider themselves better than the nations around them – God expressly told them that they were not! Nor was Israel allowed to claim exclusive rights to the LORD as though no other person could ever be brought into His covenant. From the very beginning the LORD had said that all nations would be blessed through Abraham and the Old Testament is full of references to the nations and God’s plan to bring them in, to make them a part of His people. But the reason why God said what He did about Moab was to insist that Israel remained a nation that was holy to the LORD and therefore separate from those around them. Moab had deliberately tried to pull Israel away from their worship of God. Moab had shown themselves to be a threat to God’s people and their relationship with Him and that is why the people of Israel were to keep separate from the people of Moab. The only way then, for a Moabite to hope to find favour with God and His people and to find refuge under His wings was to fully deny her Moabite roots and so be adopted into the people of God. And that, of course, is what Ruth had wanted to do. And it was because Ruth had left her father and her mother and the land of her birth and had joined herself completely to Naomi and the people of God, that Ruth could be seen no longer as a daughter of Moab but as a daughter of Abraham. And that is why it was right of her to seek the favour of God and His people.
And Ruth did that. In Ruth 2:2 we read that soon after she arrived in Bethlehem Ruth said to Naomi,
“Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favour.”
Naomi gave her consent and, by the providence of God, she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to a godly man named Boaz. She happened to do so: she did not know who Boaz was, and she’d received no instruction from Naomi to go there. But in His grace, the LORD directed Ruth to this particular field to glean there.
To be able to glean was a blessing of living in the Promised Land of Israel. In His grace the LORD had instructed His people to allow the poor and the stranger to do this. In Leviticus 19:9 He commanded His people,
“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.”
So when Ruth went out to glean, she did so in accordance with the provisions that God had made for the poor and the stranger in His law. And because Boaz was a godly man, Ruth did find the favour she was looking for when she came to his field, and was given permission to glean.
But there is also something else that I would like to bring to your attention and that is the reason why God gave this law in the first place. When God gave His law to permit gleaning in Leviticus 19, and when He repeated this law in Leviticus 23:22, He told them to do this because, He said, “I am the LORD your God.” What this means is that the laws that God gave His people reflected who He is. The people of Israel were to be kind to the poor and alien because God was kind. For He is a generous God, a God of compassion. He cares for His people and wants to give them good things. He cares for His people. He cares for the poor, the helpless, the needy and the oppressed. And he also cares for the alien, the stranger, who comes to Him and wants to be joined to His people. And that is why it was right of Ruth to seek favour from the LORD and from His people – and why she had every reason to hope to receive it.
And that is why you also can hope for the favour of the LORD when you come to Him. The LORD demonstrates who He is and shows us His grace and favour in the laws He established to see that the poor and the stranger would be blessed with food.
But you also have a far greater reason to hope for the favour of the LORD. For this law was but a shadow of what was to come, a shadow of what Ephesians 2:7 calls
“. . . the exceeding riches of [God’s] grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus!”
You may seek God’s favour because He is the God of grace who has showed us His favour in giving us His Son. It is not because of who you are or what you’ve done that He receives you, but because of who He is and what He has done! For, as Ephesians 2:8 says, it is
“. . . by grace that you are saved, through faith and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God.”
2. Favour Shown.
Early in the morning Ruth left her mother-in-law to make her way to where the people of Bethlehem were harvesting their crops. And as she came to the field of Boaz, she saw men hard at work. They would take hold of the barley in their left hand and a knife in their right. They would the cut the stalks of barley, holding them in bunches and then laying the stalks in rows. The women would then come behind them and tie the grain into bundles. The grain would then be taken away and beaten out. The straw would be put to the side and later the barley would be winnowed, separating the grain from the chaff.
Ruth saw this happening, and she approached the servant in charge of the harvesting, saying to him,
“Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.”
And to his credit, the servant in charge did show his favour upon Ruth and he permitted her to do this. And so Ruth began to glean. It was hard and back-breaking work and Ruth would be fortunate to get little more than a meagre meal for her and Naomi. There would not be much barley that fell from the harvester’s hands, and every grain of barley that had fallen to the ground would have to be picked up individually. But Ruth worked hard and kept on going with no more than just a short break. How thankful she was to receive the opportunity to glean barley right behind the reapers, where there was the best chance of finding food! How good the LORD was to show such favour to her!
And then came Boaz. A man we are told to be a relative of Naomi, of the family of Elimelech, and a man of great wealth. And seeing his reapers he greeted them. “The LORD be with you!” he said. “The LORD bless you!” they replied. Wonderful words, and magnificent way to greet your employees! Yes, the LORD has visited His people by giving them bread. (Ruth 1:6) The LORD was with them, the LORD had blessed them, and this was a harvest that came from Him.
And then Boaz sees Ruth, her head down, her back bent, searching for and picking up the occasional stray piece of grain.
“Whose young woman is this?” he asked.
Not, “Who is she?” But “To whom does she belong?” And then Boaz is told that Ruth is the Moabitess, the one who accompanied Naomi to Bethlehem.
And then Boaz did something that was quite extraordinary. He spoke to her. He spoke to her as a person, even calling her “my daughter.” Tender words, words of blessing, words of grace. And he said to her,
“Stay here, in my field, close to my servant girls. You are safe here and I will make sure that you are looked after and protected. And don’t be shy: when you are thirsty, just come and drink the water that my young men have drawn for my workers.”
Well this was too much for Ruth! She’d hoped to glean grain in the field of the one in whose sight she had found favour, but the favour that was shown to her by Boaz was far beyond whatever she could have hoped for. Why was he doing this? And so she asked Boaz,
“Why have I found favour in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” (Ruth 2:10)
Yes, there is was again! Not only was Boaz a wealthy man of great standing, but Ruth was no more than a foreigner, a daughter of Moab!
But then Boaz answered her and in effect he said to her,
“No Ruth, you are not a foreigner! It is right that I call you my daughter. For you belong here! I know all about you, what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I know what happened on the road from Moab to Bethlehem, how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth. I know that you came here because you want to belong here, not to be counted as a foreigner but a daughter of Israel, of the family of Elimelech. And I know that you have also left your old gods to serve the true God. The LORD repay you for your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel under whose wings you have come for refuge.”
What comforting words these must have been for Ruth! What words of blessing! You are not a stranger, Ruth! You are not really a foreign daughter of Moab. You’ve come home, you belong here. You looked for refuge under the wings of God, and you have found it!
And that is why the curse that lay upon the people of Moab did not remain on Ruth. Ruth was not a threat to the people of God, nor would she pull people away from serving Him. For Ruth had given up everything, had denied her own family and her own people to be joined to the LORD and to His people. Just as Rahab, that Canaanite woman of Jericho, had received God’s favour many years earlier, so Ruth was now counted by God – and Boaz – as one of Abraham’s children, for she shared in the one faith of Abraham.
“May the LORD repay you for what you have done” Boaz said to her. “May you receive a full reward.” No, not payment in the sense that Ruth had earned it, that God was obligated to bless her. But may God grant her a reward out of His grace and favour. May the LORD cause His face to shine upon her and be gracious to her! For now that Ruth was a daughter of Abraham, she could also be assured of God’s favour that He promised to show to all those who lived in covenant faithfulness before Him. Ruth may find refuge under the shelter of His wings.
And there we see just what kind of a God we serve. In the story of Ruth and of the favour that God showed her in granting her the shelter of His wings you may be assured of who your God is and what He is like! You can trust Him! You can go to Him! You can hope to receive His grace and favour! And you may be sure that when you go to Him in faith, you will always find a place of refuge under His wings!
In Ruth 2:13, Ruth exclaims her surprise for she does not deserve such favour from Boaz. It was not as though she was one of Boaz’s maid servants. But what a comfort it was for Ruth to be blessed by Boaz!
And the same can be said for you. For you too have received God’s favour. In fact you have received even more than Ruth was given on the day that she gleaned barley in the field of Boaz. For you have received the exceeding riches of God’s grace in His kindness towards us in Christ Jesus! And God does not give this to you because of any goodness that might be in you. To the contrary, Ephesians 2:1 reminds us that we were dead in our trespasses and sins! And verse 3 of Ephesians 2 says that we
“… were by nature children of wrath, just as the others.”
But it is because of the richness of the mercy of God and because of His great love, that we have been brought near to Him – not by what we have done – but by the blood of Christ!
It is in Him that you are shown favour! It is in Him that
“… you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19)
In Christ God no longer sees you as an alien, one estranged from the covenants of promise. But in Christ you who were once far off have been brought near. In Christ you belong!
So what are you waiting for? What is stopping you? Do not be afraid, but go to Him. Be joined to God. Be joined to His people, the members of the household of God. And you will live in shelter, under the refuge of His wings. Amen.
* 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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