The Fields Of Boaz
The book of Ruth is set in a dark day. In chapter 1, verse 1, we read it was in the days when the judges ruled, days of civil and religious anarchy, when every man did that which was right in his own eyes. In addition there was a famine in the land, and that where one would least expect it, for Bethlehem is the house of bread. The pressure was too great, and Elimelech went to sojourn in Moab, "he, and his wife and his two sons" - a serious thing for any Israelite to do.
But, beloved, God has such a situation in hand. "As many as I love I rebuke and chasten." Elimelech (whose God is King) died, and after another ten years or so, Mahlon and Chilion died also. Naomi is a widow indeed but the goodness of God leads her to repentance; for she heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited His people in giving them bread. And she arose that she might return from the country of Moab.
The application of all this to Israel is simple enough, and I doubt not that this is the primary teaching of the Book of Ruth. There are, however, certain moral principles plainly seen in the book which are readily and blessedly applicable to ourselves. To these I would seek to draw attention.
First of all we may notice that a famine - loss of substance - is a serious test to us all. Abraham in these conditions went to Egypt, and got into trouble there. Isaac likewise went to the land of the Philistines. Both represent specific dangers to a heavenly people today. Elimelech went to Moab, which again is not without significance; the Moabites started badly - offspring of Lot. They will also finish badly (Zeph. 2), "a perpetual desolation." In Jeremiah 48 their present moral features are described as "exceeding proud," and again, "at ease from his youth." In Ruth there is this additional feature; death. I doubt not that pride, and ease, and death are permanent dangers for the children of God.
But God, again I say, has such a situation well in hand. He chastens us as well as Israel. Perhaps we might notice in what circumstances Naomi (my pleasantness) changes her name to Mara (bitterness). This is not in Moab, please note, but in Bethlehem. The way of transgressors is hard, not on the outward journey, but on the return journey. And when one considers that the journey from Moab to Bethlehem, about 35 miles, is almost the same terrain as from Jerusalem to Jericho, where the man in Luke 10 fell among thieves, and moreover that this time it is uphill and not down hill, something of the rigours of the return journey will become more apparent. We also, beloved brethren, like all the city of Bethlehem, may well be moved for these women. They had done well to accomplish such a journey.
We must now enquire who Boaz is. His name means "In Him is strength." A mighty man of wealth in the Hebrew tongue is the same as a mighty man of valour. He is a wonderful picture of our Lord Jesus Christ in His resurrection power and glory. He is not only "strong and mighty", "mighty in battle." He is also the "King of Glory." He has all power in heaven and upon earth. He is well able to implement the promises of God to Israel. Indeed He is the rich One who for us became poor that we through His poverty may be made rich. He will enrich the whole creation with the blessing of God and, I need hardly say, can enrich us all today.
Then could we especially notice that spiritual feature in Ruth which above all others attracted the notice of Boaz. "Thy people shall be my people," she said, "and thy God, my God," She turned her back on the gods of Moab, and a full reward was to be given her of the Lord God of Israel, under whose wings she was come to trust. Affection, obedience and diligence also marked Ruth, but it was faith in God which was noticed, and gained the reward. Happy if we also can exhibit such single-hearted vigour and purpose and also set the Lord, in our measure, always before our face.
I desire to draw attention only to a few of the features in the second chapter of Ruth. First of all it was the barley harvest and then the wheat harvest. Barley in scripture typifies resurrection. The sheaf of first-fruits is figurative of Christ in resurrection, "the first-fruits of them that slept." Then again wheat typifies manhood according to God "the second man out of heaven," "the corn of wheat" which has brought forth much fruit.
Let us dwell a little on the gleaning. In verse 2 it is "ears of corn," then verse 7 "among the sheaves" and finally verse 16 "handfuls of purpose." All these indicate various appreciations of Christ, prizes gained through diligent gleaning in the fields of Boaz. In verse 3 Ruth gleans "after the reapers." There are those who labour in the word and doctrine. It is well to keep close to them. Then there are the maidens. Perhaps they set forth the subjective fruits of grace in the soul - follow righteousness, faith, love and peace with them that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart. Then the young men may represent more that which is official, men as distinct from women, and young here to show the vigour required in the work. The servant over the reapers appears to be a type of the Holy Spirit. There is, of course, much more. Weighty is the word "go not to glean in another field."
Then let us notice something of the food arrangements. There is individual refreshment, "from the vessels," that which is stored up, and ever available, perhaps a reference for us to the written word, or written ministry. What a need today to search the scriptures, to seek out the book of the law, and read! Even education authorities today are alarmed at the unwillingness of the rising generation to read books!
Then "at meal times come thou hither" This is company enjoyment. Sheep usually feed together. But notice particularly "He (Boaz) reached her parched corn." In the company, that was something specially for Ruth; individual attention we may say, which is so delightful both to read and to experience. "I will manifest Myself" (John 14:21), when the conditions are fulfilled.
Let us also observe that Ruth advanced in her appreciation of Boaz himself. At first it seems he was unknown to her, since she depended on the testimony of Naomi. Then in verse 1 we read "Kinsman", (mod'), which could be translated "friend". What a Friend we have in Jesus! Then, also in verse 1 mispahah, of the "family of Elimelech", a step further forward. Later in verse 20 garob, near of kin, i.e. much closer than gael, kinsman redeemer with the right of redemption. This is very blessed. As we see with the man in John 9 (who discovered in Jesus first "a man", then "prophet", and finally "the Son of God"), gleaning in the fields of Boaz leads to an increasing appreciation of Him, and may it be said, a decreasing appreciation of herself. Grace ever works this way.
The day's gleaning brought in an ephah, almost four gallons, according to all commentators, a good day's work. The threshing floor only yielded six measures, rather less. Souls in distress, in quantity, often gain less of scripture, but more of Himself. And the threshing floor leads on to chapter 4, the truth of union, and fruit for God. Let us not shun the promised cross.
In chapter 2 Ruth is prominent - Ruth's need is met. Many of us never seem to get beyond, 'What am I going to get out of it?' We are blessed with all spiritual blessings and His desire is toward us. But, beloved, it is not enough. In chapter 4 Boaz is prominent - Boaz's need is met. Ruth is blessed indeed, marries Boaz, and in union, we may say gains himself and shares all he possesses. Naomi also is comforted, for Boaz becomes to her "a restorer of thy life" and a "nourisher of thine old age". But most of all Boaz has his portion. He does worthily in Ephratah, becomes famous in Bethlehem: his name is famous in Israel. Now God's glory will yet fill the universe, and that is the greatest thought of all. The true Boaz also will yet have His portion when He sees of the fruit of the travail of His soul and is satisfied. How blessed if both God and Christ can have Their portion even now, and in present spiritual worship in the assembly. Let us at least seek to be on this line.
The lesson at the close is very simple and very plain. How little Ruth knew what great things she would set in motion, when, in Moab first, she was steadfastly minded, and in Bethlehem next, she began to glean. Let us also seek in our small way, intelligently, to put our trust in God, and in affection, follow after the greater than Boaz, the mighty man of wealth. We little know what God can do.
We noticed at the commencement that the book of Ruth is set in a dark day. Does it not suggest that we also can live moral superiority to conditions both without and within? Chastened we are, severely, but love is behind it all, and He has not left off His kindness to the living and the dead. What He has done in a past day, God can do today.
D. W. Paterson