(Please read Ruth 1:22-2:23. My remarks are based on a study with the NIV.)
Years ago on Candid Camera, children were used in an experiment about generosity. The children were placed by themselves in a room with a plate of cookies. On the plate were at least two cookies, there may have been more, but one of the cookies was very large. The adult left the room and the kids were allowed to take a cookie. You know, they all took the big one. One boy was challenged as to why he took the biggest cookie. Alan Funt, the host, told the boy, “All you left me to eat was the little cookie. I would have eaten the little cookie and given you the biggest one.” Without a blink the boy responded, “Then you got the one you wanted.”
Generosity is a tough thing to learn. It is not part of our human nature; it is a virtue that must be sought and cultivated.
Message: Generosity is a virtue that benefits both the giver and the gifted. It glorifies the God we serve.
- God’s Law required charity in the manner of harvesting.
Our culture is no longer agricultural, so it may be a challenge to wrap our heads around what’s happening here in Ruth. So I offer a little background first, explaining what the Old Testament Law commanded. We can better appreciate Boaz’s generosity as we see how far beyond the Law he went in his kind-hearted treatment of Ruth.
Leviticus 19:9 = [THE LORD SAID TO MOSES,] “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.” (This is repeated, in abridged form, in 23:22.)
Deuteronomy 24:19-22 is part of a section where Moses gives Israel one final instruction in the Law before he is parted from them. These verses are an elaboration of the Law we read in Leviticus and reveal two of God’s purposes for this law about gleaning. The first and last verses of this passage are bookends that supply two purposes God had in instituting this law.
– Verse 19 = THAT THE LORD YOUR GOD MAY BLESS YOU IN ALL THE WORK OF YOUR HANDS. God blesses generous people.
– Verse 22 = REMEMBER THAT YOU WERE SLAVES IN EGYPT. THAT IS WHY I COMMAND YOU TO DO THIS. God gave this command to keep His people humble and helpful in times of plenty.
Deuteronomy 23:24-25 expounded on this law, adding two examples of how to behave on a neighbor’s property. They sounds like rules against abusing the gleaning laws by prohibiting gleaners from hoarding the free food. The wisdom of these rules for is evident by the fact that they are still observed today in Arab lands and in German orchards.
– It is OK to eat grapes while in the vineyard, but not to carry any away in a basket.
– It is permitted to pick grain by hand, but the gleaner cannot use a sickle.
Though I can provide no chapter and verse to prove it, I believe the laws on gleaning were a simple kind of “welfare” program that provided for the most helpless members of their society. It was good to require the poor to work to help themselves and at same time providing land owners an opportunity to be charitable.
The narrative makes it obvious not everyone in Israel kept this law. Ruth’s statement in 2:3 assumes an adversarial tone; “LET ME GO TO THE FIELDS AND PICK UP THE LEFTOVER GRAIN BEHIND ANYONE IN WHOSE EYES I FIND FAVOR.” The protection Ruth received from Boaz and the warning from Naomi point out that sometimes gleaners were mistreated. (See Isaiah 17:5-6 for another window on this subject of gleaning.) To be fair, there were probably some folk who abused the privilege of gleaning, in violation of Deuteronomy 23:24-25. Our modern “welfare” system seems to abused in various ways, as you’d expect. Where sin and human nature finds opportunity, even the most well-intentioned systems are subject to abuse.
The amount and quality of the gleanings depended on the generosity of the landowner. Deciding what constituted the “edges” of a field was left open to individual interpretation. This reflects the fact that generosity is one of the hardest virtues to legislate. By definition, generosity has to be grace; it is over and above what’s required/expected/customary.
Our passage is bookended by the two harvests mentioned: 1:22 put these events during the barley harvest, about April/May. 2:23 includes the wheat harvest which occurred some weeks later.
- Boaz was a godly and generous man.
The name meant “Lively, vigorous, strong.” Here are some things the text reveals about Boaz.
According to 2:1, he was A MAN OF STANDING. In Judges 6:12 and 11:1, this words refers to a warrior. It can also mean “property owner” or “prominent.” In 2 Kings 15:20 it is translated as “wealthy.”
2:1 also records that Boaz was a relative; he was Naomi’s in-law, being from the same clan as her husband, Elimelech.
Part of Boaz’s standing in the community is based on 2:2-3: he was a landowner. Ruth selecting his field for gleaning is attributed to good luck in the text. Though the NIV renders the phrase AS IT TURNED OUT, but the word means “by chance.” Yet we know God lead her to this field, that it wasn’t just a lucky break or a plot device. The writer may be resorting to irony by this choice of words, showing that what appears to be luck is the providential hand of God.
In 2:20 Boaz is identified as A KINSMAN-REDEEMER. This is a key term, essential to our understanding of this book. Boaz was a CLOSE RELATIVE, one of those who could act as a KINSMAN-REDEEMER by marrying Ruth. He was a REDEEMER because he could:
– Avenge the death of a murdered relative (see Numbers 35:19) – not appropriate here.
– Marry the childless widow of a deceased brother and raise up children for him (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10).
– Buy back family lands that had been sold (see Leviticus 25:25).
– Buy out of slavery family members who were sold into slavery to pay a debt (see Leviticus 25:47-49).
– Provide for the needy and helpless members of the family of the deceased (see Leviticus 25:35).
– What is most important in the text and for our purpose is that Boaz was a generous man.
— He was generous with his time, showing attention to his workers. In verse four the greetings we see demonstrate he loved his workers and they returned the good favor. This was a typical exchange in Israel at that time, but is still a good insight into the character of Boaz and his relations with his workers. Boaz did not sit in his office in Bethlehem and count his money; he went to the fields and checked on how the harvest was progressing.
Verse five shows that he knew his workers; knowing Ruth was not one of them, he asked about her. He’s effectively asking, “Who is this? Where does this young woman fit in?” The foreman’s reply (vs. 6-7) gives us insight into Ruth’s character: she impressed the foreman as being a woman of respect and ambition. Ruth was respectful in the sense that she could’ve showed up demanding the right to glean, but asked first. She demonstrated her ambition in the fact that she worked steadily, taking little time to rest. (Was she shaming the professionals?)
— Boaz showed generosity toward a foreigner in his concern for Ruth’s safety and success (2:8-9, 13). He referred to Ruth with the same term of endearment Naomi used; “DAUGHTER.” (This may also indicate a disparity in their ages.) Boaz acted on this concern in five different ways:
— He not only approved her gleaning in his field but invited her to follow alongside his female workers and pick up the cuttings, not just the leavings.
— He’d given his men a warning not to take advantage of her low station; they were to not TOUCH, “strike” or “molest” her.
— He gave her permission to drink from the water jars. These were for t workers; this was not a privilege normally given to gleaners.
— He invited her to the harvesters’ meal where she got an abundance of food (2:14). This was a midday meal that consisted of roasted grain they’d just harvested, bread, wine vinegar, and other foods as available. This meal was certainly not a privilege normally given to gleaners. Whether this was typical to Boaz’s generosity or indicates his increasing interest in Ruth, the text does not say; the act may portray both.
— He instructed his men to assist her gleaning, to the point she had more than enough (2:15-17). This went beyond what the Law required; it is an act of extravagant generosity. Not only were these men not to mistreat Ruth (EMBARRASS), but they were to secretly make her gleaning easier and more productive!
— Though our culture regards blessings and curses as artifacts of a more superstitious time, Boaz was generous with his blessings. Boaz blessed Ruth in 2:11-12. He was impressed with her loyalty to Naomi and her acceptance of faith in God. — Boaz continued to be generous: he allowed Ruth to glean through two different harvests (2:23). This would have been a period of about seven weeks. If we assume Boaz showed this same level of generosity to Ruth the entire time, the two widows had supplies enough to live comfortably for 3-7 months!
— As the saying goes, the “proof is in the pudding.” The result of all this is that Ruth’s gleanings that day amounted to almost a full EPHAH. This would be half to two-thirds of a bushel of grain, about 29-50 pounds! This extraordinary amount was much more than the average gleaner would have gotten. In other ancient cultures, a worker’s ration was considered to be 1-2 pounds of grain a day, so by this standard, there was enough gathered on this one day to last them a few weeks!
Ruth’s replies to Boaz’s kindnesses (vs. 10+13) show her humble and gentle character. Since Ruth did not know about the assistance given her by Boaz’s workers, she thought all this grain was just another day’s work! This is a touching aspect to this wonderful story of a loving, generous man.
When Ruth returned from gleaning with all that grain and leftovers from lunch besides, we can imagine Naomi’s eyes boggling! In fact, her question in v. 19 could’ve been voiced with a tone of surprise and happy disbelief; “Where IN THE WORLD did you go to glean?” Naomi realized Ruth could not have done all this on her own and that’s why she asked these questions and hastily blessed their benefactor, even not knowing who it was. When she learned who owned the field, Naomi immediately blessed Boaz again. She knew her own culture better than Ruth and appreciated the extent to which Boaz helped Ruth!
American Christians’ lack of generosity might not be as shocking if it didn’t contrast so starkly with their astounding wealth. Passing the Plate’s researchers say committed American Christians—-those who say their faith is very important to them and those who attend church at least twice a month-—earn more than $2.5 trillion dollars every year. On their own, these Christians could be admitted to the G7, the group of the world’s seven largest economies. Smith and his coauthors estimate that if these Christians gave away 10 percent of their after-tax earnings, they would add another $46 billion to ministry around the world…one early finding: That estimate of $46 billion in additional giving is unrealistic, not because it’s too big, but because it’s too small. Estimating 10 percent giving for every committed Christian in the U.S. neglects two groups: those who truly can’t afford to give 10 percent (due to illness or unemployment or similar reasons), and those who are already giving more than 10 percent. If you calculate that 10 percent of Christians can’t give because of their financial limitations, most of the rest give 10 percent, and a handful of generous givers continue their current generous giving pattern, committed American Christians could realistically increase their giving by $85.5 billion each year.
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May our potential for generosity and the extravagant example of Boaz give us reason to be increasingly generous. May we be gracious as God has shown extravagant