Ruth Part 3
Ruth 3; Hebrews 12:15
Have you ever been bitter about anything?
And this little guy expresses the nature of tasting something bitter really well.
That’s how it can be in the soul as too.
We try to spit it out.
We want relief.
Because the very nature of true bitterness is that there is nothing sweet in it. It is devoid of anything pleasurable.
And while the old adage that time heals all wounds is demonstrably false, what can happen in time, is that the immediate sting of something bitter, the initial shock and impact can begin to fade. Especially if we don’t foster it. If, IF, we don’t keep going back for another bite.
And then, there is something even more. How bitterness cannot just fade, but be actively overcome.
And we’re about to see how that reality worked in the life of Naomi – and how we too might find something of great spiritual benefit to our own souls in the further unfolding of this narrative.
If you’ve not been with us, we have been exploring this little Old Testament book of Ruth – where a Jewish family of 4 migrated to a nearby land to wait out a famine.
But during that time, the head of the family, Elimelech died leaving his widow – Naomi with her 2 sons.
In time, these 2 boys married young ladies from this foreign land, and they too died – leaving Naomi not only a widow, but bereft of her 2 sons as well.
Naomi decides to go back home to Bethlehem, and her 2 daughters-in-law attempt to go with her. Upon discussion, the 1 returns back home, but the other – Ruth, will not abandon her mother-in-law and does return with her.
And as we heard from Naomi’s own lips when she saw her old friends and neighbors: Ruth 1:20 ESV / She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
She is bitter. Understandably so. And yet as we have seen, at least some of her bitterness is due to some wrong assumptions about God. This is why bitterness is all she has in the midst of her genuine sorrows.
When the goodness of God is blocked from view, by ourselves OR others – bitterness is all that remains.
Wrong views of God will inevitably take their toll on our souls. Right views of God are crucial to our spiritual health.
And it is when bitterness is all we can see, when we have miscast or misunderstood God, that anguish and hopelessness add all the more to our bitter lot.
Worse, we cannot or will not even go to Him in our distress, because – as Naomi did – we blame Him FOR our distress as a wrong done to us.
But by God’s grace, that is about to change.
Our account has moved along at a pretty good clip.
As best as we can tell from the text, from the time Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem, to the end of the wheat harvest – was just about 3 or 4 months. (see: 2:23)
And it is at this point that Naomi begins to emerge from her fog of grief and disappointment.
Ruth 3:1 ESV / Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?
Naomi is finally beginning to think beyond her own pain, and comes up with a plan for the future – at least for her beloved and devoted daughter-in-law.
Ruth 3:2–5 ESV / Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
On the face of it, this might seem pretty sketchy to us, but in that time and culture, the plan made sense.
While some conjecture this reference to uncovering Boaz’s feet has sexual overtones, the more I’ve studied it, the more I am inclined to agree with most commentators who see it simply as a way of making him gently uncomfortable so that he takes notice.
Ruth’s virtue is already a celebrated fact. Boaz himself will speak to that. But the simple fact is, in the cool air of the night, uncovered feet would warrant attention. And it did – as we see next. And when else might she be able to get Boaz alone to do what she is about to? This is a good plan.
Ruth 3:6–8 ESV / So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet!
And it is at that moment that Ruth says something odd to our ears, but perfectly sensible to theirs:
Ruth 3:8–9 ESV / At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
That last sentence is helpfully rendered more fully in the NET.
Ruth 3:9 NET / “I am Ruth, your servant. Marry your servant, for you are a guardian of the family interests.”
I’ll explain what legal mechanism is at work here next time – but the root issue is plain – she’s proposing to him!
And Boaz, for all his late night foggieness doesn’t skip a beat: Ruth 3:10-11
Ruth 3:10–11 ESV / And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.
Yes! Yes, I’ll marry you. In these past months you have demonstrated what a worthy woman you are.
And his answer tells us more. He admires the fact that she didn’t just seek out someone to meet her own needs and make her happy or someone superficially attractive – she has approached him because she knows the impact it will have on Naomi especially.
Yes, there is romance here that has been building all along, but there is far more than romance afoot.
But, he explains – there’s a complication.
Ruth 3:12–13 ESV / And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”
I can do this, but someone has some rights in this matter that need to be dealt with. But getting that out of the way – I’ll follow through.
So he tells her to stay there until morning. At his feet. The propriety of it all remains intact.
Ruth 3:14–15 ESV / So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city.
So, getting up before anyone has a chance to misconstrue anything, she heads back to Naomi – this time with 60 lbs. of barley – a hefty demonstration of his being more than willing.
Once home she and Naomi talk it out.
Ruth 3:16–18 ESV / And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ” She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”
Naomi takes note of Boaz’s response and assures Ruth he won’t let this matter go until he settles it post haste.
And so they wait to see what the new day will bring.
Now what are we to make of all these developments? And how in the world do we make any reasonable application of all this to the Gospel and to ourselves?
Once again, let me just make a series of observations. For there is much here, and that, on several very different fronts.
Let’s go back first to examine the issue of bitterness that has played such a role in this story from the beginning. I really need to develop this first one more than the rest.
Observation 1: For the Christian, bitterness is an enemy to be combatted, not an unchangeable condition to be accommodated.
Yes, in time, bitterness begins to fade and Naomi’s thoughts turn from her own misery to seeking blessing for Ruth’s. This is the natural progression for most who are spiritually healthy. But there is more going on here.
Of all of the enemies Believers have in spiritual growth, none is as dangerous as the self-pity which then gives way to bitterness.
As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us:
Hebrews 12:15 ESV / See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
When we lose the sense of God’s grace, that we are favored by Him because of Christ – a root of bitterness can spring up and cause trouble – and not just for us – it defiles many others in the process. It impacts those we come into contact with.
It does so because at the bottom of it is our judging God to have dealt with us unfairly, wrongly, or even sinfully.
Bitterness, is the human heart accusing God.
And when we have gotten things so upside down that we imagine God has to answer to us for wrongs done or permitted by Him – we have no place to go. For now, standing in judgment upon God, WE have become god to ourselves. Our conception of justice, fair-play and wisdom is the standard by which we judge all things – even Him.
This is what makes bitterness such a pernicious and dangerous evil.
Yes, Naomi had been bitter. But you see here how she begins to deal with her own bitterness: By seeking to minister to another.
She finally starts to take the focus off of herself and her misery, and begins to investigate how she can bless her Daughter-in-law.
And it is in this, she begins to find relief.
Is she any less a widow? No.
Is she any less bereft of her 2 sons? No.
Is she any richer or more secure? No.
Is she any less heart broken? No.
Is she any less lonely? No.
But those things begin to lose their all-encompassing grip on her as she seeks to go outside of herself.
And here is another very great lesson: The question is not, do Christians sin, and sometimes cave in to the same things which devastate others? the question is – what do we do with our sin in time?
So Jesus tells Peter that he is going to be exceedingly weak and deny Jesus most horribly – BUT, Jesus says that he has prayed for him that his faith not fail, and when Peter has “turned again” – to strengthen his brothers. : Luke 22:32
Do you see it? When he had turned again, returned, come back on the path…
Naomi has turned. And bitterness is not just fading, she is taking intentional action to step out from herself and minister to Ruth. Not as a technique, but as health.
As the Hebrews text notes, the way to prevent a root of bitterness from springing up is to not “fail to obtain the grace of God”. It is the same word here as used in Heb. 4:1 where the meaning is that is we are not watchful, we can fail to obtain something through our own fault.
In the midst or aftermath of bitter experiences, the Christian has both the privilege and the duty to draw from what they know is the reality of living in the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
But we can fail to lay hold of it. We can want to wallow in our misery. To keep going back and biting the lemon over and over in our minds. Never letting go of the hurt – which means we have no capacity to take hold of the reality of God’s grace.
We see this same principle at work in the opening chapter of 2 Corinthians. How does Paul fortify himself against bitterness given his extreme trials?: 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
2 Corinthians 1:3–4 ESV / Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
Our sufferings are not our own he says. Because of the grace that is ours in Jesus Christ – we look at our sufferings and seek God in them, that we might redeem them to benefit others.
But if we just keep going back to our failures, disappointments, sorrows and woes – and keep biting the lemon – then all that we will taste is bitter. When we will not seek Him as our personal comfort, there will be no sweetness in any of it. And it will spill over and affect others too.
Can I give you an experience out of my own life?
I’ve shared some of this before but in the early 90’s, our family through a very bad season, and the battle against self-pity became a daily struggle for me.
I was upset. And most especially in pain and frustrated because I was unable to make my daughter’s pain go away. That helplessness in the face of her pain was unbearable.
And I got angry and resentful.
By God’s good grace we were surrounded by solid, loving, steadfast (I’ll come back to that), godly people. And the Lord led me over and over again to books which challenged me to trust in the loving, sovereign hand of God in it all.
Chief among those was Thomas Watson’s incredible: “The Art of Divine Contentment.”
Seeing that I was weak and prone to growing bitter inwardly, it dawned on me that if I didn’t do something, it would consume me. It would spill over into anger and false accusation against God.
Worst of all, it would prevent me from pointing my daughter back to Christ – where we both needed to go.
Building off of my daily quiet time or devotions or whatever you want to call it, it dawned on me that if I was not getting something out of my devotions which was worth passing on to someone else – then I probably wasn’t getting anything substantive for my own soul either.
A gift of God’s grace at the time was my daily commute. Pre-cell phones, I had 77 miles each way to work every day. Time which became my desperately needed prayer time.
So I placed an online ad which simply read: “Biblical counseling from a Reformed perspective – anonymous, via email, free.”
And nearly 3,000 emails later, I had to shut it down because I could not keep up with the traffic and work at my job as well.
And what was happening? I was sharing the Gospel and Biblical truths with people all over the world. I started writing daily devotionals for them knowing many had no church home. I had subscribers in about 20 countries, with my #1 constituency being Orthodox Jewish men who wanted to ask questions about Christianity, but didn’t know any Christians in their communities. And even if they did, to ask would have seen them ostracized. One of those dear men was the editor of the Jewish World Review – who listened intently to the Gospel many, many times.
But the bottom line to that is – it kept me from spiraling into bitterness, depression and despair. Did I have my moments? You bet. But in reaching out to others in Christ’s name – bitterness lost its grip, and was replaced by incredible blessings I have no time to share here.
Observation 1: For the Christian, bitterness is an enemy to be combatted, not an unchangeable condition to be accommodated.
Observation. 2: See how Ruth’s faithfulness and commitment is used by God to minister to Naomi’s heart.
It is the simple steadfastness of Ruth and her commitment to Naomi that seem to be powerfully restorative to her.
We don’t read of long and deep counseling sessions. No rebukes, advice, cajoling or manipulation.
Sometimes, the very greatest ministry we can offer to others in their sorrow and grief is simply to remain steadfast and committed – for us to remain undeterred. They need to see that there there are still some things which do not change. Those who still trust, when their faith is shaken.
They need to see that God is still good and that there are those who are not derailed by it all.
They need living examples of commitment to Christ to remind them that He is still there, still good, and still the Redeemer.
Ruth just lives with Naomi in her grief. She just continues to live life with her. Working hard. Doing her daily things. Living out the commitments she made back in chapter 1. She has left her people and made God’s people her own – there is no going back for Ruth.
And she has made Naomi’s God her God. There is no going back there either.
She isn’t thrown by Naomi’s sorrow. She just continues to live rightly before her. And in time, Naomi – experiencing this steadfastness and care, begins to soften again.
Believer – you have no idea how simply remaining true to God’s Word and God’s truth in this present dark age serves as the light and salt which is so desperately needed by others.
Looking for a ministry? Titus 2:1–2 ESV / But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.
The world, and our fellow believers are in desperate need of steadfast brothers and sisters.
Observation 3: The amazing audacity of saving faith.
She, Ruth, actually proposes to Boaz. She seeks out marriage. And so it is in our great need, faith breaks convention in seeking God’s blessing.
This is how we all come to Christ in salvation isn’t it?
We come with nothing. With no claim on Him ourselves. Ruth is a foreigner and so are we.
We bring nothing to the table. And like Ruth we cry out, “Marry me!” Bankrupt, destitute except for grace, we look to Him to take us to Himself that we might become beneficiaries of all He has.
Now it is true that Ruth was getting hints of Boaz’s favor toward her before this moment. But a kindly disposition versus taking on all her baggage are 2 very different things.
Calvin rightly argues that no one ventures to come to God except they first have some sense that He will be propitious toward them. This is why we preach the Gospel of a reconciliation made through the blood of Christ and make it known to the whole world.
So he says: Faith consists not in ignorance, but in knowledge—knowledge not of God merely, but of the divine will. We do not obtain salvation…because we are prepared to embrace every dictate of the Church as true…but when we recognize God as a propitious Father through the reconciliation made by Christ, and Christ as given to us for righteousness, sanctification, and life.
John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 1997).
We tell men based upon the Word of God that if they come and place their trust in Jesus, He will save them. And He will!
Boaz’s actions toward her so far have been indicators that he is favorably disposed toward her and it gives her the boldness to try jumping in with both feet. And so she does.
And if you are not a Christian here today this is how you become one.
You come to Jesus, who is not properly your kinsman, but who you nevertheless stand in some relationship to in that He was as much fully man as He was and is fully God – and taking the God of the Bible as your God, His people as your people, His Word as truth – and without having any natural claim on Him, nothing to offer Him, nothing to recommend you – cry out -MARRY ME! Take me as your own! Receive me! I believe your promises and on that alone I stand.
And He will. Today. Right now. He’ll make you His very own and you will have all that is His as surely as a new bride takes full ownership of all her husband has.
Which leads us to –
Observation 4: How Christ delights when we willingly forsake all others that we might have Him.
Ruth could have had some young Turk that appealed more to her fleshly desires. Younger. Handsomer in the natural. Maybe more exciting, more intriguing, more typical.
Boaz is no idiot. He is well aware that if it came down to just personal taste, he was probably not the first name on the ticket. He would have been a left swipe on her Tinder App.
But this is the very nature of salvation – it brings us to see and desire and love the one who at first is most contrary to our natural, fallen desires.
Perhaps you would prefer a salvation more dependent upon your own goodness. More achievable. More doable by good works, rites, rituals and based upon your not being “so bad”.
Maybe a salvation that doesn’t sound so archaic – a bloody sacrifice for our sins after all. It offends our more genteel sensibilities. A salvation that is more hip and socially acceptable. A salvation where I don’t have to repent or acknowledge that I deserve an eternal Hell for my rebellion against God.
But that is not the salvation He offers.
We must take Him, and take Him exclusively, irrespective of any natural tendency we have within ourselves to want some other system, some other means other than pure grace without merit, and on the basis of His substitutionary atonement. But this is the only salvation He offers.
And as the Scripture notes in Hebrews 11:6 ESV / And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
He is pleased only when we take Him at His Word, and run to Him forsaking all others, that we might cling only to Him.
Christ delights when we forsake all others that we might have Him. In fact, it is the only way which He will have us.
Lastly, and very sweetly
Observation 5: Look at how Christ Jesus guards the propriety of His Bride.
I love how Boaz is so concerned that no one think ill of Ruth, even as she has risked so much to be this vulnerable before him.
Ruth 3:14 ESV / So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.”
And isn’t this like our Jesus? We come to Him with our sins, our brokenness, our filth – and He does not make a habit of parading those things before others.
You see it in how often He took some people aside to heal them when He saw crowds gathering.
He never makes a spectacle of His bride, never needs to bolster His ego by saying “look at how I had pity on such a lowly, undeserving creature.
No, He elevates those He saves. He puts His name upon us. He holds the confidences of our confessions of sin in His own bosom and shares them with no one else.
He has no desire to humiliate His beloved. He cherishes, delights in and protects her. As the imagery of vs. 9 puts it so charmingly, He spreads His wings over His servant.
The language in that verse is taken out of Ezekiel 16:8 ESV / “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.
It speaks of how God found Israel when she was pitiful castoff from the rest of the world, and how tenderly He loved and cared for her. And it is the sweetest model of the tenderness and care with which the blessed Lamb of God treats all those who come to Him in faith.
How He elevates, dignifies and makes us His own.
If you are not a Christian here today – Jesus did not come to humiliate you in your sin, but to bear your humiliation Himself on the tree – that you might be cleansed of every sin and stain and made upright, pure and holy in His sight.
And Believer, look again at how the sin of bitterness seeks to ruin your your soul – and see to it that you not fail to obtain the grace which is yours in Christ. Fight the bitterness in the love toward others which only His Spirit can grant. And come to know the sweetness that is yours in Him once more.