Monday, July 23, 2007

Finding Favour - A sermon preached in Annalong on 22nd July 2007. Ruth 2:1-23

Would you do me a wee favour? Would you nudge the person sitting beside you, just to make sure they’re not sleeping? That’s good! Now we’re all wide awake!

I’m sure you’re familiar with the idea of a wee favour – something that you do for someone else (or that they do for you), out of the kindness of your heart. Or maybe when you hear the word favour, you think of the wee gifts that are distributed at wedding parties- normally sugared almonds or wee sweets. In fact, I was at a wedding over in Scotland last weekend, but for some reason, the favours were only available for the ladies.

As we turn to Ruth chapter 2 tonight, we encounter Ruth as the harvest is beginning. If you were with us this morning you’ll remember that Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi returned to Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was starting. They returned to Bethlehem because Naomi, her husband and sons had moved away during famine, but the men folk were all dead, and only Ruth had returned back with Naomi, pledging her faithfulness to her mother-in-law.

In the passage we’re going to see how Ruth finds favour in the eyes of Boaz – a very important man, as we’ll find both tonight and next week – and we’ll also see how Ruth’s favour is a picture of the favour we receive from God.

Notice, though, before we launch into the passage that verse one introduces the man Boaz, who is a relative of Naomi’s husband. In ancient Israel, family and clan links are vital for the possession and inheritance of the land. It’s as if the writer is taking a big bold pen, drawing attention to him now! And more than that, Boaz is ‘a man of standing.’

Take a look now to see the man of standing. He owns fields and has a team of harvesters, so presumably he was wealthy. But more than that, he was, as the ESV puts it, ‘a worthy man.’ We see his goodness in verse 9, as he tells Ruth he had told the men not to touch her – evidently others were not worthy, but he was. Was he a sort of Prince Charming in this unfolding romance?

Let’s look at verse two. Remember, Naomi and Ruth have returned to Bethlehem having fled famine. They probably only brought back the clothes they had on their back. So Ruth decides to go and pick up the leftover grain in the fields – but not any field, just ‘anyone in whose eyes I find favour.’

You see, the Old Testament Law provided some rules for agriculture. There were things like giving the land a fallow year, a Sabbath, so that it could be ‘rested’ too. But what concerns us here is in Leviticus 19:9 – ‘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 an the LORD your God.’

Our God is concerned for the poor, and those who have nothing. The Law therefore made sure that the poor would be able to glean whatever was left behind or dropped by the harvesters.

Ruth was able then, to go to any field and there should be something to glean. Do you notice the middle of verse 3? ‘As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.’ As it turned out. Just a co-incidence. Or was it? As we saw in chapter one, God was working behind the scenes in bringing his purposes, and we can see it here again.

After the formal (but probably heartfelt) greeting in the name of the Lord, Boaz was scanning the field when he saw an unfamiliar face. Who was the new girl working in the field, gleaning behind his harvesters? Was it that he knew she wasn’t a local girl? Who could it be?

The stranger is identified as Ruth, the Moabite girl who had returned with Naomi. So Boaz goes over to speak to her, and showers blessings on her. She is granted protection, supplies, water, and comfort. Look at verses 8 and 9.

Obviously Ruth recognises that Boaz is the owner of the field, and is overwhelmed by his generosity. ‘Why have I found such favour in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?’ In other words, why are you being so kind to me, even though I don’t deserve anything as I’m an outsider? In her opinion, his favour is undeserved, but gratefully received.

And why is it that Boaz favours her? First, he roots it in the kindness that she has shown to her mother-in-law; sticking with her, returning with her, and even abandoning home and family to do it. But then he shows that his favour is small compared to the favour of God. It’s as if his favour is just a smaller copy or version of God’s great favour. So he prays that she will find that great favour. Look at verse 12: ‘May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’

Once again we see that Ruth had not just left her family and been faithful to her mother-in-law Naomi. Rather, she had turned her back on her gods, and taken shelter in the God of Israel, the living God. It is by coming to the God of Israel that she will be richly rewarded.

Look at verse 13, as Ruth responds to the favour. Boaz gave her comfort and spoke kindly, ‘though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.’ Boaz pours out favour on her, even though she doesn’t deserve it, she has no standing. It reminds me of the parable of the Prodigal Son. Do you remember the speech he rehearsed as he travelled along the road home, reminding himself that he wasn’t worthy to go back. ‘I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:19) Even though he doesn’t deserve anything, he is met with his father’s favour, his father’s grace; restored to his position as a son and welcomed with open arms.

Look also at how Ruth responds in verse 13. It’s as if the rest of the story is being set up, as she requests continuing favour from Boaz – looking to the future, and pleading for him to protect her as he has done. Yet at the time, it appears as if Ruth doesn’t realise that Boaz is a relative of her family. Only later will she find out when she reports back to Naomi.

Do you notice that the favour shown towards Ruth is seen as kindness towards the living and dead (of her family) – we see this in verse 20, as Ruth tells Naomi of her day gleaning? But even more than that, do you see the change in Naomi?

Flick back for a moment to Ruth 1:20-21. There we see Naomi saddened, afflicted, empty, and she attributes it to the Lord, the Almighty. Then at verse 2 in our chapter tonight. It’s Ruth who takes the initiative and acts as the breadwinner. Naomi is still bitter, still (as it were) far away from Bethlehem, far away from God.

Look now at 2:19-20, and see the excitement of Naomi on seeing the rich blessings from the field of Boaz, and how quickly she turns to praise and blessing – ‘Blessed be the man who took notice of you!’ (19), ‘The LORD bless him!’ (20). The favour, and the blessings spill over into yet more blessings and favour.

Favour, or grace brings about this tremendous change in Naomi, and it ripples out!

As we look towards next week, Naomi declares that Boaz is not just a relative, but is a close relative; and even more than that, is a kinsman-redeemer. Boaz will have a specific function to fulfil in his bringing of favour, but we will see that next week.

For now though, you might be asking yourself what to do with this passage tonight. After all, what seems to be beginning to blossom into an ancient romance story in a harvest field might be touching enough, or slightly interesting, but how does it impact on our lives today?

This morning as we looked at chapter one, we saw that the picture of Ruth’s faithfulness was a reflection of the faithfulness of Jesus. So too, this evening, we see that the favour that Boaz shows to Ruth is a reflection of God’s favour towards us.

So far, I’ve used the word favour, but you might be more used to the word ‘grace’. Can you see how it links? The favour that Boaz showed to the foreign slave girl was completely undeserved; and how much more is God’s grace undeserved by us? Grace is when God gives us what we don’t deserve.

How he reached out on the cross, through Jesus, and offers us pardon and peace, forgiveness and freedom, new life and new hope. We didn’t deserve it at all, yet in love, in grace, he came to us and gave us all those blessings.

Like Ruth in verse 13, we didn’t even have the standing of servants, yet God in his grace makes us his children. Like Ruth in verse 10, we were foreigners, outsiders to God’s promises of mercy; we had separated ourselves because of our sins, yet God in his grace brings us into his kingdom. And like Ruth in verse 10, as she marvels over the favour, the grace that Boaz is showing her, so we will marvel and wonder over the grace that Christ has shown us through all eternity.

I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene,

And wonder how he could love me, a sinner, condemned, unclean

How marvellous, how wonderful, And my song shall ever be,

How marvellous, how wonderful, is my Saviour’s love for me.

Maybe you have been coming to church for many a year and have heard about the grace of God, but you’ve never experienced it, never known it for yourself. Won’t you come tonight, and take refuge under the wings of the God of Israel? That grace is there for you. The offer is open. Won’t you come, and know and rejoice in that grace?

Or maybe you’re like the Prodigal, knowing that you don’t deserve anything. God offers you his grace – the blessings he has for you – precisely because you don’t deserve them. You can’t win them for yourself, you can only be given them by the grace of God.

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