Serving is Sacrifice
We come to this text today, and approximately two months have passed since Ruth started gleaning from Boaz’s fields. Last week we saw the community building ‘hesed’ loving-kindness of Boaz at work as he humbly steps into Ruth’s sphere and serves her. First by offering protection to her. Then by serving her lunch, and finally by lavishly giving her massive amounts of grain from his fields through his field workers. He brought them in on the generosity and changed their perspective on Ruth. She’s no longer an alien scavenger, but now an adopted daughter, someone to care for, and give generously to. It’s a community activity. It is what we are all called to do together with and for one another. We’ve seen this kind of life on life togetherness happen in our own world, thinking back on the floods, thinking about how we serve one another and care for each other in our small groups. Speaking of which, if you’re not in a small group, the elders andI would love to help you find one to get plugged into. Our small group program is a great way to engage one another and serve each other. We encourage one another pray for one another and serve one another as we enter into life together. We are living out on earth what we are going to do for eternity with Christ in heaven. This is the greatest means of joy seeking on earth. Pursuing Christ together.
This week we’re going to be seeing service as a kind of sacrifice, but is a life producing sacrifice. We think about sacrifices in the old testament as the death of an animal, but what that death brings about is life. Life and freedom for the one for whom the sacrifice is made. We get to model this in our lives with one another and we’re going to see how this happens in our lives through the lives of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz.
The main point we’re going to see today is that serving is sacrifice, and we’re going to see it through two ways. First, in verses 1 through 5, we will see it through Naomi and Ruth’s interaction and serving one another as obedience. Then in the second interaction between Boaz and Ruth in verses 6-11, we’ll see that Obedience leads to sacrifice.Point 1, Serving others as obedience.
(Ruth 3:1–5 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? 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.””
We step into the scene back and it seems like Naomi and Ruth are at home talking. They are having this nice domestic conversation and Naomi says something we’ve heard her say before. “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” She said something similar back in chapter one when she was trying to convince Ruth and Orpah not to follow her and come with her back to Bethlehem. (Ruth 1:8–9 ESV) “But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Naomi is telling them to find their hope in a husband, not to remain with Naomi as she had nothing to offer them. Both of them refused at this point to take the bait of a potential future husband but to rather stay with Naomi. When we looked at this passage a couple of months ago we saw that Naomi is errantly pointing them to an empty hope of a husband. A husband won’t solve their biggest problem, only YHVH can do this. And he has. He has shown them himself in his providing food, protection, care, and community. He has been active in providing the right help at the right moment.
But Naomi still has Ruth’s marital future on her mind. But her heart has been changed. She’s not bitter with the Lord anymore, because her blinders have come off and she’s seen his hand at work for her benefit. Ruth came in with that first bundle of barley a couple months ago, and everything changed. Naomi saw hope. Naomi’s got a plan, and it almost feels like she’s had this plan for a while given what we saw her say last. Boaz had recommended that Ruth stay close to his young men, and Naomi offered the corrective that Ruth should stay near Boaz’s young women. I have to wonder if Naomi’s thought process of Ruth and Boaz together didn’t begin right here. Ruth obeyed those directions, (Ruth 2:23 ESV) “So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.” Ruth is an example of a good servant here. She’s serving selflessly, and doing what she is asked. She is following instructions and she is working hard, long days. But Naomi wants her to have rest, to have someone else provide for Ruth, so she expresses her desires and singles out Boaz as her target fro who Ruth should end up with. But it requires an intricate plan that she spells out for Ruth. Before we get to that, we need to be reminded why Boaz is the target of Naomi’s plan for Ruth. Boaz is uniquely qualified to step into the situation here because of his relationship Naomi through her deceased husband Elimelech. Boaz, as one of the clan leaders for the tribe of Judah and what is termed a “near relative”. We don’t know his specific relation to Elimelech, but he was probably a cousin of some degree. As widows, Naomi would come under his oversight to some degree. Family is family. We take care of each other. If my sister is falling on hard times she’ll probably call me up for advice or help. And I would gladly give it because of the relationship we have together. The same was true for the clans in the tribes of Israel. Boaz is an elder clan leader in the tribe. Not the top, and not the nearest relative, but certainly qualified as family to care for Naomi and Ruth.
In verses 2 through 4, Naomi lays out the plan for Ruth. The barley and wheat harvests are over, and its time to process what has been harvested. (Ruth 3:2 ESV) “See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.” This would be the point in the harvesting where the grain is freed from the head and the winnowing or the threshing is the process for doing this. The grain heads are shaken and tossed and the threshing floor would have airflow that would allow the chaff to be blown away by the wind and the heavier grain portion of the head would fall and piled up. These threshing floors would be flat areas, usually of large rock, and sometimes on the edges of hills where winds would be consistent. These events would often be community events and many would participate in threshing their own grain one day and help thresh their neighbor’s grain the next day. It would be a time of hard work and celebration for the harvest that came in.
Now this next bit is riddled with questions about what it is and what it isn’t. Anytime we are reading the Bible and we have questions, usually the easiest answers are found not by doing hours of research, but by continuing to read. First and foremost in studying the scriptures, we let the scriptures interpret the scriptures. Now let’s tackle this next passage.
(Ruth 3:3–4 ESV) “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.””
So here is the list of instructions. Wash, anoint, and put on your cloak. Washing is relatively straightforward. Clean up. Next is anoint. This would be roughly make yourself smell good. The NIV even says perfume yourself. That would be accurate here. Then put on your cloak, or garment, or the NIV here says your best clothes. Some argue that these instructions mimic what a bride would do. Some say they mimic what a prostitute would do, and when combined with the next instructions of lying down and uncovering part of his body, that these are overtly sexual instructions, and Ruth is seducing her way into a new situation. I can understand where that thought might come from, but the reality is something else. This pattern of activity is what those who mourn do when their time of mourning is over. Let me provide an example. God disciplined David for his actions with Bathsheba and against Uriah the Hittite.
(2 Samuel 12:14–20 ESV) “because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child who is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house. And the LORD afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, for they said, “Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us. How then can we say to him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, David understood that the child was dead. And David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes. And he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. He then went to his own house. And when he asked, they set food before him, and he ate.”
Naomi is telling Ruth that her time of mourning should be over and done with, and it is time to let Boaz know that she’s available and interested.
There is so much more at stake here than just finding Ruth a husband. It’s not just about her happiness or falling in love, though this story is romantic. It is about community care and being wise. Ruth its supposed to prepare herself then go to the threshing floor, staying hidden until Boaz lays down. Then in the cover of darkness she is to go to him, uncover his feet and lay down and wait for further instructions from Boaz.
Ruth then commits to do these things. In the next passage we’re going to see her do what she has been told to do. Ruth is a mode individual modeling for us as men and women how we relate to those in authority over us. But more than just obedience, its obedience as an expression of love. Ruth is obeying seeking the good of her master. She has made herself servant to Naomi. This is a willing submission that takes joy in doing what is right. (Exodus 20:12 ESV) “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” Kids hate it when this verse gets quoted, at least I did when I was a kid. The selfish view says, this just means I can’t ever do what I want to do. Of course that’s not actually true but a massive exaggeration of a lie. The truth is kids glorify God by serving Mom and Dad well. Married couples serve one another. (Ephesians 5:24–25 ESV) “Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” Those who are single serve their friends and family, and they receive service from their friends and family as well. We are all to submit to one another. (Ephesians 5:19–21 ESV) “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
It is an act of obedience to serve one another. We are obeying God. So obeying each other is an act of love.
Point 2: Obedience as sacrifice (vv. 6-11)
(Ruth 3:6–11 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! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 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.”
Ruth obediently follows her mother in law’s instructions. So waits until darkness falls, she watches where Boaz, worn out from work and full belly from eating would go to lay down. She creeps over to where he is, uncovers his feet and lays down, just like Naomi told her to.
Now in verse 8. (Ruth 3:8 ESV) “At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet!”
Imagine you’re sleeping peacefully outside on a top grade memory grain mattress, and someone uncovers your feet. What would startle you awake? It’s the cold. Naomi is one smart woman. Once he’s resting, we need a way for him and Ruth to have a private conversation that wouldn’t arouse suspicion of any kind of inappropriateness. Well technically, they are both in public, the rest of the workers and celebrants are all there as well, they just all happen to be asleep. So Naomi tells Ruth to uncover his feet expecting him to wake up. I can tell you from experience that this is an effective way of waking a person up in the middle of the night. I also can tell you that if this happens to you, and you take back the covers that have been stolen from you in your sleep, the odds of waking the thief next to you are about 50/50, so do this at your own risk.
Boaz turns over to find a new groove in his grain mattress and he is surprised to see a woman laying at his feet.To ensure Boaz not only wakes up but notices Ruth she is at his feet, so when he fixes the problem that woke him in the first place he find someone who wasn’t there when he laid down. He asks “Who are you?” Her answer is beautifully humble. “I am Ruth, your servant.” Now instead of waiting for Boaz to give her instructions, she gives him instructions. She tells him this is who I am and I’m going to tell you who you are. “Spread your wings over me for you are a redeemer.” This is a double entendre. A phrase that has two meanings. Wings means wings, like a bird would cover its young with its wings, but wings also means edge of a garment. This of us who have kids don’t have to imagine this because we’ve seen it. What child hasn’t taken a blanket or towel over their shoulders and pretended that it is a set of wings, and that they are flying. I’ve seen some of our own grace kids doing with their jackets and coats. So a couple of things are happening here. Ruth is telling (not asking) Boaz to cover her. First, it’s cold out, that’s what woke up Boaz in the first place, and Ruth is asking him to share his covers with her, but more than that, she is telling Boaz he should marry her, and that request is couched in the ground that he is a redeemer. “Spread your wings over me, FOR, you are a redeemer. She made the request not just about herself, but this request is now about her, its about Naomi, it’s about Elimelech, it’s about Mahlon, it’s about the future of the clan and the tribe of Judah, it is about God. God’s plan for the perseverance of the tribes, of the families, their protection.
This whole chapter acts almost as a mirror image of chapter two in a few ways. Both started out in a domestic setting with Naomi and ruth speaking, Both progress to a setting outside the city and Ruth and Boaz interacting, both will end with Ruth and Naomi back at the house talking again. Both of them involve blessings from he Lord which we’ll see in a moment, but what I want us to see right now is that the blessing that Boaz made over ruth in 2:12, Ruth is bringing up again. Look back at that passage. (Ruth 2:12 ESV) “The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!””
Boaz is saying that what the Lord should do is bless Ruth because of everything she has done for the sake of Naomi. And he proclaims it in the name of the Lord, YHVH, under whose wings Ruth has come to take refuge. Ruth has indeed found refuge in YHVH in Israel. She has found it in community, in her covenant relationship with Naomi, and in the generosity of Boaz. The Lord, like a mother hen, has gathered chicks up under her wings. Jesus talked about the people of Jerusalem with these same kinds of words. (Matthew 23:37 ESV) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Now Ruth looks to Boaz, you proclaimed that the Lord should do this, now you be the agent for this to happen indeed. It’s all fine and good that you show love to someone else by praying for them that something should happen, but how often are we willing to be the agent by which God should accomplish that purpose? We ask for God to work a miracle and there we stand with the means and the power to take care of this need and we stubbornly refuse to step in. This is what has been termed acting the miracle. Let me give you an example. If my neighbor comes to me and says Jonathan, my heart is troubled. I need to mow my lawn, but I am so disheartened. My lawn mower does not work, and I have no way of fixing it. I would tell him, brother, let’s pray that the Lord would provide some means that you could get your lawn mowed. I am confident that he is able and will do it. So we pray and I dismiss my neighbor and proceed to mow my own lawn, and then put away my mower in my garage. Davis! Hello! You have the means to be the miracle that your neighbor is praying for. And I’m too busy idolizing my personal relaxation and leisure to take on my neighbors trouble for myself.
Ruth is telling Boaz, I want you to be the means of the restoration that you have prayed for. I want you to be the miracle. You can do it, you should do it. Marry me, and through that be the redeemer for Naomi and I. Save us both with this act.
Boaz is blown away. (Ruth 3:10 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.” Boaz kept telling Ruth to stick with his young men. Naomi kept telling her to stick with the young women. And now Ruth looks to Boaz to be her husband. “You have made this last kindness greater than the first. Her first kindness that he is referring to is the clinging to Naomi, the leaving of her own country and people and the coming to Israel. Boaz is amazed at the sacrificial love he is witnessing. Boaz saw Ruth as free to do whatever she wanted to do, especially in her pursuit of a husband. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Boaz kept recommending Ruth to be with the young men. He knew his guys and trusted them and thought Ruth would make a good wife for one of them perhaps. But she looked past their youthful good looks, and looked to this older man. She took a wise practical approach. She took a sacrificial approach. She is doing what Naomi told her to do. Her obedience is a sacrificial gift. She says what you want me to do is what I will do. I give up my rights, I give up my concerns, I give up what is best for me and I choose what is best for you. Boaz sees this, he understands it, and he emulates it. We saw that in the way that Boaz gave to Ruth.
(Ruth 3:11 ESV) “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.”
He speaks with this affectionate term again, my daughter, highlighting the age difference between them, and he makes a commitment, a promise. Don’t fear. I like your idea. I will do for you what you ask. Everyone knows you are a worthy woman. How long did it take Ruth to make a good impression on the people of Bethlehem? Another astounding thing here is this descriptor that Boaz uses to describe Ruth. Worthy woman. This term for worthy is the same that was used to describe Boaz back in 2:1, and the only other time it is used to describe a woman, other than in the book of Ruth, is in Proverbs 31. An excellent wife, who can find, a worthy wife, a woman of value. Boaz testifies everyone in town knows it and he says yes to Ruth. Now this is significant, because as we’re going to see next week this sacrificial move is one that will impact his lineage. It’s not like Boaz has nothing to lose and everything to gain here. Boaz does what’s best for someone else, rather than what is best for himself. He’s trusting his inheritance with God, rather than keeping it for himself.
This whole book is a beautiful love story, we see the love Naomi has for her husband and her sons. The Love Ruth has for Naomi, the love that Boaz has for these women, but the most significant story of love is God’s love for his people. We saw it way back in chapter 1 verse 6, the Lord visited his people and gave them food. He kept his promise, he has always been faithful. Today is Palm Sunday and as we enter into Holy Week, we are reminded of God’s promises to visit us. He came as a baby, and we looked heavily into that prophesy back during the advent season, and this week we remember what he came to do. Just like Ruth and Boaz decided to do what was best for someone else, we remember how Jesus came to do what was best for us. He desires so much to be with his people, that he came bodily and lived among us.
Next week we’re going to watch as Boaz steps in to be the redeemer that Naomi and Ruth need, and we’ll see through it how Christ steps in to be our redeemer. Before he went to the cross, he was at the garden where (Matthew 26:39 ESV) “he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
He sacrificed himself, doing what was best for someone else. That someone else is us.
What might it look like for us to be shaped by this and do what is best for others, regardless of how it might cost us? It might mean standing up in a public forum and proclaim an unpopular truth. It might mean making a financial commitment to care for someone that will hurt your financial situation more than you want it to. The reality is, that all these sacrifices that we make when we are obedient to what God calls us to, these acts of sacrifice hold greater joy for us in eternity than what keeping them for ourselves will ever amount to on earth.
We get a chance to live like Christ (Hebrews 12:2 ESV) “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Who, (Ephesians 2:4–7 ESV) “being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”