Ruth 2:14-20 At mealtime Boaz said to [Ruth], “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough. Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. “The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”
Ruth and Naomi dominate the opening chapter of this book and we have seen some of the lessons that have been brought to our attention in the characters of those two women, the strength of Ruth and the troubled heart of Naomi. This has been to the encouragement and warning of the church of God throughout the ages and to us as we have studied it. But now we must turn to the other main character of the book, to Boaz. Men like Elimelech and his sons are very anonymous personalities in the opening chapter, but Boaz is fully drawn out in the last part of the book. He dominates it so much that you would think the book might well have been called ‘Boaz’ and not ‘Ruth.’ He is a very attractive figure and a fine example of the best Biblical virtues. This history took place long ago and far away and yet it has a striking contemporary relevance. I think it has much to say as it addresses mankind at the beginning of its third millennium after the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to look at a number of elements in Boaz’ character which I think are helpful particularly to men but to women also. The increasing number of conferences for Christian men indicate a concern for their spiritual maturity, and we want to show that we are no less interested in the full biblical character of Christian men being evidenced in our nation.
There are enough reasons for the decline of godly manhood but one of the chief causes has been the spread of modern theology with its insipid message absolutizing the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man and declaring little more than “God is Father and all men are brothers.” That has contributed mightily to the growth of an emotional and sentimental view of life in the church. I suggest that for the last two hundred years men in Wales have suffered an identity crisis. We don’t know who we are and what is expected of us. In the church there are the wimps who refuse to lead their wives and children, abdicating the calling they’ve been given by God. They are broadcasting geek rays all over the congregation. In the church are also some men who’ve embraced a machismo lifestyle, the ‘Jets’ the tough guys who’ve convinced themselves that they can run roughshod over their families. Let us find balance in biblical maturity as we consider Boaz’ character. What can we say?
- BOAZ WAS A MAN OF NOBLE CHARACTER.
You notice in the opening verse of the second chapter, even before we are told his name, Boaz is introduced to us as a man of standing. Now the Hebrew word gabar that the NIV is translating in that phrase ‘man of standing’ is a challenging word to translate. It has also been translated in this verse by ‘a man of great wealth’ and that is favoured by the King James and New King James translations, while the English Standard Version translates it as ‘a worthy man,’ which is a bit limp. Principal Macleod had an interesting suggestion in his sermons on Ruth that it should be translated ‘a warrior’ and if you check the various translations of this word in the NIV Lexicon (it is found 160 times in the Bible) you find that the NIV translates it 27 times by the word ‘warrior,’ 23 times ‘mighty,’ 17 times ‘mighty men’ and 12 times ‘fighting men’ (incidentally Dr. Johnson once said, “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not being a soldier.” Yes, and every man thinks meanly of himself for not loving God). I think what for me sways the argument to translate it a little broader here in the context of Boaz’ life is the fact that the same word in the feminine form is used to describe Ruth in chapter three and verse eleven as ‘a woman of noble character’ and she was no Amazon. So I think it is best translated here ‘a man of noble character.’ What does that mean? What is the Christian assessment of a noble character?
I am sure that Boaz was indeed a wealthy man, with land holdings, and men working for him, and other resources. I am certain that he was brave in battle, a knight as it were, and a natural leader, but most of all he was noble both in coming from a high social class in the community and exemplary in the nobility of his character. That is the emphasis that predominates in the picture of him that is carefully built up in this book, not so much his wealth, or his social class, or his fierceness as a warrior, but that he was a noble man of God, and full of integrity.
It is the combination of very different and even contrasting virtues in his character that make him so attractive, and that goes a long way to explain the variety of Christian characters you meet within the church, very different personalities who yet can work together with respect and mutual esteem in the congregation all of them reflecting something of the manifold graces of the Lord Jesus Christ. Here is a man of natural leadership, a man of wealth, and a warrior, who yet was obviously someone of genuine piety.
Look at his language, how he talks to Ruth of the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge (v.12). He is evangelical in the way he talks of his Lord. That is the language of a man who knows the Lord, but more important, a man who lives the life of one who knows the mercy of God. You notice how he speaks to his servants about Ruth; we are told, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her” (vv. 15 & 16). Then see how he speaks to Ruth and says to her, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” (vv. 8 & 9). Here is a man of compassion and thoughtfulness; we find the Lord’s name is often on his lips, and that God’s will is constantly referred to, that his life is lived in the consciousness of the presence of God, that his life is one of prayer, and one of obedience. It is a life of great humaneness, and kindness, and grace stemming from his fundamental religious convictions.
So as we begin to build up this picture of Boaz we have a man who is distinguished for his nobility of character, and yet he is not a cold fish. He is a very attractive, warm with a very human piety, gracious and considerate. He lives a Jehovah-centred life constantly, and yet the man has power, riches, rank and he’s a warrior; a man of God, a devout follower of the Lord and yet someone of outstanding courage on the fields of battle. It is that combination that I want you to memorize and focus upon now. I understand how sensitive most young people are about religion and about what image of the faith we project to their friends. Two of my teenage grandsons were last week watching the first of a video series introducing Christianity. At the end of the first session they were asked by their mother what they thought of it and the older one said, “A bit cringy,” and she agreed with him. That is why this portrait of Boaz is so important because of the amazing contrasts that it displays to teenagers concerning the life of this man. He presents an almost unthinkable combination of different graces. Our teenagers have no difficulty in manfully resisting their friends’ view of religion as something sissy and not for real men. These boys from Christian homes know that this is not the case because of their wonderfully manly fathers and uncles and the manly men who lead their churches. They can also know it from the Bible from this very masculine Old Testament Christian named Boaz.
Let me direct some words to the women for a moment because I have no intention of minimizing the value of the feminine virtues in the church of God, indeed, it is part of the message of this mighty little book to emphasize the value of feminine qualities. Ruth is a great example of all that women can mean to the church in every age. Here, as at so many other points, God’s word reminds us that the Christian faith gives full scope for the development and deployment of all that is finest in womanhood. That is emphasized in the book of Ruth. It is underlined frequently in the New Testament. There were those women who followed the Lord and cared for him. When his male disciples all forsook him and fled those women were the last at the cross witnessing his death, and they were the first at the tomb on the day of resurrection. There were those women also who were so helpful to the apostle Paul in his great missionary journeys. They were women of loyalty, self-denial, steadfastness, compassion and generosity. They symbolize all that women have meant to the church of God throughout its existence. It is significant that all the feminist courses in Women’s Studies that sprang up in the seventies have now been closed in every British university but for one, and even that one is unlikely to continue, but the Bible and the church of God is still studied by women all over the world, as it will be until the end of time. It is the one effectual liberator of women.
Yet the Bible emphasizes equally that this Christian faith allows full scope for all that is finest in manhood. It encourages what is best in the great manly virtues and in every humane and masculine quality. We see it in Boaz, a spiritual man and yet a warrior. We see that combination so often in the Old Testament. There was Abraham who was certainly a man of affairs and faith, and yet surprisingly showed he was a mighty soldier when his nephew Lot and his family were abducted. We find it also in David who was again an incomparable Old Testament fighter, the slayer of Goliath, but also a great statesman. We find it in the judges who showed strength of character and leadership but who loved God, and this was also true of the prophets. So that at all those levels we have this great emphasis on the manliness and the might and the heroic qualities of these men of God.
We find the same thing in the New Testament in the apostles. We see Peter, John and the apostle Paul, and they were men who were prepared to suffer for their faith. Whatever those men were they were not weaklings, they weren’t tremulous people with receding jaws; they weren’t cowards; they were not chocolate soldiers (as C.T.Studd described some he knew). Whatever their sins and weaknesses they were men of personality, character, courage and steadfastness. When you read the subsequent history of the church we find the same emphases. There were the martyrs who laid down their lives for the Christian gospel. All those who have faced the world’s hostility, and they went as pioneers into the unexplored parts of the world. I am thinking og men like William Carey, Hudson Taylor, John Paton and Jim Elliot. There are also those who have pioneered in the fields of scholarship, in science and medicine, each of them was a good soldier of Jesus Christ. They were men of God; men of prayer; men of repentance; men of a broken heart; men who could sob like children, and yet at the same time they were mighty men. They were giants because the gospel had developed great virtues in their lives. Coming to know Jesus Christ as Saviour had given them a full deployment of all their virtues, tenderness as well as righteousness; pity as well as justice. They were all-round men of God, and we have no right even to think that this whole way of life as a Christian in the 21st century is unmasculine and unmanly. Here we have this man Boaz, a noble person, a wealthy farm manager and yet also a man who loved the Lord.
Let me turn that for a moment and put it in a different way. We are told time and again in the New Testament that God makes his own people strong, and that the Christian life is pre-eminently concerned with strength. We have Paul saying to the Corinthian church that they should quit themselves like men and be strong, that to withstand the wiles of the devil they need to be powerful men, strong to face all the temptations and hostility of this world, mighty to bear their burdens and responsibilities, tough in bearing up in the occasional times of anguish of their own Christian pilgrimage. You find Paul praying for a congregation and he is asking that they might be strengthened by the might of the Spirit in the inner man. There is that same emphasis on being strong. Of course it is not the strength of the bully, or the tyrant who insists on his own way. It is not the strength of selfish aggression. It is not the ruthlessness of the businessman who wants to make money at all costs. It is fundamentally strength of character that gives men patience and consistency, that makes them prepared to face hardship, endure suffering and overcome temptation.
One of the things that I covet most of all is that the young men in our congregation become strong in those great ways, that those whose physical strength is developing might dedicate their resilience to the Lord, and present their bodies to God with all their strength and stamina and athletic prowess and rude young health. I long that the physique of every teenager be given to God. Then I want the same for their minds entrusted to them by the stewardship of the Mighty One, that their intellect should be made strong and that they should remember their Creator in the days of their youth. Never forget the Lord – especially when you are young! Let us use our brains, our thinking, the strength of our characters so that we might be warriors for God in the battle for men’s minds which is being fought everywhere in the world today. Let us be good soldiers of Jesus Christ, men of piety, men of prayer, men of contrition, men who sometimes can cry like babies and yet at the same time be men who stand in an evil day, and having done all still stand.
Let me challenge you again like this, that we have not right to plead our Christian testimony as an excuse for our failure in this world’s profession, or in our vocations, or in our business, or studies. Here is Boaz and he was a man who was consistently godly, and yet he was in every way equally consistently successful. He did his work with all his might, and he worshipped God with all his heart and mind and strength. He was mighty in his piety and he was mighty in the affairs of this world. Sometimes evangelical Christians have a personality complex thinking that they are discriminated against because of their faith and convictions. They’re not getting promotion, and tenure, and recognition, and they claim that this is because of their beliefs. Sometimes this happens, but it rarely happens. Let us be careful that this is not an excuse for us not being zealous in business or management or in whatever our calling may be. Think of Daniel, and Nehemiah, and Joseph and how they lived and worked in systems very alien to their faith and yet their gifts were honoured and they were promoted to the very height of leadership. I am saying that none of us has a right to say, “It’s because we are so pious that we didn’t quite make a go of our own vocation, or our own profession,” because here was this man, Boaz, and he was both a warm and earnest believer, and yet was completely successful in his own life’s work. So that is the first thing I would suggest to you with regards to Boaz that he was a man of very noble character.
- BOAZ BROUGHT HIS RELIGION TO BEAR VERY CLOSELY ON HIS DAILY WORK.
Now there are numerous clues to that. A very interesting one is seen in verse four of this chapter. We are told of Boaz moving amongst his workmen in his part of the communal field, and as he comes to them he says, The Lord be with you, and they answered him, the Lord bless you. Now that greeting is not conventional. It may seem common enough to us but it does not occur anywhere else, as far as I know, in the word of God. So there is complete sincerity behind Boaz’s use of that kind of salutation. That is the way he greeted his workers with such a longing and aspiration, that the Lord would be with them. The influence he had on them is evident from their own response to him as they shout out, “the Lord bless thee.” So his influence from the very beginning of the working day had left its mark – as is evident from that kind of exchange. Now I would suggest to you that there are very few workplaces and even fewer managers where the greetings and the intercourse are on that kind of level, and that seems to me highly significant.
Again, when Boaz meets Ruth he lapses again, as if by instinct, into religious conversation because that is the course of his mind. Although he is checking on the harvest, and that the men are working properly yet it is still how he thinks. He is looking at life constantly with that kind of perspective. He is bringing his religion to bear upon his own work. In other words, his life is not compartmentalized with his faith in one compartment and his work in another compartment. They are brought to bear upon one another in the closest possible manner, and that, surely, is highly instructive. Boaz brings his religion, and beliefs and his God right down into his day to day occupation. He doesn’t live according to the principle that there can be no sentiment in business. He doesn’t say that in the world of commerce and agriculture and price controls a man has got to be ruthless. He brings both his godliness and his humanness to bear upon what is his own place of work.
We need to work it out for ourselves, how we are to relate our religion and our work. We should have some kind of working philosophy in that area and we ought to ask for a moment what guidance does God’s word give to us in that area.
i] Our labour has great inherent dignity.
Boaz was there amongst his own labourers; he wasn’t sitting back in his office wearing a tie. He didn’t regard his horny hands as a degrading symbol. One can be sure that he himself was involved very fully in the work that he was doing. Now I think that sometimes we misconceive the Bible’s teaching in this area because we know that the toil and the sweat and the sorrow are all consequences of man’s fall, and a part of the curse. But there was labour before there was any curse; there was the divine ordinance of work before man was expelled from Eden. There was labour in the Garden of Eden itself where man was called upon to till its ground. Before ever he fell man was told to replenish and subdue the earth. Man sweated before he sinned.
We should try to see our own labours, whatever they may be, physical or mental, manual or professional, we should try to see them as going back to God’s mandate, something in fact which is an extension of the image of God in us. I mean by that more directly something like this, that we are to reflect the Creator’s creativity. Of course we can never create anything out of nothing; we lack that power, but we are still called upon to fashion, and make, and produce, and manufacture, and invent, and discover. That is part of the dignity of our own work.
Now it may very well be true that you can say to me today, “But my job doesn’t allow creativity,” and if that is the case I think it is enormously sad, and very dehumanizing and degrading, and part of the evidence of the disorderliness of our society. Yet for the most part we should be able to see in our own callings and our jobs something that has a dignity, that it is the kind of labour that God had in mind when he gave us the mandate to replenish and subdue the earth, and that we ourselves are, in our own work and professions, to reflect the creativity of God, whether it be physical or mental creativity, whatever we do, whether it be manufacturing or in the caring professions, in building or decorating or maintenance, that we are doing something that is dignified. It may be manual; it may be mental, but whatever it is then it ought to be something that goes right back to the Garden of Eden, and it is involved in a man being made in the image of God, and that it is a reflection of the Creator’s own creativity. Then there is something else involved here too, a reminder to us of something that runs right through the portrait of Boaz;
ii] The law of God is to be brought to bear in its entirety upon our work.
Even in the church there is a tendency for men to say that you can’t apply the morals or ethics of the Biblical teaching to commerce, or industry, or economics, or perhaps even to the professions. Now I think we must persuade people of the great advantages of living everywhere by the law of God, and that we as Christians are controlled by the ten commandments in every aspect of our human activity. It certainly controlled Boaz as he walked onto the field that morning, and it controlled his management and it controlled Ruth in her gleaning, and it controlled the workmen in their relationship with her. Boaz especially exemplified those great principles. We are bound by the first table of the law; in all our toil we acknowledge the sovereignty of God, and in all our daily work we honour the name of the Lord. We don’t mar our work with expletives; we don’t use the divine name blasphemously. We are bound in our labours to the utmost of our power to observe the sanctity of the Lord’s Day. We are bound in our work by all the great sanctions of the ‘second table of the law’, the sanctity of private property, the sanctity of truth, the sanctity of a man’s reputation, the sanctity of marriage, the sanctity of life, the sanctity of health. We are bound to observe even the great prohibition about the sin of covetousness. Men will rise and tell us that this is hopelessly impracticable. They will tell us that in many kinds of profession and commerce we’ve got to bend the truth. We’ve got to be ruthless with a competitor’s product. We have to move in and destroy a man’s reputation. Men will say to us that you can’t survive in business if you live by the Sermon on the Mount. They say that in the world of business you have the law of the jungle, and that only the fittest survive. You have to cut corners, and be tough, and self-assertive. There was in the 19th century a famous Anglican Dean in Oxford named Dean Jowett and a businessman once came to him with a moral dilemma. All his competitors were cheating in this business, and the only way he could keep his business going was by joining them and also cheating. Yet this troubled him; what should he do? Dean Jowett thought of this dilemma for a few minutes and after a while counselled the man thus, “Cheat as little as you can.”
Now it seems to me to be utterly calamitous that any Christian should offer or entertain such sentiments. We have no right to go into the most competitive field of human endeavour in any other spirit than the spirit of the cross. We have no right in any walk of life to cheat a little, or lie a little, or be a little unfaithful. We have no right in any walk of life to be content with any ideal that is short of the absolutely honourable, and dignified, and the venerable. I cannot believe that God who knows the world better than any of us know the world, that that God should give us standards of conduct for our behaviour that are impractical and hopelessly idealistic. If there are callings in which it is impossible to observe the Christian ethic then they are not Christian callings. If there is work which you can do only by lying and cheating then you cannot be a Christian in that work. Find another job. However, if they are lawful callings then it is possible in every one of them to translate those great principles into reality, to make them the absolute norms of our conduct.
If we are in the world of business and commerce, or if we are even in the jungle of politics them I believe these great principles are workable there, and that is why God gave them. We are bound by God’s great sanctities in every relationship. In every sphere we are to do the Christian thing. God demands perfection from us, and God’s judgment rests on anything less than that. But God has provided perfection in the life of his Son Jesus Christ, and God has punished our imperfections also in him. So salvation is not by law-keeping but through entrusting ourselves to the great law-keeper and law-satisfier Jesus Christ.
- AS A RESULT OF HIS HARD WORK BOAZ COULD HELP OTHERS.
There is that very simple word which the apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians. He said this, He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need (Ephs. 4:28). According to the Bible we can divide up society into three classes of people, thieves, workers, and the needy. The needy are people who for one reason of another cannot work. They are the elderly like Naomi, the unemployed refugee, people with learning difficulties. Then there are thieves who must be eliminated from society while they steal, and if you read the weekly town newspaper then our community is full of thieves. We are surrounded by Ali Baba and his forty thieves. They are to be apprehended, punished, made to pay back what they have stolen in restitution, and taught to work. The needy have the right to exist in every society. They are not to be despised, nor should they be embarrassed by their plight. The Christian knows that six days he must labour and that this work means great betterment for himself and his family, and that he can use his financial power to alleviate the needy in their distress.
Have you learned that it is a redeeming gospel that we find in the Bible? This is the way the Bible is. It calls for nobility of life, for diligence and applied energy, but it does so in order that social life may be enriched by the seasoning of compassion and sacrifice and thoughtfulness. Learning to work as Boaz worked – how crucial it is – but you and I know of men who have worked themselves to death just so that they might enjoy luxury and power and security. Men enslaved by the possessions they’ve acquired are amongst the most pitiable spectacles of the age, but those who work to God’s glory, whose eyes have been opened by grace to see the need of our generation’s Ruths, whom they proceed to help cheerfully, are beautiful people, the only beautiful people.
What about you? Have you learned to work? It is never too late to learn, you know. If you are having trouble keeping a job and enjoying your work, then find some help. With all that I invite you to turn to the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you see now how this religion which he has founded is so very helpful even when it comes to something as very practical as your job? From 9 to 5 he is a Saviour; Monday to Fridays he is a Saviour; Saturdays he is a Saviour; summer and winter evenings he is a Saviour. As a child, as a teenager, in your first job he’s a Saviour. When you see yourself and your life and your world in the light of Christ’s revelation you will want a personal Tutor and Counsellor, and that is what Christ is to all who are his. When he died on Golgotha he died for our sins in our workplace. Ask him to shelter you from the wrath of God by his precious blood. Begin to read his word as his daily counsels to yourself. Be in your place every Sunday and at the mid-week meeting. The Lord Jesus Christ will teach you . . . many things. He will teach you how to work and become a man of Christian nobility.
17th February 2008 GEOFF THOMAS