My Heart Is Filled with Thankfulness

Ruth 2:17-23 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” 20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.” 21 And Ruth the Moabite said, “Besides, he said to me, ‘You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.'” 22 And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.” 23 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.

Welcome back to Ruth. Welcome back to an amazing story of God’s subtle kindness to his people, through his people. Welcome back to the winding path of glory. Once again, we’ll continue on with the story to the end of chapter 2. We’ll also consider the nature of the redeemer mentioned in 2:20 and the three ingredients of a heart filled with thankfulness. Please pray that God’s hidden providence, his goodness, and his amazing grace would become increasingly clear to us in order that we might increasing live every moment of every day in light of them.

If you’re just joining us we’re half way through the book of Ruth. It’s a truly remarkable story of the winding path of glory—the often difficult and confusing road (from our perspective) that God leads his people down, on our way to eternal life. In particular, it’s the bitter and sweet story of the family of an Israelite named Elimelech.

On account of her rebellion God sent a famine to Israel. Rather than repent and remain where God had commanded him to, Elimelech took matters into his own hands and led his family, his wife (Naomi) and sons (Mahlon and Chilion), to a neighboring, pagan country called Moab. While there Elimelech died, his sons took Moabite wives (Orpah and Ruth), and then they (the sons) died too. More than a decade later, widowed, vulnerable, and in a foreign land, Naomi heard that the famine may have lifted and so she determined to head back home. Orpah decided to return to her parents’ home, but Ruth “clung” to Naomi and, more importantly, determined to place her hope in Naomi’s God.

The two women made it back to Bethlehem. Naomi was broken and bitter. Her belief that the LORD had anything good for her had all but vanished. But Ruth’s fresh, new hope and God’s hidden grace carried the story along. With Naomi’s blessing Ruth went to find a field in which the landowner would allow her to pick the barley that the harvesters left behind (the harvest had just begun).

According to the kind and good providence of God Ruth “happened” to end up in the field of Boaz, a relative of Elimelech’s and a God-fearing man. Upon meeting Ruth Boaz not only allowed her to glean in his fields, but he also bestowed truly remarkable protection and generosity upon her and Naomi. That’s where we’ve been.

This morning, then we pick up near the end of Ruth’s first day of working in Boaz’s field. After the initial encounter with Boaz, and after a meal with Boaz and his workers, Ruth continued to glean until evening—a long, long day of hard work. After gleaning she prepared her barley for transport (beat it out)—about 35lbs, a further testimony to Boaz’s generosity—and then took it to the place she was staying with Naomi. Amazed at her harvest, Naomi asked Ruth where she had gleaned and, even prior to knowing the answer, praised the man who “took notice” of her. Upon hearing that it was Boaz who had bestowed such kindness on them, Naomi broke out in thanksgiving and praise. He had provided the women with exceptional generosity.

And yet still unbeknownst to Ruth (remember, the narrorator had prepared the reader by introducing Boaz at the beginning of the chapter, but there’s no indication that Ruth yet knew of him), the main source of Naomi’s joy and excitement was not Boaz’s gift of food. More than just the immediate blessing, Naomi recognized that Boaz was a redeemer (more later) and might possibly be a means of long-term provision as well.

Do you remember the Hebrew word, ḥeseḏ? It’s a critical word in the OT (occurring more than 250 times) describing (primarily) God’s disposition to his faithful people. It’s a combination of love, mercy, grace, kindness, goodness, benevolence, loyalty, and covenant faithfulness. The heart of Naomi’s praise centered around her recognition of God’s ḥeseḏ toward her through Boaz, “May he [Boaz] be blessed by the LORD, whose [the LORD’s] kindness [ḥeseḏ] has not forsaken the living [Ruth and Naomi] or the dead [Elimelech, Mahlon, and Chilion]” (2:20). Naomi’s heart swelled at the thought that God’s countenance had lifted toward her. They might no longer need to fear for their lives.

Even as Naomi rejoiced at what Ruth had told her, Ruth continued on in describing not only the provision, but also the protection Boaz provided. Ruth recalled that Boaz not only promised to let her glean throughout the entire harvest (“until they have finished all my harvest [barley and then wheat]”, 21), he promised the protection of his young men while she worked.

Naomi and Ruth were vulnerable in that they had no certain means of provision. They were also vulnerable in that without husbands or fathers to look out for them they were extremely susceptible to the abuse and extortion of others. In one “chance” encounter God took care of all of that for a time (and possibly longer), through the simple kindness and obedience of Boaz.

Naomi and Ruth both acknowledged the goodness and rightness of this arrangement and therefore received it and kept it with gladness throughout the harvest.

Again, the story continues in an increasingly sweet way. With God working quietly in the background, things seem to be getting better and better for the women. Since returning to Bethlehem God’s providence had made the winding road of glory ever straighter and more pleasant.

For the seventh time in seven sermons I want to remind you that the story of Ruth puts on display that which is always happening. Ruth doesn’t teach much in the way of doctrine. What it does though is almost as important: it shows us what our doctrine looks like in real life. We can study the doctrine of God’s providence or God’s goodness or God’s plan for the world—and we should—but Ruth helps us to see it played out. It’s one thing to study the fact that God works all things for the good of those who love him, it’s another to see what it looks like when life is hard and when it seems as if God has left. While we don’t always walk the same stretch of road that Naomi and Ruth walked, God is always at work in just the same way (sometimes silent, sometimes mysterious, sometimes bitter, but always working and always for good).

Once again though, as some questions are answered, more surface. Would Boaz keep his word? Would he remain a man of integrity? Would his protection extend beyond the harvest season? What does it mean that he is “one of our redeemers” (2:20)? And what is the essence and source of the deep gratitude of these women? Most of those questions we’ll answer in the coming weeks. The last two we’ll consider briefly now, beginning with the question of redemption.

In 2:19-20 we read of an exchange between Naomi and Ruth. In it Naomi asked Ruth, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” Ruth answered, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” Surprised and amazed “Naomi said to her daughter-in-law…’ The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.'”

Again, what did Naomi mean by “one of our redeemers”? Let me remind you of some of what I mentioned in my introductory sermon:

When God gave the Promised Land to the Israelites he divided the land up among the 12 tribes and commanded that his divisions be perpetually honored. Further, God commanded that the tribes divide the land among themselves and that those divisions be perpetually honored. The point was to keep one tribe from taking over the land of the other tribes, and within the tribes to keep some families from taking over the land of other families. God commanded these things so that his people would be able to provide for themselves and their families for as long as they possessed the land.

If for some reason, then, land needed to be sold, it could only be sold for a maximum of seven years and was eligible to be purchased back (“redeemed”) at any time. We see this in Leviticus 25.

Leviticus 25:23-25 “The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine. For you are strangers and sojourners with me. 24 And in all the country you possess, you shall allow a redemption of the land. 25 “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold.

In the Leviticus passage, for the good of his people, God created a system of redemption and an office of redeemer. Again, God’s reason for instituting these things was to keep his people from falling into long-term poverty. Knowing that providence and sin would produce many challenges, God devised a system to keep his people from taking advantage of one another and from generational servitude.

Upon returning to Bethlehem Naomi needed someone to redeem the land of her husband, Elimelech. Her only hope was that one of Elimelech’s relatives would take compassion on her, be faithful to God’s charge, and redeem them and their land. As with the gleaning laws, this was not certain. But in God’s kindness, the first field that Ruth entered was one of Naomi’s redeemers.

Grace, when reading through the OT law (which I’m doing in my QT), it can be easy to get lost in the countless rules and regulations that God gave to his people. While some make immediate and obvious sense (don’t murder), and while some are clearly wise and good (love the LORD your God with all your heart…), the purpose and beneficence of others is not so clear or obvious (don’t boil a baby goat in his mother’s milk).

Upon first inspection God’s commands concerning redemption and redeemers is probably somewhere in between. It seems like it might be a good idea, but we’re not quite sure. In this story, in our passage for this morning, however, we can begin to see the heart of God. If Boaz would continue to remain faithful to God’s charge (as he had in obeying the gleaning laws), then we will have in this story a perfect picture of what’s behind this and everyone of God’s laws—unmatched wisdom, kindness, and love. And if we can see those things we will not be able to help but join Naomi in marveling at the glory of God.

Let the word of God and the story of Ruth in particular be a reminder that God’s ways are uniquely and always good and beautiful and true. Even when it seems like obedience will lead to ruin, let us learn to trust the One who “ruined” his one and only Obedient Son in order to save the world.

As I mentioned earlier, I want to conclude by naming three ingredients of Naomi and Ruth’s thankfulness.

1 Thessalonians 5:18 says, ” Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” Psalm 107:1 says, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!” Ephesians 5:20 talks of giving thanks always. Colossians 3:15 commands the people of God to be thankful. Colossians 3:17 commands Christians to give thanks in whatever we do.

The commands of God to be continually thankful are clear. The question for all of us who fail to do so must be, “How?!”. How in the world is that possible when life can be so hard? When our kids can be so relentless? When our sickness can be so debilitating? When our bills can be so overwhelming? When our parents can be so demanding? When our friends can be so hurtful? How can we give thanks in all circumstances when our circumstances can be so frustrating and painful?

In Ruth 2 we are given significant help for answering that question. In it we see profound thankfulness from both Ruth and Naomi, and with a careful read, we see some clues as to its source.

We saw Ruth’s enthusiastic thankfulness early in the chapter when Boaz promised protection and allowed her to glean in his fields, “Then she fell to her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me…'” (2:10) and again “I have found favor in your eyes my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant…” (2:13). And in our passage for this morning, upon receiving the report of this kindness, Naomi’s spontaneous and beautiful thankfulness erupted as she declared, “May he [Boaz] be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”

Again, then, if we can figure out the source of their thankfulness, we’ll have help in becoming thankful and continuing in thankfulness ourselves. To that end, I want to name three ingredients of Ruth and Naomi’s thankfulness that we see in the story to this point.

  1. A genuine sense of need. To be thankful is to be filled with gratitude toward something or someone. But before that can happen, we need to have a genuine sense of need. Thankfulness is an attitude that can only flow out of someone who needs something they cannot get on their own.

    As we’ve seen over and over Naomi and Ruth had and felt profound needs. Having lost their husbands, being in a foreign land (Naomi), being women in that culture, being without money or possessions or land, coming back to a land fresh off a famine, being exceptionally vulnerable to those in power, etc. All of these things combined to produce a great feeling of the need for rescue and longing for help.

    The first ingredient of genuine thanksgiving is a genuine sense of need and these women had it.

  2. A genuine lack of a sense of entitlement. If we have a genuine sense of need, but believe it is the result of not getting something we deserve, we will not be thankful, but angry and resentful (which is why Naomi became bitter earlier). If we’re being honest, we often decide what we think we deserve and then get really upset when we don’t get it. Ruth and Naomi (in this section anyway) decided they deserved nothing and then were overjoyed when they got anything. We cannot be filled with thankfulness when we believe we’re not getting something we deserve or that in meeting our need someone is only giving us what they owe us.

    The second ingredient of genuine thanksgiving is a lack of a sense of entitlement and these women had it.

  3. A genuine reception of grace. Finally, thankfulness results when a recognized need is present, there is no sense that anyone owes it to us, and then someone unnecessarily meets our need for us. That’s the essence of grace—it is unmerited favor, unnecessary kindness, uncompelled sacrifice. Ruth and Naomi only hoped that someone would be kind to them—not because they were owed kindness, but because if they did not receive it they were doomed. And because God, through Boaz, went far, far beyond mere kindness, the women are recorded as overflowing with thankfulness on more than one occasion.

    The third ingredient of genuine thanksgiving is a genuine reception of grace and these women had it.

Both Naomi and Ruth possessed each of these ingredients and were therefore filled with thanksgiving at God’s kindness in Boaz. These women had a genuine sense of need, a genuine lack of a sense of entitlement, and a genuine reception of grace and these three things came together to produce an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Thankfulness filled their hearts.

If those are the main ingredients to being thankful, how do we get to perpetual thankfulness? How do we go from being occasionally thankful to being thankful in all circumstances? That is, how do we combine the ingredients in such a way that they do not fade?

The answer is that we look not primarily horizontally and situationally, but vertically and indicatively. That is, the answer is the gospel. Our horizontal and situational needs come and go, there are times when others do owe us certain things, and there will not always be a person around willing to extend us grace. But the gospel turns our eyes upward and therein reminds us that our greatest need, our need for rescue from our sin, is always present, that we deserve only judgment and wrath, and that God’s grace is always pouring over us through faith in Jesus.

If we know these things, if by God’s kindness we believe them with regenerated hearts, we will be forever (literally forever) filled with gratitude. It is only when we forget the gospel that thanksgiving will fade. For the gospel is the good news that nothing in this world, “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). And the gospel is the good news that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). No circumstance that we will ever encounter (no matter how tragic) can ever compare to or change those things and so, as long as we remember them, our hearts will be filled with thankfulness.

The winding path of glory seems to be straightening out a bit for Ruth and Naomi according to the benevolent providence of God through the extreme kindness of Baoz. God’s ways (his institution of redeemer and redemption) are once again proving wise beyond measure. And as a result Ruth and Naomi are filled with thanksgiving. Remember these things, Grace. Press your life against them, for God has not changed. And grow in worship as you consider the fact that as wonderful as all of this is for the women, it’s merely a short section of road on the way to the birth of the Son of God, the Savior of the world.