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RUTH THE GLEANER
"When ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt not wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleanings of thy harvest . . . thou shalt leave them for the poor and stranger" ( Lev_19:9 ; Lev_19:10 ).
If in its beginning the story of Ruth portrays the grace that saves, this portion sets forth the grace that sustains. The grace of God not only brings salvation to us but, having done so, it teaches us to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. As we come under the teaching of grace so shall we make spiritual progress. It is this growth in grace, or spiritual progress, that is so attractively illustrated in this chapter.
It is blessed indeed for a young convert to start well by making a definite break with the world and accepting the path of faith in company with the people of God. A good start however, is not enough. If we are to be maintained in the path of faith there must be growth in grace. If, says the Apostle Peter, Christians are to enjoy "grace and peace" in abundance if they are to enjoy all things that pertain to life and godliness, and to escape "the corruption that is in the world through lust" it will only be "through the knowledge of God, and of Jesus Christ our Lord" ( 2Pe_1:2-4 ); therefore he closes his Epistle by exhorting believers to "grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" ( 2Pe_3:18 ).
The Corinthian believers, though they made a good start were very slow in making spiritual progress. They were hindered by worldliness and the wisdom of this world. The Galatians made a good start, for, says the Apostle, "ye did run well," but he has to ask, "Who did hinder you that ye should not obey the truth?" ( Gal_5:7 ). They had been hindered by legality through coming under false teachers. So today many appear to start well and give promise of being devoted Christians, but, alas! in after life they make little soul progress They do not grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. They fall before the attractions of the world and become worldly, or under the influence of false teachers and become legal.
This portion of Ruth's story will discover to us the secret of growth in grace. Here it is evident that Ruth is viewed as a gleaner. In verse 2 we find her saying to Naomi, "Let me go to the field and glean." In verse 7 she says to the servant, "Let me glean." In verse 17 we read, "So she gleaned," and again in the last verse, "So she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean."
Ruth then is presented as a gleaner. But what is the spiritual significance of gleaning? We must remember that the first chapter ends by telling us that it was "the beginning of barley harvest." Naomi and Ruth found themselves in the midst of plenty. But however plentiful the harvest unless gathered in it will be useless to feed the hungry. The reapers and the gleaners must do their work or otherwise they will starve in the midst of plenty. By gleaning Ruth appropriated for her own need, and that of Naomi, the rich supply put at their disposal by the lord of the harvest.
May we not therefore say that spiritually gleaning sets forth the appropriation by the believer of the spiritual blessings to which God has given him a title. In the history of Israel God gave that nation an absolute title to the land, the boundaries of which were set forth with great exactness; nevertheless God said, "Every place that the sole of your foot shall tread upon that have I given you." They had to take possession. So too Paul can say with the utmost confidence that believers are blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, but this did not hinder him from praying that there might be a special work, by the Holy Spirit in the inner man, in order that the saints might comprehend what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height of all these spiritual blessings.
It was a wonderful day in our history when the Lord called us to Himself, and we learned that our sins were forgiven, and we were sealed with the Holy Spirit and were thus made meet to be partakers of the portion of the saints in light; and though there can be no growth in meetness for the glory, yet the Apostle does look for growth by the true knowledge of God ( Col_1:10 , N. Tr.). And yet, alas! what poor gleaners we have been. How little we have entered into the unsearchable riches of Christ.
How is it we have been such poor gleaners? Is it not that gleaning demands conditions with which we are not always prepared to comply. This becomes manifest as we note the qualities which made Ruth such an excellent gleaner.
First she was marked by a spirit of humility and subjection. She says to Naomi, "Let me now go," and again she says to the servant, "Let me glean." She did not act independently of others who were older and more experienced than herself. She did not despise guidance and counsel. She did not suffer from an unbroken will, leading her to do that which was right in her own eyes. Peter can say, "Ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder. Yea, all of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble" ( 1Pe_5:5 ). Subjection and humility are linked together by the Spirit of God. The proud man does not like to submit to anyone. An unbroken will is the greatest hindrance to growth in grace.
Secondly, Ruth was marked by diligence. As we read in verse 7, "She came and hath continued even from the morning until now, her sitting in the house hath been little as yet" (N. Tr.). Again in verse 17 we read, "She gleaned in the field until even." Is there not a great lack of diligence with believers in the things of God? We are diligent enough in the things of this world, but alas, the things of the Lord too often have only the odd moments of our lives. Are we diligent in the study of the Word? Are we diligent in prayer? We may plead that the hurry and difficulties of life leave but little time, but the question is still, How do we spend the little time that we have? In Heb_6:11 , the writer exhorts to diligence and then adds, "Be not slothful but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises." If we desire to enter into the enjoyment of our inheritance we must be diligent. Small wonder if we make but little soul progress when we can find time to read the daily news, and light literature of this world, and yet find no time to glean in the rich pastures of God's holy Word.
Thirdly, Ruth was persevering. She was not diligent one day and slothful the next, but "she kept fast by the maidens of Boaz to glean unto the end of the barley harvest and of wheat harvest." Day after day she gleaned until the end of both the barley and the wheat harvest. The Bereans were specially commended not simply for searching the Scriptures, but because they did so daily ( Act_17:11 ). It is easy to be diligent for one day, but to be diligent day after day calls for perseverance. Daily is a hard and testing word. Let the disciple "take up his cross daily," said the Lord. To put forth some great effort to make some heroic sacrifice, is comparatively easy but to go on quietly day after day following Christ is the test. It is not the man that starts well that wins the race but the man that perseveres.
Finally, we read that Ruth "beat out that she had gleaned" (verse 17). It is not enough to glean the barley and the wheat, it must be beaten out. The truth we gather whether through our private study, or from the ministry of others, must become the subject of prayer and meditation if it is to promote spiritual growth. The mere acquisition of truth will only puff up. It must be enjoyed in communion with the Lord if it is to lead into further knowledge of the Lord.
Thus in order to make spiritual progress a condition of soul is called for marked by subjection, diligence, perseverance and meditation .
Moreover, the condition of the individual soul, while of the first importance, is not all. There is the help which we derive from others that promotes spiritual progress. This is strikingly seen in the different characters that pass before us in this chapter. Naomi, the maidens, the reapers, the servant set over the reapers, and finally Boaz the mighty man of wealth, all pass before us, and all are viewed in connection with Ruth. In different ways all are helping her to glean, bringing before us the different means that are set in activity by Christ to promote the spiritual growth in grace of His beloved people.
Naomi had long been in relationship with Boaz, and is able to advise and instruct Ruth. So now there are those who have been long on the way, in relationship with Christ; and though they may have failed much (like Naomi) yet they are fitted by experience to instruct and counsel the younger saints. Naomi hardly sets forth one gifted to teach or preach but rather those aged saints, of whom we read in the second chapter of Titus, who are to be examples to others, "teachers of good things," and able to give loving advice to the younger women. In the spirit of these verses, Naomi, raising no difficulties, placing no hindrances in her way, at once says, "Go, my daughter." She encourages Ruth in this happy work. Moreover, on Ruth's return from her labours she gladly recognises her progress, for we read "she saw what she had gleaned" (v. 18). Further she interests herself in Ruth's progress, for she enquires, "Where hast thou gleaned today? And where wroughtest thou?" (v. 19). Lastly she enlightens Ruth as to Boaz and gives her loving counsel as to her gleaning (vv. 20, 22). Would that there were a little more of the spirit of Naomi leading the elder saints to care for the younger, to encourage them, take note of their progress, enquire after their spiritual welfare, instruct them in the knowledge of Christ, and counsel them as to their gleaning.
The maidens also help in this happy work of gleaning. They come before us in verses 8, 22 and 23. They are the companions with whom Ruth gleaned. Do they not speak, in a picture, of that happy fellowship and communion between the Lord's people which so greatly helps in promoting spiritual progress?
Boaz warns Ruth "Not to glean in another field, neither go from hence, but abide here fast by my maidens." There are other fields and other maidens, but they are strangers to Boaz. Whether young or old in the path of faith we do well to heed the warning of Boaz. For the world has many an attractive field and can offer very pleasant company at times, but the world's fair fields and the world's vain company are not of Christ. In the days of the Apostles the world gave them but a prison, and when set free they went to their own company. Of necessity we have to do with men of the world in relation to business and the affairs of this life, but it is not in that circle that we can enjoy sweet fellowship and make spiritual progress. This alone can be found in our "own company," the company of the Lord's people. In the early days of Christianity the unbroken fellowship of God's people resulted in "great power" and "great grace." In Hebrews 10 we are exhorted to "Consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together as the manner of some is, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as ye see the day approaching." The saints are not the source of love and good works but the company of the saints certainly promotes love and good works. The day of judgment for this world is approaching, hence we do well to part with this world's company, and find our happy portion with "the maidens of Boaz," those who are undefiled and have kept their garments white. The nearer the day, the nearer we should draw to one another.
The reapers also have their service in connection with Ruth. They pass before us in verses 4, 5-7, 9 and 21. They were the servants of Boaz and vividly set before us the characteristics that should mark the servants of the Lord who addict themselves to ministry for the help of the Lord's people.
The first necessity for every servant of the Lord is the presence of the Lord. So we find Boaz greeting his reapers with the beautiful desire "The Lord be with you" (v.4). And in like spirit we read in the gospel day, "They went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them" ( Mar_16:20 ).
Second, for the service of Boaz to be effectually accomplished there must be subjection to the servant set over the reapers. We need not only the Lord with us but also the control of the Spirit, the Divine Person that is prefigured by the nameless servant (v. 5).
Third, the reapers go before, and Ruth follows after, as she can say, "Let me glean and gather after the reapers." Scripture recognises that there are those among the people of God who lead spiritually, who have spoken to us the Word of God and whose faith we are told to follow. Such we are to obey and to such submit, for they watch for our souls ( Heb_13:7 ; Heb_13:17 ).
Fourth, these young men - the servants of Boaz - draw water out of wells. It was the privilege of Ruth to drink the water, but it was the responsibility of the young men to draw the water. Not all are called, or fitted, to draw water out of the deep wells of God, but all can drink of the water when placed in vessels suited to their capacity. The water in the well is beyond the reach of many; the water in the vessel is available for all. And so the word to Ruth is, "Go unto the vessels and drink." Timothy was to "meditate upon these things," to give himself "wholly to them." This surely was drawing water from the well. But his "profiting" was to "appear to all." This was the water in the vessel available for all ( 1Ti_4:15 ).
Fifth, in order that the reapers may be fitted for their service they receive special directions from their master. "Boaz commanded his young men saying, Let her glean among the sheaves, and reproach her not: and let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them, that she may glean them, and rebuke her not" (vv. 15, 16). The special need of individuals will call for special directions from the Lord. How near the servant must be to the Master, if in the course of his service, he is to know how to let fall a special handful, for a special need, without "reproach" and without "rebuke." The Lord in this, as in all else, is our perfect example. When, on the resurrection day, He sends a message to Peter saying, "Go your way, tell His disciples, and Peter," was He not with infinite perfection letting fall a "handful of purpose" for a poor wandering sheep, without "reproach" and without "rebuke" ( Mar_16:7 ).
Lastly, the labours of the reapers will end the harvest, for Boaz instructs Ruth to keep fast by my young men, until "they have ended all my harvest" (v. 21). And as it was with the servants of Boaz so will it be with the servants of the Lord, for the Apostle used the glorious hope that is set before us to energise the servants in their service. "Therefore, my beloved brethren be ye steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" ( 1Co_15:58 ).
The servant of Boaz, set over the reapers, also has his place in connection with the progress of Ruth in gleaning. He is nameless and little seen and yet is behind all, on behalf of Boaz, controlling every reaper in the fields of Boaz. Furthermore, he brings Ruth into touch with Boaz, conversing with Boaz about Ruth. The servant too is in perfect accord with the mind of Boaz. He acquaints Boaz with the truth, but utters no word to her disparagement, and anticipates the mind of Boaz in encouraging Ruth to glean in the fields of Boaz. Surely a striking type of that great Person the Holy Spirit who has come from the glorified Christ in the name of Christ to represent the interests of Christ. One who does not speak of Himself, who is unseen by the world, but who controls the servants of the Lord and, by His gracious work in souls, brings into contact with Christ. He is One who has come to earth in the interests of Christ, and who thinks and acts in perfect accord with the mind and heart of the Father and the Son.
Lastly we have Boaz presenting Christ in a twofold way First in the glory of His Person and work, and second in His gracious dealings with us individually.
Personally Boaz is represented as "a kinsman" and a "mighty man of wealth." The word "kinsman" used so many times in the Book of Ruth, is elsewhere translated "redeemer" a word that gives the true import of the kinsman's service. The kinsman had the right, and the power, to redeem his brother and his brother's inheritance, if either had passed into the hands of a stranger.
By the fall man has lost all right to the earthly inheritance and he himself has come under the power of the enemy and, as a guilty sinner, is exposed to death and judgment. He has power neither to redeem himself, nor the earth, from the power of sin, death or Satan. He needs a redeemer, one who has the right as well as the power to redeem. Christ is the great Redeemer, the One of whom Boaz was but a type. He redeems His people by purchase and by power. The price He paid was His own life given for us, "We have been redeemed not with corruptible things as silver and gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot." Further He redeemed by power, for not only was His blood shed, but, by resurrection, He annulled the power of death and the grave. Already redeemed by blood we wait to be redeemed by power, for that moment when He delivers these mortal bodies from all trace of mortality by changing our bodies of humiliation, and fashioning like unto His own body of glory according to the working whereby He is able even to subdue all things unto Himself. Finally we shall have the inheritance - a rich possession which He has purchased - which He will redeem from the power of sin and death and Satan, and the enjoyment of which we shall share in association with Christ unto the praise of His glory ( Eph_1:14 ).
Moreover, in Boaz, we have not only the foreshadowing of the glories of our great Redeemer, but a beautiful unfolding of the gracious ways of the Lord in His dealings with us individually. It is our privilege not only to learn the truth as to His Person and work, but to experience His gracious dealings by which we are led into the knowledge of Himself. Would that all believers sought to have a more definite soul history with Christ in secret - a history that they could not say much about to others - known only to Christ and the soul with which no stranger intermeddles.
Of such personal dealings with the soul we have a foreshadowing in the gracious ways of Boaz the man of wealth with Ruth the stranger.
These ways are marked by grace and truth, bringing before us the One who came by grace and truth. In our weakness we may show grace at the expense of truth, or maintain truth at the expense of grace. With Christ there is the infinite expression of grace with the perfect maintenance of truth.
With touching grace Boaz places all his riches at the disposal of the stranger from Moab - one who, according to the letter of the law, was not to enter the congregation of the Lord until the tenth generation ( Deu_23:3 ). His fields, his maidens, his young men, his wells, his corn, all are at the disposal of Ruth. She is to abide in his fields, to keep fast by his maidens, to glean after his young men, and to drink from his well. He utters no word concerning her origin, her strangership or her poverty. No word of reproach for the past, no threats as to the future, no claims upon her for present bounty, all is given in sovereign unbounded grace. Nor is it otherwise in the dealings of Christ with sinners such as ourselves. Grace puts heaven's best gifts at the disposal of a sinful woman at Sychar's well; grace commanded the fish of the sea for a man full of sin like Peter; and grace opens paradise of God to the dying thief. And so grace has blessed us with all the unsearchable riches of Christ without money and without price.
But as we well know the riches of grace do not dim the lustre of truth. Yea, it is the grace that calls forth the truth. There is no need for Boaz to remind this stranger of her lowly origin. She herself confesses the truth, but it is the grace of Boaz that draws forth the confession. She falls on her face before Boaz, thus effacing herself in the consciousness of the greatness of the person in whose presence she is, one to whom she owes every blessing. She owns by her question, "Why have I found grace in thine eyes?" that there is nothing in herself to merit such grace. And she owns by nature she has no claim upon Boaz, for she confesses "I am a stranger." Alone in the presence of the grace of Boaz, she gives him his true place and she takes her true place, reminding us of other shining examples of the ways of grace and truth in the days of our Lord.
If grace tells a poor sinner of the free gift of the living water springing up into everlasting life, it will also call forth the truth as to herself. That word of Jesus, "Go call thy husband," was truth telling her all things that ever she did, and that other word, "Come hither," was grace making her welcome to all the love of the heart of God. The truth revealed to her the vileness of her heart, but grace revealed to her a heart that, knowing all things that ever she did, could yet love her and make her welcome to come to Him.
And thus on another occasion, with another woman - one, who, like Ruth, was a stranger, a woman of Canaan - we see the display of these same ways of grace and truth. The disciples would have maintained truth at the expense of grace. They said, "Send her away." Not so the Lord, and yet He will not dispense grace at the cost of truth. Hence He so deals with her that the truth is drawn out from her own lips, for she is brought to confess, "Truth Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." She owns the truth that she is but a dog, but she sees the grace in the Lord that would not deny a crumb to a dog. The grace in the Lord leads her to own the truth as to herself. And she has the reward of faith, for the Lord, delighting to respond to such a claim upon His grace, can say, "Woman great is thy faith, be it unto thee even as thou wilt" ( Mat_15:21-28 ).
Blessed indeed the moment in our history, when alone in the presence of the Lord we are made conscious of the vileness of our hearts in the presence of the grace of His heart. To learn in such moments that however vile we may be there is grace in His heart to meet it all.
Thus it was that Boaz comforted the heart of Ruth. She has owned the truth, "I am but a stranger," and Boaz seems to say you can tell me nothing about yourself that I do not know; "It hath been fully shewed me, all that thou hast done" (v. 11). There is no lingering fear left in her mind that some day something may be disclosed as to the past which will lead Boaz to recall the gifts of grace. Set free she can say, "Thou hast comforted me," "Thou hast spoken to the heart" (margin). Nothing so touches the heart, so wins the heart, or so comforts the heart, as to learn in the presence of the Lord He that knows all, and yet He loves me.
This, however, does not close this portion of Ruth's story. Grace has been shown by Boaz, truth has been confessed by Ruth, and this indeed has brought peace to the conscience and joy to the heart, but this is not all. Boaz is not content with bringing relief to Ruth and then leaving her with a heart filled with gratitude. Even if this satisfied her heart it would not satisfy his heart. If she expected no further blessing, he had yet more to bestow. Boaz will not be content without the company of the one to whose heart he has spoken. Thus it is he can say, "Come thou hither." And in a deeper way is it not thus that the Lord deals with us? If He breaks down our fears, speaks to our hearts, and wins our affections, it is in order to have our company. Love is not content without the company of the one that is loved. To this end He died that whether we wake or sleep we might live together with Him. Happy then for us if we too hear and heed the gracious invitation, "Come thou hither."
So it came to pass Ruth sat down in the company of a people that heretofore she had not known. But if "she sat beside the reapers" she did so in the company of Boaz, for we read "he reached her parched corn." Happy for us if we sit down in the company of the Lord's people conscious of the presence of the Lord Himself. Then indeed we shall feed on the corn of the land. We shall, like Ruth, be "sufficed" and "reserve some" (v. 14, N. Tr.). In His presence our souls are fed, our hearts are satisfied, and the satisfied heart will have of its fulness to give to others.
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Smith, Hamilton. "Commentary on Ruth 2". "Smith's Writings". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany