Handfuls of Purpose
The story of Ruth is one of the great love stories of the Bible – the story of how a girl from Moab became a member of the covenant community of Jehovah. By origin and by nature she had no place in that community, nor any right to its blessings and benefits. The God of the covenant was not her God, until, by God’s Providence working in her life, and his grace in her heart, she became integrated into that community.
In fact, the story of Ruth is an Old Testament example of what the Gospel is all about. God gave the promise of his salvation and its benefits to Abraham and his descendants, confining the revelation of that salvation in the Old Testament to the Jewish people. But his purpose and intention was to make salvation open to all, and to save not just ethnic Israel, but sinners the world over.
Paul tells us in Galatians 3:13-14 that that is why Jesus died – "so that the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith". In Ephesians 2:12, Paul describes being without Christ as being "excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world".
In other words, what happened to Ruth is what can happen, by grace, to any one of us. We too, by origin and by nature, are without Christ. We are strangers to his covenant community. We have no hope. We are without God. We are lost. But God be praised! "you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ"! (Ephesians 2:13). Christ has made peace, and died on the cross. We no longer need to be without him. We can be united to him, sheltering under him; we can be in him.
Ruth had been brought up in idolatrous Moab, far away from the people of God. In Bethlehem, where generally the people had long forgotten their God and the privileges of his salvation, there had been a famine. Elkanah took Naomi, his wife, and Mahlon and Chilion, their sons, to the land of Moab. There his sons married Ruth and Orpah. The menfolk died and were buried in Moab, and Naomi made up her mind to return. Only Ruth went with her, a new day dawning in her life.
There she met Boaz, who was eventually to marry Ruth, and to perpetuate the name and family of Elkanah according to the law of the Old Testament. Two things were true of Boaz: he was a ‘kinsman’ (Ruth 3:2), a relative of Elkanah’s, and eligible to marry her; he was also a ‘redeemer’ (Ruth 3:13), who took away every obstacle and eventually purchased the property of Elkanah.
What Boaz was to Ruth, Christ is to us. He became our close relative, our brother; he became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Or, as Hebrews 2:14-15 puts it, "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death he might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is the devil, and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives". In other words, Jesus saves both because he has become a man, and because he has laid down his life as a ransom. He has removed every obstacle, and made us his own.
One of the loveliest moments in the story of Ruth is when she comes to glean in his fields. Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest, when everyone was busy in the fields, gathering in the wheat. The Old Testament law of Deuteronomy 24:21-22 required the Israelites to leave the wheat around the edges of the field, or anything that was accidentally dropped on the ground, for "the stranger, the fatherless and the widow". Ruth qualified on all these counts, so she found God’s law on her side when she reached Bethlehem.
But Boaz went beyond what the law required. He instructed his workers not just to leave what they had dropped for the gleaners, but to drop some wheat on purpose, so that Ruth and Naomi would have enough to eat. When Ruth returned home after her day’s work at the field, Naomi could scarcely believe what she saw. Ruth’s measure of wheat was way beyond what a gleaner might expect to have. Boaz’s ‘handfuls of purpose’ were hers for the taking.
I think these handfuls of purpose spoke of four things.
AN ABUNDANT HARVEST
The fact that Boaz was able to command his reapers to drop wheat on purpose for Ruth was a sign not only that the famine was over, but that the harvest had exceeded all expectation. God had truly visited his people, and given them bread (1:6). ‘Bethlehem’ means ‘House of Bread’, and it had become so for Ruth.
It is no accident that centuries later, Bethlehem was to be the scene of the birth of the Son of God, the bread of life come down from Heaven (John 6:48,51). All that Jesus is in himself, and all that he has done for sinners through his death on the cross, signals the fact of abundant mercy and great love. It is of his FULNESS we have received (John 1:16).
Sin leaves men empty and dissatisfied; it brings a famine into lives and hearts and souls. But God has shown his love to us in giving Christ for us. There is something – Someone – here who can satisfy, and who is full. In our emptiness we can find all that will give comfort and satisfaction and peace.
Our poor, sin-sick world is crying out for peace, and looking for it in all the wrong places. But the one place true, lasting happiness can be found is in the rich harvest of the death and resurrection of Christ. Listen to how he describes his great work as kinsman-redeemer: "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself, alone; but if it dies it bears much fruit" (John 12:23-24). Jesus is the grain of wheat, whose death means life – life in all its fulness.
A PERSONAL LOVE
But the harvest would have meant nothing to Ruth had there not been a personal interest in her on the part of Boaz. It was an interest that soon developed into love, and a love that soon blossomed into betrothal and marriage.
From the moment God had sent Ruth into his life, he had taken a more than usual interest in her. He had asked after her, constrained her to stay in his field and not to glean anywhere else, commanded his workers to look out for her and protect her. He knew that this was the Lord’s doing, and it was wonderful in his eyes (2:12).
It was because of his intense personal devotion to Ruth that he commanded handfuls of wheat to be dropped on the ground, on purpose, for her to glean. Each blade she spied on the ground, each stalk she gathered, each bundle she picked up spoke of love – personal love, intense love, attracting, drawing love.
And just as Ruth enjoyed the blessings of love in handfuls of purpose, we too can enjoy the blessings of God’s covenant grace because of his remarkable love to us. We can say with Paul "he loved me and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Christ loved the church and gave himself for her (Ephesians 5:25).
To have heard the gospel; to have been drawn to follow him; to have discovered his preciousness; to have felt his nearness; to have known him abide with us in darkness as in light – what are these but handfuls of purpose that speak of his love for us? This is the love that will not let us go, that meets us at every turn, that goes before us, to meet need and to prepare the way. Those who are loved with such a love as this are blessed indeed!
A REMARKABLE OPPORTUNITY
But Ruth had to glean. The wheat did not jump off the ground into her hands. She had to work hard. In fact, we are told that she gleaned until evening (2:17), then beat out what she had gleaned, so that she could make bread.
If we are to know the blessings of God’s love in our lives, we too must make the most of our opportunities. Walking close to Christ requires diligence in our use of the opportunities presented to us. Do we have Bibles to read? Then let us read them. Do we have opportunities to pray? Then let us use them. Do we have commentaries and Christian books at our disposal? Then let us put them to good use.
In fact, Naomi’s question to Ruth in 2:19 is a great test. Where have we gleaned today? Have we meditated in God’s truth? Come to Calvary with our sins? Sought for grace at his throne of grace? There are opportunities for us in the Gospel, to walk close with Christ, and to cultivate a relationship with him. Let’s make the most of them
A CONSTANT PROVISION
But what Ruth discovered was that in the fields of Boaz there was more than enough for her. Her needs and those of Naomi were met. She lacked nothing. She may have been a stranger, fatherless and a widow. But God took care of her.
That has been the testimony of God’s people from the earliest times. David could say that "those who truly seek the Lord will not lack any good thing" (Psalm 34:7). Paul could learn that God’s grace was sufficient for him.
In the Gospel we are not promised that we will have no trials, or difficulties, or sorrows, or temptations. We are not promised easy passage to the promised land. But we are promised that we will have no need, that we will lack no good thing, because God gives us daily the grace to maintain our walk with him, and the strength to persevere to the very end.
Have we come to the great harvest field of Calvary’s cross, where our kinsman-redeemer has shown his love by dying for us there? Have we come in our emptiness to his fulness; in our sin to his grace; in our need to his abundant supply?
If we have, we will know handfuls of blessing surrounding us, and the privilege of knowing him, whom to know is life eternal.