Ruth 2:17-23 (Gleaning Through the Harvest Season)

Ruth 2:17-23
Gleaning Through the Harvest Season

Introduction: There are different kinds of work detailed in the Bible, but for the most part, they can be divided into two main categories, physical work and spiritual work. The two can be separate or they can overlap. One can picture the other as well.

For example, there is the physical work of sowing and watering crops and yet there is the spiritual work of evangelizing and teaching which is pictured by the physical work. Paul speaks about that in 1 Corinthians 3. There is the physical work of being a soldier or warrior and yet that pictures the spiritual warfare which goes on around us.

In fact, if we look closely at the workers mentioned in the Bible and the types of work that they do, we will inevitably see a spiritual truth being presented to us. And yet, at the same time, some of these jobs are jobs that any of us might do ourselves at any given time without any real connection to a spiritual application.

Most farmers don’t go out in the morning and say to their wives, “I’m going out to water the crops today, so expect the children to understand the book of Romans when I’m done.” Instead the farmer simply waters the crops, comes home, and hopefully teaches the children Romans.

If he thinks his work during the day will transfer to his children’s knowledge of Romans in the evening, he should probably be put away for a rest. However, even in his farming work, there should be a spiritual connection. Paul gives us this advice in Colossians 3:17 –

“And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”  Colossians 3:17

So if we work in a bank, on a farm, or in a restaurant, we can and should accomplish our work in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through Him for the work, for the chance to receive our daily wages, for the chance to use our work to motivate others, and for the opportunity to show others Christ through our efforts.

Text Verse: “…each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 1 Corinthians 3:13-15

We are told that the motivations of our work will become clear. Everything we do, even if it is a menial physical task, can be done with a spiritual connection. The waitress who leads others to Christ through her quiet, steadfast, and faithful work ethic will surely be rewarded more than the pastor who preaches every Sunday but who has no heart for the Lord.

Today, we will see a woman who is faithful in her work, who demonstrates humility in her circumstances, and who is obedient to the sure calling she has received in the Land of Israel and under the care of the God whom she once determined to follow through any circumstance.

Her reward is coming in several ways, but at the time she certainly wasn’t thinking about the rewards, she was thinking about her commitment to her mother-in-law, her honor as an individual, and being a dedicated and faithful person to the God she had called as her own.

We can and should learn from her example and from the many other lives who have been revealed in the Bible’s pages as people of faith, people of honor, and people who were dedicated to the tasks they were called to – whether lofty and exalted or tedious and menial. God’s eyes are never indifferent to those who are faithful. We find this truth time and time again in God’s superior word. So let’s turn to it once again and… May God speak to us through His word today and may His glorious name ever be praised.

I. Blessed Be the One Who Took Notice of You (verses 17-19)

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening,

Earlier in this chapter, Boaz arrived at the field and we saw the following exchange –

“Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘Whose young woman is this?'”
“So the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered and said, ‘It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.'” Ruth 2:5-7

So in this first verse today, we see that other than a few short breaks, Ruth has worked steadily throughout the entire day, even until evening. Another, less diligent person, may go to the field to glean just enough for the day and not bother with much extra, but she stayed in order to glean as much as she could.

In this, she is a perfect example of the proverb of Solomon which says –

“He who has a slack hand becomes poor,
But the hand of the diligent makes rich.” Proverbs 10:4

17 (con’t) and beat out what she had gleaned,

In this act, Ruth is assuming a great responsibility which she could have easily shared with Naomi. Instead of binding up all of the stalks and carrying them on her head to home, she instead takes time to beat the grains out, probably using a stick, or maybe even a small rock. It is a laborious and tiring job known as threshing.

Once the grain is threshed, it then has to be separated from the stalks and chaff. The stalks are picked out and then the grain and chaff is winnowed. This involves throwing it up into the air and allowing the wind to blow away the lighter chaff while the grain falls into a pile.

By doing this, she will bring home grain ready to be milled and then cooked. At the same time, she is keeping all of the difficult work for herself. The milling of the grain is something that she and Naomi could do together as they talked. In her actions, she is taking immense care of her mother in law at her own expense.

As I said in the introduction, physical tasks often carry spiritual applications. The job of winnowing actually pictures something else later in redemptive history. Jeremiah shows us just what in his prophecy to the people in Jeremiah 15 –

“You have forsaken Me,” says the Lord, “You have gone backward. Therefore I will stretch out My hand against you and destroy you; I am weary of relenting! And I will winnow them with a winnowing fan in the gates of the land; I will bereave them of children; I will destroy My people, Since they do not return from their ways.” Jeremiah 15:6, 7

As you can see, winnowing symbolizes purification, in this passage it is the removal of the defiled people from the land. Everything is recorded for a reason and understanding symbolism in stories like Ruth can often help us more clearly see what is being pictured.

17 (con’t) and it was about an ephah of barley.

This is no small amount of grain. In today’s measure, it would be approximately a bushel of barley. It would be rather heavy after the long day of gleaning and then beating out the grain and she would have to be careful carrying it so that it wouldn’t topple over and spill.

In all, the grain that she obtained was enough to feed both herself and Naomi for five full days. This can be determined from what is recorded in Exodus 16 which says this –

“And Moses said to them, ‘This is the bread which the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is the thing which the Lord has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.'” Exodus 16:15-16

One Omer is a tenth of an ephah. So if she obtained one ephah, then that would last two people for five days. If she could obtain this much throughout the harvest seasons of Israel, they would be able to survive when the harvesting seasons were over.

18 Then she took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned.

Imagine the dual pleasure of this moment. After her first day of working in the fields, Ruth was certainly tired, even worn out. The load she carried from the field to the city would have become heavier with every step.

And so to set it down would have been a truly satisfying feeling physically. And yet, at the same time she would be overjoyed to see Naomi’s face when the labor was presented to her. And so both physically and spiritually, she would have been renewed.

At the same time, Naomi had probably fidgeted throughout the day, wondering how Ruth was and wondering if she had found any favor at all among the landowners. The long time that she was gone may have concerned her even more, wondering if she had found so little that she felt she needed to stay out all day just to find enough to survive for a single day.

She would have been tired from the thoughts which wore her down and so to see the large basket of grain would be like balm for her, restoring her both emotionally and physically, filling her with both wonder and gratitude. Solomon speaks of how two can build one another up in this way and make life much more bearable –

“Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
10 For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
11 Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?” Ecclesiastes 4:9-11

So there is a mutual benefit in their relationship, one which Ruth has taken the lead in by being such a great blessing to Naomi, but she had still more coming with which to bless her…

18 (con’t) So she brought out and gave to her what she had kept back after she had been satisfied.

Earlier in this chapter, we saw this from last week –

“Now Boaz said to her at mealtime, ‘Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.’ So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back.” Ruth 2:14

That portion, which she had kept back, was with her mother-in-law in mind. Rather than having a second meal, she gave what was left of her lunch to Naomi for a dinner. In this, she beautifully fulfills the words of Paul concerning the responsibility of the younger children to their widowed mothers –

“But if any widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show piety at home and to repay their parents; for this is good and acceptable before God.” 1 Timothy 5:4

19 And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work?

The astonishment of Naomi is perfectly evident in the repetition of her words. Even if we didn’t know how much an ephah was, just reading this would let us know that it was no ordinary day of gleaning. And in her words is a sense of heightening the thought and thus complimenting Ruth.

First she said, “Where have you gleaned today.” This is what she set out to do and this is what she did, but she did so much more as Naomi acknowledges with the words “And where did you work?” Gleaning is working, but Ruth did much more. She came home with grain which was ready to be milled.

This means that she had to have a spot to thresh and winnow the grain and this means that she had to have someone allow her to use their threshing floor to do it. It is both a compliment of Ruth and an acknowledgment that someone else had blessed both of them.

19 (con’t) Blessed be the one who took notice of you.”

Knowing Ruth’s character, there isn’t even a hint of wrongdoing in her words. If she were any other person, thoughts of stealing or even gain in some other illicit way may have come to mind. Were it not faithful Ruth, how could such an abundance have come in any other way? But instead of such thoughts, Naomi’s confidence in her character is never questioned.

Instead, she realizes that someone must have taken notice of her and purposefully blessed her. Seeing her character and hard work, they took notice and were kind to her. It is the only explanation. And so she exclaims, yehi makhireckh barukh, (4:16) “Blessed be the one who took notice of you!”

19 (con’t) 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.”

Repeating the second thought of working, rather than merely gleaning, she gives the name of the owner, Boaz. And technically, she didn’t work with Boaz, but because he is the owner of the field, it must be considered as working with him.

He allowed her to glean, he allowed her also to thresh the grain, and in the process he gave her water and food. And so it was technically with him that she worked. In this day of gleaning and working by Ruth which Naomi asked about, we can and should see a parallel to our own lives in Christ.

We should daily ask ourselves what is it that we have done in His fields? When our day comes to a close, we should take a moment to ponder this. As Matthew Henry wisely states –

“It is a good question for us to ask ourselves every night, Where have I gleaned to-day? What improvement have I made in knowledge and grace? What have I done that will turn to a good account? When the Lord deals bountifully with us, let us not be found in any other field, nor seeking for happiness and satisfaction in the creature.”

Oh, satisfy us early with Your mercy, with blessings bounteous
That we may rejoice and be glad all our days!
Make us glad according to the days in which You have afflicted us T
he years in which we have seen evil in so many ways

Let Your work to Your servants appear
And Your glory to their children
May they behold it in the future, year by year

And let upon us be the beauty of the Lord our God
And establish the work of our hands for us
Yes, establish the work of our hands while in this life we trod
And as we await our Redeemer, our Lord Jesus

II. Blessed be He of the Lord (verses 20 & 21)

20 Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!”

There is a bit more in these words than might seem evident right away. First, Albert Barnes wisely notes, that “We may gather from Naomi’s allusion to the dead that both her husband and son had been faithful servants of Jehovah, the God of Israel.”

This takes us right back to the first chapter where some find fault in her husband and children as if they were being disobedient to the covenant by moving to Moab during the famine. The logic then is that God killed them as an example for us to learn from. This is not the case. There is no hint of disobedience recorded and it is an inference which is not supported by her words.

God directs famines based on the obedience or disobedience of the nations, not individuals. The individuals, like Abraham, like Isaac, like Jacob, and like others elsewhere in Scripture, all sought assistance and relief from the famine in foreign areas, not out of disobedience, but out of necessity. In the process, they remained faithful to their God, even in foreign lands.

The second aspect of this verse which is actually rather complicated is answering the question, “Just who has not forsaken his kindness to the living and the dead?” The Hebrew is ambiguous and so to whom she is referring – the Lord or Boaz? It is completely uncertain. The Lord is the nearest antecedent and so it seems likely, but it is difficult to be certain.

The NIV assumes it is Boaz and reads, “‘The LORD bless him!’ Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. ‘He [Boaz] has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.'”

God’s Word sides with the NKJV and says, “Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘May the LORD bless him. The LORD hasn’t stopped being kind to people-living or dead.'”

The difference may sound unimportant, but it does matter to Naomi! As Boaz is a picture of Christ to come, the ambiguity could have been intentional. The Spirit may have wanted either option to be considered because in the end, the kindness of Boaz now would be reflective of the kindness of the Lord in the picture being made. He, in fact, has not forsaken the living or the dead.

20 (con’t) And Naomi said to her, “This man is a relation of ours, one of our close relatives.”

These words here include the first of many times that the close relative will be used in Ruth. It is literally a redeemer. Boaz is in this position in relation to them. Such a person is given the responsibility to avenge the killing of the relative, the marrying of the widow who has no son to continue the family name, and the redeeming of an inheritance of the person.

Some of the details for this close relative are found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Here is one such passage that Naomi may have been thinking of from Deuteronomy 25 –

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.” Deuteronomy 25:5, 6

In this, he is a picture of Christ who is our true Redeemer and He is also our Avenger of blood. However, at this time Naomi only calls him “one” of our close relatives. There may be, and as we will see there is, one who is closer. If Boaz is a picture of Christ, then who is the one who is closer picturing? Think on that as we continue through the story.

21 Ruth the Moabitess said, “He also said to me, ‘You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.’”

Suddenly, in the verse following the explanation about who Boaz is in relation to these two widows, three most unusual things come about. The first is that it again repeats (which is actually a re-repeat) that Ruth is a Moabitess. Thus it says, “Ruth the Moabitess said.”

She is suddenly shown again to be distinct from the people of Israel as if the Author wants us to not forget this fact. The second peculiarity is the abrupt way she responds to Naomi’s words. She has just been told he is a close relative, or redeemer, but she doesn’t directly address it. Instead, she adds to it with gam ki amar, or simply, “Also to me he said.”

And finally, she erringly repeats the words of Boaz when she says, “You shall stay close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.” This is the substance of what he said, but it isn’t exactly as he said it. Instead, in verse 8 his words were –

“You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women.” Instead of Boaz’ words about “young women,” she says, “my young men.”

Why would the verse emphasize her foreign status once again? What was she thinking when she responded to Naomi as she did, referring back to Boaz’ directive about where she should work? And why would she say the men instead of the women?

And in her citing Boaz, she uses words which are emphatic, “my young men” and “my harvest.” When he spoke to her in verse 8, the words weren’t emphatic like she says them to Naomi now. And finally, she finishes with the thought that he has told her to stay “until they have finished all my harvest.” This isn’t recorded earlier, but it implies both the barley and the wheat harvests. His protection extends throughout the entire harvest cycle. And there is one more point to make on this verse, Ruth did tell Naomi the kindness that she was shown by Boaz, but she didn’t tell her the glowing words of commendation that he spoke to her.

Her words here indicate humility. It is a tenet opposite that of pride. In the humble, not the proud, is the favor and grace of God revealed. Her humility has been a consistent theme of the book and she will be rewarded for it in the time ahead.

Fear not, for I have redeemed you
I have called you by your name
You are Mine from now on, it is surely true
This word I do proclaim

When you pass through the waters
I will be there the whole time through
And in the midst of the rivers
They shall not overflow you 

When you walk through the fire
You shall not be burned at all
Nor shall the flame scorch you
On you no disaster shall fall

For I am the Lord your God who watches over you
he Holy One of Israel, your Savior – ever faithful and true

III. A Season of Gleaning (verses 22 & 23)

22 And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law,

Like a moment ago when she was called Ruth the Moabitess, the Author now speaks of her as “Ruth her daughter in law.” Though she is a foreigner, she has married into the family and the covenant people. We are continually being reminded of these facts so that we can better sort out what is being pictured. And so, to her she says…

22 (con’t) It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women,

In verse 8, Boaz had said for her to “stay close by my young women” using the feminine word naarotay. In verse 21, Ruth had said Boaz’ words were “You shall stay close by my young men” using the masculine word nearim.

Now, without knowing Boaz’ true words, but knowing the customs of the land, Naomi instinctively says that it is “good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women” using the feminine naarotav. Why have these things occurred?

Let’s go back now to chapter 1 and reread Naomi’s words to her daughters in law when they were at the crucial moment of deciding to continue on to Israel or turn back to Moab. There we read this –

“But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” Ruth 1:11-13

As soon as Naomi mentioned a “close relative” or “redeemer,” Ruth stepped back from the picture and mentioned staying close to the young men, implying that maybe a relationship could come up between Naomi and Boaz. She is removing herself from any intended relationship with Boaz.

By saying that she would stay by the men, it means that she would make herself available to them. In doing this, it would keep Boaz from being interested in her and instead willing to redeem Naomi.

It is once again an act of humility by implicitly saying to Naomi, “He is also your kinsman redeemer.” But now Naomi corrects her thinking. In essence, “I am not the one who will receive him, you are. You need to stay close to the women, not the men, just as he instructed you.”

She can already perceive that she is too old to bear a child for Ruth and so the kinsman must redeem the line through Ruth, not her. And further, she can tell that with all of the attention Boaz has doted upon Ruth in this one day and in the promises of the rest of the harvest, that he is interested in her and might redeem the family through her. Elimelech’s name will be carried through Mahlon and Mahlon’s name will be revived through Ruth.

In order for this to come about, and for Boaz to grow more fond of her than he is already, she instinctively tells her to “go out with his young women” not with the “young men” which could only lead to trouble.

The story and the words have been most carefully selected to show us a much greater picture of redemptive history. And yet, at the same time, they show the hopeful intent of these women for the chance to be redeemed by an honest and honorable man of Israel.

22 (con’t) and that people do not meet you in any other field.”

In the field of Boaz there is safety, abundance, and fullness which has already been offered. To not stay there would be tantamount to snubbing his exceptional kindness and also to doing so in a contemptuous and open manner, thus disgracing him in public.

Along with this, it would be opening herself up to the possibility of being violated in another field. The word she uses implies this. It is a perfect example of what would happen to a person who comes under the protection of the God of Israel and yet goes out and looks for spiritual enlightenment in another, strange religion such as Mormonism which claims the same God and yet which is foreign to Him.

If we have called on Christ, we are His and He expects us to remain in His field. Should we start attending the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we would open ourselves up to being violated by their doctrine. The picture of Ruth staying in Boaz’ field is exactly intended to show us the importance of staying in Christ’s own field as we gather in the grain, which pictures the word of God.

23 So she stayed close by the young women of Boaz,

In fulfilling the certain hope of Boaz from verse 8, and in accepting Naomi’s admonition in the previous verse, we read this beautiful verse here which begins with the words v’tidbaq b’naarowt – “and stayed close to the young women.”

Ruth has first demonstrated humility and grace in her dealings with her mother-in-law and she has done it with tact and kindness in her heart. Now that she understands that she is the likely one to be used in the family’s redemption, she stays close to the young women to not allow any words of scandal to arise. She is truly a woman of noble character.

23 (con’t) to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest;

She faithfully continues her duty from the time of the Passover shortly after which the barley harvest began, all the way through the wheat harvest which begins at the time of Pentecost. The entire harvest season then lasts for a period of three or more months, depending on the exact location and elevation.

During all of this time, nothing more is recorded of the lives of these three people other than the final note of verse 23…

*23 (fin) and she dwelt with her mother-in-law.

In this final section, the word used is v’teshev, “and she dwelt.” However, some translators use the same word with a different pronunciation. Instead of v’teshev, they use v’tashav, “and after she returned.”

If this is correct, then it would imply one of two things, she returned to Naomi after working both harvest seasons, which makes no sense at all, or that she returned after working with the young women of Boaz each day.

Either way, the context of the passage implies that she continuously lived with her mother in law throughout the harvest season, not “after” the harvest season.

As she went out to work each day, she returned home to Naomi each evening. It is through this entire time that she is being watched by Boaz. Her character and her dedication to Naomi, and her diligence working in the fields and staying close to the women will not go unnoticed.

And the same can be true for each of us. The Bible says that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.” (2 Chronicles 16:9).

But for the Lord to search us out and reveal Himself to us in this way means that we first have to be His. The way we demonstrate our loyalty to Him is to call upon Jesus as our Savior. Without Christ Jesus, the Lord is not our friend, but our foe. There remains a wall of enmity between us.

The only way to break down that wall is to go through the shed blood of Jesus. So if you would, please give me just another moment to explain to you how you can be reconciled to God through Him…

Closing Verse: Here is what I have seen: It is good and fitting for one to eat and drink, and to enjoy the good of all his labor in which he toils under the sun all the days of his life which God gives him; for it is his heritage. Ecclesiastes 5:18

Next Week: Ruth 3:1-5 (Go Down to the Threshing Floor) (7th Ruth Sermon)

The Lord has you exactly where He wants you. He has a good plan and purpose for you. He knows your trials, troubles, and woes and He is there with you through them. So cling to Him and let Him do marvelous things for you and through you.

Gleaning Through the Harvest Season

So she gleaned until evening
Out there in the field
And beat out what she had gleaned
And about an ephah of barley her effort did yield

Then she took it up and into the city she went
And her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned
The effort for which her day was spent

So she brought out and gave to her from her pack
After she had been satisfied what she had kept back

And her mother-in-law said to her
“Where have you gleaned today?
And where did you work?
The one who took notice of you, blessed be he I say

So she told her mother-in-law, probably elated
With these words she did say
With whom she had worked, and she stated
The man’s name is Boaz with whom I worked today

Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law
“Blessed be he of the Lord, yes a blessing upon his head
Who has not forsaken His kindness
Both to the living and the dead!

And Naomi said to her as she spoke
“This man is a relation of ours
One of our close relatives is this bloke

Ruth the Moabitess said then
“He also said to me, I do attest
‘You shall stay close by my young men
Until they have finished all my harvest

And Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law then
“It is good, my daughter, as he revealed
That you go out with his young women
And that people do not meet you in any other field

So close by the young women of Boaz she did stay
To glean, until the end of barley harvest did draw
And the wheat harvest too, yes all the way
And she dwelt with her mother-in-law

Though the work was hard, hot, and tiring
Ruth continued with it day by day
Her example to us should be all the more inspiring
Knowing that God used her efforts in such a wondrous way

In the end her deeds and life have been given
As sure examples to follow for each one of us
To be humble, dedicated, and loyal in this life we are livin’
And as we anticipate the coming of our Lord Jesus

As surely as Ruth will receive her just due
So the same is true for us as we bring glory to God
In Christ there is the certainty of reward for me and you
For all we do in His name while on this path we trod

Thank You heavenly Father for your kind hand upon each of us
Thank You for the greatest gift of all, our Lord and Savior Jesus

Hallelujah and Amen…

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