Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Apr 16 2019 - Ruth 2 – Boaz

In a society where it was the role of men to provide for their extended families, widows could be very vulnerable. Naomi and Ruth were dependent upon the charity of others.

The Law of Moses had made provision for the poor in the land. Those with fields and crops were not allowed to reap up to the very edge of their fields, nor were they allowed to go over the ground a second time to gather up what had been missed. These 'gleanings' were to be left for the poor to gather up for their own use.

Ruth had come to Bethlehem with Naomi with the intent of looking after her mother-in-law. So, at harvest time, she set out for the fields to see what she could gather. The narrator tells us that, "As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek" (2:3). By this comment, and in the unfolding story, he intends us to see that God is at work, directing Ruth's steps, and those of the other characters in the story.

The character of Boaz is immediately apparent from his greeting to his workers and their response. Here was a man who was conscious that he lived moment-by-moment in the presence of the Lord.

His attention is drawn to a young woman he does not recognise. By inquiry he learns that this is Ruth the daughter-in-law of Naomi. He had heard of her kindness in devoting herself to the care of Naomi and he is determined to ensure that she does well in her gleaning. He instructs her to gather up grain close behind the reapers and to stay in his fields where no-one will harm her – a foreign girl like Ruth could have been particularly vulnerable to being abused, particularly by men (remember the closing chapters of Judges).

Ruth is amazed by his kindness to her, a foreigner, and asks why he should treat her like this. Boaz' reply forms the heart of this chapter; "I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge" (2:11-12).

Boaz recognised not only that Ruth had come to Bethlehem to be with and care for Naomi but also that she had come to place her faith in the God of Israel. Boaz' words of blessing are not merely good wishes. He intends, as far as it is in his power, to be the means by which Ruth is blessed by God. He instructs his harvesters not to hinder Ruth's gleaning but rather to ensure that there is plenty for her to pick up.

Ruth returned to her mother-in-law with about 13 kg of grain. Naomi was delighted and enquired where Ruth had been gleaning. When she heard that it was in the fields of Boaz, a close relative of her dead husband, her immediate response was to proclaim "The LORD bless him!" Boaz has blessed them and Naomi desires that God would bless him in return.

We also are a people who have found refuge in the God of Israel and salvation in Jesus the Messiah. We also live moment-by-moment under his care. We also are to be a people who not only wish that same blessing upon others but who seek to be the answer to our own prayers; to be the means by which they are blessed. Who will the Lord enable you to bless today?

Father God, you are the sovereign God with whom nothing happens by chance. You have blessed us with incalculable riches in the Lord Jesus Christ and you continue to pour out your blessings on our lives. Help us today to be a blessing to others in word and in deed.

Apr 16 2013 - Luke 18:1-17 – Two men at prayer

Twice a day there was a time of prayer at the temple, once at dawn and once again in the latter part of the afternoon (sometimes referred to as evening). On these two occasions a lamb was offered as a sacrifice for the sins of the people. As the smoke of sacrifice and incense ascended, the people who had come to the temple would offer up their own prayers. The sacrifice was to be the ground of their prayer – the atonement for their sin. The incense is a picture of their prayers ascending to God, sweet and acceptable to him.

When Jesus tells the parable of two men going up to the temple to pray, this is the background picture that would have been familiar to his hearers.

The Pharisee in Jesus' parable "stood by himself and prayed" (Luke 18:10). The Pharisee did not join the crowd; he thought of himself as quite separate from the common herd of people who were praying that day; "God, I thank you that I am not like other people... I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get." (18:11-12). We should realise that Jesus' hearers would not have thought the Pharisee's prayer arrogant; they would have heard it as a genuine prayer of thanksgiving to God that this man had been enabled to devote himself so meticulously to his religious duties. Yet in this prayer, and in his stance apart from the crowd, he displays a scornful attitude to others.

The tax collector in Jesus' parable is, in one sense, like the Pharisee. He also stands apart from the crowd, though this time "at a distance". He also will not identify with the crowd, but this time because he does not feel worthy to be counted as one of them. All that he can say with head cast down is, "God, have mercy upon me, a sinner" (18:13).

The Israelites had been taught through the ceremonies that took place in the temple that the mercy of God was made available to sinners through sacrifice. The lamb was sacrificed in the place of the sinner and a rebellious people were reconciled to God. The tax collector dimly understood this. He stands apart from the crowd for he hardly dares to hope that mercy can be for him. Yet he pleads that it may be so, praying, in effect, "God, may I also have part in all that is going on here. May this atoning sacrifice be for me. May I be forgiven and accepted."

We can only imagine what the crowds may have made of this story so far. But now comes the punch-line as Jesus says that it is this tax collector rather than the Pharisee who goes home justified – vindicated and accepted by God.

And in this parable, Jesus points to himself. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His sacrificial life and death are sweet and acceptable to God. Jesus came to save the lost; he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. It is because of him that we can come before God crying, "God, have mercy upon me, a sinner" and know that our prayers are accepted. Because of him we are justified, accepted. We need no longer stand at a distance; we are embraced as part of his family.

Remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12-13)

Father God, thank you for Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Thank you that in him I have found mercy and acceptance – I am justified and embraced. Help me to live confidently to your praise and glory, and to draw others into the embrace of your indiscriminate love.

Peter Misselbrook