Ernest Hemingway’s first novel, The Sun Also Rises, was published in 1926. The story follows a troupe of characters through Spain in 1920s Europe who represented what became known as “the lost generation,” those born between 1883 and 1900 who came of age during the horrors of WWI. Gertrude Stein coined the name for the generation, but Hemmingway popularized it in his novel, which takes its title from a passage in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes.
Although life for the lost generation had been dark and disorienting, Hemingway believed that there was hope for them, nonetheless. He observed that just as the sun sets, the sun also rises.
For an Israelite woman named Naomi in the Old Testament book of Ruth, the sun has set on her life. Having lost her husband and her two sons to death, she is surrounded by dark clouds of grief and disillusionment. When we pick up the story in Ruth 2, Naomi has just returned to her hometown of Bethlehem, accompanied by her daughter-in-law, Ruth. If anyone epitomized a lost generation in 1,100 B.C., it would be these two women.
However, the author of the story wants us to feel hope rising, like the warmth of the morning sun. In the last verse of the previous chapter, we have received this hint of hope, reading that Naomi and Ruth have arrived in Bethlehem in the spring, “just at the beginning of the barley harvest.”
Anyone who has lived in an agricultural community knows what a big deal the harvest is. It is one thing to plant seed. It is something else to harvest a crop because the farming process may be derailed by numerous factors such as drought, too much rain, and the invasion of crop destroying pests like locusts.
You’ve heard the expression, “Don’t count your chickens until they hatch.” The same is true with a harvest. The day the gathering of grain actually begins is the day the chicks are counted, and the celebration begins.
It is this very moment when Naomi returns to Bethlehem with Ruth. The author wants us to see that God’s providential plan is unfolding with perfect timing. For Naomi and Ruth, the light of grace is just about to break through the clouds of despair.
This is the story of Easter, isn’t it?
Years later, in God’s perfect timing, he would shine the light of grace not only through the clouds of Naomi’s despair, but the clouds of despair for the entire world. While the sun would set upon Jesus in death, hope would rise because Jesus himself would rise from death to life, conquering the darkness, overcoming the curse of sin with the blessing of mercy.
Ruth 2 is a resurrection story about hope rising — the perfect message for an Easter Sunday in the midst of a global pandemic. From the text of Ruth 2:1–13, I want to show you three ways that hope rises, not only for Ruth and Naomi, but how hope rises for us.
First, we see that…
HOPE RISES UNDER GOD’S PROVIDENCE
We see this in verses 1–4.
1 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
Note: Favor is the Hebrew, hen, which is also translated “grace” / “a gift granted not out of obligation, but out of kindness.” This is the author tipping us off to more hope on the horizon.
Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. 4Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they answered.
Did you catch the two phrases that the author drops like clues in a mystery? In verse 3, we read, “as it turned out” and verse 4, “Just then.” A modern story would read something like, “As luck would have it…” Or “Coincidentally…”
But the Hebrews knew there was no such thing as luck or an impersonal force called fate. They believed in a sovereign story-teller who was designing all events to fit together in his story, or history. We call the designer’s plan, providence.
The Heidelberg Catechism describes God’s providence as “his almighty and ever-present power, whereby, as with his hand, he upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come to us not by chance but by his fatherly hand.”
The fingerprints of God’s invisible hand are all over the story of Ruth and Naomi… and I would suggest are all over our lives as well. Just like crime scene investigators look for fingerprints to ID suspects, we need eyes that are looking for the fingerprints of the Father in all events.
I wonder what difference it would make if we were consciousof the Father’s invisible hand at work in all things… in good things… and in bad things — like pandemics. What if I could believe that suffering and even death is not meaningless, but purposeful, like a seed planted in the ground is buried in death but is designed to grow from death into new life? What if what we experience as the death of a dream could be the beginning of a new, and even better dream?
As the gospel shows us, crucifixion leads to resurrection. Death produces life. Even as the sun sets in God’s providential timing, so also hope rises according to God’s providential timing.
HOPE RISES UPON NAOMI BECAUSE OF RUTH’S LABOR OF LOVE
Look at verses 5–12.
5Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?” 6The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” 8So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” 10At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor [again, the Heb, hen] in your eyes that you notice me — a foreigner?” 11Boaz replied, “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. 12May 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.”
Remember, we are focusing on hope, like the sun, rising on Naomi. But hope rises upon Naomi through Ruth, who takes the initiative to provide for Naomi by laboring in the harvest fields.
Harvesting grain in ancient times was done by hand. It was grueling work. Men would lead into the fields, bending over to cut the stalks while women would follow behind to gather them into bundles.
In the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the LORD established “gleaning laws” for Israel, which functioned as a type of welfare program that provided for the poor by allowing them to collect the leftovers of the harvest. This is what Ruth came to do. To gather scraps — whatever leftovers she should get.
Not only was this hard work, it was dangerous work, especially for a woman such as Ruth. If we were to rank Israelite society, a female foreigner would be at the very bottom of the list.
Paul Miller, in A Loving Life, says,“Ruth has neither father no husband, nor brother, nor son to protect her. She is living in Israel’s Dark Ages, where Judges 19 gives us an idea of just how vulnerable women were.”
The point is that Ruth puts herself at great risk to care for Naomi, who was emotionally, spiritually and physically incapable of contributing anything to her own rescue.
Driven by hesed love, Ruth does all the work — doing whatever it takes to provide for Naomi.
Like Naomi, we cannot contribute to our own rescue. We can only receive the fruit of someone else’s labor on our behalf, making the parallels with Jesus unmistakable.
He is the one who does all the work required to save us. He took the initiative by entering this world, making himself vulnerable unto death. Jesus was willing to do whatever it took, even enduring the humiliation and anguish of the cross for us to be reconciled with the Father.
When Boaz arrives to the field, he notices Ruth. While she may have been a beautiful young woman, Instead of drawing attention to her outward appearance, the author draws attention to her character, because it is her reputation that captivates Boaz. Rumors of her sacrifice for Naomi have begun to spread. With selfless love, Ruth had not just spoken words of love to Naomi, she proved it by dying to herself so that Naomi could live.
This really is the test of love. It is not what I say that matters as much as what I do. I can say I love you all day, but unless I am demonstrating personal sacrifice for you, my love is just words.
Ruth’s love isn’t just love on the lips. It is love revealed in callouses on her hands and wounds in her flesh that she would have received from the sheaves scratching her arms and legs as she gathered grain.
And Ruth doesn’t make Naomi feel guilty about her labor of love. Ruth wants this. It is her choice. So, she doesn’t complain about her hardship but exudes gratitude and humility for the opportunity to bless her mother-in-law by gleaning in the fields.
Rather than a burden, she counts is a privilege.
That is the kind of love that changes marriages and makes the world stand up and take notice, asking, “What kind of love is this?” I want to know more. I must know more about how this is possible and what has inspired such sacrificial, joyful devotion.
Of course, Ruth’s love is a reflection of Jesus’ love for those for whom he would suffer wounds in his own flesh — far deeper than Ruth’s. Like Ruth, Jesus demonstrated his love with an objective, visible, verifiable sacrifice. The apostle Peter would say it like this, “By his wounds you have been healed.”
As a shadow of Jesus, Ruth’s extraordinary sacrificial, joyful devotion to Naomi causes hope to rise upon her life in ways she could not have dreamed just days before.
Whether she was physically attractive or not, in the eyes of Boaz, it is Ruth’s inner beauty that is most captivating. And through because of Ruth’s inner beauty, the sun of hope begins to rise on Naomi’s holistic condition — physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually.
HOPE ULTIMATELY RISES THROUGH BOAZ’S KINDNESS
This kindness is summarized for us by Ruth in verse 13,
“May I continue to find favor [hen] in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant — though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”
Ruth is overwhelmed by the grace and kindness demonstrated by Boaz.
Notice his three promises.
- I will provide everything you need. Glean only in my field.
- I will protect you.
- I will honor you. When you get thirsty, drink out of my men’s water vessels.
Paul Miller says, “By inviting her to drink, Boaz isn’t just quenching her thirst, he is inviting her into community.”
In no uncertain terms, with these graces of provision, protection and the honor of inclusion in the community, and by calling her, “my daughter,” Boaz erases all socioeconomic and cultural divisions.
In a moment, Ruth goes from disconnected and endangered, to connected and protected by the most powerful and honorable man in the region.
In verse 1, Boaz is introduced as “a man of standing,” which is translated from the Hebrew phrase gibbor hayil. Gibbor means “great man” and hayil means “worthy”or “excellent.”
Boaz is foreshadowing the greatest gibbor hayil — the most noble, the worthiest, and most excellent gibbor hayil the world would ever know, Jesus.
Like Boaz and Ruth, Jesus’ love is not limited to words, but is expressed with actions. Jesus is the one who entered the darkest night of the soul, absorbing in his body the sentence of death that our sins deserved, so that the sun could rise again — a sunrise of hope, blessing, renewal, and eternal joy.
Notice how the promises of Jesus fulfill the promises of Boaz:
- Jesus promises us the provision of his perfect righteousness. It is all we need.
- Jesus protects us from the accusation of the enemy. There is no condemnation for those in Christ.
- Jesus welcomes us into the family of God as treasured, beloved, honored sons and daughters.
In the gospel, Jesus overwhelms us with grace and kindness.
It is a grace exponentially more overwhelming than Boaz’s kindness to Ruth… and she fell on her face to express her heartfelt gratitude.
The final application for us is to ask how we should respond, not to Boaz but to Jesus?
First, respond with faith.
Receive the gift of forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God. Just like Boaz invited Ruth to come and drink, so also God invites us to quench our souls with the living waters of God’s promise in the gospel, that the perfect righteousness of Jesus is now your perfect righteousness.
Second, respond with worship.
Not the polite worship of your standard churchgoer, but with the whole-body and soul worship of Ruth, who fell on her face with humble adoration before one who would show her such exceeding kindness.
How much greater is the kindness we have received from the greater Boaz!
As we learn how to receive grace through believing, let’s learn to savor the glory of God’s grace through humble adoration, allowing our hearts, bodies, and souls to be truly affected by overwhelming mercies of God through the cross of Christ. By the way, if you feel yourself wanting to express your emotions in an outward, physical way, it is okay. It is okay to get emotional and expressive. Ruth gives us permission, as does the entire book of Psalms. But that is another sermon.
Third, respond with hopeful anticipation.
In view of almost unprecedented economic uncertainly in our generation, it would be easy to spiral down a tunnel of dark pessimism.
But the believer has every reason to live with the hope of gospel confidence, anticipating that whatever the sun of sadness sets in our lives, the sun of hope will rise again, because the Son of God rose from the grave.
More than a stock rally. More than a treatment for Covid-19. And more than vaccine, the empty tomb is the ground for living life now with hopeful, gospel confidence.
Maybe during this season of our lives, it would serve us well to change the background screens on our computers and smartphones — to a sunrise — reminding us that Jesus has faced our judgment by enduring the darkness of death so that we, like him, may be raised to live in newness of life with peace and hopeful joy. Yes, the sun may set, but in the Lord’s design, the sun also rises.
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