Shall I not seek rest for thee?
Rest for Ruth
I. the object of Naomi’s solicitude. Poor Ruth: a destitute, forlorn, bereaved, homeless, portionless widow. Think of the destitute circumstances of a bereaved sinner, when awakened to find out how deplorably he is ruined and utterly undone under the fall. She was between the two countries. Just the position of a soul awakened. Yet further, see the character of Ruth portraying thy condition yet more strongly. You remark, that she had escaped from Moab and refused to go back again. There was a decision of character, there was a distinction, there was the plain mark of belonging to God. Do mark, I beseech you, here, the importance of steadfast perseverance in the Christian character.
II. the nature of Naomi’s solicitude. It was rest she wanted for her daughter-in-law: “Shall I not seek rest for thee?” I wish to give some description of this rest.
1. And the first idea is tranquillity; a sacred calm, a blessed believing satisfaction. For when the poor soul is first awakened by the Spirit of God there is anything but tranquillity; it is tossed to and fro in a state of uncertainty, a state of perplexity, a state of wretchedness. “Shall I not seek rest for thee?” Shall I not tell thee where it is to be had? Shall I not point out the fact that it is to be found only in Ruth’s determination--“Thy God shall be my God,” a covenant God--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost? Get to know Him, get to serve Him with decision, and thou shalt have tranquillity.
2. But I pass on to mark, in addition to the tranquillity sought, it was desired that she should have an inheritance, and an inheritance of great value too. Now what says the apostle to this?” Blessed be God,”we have got an inheritance.
III. the end of this solicitude. And a very blessed one it was. (J. Irons.)
Wash thyself, therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee.
Washed, anointed, and clothed
Need we explain this washing, anointing, and clothing? Need we point to the only fountain for sin? Need we say that the holy anointing oil, which consecrates the believer in Jesus a priest and king unto God, is His own blessed Spirit? Must we define the raiment to be that robe of Divine and human righteousness combined wherewith each soul is invested which rejects its own filthy rags? (C. F. Hall.)
Uncover his feet, and lay thee down.
I. we begin with some explanatory observations, for the purpose of vindicating the narrative from misapprehension and abuse.
1. We must notice the general contrariety of pastoral customs to our own which marked those ancient times in the East. What unadorned simplicity! Wearing the garments which had been worn by him during the day, he throws himself down to rest at the end of the heaps of winnowed corn, with nothing but a simple mat beneath him, and a similar covering or cloak above him. How different is all this from the dignity and reserve which would be maintained and the many artificial luxuries and comforts that would be possessed by a person of similar rank and wealth among ourselves.
2. It is a fact that, both in those times and up to this hour in the East, servants have been accustomed to lay themselves in this manner at the feet of their master. One modern traveller mentions that his Arab servants were quite in the practice of doing so with him; and, in cold evenings, of claiming the privilege, which had descended from immemorial usage, of drawing over themselves the skirts of the long mat or cloak in which his person was enveloped.
3. Moreover, it is an interesting fact bearing on the present subject, that a very prominent part of the marriage ceremony among the Orientals was for the bridegroom to throw the skirt of his robe over his bride. The act of Ruth here described was, therefore, a significant action, in which she claimed the protection of Boaz and the honourable acknowledgment of her as his wife.
4. It is further to be observed that while the whole scene proves Boaz to have been a man most pure in spirit and of sensitive virtue, the conduct of Ruth does not for one moment make him doubt or question her purity. But here our defence ceases, at least in respect to Naomi. While we vindicate her intentions, we are constrained to censure her measures; while we acquit her of designing evil, we must blame her for not “abstaining from all appearance of evil.” There was too much of cunning and stratagem about the manner of the whole transaction. There was a forcing of Providence where there should have been a trustful waiting on it; a cutting of a short way to a desired issue, instead of moving in the way which God might open to her.
II. thus explained, the transaction suggests some important practical lessons.
1. The duty of caring for our good name. “Two things there are,” saith St. Augustine, “whereof every man should be specially chary and tender--his conscience and his credit.”
2. The duty of charity in our judgment of others. It will often be found to be the wisest course to form our estimate of a doubtful action by the character of the actor, and when we stand in doubt, to let love turn the scale. Persons seem to each man what he is to himself. One who suspects hypocrisy in the world is rarely transparent; the man constantly on the watch for cheating is generally dishonest; he who suspects impurity is prurient.
3. It is a first principle, in Christian morals that duty must always have the preference before inclination. What true Christian chivalry, born of faith, there was in the heart of this Bethlehem yeoman! He was not only sternly honest, but sensitively honourable, bearing his escutcheon without a sinister brand on it.
4. It is surely not unnatural to ascend in thought from Boaz to Him who, in an infinitely higher sense, is our Kinsman Redeemer, who became “bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh,” and died as the propitiatory victim for our offences, in order that He might reinstate us in the Divine favour, and redeem for us the heavenly inheritance which we had lost. (A. Thomson, D. D.)
Blessed be thou of the Lord, my daughter . .. I will do to thee all that thou requirest
The first-fruits of grace
The passage before us gives a copious illustration of the first-fruits of grace to the accepted soul.
Jesus welcomes, blesses, and abundantly rewards all who thus come unto Him. First we have Divine approval. Boaz does not reject or repel the lowly suitor at his feet. The difference in their outward conditions was great. Yet he neither chides her boldness, nor reproaches her with sorrow, nor refuses her plea. He listens to her prayer in kindness. He invokes the Divine blessing upon her in her need. And how his whole address to her illustrates the Saviour’s gracious approval of those who seek Him! When the wearied soul comes to the feet of Jesus this is ever the welcome of approbation which it receives. The Saviour takes immediate notice of the prayer which rises up before Him, and answers it with the kindest encouragement. Boaz next illustrates for us the Divine promises. He meets the full requisition of his suppliant. There is not a want which the Christian feels for which there is not a provision promised in the Word of God. And when we come to ask His mercy, and lay ourselves at His feet in humble dedication to Him, the Saviour takes all our concerns into His own hands, and Himself promises to provide for every need. Another of the first-fruits of grace which we find in this illustration is the bounty of Divine gifts. Boaz not only promises for the future, but he bestows in the present. He will not send Ruth away empty. He fills her vail with as much barley as she could carry to her mother. An abundant supply for the wants of both. He is as generous in the amount of his liberality as he is is delicate and free in the manner of its bestowal. Thus the Saviour richly and freely bestows His gifts of grace upon those who love Him. What sweet peace He pours into the conscience in the assurance of our forgiveness! What clear light He gives to the understanding of His whole method of salvation and scheme of truth! What solidity He bestows upon the judgment in its satisfaction with His plans revealed! What joy He awakens in the heart, in the hope and anticipation of His final glory! How He makes our whole path a path of increasing light and abounding peace! In Him we are never straitened. The more diligently and truly we wait upon Him, the more abundantly will our strength be renewed. He will freely say to us, like Boaz to Ruth, “Bring the vail that thou hast upon thee, and hold it.” Whatever we are ready to receive He is waiting to bestow. But the illustration from the vail of Ruth fails, in the important fact that its measure was fixed, but our capacity to hold increases with our receipts of the Divine bounty. And who shall tell where God’s gracious willingness to bestow shall find its limit? As faith enlarges, and we learn to expect large things, and to attempt large things, so also becomes enlarged the measure of grace which faith receives. The history before us illustrates the Divine fidelity. With what confidence Naomi trusts in the truth and faithfulness of Boaz! The result proved that her confidence was not misplaced. He did complete with entire success the work of protection and mercy which he had undertaken. It is upon such entire fidelity in our gracious Kinsman that we are required to place our trust. “Great is His faithfulness.” “His name is called faithful and true.”(S. H. Tyng, D. D.)
Thou art a virtuous woman.
Ruth the virtuous
1. Observe, to begin with one of her humblest virtues, Ruth’s industry. She accompanies Naomi to the land of Israel; but not to live on public charity or become the humble pensioner of affluent relatives. Reared in the lap of luxury, she has never learned to work; yet in a noble spirit of independence she resolves to earn her bread with her own hands. We have called this a humble virtue, not because we hold it cheap, or do not regret that under the debasing influence of our poor-laws and the self-indulgent spirit of the age, it is dying out of the land. One of the saddest phases of the times is that, for themselves or their parents, thousands now accept and even clamour for public charity who, less than a century ago, would have scorned to touch it. We call it a humble virtue, because, notwithstanding the degeneracy of the age, it still dwells in many a lowly home, stamping those with a true nobility who feel the bread taste sweet their own hands have earned, and, looking forward with a Christian’s hope to the rest of heaven, are content here to live to work and work to live.
2. Observe next her humility. On losing their fortune some retain in a silly pride what but aggravates the loss, rankling like a thorn in a bleeding wound. An empty sack cannot stand erect; yet they inflict misery on themselves, and not seldom wrong on others, by the mean and even dishonest things they de to keep up appearances. Deeming some honest but humble work beneath their dignity, they buy what they cannot pay for, or borrow what they cannot return. Ashamed to work, they are not ashamed to live on the fruits of others’ industry rather than their own. There is something inexpressibly mean in this; and worse than mean. It argues a spirit of rebellion against Him and His providence who setteth up one and putteth down another. How different from this un-Christian and rebellious spirit the humility of Ruth! How beautiful it is! Willing to engage in any honest work, however humble, she bends like a reed to the blast, bows her gentle head meekly before the majesty of heaven, and, meeting her trials like a Christian heroine, drinks off the cup mingled and presented by her Father’s hand.
3. Observe her affection to Naomi. It wrings Ruth’s heart to part with sister, mother, and country; but it would break it to part with Naomi. She cannot do it. The ship may sink; but, mailing her colours to the mast, she will sink or swim with it. Death only shall apart them: nor death--the last favour her lips shall ask, that they lay her in Naomi’s grave. Nobly did Ruth redeem the pledges of this affecting scene. She teaches us, by what she was to Naomi, what we are to be to Christ; how we should cleave to Him--how we should love Him--with what devotion of heart and body, of soul, strength, mind and spirit we should serve Him, and gladly spend and be spent for Him--saying, as we take up our cross to follow the lover and Redeemer of our souls, “Where Thou goest,”etc. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
Six measures of barley.
Exact reckonings of mercies
1. True virtue or grace makes persons universally good. Boaz was a gracious or virtuous man. He is good in his charity as well as in his chastity: he adds one grace to another (2 Peter 1:5).
2. God’s blessings bestowed on us should be received by us in an exact reckoning: we should receive them by number, weight and measure; and to behold the quantity of them is an excellent way to get a thankful heart (Psalms 116:12).
3. As charity is no churl, so neither must it be blind or extravagant. His liberality is not lavish in laying out God’s blessings, but he giveth in judgment with discretion, not without consideration. Prudence is the general guide and universal mistress in all acts and exercises of virtue (Psalms 112:5).
4. As Boaz, so much more our God never sends home true suitors empty. He giveth, and He giveth liberally--He giveth grace, He giveth more grace (James 4:6). Every Sabbath, and sermon or sacrament, Christ cries to us, as Boaz to Ruth, “Bring hither thy vail, that I may fill it.” Faith is the receiving grace. God proportions His performing to our believing: as thou believest so be it unto thee (Matthew 8:13). (C. Ness.)
Sit still, my daughter.
Wailing upon Providence
1. When lawful means are rightly used, then should we wait upon God for the end. The care of the means belongs to us, but the care of the end belongs to God. We must commit ourselves in all well-doing to the Lord (Psalms 37:5; 1 Peter 4:19).”Until thou know how the matter shall fall.”
2. All matters concerning mankind are appointed by a Divine decree in heaven, before they be accomplished by a Divine Providence upon earth. Even all matches and marriages are made in heaven, before ever they come to be solemnised on earth (Psalms 55:22). It is our work to cast care, and it is God’s work to take care (1 Peter 5:7). We must let God alone with His own work, which is then only well done, when it is done by Himself. The man will not be at rest.
3. Conscientious persons should be restless until they make good payment of their promises. Alas, how few Boaz’s are in the world, who pay what they promise! (C. Ness.)
Avoid over-haste in the plans of life
I want to give you old Naomi’s advice. Listen, let older heads speak to you, even let God, speak to you: “He who was, and is, and is to come,” the Almighty God, speak a word like this: “Do not get fretful; do not get desponding; do not get over-eager; do not lag behind, but do not run too far forward; take care of taking things too much into your own hands.” You are only in the middle of things. Life is a plan; there is a purpose giving shape, aye, and blessedness to it all. Have you seen and understood? There is a clue to the maze, and that is the Man on the field, to whom all belongs, the mighty man of wealth. Do you know Him, and is His arm working for you? Well, don’t rush now; just go on steadily; sit still, my daughter. Sit still, nay heart, wait on thy God, leave God to order all thy ways, and trust in Him whate’er betide. Be sure of it that He who has begun, in the way of infinite wisdom, has not done yet. Your days are only in the beginning, you are not at the end--wait on God. “Be of good courage, he shall strengthen your heart--wait, I say, on the Lord.” ”He who has begun a good work will carry it on until the day of Jesus Christ.” Look back and see what He has done already; strengthen, and calm, and steady your hot and feverish soul; and let me say this for your encouragement, what Naomi said to Ruth: “Ah,”she as good as said, “I know this man.” Are you a little eager? Does your soul, sometimes in spite of yourself, haste forward to the consummation? Much more does His. He has set His mighty heart upon you; He loves you with an everlasting love; He is weary to get you, and He is shaping and controlling all things in heaven and earth for just one thing--to finish His redeeming work, and to get you home with rejoicing to be with Himself for ever and ever. (J. McNeill.)
The man will not be in rest.
Duty done at the right time
I. If this is to be our characteristic and habit, there are certain rules the observance of which is indispensable. We must not undertake more work, or ambitiously grasp at more engagements, than there is a fair and reasonable likelihood of our being able to accomplish. We must endeavour, by plan and forethought, so to dispose of our time as to make the most of every hour that is given us to work in. Then there must be no indolent procrastination, or giving way before little difficulties, or sitting down or turning aside because we think we see lions in the way; but rather the putting forth of vigorous effort in order to realise our plans and to keep ourselves master of our circumstances, instead of allowing our circumstances to master us. The benefits which grow out of this ordering of our time, and doing the work of each day in the day, are various and great. It helps to secure that whatever we undertake to do shall be well done, by our having abundance of time in which to do it. It saves our consciences from the reproach and our characters from the shame of promise-breaking; for when the work of to-day is thrown over upon to-morrow, it is likely that much will fail to be done at all, according to the old Spanish proverb that “the street of By-and-By leads to the house of Never.” It preserves us from that fretting of the temper which is the certain effect of hurry, and enables us to maintain more tranquillity of mind, and self-control, and self-respect.
II. next let us apply the principle in these words to some things in detail. There is especially one direction in which it is pre-eminently applicable. Suppose a man to have the consciousness awakened in him that he has never given earnest attention to the matter of his personal salvation; that he is under the displeasure of God, with a life of unforgiven sins accusing him; and that the near and solemn eternity is all unprovided for. This ought surely to become his immediate and paramount concern. “The man should not be in rest until he hath finished the thing this day.” Who would sing songs to a man that was sinking and perishing in the fearful pit and the miry clay? Get him out of the pit first. He would be a fool who should propose to paint his ship while it was toiling and straining in the storm. Bring it first into calm waters and the safe harbour. But let us assume that the supreme interest has been cared for; and there are two observations which it is natural to connect with these suggestive words of Naomi.
1. There are certain duties which regularly fall to be performed by us, and which may be described as the work of every day. There are, for example, the duties of our stated secular vocation, whether they consist in headwork or in handiwork, or in both combined. In these we are daily summoned anew to serve God; and very much of the Christian’s everyday religion consists in his discharging these common services in a Christian spirit. And daily mingling with these, and shedding down hallowed influences upon them, there are the more direct exercises of religion, especially those of secret devotion, on the morning and evening of every day. And scarcely less congenial with the tastes of his new nature will be his daily perusal of some chosen portion of Holy Scripture. And must we not further claim from the Christian heads of families that domestic devotion shall form an essential part of each day’s round of service, in which every day’s wants shall be turned to prayer, and every day’s mercies to praise; in which family affection shall be nurtured and sanctified; in which the parents shall become more venerable and the children more endeared, and home become as one of the gates of heaven?
2. There is another large class of duties of a more special kind, which are not of daily recurrence, but are rather appropriate to particular times and circumstances, and may be said to grow out of them.
(1) Observation of the weekly day of rest.
(2) Making your will.
(3) Making up quarrels.
(4) Speaking words in season.
Do not withhold yourself from doing good because your sphere of beneficent action is narrow. If you cannot do a prophet’s work, yet give a cup of cold water to one of Christ’s little ones. If you have not the means of founding or endowing a hospital, you can take a flower, perchance, and give it to some sister or brother who is pining in one of its wards, and you can give kind words and sunny looks along with it. The world around is full of opportunities of usefulness, if we would but seize them. We can scarcely stretch forth our hand without touching some form of human misery which we could mitigate or relieve. “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it.”(A. Thomson, D. D.).