Category Archives: Ruth

Ruth 1: The God of Ordinary People

Have you noticed the Bunnings hardware ads? Starring normal people. Ordinary shop assistants talking about buying hardware from Bunnings.

I guess the message is “We’re not that big a business. We’re interested in you. We understand the ordinary person. We’re almost like your friendly LOCAL hardware store. (Even though we bought them out years ago.)

And lots of businesses are advertising the same way. Using ORDINARY PEOPLE rather than paid actors. Big companies trying to convince you they’re interested in the small person. In the everyday problems of normal people.

And sometimes we’re tempted to think the same way about GOD. That he’s too busy to be involved with NORMAL PEOPLE. And much of the Old Testament can give that impression. With books about kings and nations. And temples and city walls. And international warfare and exile and rescue from slavery.

But Ruth’s DIFFERENT. The message of Ruth is that God is interested in all the ordinary little details, of all the ordinary little lives, of his ordinary little people. The lesson of Ruth, just like the lesson of THE WHOLE BIBLE, is that God’s SOVEREIGN. He’s KING. He’s in Control. Of EVERYTHING. Of planets and stars. Of oceans and weather. Of kings and judges. Of tribes and wars and conquest.

But not just THE BIG THINGS. He’s king of ORDINARY PEOPLE! – like you and me, doing ordinary things, struggling with family relationships. And making ends meet, keeping a roof over our head, through difficult situations. That’s what we learn from the book of Ruth. It’s a story about the little details of life. About village life, and gathering food. It’s about marriage and death, and children and family. No famous or powerful people here. It’s a story about NOBODIES.

  1. Ordinary peoples’ lives

So let’s look over the back fence into some ordinary peoples’ lives. Verse 1.

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.”

The story starts in Israel. The time? When the judges ruled. Which puts it some time between 1400 and 1000 BC. But the reference to the time of the judges is more than just a date stamp. It describes THE MORAL STATE of the nation.

It’s a couple of generations after the Jews have conquered Canaan. The Israelites are still getting rid of the last pockets of Canaanites from the land. And as you read through the book of Judges, there’s wickedness and violence, and disobedience of God. Joshua’s dead, and for the most part, Israel’s leaderless.

And the chorus that’s repeated through the book of Judges is that it’s a time when there was NO KING IN ISRAEL, and EVERYONE DOES WHAT’S RIGHT IN HIS OWN EYES. There’s no HUMAN king. But more importantly, they don’t recognise GOD as KING. And so, everyone does whatever he feels like. There’s no rule, no law, no accountability, no justice, no MORALITY.

That’s WHEN our story happens. That’s the SETTING. And the first detail we learn is that there’s A FAMINE IN THE LAND. And, because of the TIME, we can’t help wondering if it’s the result of people abandoning God. Of doing what’s right in their own eyes. Because, in the Bible, that’s often what happens when people aren’t trusting GOD. He sends A FAMINE to shake them up.

And our attention immediately turns to one normal family. Struggling to put bread on the table. The subtle irony is / they live in Bethlehem, which means house of bread. But there’s none to be had. Like living in Surfer’s Paradise, but there’s no waves, or Fisherman’s Point, but there’s nothing biting.

And so this man’s solution is to leave Israel in search of food. And he chooses to go to MOAB. Perhaps 80 km away. But there’s food THERE. Which makes it seem likely that the famine in Bethlehem IS God’s punishment.

But rather than address the SPIRITUAL problem behind the famine, for THIS guy it’s all about the MATERIAL side. And so he leaves God’s people. Leaves potential wives for his sons behind. Sacrifices ALL OF THAT. And goes to MOAB. A wicked people. Who worshipped Chemosh, rather than God.

In v2, we find out his name’s Elimelech, which means “my God is KING”. Which is subtle irony again. Because his ACTIONS show the exact opposite of his NAME. My God is king. King over nations. King over families. King over food and famine. Over life and death. My God is king. But this guy is going to solve his problems HIMSELF. He’s going to be king of his world. And God doesn’t MATTER.

NAMES are SIGNIFICANT in the story of Ruth. His wife’s name, Naomi, means pleasant, or sweet, “Sweetheart”. And his two sons are Mahlon and Kilion. Now, I know Biblical names are often good to choose for your kids. But don’t call them Mahlon or Kilion. They mean something like “sickly” and “whining”.

  1. Ordinary Peoples’ trials

And so we almost expect what happens next. The family moves to avoid starvation. But it doesn’t work. V3. He moves to Moab, then he DIES ANYWAY. Naomi’s left with her two sons, who marry Moabite women, called Orpah and Ruth. But then, v5, jump forward 10 years, the TWO SONS die.

And so within a couple of paragraphs, The whole family’s reduced to just Naomi and her two Moabite daughters-in-law. Three widows all alone, in a foreign country, destitute! Things aren’t turning out too pleasantly for Naomi, whose name means PLEASANT. No husbands, No children, no security, no food. What were they going to do? 5 verses in, and they’ve got nowhere left to turn.

  1. Ordinary People’s Extraordinary God:

They’ve got nothing. But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. Because, of course, it doesn’t depend on them ALONE. Who’s going to side with these NOBODIES? God, of course! He ALWAYS stands up for the helpless – the widows and orphans.

V6, Naomi hears that, back in Israel, God’s ended the famine. The same God who’d CAUSED it. The same God who’d taken Elimelech, and Mahlon and Kilion. This SAME GOD, in time, brings the famine to an end. So Naomi decides to return to Israel, together with her two widowed daughters-in-law.

And as they travel Naomi has some advice for her daughters-in-law. V8 “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. {9} May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kisses them, and they all weep. Israel’s no place for her daughters in law. They won’t just be widows with no family. They’ll be FOREIGN widows!

And, v11-13, Naomi’s too old to re-marry, then have more sons for them to marry! The situation’s hopeless.

And so, v14, Orpah takes the sensible option, and returns to Moab. But Ruth CLINGS to Naomi. And then gives a beautiful speech. A speech of loyalty and love and faithfulness. Follow it from v16. “But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. {17} Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” {18} When Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.”

There’s nothing in it for Ruth. She’s got every right to leave Naomi to fend for herself. But instead she shows loyalty and faithfulness and love. To NAOMI, but also to GOD. Because, now,  he’s HER God TOO.

Faithfulness reflects God’s purposes:

And it’s in Ruth’s speech we get hints about what we’re to learn from this book. Firstly, Ruth’s loyalty is a picture of God’s faithfulness to his people, Israel. Ruth’s promises reflect God’s covenant-promises.

In the times of the Judges, when there was so much sinfulness and wickedness and unfaithfulness, there are still faithful, good people. And GOD WAS STILL ACTIVE AND FAITHFUL and working in the lives of ordinary people – people like Naomi and Ruth!

Jump back up to Naomi’s prayer. Verse 8. She prays that God would show KINDNESS to these Moabite girls! The word is “loving-kindness”, or “covenant faithfulness”. The Hebrew is HESED. It’s a word particularly used about God’s behaviour towards ISRAEL – the people of his covenant! And Naomi’s praying that God will extend his covenant blessings to these Moabite, Gentile women!

And the irony is that, at a time when Israel is acting as anything BUT God’s faithful people. It’s a GENTILE woman who shows Israel how to be faithful. Ruth made covenant marriage promises to Naomi’s family. And she’s going to KEEP THEM. Wherever Naomi goes. And whoever she’s WITH.

And Naomi prays for a Gentile woman. Prays that God will be faithful to her. And in Ruth’s declaration in v16, she commits herself to be one of God’s FAITHFUL children. “Your God will be MY God.” It’s a little echo of God’s plan to include ALL nations – not just the Jews. Right back with Abraham, God promised that he’d be a blessing to ALL nations.

ISRAEL might be unfaithful. But God is ALWAYS faithful. Always keeps his promises. And Ruth’s an EXAMPLE of him DOING that.

So Ruth and Naomi return to Bethlehem. Verse 19. The townsfolk are all buzzing with excitement! “Is it really you, Naomi?” Naomi answers “Don’t call me Naomi (or pleasant), ” she told them. “Call me Mara, (or bitter) because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. {21} I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.””

She sums it up quite nicely. The last few years have been as tough as anyone could imagine. Naomi’s lost nearly everything. But she’s HOME. And the famine’s OVER.

And if the chapter ended here, we’d be left feeling unsatisfied. We’d wonder how God really WAS king. And whether Ruth, for all her faithfulness, had made a bad decision. Because everything’s turned BITTER. And she’s almost EMPTY. But this ISN’T the end of the chapter, is it? Look at verse 22. “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess (just in case you’d forgotten), her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.” Just a tiny phrase finishes the chapter on a high note. It’s not a loud, obvious note, – not a trumpet blast. But it’s still a positive. There’s HOPE. But that’s really the tone of the whole book! It’s not always in the big, miraculous, obvious ways that God works. And he doesn’t just work with the gifted and talented, the rich and the successful.

God provides the ordinary needs of ordinary people. Despite all that Naomi’s been through, she’s arrived home JUST AS THE BARLEY HARVEST WAS BEGINNING! A coincidence? I don’t think so!

But it’s the way we think, isn’t it? Little things fall into place. and we say, “That was LUCKY, wasn’t it?!” We pray for rain. Then rain falls. But we wonder, “Perhaps it would have rained ANYWAY.” Or, we WORRY about tomorrow. As if God wasn’t in control.  Or, when things don’t turn out the way WE want, we get DISAPPOINTED, rather than look for God’s purposes. Or we’re PROUD when our plans work out, as if WE’RE the one’s who’ve made them possible. We treat the world as if it was about COINCIDENCES, or where WE rule. Rather than a world where God’s in control – where “My God is King” – Elimelech – My God IS King!!

God provided the ordinary needs of his people. And we mustn’t forget his hand in the ordinary things in our lives. In sending rain. And bringing HARVESTS.  In his protection on the roads, In our health, and the provision of jobs, and money, and food, and housing, in friends and so many other things!

We can’t see the COMPLETE answer to Naomi’s complaints yet. That’s still coming in the next chapters. But here we get the HINT. God’s working bad things for GOOD.

And that’s true FOR US. In OUR tough times. When bad things happen, and we wonder where God is in all of it. WE CAN’T SEE THINGS COMPLETELY. But God CAN. So, as you stand at the beginning of a new year. And you wonder what God’s got in store. TRUST HIM. (Perhaps worried. Perhaps fearful. Perhaps EXCITED.) He DOES promise to work all things for GOOD. (Romans 8:28) Which may not mean our comfort, or our wealth, or our health. And he doesn’t promise it will happen instantly. But he IS full of loving kindness and faithfulness. And he calls US to be kind and faithful as we TRUST him.

Faithfulness achieves God’s purposes:

So, in Ruth’s loyalty, we see a PICTURE of God’s loyalty. But that’s not all! There’s a second way I think Ruth’s meant to teach us. Ruth’s loyalty is also the MEANS by which God works out his plans. Ruth’s loyalty is the instrument for God’s loyalty to his people. There’s a real sense in which Ruth’s faithfulness ACHIEVES God’s purposes.

I’m not normally one who reads the last page of a mystery novel! And I hate finding out the result of a football game before I’ve had a chance to watch it. But I’m going to make an exception here! If we turn to the last page of this story, we see the way it turned out! Without Ruth’s loyalty, the story would have stopped in Moab. Without Ruth’s loyalty, she wouldn’t have married Boaz. Without Ruth’s loyalty, she wouldn’t have given birth to Obed, who in turn fathered Jesse, who in turn fathered King David! Without Ruth’s loyalty, King David’s line wouldn’t have culminated in Jesus – the Saviour of the World! God used that simple act of Ruth’s loyalty to work out HIS ultimate loyalty to his people – Jesus!

Would Ruth have been loyal to Naomi if she’d known how things would turn out? Of course! But she didn’t!  As far as she knew, she was following Naomi back TO POVERTY. She didn’t know she’d marry Boaz! She didn’t know she’d have a son, Obed. She didn’t know Obed’s son would be Jesse, or that Jesse’s son would be King David. And she didn’t know that King David’s line would eventually culminate in the Saviour of the world, Jesus!

If Ruth hadn’t come back from Moab with Naomi, she wouldn’t have been part of God’s plans for an ordinary person, which culminated in an extraordinary event! Ruth’s decision was made so much harder because she didn’t know how things would turn out!

Let’s suppose this story was doing the rounds of Israel about 100 years after the event. During the reigns of King David and King Solomon. That’s pretty likely. Great times. Easy times. Times of prosperity and wealth and also pride and complacency. For the original Jewish hearers, Ruth was a story that showed them where their great kings had come from. The great time of peace under David and Solomon, was the result of God’s covenant faithfulness through ORDINARY PEOPLE. – ordinary people being obedient in ordinary decisions. The lesson to be learned was that people needed to display the same sort of loyalty to each other and to God/ that this foreign woman had showed. THAT was the way to keep the covenant blessings of God’s people living at peace in God’s land. GOD WORKS OUT HIS PURPOSES WHEN GOD’S ORDINARY PEOPLE LIVE FAITHFULLY LIKE THEIR GOD. That was the lesson for the Jewish hearers.

And it’s the lesson for God’s people today. As we deal faithfully with each other. And with the world around us. As we’re truthful, and honest, and caring. GOD CAN WORK OUT HIS PURPOSES IN US. And as our neighbours and colleagues SEE us, they begin to understand the faithful and loving and truthful God we serve.

God works out his purposes when God’s ordinary people live faithfully like their God. Every day is full of dozens of ordinary moments. Decisions. Opportunities to follow God. Sometimes we’re disobedient – we do the WRONG thing. Or fail to do the RIGHT thing. And the chance for God to use us passes us by!

But we can never tell how God will use our ordinary obedience! In May 1934 a Charlotte, North Carolina farmer lent one of his fields to some businessmen. They wanted to devote a day of prayer for Charlotte because the Depression had spread spiritual apathy in the city. They’d planned to hold an evangelistic campaign later that year. During that day of prayer on the land, their leader, Vernon Patterson, prayed, that out of Charlotte the Lord would raise up someone to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth.

For eleven weeks from September 1934 a renowned, fiery Southern evangelist named Mordecai Fowler Ham, and his song leader, Walter Ramsay, shattered the complacency of church- going Charlotte. God heard their prayer. The farmer who lent his pasture for the prayer meeting was Franklin Graham, and his son Billy became a Christian during the meetings. And Billy Graham grew up to become the most famous evangelist the modern world has known. God’s used him to bring hundreds of thousands of people to himself.

And it began with the simple, ordinary act of obedience on the part of an ordinary farmer. The first step along a path to thousands upon thousands of people becoming Christians.

God works out his purposes when God’s ordinary people live faithfully like their God. He’s the God of ordinary people. He wants to PROVIDE for ordinary people. He wants to USE ordinary people. Will you let him use you?

 

Ruth 2: The God of Coincidences

In the movie, “The Truman Show”, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank. He’s the subject of a television show. The people he lives with are all actors. His neighbours, his workmates, even his wife. They all follow the instructions of the director. But Truman DOESN’T KNOW he’s part of a show. He just thinks this is his REAL LIFE! The movie is about what happens as Truman begins to suspect what’s going on. His behaviour CHANGES as he starts to see that someone’s controlling his life. As he starts to see the hand of the director.

IT MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE KNOWING THAT SOMEONE’S IN CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.

And the same thing’s true for us, too. Is your life different because you know God’s in control? It SHOULD be. But often it’s NOT. You’re late for that appointment. Do you relax in the knowledge that God has everything in control? Or do you get more and more stressed? Or the kids are going out to a party. Do you trust them to God’s care, or do you WORRY about whether they’ll be alright? Or you’re waiting for the specialist’s report on your medical condition. Are you confident that God’s looking after you? Or do you LOSE SLEEP worrying about the diagnosis? Our choices and attitudes should be different because we know God’s in control.

And that’s what Ruth 2 teaches us about. It’s about God’s control, or PROVIDENCE. The Heidelberg Catechism, Q27, gives this answer to the question, “What is God’s providence?” “God’s providence is His almighty and ever present power, whereby He still 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 not by chance but by His fatherly hand.”

That’s great, isn’t it!? And you can see why knowing THAT will make a difference in how you live!

And the way the story of Ruth describes it/ is that PROVIDENCE IS OFTEN SUBTLE. Difficult to notice. In fact, we don’t read, “And then God did this, and then He made such-and-such do such-and-such.” God’s rarely mentioned, except in PRAYERS, and so we need to look carefully to see his work.

And that’s the way it is for most of US. IN OUR LIVES it’s often hard to see God’s hand. It’s nearly always SUBTLE. And we have to look hard with the eyes of faith.  So keep your eyes open for God’s hand here in Ruth.

  1. Boaz (v1)

Chapter 2 begins with a secret. Normally a good story keeps the secret until the end, but here we find out EARLY. We get to see what the DIRECTOR sees. “Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.”

Ruth hasn’t met him yet, but WE know to keep watch, because he’s going to be important. We get to see the situation the way God does. To see the big picture. What Ruth and Naomi see as every day circumstance, we see is PLANNED FROM THE BEGINNING. When Ruth and Naomi make decisions without knowing what will happen, we already know.

And here’s what we discover. Boaz is a RELATIVE. More than just FAMILY though. Boaz is A GOOD CATCH. A man of STANDING. It’s a word used in other places for mighty warriors or noblemen. His name means something like “In him is STRENGTH”. Before the chapter’s finished, we’ll find out he’s also RICH, he loves God, and he treats his employees well. Oh, by the way, IT JUST SO HAPPENS he’s also SINGLE. A man of STANDING, alright. You don’t find them like THAT too often!

  1. Barley (v2)

That’s v1. Keep your eye out for Boaz. V2. Back to Naomi and Ruth. Remember how Ch 1 finished? They’ve got no food, no family or money. And there’s no welfare system. There IS plenty of barley. (It’s the barley harvest.) But none of it’s theirs! In Israel, the closest thing to a welfare system is found in Deuteronomy 24. Harvesters are to leave whatever they DROP for the POOR. (For the orphan and the widow and the foreigner). Who can come along and GLEAN. (Pick up whatever’s been left behind.)

Isn’t it LUCKY they’ve arrived at just the right time? Just in time for the barley harvest. But she’d ALSO need to be lucky enough to find a field without TOO MANY OTHER gleaners to share it with. Well… as luck would have it, that’s how things worked out!

  1. Boaz’s barley (v3)

That’s the way the story describes it the coincidence. “So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. AS IT TURNED OUT, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” It’s more like, “It just so happened by chance…”. The King James Version puts it beautifully. “… and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz…”

There’s nowhere else in the Old Testament that puts things like this. From RUTH and NAOMI’S point of view, it looks like LUCK. A random event. But we know better. Because we already KNOW about Boaz from v1. We know God’s behind it all! It’s PROVIDENCE, not LUCK.

  1. Boaz the Boss (v4-7):

And then, Verse 4, the man himself arrives. Boaz the BOSS. And greets his workers, “The LORD be with you!” And they respond, “The LORD bless YOU!” When was the last time YOUR boss said something like that to YOU? He’s RICH, he loves GOD, and he’s a good bloke who looks after his servants.

It might be nothing more than a simple “G’day!”, but I think there’s more to it. Technically, it’s a PRAYER. A request that God would be WITH someone and BLESS THEM. It’s a subtle way of recognising that God DOES involve himself in everyday events.

And what they ask for are things we ALREADY KNOW ARE HAPPENING! God IS with his people, and he IS blessing them! The famine has ended. The harvest is here. And Ruth’s got “lucky”! “It just so happened!”

God’s only mentioned four times in this chapter. Here’s the FIRST two. And each time it’s a PRAYER for God’s blessing. And each time, we can see God ALREADY doing what the prayer asks! With his people. And BLESSING them. Working in the COINCIDENCES of life. A bit more on prayer in a moment.

And the meeting we knew was coming is about to happen.V5. Boaz notices Ruth. “Whose young woman is that?” he asks. His foreman fills him in. About how she’s Naomi’s daughter-in-law, and how she asked permission to glean. And that she’s been working hard all day.

  1. Boaz the Beneficent (v8-9)

And Boaz is impressed. So he goes to Naomi, and Boaz blesses her. Verses 8 and 9. “Stay here and glean. Don’t go anywhere else. I’ll make sure you’re looked after.” He’s got her PHYSICAL needs covered. (Stick in my fields. And drink from our water jars.) He’s got her SAFETY covered. (I’ve told the men “hands off”). He’s got her SOCIAL needs covered. (Hang with the women. Make some friends.)

How lucky could she be?! Out of all the fields she could have arrived at, she’d really found the best one, and with the kindest owner, too! Verse 10. “At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?”

We already know the answer to THAT question. Because God’s behind it. Boaz says, I know all about you. How you’ve been widowed, how you’ve stuck by your mother-in-law. And he blesses her v12.  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.””

Once again Boaz makes a request for God to do something WE KNOW HE’S ALREADY DOING! God IS rewarding Ruth for her faithfulness! He’s looking after her, and providing her with refuge. FROM THE HAND OF THE VERY PERSON WHO’S PRAYING THE PRAYER. Boaz not only PRAYS for God’s blessing, but he GIVES IT HANDS AND FEET. He prays for God’s blessing, and then he PROVIDES THE MEANS by which God blesses Ruth.

Which is often the way God WORKS in prayer. Certainly not the ONLY way. But He’ll often move you to PRAY for something. And then, as you pray, God moves you to do something ABOUT it. As you pray that missionaries will be financially and emotionally supported. Think “How can I do that?” As you pray that a sick person will be well-supported and know God’s comfort. Ask “How can I support and comfort them?” As you pray for school Scripture, or for Petersham, or for the financial needs of our church. God will work in YOU, get YOU thinking about ways you can help, and answer your OWN PRAYERS. How has that worked FOR YOU?

And it works that way with Boaz. He prays that God would reward Ruth for her loyalty. And then helps to DO that. From v14. He offers her LUNCH. He even SERVES her. It’s like the boss cooking lunch for the new work experience kid. There’s even some left over for Ruth to take home to Naomi.

He’s gentle and kind and generous. But don’t forget what TIME we’re in! THE TIME OF THE JUDGES. When everyone did what was right in their own eyes. When it was the law of the jungle in Israel. The law of anarchy. Where wickedness and selfishness ruled. Except for Boaz. Who rewards the kindness of Ruth by being kind to her. His actions shine even BRIGHTER.

Where might that sort of kindness have come from? We get a hint in ch 4. We find out that Boaz’s father was a guy called Sal-mon. Whose MOTHER was RAHAB. Do you remember who Rahab was? Back in Joshua ch 2. Joshua, the leader of Israel, has sent spies into the city of Jericho. They went into the house of a Canaanite woman, called … Rahab.  When the king’s guards come looking for the spies, she HIDES them. When they’re about to escape, She says, “I know God’s given the city to you. When you conquer it, promise that you’ll show KINDNESS to my family, because I’ve shown KINDNESS to you.

Do you know what the word for KINDNESS is? HESED. Covenant faithfulness, loving-kindness, commitment. The word God uses to describe how HE deals with HIS PEOPLE. And it’s exactly what Naomi prays God would show RUTH because she’d shown HESED to Naomi.

And Joshua and his army DO spare Rahab and her family. The walls of Jericho come down, but Rahab and her family are saved. And they come under the wings of God. And become part of God’s people.

That’s Boaz’s GRANDMA. A FOREIGN WOMAN, shown KINDNESS by God’s people in response to HER kindness. And who becomes PART of God’s people. Perhaps that background shaped his character. And explains why he’s got a soft spot for this foreign woman, Ruth.

Whatever the cause, the end result, v17, is that Ruth ends up with a huge amount of grain from her day’s work. Buckets of barley from the bundles of Boaz. She goes home, gives Naomi the grain, and excitedly tells her about the wonderful day she’s had! And when she tells her it was BOAZ’S field, Naomi responds, V20, with ANOTHER prayer. “The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his KINDNESS (there’s that HESED word again) to the living and the dead.”

Once again God’s mentioned in the form of a blessing. ONCE AGAIN we notice it’s a request for something God’s already done. He obviously HAS blessed Boaz. He’s wealthy, generous, and well-respected by his workers. He’s a man of standing.

Then Naomi adds ONE FINAL DETAIL. It’s really the CRITICAL detail, because it links together all the separate strands in the story. She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”” The KINSMAN-REDEEMER was another of the Jewish laws to help with social welfare. The kinsman-redeemer was male close relative. Normally mature, older, financially secure, whose job was TO HELP OUT FAMILY. To pay off debts, to fix things up.

And in the case of widows, he could even MARRY the widows. It served three purposes. First, the widow was protected and provided for by her new husband. Second, if there was a child produced, it provided an heir for the widow. And third, it enabled the family land to stay in the family. For the widow, it provided a secure life, children, and a guaranteed future. In some ways, a much richer experience than social security.

You can almost hear the cogs in Naomi’s brain ticking over! “Boaz, eh! He’s a close relative – AND one of your kinsmen-redeemers into the bargain! Now that’s something interesting! Fancy that! What a coincidence!”

And as she’s thinking, Ruth continues happily, (Verse 21) “…He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.'””

“Excellent!” thought Naomi. “Just what I was thinking!”  “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” {23} So Ruth stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”

And so the chapter finishes! Ruth’s faithfulness HAS been rewarded. God HAS shown his kindness, answering Naomi’s prayer from chapter 1. She hasn’t been AWARE of God’s providence in the events of her life, but she’s EXPERIENCED it, none-the-less. God’s direction hasn’t been obvious, but there’s no doubting that it’s there! But as we hear the prayers for God’s blessing, we’re reminded who the real Director is. All that’s happened ISN’T coincidence! It’s PROVIDENCE! God’s purposes ARE being worked out! And God’s purposes are still being worked out TODAY! For US.

But let’s be careful what conclusions we draw. Yes, good things were happening to Ruth in this chapter. But that doesn’t mean good things will happen to US if we’re faithful. Don’t forget Ruth’s story STARTS AT CHAPTER 1. Her husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law have all DIED. Ruth’s been through famine, and a long journey. Things have NOT gone well! She hasn’t been faithful IN RESPONSE to God’s goodness! It’s more accurate to say she’s remained faithful DESPITE not seeing God’s goodness.

And that’s really where we need to copy Ruth. It’s EASY trusting God as long as things go WELL. But when things start to fall apart, will we still trust him? Good things will NOT always happen to good people! God’s purposes are NOT always that things will go well. Romans 8:28, on the surface, appears to say things WILL go well for Christians. But as we read on, we find out what “working for good” means. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. {29} For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

“Things working for good” is DEFINED for us from God’s point of view. It involves THINGS THAT CONFORM ME TO THE LIKENESS OF JESUS. That MAKE ME LIKE JESUS. That’s God’s Number one priority. Your final GLORIFICATION.

Perhaps being late for that appointment will produce in you things that make you more like Jesus. Perhaps more bills than money will cause you to trust Jesus more. Perhaps your kids getting sick or hurt will teach you what the love of your Heavenly Father is like. What it felt like for him to sacrifice his only son. Perhaps an illness may make you recognise that God’s grace is sufficient for you, and that it’s in your weakness that God’s strength can be seen. Perhaps failure will teach you humility and compassion. Perhaps chronic pain will teach you to long for Christ’s return and your resurrection body.

The big picture – the director’s view – doesn’t necessarily involve your financial abundance, emotional stability, relational security, spiritual maturity, or even automotive reliability(!). It doesn’t involve every little thing working out right. And it doesn’t even mean you’ll always find out WHY things happen. The big picture involves seeing all things as part of GOD’S PERFECT PLAN. All things as being one step towards that momentous final scene. When each of us is presented to Jesus, clothed in his character. GLORIFIED.

And so each scene of our own life-movie, our own Truman Show- needs to be lived with one eye on that FINAL SCENE. Life will be lived DIFFERENTLY when we know that someone’s in control of our life.

Let me finish with Q28 of the Heidelberg Catechism. We STARTED this sermon with Q27, answering what God’s providence was. And Q28 asks what DIFFERENCE it makes knowing to our life when we know that God is at work by his providence. (I’ll read the question, and we can all read the answer together).

  1. Q. What does it benefit us to know that God has created all things and still upholds them by His providence? A. We can be patient in adversity, thankful in prosperity, and with a view to the future we can have a firm confidence in our faithful God and Father that no creature shall separate us from His love; for all creatures are so completely in His hand that without His will they cannot so much as move.

Ruth 3: The God of Redemption

We’re in the third week of a series of 4 on Ruth.

Before we launch into chapter 3, let’s get up to speed on where we’ve been.

Last week we looked at chapter two. Naomi and Ruth arrive back in Bethlehem from Moab. They’d lost everything there. Husbands, food and home. Naomi tries to get Ruth to stay behind. “There’s no way I’ll have any more sons who can marry you. And then you can have some kids. Not going to happen.”

But Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. “Where you go, I’ll go. Your people are MY people, and YOUR God is MY God.

And so they arrive back in Bethlehem. Naomi went away FULL, and came back EMPTY. Her name means sweet, but she reckons she should be called BITTER instead. All Naomi and Ruth have is each other. That’s the end of Ch1.

But by the end of chapter 2, things are looking promising. They’re just in time for the barley harvest. A six week window of opportunity. If things go well, they could set themselves up with enough food to last for a while.

Ruth heads out to the fields to GLEAN. To pick up the leftovers after the reapers have been through.

As luck would have it, she ends up on the farm of one of Ruth’s relatives.  His name’s Boaz, and he’s a good catch. A man of standing. He loves God, he’s rich, he looks after his employees well, he’s kind, AND he’s single.

They meet for the first time. And things go well. He seems to LIKE her. Despite Ruth being all hot and sweaty. Old work clothes on, hair in a mess. Boaz shows her respect, and kindness and generosity. Serves her lunch, warns off the farm hands, sets her up with some friends, even sends her home with some desert for Naomi.

Ruth comes home from the field that first day, tells Naomi all about it. At which point Naomi says, “Boaz is my close relative, one of our KINSMEN-REDEEMERS”.

The well-off, established, experienced man-of-the-world. Who’s job it was to make things right. To look after family. To do whatever needed to be done to protect, and provide and restore and redeem the family. And they could even MARRY the widows of brothers who died to make sure the family line continued, and to look after the widow.

What a coincidence that you’d end up there! He’s JUST THE BLOKE who can help us.

And so Ruth continues in the field, working at her part-time job, waiting for Boaz to make his move. To show an interest in her. To offer to do MORE than just look after her SHORT-TERM needs.

Sure, she’s happy with the food and the company. But that’s not going to solve the long-term problem. Of a family, and a heritage.

And time’s ticking away. The harvest lasted for about six weeks. After that, there’ll be no reason for her to keep hanging around Boaz. Naomi wants something to happen, Ruth wants something to happen. WE want something to happen.

After all, Boaz is the kinsmen-redeemer. He’s a good catch. Is he going to make his move?

Weeks go by. Each day, Naomi asks Ruth if she’s seen Boaz. Did he SAY anything? Did he DO anything?

So, what is Ruth going to do? Weeks go by, and nothing from Boaz.

What some Christian girls TODAY do, is they lower their standards. They widen their field. Can’t find a Christian guy to go out with. That guy at WORK seems to show an interest. He’s not a Christian, but does that really matter? It can’t be TOO bad if I go out with him. Can’t really do much harm, can it? After all, it’s not like I’m going to MARRY him!

But Ruth’s not going to DO that. She doesn’t run off back to Moab. To the sexually immoral and idolatrous people she grew up with. She’s committed to Naomi and her people. She’s committed to God. And so she’s going to wait for HIS TIMING. HIS providence. His protection.

1. Naomi’s Plan (v1-4)

And so we come to ch 3. And Naomi decides to put a plan into action. Harvest time’s nearly over. The clock’s ticking. She can’t wait for Boaz to make his move. She’ll have to provide him with SOME ENCOURAGEMENT. Normally it would be Ruth’s FATHER’S job. To arrange an introduction, and put a proposal together. But there’s no Dad around. The closest thing Ruth’s got is a mother-in-law.

And so Naomi cobbles together a plan. Look at verse 1

(Ruth 3:1 NIV)  “One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?”

She tells Ruth, verse 3, to get a makeover. Wash, and put on your best clothes. Head off to the day spa. Get pampered. Put on your favourite perfume. Some killer heels.

After all, Boaz has only ever seen you hot and sweaty in your work clothes. SHOW him you’re not just one of the blokes.

And then here’s where it gets interesting. She’s to go to Boaz. Dressed to impress. Everything designed to knock his socks off. Don’t try to sanitise this! It’s no sombre and sterile business deal! It’s a MARRIAGE PROPOSAL that Naomi’s got planned. Well, at least it’s a proposal that BOAZ propose.

It’s the end of the harvest, and Boaz is down at the field having a huge party with all his workers. V3.

Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there UNTIL HE HAS FINISHED EATING AND DRINKING.

I like that. Wait until he’s got a full stomach, and he’s feeling relaxed. This is advice from a MARRIED woman. She knows the way men work. She’s BEEN married.

If there’s a bloke who’s not showing much interest, don’t go up to him BEFORE he’s eaten, and give him THE TALK. “I just want to know where our relationship is at. I though you were interested, but then you didn’t phone, and I don’t know what to think. What DO you think?”

Let me TELL you, if he’s hungry, what he’s PROBABLY thinking about is a big juicy steak and a cold beer!

This is good advice. SO FAR. Naomi continues v4.

{4} When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. HE WILL TELL YOU WHAT TO DO.””

I’ll BET he’ll tell you what to do!

There’s some debate about whether this is good advice or not. Wait until the guy you’re interested in has had a few drinks, he’s good and relaxed. You’re all dressed up, that great perfume on. When he lies down to sleep, sneak into the bed, and wait for him to tell you what to do.

At the very least, it’s RISKY. ESPECIALLY if you don’t know the bloke well. But I suppose Boaz has a good reputation, and he’s a member of the family. So perhaps Naomi’s showing her TRUST in God and in Boaz. And that he just needs a bit of a kick start.

Perhaps this is the best Naomi can come up with since Ruth’s FATHER isn’t around to organise the introduction PROPERLY.

I want to suggest it’s one of the places that DESCRIBES something that happens. Rather than PRESCRIBING what WE should do. It’s probably not advice I’d give to a young single Christian girl who wants to attract the attention of a bloke.

Whatever we decide, that’s what happens. Ruth does as she’s told. Because she’s the UNDERCOVER OPERATIVE.

2. The Undercover Operative (v7-9)

Verse 7. The action turns to Boaz. He finishes dinner. He’s had a few glasses of wine, and he’s in good spirits. It’s been a great harvest. The first after years of famine. There’s reason to celebrate.

He lays down to sleep. Guarding the grain heap.

And then Ruth makes her move. She tiptoes over, and sneaks under the doona. THE UNDERCOVER OPERATIVE IS ON THE CASE.

Imagine Ruth? Put yourself in her shoes. Wide awake! Sleep the furthest thing from her mind. Lying there, stiff as a board. Scarcely daring to breathe. Self-consciously holding the covers up under her chin.

She stares up at the night sky. Strange stars in this part of the world. “What on earth am I DOING here? I could be home under Mum and Dad’s roof. In my own bed. But I’m here in Israel. About to offer myself to some man I hardly know!”

She shakes her head in disbelief! All she can hear is the quiet breathing of Boaz. The man who holds her future in his hands. “What on earth am I DOING here?”

Perhaps she even got sick of waiting. Perhaps she gave Boaz a shove. It’s what Caron does when she “SAYS” I’ve been snoring. I don’t believe her, of course. I’ve never heard it!

Or perhaps her toes were getting cold. Not enough room under the doona when one person hogs most of it. So perhaps she gave the blankets a pull.

I’d say she must have done something. Because in the middle of the night, Boaz wakes up SUDDENLY. Something STARTLES him. The RSV is a bit quaint, but it expresses the idea pretty well

(v8) “and BEHOLD, a woman lay at his feet”

Now there’s lots of things I’d THINK of doing or saying if I found a strange woman under my covers in the middle of the night….. But Boaz chooses the simplest. “Who are you?” he says.

3. The plan goes wrong (?) (v9)

Now it’s here that the story starts to deviate from what Naomi said. The plan starts to go wrong. Or does it? Remember that Naomi didn’t tell Ruth to say ANYTHING. Just that Boaz will TELL HER what to do.

But listen to what Ruth does. She makes a REQUEST of Boaz. Verse 9.

“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

Ruth HASN’T done what Naomi said. And so we think, “Hang on a minute! What’s going on here? What’s Ruth on about?”

“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

And what we notice, or we WOULD if we read Hebrew, is that the word for “GARMENT” is the same word for “wing” in Chapter 2 verse 12. What Boaz prays that God would do for Ruth.

(Ruth 2:12 NIV)  “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.””

Ruth’s saying “Spread your wing over me”. She’s chosen to take refuge under God’s wings. And she’s asking BOAZ to protect her under HIS wing.

Boaz has PRAYED that God will reward Ruth. She’s being protected under God’s wings. And now, she asks that Boaz would protect her under HIS wing.

HOW can Ruth be protected under God’s wings? Humanly speaking, by being protected under Boaz’s wings.

One of the ways God’s purposes for his people are worked out/ is when they behave in godly ways towards each other. As they, in a sense, ANSWER THEIR OWN PRAYERS. And deal with kindness and generosity and love to people who need it. Because that’s the way God’s dealt with THEM.

Is that how WE’RE dealing with each other? And with those around us?

So Ruth wants to be under Boaz’s wing. But it’s more than just a figure of speech. In those days, when a man covered a woman with his cloak, it was a signal of intention to marry. It showed that she was under his protection. And so Ruth’s request was a proposal of marriage. Or at least a proposal that Boaz propose.

And that’s the way it was taken by Boaz. He’s obviously flattered by the attentions of the younger woman. Verse 10.

(Ruth 3:10 NIV)  “”The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.”

She could have chased after younger men, but she obeyed her mother in law, and came to Boaz. It’s this loyalty that was better than her first display. When she left her family and country and came with Naomi to Bethlehem!

And here we get the answer to why Boaz has been a bit slow. Not because he wasn’t interested. Naomi and Ruth were getting impatient, wondering when he’d call. But he hadn’t made a move because he thought SHE wasn’t interested in HIM.

We find out before long that he’s a man of action. He’ll do whatever it takes for the marriage to happen. And he’ll do it TODAY. So it’s not because he can’t be BOTHERED. He just thought Ruth was out of his league.

So single girls, don’t assume a guy not interested just because he’s not knocking you over with offers. Most of us blokes PRETEND we’re confident, but we’re not really. So perhaps he just doesn’t think he’s in your league.

And Boaz, once he realises what Ruth’s thinking/ he’s pretty chuffed with the attention.

10 “The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier:

There’s that word again. Kindness. HESED. Covenant faithfulness. Loving kindness. Same word used about God’s kindness in his dealings with Ruth and Naomi. Same word used to describe how Ruth treats Naomi. And how Boaz treats Ruth.

In that sense seems like they’re WELL-SUITED. In fact, if you look at v11, we find out she’s actually got a REPUTATION for being the sort of person who shows this sort of behaviour.

“Everyone knows that you are a WOMAN OF NOBLE CHARACTER.”

It’s the same phrase that described Boaz when we first met him. Ch 2 v1. A man OF STANDING. Iysh gabor hayil –MAN of GREAT / STANDING. And here we’ve got Ruth described as an iyshah hayil. A woman of standing.

They’re well-suited. They’re what Paul in 2 Cor 6:14 calls EQUALLY YOKED. He says there, to Christians, “Don’t be UNEQUALLY YOKED with UNBELIEVERS”.

Boaz and Ruth are WELL-MATCHED. One might be old, rich, and Jewish, the other might be young, poor and Moabite. But they both love God, they’re both of noble character, well thought-of, and they both treat people with KINDNESS.

God wants you to marry someone you’re EQUALLY YOKED with. You can both travel along life’s journey TOGETHER. Not one dragging the other along in God’s direction. Or constantly reminding them to pray, or to live God’s way. God’s design is for a couple to be walking together, both loving God, both encouraging each other. That’s the BEST sort of partnership.

And, despite their differences, despite the barriers, it seems like that’s what Boaz and Ruth have got.

4. Boaz’s Plan (v11-15)

And Boaz is pretty pleased. He’s glad to help. And he takes charge. “I’ll do it!” But there’s a spanner in the works. Verse 12

(Ruth 3:12 NIV)  “Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I.”

The course of true love never runs smooth. There’s some obstacles to be cleared first. There’s a CLOSER relative to Naomi than Boaz. And HE’S first in line to play the part of the kinsman-redeemer.

What if this OTHER BLOKE steps up to the plate? Is the love story going to be ruined? What if this OTHER RELATIVE keeps our two lovers apart? What if he ruins all of Naomi’s careful planning? What’s going to happen?

But perhaps we should be confident that Boaz is going to sort it out. He’s that sort of guy. Remember, he’s a man of standing. A good catch. He’s going to do what kinsmen-redeemers DO. Fix problems. Get the job done. He’ll do whatever it takes to make sure Ruth is looked after.

And he’ll do it QUICKLY. V13. Don’t worry your pretty little head about it. Just lie down and go to sleep.

(Ruth 3:13 NIV)  “Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.””

Don’t go home now. Too many drunk farmers out and about. Town’s too far away. I’ll look after it. FIRST THING in the MORNING. I’ll sort it.

So early next morning, before anyone can tells who’s who. Boaz loads her up with barley, and she goes back to Naomi. Just like in Ch 2. FULL. BUCKETS OF BARLEY! ANOTHER present for the future mother-in-law. Remember, fellas, this is good advice. Make sure you don’t just impress the girl. But impress her MUM, TOO.

Naomi excitedly asks her how things went, She probably didn’t get a wink of sleep. And Ruth fills her in. Naomi’s buzzing. Verse 18. (Ruth 3:18 NIV)  “Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.””

The story’s not finished yet, but we have the same quiet confidence that Naomi has – that things are going to work out alright, don’t we? The same confidence in the loyalty and trustworthiness of Boaz. The same confidence that God’s sovereign hand is controlling these events. In fact we can’t wait to read on, and find out how Boaz IS going to settle the matter. We might be a little worried by this other relative – but not too worried!

For Naomi, it was a risky plan. Ruth could have been harmed. Or had her reputation ruined. But Boaz, and God, have both rewarded Ruth’s kindness and faithfulness, by showing HER kindness and faithfulness.

So what do we do with Ruth 3?

The Old Testament refers to God a lot as “Redeemer”. We don’t use the word much these days, but the basic idea is about BUYING BACK. It describes the way God acts to buy us back to himself.

In Exod 6, God says to Moses

(Exo 6:2-8 NIV)  “I am the LORD. {3} I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, … I have heard the groaning of the Israelites, whom the Egyptians are enslaving, and I have remembered my covenant. {6} “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I WILL REDEEM YOU with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. {7} I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. {8} And I will bring you to the land I swore with uplifted hand to give to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.'””

The people are in the Promised Land because of God’s redemption. Every law he gives them is about how to live IN RESPONSE TO THAT REDEMPTION. Every relative who redeems a family member reflects the redeeming acts of God.

More than that, every act of a kinsman-redeemer REMINDS Israel of GOD’S gracious redemption. And every act BRINGS ABOUT more of God’s blessing.

God’s blessing in the land means freedom, justice, land, children.

All the things kinsmen-redeemers go about PROVIDING. Freedom, justice, land and children. Showing kindness and faithfulness to family. This is the purpose of the story of Ruth and Boaz.

Ruth is a picture of Israel – the stranger brought from another land. And Boaz is a picture of God and his covenant faithfulness who spreads his wing over his bride.

WE’VE been brought from the same destitute position as Ruth – poor and helpless foreigners, without hope- into a rich family relationship. Rescued by God who loves us, and pays a rich price for us.

5. Jesus – OUR Kinsman-Redeemer (Gal 3:13-14)

But there’s MORE. As we look at this story with New Testament eyes, through the lens of Jesus. As we look with Gentile eyes, we see the parallels even more clearly.

Because JESUS is OUR kinsman-redeemer. A great great great grandson of Boaz. A man just like us – one of our kin! Who willingly paid the price to set us free.

Paul describes what Jesus did like THIS in Titus 2:14

Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to REDEEM us from all wickedness and to PURIFY for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

He bought us, purified us. Punished in our place. That we could be forgiven. Jesus is our Boaz. We, the church, are Ruth.

And here’s the KEY POINT in the story of Boaz and Ruth. The bit that really REEKS of Jesus.

Boaz didn’t HAVE TO DO IT. Didn’t have to look after Ruth. It was a closer relative’s obligation. That’s the crucial point in the story. There was no expectation on Boaz.

Why did he do it?

GRACE. UNDESERVED FAVOUR. KINDNESS. He LOVED Ruth.

Same with Jesus. Nothing about US that deserved rescuing. All of us / sinners and rebels. But he did it because he LOVED us. At any time, he could have pulled out of the plan. Taken himself down from the cross. But he went there because of his obedience to God, his desire to see him glorified, and because of his love for us.

A few verses on in Titus, Paul says THIS about God’s action in sending Jesus. And what it had to do with US. Titus 3.4.

4 But when the KINDNESS and LOVE of God our Savior appeared (in other words, when JESUS appeared), 5 he saved us, NOT BECAUSE OF RIGHTEOUS THINGS WE HAD DONE (he didn’t HAVE to), but because of his MERCY.

He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he poured out on us GENEROUSLY through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that, having been JUSTIFIED BY HIS GRACE, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, will save Ruth, and give her a FAMILY.

Jesus, OUR kinsmen-redeemer, saved us so that we might become HEIRS. That we might receive a family. That we might become part of a family FOR EVER.

1. If you DON’T know that, then why not accept his offer? Let Jesus be the kinsman-redeemer who rescues YOU. Sets YOU free. And makes you AN HEIR?

It’s as simple as doing what Ruth did to Boaz. ASK. You don’t even need to dress up. Ask Jesus to rescue you. To forgive you. To make you part of his family.

2. And if that’s something you DO know, then you need to live in RESPONSE to that. Just like Israel. They responded to God’s redemption by redeeming each other, by dealing faithfully and lovingly and sacrifically. That’s how we are to treat each other. To stand by each other. To support. Care. Go the extra mile.

To use God’s redemption as our motivation. And Boaz’s motivation as our example. We are the people of God who work out God’s purposes as we deal faithfully with each other. Let’s make that our prayer. And our desire. And our goal.

Ruth 4: The God of Big Finishes

Today our gentle little story about Ruth comes to an end. THIS story ends with a marriage, a new baby, and happily ever after in the rural village of Bethlehem. But it’s a chapter that helps us to SEE A MUCH BIGGER STORY. It makes us LOOK BACK. Hundreds of years. To the early Fathers of the Jewish nation. To Jacob. And to a sordid tale about his son Judah and another foreign woman called Tamar.

And not only BACK. We also LOOK FORWARD. To the SEQUEL. Past the mess of the Judges. To the mountain top of Israel’s story. To King David. Israel’s golden age. Of peace and wealth and justice. And for the CHRISTIAN, the story looks even FURTHER AHEAD. 1100 years. Beyond a throne room – to a manger in a stable. A stable that’s ALSO in Bethlehem. And beyond the king of Israel. To THE KING OF KINGS. God become man. The One who descended from the line of David, and Boaz and Ruth.

And all of that’s in Ruth 4! It’s only 22 verses long. But it packs a lot in! The WHOLE OF ISRAEL’S story. It’s like the tiny key that unlocks a giant room. Or the eyepiece of a telescope that’s focussed on the huge expanse of the night sky. So let’s get into it.

  1. Doing the right thing gladly and graciously

Remember where we’ve been? Ruth and Naomi have arrived back in Bethlehem from Moab. They’re widows without family or support. But they arrive back just in time for the barley harvest. So Ruth decides to glean – to collect the leftover grain after the harvesters. She just so happens to end up in Boaz’s field, who’s a kinsman-redeemer. That is, a relative whose responsibility is to fix things for family. To buy land, to repay debts, to avenge, even to marry widows so they can produce heirs for the family line. And when Ruth suggests Boaz marry her, as the kinsman-redeemer. Boaz reckons it’s a great idea. But there’s a problem, there’s a male relative who’s closer. Technically it’s HIS responsibility. He gets first option on the obligation. But Boaz promises Ruth he’ll SORT IT OUT. And that’s where Ch 4 begins.

V1. Boaz goes to the town gate. Where all the business happened. And he waits for his relative to come along. The one who’s got first responsibility for Ruth. And when he arrives, Boaz invites him to sit down. NAMES have been important so far, but not with this guy. Listen to how the author tells the story. “When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, SO-AND-SO, and sit down” That’s a better way of translating the Hebrew. (“Come over here, my friend” misses the point a bit.

It’s obviously not what Boaz SAID. (He probably USED the man’s name). But for our story-teller, this man’s SO UNIMPORTANT, it doesn’t MATTER what his name was. He’s Mr No-name. So-and-so. He’s given the opportunity to play a part in the story. To MAKE A NAME for himself. To leave A LEGACY. But he says NO. And so he REMAINS ANONYMOUS for the story-teller. His name’s not even worth recording.

1a) a shrewd plot from the good guy

So Boaz gets ten of the village elders as witnesses. Verse 2. And then he tells everyone his shrewd plan. And it’s not quite what we were expecting. It’s shrewd because we’re expecting an offer about young RUTH, and MARRIAGE. But instead we get something about old NAOMI, and some LAND. Look at verse 3. “Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, “NAOMI, who has come back from Moab, is selling THE PIECE OF LAND that belonged to our brother Elimelech. {4} I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that YOU BUY IT in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” Boaz’s deal involves buying Naomi’s land. It’s land that’s never been MENTIONED before. But somehow, Boaz knows about it, and he offers it for sale.

One of the jobs of the kinsman-redeemer was to buy the land from bankrupt relatives so it wouldn’t leave the family. The idea was the poor relative’s children would still inherit it back. And it would stay in the family. And for our Mr No-name, his eyes light up at the sniff of a bargain. As long as he only knows about NAOMI, the deal sounds GREAT. Not much chance of NAOMI having children to inherit the land. He won’t have to hand it back. It’s just a great business deal. As far as he can see, there’s no downside. “Sure, I’ll be HAPPY to play the part of the kinsman-redeemer!” he says.

But now Boaz tells him the REST of the story. “There’s more to redeeming than a cheap real estate deal.” Redemption is COSTLY. “You see NAOMI may not have any kids left, but RUTH’S still around. You also have to marry HER, so she can have kids to inherit the land. That’s part of your responsibility AS WELL. He gives him the full picture. “You BUY THE FIELD, AND marry Ruth, AND support her. AND her mother-in-law Naomi. AND provide her with CHILDREN. AND SUPPORT her children, and THEN … give the field back when the children inherit it!”  “Whoa!! Hang on a minute!” says Mr No-name, “No-one said anything about all of that mess!” “Oh yeah! I forgot to mention that, didn’t I?” says Boaz.

1b) Mr No-name counts the cost, and misses out

So in v6, Mr No-Name counts the cost, and misses out. He misses out on making a NAME for himself. In wanting to PRESERVE his family line, he ends up MISSING OUT on building a legacy.  “I can’t redeem it because I might endanger my own estate – It’ll cost too much! YOU DO IT!” And so, in verses 9 and 10, Boaz announces that HE’LL do it instead. Which is what we’d hoped for, all along. And they shake hands on the deal. Well, at least, they swap sandals – which seems to be the same thing!

1c. redemption is COSTLY

But let’s just stop, for a moment, and compare Boaz with Mr No-Name. Because we can learn some lessons about THE NATURE OF REDEMPTION.  First, redemption is COSTLY. Mr No Name didn’t want to jeopardise any of the family fortune, so he said no. You see, helping people can be COSTLY. Perhaps FINANCIAL. Or EMOTIONAL. Or just cost your TIME. But, generally, the most VALUABLE and USEFUL sort of help WILL be costly. So don’t be surprised, or resentful, when the help you give COSTS you something.

1d. redemption is FREE

The second lesson we learn is that the BEST sort of redemption is FREE. Freely given, with no obligation. Mr No-name was happy with the deal while he thought HE’D benefit. But once he realised he’d be WORSE OFF, he wasn’t interested. You see, Mr No-name is a CONTRAST to Boaz. SELFISH compared to Boaz’s GENEROSITY.

Most of us are like Mr No-name. There’s the opportunity to help someone, and we calculate what it will COST us. Rather than IMAGINE THE REWARDS AND BENEFITS. We put SELF-INTEREST before other people.

But the best sort of redemption – the best sort of help we can offer is COSTLY and FREE. Help given/ simply because you’re FAMILY. With no expectation of return, of payback. No weighing up of costs and benefits. No keeping score. Help that’s FREE and COSTLY. Which is exactly the sort of redemption God offers us in Jesus. Free, undeserved and costly. Praise God he didn’t wait until we’d EARNED it!

And it’s what BOAZ offers here. Free and costly redemption. He’s willing. He’s EAGER to bear the cost. Even though it’s NOT HIS RESPONSIBILITY. He steps in and rescues Ruth and Naomi. EAGER to make a name for himself. The NAME that Mr NO-NAME misses out on.

And that’s what the crowd SAYS. They all join in to bless Boaz. Perhaps Mr No-name skulks off into the shadows at this point. Hanging his head, and kicking the dust with his one sandal. The crowd pray that God will make Boaz even more well-known than he is already. And bless Ruth too. V11. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. MAY YOU HAVE STANDING IN EPHRATHAH AND BE FAMOUS IN BETHLEHEM. {12} Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.””

That’s their prayer. That God will lift the name of Boaz out of this little village, and make it famous. Which is the OPPOSITE of what happens to Mr No-Name. Who misses out. And just like the other prayers in the Book of Ruth, it’s important. Because that’s JUST WHAT GOD DOES.

  1. The Telescope Lens

It’s really THIS PRAYER that shows us how this little story fits into THE BIG STORY. It’s the little telescope lens you look through to see the immensity of the night sky. Let me explain what I mean. The crowd mention Rachel and Leah. They’re Jacob’s two wives. And between them they had TWELVE SONS. Just like God had promised to their ancestor Abraham. To make him into a GREAT NATION. And the people are praying that Ruth will be AS FERTILE AS THAT! That’s a big prayer!

But the blessing gets MORE interesting. Because they go on to pray for Boaz. That his children will be like those of Perez. “Who?” Well, Perez was the son Tamar bore to Judah! And JUDAH’S important because Judah was one of the twelve tribes of Israel. One of Leah’s sons. And the people of BETHLEHEM were from the tribe of Judah. So they’re talking about their ancestor. BOAZ’S ancestor. But apart from THAT Perez isn’t all that famous. The little we DO know about him is very interesting. And we find it in Genesis 38. Another story about kinsmen redeemers and foreign women. Which is why I think the crowd mentions it.

  1. Doing the right thing unwittingly (Gen 38)

While Boaz does the right thing GLADLY, Genesis 38 is about Judah. Who does the right thing RELUCTANTLY and UNWITTINGLY. At the start of the chapter, Judah leaves home. He marries a Canaanite girl and has three sons. He finds a wife called Tamar for his first son. But, in v7, the son was evil, so God put him to death. We don’t know why.

So Judah tells his SECOND son, Onan, to lie with Tamar. To provide her with a child. To be the kinsman-redeemer. But Onan was selfish. He didn’t want to split his inheritance with someone ELSE’S child. So, in verse 9, he SLEEPS with Tamar, but won’t allow her to become pregnant. He spills his seed on the ground. He could’ve just said, “No!”, and let SOMEONE ELSE be the kinsman-redeemer. But he chose to ENJOY HIMSELF at Tamar’s expense, without accepting the RESPONSIBILITIES that went with the privilege. And so in verse 10, God puts HIM to death as well. (It’s a lovely tale, isn’t it?) He puts his OWN desires above his responsibilities to his FAMILY.

And that’s exactly what his father, Judah, does as well. In v11, he decides that Tamar must be jinxed. She’s already gone through two of his sons, and he doesn’t want to risk the THIRD one. His LAST one. His OWN agenda is more important than fulfilling his family obligation to Tamar. So he tells her to go back home. V11 “Live as a widow in your father’s house until my (last) son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.”

3a) a shrewd plot from the good guy

Well, now it’s Tamar’s turn for a little scheming. After a long time, she realises Judah will NEVER give her his third son, so she decides it’s time for SOME AFFIRMATIVE ACTION. Time for a shrewd plot of her own. If she can’t get these men to do the right thing KNOWINGLY, she’ll get them to do it UNWITTINGLY. So, in v 14 she dresses up in disguise, and waits by the road for Judah. Judah comes by, thinks she’s a prostitute, and wants to sleep with her. He offers his personal seal, and his staff, as SECURITY. So he sleeps with Tamar, and she becomes pregnant. It’s what she’s wanted all along. Children to continue the family line. With a family member playing the part of kinsman-redeemer. But when Judah tries to pay up, and to get his security back, the woman’s nowhere to be seen.

Well, v24, eventually news of Tamar’s pregnancy sneaks out. She’s not married. So she must be a prostitute. Judah finds out. And he’s filled with the righteous anger only a HYPOCRITE can generate. “Bring her out and have her put to death!” But it’s all part of Tamar’s shrewd plot. Because as she’s being dragged out, she sends the seal and staff off to Judah with a message. “The man who owns these is the one responsible.” “See if you recognise whose they are,” she says.

Well, OF COURSE Judah recognises them. They’re HIS. And by the time she arrives, he realises he’s treated Tamar badly. V26. “Judah recognized them and said, “SHE IS MORE RIGHTEOUS THAN I, SINCE I WOULDN’T GIVE HER TO MY SON SHELAH.” She’s WAITED for Judah to do the right thing by the family. But he WON’T. So she organises it HERSELF. It’s a SHREWD plan.  Just like Boaz.

It makes us wonder though, doesn’t it? That Tamar’s more RIGHTEOUS than Judah? Not that it’s a very high bar to clear! Judah’s acted TERRIBLY! You see, if Tamar HADN’T done it, Judah may have had no other descendants. The family line might have stopped THERE. (Two of his three sons have died, remember!) And so, both Boaz and Tamar act SHREWDLY, and are BLESSED BY GOD.

And, for Tamar, the end result is that Perez is born. And so the family line continues. Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah. And now to Perez. And if we jump over to the end of Ruth 4, we see THE FAMILY LINE CONTINUES. Perez (son of Tamar), Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon. And Salmon’s son was a guy called … Boaz.

And there’s God’s amazing planning!! The coincidences of his providence. Back in Judah’s time, the smooth generational line of Israel hit a bump. A hiccup. When a Canaanite woman, Tamar, entered the scene. And there’s another hiccup EXACTLY SEVEN GENERATIONS LATER. This time ANOTHER Gentile. A Moabite woman called Ruth. ANOTHER woman who needs the help of a kinsman-redeemer. But instead of doing the right thing UNWITTINGLY and RELUCTANTLY like his ancestor Judah, Boaz helps GLADLY. And we’re REMINDED of the whole story/ because of THAT LITTLE BLESSING the people give Boaz back in Ruth 4. It’s the little key that opens up the whole big world. That shows how this one little story fits into the BIGGER PICTURE. About how God is working for Israel.

  1. A Match and A Hatch:

But back to our story. Ruth 4. It’s coming to a conclusion. Boaz doesn’t waste any time. There’s a wedding, and a birth. A match, and then a hatch. And as always, God’s behind it all. Verse 13. “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, AND THE LORD ENABLED HER TO CONCEIVE, and she gave birth to a son.” Ruth had been married for at least 10 years BEFORE, and no children. But now, like in everything ELSE, it’s GOD at work. And she has a baby.

But then, perhaps unexpectedly, the focus moves to Naomi. SHE’S the one whose hometown it is. SHE’S the one the women welcome back from Moab at the end of chapter 1. Who went away FULL, and came back EMPTY. It’s HER family God’s been working in. And THAT’S what the women say in ANOTHER prayer. V14. “The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left YOU without a kinsman-redeemer. And they reckon BOAZ is pretty special TOO! May he become famous throughout Israel! {15} He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

And then, v16, Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him.” She’s proud and overjoyed. The woman who arrived back in Bethlehem EMPTY is now FULL. The one who’d been BITTER, now has JOY AND PEACE. And the one who had NO future, now HAS a future. She actually resembles her name again, PLEASANT. And v17. Just to emphasise these changes. Look at what the women say. “NAOMI has a son”. Naomi. Not Ruth! What seemed IMPOSSIBLE, is possible with God. In Chapter 1 v12 she tells her daughters-in-law how IMPOSSIBLE it would be for her to have sons who could marry them. And just to show that God’s got a sense of humour, that’s what he GIVES her at the end of the story. A son!

And then we see why he’s IMPORTANT. The son’s name is Obed. It means SERVANT. And Obed’s grandson was King David.

  1. The History of His-story

So who’s the story really about? It’s CALLED the Book of Ruth. Is it mainly about Ruth? Maybe you could argue that it’s mainly about NAOMI. Or perhaps BOAZ. Is it about KING DAVID? Perhaps we should give it a sub-title. “Stories from the background of King David”. Or let’s go even bigger. Is it about ISRAEL? – “How Israel became the nation it is today” Well, I’m not going for any of these options. Like the rest of the bible, the Book of Ruth is about GOD. It tells us the History of His-story.

It’s not a COMPLETE RECORD of history. Ruth’s not like Chronicles or Kings. But if we look carefully, we can STILL SEE THE BIG PICTURE, like those history books. It’s just more SUBTLE. We see how God works through the actions of people. How God’s providence is worked out through his people acting faithfully. But that just makes Ruth more relevant, doesn’t it? Because “subtle” is a lot like everyday-life. And God’s hand is often SUBTLE. We live life in a series of small events. In the day-to-day. The dozens of decisions and choices that make up a life. And it’s in THOSE LITTLE PARTS that God works out the whole. And it’s often just in SMALL ways we recognise God’s work. In the kind actions of others. In gentleness and generosity. In faithful decisions to do what’s right. In little circumstances TURNING OUT RIGHT.

But Ruth also lets us TAKE A STEP BACK. To get some perspective behind these small events. And see the BIG PICTURE. Because the God who works in the day-to-day, also puts all those days together/ TO MAKE A “HISTORY”. His purposes were worked out when Tamar tricked Judah. Because out of Tamar came Perez and the ancestors of Boaz. And God was working in Boaz’s costly redemption plan for Ruth. Because out of Ruth came Obed, and Jesse and King David. God worked in shrewd plans.

And God was STILL in control for the next thousand years while David’s thin line of descendents endured international wars, local rebellions, exile, famine, foreign conquerors, wickedness, disobedience, sickness, and long journeys. It was a line that came RIGHT BACK IN BETHLEHEM. Because from King David descended a young bride who miraculously gave birth to ANOTHER King. The one God had chosen to be THE CENTRE OF HISTORY. All the events of the history of HIS-STORY find their purpose and their goal in Jesus. Because IN JESUS, the ULTIMATE kinsman redeemer, God finally controls the REAL PROBLEM for humanity. It wasn’t famine or drought or childlessness or death. Our greatest problem was SIN. Humanity’s rebellion from God that kept us as enemies. Jesus REDEEMS us from the debt of our sin. He pays with his perfect life. To free us from sin’s slavery. And restore us to God.

It’s been God’s plan through the whole of history. Right from Adam to Abraham to Perez to Boaz to David to Jesus. To makes us friends with the One who controls history. The One who made the world. Who made US.

It’s the hugest story of all. But Ruth has told it on the small scale. We’ve been fed a huge meal. But Ruth’s given it to us in bite-size chunks. And that’s just as well. Because that’s how we live life. And as we do, we’ll be better able to see God’s hand at work. At work in the small events. But also at work in the huge panorama. Over the long haul. Because the God who provides bread for the table, also provided Jesus, the bread of life, so that we could find LIFE in HIM.