Text: Ruth 4
The story of Ruth has been told as a drama in four Acts. In Act 1 we meet some of the principle characters on the Highway, the road that leads from the country of Moab on the east of the Dead Sea to the town of Bethlehem in Judea. Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons had fled Bethlehem during a famine, and had settled in Moab. There the two sons married Moabite women. But before long Elimelech and the two sons died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth. Presently, news arrives that the famine in Judea is over, and Naomi resolves to return home. She turns to say a tearful farewell to Orpah and Ruth. They plead with her: “Let us go back with you.”
“No, you must stay here with your own people and your own gods.”
Reluctantly, Orpah agrees. But Ruth insists on going back with Naomi. 1:16f: Thus the two widows return to Bethlehem, and to an uncertain future.
They wouldn’t have got much in those days in the way of unemployment benefit, or widow’s pensions. But God’s law did make some provision for the poor. Act 2, then, opens with Ruth gleaning in the barley fields near Bethlehem. She follows the harvesters, picking up any grain that they have left behind. Now as it turned out, – it just so happened, – that the field she was gleaning in belonged to a man of some importance named Boaz. Boaz himself has heard of Ruth’s kindness towards Naomi and instructs his servants not only to protect her but intentionally to leave some corn behind them for Ruth to pick up. He offers refreshment to Ruth and prays for her (2:12). “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.” He can scarcely have realised that before long God would use him to answer his own prayer.
As for Naomi, she realises that Boaz is a near relative of her late husband. Therefore, according to God’s ancient law, Boaz might be willing to act as Kinsman-Redeemer. According to this law, a man’s next of kin would be expected to redeem (buy back) any property which he had had to sell off in hard times, or to marry his widow if he died. So Naomi forms a plan, with Ruth’s future in mind. This plan is carried out in Chapter 3 of the story. Here we go up to the Threshing Floor, the place where the chaff is separated from the grain. Boaz is sleeping there, in order to protect his harvest. Ruth is to go up quietly to where he is sleeping, uncover his feet, and lie down. When he stirs in the middle of the night, Boaz realises what is going on, and understands that Ruth is appealing to him to act as Kinsman-Redeemer. Yes, he says, I would gladly act as Kinsman-Redeemer, but there is another, still closer relative who must be given the opportunity to do so.
As so we move on to the 4th and last chapter: At the Town Gate. Now the gate was the most public part the town, the centre of activity, the place where all the important business was done. The very next morning, Boaz goes down to the gate. He sees this other man, the nearer relative, and calls him over. He also assembles ten witnesses, to ensure the legality of what he is about to do. “Look,” he says, “Naomi has a piece of land which she is selling. Will you redeem it, so that it can stay in the family?” “Sure,” says the man. “Oh, and by the way, along with the land you get to marry Ruth, the Moabitess.” “Well, in that case, thanks, but no thanks. That doesn’t quite fit in with my business plans.” This leaves Boaz free to redeem the land, and to marry Ruth, and so he does. They have a child – a son – and what rejoicing there is among the women in Bethlehem over this happy event. There is also joy in the heart of Naomi, who finds such pleasure and fulfilment in nursing her grandson. And the story ends with a glance towards the future showing how this very human story forms a vital thread in the unfolding drama of God’s plan of salvation. For that baby boy, Obed, was to become father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David. And we know from Matthew 1 that David was the ancestor of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World.
Now, before we take our leave of this lovely story, will you take with me one last, lingering look at each of its main characters?
First, Naomi. We had met Naomi as an unhappy widow. She felt that she had lost everything of importance: her home, her husband, her children. She knew real emptiness and bitterness Ruth 1:20f. “Don’t call me Naomi…call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” But God is faithful, and in the end Naomi’s bitterness turns to joy, her emptiness to fulfilment. See Ruth 4:14ff. ‘The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.” Looking back, Naomi could see that God had not forgotten her, but had been lovingly watching over her, in the bad times as well as the good. Time and again, God’s word teaches us to take the long view, and to know that in the end, grace will triumph, and that the Lord will bring good out of apparent evil. Joseph could look back at the experience of being sold in slavery by his own brothers, and say in the end, Gen 50:20 “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good.” Job lost everything that he had, yet in the end God gave him back more than he ever lost. Paul could take a inventory of the many dangers, toils and snares through which he had come, and call them ‘light momentary troubles’, 2 Cor 4, which he says ‘are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.’ What suffering and dereliction was experienced by our Lord. But Heb 12:2 says, ‘Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.’ Don’t accept any platitudes from me – let God’s word reassure you: If you feel that the good in your life is outweighed by the evil, take heart from Naomi and all these others. Know that God has prepared for you a glorious future; and even now he is at work in you and for you, even if in your sadness you cannot see it yet.
Second: Ruth. We had met her a a poverty-stricken foreigner. We had also seen her her loyalty and trustfulness towards Naomi. She chose to be with Naomi, and to serve Naomi’s God. She willingly accepted the menial task of gleaning in the harvest field. No wonder the Bethlehem woman say to Naomi, Ruth 4:14, ‘Your daughter-in-law…is better to you than seven sons.’ We have seen too the love which Boaz had for Ruth – a model for human love today. Today’s ‘love’ seems to say merely, “I want you.” Boaz and Ruth say to each other, in effect, “I want you to have the best.” But the love affair between Boaz and Ruth is a model of divine love as well. In Ephesians, Paul gives us several beautiful pictures of the relationship between Christ and the Church. The Church is a building, and Christ is the foundation: a lasting relationship; the Church is a body, and Christ is the head: a living relationship; the Church is a bride, and Christ is the bridegroom: it is a loving relationship. Eph 5:25: ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.’ When he died for us on the cross, Jesus was saying to us, “I love you; I want you to have the best.” Can we say the same to him? “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my life, my soul my all.”
Lastly: Boaz: We have seen the the simplicity of his life, the courtesy of his behaviour, his generosity, his regard for God’s Law, all of which stand out in striking contrast against the dark background of his time. Finally, in chapter 4 we find him faithfully carrying out his role of Kinsman-Redeemer. He is qualified for such a role, for he is a near relative; he is willing to do it – he considers it an honour to be asked; he has the ability to fulfil the role, for he is a man a substance. Now, we had need of such a Redeemer. We had wandered far away from God; we were enslaved by sin; we were poverty-stricken, and owed more than we could ever pay. We were in a helpless, hopeless, and hapless condition. But we have a Redeemer. Jesus is a near kinsman of ours, having taken upon himself human flesh. He was willing to redeem us: that is why he came. Mt 20:28 “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He was able to redeem us; he has paid the price. If it were possible to buy one day in heaven, to purchase a few moments with a departed loved one, to pay for one one glimpse of Almighty God, I have no doubt that colossal fortunes would change hands! But we are taught that the price of an eternal redemption has already been paid in another kind of currency – the blood of Jesus. 1 Pet 1:18 ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed… 19:but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’
Let us be forever thankful that the crushing debt brought about by our sin has been paid for in full. ‘It cost more to redeem us than to make us; in the one there was but the speaking of a word, in the other the shedding of blood.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity, 209)
Let us never forget that if we are redeemed, then we belong to God. 1 Corinthians 6:19f ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price.’
Calvin puts it beautifully: ‘We are not our own: let not our reason nor our will, therefore, sway our plans and deeds. We are not our own: let us therefore not set it as our goal to seek what is expedient for us according to the flesh. We are not our own: in so far as we can, let us therefore forget ourselves and all that is ours. Conversely, we are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal.’ (Calvin, Institutes, I, 690)
Let me be then, forever his. ‘His – by reason of Creation:/His, he paid the price for me./His, through the life-giving Spirit,/His because I want to be.’