Ruth 4:1-13 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 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. 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.” “I will redeem it,” he said. Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalising transactions in Israel.) So the kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal. Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!” Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. 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. Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” 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.
We have seen how Naomi’s plan for Boaz to become the husband of Ruth was fraught with temptation and danger, and that it was rejected by Boaz. How then were this couple wed?
1. BOAZ’ SUBMISSION TO THE WILL OF GOD IS HONOURED BY GOD.
The first thing the next morning Boaz goes down to the gate of the city where all public business dealing with land and marriage and suits of law would be transacted. There he waits patiently until finally his relative turns up, the kinsman redeemer who had legal precedence over Boaz to marry Ruth. Boaz calls him: “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down (v.1). Then Boaz called for ten men to come as witnesses. What a difference between two people talking in a barleyfield at midnight: ten men gather around the city gate in the morning light and hear all that two people say to one another. Boaz said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 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. 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” (vv. 3&4).
So that is the situation. Everything is clear and above board. The man thought for a moment and then, “I will redeem it,” he said (v.4). That would seem the end of any hope of marriage between the two chief figures, but all is not lost. Boaz had thought more about this matter than his cousin. Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property” (v.5). In other words, “You cannot take Ruth alone under your roof, you also must accomodate Elimelech’s widow Naomi and take care of until she dies. Naomi is part of this deal. You know the rules of levirate marriage; this is not an acid-stripping. You have to have the whole package. There is only one way you can get Elimelech’s land; you have to have Elimelech’s widow under your roof and look after her too.” At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it” (v.6). You understand that if he should beget children by Ruth, and his own wife fails to have any children then Ruth’s children would inherit this man’s land and name. That was too big a risk to take.
Again, that man’s refusal has to be made absolutely legal and public so that everyone knows he has set aside his right to redeem Elimelech’s land. So the author of Ruth in the seventh and eighth verses informs us of this fact, thus, (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalising transactions in Israel.) So the kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself” (v. 7&8). There is the verbal legal declaration, and then we read, And he removed his sandal (v.8). This is an old piece of symbolism like Black Rod knocking on the door of the House of Common at the State Opening of Parliament, a custom going back to the tensions betweens the Lords and the Commons at the time of the Civil War. In Israel a man set aside his right to any claim to a piece of land by removing his sandal and giving it to the man who now owned the title to the land. It is as if he were saying, “I give up my right to walk over this land. It is not my land to walk all over. It belongs to the man to whom I have given my sandal,”
The due processes of the law have to be addressed, and so we are told, Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!” Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. 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. Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” 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. (vv. 9-13). That was the way it was done. That was the way Boaz and Ruth were married. That was God’s way.
The law had become Ruth’s schoolmaster to bring her to Boaz. The law had opened the door by allowing her as a widow to glean in the field of his people. The grace of law opened a door of mercy for Ruth the Moabite. Her inheritance became certain again by the law. She came to the one person who fulfilled those obligations on her part. Boaz was her kinsman redeemer. The very law that had said to her, “You are an alien,” now said to her “You may come in and welcome,” The wings of Boaz were spread over her in a true and legal marriage and they became the wings of Jehovah. So it is with us; a greater than Boaz is here. Jesus Christ is one with God and one with us and he is able and willing to fulfil God’s law. He kept what I cannot keep and restores what I cannot restore; he did that until the work he had begun was finished. He brought the blessing of Abraham upon the Gentiles who sheltered under his protection. This greater than Boaz would have a bride become one with him in kin so that she might also become one with him in covenant. Ruth, Naomi, you, me and all who have entrusted themselves to Jesus have been saved from our law breaking not that the rest of our days we might be law-ignoring but that we might be law-keeping, delighting in the law of the Lord after the inner man.
By honouring the law these blessings came upon Ruth and Naomi. And I must say to you that this is still God’s way and ever shall be. On occasion when your own fears are highest that is exactly how God works. He has access to the spirits of men, and he blesses conscientious submission to his law for Boaz, for Ruth, for Naomi too, and also for the whole church. Innumerable testimonies could come at this very moment from the congregation from Christians who’ve passed through a very similar kind of experience. They have feared that they were going to lose something that was tremendously precious to them. The decision-making was not under their control but they yielded the matter to the Lord; they had done his will in the matter. They knew what their duty was and they did it, and they have discovered at the end that they have lost nothing that was precious to them but that God gave them all they could desire. In fact God gave them more than that stuff that they were clinging to which they thought was vitally important for their futures. God gave them a name, a reputation, a dignity, a peace in their hearts, a spirit of contentment and thanksgiving because they put his will first.
2. CHRISTIANS ARE NOWHERE PROMISED THAT THEY WILL ALWAYS GET WHAT THEY ASK.
It is incumbent upon me . . . it is all imperative for me to emphasise this . . . that it is not always going to work out like this. I am not saying at all that if you stand for the will of God then all will go well with you. Many of you know differently. It happened like this in Boaz’ situation, that he did have Ruth as his wife in the end, but in many other instances it doesn’t work out according to our longings, and that is where the real challenge of Christian discipleship lies. We may be childless parents who refuse the IVF treatment because we rightly disapprove of the disposal of fertilized human eggs and as a result of that we may never conceive children. We may be single girls who give up a boy-friend who has no interest in the Lord Jesus Christ and we may never marry. We may give up a job on some moral grounds and we get in its place more poorly paid work with less excitement and responsibility than the old job. Men have lost promotion because of obedience to the will of God. A doctor refuses to perform abortions and so is not promoted to higher office in the National Health Service. Men have lost wealth and security because they felt the money offered to them had not been obtained in a God-pleasing way. Men have lost their lives out of obedience to the will of God.
It will not always happen that those who go out of their way to submit to the commands of the Word will receive recognition and respect from the world. Jeremiah was not honoured when he preached to the royal court what was God’s will. Daniel was thrown to the lions for defying the law of the king. I am saying that you must learn to face the possibility that if you stand for Christ you will suffer, and that the suffering will be social and economic as well as emotional, and that your whole family will also be affected. I am not saying, “You stand, and you will always come out best,” and suggest quite wickedly that that word ‘best’ vaguely embraces financial prosperity. That is a common lie and even a heresy in some church circles, that if you give ten dollars to the Lord you will get back a hundred dollars. It may be good psychology but it is bad theology. It doesn’t work out that way. There are times when we must serve the Lord for nought, when there are no immediate returns.
What then shall I say about this? I will tell you; God will work all things together for the good of them that love God. If we take our stand on doing the will of God then we can know assuredly that if we have no husband or no wife yet we shall never be alone, for he has promised, “Lo I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Please understand that I shall never leave you nor forsake you. Even when walking through the valley of the shadow of death – if it comes to that – you need fear no evil for I will be with you, comforting you.” If we do the will of God then our experience will be in the midst of our enemies there will be a table prepared for us and a cup filled to overflowing with the blessing of Almighty God. We may lose our girl-friend or boy-friend, our jobs and so much else, but the reward is that we have God’s blessing on our own souls.
As we speak in the name of Christ we have to ask for disciples who are prepared in an increasingly godless society to serve God for nothing, for no immediate reward and for no compensation. You must remember that you are a follower of a crucified Saviour. I don’t want you to go off and say to me that you stopped studying on the afternoons of the Lord’s Days and as a result you failed your exams, and then tell me that God broke his promise. Many a godly man has failed his examinations. Many a godly man has found because of principle that there has been loss for Christ’s sake. The challenge is where does our choice lie, even at the cost of financial hardship, and at the cost of failure, and at the cost of loneliness? We have to take our stand on the will of God and say, “This is non-negotiable; this is an absolute principle from Almighty God.” I would pray that God will give us courage to stand, and at the same time wisdom to know when to take such a stand.
3. GOD BLESSES LIMPING, STRUGGLING NAOMI.
See how the book of Ruth ends for Naomi. You might expect it to end with a rebuke and a chastening from the Lord for her folly, but it ends in grace for Naomi. It ends almost a year later with the women of Bethlehem who had been addressed so haughtily by Naomi when she paraded her bitterness against God before them. They now gather around her and they say to her, “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. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” (vv. 14&15). They love her. How delighted they are that her husband’s name has not been wiped out. Then we are told, that Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (vv. 16&17).
This lady who had made many mistakes in her life, and showed a bitter spirit, and dispensed wrong advice, and complained about the senseless way God was dealing with her – those foolish sinful words which many Christian blurt out – is portrayed at the end of this book in the bosom of her family, supported by all the financial security of her daughter-in-law’s second husband, holding a grandchild in her arms, surrounded by forgiving, rejoicing friends who cry to one another and to her, “Naomi has a son!” Her husband’s name is preserved. Her husband’s land is restored.
The great lesson is that God forgave all her falls and her sins. God even took the episode she initiated in the barley-field in the middle of the night and worked that for her good, and what a priceless consolation for us is that sovereign over-ruling. Again and again God over-rules our mistakes and defiances and brings good out of it. Do you understand what this is saying about the position of the Christian, that he is inviolable? I read an interview with the Welsh rugby fly half and wunderkind James Hook. He has known many disappointments in his career. Have they broken him at all? He replied, “I am unbreakable. You have to think like that. I have bounced back from being dropped, from missing important kicks, from other setbacks, and used them to become stronger and more determined. Anything that has been thrown at me I can cope with. Rugby is my life, so I won’t let anything get in the way of that.”
How much more is the Christian unbreakable! The Christian can be restored from warming his hands by the fire and denying his Lord with curses. He can even come back from taking his father’s wife – as was a young man in the Corinthian church. The falls that Christians experience and their repentance (commensurate with the sin) and their new obedience make them stronger and more determined – though their lives are usually tinged with a little sadness for their past unrighteous ways. Anything thrown at us we can cope with. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. If a man like James Hook, whose life, he claims, is rugby can by a mere game be motivated to become strong and determined then we who say, “Christ is our life” – the living Lord of the universe – will not let anything get in the way of serving him. I shall fall, but I shall rise again. Few of us have not fallen like Naomi and yet grace has picked us up, blessed us and used us in spite of what has happened in the past. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Do you remember the utter folly of King Darius of Babylon? His vanity was appealed to so that he signed a decree that demanded no one to pray to any god other than the King himself on the penalty of being cast into the den of lions. But Daniel was his most loyal and wise minister, and the men who had urged Darius to instigate that new law had done so wanting to get rid of Daniel. They broke into Daniel’s room and caught him praying to the Lord. They hauled him before the king where Daniel would not deny that he had been praying to Jehovah and not to Darius. However much the king squirmed still his prime minister, Daniel, was thrown to the lions. That night Darius could not sleep and early the next morning he was at the entrance to the lions’ den and this is what he cried aloud with an agonized voice; “Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?” (Dan. 6:20). Then came the reply; Daniel answered, “O king, live for ever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, O king.” (Dan. 6:20&21). What was Darius asking? “Is God able to over-rule my pride, my blindness, my vaunted ambition, my terrible mistakes that have so hurt the ones I love.” Daniel’s reply assures the king that God does that very thing. He can bring good out of our follies. He can make the bitter sweet. He will bless us in spite of our mistakes and falls because his blessings come to us all through his grace. Our failures as parents, as husbands and wives, as ministers, work for our good and the good of others and for God’s glory. The Christian is unbreakable.
4. THE BOOK OF RUTH ENDS HAPPILY.
What I am saying follows on from the fact of the inviolability of God’s people. This book ends in the final triumph of the will of God, and what could be more encouraging for us all? Consider our own contemporary civilization and its public, historical, literary memory. You think of the famous literature that has formed it, everything that is not superficial and escapist, it is all tragedy, Othello, Hamlet, Lear, Macbeth. You go to the nineteenth century, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Chekov, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. It is all tragic. You look at twentieth century American literature, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Faulkner, Bellow, and so much is tragedy. You consider the text that many children have studied in schools, Golding’s Lord of the Flies, and it is a total tragedy. You think of the science fiction of our age, the writings of H.G.Wells, Aldous Huxley and Asimov and they are bleak. Consider George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm, and you see that those brilliant writings are all tragedies. What a jaundiced new world they all portray. Think of the most famous English playwright of today, Harold Pinter, or the Swedish film director the late Ingemar Bergman, and you will realise that all they have produced have been tragedies. Even a comedy like the Blackadder series or the films of Woody Allen are all tragic-comedy portraying the inadequate lives of weaklings. The religious agnostic lives his life without hope. Life has no meaning; they even say that it is an illegitimate question to ask for the meaning of life because there is no one to tell the atheist the answer. At the end all anyone can anticipate is getting snuffed out. Life is a brief day’s journey into annihilation, and so men try to get some laughs and entertainment on the way.
You write a modern play and you give it a happy ending and it is dismissed as feel-good unreality, and superficial light entertainment because reality, the media and education have taught this generation, is tragedy and disappointment broken up by bouts of escapism. Then they wonder why young people despair and attempt suicide. Even many Christians have bought into this pessimism; they have misunderstood the Bible’s teaching concerning man’s total depravity. Let me explain carefully to you the distinctions. The humanist and the Christian differ in the conclusions they come to concerning the cause, extent and consequences of man’s depravity;
i] They differ as they explain the cause of man’s depravity. Our humanist civilization looks at mankind’s depravity and believes it is caused by some structural defect in man’s makeup. That is simply how man is. He cannot be changed and it is wrong to force him to change or make him feel guilty. Man is not that different from the beasts. They fight and kill. So does man. They are basically selfish, and so is man. That is the humanist’s view. How different Christianity’s view of man’s origin is; it says that it was not always thus; man was made upright but he rebelled, and so sin and death entered the world. We look back in hope to the beginning, to man made in God’s image unmarred by sin and walking with God; we look back to paradise in Eden. The evolutionist looks back to nature raw in tooth and claw; nothing but that. Thus it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.
ii] Again man and the Bible differ when they explain the extent of man’s depravity. There is no limit to man’s evil, say the film makers and writers of our day, and what cruelty and mayhem they portray on the screen. They suggest that it is only a matter of time before the full forces of human depravity will be felt in the world. The race will peter out as a few people are left standing on the beach waiting for the atomic clouds to blow over, or to inhale the deadly virus that is killing the world. The Bible does not anticipate an end like that. Our sin is not some powerful independent element controlling all history and the destinies of mankind. As soon as man’s depravity was revealed God’s grace was also revealed; a community of redeemed people were prepared who would have enormous influence in the world. They would be its salt and light. The world is not as bad as it could be. The gospel is changing millions of people.
iii] Again man and the Bible differ when they describe the consequences of man’s depravity. The unbelieving world says that man’s end is going to be annihilation. Soon we will be snuffed out and from that fate there can be no escape, and the consequence of that is that the only moment worth investing in is now. “No,” says the Bible. Not annihilation but evaluation, judgment and one of two different destinations are lying before us all. Is annihilation a more encouraging message than a future, definitive, divine assessment of our lives by a good and righteous God who knows all about us – followed by our getting our just deserts? No, annihilation is not a more encouraging end because the Bible goes on to say that man need not suffer the consequences of his own sin. God has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. The primary message of the Bible is not depravity but the coming of the promised Messiah the Lord Jesus. He has fulfilled the total potential of humanity; he has lived as we fail to live and fulfilled all the righteous demands of God; he has as God the Son borne the punishment God bestows on sinners for their sin. Wherever our sin abounds God’s grace much more abounds. Man’s message of evolution turns him to tragedy and despair. It breeds cynicism, turns our blood to ice water and our hearts to stone. Modern culture has produced an ethos of bleak tragedy which stretches from Hollywood and the daily soaps to the latest books on atheism in the best seller lists, from the Sun to the Guardian, from philosophy to night clubs there is felt to be no purpose in life beyond this moment. Humanism says that mankind is sick but there is no cure. There is no salvation for the Eleanor Rigbys of our day. No one is saved.
How different the Bible! A new heavens and a new earth! In God’s presence is fulness of joy; at his right hand are pleasures for evermore, and on that journey to blessedness God is pardoning our sins and preserving us, nothing ever separating us from his love, working all things together for our good. You see the anticipation of that here in the book of Ruth. Though it is real in describing the devastating effect of a famine on a community, a forced emigration to another country, the death of a husband and of two grown-up sons yet, amidst that heartache, the book of Ruth has one great feature. It has a happy ending. You go to the book of Job with all its tremendous analysis of evil and description of suffering in the life of one godly man’s family, and yet the book of Job too has a happy ending.
That is what we need to learn as Christians, that we are not the apostles of pessimism and despair. We are the apostles of light and hope. We are the apostles of a cosmic optimism. What is true of the book of Ruth will also be true for the book of the lives of every one of us who are Christ’s. It is going to come out all right in the end. Where is evil going to end? It will end in the bottomless pit. God will commit it all to the cosmic incinerator. God will overrule all that the devil does, and all that sin is, and destroy it utterly. It’s coming out all right, and it is going to come out all right because God is King and is in control.
Where does this universe end? Have you ever considered that? Do you know where this cosmos is going to find its consummation? How will this great sad world end? It is going to end in worship. It is going to end where the book of Ruth ends, with the gathered church, the elders, the women, the family of God and the chosen people all together blessing God for building his church and giving his own Son. It is going to end, this great cosmos, in singing, singing praise to him who loved us and washed us from our sins. Now I’m longing for that and looking for that, and waiting to see that, Christ being all and in all, the centre of the whole universe of God, receiving the glory due to him.
See how the women gather around limping old Naomi, and they say to her, “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. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him (vv. 14-16).
How many tears had she shed? Yet what are they singing now? “Marah has become Naomi again.” She is at the centre of the group photo and the women are all standing around shyly smiling at the camera and there on her lap is Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.
That is finally the message of the book of Ruth, that the one whom God promised would bruise the serpent’s head is coming. He is going to be the Saviour of Gentiles as well as Jews, the Saviour of women as well as men, the Saviour of the slave as well as the free, great David’s greater Son. All those he would be joined to through the umbilical cord. They would be amongst his ancestors according to the flesh, and such a cross-section of the world would also be included in his vast progeny according to the Spirit. Christ is our kinsman; bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, made in every point as we are made, touched by the feeling of our infirmities. Christ is our Redeemer, our Boaz, purchasing us and obtaining for us such an inheritance.
Our names will one day perish. We will die and be forgotten just as a dream dies at the break of day. We will pay the wages of sin. We will perish, our bodies will rot; dust we are and unto dust we shall return. But Christ has written the names of his people in the book of life. He has engraved our names on the palms of his hands in marks of indelible grace. He wears them on his breastplate as our great high priest after the order of Melchizedek. It is for these he prays. He mentions them by name to his Father. He preserves our worthless names and is preparing an inheritance for us in his Father’s house.
We have lost any claim to a place on the earth by our sin and the sin of our father Adam, but the last Adam has come and given us an inheritance among the saints in glory. It is an incorruptible, undefiled and unfading inheritance. Our kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ, great David’s greater son, saves us, keeps us and perfects us in that day. At the end the people of God are all gathered around him, blessing and praising him. Do you see it? Don’t you long to hear that great cosmic choir singing the praises of its Redeemer? Do you see the glory of that? The North praises him. The South praises him. The East is praising him, and the West praises him. Every nation, every kindred and every tongue is praising him. The Jews and the Moabites are united at his feet, all enmity between them has gone. They have beaten their swords into ploughshares and will study war no more. The general assembly and church of the firstborn which is in heaven praise him. The elders and the apostles, the men and women all praise him, and praise him, and praise him without ceasing. That is where it ends for the church, not where Shakespeare’s tragedies end, not where Lord of the Flies ends, not where Hemingway ends, not where George Eliot and Thomas Hardy ends. The Bible ends in the great song of praise of the whole redeemed people of God, with Christ, great David’s great son in the midst of his people for evermore.
16th March 2008 GEOFF THOMAS