Ruth 1 – 4
Where does a love story fit in the Bible?
Did you know that in 1971 a book was published called “How to catch a man”? It was written by none other than Hungarian-born socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor.
Here’s a piece of her advice: "Not only is it best for a woman, to have children while she is young, but also by the time she's older and ready for her new young husband, her children will be just the right age to have friends for her to marry, and it will be easy and convenient for her to pick one out, when they're over for birthday parties."
Dear oh dear!
Well, there are some who think, that the story of Ruth, is, nothing more than Zsa Zsa Gabor offers, a tale about how to catch a man.
What is a love story doing in the Bible?
Well, let’s take a look, but it’s a pretty ominous start, isn’t it? Famine.
But probably, there’s more to it than just a meteorological coincidence.
See how the story opens? In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.
Now, we’ve spent some time in Judges already this year, so we have a sense of the state of society that that introduction communicates.
It was Germany, 1939,
Mosul, October 2016
Society is in a bad way. Look up at very last line on the previous page. This is the summary of those days when the judges ruled, Verse 25 of Judges 12, In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit.
God had said in places like Deuteronomy 28, that if that’s what the people did, then then withholding the rain, was one of the ways he would punish sin, in the hope that they would turn back to him.
This is probably, God’s righteous judgment at work.
And so because of the famine, a man from Bethlehem, takes his family to live in the nearby country of Moab.
Now, Bethlehem we know from the Christmas story, but in these days, Bethlehem was an insignificant town just outside Jerusalem. When I was a kid, we lived in Longwood, not far from here.
I’ve since discovered that this is how Longwood is thought of by the rest of the world!
No one expects anything significant from Longwood!
But the irony here, is that Bethlehem means “House of Bread.”
Because of this famine, this man Elimelek, has to leave “the house of bread”, and go to live for a while in the land of Moab.
Moab was the son born through Lot’s incestuous relationship with his daughter, and things never got any better. The Moabites were enemies of God’s people. They had refused aid to Israel when they were in need, and Moabites were excluded from the gathering of God’s people.
Of course, that didn’t stop the Israelites inter-marrying with the Moabites, and going off after the Moabite gods.
Which is exactly the sort of thing that’s going on here. Elimelek and Noami are Israelites, but both their sons marry Moabite women. Orpah, and Ruth.
But then by verse 5, Elimelek and his 2 sons have both died, leaving Naomi, Orpah and Ruth, as widows, and without any means of support.
For a love story, this hasn’t got off to a great start. But, as Christians, we believe this isn’t just a random story, but part of the story of rescue that reaches its climax in Christ already we’ve reached the point, that if anything good is going to happen here, it has to be from God, right?
These women are devastated,
There’s been disobedience and now bitterness.
If anything good is going to come out of this story, we can already see that it’s only going to be through God’s intervention.
And as we’re going through the rest of the story, keep an eye out, for when the narrator shows us that God’s at work behind the scenes, acting sovereignly through the choices and actions of the human characters.
I’ll point out a few, but you’ll see some other occasions, I’m sure.
The first glimmer of hope one verse 6, Naomi heard that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them
The famine is over,
The house of bread is being re-stocked.
But Naomi knows she can’t provide a life for Orpah and Ruth, their best bet is to go back to their families. But they at least come to the airport to wave her off.
Naomi prays for the Lord’s loving-kindness
But before they say their final farewells, Naomi prays for them.
Understandably, she’s wrung out emotionally.
When she eventually gets to Bethlehem, she’s so bitter that she gives herself a new name, Mara means “bitter.”
And she’s absolutely convinced that God is against her. See verse 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.”
Maybe she thinks that everything that’s happened is God’s judgment on her and her family. And it’s, entirely appropriate for us to ask ourselves, “Am I reaping the consequences of foolish of sinful choices?
I mean, the number of conversations I have with parents of teenage or adult children, like here, and I think, “Can you not see that you are reaping the consequences of a lifetime of decisions you made regarding your family life.”
There were foolish and sinful decisions in the background here, but Naomi blames God for everything, without any sense of acknowledging sin, or repenting or anything. She just accuses God of making her life bitter.
But even, in her bitterness. At least she can pray.
She’s convinced that God is the sole source of everything bad that’s happened to her, but she’s also convinced that anything good that’s going to come to her 2 daughters-in-law, will be from God’s hand.
See verse 8, May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
If they’re to have a better life than they have now, it will be because the Lord has granted it.
And that right there is a pretty good way to think about life, isn’t it? As we saw in the letter of James, Every good and perfect gift comes from God. It’s at odds with what we often hear, that anything good in life will be the result of your work,
How good you are,
The degree of your success.
Think of Maria in The Sound of Music!
Nothing comes from nothing,
Nothing ever could,
So somewhere in my youth or childhood,
I must have done something good!
I mean, that’s what our year 12s are being told right now, isn’t it?! This week, as they head into swat vac and exams.
Now you guys should be diligent in your study, absolutely.
But don’t think for a moment that the blessings of God are linked to your effort or performance.
Naomi is hurting and bitter, but she still reminds us, that all the blessings of life come from God.
It’s even true when we don’t have the blessings now.
It’s easy to say when we have plenty “God’s given me all this.
Harder to say, “God gives all those things, that I so desperately want.”
Those of you who have been doing the Bible studies for this series will know that Naomi here introduces this idea of kindness, which is a major theme in the story.
Don’t think of kindness just as you know, if I dropped my leaflet, and you picked it up for me, that’s being kind, isn’t it? This idea is more than that, and perhaps better translated loving-kindness.
It’s often linked to the idea of covenant faithfulness,
It often conveys kindness that comes at a cost. Often a significant cost.
And this is a word that describes how God acts for his people. And of course, if you’re a Christian, you can see straight away, already we’ve got a shadow of the cross, where God’s kindness and love comes to us, at significant cost.
But notice who Naomi’s praying for.
She’s praying for foreigners, isn’t she?
She’s asking God to act towards them, just like he acts towards his own people.
Naomi is convinced, that the God of heaven and earth cares enough about the lives of these 2 foreign women, to intervene in their life, to change their circumstances.
Now, what you or I pray, will tell people a lot about what we believe, won’t it?
What we believe about ourselves,
What Naomi prays tells us what she believes.
She believes that God is interested in the lives of these 2 ordinary women.
She believes that God cares for these 2 women.
She believes that God cares about families, even slightly messed up and complicated families.
Naomi believes that her 2 daughters-in-law need God’s gracious intervention in their lives.
She believes that God will act for their good.
Naomi is expecting these 2 are both going to stay in Moab, which means she’s asking the God of Israel, to be at work in a country that doesn’t acknowledge him,
Among people who don’t acknowledge him.
But that’s OK, because her God is the God of all the heavens, and all the earth.
God isn’t limited to working in just this part of the world, or amongst that group of people.
It’s not only those who acknowledge God who can be the recipients of his blessings.
It’s good for us to pray that God will bless people who believe other things!
Good for us to pray for God to be at work in places where people don’t expect him to be!
But of course, part of the great blessing of the loving-kindness of God, is coming to know God.
Which we see in Ruth’s experience here.
Ruth chooses the true and living God
See verse 15, “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 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.
Ruth puts her finger on what’s at stake here.
Her the decision is not ultimately about where she lives, or with whom she lives, it’s a choice about allegiance to God.
Orpah chooses to return to the gods of her people,
Ruth chooses to turn to the God of Israel.
I’ve been reading this book recently, When Trouble Comes by Phil Ryken.
He makes the comment, that “When it comes to the big choices in life, the choices that determine our spiritual destiny, there are always plenty of dis-incentives.”
That is, there are always plenty of reasons to not do the right thing.
And he’s exactly right, isn’t he? We know that.
When it comes to making decisions about submitting to God’s Word,
Bringing our lives under Jesus’ Lordship,
Taking deliberate steps to grow our maturity and obedience,
There are always plenty of dis-incentives, plenty of reasons we could come up with, as to why not,
What it’s going to cost us,
How other people will think of us,
All the unknowns and uncertainties that obedience to Jesus can sometimes bring.
Despite all the dis-incentives, Ruth throws her lot in with the true and living God, and goes with her very angry and bitter mother-in-law, to a land she doesn’t know.
This is faith in God;,
To choose to follow God, even when there’s a cost,
Even when there are uncertainties and unknowns,
Even when others around us, even our family, would urge us otherwise.
But this demonstration of faith was to have far-reaching implications not just for Ruth, but for all God’s people.
Receiving the Lord’s loving-kindness
We get another great reminder of God’s sovereign hand in these events, as chapter 1 opens, and Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem, just as the barley harvest was beginning.
This is the ideal time, for 2 widows to find food,
I was listening to some people talking about a character on the TV show The West Wing recently, and one of them commented, that everything we need to know about one particular character, we can tell simply from his posture and bearing, as he walks into the room with his arm thrust out, ready to shake the president’s hand.
That very first introduction captured the essence of the character entirely.
That’s the introduction that we get to Boaz here.
The narrator wants us very quickly, to have a sense of who he is.
Boaz was a relative,
He was on Naomi’s husband’s side,
a man of standing,
from the clan of Elimelek
These points of description are all about to become extremely significant.
Ruth goes out to pick up some of the grain that the workers leave behind as they harvest the fields, and as it turned out, she finds herself in the field of this relative, Boaz.
Again, Coincidence? No. Ruth happened upon the field, but God’s already put his plans in motion.
In the Old Testament law, God had said, “when you harvest your field, don’t pick every last stalk, don’t worry about the bits you drop, leave them for those who would otherwise go hungry.
Kind of like the very first work for the dole program!
And if you’ve ever gone strawberry picking in Hahndorf, you’ll know that the people in front of you often leave plenty of fruit behind! And so this was the way that God provided specifically for people like Ruth.
She and Naomi are able to survive, because in God’s loving-kindness he has already provided a means for them to eat.
But when Boaz arrives at the field, we see even more kindness and generosity.
He says “Don’t go to someone else’s field”, I have told the men not to lay a hand on you.
The first workplace to ever have, an anti-sexual harassment policy.
I don’t know whether you heard during the week about a local council in the UK, that’s running a program in pubs and clubs called “Ask for Angela.” If women find themselves in dangerous or threatening situations, they can approach the bar staff and “Ask for Angela”, and the staff will know the codeword, and will help the women, call her a cab, or whatever.
It’s a good initiative, isn’t it? Taking care of vulnerable women.
But they could have called it, not “Ask for Angela”, but “Ask for Boaz” couldn’t they?
And the kindness of Boaz just becomes more extravagant. If you’re thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
At the mealtime, verse 14, he offers her his food, Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar
And he gives her the super-sized combo meal! She eats all she wants and had some let over.
And then he tells the men who are harvesting his grain, “don’t just let her pick up what you drop”, she’s allowed to be there right among you while you’re harvesting, and pull out some of what you’ve already bundled up, and leave it for her to collect.
If Boaz heard Christians today talking about giving 10 percent of their income to God’s work, he’d sit down and work out how to give 20 percent.
This is generosity above and beyond.
But it’s all the more pronounced when remember who Ruth is. She’s not just an Israelite who’s fallen on hard times. As the narrator keeps reminding us, she’s a Moabite, a foreigner!
Verse 6 again,
And although it might sound a little like Boaz thinks Ruth has some kind of quid pro quo with God;, she was kind to Naomi, so God’s kind of obligated to bless her, the point becomes clear in verse 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.”
Ruth has found refuge in God,
She has thrown herself on God’s mercy,
And interestingly, when Boaz speaks of “What you have done” he’s not talking about all the things that Ruth has done, but one thing. It’s singular. He means this taking refuge in God.
It’s a terrific picture, isn’t it?!
I don’t know what your image of God is, but here’s an element that needs to be incorporated into it!
Like a baby bird snuggling in against its mother for protection and comfort.
That’s what Ruth’s done.
And Boaz is confident, that Ruth will reap blessings because of that.
Again, because we’ve read the end of the story, we know that Boaz is going to be the answer to his own prayer.
We talked about dangerous prayers last week. Here’s another one.
Do you pray for God’s blessing on people?
I hope you do. And so don’t be surprised, if it turns out that maybe you’re the one God wants to use to bring that blessing.
And if we delve into the metaphor a bit, who or what are the wings of God in this episode?
How is Ruth experiencing God’s protection and comfort?, his loving-kindness?
The wings of God are Boaz!
I don’t know if you’ve ever thought of yourself as God’s wings! But here we see that a faithful servant of God,
With God’s heart for people,
Who wants to serve others,
A servant like that can be the means of other people, even foreigners, experiencing God’s blessing and loving-kindness.
Boaz is the flesh and blood incarnation of the loving-kindness of God.
And of course that speaks to us of another flesh and blood incarnation of the loving-kindness of God.
One greater, even than Boaz.
There was never anyone, who embodied God’s kindness, more than, that other man from Bethlehem, Jesus Christ.
It’s through Jesus that it becomes possible for us to enter into relationship with God,
To have our sin and rebellion paid for,
It’s through trusting in Jesus that we receive what the Apostle Paul calls “every spiritual blessing.”
Boaz is a little example, of what it is for the loving-kindness of God to over-flow from the life of one person to another,
And seeing it in Boaz, in the, in the prototype, means we’re ready to see it and recognise it when we encounter Jesus.
But there’s another way that Boaz helps us understand what Jesus accomplishes for us, and it’s already been hinted at, but it’s about to become the hinge for this whole story.
God has provided a redeemer
At the end of chapter 2, Ruth goes home to Naomi, with her 13 kilos or so of gran, And when she tells Naomi that this is all due to the kindness of Boaz, Naomi says, verse 20, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers”, sometimes translated “kinsman-redeemer.”
This is why the introduction of Boaz as a relative was so important.
Let me read to you from Deuteronomy 25. This is on your outline.
5 If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. 6 The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
Deuteronomy 25:5 - 6
So a man dies, without having a son, the man’s brother if he was unmarried, would offer to marry the widow, and if they have a son, the child is considered the son of the first brother, and so continues that family line, inherit the property and so forth.
God established a similar pattern if a family needed to sell land in order to survive. If you sold it to a stranger, that land was then lost to the family forever, so a relative would buy the land, and keep it within the family.
This was called redeeming.
Redeeming is to pay a price, to buy something.
Some of you will have read The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C S Lewis. In the story Prince Caspian and the others get captured by slave traders. Then a man comes along who buys Prince Caspian for 150 crescents, and sets him free.
And so it seems like Boaz might be the redeemer! It might be through him, that Ruth experiences the loving-kindness of God, just as Naomi prayed.
But in any great story, there are story bumps!
And these bumps occur one night at the threshing floor.
Now the narrator is careful to avoid any appearance of sexual misconduct. They’re not going to bed together.
Naomi tells Ruth to uncover Boaz’s feet, which she does,
Verse 8, 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
Perhaps uncovering his feet was a quiet way of making him feel the cold and waking him up! Some of you who are married will have particular theories about who’s got colder feet and those kinds of things!
But understandably, Boaz is a bit surprised! Waking up to discover that not only are your feet cold, but that there’s a woman lying at the foot of your bed!
Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,”, “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”
Now, this all seems completely strange to us, but it was obviously a well-enough understood means of saying, “I want you to marry me.”
I don’t recommend it, if you someone who’s looking to get married, but it worked in this case.
Boaz replies, I will do for you all you ask.
But, there’s story bumps, a hiccup Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I.
Boaz is a relative,
He is a guardian-redeemer or a kinsman-redeemer,
But in that line of succession, there is someone who has that obligation first.
Nevertheless, we see his, just extraordinary kindness to Ruth. “Leave it with me,” he says, “I’ll sort it out!”
He’s concerned, not just that they do the right thing, but that they’re seen to be doing the right thing, that’s why he doesn’t want anyone to see her, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.” He doesn’t want her to be marked by scandal. Mud sticks.
Then look at verse 16, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. Probably around 40 kilos of barley.
Remember what she collected in the field was about 13 kilos, that was one measure. And that was considered extraordinary, wasn’t it?
Now she’s given 6 more.
What did we see early on? Naomi prayed that Ruth would experience God’s loving-kindness, and it just keeps surprising us, in its sheer generosity.
The Lord redeems his people
Well, the story is nearly done! Boaz goes straight to the town gate, and sat down, just as, chapter 4 verse 1, the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along.
Again, just as, it just so happened! No, no coincidences here. God is working behind the scenes to bless his people.
In the legal transaction, we discover that Naomi has some right to a field that she needs to sell. And so this redeemer has an obligation to redeem it so it can stay in Naomi’s family.
He’s willing to do that, at which point Boaz says, there’s a Part B!
Ruth also has an interest in this field, and to redeem the field, means you also redeem Ruth, you have to offer to marry her.
This changes everything for the man. He says to Boaz, You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.
A few legal technicalities later with the swapping of sandals, and Ruth and Boaz are able to get married.
Boaz has redeemed Ruth.
And if this was a romance movie, that would be the end, the credits would roll.
Boy has met girl,
Boy and girl sorted out the legal impediments to their marriage,
Boy and girl get married, and live happily ever after.
But as we’ve seen this is a story about 2 people, but it’s so much more than that.
This is also a story that teaches us about how God redeems his people.
God has redeemed Ruth, through her kinsman Boaz.
And redemption for Ruth means a reversal of her previous situation.
She was a widow. Now she’s married.
She was destitute. Now she’s provided for.
She was vulnerable. Now she’s safe.
She was alone. Now she has a family.
She was a foreigner, and outside. Now she’s among God’s people.
Do you get a sense of what redemption is?
What redemption accomplishes?
And if, as we’re convinced, this story is here in our Bibles to teach us something about the much greater redemption that is achieved for us in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus, think about how wide-reaching that must be.
We were on our own. We’re brought into relationship.
We had nothing before God. We’re given every spiritual blessing in Christ.
We were facing God’s righteous judgment of our sin. Now we’re seated with Christ in the heavenly realms.
We were enemies of God. Now we’re co-heirs, the Bible says, with his son, Jesus.
Redemption changes everything.
Even, in the micro-case, redemption changes Naomi, doesn’t it?!
The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer
Once more, let’s notice God’s invisible hand. It’s God who’s provided the redeemer. It’s God who should be thanked and praised, for the circumstances of life.
These women don’t say “Oh, isn’t Boaz great!
What a great plan you 2 came up with to catch him!”,
Praise be to the Lord
This is a story about a woman and her family, but more than anything else, it’s a story about God! I mean, did you notice that Ruth doesn’t even speak in the second half of the book;, chapters 3 and 4.
This is a book that directs us to God,
That speaks to us of his loving-kindness,
That speaks into our hardship, and suffering, and disappointment,
And it asks us if we are willing, to take refuge in the true and living God.
Ruth challenges us, “will you trust God in hardship?”
Will you trust God, even as you stand in the debris of your broken dreams?,
Will you in God when life doesn’t turn out like you hoped it will?,
Or when you’re staring the end of life in the face?
Ruth says that God can be trusted, even when we can’t see past our own hurt and disappointment.
That was Naomi, wasn’t it? “I am empty”, she said. I mean, incredibly hurtful thing to say with Ruth standing right next to her, who’s given up everything!
Even in that moment of bitterness, God, as we’ve seen, was already unrolling his plans to bless Naomi, and Ruth, and all humanity, with his loving-kindness.
Will you trust God, even when you’ve let your circumstances convince you, that he’s conspiring against you?
“Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer
And we imagine, “Oh, they’re talking about Boaz. By extension, he’s kind of redeemed Naomi, too.”
But no, they’re talking about Ruth’s child, Obed. Verse 15, For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth
The Lord has given Obed, as a redeemer.
God has provided a redeemer, not just for Naomi, but for all his people.
Eventually, as the little genealogy tells us here, Obed becomes the father of Jesse,
And Jesse the father of David.
This child is the redeemer that God has provided for his people, because through him, will come King David.
David redeemed his people, rescued them from their enemies countless times.
But even more than that. These names here, appear on the very first page of the New Testament. Because from Obed comes Jesse and David, yes, but ultimately, also, Jesus.
Obed is Jesus’ great-great-great-so many greats- grand father.
God has provided a redeemer for his people.
One who would pay the ultimate price, to buy his people back, free them, from sin and rebellion.
In Ruth we see the loving-kindness of God, overwhelming in its generosity poured out on the life of a few people.
But in Jesus, we see the loving-kindness of God poured out on all people.
God’s loving-kindness provides for people’s physical needs,
God’s loving-kindness meets people’s relational and emotional needs,
God’s loving-kindness draws Gentile foreigners like Ruth into his people,
It draws sinful, rebellious men and women like you and me into his purposes, and showers blessings on us in Christ.
And, of course, as we see here, the loving-kindness of God is not something that should stop with us, but flow from us, to those around us.