Sunday, July 29, 2007

Calling for redemption - A sermon preached in Annalong on Sunday 29 July 2007. Ruth 3:1-18

Have you ever had a midnight encounter? Maybe you were walking down the road at night, and you saw someone approaching, but didn’t know who they were. How did you feel?

I remember well one midnight encounter – maybe about ten years ago. We were at Boys Brigade camp, and I was in my tent with six other fellas. The officers were trying to quiet us down for the night, but the other fellas in my tent were a bit rowdy. We could see the shadow of an officer on the wall of the tent, and one of the boys shouted out: ‘Ah, it must be Robert, look at the big nose on him!’ Needless to say that it wasn’t Robert; it was the chaplain of the camp, and we all had to report to him the next morning at 6am for duty!

In our reading this morning, we come across a midnight encounter. Boaz is at his threshing floor – the harvest has been gathered in and is now being threshed, and he is in high spirits. After an evening of feasting and drinking to celebrate the harvest, he goes to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. All is well with him as he starts to sleep.

But in the middle of the night, he wakes up, startled by something. And look what he finds, lying at his feet – a woman! Who is it, or what’s happening? Can you imagine the shock of finding someone lying at your feet? So he asks ‘who are you’.

Having read the passage earlier, we know that it’s Ruth. Look at verse 9, to see how she responds. ‘I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’

You might be wondering what a kinsman-redeemer is, and we’ll find out as we look at the passage as a whole. We’ll see what she’s doing there; what she asks for; and how Boaz responds.

Firstly, what Ruth is doing there. You might remember from last week that Ruth is the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Naomi and her husband left Bethlehem and went to Moab during a famine, and her husband died. Then her two sons married Moabite women, and the sons died. Orpah, one of the daughters-in-law went back home, but Ruth stayed with Naomi when she came back to Bethlehem.

In chapter two we found Ruth gleaning in the fields of Boaz, because she was poor, and needed to eat. It was legal for the poor and the foreigner to follow the harvesters and glean what was left behind. And it was there that Boaz met Ruth for the first time, offering her protection in the field, and granting her favour (or grace).

So now, coming near the end of the harvest, Naomi takes the initiative in trying to find a home for her, or as the margin puts it, ‘find rest.’ As I’ve said last week, family ties were very important at this time, especially in the inheritance of land. You see, when the people entered the land of Israel, it was divided up among their tribes and clans. Those inheritances could not be changed, but were passed down through the families.

But, as sometimes happened, there were problems. What if someone couldn’t afford to hold the land and sold some of it? Surely the land would be lost to the clan?

The Law provided for such situations. Over in Leviticus 25 we find a series of laws about the year of jubilee and about redemption. The year of Jubilee was to be held every fifty years, and any land which had been sold would be returned to the original owner again. However, if you had the means, you could ‘redeem’ the land. That simply means to buy back the land that had been sold in the first place.

So, for example, Leviticus 25:25 reads: ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.’

For Naomi and Ruth, though, the situation was more complicated, due to not having any sons. Normally, if the eldest son died, then the second son would marry the wife of the first in order to provide an heir for his brother. This was the reason the Sadducees had come with their ‘problem’ to Jesus about the seven brothers who died without a son, and which man would the wife be married to at the resurrection. But there are no more brothers in the family.

For the inheritance to be passed on, it would take a kinsman-redeemer (‘go-el’ in Hebrew). This would be a male family relative – perhaps an uncle or cousin, who would step in and redeem the land. So in verse 2, Naomi has identified Boaz as one of the kinsman-redeemers, and she send Ruth to him at night, at the threshing floor to make her appeal.

So after Boaz lies down, Ruth takes up her position, uncovering his feet and lying at them, in the position of the servant. It is in this position that Boaz finds her as he is wakened from sleep. And it is from this position that Ruth makes her appeal.

‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’ Can you see what she’s saying here? You know that I’m in need Boaz – not just in terms of my poverty and my need; but also for the good of the family lands – spread the corner of your garment over me! It is a request for protection, for cover, for warmth. Ruth acknowledges her poverty to Boaz, confesses her need, and appeals for Boaz to act for her.

Next, we see how Boaz responds. In chapter two we noted that Boaz was ‘a man of standing’ – a worthy man. Once again we see the worthy man in action, as he cares for Ruth, and expresses his admiration for her. Notice in verse 10 that he identifies her kindness (a recurring theme in the book of Ruth) – her kindness in not running after younger men, but rather fixing her attention on him (do we get a hint here that he is an older man?).

In addition to her kindness, he highlights the fact that she is seen by the local community as ‘a woman of noble character.’ Just as Boaz is a worthy man, so Ruth is a woman of noble character. It has been said that in some of the Hebrew canon of scripture, Ruth comes immediately after Proverbs, because Ruth is a living example of the ‘woman of noble character’ from Proverbs 31: ‘a wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of good value.’ (Prov 31:10-11)

Yet as he has mentioned the other men – other potential suitors, he is building her up to the sad news that he is not the nearest kinsman-redeemer. There were strict procedures to be followed, with an order of nearness in effect. The other relative will have first refusal.

Even with the possibility of losing Ruth to the other kinsman-redeemer, he is still the worthy man, pouring out the grace and favour we have already seen of him. Look at verse 14. In order to avoid any scandal, he ensures that she has gone home by morning, and will not let it be said that there was a woman at the threshing floor. This is as much for Ruth’s reputation as for his own.

But as he sends her away, we see the great generosity again. Verse 15 – he pours out 6 measures of barley for her to take back to Naomi, so that, as he tells Ruth (verse 17) ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ Do you remember that word empty? Where have we encountered it before? As Naomi returned to Bethlehem at the end of chapter one, she complained that ‘the LORD has brought me back empty.’ (1:21) It has been said that the book of Ruth is the reversal of Naomi’s emptiness, and again, we see it here, in the picture of God’s grace through Boaz.

So we have seen that Ruth is in trouble, in need, and appeals for help to her kinsman-redeemer, to Boaz. Can you see the parallels with our situation? Have you cried out to your kinsman-redeemer?

You know the need that we have. Ruth was in need because the family land had been sold, and she was in poverty. But our need is all that much greater, because we have sold ourselves. We’ve sold ourselves to the devil, and given up our birthrights. When Adam and Eve believed the lie of the serpent, they were removed from the garden and lost their status as friends of God.

And we, their children, continue to follow in their footsteps. Oh, people try to say that humanity is getting better all the time, but really, despite the advancement in technology and healthcare and science, we are still poor towards God. Science and wealth has blinded us to our poverty, as we consider ourselves to be rich.

Think of the words of the Lord Jesus to the church in Laodicea. ‘You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor blind and naked.’ (Revelation 3:17)

Now do you see our need? So who is our kinsman-redeemer? None other than the Lord Jesus. He it was who intervened to rescue us; to redeem us. He gave of himself so that we might gain the inheritance of the Father. He died so that we might be received into the family of God. This is the picture the New Testament provides for us, as it speaks of Jesus as redeeming us.

Jesus it was, ‘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.’ (Titus 2:14) Also, Peter writes ‘For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver of gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your fore-fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.’ (1 Peter 1:18-19).

On the cross, Jesus did the work of redemption – paying the price so that we could be forgiven and bought back from sin. He did it because of his amazing grace, to bring our pardon and redeem us. Yet we need to cry out to him to save us.

We need to acknowledge our need, and confess that we can’t do it on our own. We need him to save us. Can you echo those words of Ruth, and make them your own?

‘I am your servant. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’

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