Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Redemption Unfolded: A sermon preached in Annalong on 29th July 2007. Ruth 4:1-22

Did you ever watch Rolf Harris on television? You would see him slapping the paint on the canvas, seemingly randomly. And every so often he would stop and ask ‘Can you guess what it is yet?’ Or for the younger generation, did you ever see Neil Buchanan on Art Attack, as he took tyres and bits of cloth and traffic cones and all sorts as he arranged them seemingly at random.

In both cases, the picture was gradually unfolding, the pieces were put in place, and as time went on, you could see how things unfolded.

So we come to the end of the book of Ruth, as we deal tonight with chapter 4. How will the story end, I’m sure you were wondering as you were coming here tonight, especially if you’ve been with us last week and this morning.

Let’s just recap, before we launch into the passage. Naomi, her husband and her two sons went off to Moab from Bethlehem because of a famine. Sadly, her two sons and her husband died there, and she was left with her two daughters-in-law. Orpah went back home, but Ruth, in her faithfulness stayed with Naomi as they returned to Bethlehem (empty.) Being poverty struck, Ruth went out to glean in the fields, and came into contact with Boaz, who was one of the kinsman-redeemers – the family relatives who could buy back the property of Naomi, restore her land and keep the inheritance going. This morning, we saw how Ruth appealed to Boaz to save her, but Boaz said there was a closer kinsman-redeemer. We left him as he went to sort the matter.

As we see the events of that day unfolding through the passage, we can see through them, the unfolding purposes of God as he redeems and saves his people. We’ll be thinking about those purposes in the past, the present, and the future.

As the passage opens, we meet Boaz going to the town gate. This was the place of doing business, the place where the elders of the town would do business and make judgements. An example of this is found in 2 Samuel 15 – Absalom, the son of King David would stand at the city gate intercepting people who arrived, to act as a judge for them.

Shortly after, the nearer relative that Boaz had mentioned (who isn’t even named), comes along, and Boaz stops him. Then he gets some of the elders of the town to come over, to witness what will go on.

Boaz gives the news that Naomi is selling the land of Elimelech, which needs to be redeemed. The man initially seems happy with the offer, and promises to buy it back, to act as the redeemer. Until Boaz mentions the extra clause of the deal. As well as the fields, you also get a new wife – ‘in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.’ As we’ve seen right through the book of Ruth, land and family are very important – which means that the role of the kinsman-redeemer is so very important too.

But it’s a step too far. Despite Ruth being of noble character, the man decides that it’s not for him. He just can’t do it. The reason he gives is self-interest. He might endanger his own estate if he takes on the property of another.

So the way is clear for Boaz to become the kinsman-redeemer, and to become Ruth’s husband. Do you see the potentially smelly way of doing business – the removal of a sandal to cement a deal. Imagine taking your shoe off in the estate agent’s office today when you were buying or selling a house! But it shows that he was serious, that the deal has been done, and witnessed.

So how was God working through all this? Let’s look first at how he was active in the past, in unfolding his plan of redemption. The elders bring it to mind in verses 11 and 12, in their blessing on the new couple. As they pray for the future, they remember how God has acted in Israel in the past. ‘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.’

Rachel and Leah were the wives of Jacob, the mothers of the tribes of Israel, and the elders pray that the LORD will make Ruth like them. It was through the LORD that Rachel and Leah had built up the house of Israel, building up the nation of the people of God.

Further, the elders also recall the next generation of the family, praying that the couple’s offspring will be like Perez, the son of Judah (who was the great-great-great-great-grandfather of Boaz). Notice the dependence of the former generations on the LORD, and how the elders call on the LORD to bless the new family as well.

The building up of Israel was following in the promise of blessing to Abraham, that he would be built up into a great nation that no one could number, and God was faithful to his promises through the actions of Rachel and Leah.

Because God had been faithful in the past, it meant that his plan of redemption could be rolled out in the current generation as well. In verses 9 – 10 we see God’s plan of redemption in the present (for Ruth and Boaz). So, even after the terrible situation of the deaths of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion; Boaz was there to act as kinsman-redeemer – God’s agent of redemption in the present.

Right the way through we have seen God’s providence acting for the redemption of Naomi and Ruth – in bringing Naomi to the place where Ruth was, in bringing them together through their tragic circumstances; in Ruth working in the fields of Boaz; in the care and protection that Boaz offered. And also in tonight’s reading – in bringing about the meeting with the closer relative (he just happened to come along), and in what transpired that day.

Look also at verses 13-16. Here we see the ‘current’ redemption continuing, about a year later. Not only have Boaz and Ruth married, but God has brought about a son. Once again the praises ring as they see that God keeps his promise and his purposes! ‘Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer.’

As we’re coming near the end of the book, you might be wondering who the book is all about. Who is the hero of the story? Is the book all about Naomi?

Notice that the attention seems to have shifted to Naomi, and away from Ruth. Naomi is the focus of verses 13-17, as the women talk to her, and as Naomi takes the child and cares for it. The climax of the book is in verse 17 – ‘Naomi has a son.’ Gone is the emptiness of Naomi; gone is the bitterness of ‘Mara’; gone is the childlessness of Naomi. She has been filled, and redeemed, and saved.

But notice that the women remind Naomi about the vital role and importance of Ruth. Look at verse 15. ‘For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’ Is this a claim that Ruth is the real hero of the story (after all, the book is named after her)? Naomi is reminded that it was through Ruth that her emptiness is brought to an end, and meaning is brought to her life, in two ways. First, Ruth loves her, and second, she is better than seven sons.

I’ve spoken a lot about this being a romantic tale, a love story of sorts between Ruth and Boaz. But do you know what? This verse is the only mention of ‘love’ in the whole book. The love of Ruth for Naomi, for her mother-in-law. The rest of the story centres on kindness – the kindness of Ruth in remaining with Naomi; the kindness of Boaz as he shows favour to Ruth; the kindness of Ruth in choosing Boaz. Love is here between Ruth and Naomi.

Another way in which Ruth is seen as the heroine is that she is counted as better than seven sons to Naomi. This was a remarkable thing to assert, given the importance of sons in the culture.

Or maybe Boaz, the redeemer is seen as the hero? The way he shows kindness, and the way he redeems the family, saving them from poverty and disgrace.

But as one writer has commented: ‘None of them can be said to be the person about whom the book is written. But the implication throughout is that God is watching over his people, and that he brings to pass what is good. The book is a book about God. He rules over all and brings blessing to those who trust in him.’

But in reality, the hero of the story is God. It was the LORD who had brought his purposes about in the former generations; it was the LORD who was acting in history in the circumstances of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz.

And, as we bring the study to an end, we see also that God is working out his grand plan of redemption, not only in the past and the present, but also in the future. The son that Ruth bears is named Obed, and as verse 17 tells us, he became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David.

This wasn’t just a local crisis of a famine, and the subsequent relief effort, that people would soon forget about. Nor was it just a nice story from a family history. Rather, we see that the events in the lives of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz had effects not only on a local scale, or a national scale, but truly, on a global scale, right down through history.

God’s plan of salvation entailed the development of a king in Israel, one who would rule the people justly, and who would be the type, the shadow, the picture looking forward to the true King, the true Messiah who would come to rule God’s people.

The family tree of David is of such importance, not just because of David being king, but because his family line was that of Jesus. Verses 18-22 are also found in Matthew 1:3-6. When you get home, have a look at the first chapter of Matthew, and think on how God oversaw that family line, as he unveiled his purposes, and prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah to come.

The faithfulness of Ruth, and the redemption that Boaz provided paved the way for the redemption that Jesus came to provide. We thought of that this morning. Tonight, let us praise our faithful God, who brings transformation to our bleakest situations; who rescues us from our troubles, and who blesses us with his grace.

At the start we mentioned the Rolf Harris or Art Attack progression in art, as the pieces unfolded. Ruth’s story was a step in the progress of God rolling out his plan of salvation in Jesus.

God’s purposes were not defeated by the famine, nor by the unwillingness of the first relative’s refusal to redeem Ruth and Naomi.. His purposes for you cannot be defeated either.

‘’For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is on Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 8:38-39)

So as we finish, the key themes of the previous chapters are brought together. God’s faithfulness even when times are rough. God’s grace poured out on the least and the lost. God’s redemption for those who cry out in need. And God’s redemption plan worked out so that we can be saved. What an amazing God we serve!

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