Monday, February 26, 2018

Sermon: Ruth 4: 1-22 Redeemed!

‘Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens.’ Those were the words of Naomi to Ruth at the end of chapter 3. And they were words to us as well, as we wait to see what will happen in the story of Ruth. When I did a Bible study in Ruth in my last parish, I told them not to read ahead each week - imagine a minister telling people to not read the Bible! (They could read any other part of it, just not the chapters in Ruth...) I wonder how you’ve coped with the suspense of waiting to hear what happens...

If chapter 3 was a cliffhanger, then it’s just what we’ve seen the whole way through the book. Back in chapter 1, after Naomi’s family had fled to the land of Moab because of a famine, her husband, and later her two sons all died. She urged her daughters-in-law to return to their own families - Orpah did, but Ruth committed herself to Naomi her mother-in-law. Where you go, I will go... Naomi complained of being bitter and empty, but the barley harvest was just beginning. What would happen when the harvest was being gathered?

In chapter 2, we saw how Ruth took the initiative to go out gleaning, gathering up the scraps to feed herself and her mother-in-law. And in the just-so-happened-to-be-there field of Boaz, she found favour (grace). He was abundantly kind to her. And, the big cliffhanger was that Boaz was one of their kinsman-redeemers (whatever that was...).

Chapter 3 showed us how Naomi sought to provide ‘rest’ for Ruth, by sending her to Boaz in the dead of night, to ask for him to act as their kinsman-redeemer - the relative who would buy them out of slavery and give them freedom. Ruth had asked Boaz to ‘spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’ And the cliffhanger in verse 12 was that there is someone with a prior claim, a closer connection, who is the kinsman-redeemer. So what will happen?

Just as Naomi predicted, Boaz would not rest until the matter is settled. Ruth has returned home, and Boaz went to the town gate, where he sat down. In lots of towns and villages, there’s normally a bench in the town square where some of the men gather - that’s what happens in Dromore anyway, where my dad will be found most mornings! In this culture, it was the town gate that was the place of trade and civic business.

Boaz is on a mission. He’s watching out for the kinsman-redeemer he told Ruth about. And when the man comes along, he gets him to sit down. He then gets ten of the town elders to also sit down. He has something to say.

In verse 3 he begins to tell this other man about Naomi’s situation. Naomi needs to sell the family land to a relative. This man has the first say on the land, and so Boaz asks if he’s going to redeem it, or if Boaz can do it.

Initially, the other man is interested. But then when he hears the full terms and conditions - that he will also have to marry Ruth, then he backs off. He’s not looking to the interests of Ruth or his relatives; he’s only really interested in himself and his own interests. He gives Boaz the green light to go ahead himself. In the words of the Dragon’s Den: ‘I’m out.’

Now, when you went to buy your house or some land, you probably sat in your solicitor’s office, and at some point, you signed on the dotted line. I’m fairly sure you didn’t take off your shoe and give it to them! But that’s what happened here. A sandal was removed and given to the other party to seal the deal. It was a deliberate act that no one could miss, or misconstrue. The witnesses would see it, and understand that the deal had been agreed. And that’s what happens in verse 8. The other man takes off his sandal. Boaz and Ruth can fix their wedding date. (By the way, I don’t think that the other person held on to the sandal. I think it was then given back, so that the first one didn’t have to hop home!).

In verse 9, we hear what Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer announces: ‘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!’

He has assumed their debts, gained their property, and acquired a wife. (Incidentally, you probably know by now that I like bad jokes. So, indulge me for a second. What was Boaz like before he married? He was ruthless!)

The redemption has been accomplished. Boaz has his bride. He has redeemed her. Do you remember the line from ‘The King of love my shepherd is’ - ‘I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine for ever.’ What Boaz set out to do, he was able to complete. Just as we saw that Jesus was willing and able to heal the leper, so Boaz was willing and able to redeem his bride.

The elders reply to his double ‘Today you are witnesses’ with their own ‘We are witnesses.’ They then continue with a special blessing that would have been familiar to Boaz, but maybe needs a bit more explanation for us, if our Old Testament is a bit rusty.

V11: ‘May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.’ Here, they go back to the story of Israel (or Jacob), who was tricked into marrying the two sisters, Rachel and Leah. Between them (and their slave girls), they produced twelve sons, who became the twelve tribes of Israel. The elders pray that Ruth will also build up Boaz’ house.

They also pray that Boaz will have ‘standing in Ephrathah, and be famous in Bethlehem.’ And then they ask: ‘Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.’ Now, the story of Tamar and Judah is found in Genesis 38 - of a family situation out of control, with all sorts of strange things happening. But the focus is on Perez. And we aren’t really told much about Perez in the Bible, apart from the fact that he’s in the genealogies. What they seem to be saying is that the family of Perez had made it down to Boaz’ day - because Perez was Boaz’ great-great-great-great-grandfather. They’re praying that the family of Boaz will similarly continue for many generations.

All in all, they’re asking for God’s blessing on the newly married couple. And we see how God blesses them in the remaining verses. The Lord enables her to conceive, and a son is born.

If it was the (male) elders who prayed the blessing, it’s the women of the town who lead the praise. Notice that they’re speaking to Naomi (not Ruth) in V14: ‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer.’ Now, who are they talking about? Boaz? Well, I don’t think so. Follow the ‘he’ in the next verses. ‘May he be famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.’ It’s the newborn baby that they say will be famous in Israel (not just in Bethlehem, like his dad). But notice how Ruth is described - ‘who loves you and is better to you than seven sons.’

Poor Ruth. She seems to get sidelined here, as Naomi takes the child, cares for him, and the women sum up the story. Do you see how verse 17 is the climax of the story? Naomi, who was bitter and empty, has come full circle. ‘Naomi has a son.’ Through Naomi’s painful days, her days of mourning, her days of being angry with God, all along, God was working out his purpose. Naomi has a son. The Lord has restored to her all that she lost, and more.

Now, just when you think that the story is over, you realise that the story of Ruth is far from over. What started out as the story of one family, their tragedy and recovery, turns out to be something much bigger, and much more significant.

We see it in the rest of verse 17: ‘And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.’ And we see it in the rest of the book, in the family line of Perez. It’s the same family line that is found in the opening chapter of the New Testament. Ruth is a part of the family line, not just of King David, but also of King Jesus.

When I was growing up I used to watch Art Attack on TV. Each week, the presenter Neil Buchanan would gather a load of different materials - tyres, poly wrap, pallets, grass, you name it. And you would watch as he arranged all the bits to make a picture. Along the way, you tried to guess, but it was only as he finished that you could work it out. Earlier guesses might have been completely wrong.

The story of Ruth isn’t just about a local famine; or a daughter-in-law’s commitment to her mother-in-law. It’s not just about kindness, and the redemption of two ladies living in poverty.

The story of Ruth is a picture of how God is redeeming his people. Because God saved Ruth in this way, King David came about. God was working in the details of Ruth’s life to pave the way for the king of Israel. And through David’s story, God is at work to bring about the ultimate act of redemption - the Lord Jesus redeeming his bride, bringing us to himself. God’s purposes were not defeated by the famine, or by the unwillingness of the first relative to redeem. His purposes for you can’t be defeated either - rather, he uses the things that happen to you, everything, happy or sad, to bring about your redemption, to bring you safely to his eternal home.

As Paul puts it in Romans 8: ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present no 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 in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Rom 8:38-39).

Whatever happens, God is at work through it all. Ruth shows us that. The Lord Jesus shows us that. He is your redeemer, your Saviour, if you’ll trust in him.

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 25th February 2018.

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