Oct 29th, 2019
The Faithfulness of Ruth, of Boaz, of God
Fr. John Wallace
October 27, 2019
Today we’re going to look at the Book of Ruth. At its core it’s a beautiful story of redemption. And in it we encounter Amazing Faithfulness! The Faithfulness of Ruth. The Faithfulness of Boaz. And the Faithfulness of God.
The book of Ruth takes place at a dark time in Israel’s history. It’s near the end of the time of the Judges. A time marked by lawlessness, by war, and by famine. A time in which the people allowed their hearts to wander far from God. In fact, the last few chapters of the Book of Judges end with this refrain: “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” It was a time that needed hope! That needed people of faith to do the right thing! It was a time that needed God.
Ruth in a way is like an Abraham figure. In Genesis 15 it was Abraham’s faith in God - his belief - his trust - that was counted as righteousness. If you remember, Abraham was called out of the Land of Ur - to leave his home and his family and his land - to follow God and begin a new age of faithfulness to him. And Ruth is also called out of her own land - the land of Moab. And she leaves her home and her family and through an act of faith begins a new chapter for the people of Israel.
But why was this story recorded about a Moabite widow? What makes her story so special? Why are we talking about her faithfulness 2,500 years later? We find out in the last chapter of the Book that Ruth was the Mother of Obed - who was the father of Jesse - who was the father of David - who became Israel’s greatest king.
And the Gospel of Matthew starts like this - “This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham.” And Matthew lists Ruth as one of Jesus’s ancestors. Which means Ruth the Moabite - is the great, great, great - (29 greats) grandmother of Jesus.
OK - So let’s look at Ruth’s Faithfulness. Then Boaz’s faithfulness. And finally - God’s faithfulness.
First - Ruth’s faithfulness.
The story starts with hardship. It’s a time of famine in Bethlehem. So Naomi (who will become Ruth’s mother-in-law) moves with her family to Moab - a sworn enemy of Israel - to try to make a life there.
When they get there, Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, dies. Then her sons get married to some Moabite women. One marries a woman named Orpah, and the other marries Ruth. But then her sons also die - leaving Naomi widowed - without a husband and without her sons - in a foreign land.
When she hears that God has blessed her homeland with rain and a harvest - she decides to return to Bethlehem. Better to be a widow in your hometown than to be a widow in the land of your enemy! And she tells her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab, return to their father’s houses where they will be cared for - and find husbands for themselves among their own people.
But Ruth refuses to leave Naomi and speaks some of the most beautiful and faithful words in all of Scripture. She says: Don’t tell me to leave you! 16 … Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
Isn’t that beautiful?! That’s Ruth’s faithfulness. She wants to remain with Naomi. She wants to serve Naomi’s God. No matter what it costs! She’s going to leave everything she has known, her family, her homeland, her everything - to make Naomi’s people her own people. And Naomi’s God - her God. And you know what? God can use that kind of faithfulness! And he does!
And so Ruth comes with Naomi to Bethlehem. And when they get there, Ruth tells Naomi - “let me go into the fields to glean - so we can have food.”
Back then, in Israel there was a law about gleaning. It was the law that landowners couldn’t harvest everything from their land. They had to leave gleanings for the poor. It was how the poor were cared for at the time. They could go in after the harvesters and collect whatever had fallen or wasn’t harvested. That’s what Ruth wanted to do. And so she did. And the field she began to glean in happened to belong to a man named Boaz - a relative of Elimelech - Naomi’s husband who had died.
Let me read this from chapter 2
2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4 Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Who is this young woman?” 6 The servant answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”
We learn several things here: One: Boaz was a close relative of Elimelech - Naomi’s late husband. And he was wealthy. We also learn that he’s an honorable and faithful man. When he got to the field he greeted the workers: The Lord be with you! and they replied - The Lord bless you. Ruth has found herself in the field of a good man.
And the last thing we learn is that Ruth is a hard worker. She worked and gleaned in the field all day - without taking a break. Listen to what happens next:
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”
10 Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” 11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!”
I love that. Boaz is so impressed by Ruth’s faithfulness to Naomi and he wants to protect her. And he prays that she will be rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel - under whose wings she has come for refuge!
When she comes home that night with her gleanings, Naomi is amazed by how much she has brought. And she asks, “who’s land were you gleaning in” When Ruth says that she was gleaning in Boaz’s land - and that Boaz had been kind to her, Naomi rejoices! Boaz is a relative! And a good man! And best of all - He can act as a redeemer for them!
Let me explain what it meant to be a Redeemer in Israel. Redemption was a beautiful thing! And Redemption had a very specific meaning. To redeem something meant to buy it back! You could redeem a piece of property or a field that had fallen into the hands of another family. Or you could redeem (or buy) a family member to get them out of prison or out of slavery.
Sometimes families would lose their property. Maybe they fell on hard times. And so they’d have to sell it to pay debts. Or maybe they didn’t have land - so they had to sell themselves into servitude for a set amount of time - or until the debt was paid.
Property, or people, in that condition could be redeemed.
But that’s not the beautiful thing about redemption. The beautiful thing is who was able to perform the redemptions… Who was able to act as redeemer!
The laws about the redeemers were very clear in Old Testament times. In Israel there was something called a go-el, a Kinsman-Redeemer. And In order to be able to redeem a field, or a person who is in prison or in indentured service, you had to be a relative. You had to be family. And not just any family, but close family.
The Go-el (the kinsman-redeemer) had to be the nearest relative.
And the reason is - The whole idea was to keep the family land in the family! If someone else bought the land - They were just buying it for themselves. But if the Go-el - the nearest relative redeemed it - it kept the land in the family. And it turned out that Boaz was a close relative of Elimelech - and so he could be the redeemer - to buy back Elimelech’s land - and provide for Naomi and Ruth.
When Naomi realized all of this - she rejoiced! God was showing them favor! And she told Ruth that she should propose to Boaz.
Because that was the other thing about redeeming the land. If Boaz redeemed the land - because the heir to the land was dead (Naomi’s son / Ruth’s husband) he would also have to marry Ruth - the heir’s widow. So she could have a son who could inherit the land. and keep it in the family.
That was another law at the time called Levirate Marriage. It was about preserving the lineage of a close relative that had passed away.
But here’s the thing - when Ruth asked Boaz to act as redeemer - this is what she said to him: she said “spread your cloak over your servant, for you are go-el.”
She was asking him to protect her, to cover her with his cloak, to be the redeemer of their family, and to make her his wife. And he gladly agreed.
He had noticed her. She had been kind to him. And he saw how she had been gracious to Naomi. And even though she was a foreigner in his field - in his eyes, she was a treasure.
But there was one problem - there was another who was closer in relation to Elimelech - so before Boaz could act as redeemer, he had to give this other man the option to do so. But when the other man found out that he would have to marry Ruth, the moabite, he refused. So Boaz was free as the nearest willing relative to act as Go-el and to redeem Naomi’s land. And as kinsman-redeemer, he also got a bride named Ruth. And soon she gave birth to a son, named Obed. The father of Jesse, the father of David.
That’s Boaz’s faithfulness.
And all of that is beautiful! But what’s even more beautiful - is God’s faithfulness.
So let’s go all the way back to the Exodus when God is promising to save his people from Egypt.
Listen to this from Chapter 6
2 God spoke to Moses and said to him, I am the LORD. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob… and I established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. 5 Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. 6 Say therefore to the people of Israel, I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. 7 And I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.
“I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God.” You know what God was saying? He said - I will redeem you. I will be your Go-el. I will be your redeemer.
And remember - The Go-el had to be the nearest relative! And God says to Moses - I want to be your Go-el!
In Matthew 13 Jesus tells his disciples that 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered; and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
I used to think that that was about us selling everything we have in order to get the kingdom of heaven. And it might be! And if it is the kingdom of heaven is totally worth it! We absolutely should sell everything we have to buy the field and get the treasure that is the kingdom of heaven. It’s totally worth it!
But now I’m not sure that’s what it is anymore!
What if instead - the man who found a treasure in a field - is Jesus? Like Boaz who found Ruth in a field. And what if the treasure in the field is us?
And what if the man covered the treasure to protect it? Just like Boaz covered Ruth to protect her with his cloak?
And what if the man in his joy sold all he had, and gave up everything so he could buy the field like Boaz bought and redeemed Naomi’s field?
And what if buying the field / redeeming the world meant - like Boaz - that he could marry his bride?
44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered; and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”
What if the treasure is us and the field is the world. And the man is Jesus who in his joy gave up everything and bought that field?
Some commentators say that the Scroll in Revelation 5 - the one with the seven seals - the one that only Jesus, the Lamb of God, was worthy to open - some commentators say that it contains the unfolding of all of history. Other commentators say it’s the deed to all creation. Like a deed to a piece of land - or a field - in need of redemption.
We don’t know for sure! But we do know that only Jesus was worthy. Only Jesus was able to break the seal and open the scroll. And we also know that Only Jesus could be our go-el. Only Jesus - who was both God and Man - could pay the price to redeem the world and marry his treasured bride!
Listen to this from Revelation, Chapter 5. No one was found worthy to open the scroll. Only Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah was worthy. And then it says:
6 Then I saw between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders a Lamb standing as if it had been slain… 7 And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of the one who was seated on the throne. 8 When he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell before the Lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And They sang a new song, saying,
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain
(and listen:) and by your blood you redeemed for God people from every tribe and language and people and nation; 10 and you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God, and they will reign on earth.”
Why was he worthy to break the seals and open the scroll? Because he was our Go-el! Because he paid the price of redemption. Because he redeemed us by his blood.
That’s the faithfulness of God.
Back in Genesis God promised Moses that he would redeem his people. That he would do what only our nearest relative could do. And so when the time was right he came as one of us.
And became a full member of the human family - became our nearest relative - so he could be our Go-el!
And he was Born - the Son of Mary, the Son of David, the Son of Ruth and Boaz, the Son of Abraham, the Son of God.
And he paid the price of redemption with his blood on the cross.
Thanks be to God! Thanks be to God for his faithfulness, for the faithfulness of Ruth and Boaz. And for the faithfulness of his Son Jesus - our Savior and our Redeemer.