Ruth 4 – Joining Hands
Today we come to the last instalment in the book of Ruth, this biblical romantic comedy that we’ve been looking at over the last month. For those who’ve forgotten, or who missed the first few episodes, let me remind you what’s happened so far in Ruth.
There was a famine in Bethlehem, so a man named Elimelech took Naomi, his wife, and their two sons to live in Moab. Then Elimelech and his two sons died, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law. Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law and at the end of chapter 1, they return to Bethlehem empty-handed and understandably upset.
So in chapter 2, Ruth and Naomi are clutching at straws. Without any other options, Ruth heads out to glean from the fields, to gather the bits missed by the harvesters. By what seems like coincidence, but what we know is God’s providence, she happens to end up at a field owned by Boaz. As it turns out, Boaz is related to Naomi’s dead husband Elimelech. Boaz ensures Ruth is cared for and shows her great generosity, which he says is because he’s heard of her faithfulness and love for Naomi and for God.
In chapter 3, Naomi concocts a plan for Ruth to go to Boaz in the middle of the night to seek a marriage proposal. Boaz is taken by Ruth’s faithfulness but then we get the shocking twist, there’s another man! This other man is a closer relative than Boaz, so the obligation to rescue Naomi and Ruth, and restore Elimelech’s name really goes to him first. But Boaz promises Ruth that if this man won’t marry her, he most certainly will.
Which brings us to chapter 4. That very morning Boaz sets his plan in motion. He goes down to the city gates in order to find this unnamed man. In Ancient Israel the city gates was where the action was. It was at the gates that people met, that business transactions took place. It was at the gates that the elders gathered to pass judgment and sit in council. So it’s to the city gates that Boaz heads, and behold just then this next-of-kin came by!
In a very friendly way, Boaz calls him over for a friendly chat. But first he makes sure he has ten of the elders there to act as witnesses. Boaz tells this kinsman about an offer that’s too good to refuse. Naomi, Elimelech’s widow, is selling whatever land she has left in the family name. Boaz makes out that things are so tough for Naomi that she has no option but to sell the farm. But before the land goes on the open market, as was custom family members have the opportunity of redeeming it. A relative can buy the land and keep it in the family as it were. This other man is the closest relative, so he gets first dibs. If he doesn’t want it Boaz is willing and able to redeem the land.
At first, this next-of-kin jumps at the chance. He hasn’t shown any interest in Naomi or Ruth up until now. This is the first time we meet him in the story and he’s such a minor character we don’t know his name! But now there’s an opportunity to take this land he’s eager. The fact that Boaz is interested probably only makes him even more keen to own it for himself. How often do we get more excited about something when we know someone else wants it? As far as this next-of-kin is concerned this is a great offer. He can buy the land with out any risks. Naomi is old and barren, there’s no male heir to come and claim it back off of him.
But once he’s expressed his interest, Boaz throws in the kicker. It’s not just the land that’s on offer. It’s actually a house and land package, or actually a companion and land package. Not only will he acquire the land off of Naomi, he will also acquire her daughter-in-law Ruth. Boaz makes it very clear what’s on offer here. It’s for the purpose of raising up an heir for the dead man. Who ever buys the land will be obligated to father a child who will be an heir to Elimelech and his son Mahlon.
Straight away, this next-of-kin starts backpedalling. This isn’t what he signed up for! If he buys the land and has to father a child by Ruth, he’s in double trouble. He’ll have buy the farm with his own money, but then this child will be able to claim it in Elimelech’s name. He’ll spend his money and not have anything to show for it. That means his own inheritance, his own children who bear his name, will be jeopardised he says in verse 6. So now he quickly says Boaz can have it, land, woman and all.
Instead of pulling out a pen and paper, he takes off his sandal and gives it to Boaz. In verse 7 the writer of Ruth helpfully tells us that this was the custom in Ancient Israel when an exchange took place. It was the equivalent of signing a contract, especially when done in the presence of so many witnesses.
Sandal in hand, Boaz doesn’t waste any time telling everyone what he plans to do. He’s willing and able, not just to buy the land off of Naomi, and not just to father a child by Ruth, but even to take Ruth’s hand in marriage. And did you notice who was there and how they responded? When Boaz pulled the next-of-kin aside he gathered just ten of the elders. Now, when Boaz announces his marriage, it’s to the elders and to all the people. Everyone has gathered around to witness and to celebrate! And did you notice what their response is? They not only say that they’ve witnessed the contract and will ensure it’s upheld. In verses 11-12 they also pray.
All through the short book of Ruth, we’ve seen people’s default response to be prayer. After the famine had lifted in Bethlehem, Naomi’s first response was to send her daughters-in-law back to their Moabite families with a prayer. When Boaz greets his workers in the field, it’s in the form of a prayer, as is their response. When Boaz welcomes Ruth and generously provides for her, he does so with a prayer for her blessing. When Ruth gets home and tells Naomi about Boaz, her reaction is to pray in thanksgiving. Boaz responded to Ruth’s midnight visit with a prayer. And now, all the people respond to what’s happened at the city gates by praying and seeking God’s blessing on Ruth and Boaz.
Every aspect of life, from misery to joy, from the routine to the extraordinary, daily work and social intercourse, as well as the very private moments are lived in the faith that God is there and God cares. In Ruth, no matter is too small, no event too big, to bring to God in prayer. How much should the example of prayer in Ruth lead us to pray? So that we, in all circumstances come before God, confident that he hears us, that he loves us, and that he loves to respond to our prayers?
Well, what do the people pray for the happy couple? What sort of prayers should we pray at a wedding? Firstly, they pray for Ruth, that she might be like Rachel and Leah, who built together the house of Israel. The whole nation of Israel was descended from these two women. So they people are praying that Ruth might be the mother of a famous race, with many descendants.
Next they pray for Boaz. They pray, ‘May you proposer in Ephrathath and be renowned in Bethlehem.’ It’s a prayer that Boaz will be enriched through this marriage and that he too might achieve fame and fortune through it. Through this marriage to Ruth, not only will Elimelech’s name be restored and maintained, but Boaz’s name made famous!
Finally, they pray for the family that’s to come. ‘May your house be like the house of Perez.’ Perez was one of their ancestors of the Bethlehemites. It’s a prayer that that Boaz and Ruth will have many and famous descendants.
Well, all their prayers are answered in due course. Ruth and Boaz are married and they have a son together. The writer makes it clear that this child is a gift from God, as all children are. Erin and Ben, you’ll know this. All children are God’s gifts that he entrusts to us, for longer or shorter periods of time, until he calls them home.
The story of Ruth started with Naomi and in a way it ends with her too. Naomi returned to Bethlehem without a husband or sons and the women shared in her bitterness and sorrow. Now, they share in her joy at the gift of this little boy, who will be for her ‘a restorer of life and a nourisher for your old age.’ Naomi has been there throughout the story of Ruth, showing us an example of someone who turns to God in good times and in bad. She’s a model of waiting patiently upon the Lord, but also of faithfully taking action.
The main character in this story is Ruth. She’s not just the world’s best daughter-in-law, worth more than seven sons. She’s been a model to us of faithfulness and love, even of hesed, the faithful covenantal love that God has for his people and that we should have for one-another.
Boaz has shown us what it means to fulfil the law, not out of compulsion but out of love. And in this final episode, we’ve seen an ordinary man acting within his own power to redeem an outcast and bring her into fellowship with the living God. How much more then can we be confident that God will be as compassionate to all who are outcasts? That he is a God of redemption with the power and the desire to bring all of us into fellowship with himself.
The story, and our sermon could end here. But there’s this little genealogy tacked on the end. But it isn’t a boring add on, designed to trip up Bible readers and preachers! It’s not a like the acknowledgment page at the end of a novel, that you can easily skip over. It’s more like the preview of the next book in the series. Or the sneak peak that they offer on a TV show, next week in the story of God! This little list of names places us in history and puts the story of Ruth in context within the big picture of God’s plans.
For Boaz and Ruth’s great-grandson is David, Israel’s greatest king. We see just how important this couple and this story are in the scheme of God’s plan. Up to now it’s seemed like just a great love story, the ultimate romantic comedy. But these ordinary people doing ordinary things are really a key part of God’s extraordinary story. And the story continues. The great, great, great, great, great, grandson of Boaz and Ruth will be born of ordinary parents Mary and Joseph. But that baby will turn out to be the Saviour of the world, Jesus.
Our faith, our ordinary lives, our decisions too, are part of God’s providential and gracious care. We are part of God’s family. The God who called Ruth is the God who calls us to be part of his family through Christ. May we, like Ruth pledge our willing and loving obedience in response to God’s gracious invitation to enjoy our place under the refuge of his wings!