part 3 cords of lovingkindness
We have spent the past few weeks exploring a couple of narratives that pinpoint some critical moments in the history of the children of Abraham. As we stated, the essence of the Bible is the unfolding and fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham and his descendents.
Last week we looked at the promise of the Land and God’s fulfillment of that promise as he raised up Joshua through whom the Israelites conquered the Land of Canaan and came to possess the promised Land. We camped out in Joshua chapters 2 & 6, in which we saw the conquest of Jericho. The rest of the book of Joshua is about the conquering of the rest of the Land and the division of that Land amongst the tribes as their inheritance.
The book of Joshua is followed by the book of Judges, which tells of a time in Israel’s early history in the Land – a dark time in Israel’s history. The Mosaic Covenant is a very important component part in understanding the book of Judges and all of the OT for that matter; in short, blessings for obedience, curses for disobedience. Once the military conquests were over, God raised up Judges to rule over Israel. The book is essentially about a time when Israel was disobedient to the covenant, so God raised up the surrounding nations to oppress them and shut up the heavens, withholding the rain and crops. Then Israel would repent and cry out to God. He would raise up a judge to deliver them and the cycle continued.
This morning, I would like us to take a look at a story that takes place during this time of the Judges. That story is found in the Book of Ruth. Turn there in your Bibles.
This morning we are going to cover the entire book of Ruth, yes, the entire book. And don’t worry I have done my best to condense this from a 3 hour sermon down to 2 ½ hours. And yes, there are themes and lessons found in this book, the main one being that of the kinsman redeemer that I will not be camping out on in this morning’s message, but I believe that what I have chosen to camp out on will be a blessing to you.
The book opens, in chapter 1 verse 1 by giving us that very historical context, saying that
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
The first thing we see in the book is that this Israelite family left the Land that God had given to them as their own country as part of the covenant. The reason there was a famine was likely disobedience to the Law (cf Deut 28). Now, rather than turning to Yahweh, trusting him to provide in the Land, they left the land and tried to provide by their own means. They left Bethlehem, which literally means “house of bread” in order to find bread outside of Israel, the Land, which was a land of plenty, provided that the people of God were obedient to the will of God.
Last week we looked at the virtue of faith – not a whimsical arbitrary faith, but a belief rooted in the Word of God. What was the Word of God regarding provision? God said in 2 Chronicles 7:14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.
So this move could possibly be seen as a lack of faith on the part of Elimilek and his family. What happens once this family arrives in Moab?
3 Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
We see here that while it may have been difficult for some time to remain in the Land, God was faithful and He did provide. One lesson we see early on in the book of Ruth that is as true for us today as it was for Naomi and the Israelites of her day is this: when God’s people seek satisfaction and sustenance outside of the bounds of the covenant, they usually encounter some form of pain and sorrow; they don’t find ultimate satisfaction and sustenance. If they find any, it is only temporary. Ultimate satisfaction and sustenance is found within the provision of God and according to the means he prescribes.
Since we aren’t a covenant people defined by ethnicity and geography under the Law of Moses, but a covenant people defined by faith in Christ, how does that translate to you and me? As we stated last week, in the New Testament Scriptures, we have writings, though not originally written to us, they were written for us, and there are timeless truths and principles prescribed by God through the people of God which are for our ultimate good. The core of the teaching of Jesus and his apostles and prophets as well as the sum of all the law and the prophets and is love. It is in our best interest to set aside self for the sake of others, to expand our lenses so that we are not simply viewing self and seeking self satisfaction, but seeking to serve and bless others.
So now she returns to the Land, but now rather than returning with her husband and sons, with whom she left, she was returning with these two foreign daughters-in-law.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
There is a huge difference between the responses and choices of Orpah and Ruth. While Orpah went back to her people and her gods, Ruth clung to Naomi and said where you go, I will go, where you stay, I will stay, your people will be my people and your God will be my God. We don’t know for certain what made her so committed or why Ruth didn’t stay in her homeland. But for whatever reason, she goes with Naomi. Perhaps – again this is speculation – but perhaps, she, like Rahab, had heard of the mighty acts of Yahweh on behalf of His people and her actions, were like Rahab’s, a sign of authentic faith in the God of Israel. Either way, she is choosing to make the God of Israel her God and the people of Israel her people.
I believe that this beautifully foreshadows what would later happen through Christ; an influx of people outside of Israel choosing to come into the family of God and to make the God of Israel their God. To this day, people are still coming to the God of Israel, making Yahweh their God through faith in Jesus.
19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,[b]” she told them. “Call me Mara,[c] because the Almighty[d] has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted[e] me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.
Now, for the Israelites, names had a huge significance. They had a meaning. Naomi’s name means “pleasant.” But this woman, whose name means pleasant lived among a people who were suffering a famine (probably due to disobedience to the LOM), moved away to a foreign land, her sons married foreign women there, her husband died, and her sons died. As she says, she left full, but has returned empty. So she says don’t call me Naomi, but call me Mara. Don’t call me pleasant, but call me bitter. She left a pleasant woman, but has returned a bitter woman. For God had afflicted her and brought misfortune upon her.
Have you ever experienced affliction and misfortune? Is it not easy to be bitter in such a situation?
When we allow our line of sight to be focused entirely on ourselves, our situation, our losses, our pain, it is easy to be bitter.
One lovely lesson that we can learn from this story is that we can either allow our circumstances to make us bitter or they can make us better. My good friend, Alan Bondar applied to the book of Ruth the old adage: when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. This book is a silver lining on a thick black cloud during the dark days of Israel’s period of Judges; it is the story of Naomi going from bitter to sweet.
Chapter 2 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.
2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek.
This phrase “as it turned out” carries with it the idea that this was God’s providence. NASB says that she happened to come to the portion that belonged to Boaz. It just so happened, not by her doing, but by God’s doing, that Ruth was gleaning not just in any field but in a field that belonged to Boaz, who was a near relative of Naomi’s dead husband Elimelek.
4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they answered.
5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”
6 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”
Notice Ruth’s humility here. She bowed with her face to the ground. She recognizes that Israel are the people of God and that she is a foreigner. She doesn’t have a sense of entitlement or expectation, but one that recognizes who she is in light of who God is and who the chosen people of God are.
Ruth was a Moabitess – A cursed race! Ruth was a foreigner, an outsider, an alien, a stranger – Her name means “Satisfied Stranger.”
While we stated earlier that seeking satisfaction outside of God’s prescription leads only to temporal satisfaction at best (and usually some form of pain, grief, or sorrow), ultimate satisfaction is found in His will. And we find that this stranger, Ruth, is an unnatural branch that is grafted in among the natural branches where she finds the healing and solace in the nourishing sap of the olive root. Ruth finds satisfaction, sustenance and solace in the Land, in the shelter of the Almighty in and among his covenant community.
We find as this story unfolds that she is indeed, a satisfied stranger.
11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Ruth’s reputation has preceded her. Boaz already heard of her and her selfless love, kindness, and care for the family of his relative. Your husband is dead, Ruth. You could have gone back to your people and your gods and lived comfortably in Moab, but you risked coming here as a foreigner, which is scary. It would be scary to go to a foreign land. And you have been faithful, Ruth, to your mother-in-law.
Again, Ruth’s reputation preceded her. People were talking about her behind her back. And they had nothing but good to say. We live in a culture in which people talk about people. What are people saying about you? What are people saying about me? What are people saying about us? Our reputation precedes us. What is our reputation?
Proverbs 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.
The bible says a good reputation is important. Is our reputation like Ruth’s? When people hear about us are they hearing about how we would set aside ourselves and go out of our way to be a blessing to others and go the extra mile to serve one another?
This is the reputation of Ruth and because Naomi was the recipient of such loving kindness Boaz is touched and he blesses her. May Yahweh repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the God of Israel under whose wings you have come to take refuge.
13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”
14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”
When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”
As James, says in the NT, it’s one thing to say, “Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed” and yet to do nothing about one’s needs. But it is a completely different matter altogether to seek to meet those needs. As you will see here, Boaz, embodies the blessing he pronounces.
He doesn’t simply say, “May God bless you” and walk away. He seeks to bless her. One prominent way that God pours out blessings on his people is to use his people to bless his people. To put it in New Covenant terms, God touches the lives of people through His people; you and I are the Body of Christ – we are His hands and his feet. It is our duty, honor, and privilege to be the means by which God blesses people.
17 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah (probably about 30 pounds). 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.
19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”
Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.
20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”
The Hebrew word for guardian-redeemer (or kinsman redeemer) is a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty (Lev 25 & Deut 25). This is a major theme in Ruth.
21 Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’”
22 Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.”
23 So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
It may be tempting to read this as if v23 was not there. It may be tempting to read this like chapter 3 encompasses day two. But 2:23 tells us that quite some time had passed – that Ruth continued to glean and gather throughout the rest of the harvest, so there is some time that elapses before the events of chapter 3.
We are beginning to see a turn of the tide for Naomi. She returned bitter, but through her relationship with Ruth, things start to change. Once Naomi stops focusing on herself, her loss, her hardship, her affliction, her misfortune, and begins to take interest in the good of another, she gets outside of herself. She is looking out for Ruth and this perpetuates in chapter 3. Naomi seems to have purpose here. When somebody is driven by purpose, their life seems to have a lot more life. It’s easy to just get stuck in a rut if we are living without purpose, stagnant, stale. And our purpose as the people of God is to know God and make God known, which is accomplished through a life of faith expressing itself through love.
As Naomi lives out this purpose, we see her go from bitter to better, from bitter to sweet.
Life gave her lemons; she is now making lemonade.
Chapter 3 One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.
2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”
5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
7 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
9 “Who are you?” he asked.
“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”
10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.
Commentators differ with regard to Ruth’s actions here, but one thing is clear; whatever she was doing, Boaz understood that she was seeking redemption from him, that he would take her to be his wife and provide for her.
Now, what is Boaz’s response to Ruth?
12 Although it is true that I am a guardian-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. 13 Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”
Boaz embodies here integrity. The nearest kinsman redeemer had first dibs. He allowed for the nearer kinsman to have the opportunity to redeem the land and Ruth before he does.
14 So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.”
15 He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and placed the bundle on her. Then he went back to town.
16 When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?”
Once again, we see an ongoing transformation in Naomi’s interests. They have shifted from self-absorption to being concerned about the well being of Ruth. As this shift occurs, Naomi appears less and less bitter, more and more pleasant.
Now, don’t misunderstand me. When we lose a loved one or anything important to us for that matter, there should be a time of grieving; that is natural and it is never condemned in the Scriptures. However, to remain there is not healthy.
And this dovetails nicely with our last sermon series on depression. Naomi returned to Israel in bitterness, in despair, in sorrow, depressed. It seems that a strong antidepressant for Naomi was to stop focusing on herself and to focus on others.
She is eager to know, “How did it go, my daughter?” She seems genuinely concerned.
When we are focused in on ourselves and our misfortune, it can be hard to be happy for others when they are fortunate. Our loved one can have the best news and they share it with us hoping that we will share in their joy, but if we remain self-absorbed, it’s possible that we can not only not share in their joy, but we can kill their joy. Naomi has moved outside of herself and is now sharing in the joy of Ruth.
How did it go, my daughter? Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her 17 and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”
18 Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.”
Chapter 4 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.
2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3 Then he said to the guardian-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”
“I will redeem it,” he said.
5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”
6 At this, the guardian-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
7 (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)
8 So the guardian-redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And he removed his sandal.
9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, 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 his hometown. Today you are witnesses!”
11 Then the elders and all the people at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 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, we know Tamar and Judah. That’s who we looked at in week one of this series. Judah was one of the sons of Israel and Tamar was his daughter in law who pretended to be a prostitute and became pregnant with his twin sons, one of whom was Perez.
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
Look at this proclamation of the women: Your daughter in law Ruth, who is better to you than seven sons… Naomi left with a husband and two sons. Upon her return, her sentiment was “I left full, but have returned empty” I don’t know that she would see her situation through the same lenses. I believe that by this point in the narrative, she has become aware of the great treasure she has in Ruth, her faithful daughter in law. It was certainly evident to the women who made this proclamation. You lost two sons, but this daughter-in-law Ruth loves you and is better to you than seven sons!
Sometimes we have so much, but as long as our focus remains on what we do not have, we will be blind to the blessings that we do have and we will miss out.
Let’s not miss out on the blessings that we do have by continuing to focus on what we do not have.
16 Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
This Moabitess had the opportunity to go back to her people and her gods with whom she was familiar, but instead, she chose to show love, devotion, and kindness to Naomi, step outside of her comfort zone and cling to Naomi, making Yahweh her God and Israel her people. This unnatural branch was grafted in among the natural branches and she became the great grandmother of one of the greatest men in all the Scriptures, king David, himself.
Note how this book closes:
The Genealogy of David
18 This, then, is the family line of Perez:
Note that this genealogy in Ruth begins with Perez.
Perez was the father of Hezron,
19 Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
20 Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
21 Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,
22 Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David.
This genealogy, and this book, ends with King David; we will continue with his story next week.