Ruth 4 - Ruth 4

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the morning service on 28th August 2011.

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It was one of the most disturbing and poignant snapshots of the Vietnam War: a little girl running naked down the street, screaming in pain, her eyes squeezed tight with terror. Many believe it was a picture which helped America lose that war.

Twenty four years later, Americans saw another picture of the same girl, now a young woman of course, poised by the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C. It was Veterans Day. As a child Kim Phuc brought home to Americans the horror of war, today she teaches quite a different lesson-the healing power of forgiveness.

As she laid the wreath at the wall, Kim told the assembled crowd of war veterans: 'As you know, I am the little girl who was running to escape from the napalm fire. I have suffered a lot from both physical and emotional pain. Sometimes I thought I could not live, but God saved my life and gave me faith and hope.'

Soon after that infamous photo was taken, Kim was rushed to a hospital by the Associated Press photographer who had taken it. Years of painful burn therapy followed. After the war she enrolled at Saigon university hoping to become a doctor, but she was far too valuable a propaganda tool  for the communists and so she was put to work as a government secretary. In 1986 she was sent to Cuba on a goodwill visit, where she met and married a Christian, Bui Huy Toan, she too had become a believer. They both managed to defect and more recently on national radio they told of their plans to go to Bible college and then to spread the Gospel amongst the Vietnamese people. Well, as Kim shared the meaning of forgiveness to thousands of toughened soldiers on that Veterans Day ceremony, she publicly forgave the unknown pilot whose load had scared her skin and killed her two younger brothers. And at that moment, many of these hardened veterans simply began to weep.

What is the moral of that story? It is this: There is no limit to God’s restoring love. From what many would have considered to be a hopeless situation and an insignificant girl, God began to restore a nation. On that bleak day when Kim lost her family and was herself engulfed in flames, she would not have been able to predict in a million years the unlikely outcome of her ordeal- that through a series of apparently ‘chance’ events, that she would come to know the healing power of God’s love and in turn be in a situation to share that love with thousands of others-as she is still doing today. Through her testimony many have discovered for themselves the peace that can be had under the divine ‘wings of refuge’.

As we have been seeing over the last few weeks, that is the burden of the book of Ruth. Not only have we discovered  that in the life of this widowed former pagan Ruth that God has a purpose of his own design, but we are about to find something even more wonderful, that through this apparently inconsequential woman, God is going to embrace the whole world with his saving love. You see, God’s work of salvation history - his loving activity of eternal rescue- is one continuous seamless garment. It is not intermittent, with God occasionally intervening; it is constant. His work of salvation is being advanced just as much when miracles are absent as when they are present. The God who saves by signs and wonders at the Exodus is the same God who continues to save in the apparently unspectacular orderings of day -to -day lives of Ruth. And we see the same pattern repeated here in the story’s climax. In v 1 the relative who could upset the whole show just ‘happens to come along’. In v 14 we are told that it was the ‘LORD’ who enables Ruth to have a baby. In other words God’s invisible hand is in everything.

Now from one point of view, Naomi’s story is the story of everyone in Israel at the time of the Judges. There was no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. This is exactly what Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, had done. He had deserted the land of promise and had gone over to pagan Moab, bringing his wife and family to the brink of ruin. So her only way out was through her foreign daughter-in-law Ruth and the legal provision of a kinsman-redeemer, a relative who would marry her, produce offspring and ensure that not only would the family name continue, but family land lost would be redeemed. However, this is as much your story and mine. Let me explain. You see, we too have behaved in a similar fashion. Rejecting God as our rightful ruler, we have wondered off doing what is right in our own eyes, bringing ourselves to the brink of eternal ruin. We too can no more rescue ourselves than could Naomi; we need someone to look upon us in kindness so as to provide a way whereby we can be restored and have a future hope, an inheritance which will last into eternity. And that is precisely what the final chapter of this story promises- a kinsman-redeemer who can begin to mend the most messed up of lives, restore us to God, and secure for us a destiny which no one can ever take away. So let’s turn to Ruth 4 and hear what God has to say to us through this tremendous passage as we look at it under three headings.

 

First, a redemption which is costly: vv 1-10. The background to this little episode is the law of Moses in Dt 25 and Leviticus 25, that a close relative of a widow could marry her, produce offspring to whom the property rights could be transferred. Now up to this point in the story the reader has been hoping (as had Ruth and Naomi themselves) that this was going to be Boaz. But in chapter 3 an ominous cloud has come onto the horizon, the news  that there is in fact someone else, a much closer relative, so making Boaz only second in line. You can imagine that if word got out to this other relative that Boaz had designs on Ruth he could drive a hard bargain, playing on Boaz’s emotions. So this has to be handled with tremendous skill. So in a carefully planned, but apparently ‘accidental’ meeting, the other relative turns up at the gate of the city, the place where matters of business and finance were conducted in full view of the city leaders.

Wisely Boaz doesn't mention Ruth at all, he speaks solely in terms of property (3-4), Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, "Sit here," and they did so. 3Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, "Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4I 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.’  Naomi’s dead husband held some property that according to Israelite law passed on to the next of kin -this unnamed relative. But there were the needs of the widow to consider. She would have to be provided for, and in this sense perhaps, Boaz speaks of her as ‘selling the land’, not that she had a right to do so, but morally there should be some revenue from the land which would support her in her need. So far, so good. The relative reflects on this and considers it a good deal. After all, Naomi is old and therefore will not have anymore children to whom the property would automatically be transferred. So, yes he could give Naomi some money and he in the meantime will have extended his ‘real estate’ holdings. In the words of Arthur Daley, this looked like a ‘nice little earner.’ And that is when Boaz drops the bombshell. ‘Oh, you do realise that there is someone else- Ruth the Moabitess.’. I bet he would have emphasised her pedigree. Not only is there the law in Leviticus to consider about redeeming property, but also the associated law in Deuteronomy about marriage and offspring (v 5). Naomi may be past child bearing age, but Ruth certainly isn’t.

So it may not be a nice little earner after all-v6 ‘At this the kinsman-redeemer said; ‘Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate.’ You redeem it, for I cannot do it.’ Now what is that all about? Well, it may simply be the realisation that if he marries Ruth and she has a son, then the land automatically reverts to him, in which case he loses both the money he has laid out in his initial investment and the land. So it is not in his best interests. If he has other sons, what would they think? Some of their estate might have to be divided with Ruth’s sons. So, you have the marks of a family feud which would be the makings of a plot for Eastenders! But there may have been even more to it than that-elements of superstition. Back in Genesis 38 there is a story which is not dissimilar to this and which is alluded to in v12, the story of Tamar, Judah’s daughter- in -law, who was like Ruth widowed young, and also like Ruth had to take the initiative. Judah refused to give his son to Tamar as custom required because it seemed there was some curse on the woman, such that he might lose his son. Well, that same thought might have been going through the head of this kinsman- redeemer. ‘Ruth for a wife! You must be joking? Everyone knows there is a jinx attached to her. After all, the men in her family seem to die in mysterious circumstances-talk about the black widow- whose to say I won’t be next. Perhaps there is some pagan magic mixed up in her life, after all she is a Moabitess.’ This was one price this man was not willing to pay.

Not so Boaz. He was willing to pay the price in full, to take on all the responsibilities in providing for these two desperate women. And he was going to be seen to be above board about it all-hence all this business about exchanging sandals- the equivalent to a signature at the bottom of a contract, in full view of witnesses. The sandal possibly assumed this symbolic significance because if you owned a piece of land you were free to walk over it, wherever and whenever you wished. Boaz paid the price in full. So the elders were formal witnesses to the transaction, Mahlon’s widow would become Boaz’s wife and the first son would be rightly known as ‘son of Elimelech and so carrying on the name of the dead.

In Boaz we again see reflected the kindness, the ‘hesed’ of God. The fact that Boaz was not the closest relative underscores the fact that he was under no obligation to redeem- he chose to. This, of course is the difference between a true redeemer and a false one. The false redeemer, as we see it in the unnamed relative, is full of self-interest. He was only interested in what he could squeeze out of the situation. The concerns of the two women didn’t enter into his thinking at all. Not so with the true redeemer, ‘The Son of Man has come’ he said, ‘not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.’ And when the moment came when the price for our rescue had to be paid, he withheld nothing, and with the final gasp of his breath he cried from the cross- ‘it is finished’, not the cry of  despair-but the shout of victory - ‘It is paid.’ As the Son of God looked down the long corridors of eternity and saw you in your plight as Boaz saw Ruth, his heart was moved for you, such that he said I am willing to die for you if that is the only way your debt of sin can be cancelled -I will pay whatever it costs. And you know what? He did. Here we have a husband willing to pay the ultimate price for his bride.

And so we come to a redemption which is effective vv 11-17. The story has in fact, a triple climax. There is blessing for Ruth and Boaz v 11 and  13 ‘ May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. And she gave birth to a son.’ There is blessing for Naomi vv 16 ‘The Naomi took the child, laid him on her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” But then there is a blessing which far outstrips them all in v 17 ‘And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.’ This is how Israel, and as we shall see, the whole world, was to have a King.

But I guess the focus of the blessings for this family is in the words addressed to Naomi in v14 ‘Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsmen-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better than seven sons, has given him birth.’ This little baby Obed is the final element in the filling of Naomi’s emptiness. Already in this cameo picture we see Naomi beginning to sparkle with life as she gazes at the little bundle on her knee. She is the old Naomi again- pleasant, and no longer Mara- bitter. This gift of God will provide for her in her old age- it is the baby who is her kinsmen-redeemer.

And for the first and only time in the whole story we come across a word we might have expected to have encountered long before. Did you spot it- in v15? -the word, ‘love’. Up till now the word used to describe the loyal caring relationships in the story is ‘kindness’- ‘hesed’-the kindness of Ruth to Naomi, Boaz  to Ruth, Ruth to Boaz and the kindness of the LORD to them all- hesed is love with Velcro. This is a kindness which goes beyond legal obligations, one which is true to the spirit of the law and not simply the letter. But what is unexpected is where we find the word ‘love’. It is not used to describe the understandable love between and man and a woman-but the extraordinary commitment and love of a foreigner, a young Moabitess for her aged Israelite mother-in-law who doesn’t even seem to appreciate it. That is why these women have to remind her of Ruth, it’s as if having had the baby Ruth has been sidelined by Naomi, she is so engrossed with the boy. But Ruth has proved herself to be worth more than seven sons-for she has loved Naomi. You see, it was not just Obed who was God’s gift to Naomi; it was also Ruth who bore Obed, a name short of Obadiah which means ‘servant of the Lord.’

And reflected in that love of Ruth for Naomi, do we not see God’s love expressed to us, as well as the love we are to show to each other? This is no fair weather love, changing in intensity or direction depending upon the circumstances. This is a love which keeps on going to the very end, a love stronger than death. Even when that love is ignored (and how often do we ignore or take for granted the divine love?) it still sticks by us, as Ruth did with Naomi. And the reason why Ruth was enabled to do this was because as we saw in chapter 1, she saw herself as the recipient of God’s love and that is why she wanted to follow him and be a member of his people.

But as Naomi looked into the face of that little Jewish baby she had no idea that she was holding not only the one who was to be her kinsmen-redeemer, but the one whose descendent would be the kinsmen-redeemer of the whole human race, the Servant of the Lord (Obadiah) par excellence, for this was also a redemption which was future-v18-22.  

Now the focus of this genealogy is that it selectively  races the Royal line. Perez is the son of Judah from whom the Messiah was to come- Genesis 49:10. And that is where the genealogy is leading to with David, Ruth’s grandson.

Matthew in his Gospel takes this very genealogy which closes this book and incorporates it in the family tree which opens his book-for this is the family tree of the true King-Redeemer-Jesus. There are however, two modifications Mathew  makes. He explicitly links Boaz with Ruth his wife and Rahab his mother. What is significant about that? Well, as we have seen Ruth began life as a Moabite- a pagan. Rahab began life as a Canaanite and a harlot. A pagan and a prostitute are embedded in the family tree of God’s Holy Son. Isn’t that amazing? But it is to this grand purpose that the whole of this story has been leading. Ruth needed redeeming, not just from despair poverty but from the guilt of sin and it was her great, great, great and however many ‘greats’ grandson who was to do it. His precious blood was shed for pagans and prostitutes! He is not ashamed to be so identified with the sinful humanity he came to save. And it was from this same little town of Bethlehem that it all happened-v 11. Yes with Naomi and Ruth, Yes later with Jesse and David-but a thousand years later it was to happen with another young woman-Mary and her betrothed -Joseph, both of whom could trace their ancestry right back here. And do you know what? In all the billions and billions of tiny details of people’s lives during the intervening years God had been steadily at work, ready to bring into the world his Son, born of a Virgin, born to die-so that a Kim Phuc, a Melvin Tinker, and whatever your name happens to be, might live for ever enveloped into all eternity by the wings of refuge.

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