The Guardian Redeemer (Ruth 3, Mt 1.1-6, 16-17, Titus 2.1-14)
Temptation on the Threshing-floor: what is going on in this chapter of the bible? A religious mother-in-law tells her daughter-in-law to ‘dress to kill’. Sends her into a field with a lot of intoxicated farmers and instructs her lie down next to a sleeping farmer, undo some of his clothes and then wait and see what happens! What kind of advice is that from a MIL and what kind of a DIL rushes off to obey? Is this how courtship began 3,000 years ago? Is the MIL so desperate to leave poverty that she will offer up her only friend to find family, fortune and fame?
What would we say if one of the ladies in this church told her daughter or DIL to bathe, put on perfume, dress up and send her to where a rich single man was sleeping? What happened after this daring action by a young widow? Was there a moment of illicit passion or something purer under the stars of Palestine? Let us turn to chapter three of Ruth.
Naomi’s daring instruction (1-4)
V.1 A changed Naomi
After six weeks the harvest is finishing and nothing has happened yet with Boaz. Here we see some daring instructions from Naomi. This shows how Naomi has changed dramatically. In 1.20 she is totally depressed, she can’t see God’s Grace anywhere but in 2.20 she can say: ‘The Lord has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead’.
When one is depressed everything appears dark and you can’t see beyond your own life. But when the sun comes out everything changes and you can begin to worry about others. This is what happens with Naomi. She is preoccupied for her loyal DIL and wants to find a good spiritual man for her, a future SIL who can help preserve the family line. Seeing beyond oneself and looking for places where God is working can be key to have a ray of hope come in & disperse one’s clouds.
V.2 Midnight Action
So Naomi’s plan is to send Ruth to Boaz in the middle of the night hoping that the interest that he has shown in her will lead to something serious if he realises that Ruth reciprocates it. As Boaz is a relative he might take care of her as we will see later.
V.3 Put your face on
Now v.3 Naomi gives some practical advice to Ruth - put your face on: ‘wash, perfume and put on your best clothes on’. (Ladies if you have a date: bathe! It’s biblical). However it appears that Naomi is giving this advice not so she dresses up sexily but so that she stopped using mourning clothes and so shows that she is available romantically again. (In those days, and in some places today, widows would wear mourning clothes for a year after their husband’s death).
Then Ruth is advised to wait until Boaz has eaten. Naomi obviously knows that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach! It appears that Naomi is being the type of older lady of whom Paul speaks in Titus 2.3-4: “Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children.” There is a model for older women to share their experience and their wisdom in a way that instead of feeling criticised, younger ladies are encouraged in their faith and life.
V.4 Controversial Advice
But in v4. Naomi gives some controversial advice. She says: ‘uncover the feet of a man asleep in the hay and do what he says’. That is dangerous territory. If you are a single man, sleeping outside and a pretty woman who you like starts unbuttoning your clothes how would you respond?
Everything could go wrong here - if Boaz is a man who doesn’t fear God he could be tempted and get involved sexually with her which is clearly prohibited in the bible. What used to be called Fornication: sex outside marriage is never pleases God. But there is also the possibility of the opposite reaction that if Boaz is a pious man he could be offended if a woman from Moab approaches him in such a way and he might dismiss her completely. What will happen here?
Ruth’s risky obedience (5-9)
In verses 5-9 we see Ruth’s risky obedience. In v.5 she replies that she will do all that her MIL asks and in obedience v.6 goes down to the threshing floor. V.7 tells us of the party at the end of the harvest. After years of famine there has been an abundant harvest and the men are celebrating.
We see here that Boaz knows how to have a couple of drinks without appearing to be part of the cast of Men Behaving Badly. What a contrast with his ancestor Noah, who slept with his own daughters whilst drunk and thus began the Moabite race. Boaz, as a good son of God knew how to control his drinking and celebrate the abundant life that Jesus promises to all God’s children.
I remember once reading a book called: The Kingdom of God is a party. The Christian life should be full of happiness, celebrating God’s mercies. We should live joyful lives as God’s children and he promises to provide our daily bread. And one day he will lead us to a heavenly party, the wedding between Christ and his bride. Do we live that abundant life here in the community of St Michael’s, GP?
So Ruth uncovers Boaz’s feet and lies there awhile. This is the risky part. Ruth has so many things that count against her which Boaz could take advantage of. She is poor. She is neither a virgin or very young. She has no Father who could look after her. This is a moment where she is totally unprotected. How will Boaz respond?
v.9 Boaz says: ‘Who are you?’ And here Ruth goes further than Naomi had suggested. “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” The righteous strategy that Naomi has proposed is adopted and taken further by Ruth. When she says ‘spread the corner of your garment over me’ she is asking Boaz to propose to her.
I think that what is happening here is that an older man is interested in a much younger widow and he doesn’t know whether that interest is reciprocated or not. He has given subtle signs of interest. Naomi and Ruth have chatted about this and if they had spoken directly to him and invited him to dine, it would have been too public and difficult if he wasn’t really interested. With this strategy they show that they understand his interest and they give him a chance to respond positively or not, without anyone else knowing.
Boaz said to Ruth in 3.12: “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.”” Boaz’s heart must have jumped: it seems that this amazing woman has really understood. She wants him to answer his own prayer and extend his wings over her!
Boaz’s grateful reaction (10-13)
In verses 10-13 we see Boaz’s grateful reaction which shows that this is truly a love story. (Read 10-13). This is a great example of a man of God who resists sexual temptation, as Joseph did but his great grandson David and great great grandson Solomon would fail to do. He stays pure, obeying God’s perfect law and in that place; God’s blessing arrives. Boaz mentions that there is a closer relative but he will take the imitative to do everything possible to redeem Ruth (13). Ruth just has to wait and rest.
What is a guardian-Redeemer or a kinsman-Redeemer? It was so important in those days that a man had male descendants so that his line could continue that when a man died without sons the oldest brother that remained would have to give the widow a child so that his name and land wasn’t lost. My very cheeky brother has reminded me several times of this biblical concept saying he had no problem looking after Ellelein if I popped my clogs! The good thing is that we have two boys so there are no worries there and he finally got married this year! As Ruth is without sons Boaz can be that Kinsman-Redeemer and not only a Redeemer to pay for Elimelech’s family land but also to take care of her and provide descendants for her dead husband Kilion.
How can we explain this idea of redemption in today’s terms? I remember hearing the story of a boy who made a beautiful toy sailing boat but playing with it on the sea, a wave swept it away. He passed weeks looking along the coast where he lived but couldn’t find it. One day, however, he was in a neighbouring town when he saw his own boat in a shop. He entered and bought it straight away. When he left he said to his boat, you are doubly mine, first I made you and then I paid for you.
This is what one of Ruth and Boaz’s descendants would do in the future: be his people’s Redeemer. For the people he had made he would also pay for with his blood shed on the cross. Many of you know Romans’ 3.23: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” but the sentence doesn’t finish there. Paul says that all who have put their trust in Jesus: “are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (24)
The great English baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon used a lovely phrase: “Jesus is our beautiful Boaz”. What Boaz promised to do for Ruth, J did for his Church.
This is also a great love story. Some scholars said that Boaz had to redeem Ruth because it was his duty established by law. But that isn’t true.
Boaz wasn’t the nearest kinsman and as we will see next week even that relative didn’t have to redeem her. Boaz did it for love. Jesus also did it for love. It is the grace of God that says: ‘I won’t leave you poor, abandoned, without a father or hope in this world. But I will redeem you, I will be your father, I will take you under my wings and give you hope of abundant life’.
God’s promised redeemer (14-18)
In v.14-15 Boaz shows his manliness protecting Ruth’s reputation and shows his loving kindness sending Ruth back to her MIL with her hands full of food again. (A bit of advice to young men - like my son David. When you want to win a young lady you have to win her mother too - something I didn’t realise at once with Ellelein. A friend liked to ask the following question. Why was Adam so happy in paradise? Because he didn’t have a MIL! But mother-in-laws don’t have to be the SIL’s (Son-in-Law) great enemies. In Spanish there is a saying ‘to conquer a woman you don’t have to win the MIL, but if you don’t you won’t live happily ever after’. However if you are wise like Boaz and treat your future MIL well - your life will be much better!)
The last verses 16-18 show something interesting. At the beginning of the chapter Naomi is all action, planning her righteous strategy. But after Ruth tells her all that happens, she knows that she wasn’t wrong about Boaz’s character and now she can rest in God’s providence (18). The soap opera continues for one more chapter. Boaz’s love has to conquer one final obstacle before winning the girl, but Naomi already fully trusts in God’s providence.
What a huge change from the first chapter! Naomi and Ruth know that a Redeemer has been found and he will do all the work - there is nothing more to do. What a beautiful image for us. We go to Jesus to be redeemed but He does all the work. When we discover that Jesus is our Redeemer we don’t have anything to do, we just need to rest in his grace, mercy and love.
Before we look at some application points from this amazing story I would like to comment briefly on the incredible richness of the biblical narrative. Here we have a completely different type of writing to other bits in the bible - for example Solomon’s proverbs or Paul’s letters. We see three levels of meaning within the same text.
1. Firstly we see a day, or should we say a night in the life of a Moabite widow who is looking to help and obey her MIL (Mother-in-Law).
2. Secondly we see something of the story of a Jewish family who is living in the sad state that Israel is at that time. With no king, they reject their own King God, and this family leaves the promised land, the place of blessing to look for their fortune in a distant and hostile land.
3. But on a third and deeper level we see God doing something more profound. Yes, he is taking care of the situation of two widows - Naomi and Ruth, because he is a God who looks after needy widows. He has also been preparing a virtuous woman for Boaz: a faithful and pious man who reflects God’s own character.
Yes, God is doing something in the short term for the people of Israel, helping them find food. But the book of Ruth also clearly shows that God is working his medium term plan to give a King - David to build an earthly kingdom. But we also can see hints of his long term plans. He knows that the nation and the individuals in this story have been rebels against his sovereignty and that if their sin is not sorted out it will lead them to eternal separation from Him.
In the middle of all these events God is fulfilling his promise, his covenants, that from the line of Eve, from Abraham’s descendants, will come someone who will crush Satan’s head, be a blessing to the nations and a Redeemer to his people. Do you have that promised Messiah in your life? Do you know what it means to be redeemed by J Christ? He who created you and also bought you by his blood on the cross? Today you can trust in him. If you would like to take that step do come to chat to me or sign up for our CE course to find out more about J.
What things can we learn from what we have heard today? I think that there are various things and no doubt you can think of others. We can see how important it is to be men and women who live according to God’s desires.
Naomi helps us see how an older woman with more life experience can guide a younger woman to serve God better. Are those of you who have had a long walk with our Lord acting like the women in Titus 2.3-4 and mentoring younger women? And if not, why not start today and be a great blessing to others.
Ruth is an example of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31 (10). A wife of noble character who can find? She can be found wherever a woman submits to God and others and lives not only for herself but for them. So countercultural! Ruth shows faithfulness, humility and bravery. She shows the importance of taking a risk once in awhile, trusting that God is in charge of everything. That it is necessary to have Strategic Righteousness, to be proactive in looking for what is good instead of being passive. Someone once said that ‘for evil to triumph it is only necessary that good people do nothing’ (Burke, Mills, Aked etc.). What risks are you taking for God at the moment?
Boaz shows us that being a follower of God should affect all our life, including the area of sexuality. He could have acted incorrectly with Ruth when no one was looking but his great self control bought about something amazing in chapter four. Sexual temptation today both for the young and the not so young can be strong and powerful. Even if we have fallen sexually in the past, God can forgive us and restore us so we live pure lives like Ruth and Boaz that day in Bethlehem.
In Bethlehem - think about it carefully! Perhaps this triumph of holy living happened very close to where a thousand years later a virgin gave birth to Jesus, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of the pure union of Boaz and Ruth. We will never know what the impact of our decisions today will be. Even the smallest ones may have an impact that lasts long after our own lives.
So resolve today to be like Naomi, like Ruth, like Boaz. Let’s do everything by the light of the word of God, according to the will of King Jesus who created us and redeemed us on the cross. Let’s rest totally in his providence, in his sovereignty. Let’s enjoy the abundant life that God gives us here whilst we await the wonderful party in his presence in heaven. And may all that we do, only be for his honour, glory and power. Let’s pray.
Thank you dear Father for this love story. Thank you that it points to the greatest love story of all, that Jesus - our beautiful Boaz - came to redeem us from our sin and rebellion and return us to a full relationship with you. Help us trust only in Jesus to be rescued, redeemed and restored into a new transformed life, that shows your light to the nations. Amen.