Two Outcomes of Redemption

DSCN0209Ruth 4:11-12

One of the blessings of summer is the opportunity to get away from our normal routines, if only for a couple weeks. Perhaps I should say, the experience can be a blessing if we use our time off to stop and think, to invest some quality time in our walk with God. We live in a culture that is very self-focused. We have carried this natural human tendency to extremes, and so we need to reorient ourselves to how God has designed us. He made us to share our lives with him and with people. This will be the nature of eternal life. In our text we can see some glimpses of God’s desire for us on display.

The first glimpse is the importance of worship. They asked for God’s blessing on Ruth and Boaz. Ruth in some ways could be called “a book about prayer,” because we have heard many prayers in it (1:8; 2:4, 12, 20; 3:10). “Now all the people respond with prayer to the transaction at the gate by seeking God’s blessing on Boaz and Ruth… 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” (Atkinson, my emphasis). Prayer ought to be natural to redeemed people. It should be so much a part of us that we naturally flow into and out of it. Pray constantly (1 Thessalonians 5:17 HCSB). We should be able to talk with one another, and then seamlessly transition to talk with our Father in heaven together. Since Christ has set us apart for God (made us holy—positional sanctification), we should be living such holy lives that we have no qualms to approach God at any time.

The elders and the rest of the people prayed for three blessings. They prayed that Ruth would be fruitful, bearing many children like Rachel and Leah together did. Children are a great blessing from the Lord. Have as many as you can! (Yes, I know that is not politically correct, but don’t believe all the propaganda put out by anti-family types.) They prayed that Boaz would have a high standing in the community. Obviously, they were not jealous of his present success and prayed that he would become greater. The increase of a kind man like Boaz contributes to the prosperity of the community. They prayed for the good of their family and tribe. God had worked through the life of Tamar, who was from the people groups of the nations (a Gentile), to build up the tribe of Judah. They prayed that the family of Ruth and Boaz would also prosper.

The second glimpse is the importance of community. Notice the phrase “the elders and all the people.” They joined together to maintain order; for example, by being witnesses. No one would be able to dispute the legality of the land purchase and the standing of Ruth in their community. The new covenant community is to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3 NIV). Every gathering of followers of Christ ought to have this as a core value. “Together, we will keep the peace in our fellowship as children of God” (cf. Matthew 5:9).

They joined together to celebrate. Sharing joy is significant. When you share your joy, it multiplies. It is like the bread and fishes of the boy. If he kept them, only he would have eaten them and been satisfied. But when he gave them to Jesus for the good of others, a great crowd was satisfied – with leftovers. Don’t waste your life on yourself. Be willing to share your life with others, so that together you can celebrate the Lord’s blessings. Offer your life to the Lord in sharing it with others, and he will multiply its worth beyond your ability to calculate.

Grace and peace, David

Redemption Accomplished

IMG_4130Ruth 4:9-12

The Bible is the story of God’s glory in Christ. Our God has revealed himself through his word, the Bible, and we can listen to it, and be filled with worship, confidence, and joy, because of the greatness of our God. In this story, we are happily surprised that he includes people, including people that seemed ruined and forsaken like Ruth and Naomi, as well as an ordinary guy like Boaz, who trusted the Lord and tried to imitate his kindness. We are part of the great story or purpose that God is working out in life’s history. By the grace of God, we have significance; our lives are important; we are here for his purpose. And in this account of redemption accomplished, we view God move toward the fulfillment another part of his plan of redemption.

In previous articles, we saw that Naomi and Ruth needed to be redeemed, but their closest relative refused to do what was necessary for them. Therefore, he gave the right to redeem them to Boaz. Now we come to the great moment of this story.

Boaz kept his promise and redeemed (4:9-10). He redeemed the property that Naomi wanted to sell—what belonged to her husband Elimelech, and her sons Kilion and Mahlon.  Buying this much land must have been costly for Boaz, but by doing it Naomi had sufficient to live on, and Boaz was able to gain the crops that the land would produce. This transaction benefited both of them in different ways. Naomi got short term cash, and Boaz acquired long term profits. It was a fair deal in many ways.

Jesus Christ redeemed his people by dying on the cross. (To redeem means to set free by the payment of a price.) We were in bondage to sin and Satan and in this bondage had earned the hard wages of eternal death. But by his redeeming blood, Jesus set us free! We are free to live forever, and Jesus receives glory and joy by rescuing us. Here is the great deal. Trust in Jesus and he will set you free.

By buying Naomi’s land, it stayed in the family. They could keep what the Lord gave them as their inheritance. God’s gift and purpose are respected. Do you know what are God’s gifts and purpose for the church, Christ’s new assembly? Do you respect them in your approach to life?

Boaz redeemed Ruth. For the first time we learn that she was the widow of Mahlon, but now she will become the wife of Boaz. In this way, the names of both Elimelech and Mahlon would be maintained in Israel, since the first son born to Ruth and Boaz would inherit their land. This was important in old covenant Israel. The land would stay in the family, not just to the Year of Jubilee, but beyond—to him and his heirs. The end of the story tells who got this land.

Ruth also was redeemed from what had seemed a hopeless future. She became the wife of Boaz, and was provided for through his riches. In all this we should see a picture of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we should live.

Jesus paid the very costly price of our redemption by shedding his blood on the cross. Ruth was desolate; she had neither husband nor children, but Boaz set her free to become his wife and the mother of his children. So also, we were spiritually desolate, but through Christ, we died to the law that we might belong to the resurrected Jesus, and so be able to bear fruit for God (Romans 7:4-6). Ruth was a foreigner, a stranger to the covenants of promise, but when Boaz married her, she had a place in the covenant nation. So in Christ, though we were far away, we are now brought near to God and have a place in God’s household and are fellow citizens with God’s people (Ephesians 2:11-22). The Spirit of God shows us in this story that as Boaz received Ruth the Moabite as his wife, so he receives people from all the people groups of the world.

Jesus wants us to set others free. There are so many people that need to be redeemed and set free! We live in a messed up world. Some are in misery because of addictions; they need people to bring the good news of the Redeemer to them. He alone is strong enough to break their chains. Some are ruined by poverty; they need people to befriend them and help them in their struggles. Some have had their family lives ruined by sexual immorality and abuse; they need someone to love and accept them. When we reach out to them, we can lead them to the Lord Jesus, who can bring about true restoration.

Your local assembly must be known as a place of love and acceptance. First, of course, you must accept one another as Christ as accepted us (Romans 15:7). But then each one needs to provide opportunities where people can experience the acceptance that the grace of Christ gives.

Grace and peace, David

Redeeming Love

IMG_3670Ruth 4:5-12

Last time, we read how Boaz followed through on his promise to redeem Ruth, if possible. However, he knew there was an obstacle in his path; another kinsman was a closer relative of Naomi and had the first right to redeem. At first “Mr. So and So” agreed. He saw a perfect opportunity to add property to his estate. However, people were also part of the deal, and he was unaware of this.

So then, Boaz clarified the cost of the deal (4:5). Having shown what his relative was able and willing to do, Boaz proceeded to show what he is not willing to do. Boaz told him that the cost to redeem was greater than he thought. The people of Christ’s time had wrong ideas about the work of the Messiah. They thought that all that was involved was freeing Israel from political oppressors. “Defeat the Romans and we’re free! We believe you can do that Jesus! You can be our king” (see John 6:15). But when Jesus explained them what God’s plan for the Messiah really was, they weren’t interested. They did not want to turn from their sins and to trust in him for eternal life (see John 6:35-66). The cost to have the Messiah was greater than they thought.

Boaz told “Mr. So and So” that he must also marry Ruth to maintain the name of her dead husband (and through him, Elimelech’s name also). In that culture, the first son born to Ruth would inherit all the property that had belonged to Elimelech, and thus his name would not vanish from Israel. (Recall that the people and the land where important concepts in old covenant Israel.) This disclosure revealed the full cost of this redemption. If he redeemed the land, he would not simply gain title to it at the year of Jubilee, because Elimelech would have an heir, and it would go to Ruth’s son. Put simply, the man would be out the price of redemption with nothing to show for it, and his own family would lose the money that he had spent to redeem and to care for Naomi and Ruth. Their inheritance would not increase.

Faced with these conditions, “Mr. So and So” refused to be the kinsman redeemer. It is important for us to realize that he was under no legal obligation to redeem. It was a voluntary act. As far as the law was concerned, he was okay. But as far as love, kindness, loyalty and compassion were concerned, he failed miserably. As far as we know, he had not helped Naomi and Ruth; now, he flatly refused to help. His money meant more than kindness. This is where the story can get uncomfortable! Do we too easily look for excuses not to help others in need? They might need the kindness we can show, but do we look for a way out, for a way to justify our inaction? “It might cost me too much! I might endanger my retirement fund!” Yes, you might. But where are you seeking to build up treasure? “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:19-21 NIV)

For this reason, he handed over his rights to redeem to Boaz. Guess what? He got to keep his money! But there is something else. He vanished from the pages of Biblical history, but God had something better in store for Boaz, though neither man knew it at the time.

In chapter one, we saw the contrast between Ruth and Orpah. Neither one had to return with Naomi to Bethlehem. Both were legally free from any obligation to help her. Orpah took the easy way and stayed in Moab. Ruth made the hard choice of faith and trusted that God would help her as she helped Naomi. And as the story has unfolded, we have seen God’s blessing on Ruth, since she trusted in him. In this chapter, we see two men, Boaz and his unnamed relative, who have a choice to make. “Mr. So and So” made the easy, worldly wise choice, and like Orpah, he walked away from the story of God’s glory and is lost in history. Boaz made the hard, costly choice to redeem and is remembered wherever the Bible is read. What choice are you making? Are you making the easy choice to enjoy life now? Or are you making the hard choice to lay up treasure in heaven?

But we should see more. In the hard choice of Boaz, we should see the One who is greater than Boaz, the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not have to redeem us. He could justly have let us perish forever in hell. But love and kindness stirred him to make the hardest, costliest choice. He chose to take our sins upon him and die on the cross as our substitute, in order to pay the full penalty for us. He did that for us so that we might be free from sin and live forever with him in glory. Are you trusting in Christ our Redeemer? Are you praising him for dying to set you free? Are you rejoicing in his redeeming love? Today, right where you read these words, turn from your rejection of God, your refusal to love God and others, and your rebellion against his ways and trust in the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. If you call on him, he will save you. If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:9).

Grace and peace, David

Boaz Acts on His Promise

IMG_1021Ruth 4:1-12

What means more to us—people or possessions? Oh, I know what we’re supposed to say – “people”. Yes, we all do quite well in theory. We give the proper answer and congratulate ourselves on our knowledge. However, life isn’t about theory. Life concerns practice; it demands hard, costly choices that stretch us and our faith. When an unnamed law expert heard the story we call the parable of the Good Samaritan, he was able to give the right answer! But Christ did not commend him for having such keen theoretical knowledge. He pointed him to a new practical way of life that would demand faith and love. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37). In the same way, the story of Ruth is about costly love, and in the start of the fourth chapter of Ruth, we see two men confronted with the need for costly, redeeming love. Let us listen, not to learn more facts, but to live by faith in Christ.

Boaz set up the process for redemption (4:1-2). As he did what he promised to do, God assisted Boaz by his providence. Boaz went to the right place to be able to function as the redeemer. The city gate was where legal matters were transacted. Boaz needed to be there to be able to redeem Ruth. God wants us to be in places to fulfill his will. For example, Christ has sent us “into the world” (John 17:18). We will not reach the world by keeping our distance from people that are part of it. We must always carry Christ’s missional perspective with us, wherever we may go. In our passage, the Hebrew text carries the idea of surprise. Boaz waited at the gate, “and just then” the other kinsman redeemer walked by. Yes, this was a small providence, but the Lord often helps his people in little ways as they do his will. Do what you’re supposed to do (the commands that Christ has given to his people in the New Testament Scriptures). Then wait on the Lord for his help in the details.

Boaz made sure all was done legally. He invited the other man to talk with him. “My friend” is too generous a translation. Better is “Mr. So and So.” The Holy Spirit does not name the man, though Boaz surely knew who he was. The significance of this will become clearer in the rest of the chapter. But the phrase used is not complimentary. Think of how you can refer to someone as “so and so” either not to reveal their identity or to imply that he or she is a “mean old so and so.” Boaz got ten of the elders of Bethlehem to function as legal witnesses for this discussion. Their job was to make sure that all was done in a legal manner and to testify to the result, if that would prove necessary. Jesus relied on witnesses about his saving work: the Father (John 8:12-18), John the Baptist (John 1:29-34), and the apostles (Acts 1:8). Our ongoing mission is to be a witness for Jesus.

Next, Boaz negotiated with the other kinsman-redeemer. From the manner in which he presented the matter, we find out that Boaz was a clever or shrewd businessman. Boaz presented the need to act as a kinsman redeemer (4:3-4). He told his relative about the land that Naomi wanted to sell. Clearly, she had the right to do this, since none of the elders objected (cf. Leviticus 25:8-28). She needed to sell the land to support both Ruth and her. This probably looked like an excellent real estate deal, since Elimelech and his sons had not left any heirs. If he purchased it, at the year of Jubilee, it would permanently become his, since he was the closest relative. The unnamed relative jumped at the deal. He could look good in town by helping out Naomi and keeping the property in the clan, which meant much to the people of Israel. And when Naomi was gone, the property would be his, since she was past childbearing. Do you catch the suspense of the story at this point? It seemed that Ruth would not be able to marry Boaz and that the family of Elimelech might disappear from Israel. Will the story end in this sad way?

The greater subject is the accomplishment of God’s plan, which involves Ruth and Boaz. All seems to hang on the choice of “Mr. So and So”. What did this unnamed man value more – people or possessions. Did he care enough about Naomi to do all that was necessary to redeem her? It would require costly love, sacrificial love.

You and I will not reach people with the good news of redemption in Jesus Christ unless God’s kind of love motivates us. It requires turning from the enjoyment of our possessions to the good of other people. It is too easy to disguise our love of possessions with the excuse of “I’m too tired” (or stressed or busy) to avoid getting involved with people who need the Lord. Examine yourself. Which do you actually love more: people or possessions?

Grace and peace, David

Kindness and Protection

DSCN3649Ruth 3:13-18

We live in dangerous times. A quick look at today’s news provides unwanted confirmation of that somber fact. To watch the evening news in a metropolitan area is to see a recount of a number of murders, armed robberies, or other acts of violence. Boaz and Ruth also lived in a dangerous time, the time of the judges.  In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit (Judges 21:25).

Boaz protected Ruth’s person. He told her to stay with him the rest of the night. There was good reason for this, since this was a time of celebration, and men could be wandering around drunk late at night, and Ruth might be harmed. There are situations that a woman should avoid, especially a young woman. A mature man knows these situations and protects the woman.

Boaz acted in a sexually moral manner. This is indicated by the Hebrew word translated “stay here” (or “lodge”) used in this context. It has no sexual connotations. Being a Christian is not an excuse to act in a foolish manner.  A man knows how men are and acts wisely. Young women take far too much pride in their freedom and go to places and at late hours that are dangerous. You can be godly and street smart at the same time.

Boaz protected their reputation. He wanted to avoid any hint of sexual immorality. If people found out that they were at the threshing floor together, no amount of explanation would clear their reputation. It is better to avoid giving material to gossips. He also would avoid complicating problems about redeeming Ruth. If anyone found out about their midnight rendezvous, it could make the process difficult. Please don’t complicate problems! If something is bad, don’t make it worse!

His kindness added provision (3:15-18). Boaz gave fullness for the present. Boaz had already done a lot for Ruth and Naomi. He had even done more than the old covenant law required! Yet he decided to do more. Boaz was a very generous man. He did not think about the least he might do, but what the two widows needed. This is the way of love. Be assured that when you give generously for Christ’s sake that he notices everything you do (Matthew 25:34-40). This is God’s way of love (John 15:12-13), and Christ is the supreme example of it.

He did something immediately (for the “now”) to help her and Naomi. He gave her six measures of grain. Six might simply be a fact, but it could be symbolic. He did not give seven, since seven was the number of completeness, so he stopped at six. There was the promise of more to come. Though we cannot be exact, it seems that he gave her about 60-95 pounds of grain to carry home. Yes, Ruth was a strong young woman! This was for Naomi, since he had promised to marry Ruth if possible. Guys, if you’re really interested in a girl, be very nice to her mother. For example, if you take a young woman out to the Cheesecake Factory, buy an extra piece of cheesecake for her to take home to her mom.

Boaz provided confident anticipation for the future. He returned to town to do what he promised. Boaz was on a mission. The next place we see Boaz is at the city gate, where such actions occurred. This illustrates Christ going to Jerusalem to accomplish our redemption. Naomi saw that his action gave hope for the “not yet”. Things were going to change, because Boaz went to town! She reassured Ruth that Boaz will do what he promised.

The Lord Jesus Christ has already accomplished redemption by shedding his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. He rose from the dead that we might be right with God. He ascended to heaven to pour out the promised Holy Spirit, and now he lives to intercede for us, waiting for the time set by the Father to return in power and great glory. Is Christ your Redeemer? He will set you free from sin and death and condemnation, if you turn from your sins and trust in him. Right now is the time for that to happen. Right where you sit, you may call on the Lord Jesus and be saved.

Grace and peace, David

Greater Kindness, Part Two

IMG_2638Ruth 3:10-18

In our previous article, we saw that Boaz’ kindness toward Ruth involved acceptance of her. His kindness did more, and he gave her assurance. Boaz told her not to be afraid. He wanted her to know that her bold request had not turned him off or turned him against her. He didn’t push her away as some Moabite “gold-digger” or as a trashy woman. This would do much to calm her heart. On one level, we all need to think about how others might be feeling, the nature of their concerns and fears, when they request our help. People can feel vulnerable and fearful of being taken advantage of in their weakness. Jesus assures people of his kindness when he invites us to draw near to him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28). Right now, you can call on the Lord to rescue you from sin, guilt and condemnation. “Come” is his great word of acceptance!

Boaz promised to marry her and to be her kinsman- redeemer. “I will do all you ask.” Can you see the joy on her face as he said these words? This was a big step for Boaz to take, and though he did not know it, it was a significant action in the true story of God’s glory in Christ. How often God has had his story work out through choices of people. Your life is important. If you ask Jesus to forgive your sins of refusing God’s love, rejecting who God is, and rebelling against God’s way, he will do all you ask—and more! You will become part of his people and his story that leads to glory in eternity.

Boaz commended her. She was a woman of noble character (cf. Proverbs 31:10-31) or more literally, “a woman of strength”. She had strong character traits. He said that she was a good match for him, since he was known as a “man of standing” (cf. 2:1). His generosity in being willing to marry a poor widow was matched by Ruth’s generosity to marry Boaz out of kindness. When two people marry, they should marry with a vision of what they want to accomplish through their partnership. “If we join together as husband and wife, by God’s grace we can glorify the Lord together in these ways.” You should marry to make a better contribution in the story of God’s glory than you could make single. If that wasn’t your vision when you married, it ought to be starting right now. Get together with your spouse and think through how God can work through your marriage partnership. What combination of gifts and skills do you have that can be used together to bring others to the Lord?

His kindness led Boaz to strengthen her with affirmation. He committed himself to her, as much as he lawfully could at that moment. But Boaz had to present a potential problem. There was another kinsman who was a closer relation, and he had the first right to redeem. Boaz could not act out of turn (cf. Leviticus 25:48-49; Numbers 27:8-11). This may have been why Boaz had not suggested anything previously. He could not interfere with another man’s rights. It might also be the reason for Naomi’s bold plan. She had simply waited long enough for the other guy to act as a redeemer, and so she forced the issue. Yet Boaz must do everything in a legal manner. He is willing to accept the Lord’s will (“good”), if the other man chooses to redeem her.

But Boaz wanted Ruth to know his deep concern for her, so he made a promise with an oath to marry and redeem her, if the other man would not. Since we live in the new covenant, Jesus directs us simply to tell the truth (Matthew 5:37) without making oaths. We all ought to be people of integrity. But in an age of falsehood, we need to grow in honesty and truthfulness. This can be part of our worship of our God.

Grace and peace, David

Greater Kindness

20150812_072954Ruth 3:10-18

As God reveals his greatness and plans in the Bible, Ruth is a book about kindness. It proclaims God’s kindness and how it works out through his people to others. The true story of God’s glory involves kindness at its core. How much we need to hear about kindness in our day! Sadly, our time is marked by selfishness. I do not think that I need to prove that to you, since every day we experience the cruelty of selfishness to some degree. How often we grieve about how people destroy their own lives and the lives of those around them by their selfishness. However, the living God calls us to imitate him in goodness, kindness and generosity. The “atmosphere” conveyed by those who follow Jesus should have the sweet fragrance of kindness, the Lord’s kindness. Others ought to sense this when with us.

Many parts of this section illustrate Christ’s kindness toward those who believe in him. Be alert for these illustrations.

Kindness produces acceptance of others (3:10-13). I’m not speaking of toleration, which is a poor substitute for kindness, reaching even into Christian circles. To speak pleasant words to someone’s face as they are welcomed to your church meeting turns into evil when the greeter rolls their eyes about that person when they have left and makes that person become a subject of laughter. “Did you see that visitor? They sure were weird.” That is toleration and not kindness.

Acceptance in turn produces blessing, meaning prayer for God’s kindness. Since Boaz was a godly man, he brought the Lord into the situation. To live godly means to live consciously in God’s presence. Before Boaz did anything, he prayed for God’s blessing on Ruth. A great goal of Christ’s work is to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18). As we live in Christ in this world, we ought to pursue our Lord’s goals, too. This will mean bringing God into situations. Since people like to suppress the knowledge of God (Romans 1:18-19), this can be a difficult task. As such, it requires wisdom and skill gained through Christian experience. New followers of Jesus are filled with zeal, but they lack wisdom and skill, and so they get too pushy and turn people off. To make others more hostile is not the goal. For this reason, we need to pray for the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom in this matter. “Lord, teach me how to do this.”

Boaz commended Ruth for her kindness. He had noticed this earlier about Ruth (2:11-12), but now he sensed a greater kindness in the proposal she had just made (3:9). But what is kindness? Kindness is a very rich word that conveys the idea of love, kindness, compassion and loyalty combined. It is an active word, reaching out to help. Boaz especially thought of her willingness to marry him. She wasn’t after someone her age and peer group. (From the way he talked with her, he was clearly much older, though their ages are not given.) It is very natural to wish to marry someone your age, so that you have the same way of looking at things, and the same energy level to do stuff together. But Ruth wasn’t after that. She also wasn’t after someone with money (“whether rich”), or after someone for some kind of romantic love (“or poor”). She was doing it for kindness—for family love and loyalty. Ruth wasn’t under obligation to marry to provide her deceased husband with an heir, but she took that obligation upon herself. Ruth thought of others, thinking with the larger community in mind. Kindness motivated her. Sadly, our people have become far too individualistic. We must begin to think much more about “we” than about “me”. Since in Christ we are members of God’s family, we must think about the local gathering or assembly of Christ’s people more than we have. Church is not a place that you go to, but it is people with whom you share God’s love and kindness. Remember our Lord’s example. When Christ died for us, he wasn’t thinking about his needs, but about the Father’s glory and our good. His attitude should transform ours. His mission must become ours.

Grace and peace, David

From Risqué to Righteous

DSCN0860Ruth 3:5-9

In our previous article we saw that Naomi took a risk to carry out her plan. Certainly, life is filled with risks, but we need to be wise in taking them. Naomi hopefully considered the character of both Ruth and Boaz before she set forth her idea. Whether she did or not, it led to a risqué scene (3:5-7).

The account is filled with euphemisms and suggestive sexual innuendo. Though there is no reason to suspect any immorality between Ruth and Boaz, the words used in the Hebrew text were used with sexual meaning. For “feet” compare Exodus 4:25; and for “uncover” compare Leviticus, chapters 18 and 20. And then there is the suggestive word “lie down” (Genesis 19:32-35; Exodus 22:16; etc.)  I think that these words were chosen by the Holy Spirit to set forth the sexually dangerous situation that Naomi put Ruth and Boaz in. Ruth followed Naomi’s instructions and lay down next to Boaz, as a wife would next to her husband. Obviously, this would place tremendous stress upon Boaz to restrain himself and to act honorably. In the family of God, we must maintain an atmosphere of absolute purity (1 Timothy 5:1-2). We live in a culture that is increasingly sexually immoral and provocative, like the situation that existed in Corinth (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). Each of us is affected in some way by the immorality that surrounds us. Therefore, we need to act with godly wisdom toward others.

Ruth followed Naomi’s plan precisely. She waited till Boaz had enjoyed a good supper and had stretched out near his pile of threshed grain. He probably did this to protect it and to get an early start the next morning. She noticed the place where he was lying. This was important, since there might have been other men at the threshing floor. Over the years of being a pastor, I saw a few humorous situations about men who did not pay careful attention to where they were about to sit. One man who wasn’t alert even stretched out his arm as he sat down and put it around a woman that he assumed was his wife. You can imagine the scene when she left him know of his mistake in a nice sisterly way. Men, know where your place is!

Ruth took a place beside Boaz and waited for him to speak. Imagine the excitement in her heart! “Okay Naomi, what happens next? Just what am I waiting for him to say?” She had reached the end of Naomi’s plan and needed the Lord to do something. It was a good time to pray. There are times that you have done all that is humanly possible. Ruth, a stranger to Israelite customs and ways, had obeyed her mother-in-law and the outcome was in God’s hands. At times like that, we must wait on the Lord about the matter.

God graciously led them to a righteous outcome (3:8-9). Something awoke Boaz in the middle of the night. The Hebrew can mean “to tremble with fear”, but it simply might mean that he shivered. It seems that Boaz turned to reach for his cloak to cover himself and discovers Ruth lying beside him. You can imagine his surprise! Immediately, he is fully awake. Even in the darkness, he knew that it was a woman beside him (think perfume, etc.), and he naturally asked, “Who are you?” God alone now knows what went through his mind as he waited for her answer, but I can imagine it provided Boaz and Ruth with some humorous conversation years later. For example, “Dear, remember how we met that night at the threshing floor? What were you thinking?”

Ruth made a bold request. She answered his question, but used a different word for servant than at their first meeting. This one identified her as a servant who would be eligible to become his wife or concubine. She also didn’t mention being a foreigner, but simply gave her name. She proposed marriage to Boaz, which is the meaning of spreading the corner of his garment over her (cf. Ezekiel 16:8). I have read that phrase is still used by some Arab tribes today. In addition, it is related to the phrase in 2:12 about taking refuge under his wings. “In essence, Ruth asked Boaz to answer his own prayer!” [Hubbard]

The key idea is that Ruth asked Boaz to be her kinsman-redeemer. She requested that he would pay the price to set her free, as well as to be her husband. This was very daring. She risked total rejection, but she needed a kinsman-redeemer!

In a previous article, we saw that Boaz is a type or shadow of the true kinsman-redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ. Each of us by nature is in bondage to sin and death and our own evil choices. But the Lord Jesus died on the cross to pay the full penalty to set us free. So then, have you asked Jesus to be your kinsman-redeemer? Consider the room where you now are to be your threshing floor. Christ is near to you in his word by the Spirit. In the quietness of this day, boldly confess your need to be set free. Trust his shed blood to be your ransom, and confidently ask him to be your Redeemer. He will grant your request. Read his assuring words: All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. (John 6:37).

Grace and peace, David

A Dangerous Encounter

IMG_2088Ruth 3:1-9

In the Bible we read of many actions of believing men and women that we are not to imitate, though we are to learn from them. Some of these are easy to discern. For example, Moses and the people of Israel sacrificed a lamb at Passover and sprinkled the blood on the doorposts of their houses. Clearly, we are not obligated to do that, because Jesus Christ is the better and final Passover Lamb. Many actions are controlled by the covenant under which they occur. Circumcision was mandatory under the old covenant, but now it is nothing (Galatians 5:2-6). Other matters were plainly for one event, like walking around the city of Jericho to have its walls fall down. As tempting as it might sound to some, God is not calling you to walk around Congress in session until the walls come down.

On the other hand, the Holy Spirit does want us to see what faith in the living God can accomplish (cf. Hebrews 11; Romans 15:4; cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11). For this reason, we must read the Bible wisely, especially the narrative portions. When you read of someone doing something, pay attention to the historical and covenantal setting. The Lord may simply want you to learn from their faith or their failure to walk in God’s ways.

In our text we read of a dangerous encounter. It was planned by Naomi for the good of her daughter-in-law Ruth. I think that both acted in faith at this point. However, the plan was very risky for many reasons, which we will consider. If parts of the Bible were rated like movies are, this passage would have an “R” rating for language and adult situations. Such accounts do not embarrass God, since he created us as sexual beings, and these are matters that he wants us to think about. So then, let us listen to God’s word.

Naomi came up with a risky plan (3:1-4). To see the risk, we need to understand the historical setting. In that culture, parents were responsible for the marriage of their children (cf. Judges 14:1-3). Ruth, as a widowed daughter-in-law, had put herself under Naomi’s authority. For this reason, Naomi wanted to “find rest” for Ruth; that is, a husband for her. At this point it is reasonable to ask why Naomi simply didn’t approach Boaz directly about marrying Ruth. The Bible provides no answer. Given Israel’s history with Moabite women (Numbers 25: 1-3), some suggest that Boaz might have been reluctant to get involved with Ruth, but then we ask, how would a midnight rendezvous at a threshing floor have improved the situation? We must say that we simply don’t know.

In addition, Naomi seemed to approach this marriage proposal under the concept of a kinsman-redeemer (not levirate marriage, which concerned the responsibility of a brother-in-law toward his deceased brother’s wife, Deuteronomy 25:5-10.) Naomi was not asking Ruth to act like a hussy and throw herself at the first man she meets in a bar. No, Ruth acted as a woman in need of redemption. She sought the liberation of herself and the land inheritance of her deceased father-in-law and deceased husband.

Yet Naomi used a daring method to bring Ruth and Boaz together. Clearly, Naomi had been doing some feminine thinking about this first date! She knew where Boaz would be and that he would be happy from celebrating the threshing of grain, which to him meant a full stomach and a full bank account! This was a perfect time to approach a man! Naomi advised Ruth to make herself attractive, which is a good idea for any young woman who is thinking about marriage. Men usually aren’t that attracted to a woman who is dressed like construction worker in a blue jeans commercial. Appearing clean, feminine and sweet smelling is a better way to attract men. A woman needs to dress for the kind of man she wants to attract. It is possible that Naomi might have been telling Ruth to dress like a bride (cf. Esther 2:12; Ezekiel 16:6-14). However, Naomi sent Ruth into a dangerous situation. She had already spoken to Ruth of the danger of being out alone (2:22), but here she sent Ruth out alone at night to a threshing floor, which was a place of sexual encounter in that culture. (Think a cheap motel for current images in our culture.)

People tend to make plans that have a mixture of good and evil and of wisdom and folly. This is the reason we need counsel continually from God’s word and godly people. So then, what are you currently reading in the Scriptures? Are you part of a small group? Read the Bible together as a small group. I encourage people to do this constantly, because it gives not only mutual accountability but also a basis for shared spiritual knowledge. We need to learn together who we are and what we have in Jesus Christ, so that our way of life would show forth his glory.

Grace and peace, David

Hope in a Redeemer

IMG_1063Ruth 3:1-2

Redemption is costly. We should not be surprised, since everything in life comes at some kind of price, whether of money, work, investing time in relationships, helping to carry someone else’s burdens, etc. Many champion “unconditional love”, but they fail to see that someone pays the price, someone suffers loss of some kind to help or to forgive or to set free. It is better to talk about “sacrificial love”, because that is God’s kind of love. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16 NIV). I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2:20 NIV).

Let’s think of the meaning of redemption: To redeem is to set free by the payment of a price. The redeemer must give something to secure the release of someone. As we have said, Ruth and Naomi were in a precarious financial position, since they were widows. Ruth’s hard work of gleaning had eased their crisis temporarily, but how could they be securely free? They needed a redeemer. To gain freedom, a price must be paid. God built this idea into the old covenant law. Consider two examples:

  • Since God delivered Israel through the means of the plague on Egypt’s firstborn, God required Israel to redeem all its firstborn males, whether sons or animals (Exodus 13:1-2, 11-16; cf. Numbers 3:40-51).
  • God required his people to protect human life. This included keeping dangerous animals, like bulls, from harming people. If a person’s bull gored a man or a woman to death (what we might call involuntary manslaughter), the bull had to be destroyed, but the owner could redeem his life by paying whatever was demanded (Exodus 21:28-32).

Boaz would have to pay to redeem Ruth and Naomi, when he functioned as their kinsman redeemer.

God redeemed his people by the payment of a ransom price. In the shadows of the old covenant, God gave Egypt and other nearby nations in exchange for Israel’s freedom (Isaiah 43:3-4). In the reality of the new covenant, God gave the precious blood of Christ to redeem us from an empty way of life (1 Peter 1:18-21). For this reason, don’t live for evil human desires; live for the will of God (1 Peter 4:1-5).

Redemption provides hope for the future. At this point of the story of Ruth, we have reached the turning point. When Naomi saw how much Ruth had gleaned and learned in whose field she had gleaned, she regained hope (cf. 2:20). She returned to worship, because she thought about redemption and began to act according to it! This also set Naomi to thinking about remarriage for her daughter-in-law. Picture her making scones one day. (By the way, Sharon makes great scones!) Picture Naomi musing about her new career as a matchmaker. “Let’s see… Ruth is an eligible young woman, and Boaz is one of our kinsman redeemers. Now if I can get the two of them together in a more promising romantic situation than when Ruth is sweaty and dirty from gleaning, Mr. Boaz might notice Ruth. If we do this right, he might want to do more than give her some roasted grain. Hmm, what can I do to help this along?”

In a far greater way, God planned to give us hope and a future in Christ. We were hopelessly in debt because of sin (Romans 6:23), separated from Christ, excluded from citizenship in God’s nation and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:12). We were destined for wrath (John 3:36). But God decided to send his Son as a kinsman-redeemer. To make him eligible as our kinsman, he put him in the human family (Hebrews 2:10-11), in order to redeem us through Christ’s blood, so that we might have our sins forgiven (Ephesians 1:7), and receive the free gift of eternal life (Romans 6:23). This is the story of God’s glory; it is good news for us.

My friend, have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your Redeemer? The Lord Jesus paid the very costly price necessary to set free all who believe in him from sin, guilt, condemnation, and wrath. Freedom from all these is offered to you through faith in Christ. Today is an excellent day to receive the free gift of eternal life.

Grace and peace, David