Ruth Part 4
Reid A Ferguson
Audio for this sermon can be found here
This is our 4th and final visit to this little treasure of Ruth this morning, and I know it has been useful to me in a number of ways – as I pray it has been also for you.
I’d like to do 3 things this morning.
- Read through this closing chapter together, stopping to deal with some of the details and unfamiliar bits.
- Quickly review just a few of the lessons we’ve already culled from the book.
- Focus in on what proves to be the main point of this book as it is unfolded in the 4th chapter.
Recap: If you haven’t been with us from the beginning – the events in the book of Ruth take place in Israel before it had established a central government. So things are a tad messy in their society.
Due to a famine in the region around the city of Bethlehem a Jewish family of 4 migrated to a neighboring country to wait it out.
During that time, the head of the family, Elimelech, died leaving his widow – Naomi with her 2 sons.
In time, the sons married young ladies from this foreign land, and then the sons died too – leaving Naomi not only a widow, but bereft of her 2 sons as well.
Hearing that the famine was over, Naomi decides to go back home. Her 2 daughters-in-law decide to go with her, but eventually the 1 goes back to her home and family. The other – Ruth, a remarkable young woman, will not abandon her mother-in-law and returns to Bethlehem with her.
Once there tho, they have no real means of support. So Ruth, taking advantage of God’s laws providing for the poor, goes out to gather up scraps from the barley and wheat harvests to feed the 2 of them.
In God’s providence, Ruth ends up in the fields of a relative of her mother-in-law’s. This guy, Boaz, takes a shine to Ruth. And in time, Naomi crafts a plan to try and get Ruth married off to this older, prominent and apparently wealthy relative.
We left the last chapter with Ruth having actually proposed to Boaz – and Naomi telling her that she’s pretty sure Boaz is going act on that proposal quickly.
As you might imagine, Ruth getting married to this guy would bring stability for them both. But God has even bigger plans in store. Plans that even include you and me – thousands of years later.
Boaz is clearly fond of Ruth and has certain rights he can exercise here, but there is another, unnamed relative who sort of has first dibs. And that needs to be sorted out.
That’s where we pick up the narrative.
Read out loud together with me: Ruth 4:1-2 / ESV / Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.
The gate of a city in that day, is where most business was conducted.
The prominent men – the elders of the community would gather daily to get the news of the town, talk about and transact business, and make community decisions.
In that society it took no less than 10 men to serve in this capacity to constitute a bona fide city or community.
The word “behold” here is significant. It is kind of like: “wow! who’da thunk he’d come along right then?”
But there is Boaz looking to sort out the business at hand, hoping to marry Ruth, and the very guy he needs to settle with shows up right on cue.
As we’ve seen several times already, it is a marker of how God is orchestrating things behind the scenes. As He is in your life and mine.
So Boaz calls to him to sit down so he can lay out the details of what’s up.
Vs. 2 noting Boaz “took ten men of the elders” intimates he had some social clout. The original carries the tone that he called a meeting they were kind of obliged to come because of who he was.
Again, let’s read aloud together: Ruth 4:3-4 ESV / Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.”
The actions are clear on the face of them, but need some explanation.
Back when Israel invaded Canaan, God divvied up the land among the 12 tribes. And He made a law that no tribal land could permanently be transferred from one tribe to another.
If you were from the tribe of Judah for instance, like Naomi and Boaz’s families, you could not permanently sell your land to a foreigner or even another Jewish tribe like Dan, Asher, Benjamin etc.
In fact, even every family piece of land came under this law.
The most you could do – if you got into a financial crunch – was more like what we would call a lease. And at that, you could only lease it out for a maximum of 50 years.
Every 50 years in Israel God had instituted what He called a “Jubilee’. At that Jubilee, all such land transactions were voided and in fact all debts had to be forgiven. It was a self-correcting economy. And land values were tied to it.
So if you “bought” or leased land, it was only worth the number of crops you might be able to get from it in the remaining years before the next Jubilee. Land values declined until Jubilee, then reset to maximum. Sadly, we have no record of Israel actually executing a Jubilee – but that aside, much else was still in play.
Other family members still had first rights to redeem the land – to buy it back – and bring it back into the family. They could buy out the lease.
So it appears that Elimelech had leased out his land to get cash during the famine. Now, Naomi coming home didn’t have access to that asset. And she apparently had no money to buy out the lease. But she did have 2 relatives of her husband’s who could do it. Boaz, and this unnamed guy who was an even closer relative giving him the first option.
So Boaz lays it out. Naomi is back in town, and she wants to sell that land to another family member to support herself, but it is leased. Will you buy out the lease and wipe out her debt? Because if you don’t want to – I will.
Apparently there were a lot of years left on the lease.
And the guy says: “yeah! I’ll buy it out.” Figuring he’ll get the use of the land and the cash crops until the next Jubilee. A shrewd investment AND helping a family member in need. A win-win.
But there’s a hitch. Read with me: Ruth 4:5-6 ESV / Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
Now this entailment to also marry Ruth was not a law requirement. This appears to be a stipulation Naomi herself had added to the deal. And at this point, “Redeemer A” backs out.
His reasoning is this: Due to the way the law worked, if he had just bought the land, being a family member, and Naomi having no heirs, the land would permanently be his. This would be enlarging his estate but still within the family.
But, if he has to take Ruth in the deal – a provision in the law called Leverite marriage – Leverite being an old word for brother-in-law – would kick in. And that would really complicate things.
Under this law, IF he married Ruth, he would be duty bound to try and produce an heir with her. An heir who would eventually inherit the land.
This meant he would spend the bucks to buy out the lease, only to have to turn the land over to the heir later on – he wouldn’t be able to keep it permanently. So he’d lose major money in the deal. Hence his statement, “it would ruin my own inheritance.” It deal would lose most if not all of its investment value.
No thank you.
So Boaz says – Great! Let’s formalize your refusal and the exercise of my option to buy it, and marry Ruth, and raise up an heir. And I don’t care what it costs me. It’s worth it.
So: Ruth 4:7–10 ESV / Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”
The deal is consummated and witnessed, and not just the elders now – for it appears this whole discussion had attracted a crowd – but the whole group who had been listening in give their hearty approval and blessing.
Let’s read it: Ruth 4:11–12 ESV / Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.”
They said basically 3 things:
My this union prove to be fruitful – like Rachel and Leah who were considered the mothers of all 12 tribes.
May your (Boaz’s) reputation increase in light of your willingness to act so nobly and redemptively.
And may your descendants carry that noble tradition and reputation down through the generations.
And so we get this wonderful epilogue: Ruth 4:13–17 ESV / So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Naomi, bitter, bereft, poverty stricken, lonely Naomi, at last – against all odds, now has this precious grandson.
A grandson the text hints, she so took to herself that she wanted the main responsibility in raising him.
She at last had that vessel into which to pour all the love that had been dammed up through the hardship and bitterness of the earlier years.
God is so good.
But look at the words of the women around her. Sometimes, we can speak better than we even know – as they did here.
The language is interesting: Ruth 4:14–15 ESV / Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
The one they are talking about here is the baby. And what do they call him? A redeemer, a restorer of life, and a nourisher.
It isn’t Boaz they are talking about here, but Obed. For he will be all this to her in her “old age.”
And it is why the in the final note we read: Ruth 4:18-22 / Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
In other words, we read of how this bloodline will produce not only King David, but the One who would one day sit on the throne ruling God’s people for eternity – Jesus the Christ.
Now before we home in on the point this entire narrative has been aiming at – let’s remind ourselves of some of what we’ve been able to glean out of it so far.
In Chapter 1, among other things we noted: When providence allows great suffering, it is easy to imagine that God has something against us.
It is something we need to resist by a greater understanding of God’s person and ways from His Word, and the Holy Spirit’s revelation.
In times of deep sorrow, it is hard to see the blessings God has placed even in the closest proximity to us.
How easily suffering can blind us from the greater reality of how our good God is working even in the midst of the pain. We can lose sight of Him.
We do not know the end of the story while still in the midst of it.
And we see this coming back around here in Ch. 4 don’t we?
The hopelessness that characterized Naomi at the beginning of the story is more than reversed by the end of it.
And Christians desperately need to look to the end of the story as it has been laid out before in the Scripture: Christ’s return, the resurrection and the new heavens and new earth He has promised us.
Our present sufferings are NOT the end! But we do have a sure end to look forward to as a counterbalance to present distresses.
In Ch. 2 we were confronted with massively important realities for the Christian: To trust in God’s sovereign PROVIDENCES in our lives: His ordering of our times, places, events and circumstances.
To perceive God’s PROVISIONS even in our most dire straits.
No aspect of the Believer’s life is random, unknown or unguided by our loving, omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent God.
And how in Christ our true needs are always met.
In Ch. 3 we saw: For the Christian, bitterness is an enemy to be combatted, not an unchangeable condition to be accommodated.
But what has all of this been leading up to? That is what finally emerges in full view in Ch. 4. And with all of the good things we’ve learned, none of it would be of any true and lasting value apart from this: How Jesus Christ is revealed as the great Redeemer of His people.
You’ll remember we noted at the beginning of this study how this book teases out how it is believing Gentiles like you and me are brought into the blessings of Abraham by union with Jesus by faith.
How Ruth as a Moabite typifies a believing Gentile in embracing the God and people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And now we see how Boaz serves as the shadow of the Redeeming Christ to come. Spectacularly so in his exchange with the other possible redeemer.
What did the text note?: Ruth 4:6 ESV / Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
It’s too expensive. It would cost too much to make the provision. I would lose what I have.
But this is where Boaz shines in foreshadowing Jesus. 2 Corinthians 8:9 ESV / For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.
The inimitable John Flavel imagines a dialog between God the Father and Jesus the Son on this very issue of what it would cast to save us:
How reasonable it is that believers should embrace the hardest aspects of obedience unto Christ, who complied with such hard things for our salvation: they were hard and difficult terms indeed, on which Christ received you from the Father’s hand: it was, to choose either to pour out his soul unto death, or not to win you at all. You may imagine the Father saying, when driving his bargain with Christ for you:
Father: My Son, here is a company of poor miserable souls, that have utterly undone themselves, and are now subject to my justice! Justice demands satisfaction for them, or will satisfy itself in the eternal ruin of them: What shall be done for these souls?
And Christ answers: O my Father, such is my love to, and pity for them, that rather than they perish eternally, I will be responsible for them as their Guarantor. Bring in all their bills, that I may see what they owe you; Lord, bring them all in, that there may be no after-reckonings with them. At my hand you can require it. I will rather choose to suffer your wrath than they should suffer it: upon me, my Father, upon me be all their debt.
Father: But, my Son, if you undertake for them, you must reckon to pay the last penny, expect no abatements; if I spare them, I will not spare you.
Son: Be content Father, let it be so; charge it all upon me, I am able to pay it. And though it prove a kind of undoing to me, though it impoverishes all my riches, empties all my treasures, yet I am content to pay it.
John Flavel, The Whole Works of the Reverend John Flavel, vol. 1 (London; Edinburgh; Dublin: W. Baynes and Son; Waugh and Innes; M. Keene, 1820), 61.
No angel could pay the price – for it was human sin, not angelic sin that needed paid for.
And no mere human either could or would be willing to suffer what it cost: But Jesus did.
Give all their bills to me to pay! This is what Jesus did with the Father when He came to die for our sins.
But when we say he is our Redeemer – what does the Scripture really mean by using that language?
We all know the basic meaning of the word “redeem”. To redeem something is to buy it back like getting it out of hock. We also use it in terms of freeing someone from slavery – or paying a ransom.
And these ideas are inherent in Christ’s redemption of sinner too. And the New Testament frames it in 4 particular ways.
- Galatians 3:13 ESV / Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—
What is the curse of the Law? Certainly what the passage does NOT mean is that the Law of God is itself a curse. We know from Romans 7:12 “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.”
What does it mean then?
It means that because we, like all of mankind have broken God’s law, we are cursed by it to suffer death. “The wages of sin is death” Scripture says. Our rebellion against God has put us under His curse.
But Christ in His substitutionary atonement frees us from that curse – from the sentence pronounced upon us in God’s court.
He stands in our place – and takes the whole of what we owe God both in obedience and the penalty for our disobedience – and redeems us out of that condition as condemned criminals.
At the cost of His own life, and enduring the just wrath of God due us.
He redeems Believers from the curse of the Law.
- Titus 2:14 ESV / who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
He redeems us from lawlessness.
As 1 John 3:4 reminds us / Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.
All sin issues from our desire to step out from under God’s authority, and to be our own authority. Which in the Bible’s terms is to be lawless – for we have no right to govern ourselves apart from God. To break the natural order of things. To bring chaos and selfishness and self-direction in direct rebellion against God’s created order and rights.
When Christ saves us – when we look to Him for redemption, He brings us back from the slavery of self and destruction, to the freedom we were meant to have under the direct Lordship of God Himself. For every violation of God’s order can only bring pain, heartache, destruction, and disorder of every kind.
He redeems us from a lawless heart and instills in us a new desire to love and please and serve Christ as Lord.
- Colossians 1:13-14 ESV / He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
Here, He tells us that redemption includes the forgiveness of sins! They are practically synonymous.
To be redeemed by Jesus is to be bought back out of the tyranny of darkness and bondage to sin and its penalty – to be subjects of Jesus in the light of His presence, and to have all of our guilt and shame removed.
Colossians 2:13-14 spells it out like this: 2:13–14 ESV / And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
He cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands, nailing it to the cross.
What was our debt? It was 2-fold.
As God’s creatures made by Him and for Him – we were made to reflect the fullness of His holiness and goodness to creation. We OWE Him that.
And we have utterly and completely failed at it in every way.
Who, who comes to know God in the reality of who and what He is by meeting you and me? this is our great sin! We have fallen short of the glory of God – the glory He created us in.
And 2nd, we owed the penalty for having failed in the first: 2 Thess 1:9 ESV / They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
As the new head of the human race, Jesus fulfills our original commission in His perfect obedience, AND, pays the full penalty for our sin on the cross.
- Revelation 14:3-4 ESV / and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb,
It is as though He entered the prison where all of humanity was on death row, and opened the cell doors – and proclaimed: “If you will believe that I have paid for all of your crimes, you can walk out of this prison free and uncondemned today.”
He redeemed us from out of the mass of condemned mankind, that we might be the reward of Christ for His labors.
What a Redeemer is this!
He claims us trophies of His grace. And delights to find His reward – in gaining us.
The thought is so profound, that I quite simply have no words for it – nor is my heart able to properly appreciate the wonder of what that means.
But if you are not a Christian here today – this is the redemption He holds out to you this very moment. If you will by faith, take Jesus as your Redeemer.
And make no mistake, as Ruth would not have found herself “redeemed” apart from becoming Boaz’s bride – neither can we know redemption apart from becoming His. Apart from giving ourselves to Him in an everlasting covenant where we receive Him as our Lord, and we as His beloved wife.
We cannot date Jesus – we have to fully and exclusively become His.
And Believer – take just a few moments afresh to rehearse what He has done in your redemption.
He has redeemed you from the curse of the Law.
Redeemed you from lawlessness.
Redeemed you from all your sins in forgiveness.
And Redeemed you from the rest of fallen and condemned mankind.
Ruth 4:14 / “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel!