God is faithfully committed to his people even when we are faithless and it is his grace that transforms us.
This is not just a love story.
Benjamin Franklin, scientist and US ambassador to France occasionally attended the Infidels Club -- a group that spent most of its time searching for literary masterpieces. He read the book of Ruth to them but changed the names so they wouldn’t recognise it was from the Bible. They were unanimous in their praise saying that he should publish. It was his great delight to tell them that it was already published in the Bible, which they professed to regard with scorn and derision.
This is a unique book written from a woman’s perspective, Naomi, and named after a non-Jewish woman - Ruth.
The time of these historical events is possibly in Gideon’s time – the Midianites invaded the South of Israel then and there was a famine.
Bethlehem means “the house of bread", and the Book of Ruth would be read in synagogues centuries later during the Feast of Weeks, a yearly festival that concluded the wheat harvest.
I want to use three words, Faith, Hope and Love as the basis of our study today. We will see how these three characteristics are displayed in the characters in this book. Naomi, Ruth, Boaz and Yahweh the God of Israel.
Life involves choices that we have to make every day. Some of the choices can have a huge significance on the outcomes for us. In this story we see this borne out in the lives of the people mentioned. The Israelite's, Naomi’s family, Orpah, Ruth, and Boaz.
The Israelite's as a whole, at that time had chosen to follow the Canaanite customs and idolatry. Many had rejected God. In the covenants God pronounced blessings or curses. If they followed him he would bless them but if they rejected him he promised disaster. The famine was a direct result of their rejection of God.
Naomi’s family had decided to go on a path away from God’s people. Whether the death of her husband and sons was a direct result of this it is hard to tell but Naomi herself attributes it to God afflicting her.
For Ruth and Orpah the consequences of their choices are laid out very clearly. Orpah decides to go back to Moab to idolatry and anonymity but Ruth chooses to follow the true God to wonderful blessing and honour.
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
The choice to follow God is never easy. The fact is Orpah took the easy path.
Think for a moment of Ruth’s choice – it was hugely risky. Her choice to follow Naomi meant leaving her own family and home. It meant a new land, new customs and language and ultimately a commitment to never return home even if Naomi dies. "Where you die I will die and there be buried" There were also clear possibilities of rejection, continued widowhood and childlessness.
Faith is costly.
Here’s a question...
Is faith which costs nothing really faith at all?
James suggests not.
True faith may be defined as a whole soul-mind-body committal to God. Ruth’s commitment to the God of Israel speaks volumes about her character but also the character of Naomi who despite her ‘Eeyore-type’ disposition laid the ground work for this astonishing commitment. Naomi’s example of faith – though it seems it was hanging by a thread – still continued. Like Job that Peter mentioned last week, she sure had some questions for God but she was still communicating with him .
She was wrong, however, when she said, in ch1 v21 ‘the Lord has brought me back empty’ – she wasn’t empty at all, she had come back with a pearl of infinite price – the good news stored in the heart of this young Moabite convert.
Naomi and her family may have strayed from God but God had not left them. If we are faithless God doesn’t leave us. God says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.”
God is working through the loyalty and faith of this impressive young woman. Her character clearly impresses Boaz. Although she is a Moabite, who under God’s law, the Israelites were supposed to have no contact (Deut. 23:4-5), Boaz shows kindness to her. And she, aware of her own vulnerability replies, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”
To which Boaz replies, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Hold on to that thought about the wings – it comes up again later.
So let’s talk about Boaz – One of the other striking things is, that here is a man whose faith is also a whole soul-mind-body committment to God. In a time when most people were doing their own thing apart form God, Boaz is an embodyment of Faith in action.
Did you notice in verse 4 how he communicates with his workers. The LORD bless you. He then follows God’s law in treatment of the widow, the poor and the foreigner. (Deut 29:19) He provided food drink and protection, not just for this day but long term. The barley harvest was just beginning but he tells her to stay with his workers right through to the wheat harvest – a period of at least 7 weeks.
We see the same godly character come out sometime later on the threshing floor. Peter referred to this last week.
It is really the climax of the story. Here Naomi has hatched up a plan to secure the future for herself and Ruth. It is an extremely risky plan. As I said earlier, Boaz was clearly impressed by this amazing woman but has Naomi interpreted the situation correctly?
Ruth creeps up after Boaz is asleep and lifts the garment that covered his feet and lies down there waiting and waiting. It’s completely dark and Boaz stirs and wakes to find a woman at his feet. He blurts out, “Who are you?” And she, primed and ready, pops the question, “I am your servant Ruth, spread the corner of your garment over me.”
You can feel the suspense – what will Boaz do. Though old enough to be her father he is probably Bethlehem’s most eligible bachelor. It’s the dead of night; there is clearly some Chemistry between them, she is under his cloak but he stops and doesn’t touch her. Why? - Because here is a godly man of faith.
Ruth’s request is very interesting. ‘Spread your garment’ only occurs in only one other place in the OT, in Ezekiel 16:8 where God says to Israel, “Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn marriage vow and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.”
As I suggested Ruth’s actions are not to entrap Boaz in an illicit affair but a direct marriage proposal.
More than that it seems to read as if this has, in a subtle way, come in response to the earlier welcome by Boaz.
The word for garment here is the same Hebrew word for wing. Remember the word’s of Boaz in Ch2:12 “May be richly rewarded by the Lord, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Now she is making a specific request to come under his wing as the one who can and is willing to redeem her. Boaz is not obligated to provide the levirate marriage to Ruth because he is not Mahlon’s brother but Ruth is asking for this and also the redemption of Naomi’s land which is based on a separate law.
Boaz is understandably blown away by the proposal and replies “The Lord bless you, my daughter, this kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.”