We have entered into a study of the four chapter book of Ruth, and accomplished already the first half of the story. Elimelech and Naomi leave Bethlehem in the famine and go to live in Moab with their two sons. Tragedy comes when Elimelech dies. The two young sons take Moabite wives, but tragedy strikes again. Both sons also die. Three widows, Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth remain.
Word comes that in Judea the famine is ended. Naomi plans to return. She urges Orpah and Ruth to remain in Moab, remarry, and start over. In her own case, Naomi feels that God is against her and has abandoned her; the young women should not waste their lives on her. Orpah finally goes back; Ruth clings to Naomi and accepts her God and her people, and goes with her to Bethlehem.
Ruth goes out to glean in the fields, to gather up a few of the poorer scraps left behind by the reapers. God arranges matters so that she "just happens" to glean in the field belonging to Boaz, a relative of Naomi and Elimelech. Boaz is a Redeemer in relation, a relative who, under Levitic law would marry the widow of his deceased relation in order to perpetuate the name of the dead husband in Israel. Naomi may have felt abandoned, but she has Ruth. More than this, she has been thinking all through the harvest season of the kindness of Boaz, the protection and food he has provided. And this brings us to the third chapter of Ruth where we begin today.
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, 'My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do. And she replied, 'All that you say I will do.'
Naomi sees it as a part of her duty to help Ruth remarry if possible. As mentioned last time, it is interesting that major divine institutions come to us from creation and before sin. These include the original human design of male and female roles, the Sabbath for fellowship between God and humans, and, the original design for marriage. Naomi seeks "rest" for Ruth in marriage. Sometimes some of us may feel our marriages have not exactly been situations of rest. Marriage takes commitment. When you have married you are not living alone anymore, and what is really happening is that marriage exposes us to ourselves. When we marry we find that we are much more difficult to live with than we ever thought we were. And so is our partner!
No matter how challenging it can be, there are also tremendous benefits. If two partners have the Holy Spirit, if they are ready, at high cost, to spend themselves to make their marriage work, they can do it through Jesus. All of us need to be converted afresh each day. Then there is much to learn in patience, how to better communicate, in how to be not just better but fairer listeners, and in how to be honest enough to admit and engage in correcting our own personal faults.
Naomi has been thinking about the situation of Ruth and of Boaz. No doubt, she has been praying. Now she speaks. She is going to appeal to Ruth. Naomi calls her attention to Boaz. He has been kind and generous to her. And, as Naomi had mentioned to Ruth previously, Boaz is a redeemer.
For any who might have missed the previous sermon, consider what a Redeemer is and does. The redeemer is a close male relative with responsibilities and obligations to other family members. For example, in the case of a relative having been murdered, a redeemer seeks out the perpetrator to bring him to justice (Numbers 35:9-34). In the case of a relative who sells himself into slavery (actually, more of an indentured servant status) the redeemer may buy him out of that commitment (Leviticus 25:47-55). In the case of a brother who dies leaving a widow and no children to perpetuate his name, the redeemer is charged to marry the widow so that she may bear a child who will be given the deceased family's name (Genesis 38:8, 26; Ruth 4:9, 10).
Naomi reminds Ruth that when she, Ruth, married Namoi's son, she was plugged into a special plan, a plan that was good for families and designed by the Maker of families. It was a divine plan that included provision for the support of widows.
Here is Naomi's advice: go propose marriage. A little bit different here. Conventionally, it is the man to propose marriage. This is not really a conventional situation. Ruth is a widow; there is no living brother of her deceased spouse to marry; God has brought Naomi and Ruth into a situation where there is the presence of a kinsman redeemer. And Boaz shows every sign of being an honorable man; his works testify to who and what he is.
Naomi tells Ruth to wash up, clean up, tune-up, dress up, and be attentive. Go to the threshing floor quietly. Wait until Boaz has eaten his fill. See where he lies down to sleep. Wait until he is asleep and then lay down next to him. Ruth says she will do it.
Here we come now to scene two. Ruth proceeds just as Naomi suggested.
So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down (Ruth 3:6, 7).
Don't think from the text that Boaz is drunken. The meaning is that Boaz ate and drank until content. And we know how the physiology works. Having eaten a significant meal, blood moves to the stomach to facilitate digestion, and this would cause Boaz to feel tired. It has been a busy season and, the day ended, Boaz lies down near the heap of grain. He falls asleep. When the time seems right, Ruth comes. Quietly. She pulls back the covering, gently slides under, and lays at the feet of Boaz in the night.
Our story is progressing. But probably some of us are thinking just now, is there an appearance of evil going on here? Just some? This is definitely not advice I would give you today for courtship. This would be really asking for trouble. This would ruin reputations!
What is the answer here? First of all, no, this is probably not how we would do things in our setting today. But you may have noticed in this story already that Boaz and Ruth are upstanding people. None would suspect them of wrong doing in this matter. Furthermore, Boaz is her near kinsman, one of the few men on the list of possible marriagables for her. She can only marry in the tribe of Elimelech. Our reputation precedes us, just as did Boaz' and Ruth's.
Night always makes opportunity for sin, but here is also opportunity for righteousness. Remember that Boaz had promised Ruth protection. When she labored in his field, he had made it very clear she was protected against the advances of immoral men. And he who is faithful in least is faithful also in much. In our age, little, if any sense of redeemer, protector, remains. Under the rubric of evolution and survival of the fittest, running with the sharks, and trying to get that bigger slice of the pie before the next person does, we are in a dog-eat-dog world. Men and women learn to see each other as targets of opportunity, mere meat to be exploited. Boaz saw himself as a protector. Here is an interesting fact: there are 15 occurances of the phrase "my daughter" in the Bible. About half are in Ruth, and about half of those are Boaz addressing Ruth. No one in the book of Ruth anticipates a carnal picture here; nor should we.
We come to the third scene in this chapter. A beautiful, powerful turn of the story. Listen:
At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, 'Who are you?' And she answered, 'I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.' And he said, 'May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.'
Boaz wakes in the middle of the night. There, at his feet, lay a form. A woman! Ruth has lain there awake. Now he calls out, "Who are you?" And out of the blackness of the night, he hears her voice. She has been thinking just what to say. This is the moment. And she makes her whole speech in one piece not giving opportunity for interruption. "I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer."
This is a marriage proposal. This is the moment. Everything turns on this. Will he redeem her? Will he reject her? What will happen?
Boaz replies. "May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter!" Ruth had appealed to Boaz. Certainly she had cleaned herself up, but recall that this fateful discussion is happening in the middle of the night. Boaz had to ask who was there. It was difficult to see in the darkness. Her appeal was not "I am physically beautiful, so marry me!" It was, "I am a servant. I have been your servant in your field. Spread your wings over me, spread your garment over me. Why? You are a redeemer. You are not just any redeemer; you are the redeemer of this foreigner widow child, this lowly Moabitess. But you and I are connected now through God's plan. You, Boaz are part of the plan. You are a protector, a provider, my deceased husband's relative. Now would you in mercy provide for me?"
Ruth had appealed to Boaz' sense of justice, of connection with Israel, connection to the God of Israel. Boaz reacts according to character. "I will do all that you ask." Yet he is aware that there is another relative who stands closer in sequence of privilege, obligation, and responsibility than he does. Naturally, for Boaz is being the man of character that he is, he will give this other person opportunity first.
But now Boaz begins to think exactly how he will make this little presentation. And we will see in our last sermon from the book of Ruth that he sets that all up very carefully. Why? Because Boaz wants to marry Ruth! He makes an oath of this too. As Ruth had made her oath in the name of the God of Israel to Naomi to stand by her, now Boaz takes an oath to redeem Ruth if that privilege should come to him. And true to his character, in a land where women were not always safe at night or even in the day, he urges her to remain there and rest until morning. Her human protector is present.
Now our short fourth scene.
So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, 'Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.' And he said, 'Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.' So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city.
Early in the morning Ruth rises to depart. Boaz is thinking how he will present his case. Noami ahasbeen praying in the night. Boaz will give Ruth a token of his good will. Had Ruth been wearing tight pants this would not have worked, but now, he has her take up her shawl or her robe and pours in six armloads of barley. We are not certain how much this is ("Ephah" in KJV is a word supplied by the translators, a guess). But it was likely all she could carry. She takes it away and leaves for Naomi's house.
And so, we come to our last scene. The interview with Naomi.
And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, 'How did you fare, my daughter?' Then she told her all that the man had done for her, saying, 'These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, "You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law."' She replied, 'Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.'
Naomi claimed that she had returned to Bethlehem empty. But here comes Ruth to Naomi with a mighty load of barley! It seems silly of Naomi to ask Ruth then, "How did you fair, my daughter?" She obviously faired fairly well!
Ruth tells Naomi all that has happened. And the chapter closes with a word of wisdom from Naomi to Ruth. Now Ruth must wait. Naomi sought "rest" at the beginning of the chapter for Ruth, and now she tells Ruth, "the man will not rest but will settle the matter today."
We'll have communion next week and have a week off from this., but we will finish when I speak the time after that. Let's close today with a few thoughts about this Bible story.
We are at a cliff-hanger. Naomi and Ruth and Boaz all thinking and praying and unsure of the outcome. But this new day will decide the matter; this they all know. Boaz is a redeemer and he is about to exercise his role as redeemer. This was not common. Many men lived their whole lives never being called upon to fill this role. You and I, we do not know when we might be called upon to do something to help a relative, or a true-hearted believer, when we might be called upon to protect the widow or the orphan or the fatherless or the brother in need. Or, someone we do not know. Some of us might not be so sure of ourselves. Would we respond right? Would we execute the duties of protector, provider, redeemer, in a noble manner? Would we be faithful to Jesus? Would we faithfully echo in our own small way His giant plan of redemption?
Jesus came and entered into the human experience. He came and stood beside us. As the gospel of John says, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us." He pitched His tent in the campground of men. Just as He built the heavenly sanctuary, the tabernacle not made with hands, and pitched it on earth in the center of the camp of His people, and just as He manifest His presence there in the Shekinah flame in the Most Holy Place between the Cherubim, Jesus came to redeem.
So He also came and trod the dusts of Palestine and His footsteps led all the way to the cross. There, His life was snuffed out. There, He was murdered by men and placed in the tomb to molder away. But He was no false Messiah, He was so real. In this case the redemption price paid was the ultimate. Jesus gave His life for ours. Jesus was sacrificed in payment for us. Jesus came here and took our humanity and in so doing became yours and my family, our kin, our kinship redeemer. He came and died to buy us back, to redeem us. Only by becoming one of us, one so very like us, could He become this. He took the seed of Abraham to redeem us. As the New Testament says, "For both He that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren" (Hebrews 2:11).
For us, very, very soon, Jesus will come again. He's coming for you because He has bought you and is engaged in changing you. He's sealing you. He can do that. He can give you an overflowing gift of Barley or of the Holy Spirit, maybe even six armful's worth.
Bonners Ferry ID SDA 2013-08-03