Wednesday Evening Prayer Meeting
January 27, 2010
The Reverend Mr. Billy Joseph
The story of God's people had gotten so bad and so ugly toward the end of Judges that if that's where you’d stopped, you would wonder “What is God doing? Is God there? Is God at work?” Now we know God is at work and we know that He is at work in all of redemption bringing all things together. And as He brings all these things together they’re brought together in light of Genesis 3:15. I'm going to read that again because this whole series is based on this passage as it's demonstrated in all the books that we're going to be reading. So if you have your Bible kind of hold your place there in Ruth but flip over to Genesis 3:15 and hear these words again.
This is God, cursing the serpent, and in cursing the serpent is our salvation:
“I will put enmity” the Lord says “between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring. He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”
Now we're going to look at that as we go through Ruth, but before we do, let's get an overview of Ruth so that we have an idea of generally what happens. How many of you are familiar with Ruth, raise you hand? Now you see that's better than the Silmarillion, isn't it? Okay. It's a great short book, gentlemen, for you to read, but it's a book of course about a love story. It's not just about this love story, but the love story is such of a nature that it's an easy read. It's easy to read because it has basically three characters. It has Naomi, who some commentators say that the whole story is really about Naomi, and I kind of lean in that direction. And then there's Ruth from Moab who the book is named after. But then there's Boaz who is probably in, I think, in redemptive history is probably the most important person in the book of Ruth. So let's look real quickly. Now it's only four chapters so you can kind of skim with me. We’ll kind of work through each chapter a little bit. Four chapters. There's an introduction, there's a conclusion, and then there's four sections in the midst of the book of Ruth.
The introduction you find in verses 1 through 5. You see there it's “in the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.” So there is a person from Bethlehem who, when a famine comes, leaves and goes to Moab where there's more food. He's taking care of his family. His name, as you read in the next verse, is Elimelech. His name basically means, if I remember right, “God is King.” Great name. Great name particularly in light of the fact that you've just waltzed through Judges and you keep wondering — is God — you know God's in charge, but in the practical way that the people are living you keep going, “Where is God? Why didn't He do something? Why isn't He bringing a king into this picture?” And so here you have a man whose name means “God is King” and he and his wife Naomi, whose name interestingly means “delight” — the meanings of names are sometimes the most interesting parts to me of the Scriptures because you get the meanings of these names and all of a sudden you see, “Oh, wow.” But we’ll keep going.
They move. As soon as they move her husband dies. It's interesting. He leaves Bethlehem because he's afraid he's going to die from starvation, goes to where there's plenty of food, and he dies. He goes. His sons, they marry Moabite women. They marry Moabite women not forbidden in the Scriptures. Moabites were only forbidden to be worshipping with the Jews but the Moabites, here they are in Moab, and the two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, they marry Orpah and they marry Ruth. In ten years, both the sons have died. That's the introduction. And you see there in verse 5, “they live there about ten years and both Mahlon and Chilion died so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.” She's a great picture of a submissive wife because she follows her husband even in a direction that she might not have liked.
The first section after the introduction is we see the return to Bethlehem. Naomi, she there with her daughters-in-law, realizes that she hears — through God's providence — she hears that there is now bread, there is now grain, back in Judah and she begins to move back in that direction. She says in verse 6 there, “she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited His people and had given them food.” And so she is starting to make this trip. She begins to set out for the place with her two daughters-in-law and they return with her. But she begins to think about what that means for her daughters — her daughter-in-laws — and she encourages them to return home. She encourages them to return home — why? Well, she has no sons, she has no husband, no possibility of having children. In the land of Israel, when a brother died and left his wife a widow then his other brother would marry. Well, because Naomi didn't have any children, there was no way that these two daughters-in-law would be able to have husbands.
And you’ll notice in her words to them that she's very concerned. Look at verse 11 — “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, and go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait until they’re grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” She is acknowledging the situation that she's in and Orpah, one of her daughters-in-law, goes ahead and goes back, but Ruth stays with her.
In all my years of counseling college students who were about to get married, one of the most surprising things was how many young ladies were about to get married and thought that the biggest problem with their in-laws would be their sons having problems with their parents. They were always surprised when I told them, “No, most of the time the biggest problem is daughters-in-law and mothers-in-law because you can't have two queens in one house. And when your mother-in-law comes to visit, she sets things up the way she's used to in her kitchen, but you've set your kitchen up the way you want it to be.” Here we see a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law who love each other. But we also see a daughter-in-law who's been converted because of her relationship with her mother-in-law. Because look at what Ruth says when Naomi says to her in verse 15, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after you sister-in-law.” But Ruth says what? “Do not urge me to leave you” — and you all have heard this — “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you for where you go I will go and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” What a relationship between a mother-in-law and a daughter-in-law for her daughter-in-law not only to acknowledge that she has come to know the Lord, but to bind herself to her mother-in-law in this way.
Ruth is a great picture here of counting the costs when you come to Christ. Many of us came to Christ because we are covenant children and covenant children don't always have to count the costs in some ways because they always knew about Christ. They knew that He was there. Now when they meet themselves sometimes they have to learn to count the costs, and they see their sin and they know what they’re like and they turn to Christ. But counting the costs is one of those things who, every person who comes to Christ, needs to be encouraged to do. And look what Ruth does. She could have gone back, she was still young, could have found a husband, and lived among her people. And yet she chooses to go live with her mother-in-law in a situation that could in many ways be a desperate situation — they might not have enough food, they might not live, they might not make it. So this first chapter paints this picture of their return.
It ends in the first section, the end of chapter 1, it ends with them returning and all the folks that see Naomi and recognize her they see her, they’re not real sure, but here's Naomi. Naomi says to them in verse 20, “Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” Now think about that. I went out Naomi, “delight;” I come back Mara, “bitterness.” And yet at the same time she's not complaining about God in the way an unbeliever might. She's complaining about God and acknowledging that He has brought this one. He's in charge. She's not asking, “Why has He done is?” She's accepted the reality of the Scriptures that He has done it, that He's in charge of everything, that He was in charge of the famine that came, that He was in charge of the plenty that came after ten years. She's acknowledging that. And then notice in verse 22 at the end of verse 22 — “And they came back to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest” — very important because then we go to our next section.
The next section is, Ruth encounters Boaz. Ruth, very industrious, knows that the Scripture has given permission for those without food, those who are poor, to glean in the fields, and she goes and begins to glean in the fields. Almost immediately, “Ruth, the Moabitess, said to Naomi, ‘Let me go into the fields and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.’” And she goes out. Now look at verse 3 of chapter 2 — “So she set out and went to glean in the fields after the reapers and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz who was of the clan of Elimelech.” She just happens to. I love those kind of statements in the Scripture. It's just like, you remember, as Joseph was looking for his brothers he comes across a man who knows that his brothers have gone from, let's see, Shechem to Dothan or Dothan to Shechem, I never can remember, but he tells Joseph, “Oh they’re down there. They’re not where you’re looking for them.” How did that man know? God was in charge. She doesn't walk into that field, but here she goes to the field.
And there in the fields she hears Boaz say the very first thing, the first thing that's recorded of Boaz. Look at what Boaz says first, verse 4 — “Behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and he said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you,’ and they answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’” This man was a man who was concerned about his workers. He greeted them, the folks that worked for him, the folks that helped him in the field. He was as concerned about him and how they were doing. This is just a wonderful man to see and look at because he is the epitome of Jesus as we look at him. He then sees, he recognizes that Ruth is there, he asks who she is. She had already asked permission from his foreman to work in the field, to glean in the field, and then he goes and gives her added permission to do others. “Listen my daughter” — look in verse 8 — “Now listen my daughter, do not glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink.” He even makes sure later that the men leave out more so that she can get enough.
The first day, guess who much she gleans? Now it says an ephah. Now, I'm going to give you a way to visualize what an ephah was, okay? An ephah is the equivalent of eleven two liter bottles of Coca-Cola. You got me? You with me? Most of you men go to the store for your wives you know, you pick up two or three. If you come back with eleven, it really meant the eleventh item on the list, not eleven cokes, okay? Eleven. That much grain she was able to pick up that first day. And it impressed the workers. They noticed how she worked hard. She just rested a little it talks about. And so she returns and Naomi begins to say, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed is the man who took notice of you.” And then she tells him who it is, that it was Boaz. And Naomi immediately remembers the rest of the Scriptures, Deuteronomy and Leviticus where it talks about the kinsman redeemer, that he is the one who is related to Elimelech and that he is the one that by Biblical law should be the one to redeem the property of Elimelech and to redeem the line of Mahlon who was the husband of Ruth. She recognizes it and it changes how she begins to advise Ruth.
We come to the next section where we have Ruth's visit to the threshing floor, so go to chapter 3. In chapter 3 you see there Naomi recommends that her daughter-in-law go there to the threshing floor where they've been working all day and that she lay down at the feet of Boaz after he's asleep, that she kind of hide off in the distance and not make herself known and then that she come and do that. Now, it's a weird thing. It looks like an indecent type of situation. It looks like she is there and when he wakes up and sees her, notice her response. In chapter 3 verse 9 he said, “Who are you?” and she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant for you are a redeemer.” Now Boaz had been good to her and Boaz probably knew — he did know — that he had a responsibility through Elimelech, but she is coming to him and claiming and asking him to be the redeemer.
What is interesting, if you go back to Deuteronomy and you read in Deuteronomy and you read that the brother is to take over for the brother who died and marry the wife, if the brother doesn't do it, the woman who is widowed has the right to go and force the situation. It's a protection for the widows. And so when she says this, this isn't a seduction, this doesn't have a sexual connotation and overtone to it. This is her saying, “You are the one God's Word has said are to be my redeemer. You’re the one who has the responsibility to do this.” And what is interesting is, Boaz recognizes it, acknowledges it, but also acknowledges that there's someone else in the line that she wasn't aware of. And so Naomi's advice to her daughter-in-law to go and lay at the feet of Boaz is very Biblical as it calls them to obey God's Word. These aren't people just doing this because it was a habit, they were obeying the Word of God in the process.
And if you look, look at Boaz's response in verse 10 — “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 younger 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.” And then notice what else he says. And so he is saying to her, “Look, here is what God's Word says, here are my duties, but there is someone that is the closer.” And so what you’re seeing in Boaz is one who is saying he's already seen Ruth, he's interested in her, he's helped her, and now he is in a situation where she is claiming a relation with him and yet he is still staying consistent with the Word of God and what God calls him to do. He's not rushing ahead.
And then look at Naomi and her response in verse 18 — “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.’” In other words, you have Naomi trusting God and trusting her kinsman redeemer, Boaz, to do his duty.
And in the last chapter we see Boaz doing his duty, but Boaz demonstrates that he's thinking things through, because what does he do? As he approaches the kinsman redeemer who has the prior claim, as he approaches him, he doesn't approach him about Ruth, he only approaches him about redeeming the property. And the man says, “Well, I’ll redeem it.” And then he says, “Oh by the way, you also have to marry this Moabitess, Ruth, who is Mahlon's wife.” And he can't do it. He doesn't want to do it. And that opens the door then for Boaz to do it. And as Boaz does it then you come and you see these words — listen to the words of the people, the elders, as they make a pronouncement about the legality of this. In verse 11 of chapter 4 it says, “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 of 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.’”
Now that is really interesting because Judah and Tamar and Perez the son born of them, was a case where Judah didn't fulfill the duties of kinsman redeemer. He didn't give his youngest son, when Tamar's husband died, he didn't give his next son to her — forced her to fool him playing a prostitute and then he had a child by her himself and that child was Perez. So even as the town is blessing them and blessing their marriage, you are again reminded that the people of God are not a perfect people.
And then it comes to this. Look at verse 13 — “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.” Why? Because God blessed it. So you have God working in this family in Bethlehem when all this other stuff in Judges is going on. So even though Judges gives you this picture of the decline of Israel, yet in the midst of it, God continues to preserve His people. He continues to hold them and to deal with them. And then look at Naomi how she ends up here in verse 14 — “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 old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’” In other words, she is looking at her grandson as the redeemer. Does that sound familiar? “Enmity between you and the woman and between your seed and her seed” — that when Eve had her first son, she rejoices because here is God's salvation coming in my seed, in my children. Well look how the book ends in its conclusion in verses 18 and following — “Now these are the generations of Perez” — and it goes on down and tells who all these are, and then it ends with - Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.”
In other words, as we look at this passage, with the history around it, the bigger story going downhill, you still see God being faithful to provide the redeemer, to provide the king, the one who would help crush Satan's head. Because remember that's how Genesis begins — “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and her offspring.” Elimelech dies. Mahlon dies. Chilion dies. For Naomi things are getting bad. It's as though everything is going against her, and yet in that suffering that she has to go through, her hope is still in God, and yet through, though she is bruised, though God's people are bruised, they’re still pointing to the Lord Jesus who is the one who will crush the head of the serpent.
Boaz is one of those interesting people. You really can't find any sin mentioned of him. You can't see - he is a good type of the Lord Jesus, a representative of the Lord Jesus. He is, yes, a sinner. He's not the perfect redeemer. He could only redeem Naomi and Ruth. The Lord Jesus is the one who redeems all His people, who does not fail in any way to save everyone that the Father has given Him. He is the picture, Boaz is the picture of the redeemer to come. The one who would also be the King and rule over us. The one who would be our prophet, who would proclaim to us the Word of God so that we might please our Father because He has already loved us. But also our Priest who would make us perfect in God's sight, taking our sin upon Himself and giving to us His righteousness.
And so in the book of Ruth, though the book of Judges paints a downhill picture, when it deals with this family you see the God who is the God of redemption redeeming His people in their daily lives. This is a picture of what? If nothing else, it's the picture of harvest time. It's the picture of daily life, of them struggling to make it. It's God redeeming His people, not just in the big picture, but in the day to day realities. And for us, that's where Ruth ought to be an encouragement — that when everything around us is overwhelming and doesn't look good, God is still at work in the lives of His people.
Father, we thank You for Ruth. We thank You for the reality that You are our Redeemer. Here we have a picture through Boaz of a very good man, made good by your grace and mercy, who acts as the redeemer, the kinsman redeemer, who not only buys back the property, but also marries Ruth. We praise You for that picture, for Lord Jesus, we know that You have married Yourself to us. We are Your bride. And so we praise You and thank You that You are the One who has made us and clothed us in bright raiment, that we are clothed with the righteousness of our Savior, the Lord Jesus. And so we pray these things in His name. Amen.
And now may grace, mercy and peace, from God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, be and abide with each one of you both now and forever. Amen.
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