Ruth: The Perfect Marriage?

Sermon by Derek Thomas on June 23, 2002

Ruth 4:1-22

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Ruth 4

The Perfect Marriage?

Dr. Derek Thomas

I am going through a series of sermons on marriage and the family, as you know. This one, I gave the title, “The Perfect Marriage?” There is a question mark in the title–do take note. I could have called it, I suppose, “How to Discover Mr. or Miss Right,” or I suppose, “How to Discover Mr. or Mrs. Right–Finding the Love of Your Life.”

The Book of Ruth has two purposes, twin purposes: a macro-cosmic one, and a micro-cosmic one. It has a big purpose and a little purpose. The big purpose in the Book of Ruth is to answer the question, “How will the Savior come?” The promise that was made, back in Genesis 3:15– that the seed of the woman would crush the seed of Satan–how will that line be developed so as to produce the Savior? If you don't know the answer to that question after the chapter we were reading, you weren't listening. But we’ll come back to it in a minute.

That's the big question: How is the Savior to be born? But there's a little question, and actually, it's the little question that I want to enlarge and focus on this evening. The little question involves this family of Naomi, her deceased husband, Elimelech; their two boys who have now died, Malon and Chilion; and Orpah, who has disappeared out of the story; and Ruth; this family that comes from nowhere. Actually they come from Bethlehem and Bethlehem is deeply significant to you because you live on the other side of the Book of Malachi, but if you were living in the Old Testament, Bethlehem would be followed by the question: where? They’re nobodies from nowhere and God focuses in on this little family and I find that deeply, deeply touching and rewarding. That God is interested in little families that come from nowhere and aren't that important. Now you may think you’re very important, but I don't think I'm all that important at all. And I love to think that God is concerned enough about a little family to put it in the Scriptures.

Now you remember the story, of course, Naomi and Elimelech have gone to Moab because of a famine in Judah; disaster has struck them. A series of events. First of all Naomi loses her husband, then she loses both of her sons after they have both married. And now they've come home–Naomi and Ruth–they've come to Bethlehem. You remember when Naomi comes to Bethlehem she says, “Don't call me Naomi, call me Mara,” which is a Hebrew word for bitter. Not that Naomi was bitter; life had been bitter. She was a woman who had known sorrow and trial and difficulties. And she's brought with her daughter-in-law who has been converted in a sovereign and miraculous way through these trials. And they've come to Bethlehem and they do what poor destitute widows could only do, and that is, go to the fields by day and glean in the corners of the field to eke out an existence. To winnow enough grain so as to provide food for one day, maybe three at most; it was the life of a poor person.

And as the story unfolds, a problem arises. In the fields, Naomi sees the owner Boaz, and moreover Boaz has seen Ruth. Now, there was a certain law of redemption by a kinsman redeemer. And Boaz was a kinsmen redeemer and therefore under some obligation to help out Naomi as the wife of a deceased relative; and there's an issue with land and there's an issue with seed and lineage. But the problem, as it develops in chapter 3 and verse 12, is that “there is a relative closer than I.” It's a wonderful story. You know this is a love story; the violins are playing in the background. John Williams’ music is oozing out of almost every verse. You know how it's going to end; it's a wonderful classic love story in the Bible. It's a bit like Jacob and Rachel only without the twists. But there's a problem that needs to be solved. It's a page turner–the telling of the story is absolutely wonderful.

The problem in chapter 3 is now going to be solved in chapter 4. “There is a kinsman who is nearer than I.” Naomi you remember had lost her mind. She had sent Ruth in the middle of the night–you remember the story–dressed to the nines, smelling like a perfume factory, to lie at Boaz’ feet in the middle of the night at the threshing floor. She lost her mind. She did an insane thing. No mother, no mother-in-law would do what Naomi did. She was trying to work out the providence of God herself. She was so desperate to see Ruth married–a natural concern because Ruth's future looked very grim indeed–there was no social security, there was no government check coming to Ruth. Unless she married, her future looked very grim indeed. And Naomi lost her head and God overruled in a wonderful way because Boaz was a man of integrity and uprightness.

Now allow me to concentrate on this particular issue: the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. And let me confine myself to that which is contained in the passage itself. Now, there are a million things that could be said about a perfect marriage, but I'm not going to touch on them because I'm going to confine myself to this particular story. Because, at the end of the day, unless the Bible teaches it; I'm not particularly interested in it. Do you understand that? Because what we desperately need are biblical principles applied to this area of marriage.

I. The man.

Now the first thing I want us to see is, “Will you have this man, Boaz?” What is so wonderfully interesting about Boaz is that he's the most eligible bachelor. Naomi had taken out an advertisement in the Bethlehem Gazette and it said: attractive lady seeks eligible bachelor with a view to marriage–must get along with mother-in-law. No, she’d done something much worse than that, I said, she’d sent Ruth to the threshing floor dressed to the nines and smelling like a perfume factory. But now in chapter 4, it begins with Boaz sitting at the gate of the city.

What's happening? The city gate was the place in ancient times where you administered justice. If you had an issue of law, if you had a case that needed to be solved or resolved in some way, you would go to the city gate and you would call upon the elders, and justice would be administered summarily. So Boaz is sitting at the town gate and he's waiting. He's a man who is related to Naomi's deceased husband Elimelech and he's therefore under obligation to do two things. One, to make sure that Naomi's lineage, and in this case, the deceased son's wife is taken care of financially–there's an issue about land here that needs to be redeemed. Now, it's not absolutely clear whether the land had already been sold and now she was trying to get the land back, or as the text seems to read, that she's trying to sell this land that belongs to the family in order to provide some sort of financial base for her life. And the obligation of the kinsman redeemer is to purchase that land so that the land remains within the family and you remember according to sabbatical law, at the forty-ninth year, all that land would revert back to the family again.

There's an issue about land, but there's also an issue about seed–about children. And at this point in the history of Israel, the kinsman redeemer was under obligation to raise up an issue for the deceased husband. Boaz has fallen in love–that's the story. Boaz wants to marry Ruth, but he is not the nearest kinsman; and he goes to the city gate because that's where justice is going to be administered.

Now there's something I want us to see in this text. It's not specifically mentioned but it's the subplot of the chapterGod has been going out of his way in order to provide Boaz with a wife. You understand that. Their providential meeting–the way that Boaz has been attracted to Ruth, the way his heart has already been engaged God has been at work in his sovereign providence. A bit like last week when we saw Jacob going to the east to the land beyond Bethel, to the land of Haran in order to get a bride–namely Rachel–only he got Leah as well in the bargain. God has been going to the land of Moab in order to find a wife for Boaz.

So there he is at the city gate early in the morning. The nearer kinsman comes along, and he says to him, “Come and sit down. There's now a case that needs to be resolved.” He explains it to them. He calls for a quorum of elders in order to hear this case. And, as soon as this nearer kinsman hears, he's prepared to buy the land. You can understand that–a businessman, it's a financial transaction–the land could have been used, it would have been to his financial advantage to acquire the land; but as soon as he hears that, not only is he to acquire the land, but he is to gain Ruth in the process, thereby possibly disinheriting his own sons and daughters; he no longer wants anything to do with it.

Now, here's the point I want to make. It may not sound to you a deeply spiritual thing, but the most attractive thing about Boaz is that he is a man who applies the law of God to his life and the wisdom of God to his heart. Do you see what Boaz was prepared to do, as you read chapter 3? The heart of Boaz has been won over by this young girl, but he will only acquire this young girl as his wife so long as he conforms to the law of God. There is no possibility in Boaz's mind that he can acquire Ruth in some illicit way. When Ruth was lying at his feet in the middle of the night, it is part of the integrity of Boaz that nothing happened. It is part of the integrity of this man Boaz that nothing happened. You incurable romantics will find this wholly disappointing, I know you will because you want symphonic sounds and cascading waters and a miraculous voice and I don't know what–and all Boaz is doing is obeying the law as it had been given in his time. Boaz is a walking illustration of Psalm 119: he has hidden the law of God in his heart.

Now I want to make an application from all of that. The application that I want to make is: that's the kind of man that makes a good husband–a man who hides God's law within his heart and whose heart is governed by the wisdom of God.

Young ladies here this evening–and ladies maybe not so young–don't marry a young man who is childish and silly and irresponsible and macho and crazy about material things, because he won't be good for you. And though you may dream, as young ladies do, that you will change him; you probably will not be able to do so. Don't take risks with men you can't respect. That's the principle. That doesn't sound terribly romantic, does it? Maybe that's not what you wanted to hear. But I believe with all of my heart that Boaz is being represented here as a model of godliness, and that's why he's so attractive.

Young women tonight: what are you looking for in a young man? What are you looking for in a husband? Looks, a body, material possessions? If you are wise at all, it is his godliness that will attract you. And please don't think of Boaz here as a legalist. Boaz saw that the only right way to gain this young girl of his dreams was by doing exactly what God had ordered in his word, even at the risk that he mightn't have got her. Try reading this story and when it comes to the kinsman redeemer saying, “I don't want her.” Imagine that he might have said, “Alright, I will have her too.” That says something about the respect and the honor that Boaz had for the word of God and for the law of God.

Young men, wherever you are, maybe you’re up in the balcony–it's ok, because I can't see that far. If you’re sitting further back than the tenth row, there's no way that I'm going to recognize you. But whoever you are, young men, as you begin to dream about what it may mean to be married, the thing that should mark you out, and the goal that you ought to be striving for is a godliness that respects the law of God; that it's hidden within your hearts.

II. The woman.

In the second place I want to see the woman: will you take this woman? This woman is Ruth. Do you remember the prayer that was uttered for Ruth by Naomi in verse 8 of chapter 1? Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law–this is Orpah and Ruth–“Go, return, each of you to a mother's house.” Here's Naomi's great prayer for her daughter-in-law: May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the Lord grant that you may find rest each in the house of her husband.” That prayer is now about to be answered. Naomi's prayer for Ruth was that she might find rest in the house of her husband. And that's precisely what is happening here. Look at the blessing when these two eventually get married. Look at verses 11 and 12 of chapter 4: “All the people and the elders of the court said, ‘May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home (that is Ruth) like Rachel and Leah both of whom built the house of Israel, and may you achieve wealth and prosper and become famous in Bethlehem.”

I want us to see two things: that God will stop at nothing for those whom he has determined to bless. That's the first thing I want us to see. God will stop at nothing for those whom He is determined to bless. He has brought this young girl through the trials of bereavement and sorrow and loss, brought her out of her home and her environment all the way to Bethlehem–a widow, childless–wondering how she may survive the future. And here is God providing for her. All of a sudden she meets the man of her dreams and there are wedding bells in the air and it's a very happy story. A young lady from this congregation sometime ago wrote to me. She was single and longed to be married and had become deeply cynical about the providence of God. Tonight she's married because God provided. And one of the lessons from this particular story–and it's a wonderful lesson–that you wait upon the Lord. And isn't it interesting? You've got to chuckle. The last verse of chapter 3 this is coming out of the mouth of Naomi to Ruth: “Then she said, ‘Wait, my daughter.’” This is the woman who had sent Ruth to the threshing floor. That's how much she was prepared to wait. But she's learned her lesson; she's saying wait, wait upon the Lord. Wait upon the providence of God.

You know, maybe that's where you are tonight. Maybe I'm speaking to those who are single, and you long to be married. You long to find a partner. You long to find somebody who loves the word of God. You long to find somebody who is deeply spiritual. You long to find a husband who’ll be a role model. You long to find a wife who’ll be the mother of your children. And Scripture is saying to you, “Wait. Wait upon the Lord and you’ll renew your strength. You’ll mount up with wings as eagles and run and not be weary and walk and not faint.” That's one of the things that this passage is saying to us.

Can the Bible tell me whom I am to marry? Well, the answer to that is “Yes” and “No.” If you mean by that, can the Bible tell me I'm to marry “Miss X” by name? Probably not. But the Bible will tell you a great many things. I've heard of people who turn to verses in the Bible and apply questionable exegesis and the most tortuous hermeneutics to bring out of that verse what they want to see in the first place, and it's more about auto-suggestion than anything else. But what the Bible does do is talk about wisdom. The Bible can make you wise; it can help you make wise choices.

And young men, when a girl comes across your path, then you should ask a series of questions: questions like: Will she make a good partner? And you need to ask those questions because some girls will not make good partners. You don't marry a “goofy” girl just because she's pretty, because there's no future in it. Ask someone who knows the two of you, and don't ask your best friend who’ll tell you what you want to hear. Ask someone whom you may suspect will tell you the truth. Ask them whether they think the two of you will make good partners because that's the way God guides. It's through the counsel of friends. In the counsel of a multitude of friends there's wisdom. That's the way.

And this is my point: you must trust God to lead you and you must trust God to provide for you, and that is what Ruth is doing; she's waiting. She is waiting patiently. If this were a movie you’d see her perhaps pacing, perhaps twiddling her thumbs because this case is being held at the city gate and the outcome is desperately uncertain. It was never uncertain to God, of course. Wait patiently on the Lord. Maybe that's where you are tonight. You are desperately trying to wait patiently. And let's pray for our brothers and sisters in this congregation that God will give them patience to wait rather than make the folly of a choice that would be entirely wrong.

But there's a second thing that I want us to see. Because what this passage is saying is something about the sanctity and the propriety of marriage. Isn't it a beautiful thing? You know, Boaz never touched Ruth on the threshing floor. I find that a beautiful thing; it obviously is not a story out of the 21st century, that's for sure. According to the US census figures, unmarried couples have increased 77% from 3.1 million in 1990 to 5.5 million in the year 2000–couples who live together but are not married.

And you see what Ruth chapter 4 is saying? It's one of the most beautiful stories that's ever been told of the sanctity and propriety of marriage. It's saying that marriage is an honorable thing. That God surrounds marriage with all kinds of warnings like sexual union is not to take place outside of it, that it is a commitment until death us do part–and woe betide the one that breaks that bond and causes a divorce–and wonderful blessing of a family, the blessing of children.

I hope you didn't read these last few verses of chapter 4 and think, “Well isn't this a boring way to end the story with a list of names?” It's not a great way to end a story is it with all these names: Perez and Hezron and Amminadad, and Ram and Nashon and Boaz and Obed and Jesse and David–and David–and David–and David! Do you remember how this story ends? Naomi who in the beginning, if it had been a movie the director would have focused in on the tears of Naomi. And here she is Grandmother Naomi, interfering Naomi, scheming Naomi saying to Ruth, “Wait, my daughter.” Oh, how good God is to Naomi who gives to Ruth and Boaz in their marriage a little boy called Obed. Here is Naomi singing sweet nothings to her grandson Obed. She had been crying in the first chapter; she's weeping tears of joy now. For Obed who is the father of Jesse, who is the father of David–wait a minute–do you see what’ happening here?

That in this marriage, God is answering the BIG question, “How will the Savior be born?” Out of this marriage, out of this union, well, can I say it? Out of this perfect marriage. God is weaving His sovereign purposes through the trials and tribulations of life to bring about His grand design of a Savior who’ll be born of the line of David. Jesus is in this story. Jesus is in this marriage. That's why marriage is an honorable thing. Because marriage reflects, my friends, the union you have with your life partner, reflects the very way God loves His children. God is in it; Christ is in it. “Let marriage be held in honor among you,” the writer of Hebrew says.

There are some wonderful principles here, but let me close with this sentence: that when you choose partners in the way these two did here, it sows the seeds of a marriage that will last. When you look to God and you honor His word, and you keep His laws within your hearts, and you wait upon Him in His sovereign providence to unfold His plan and purpose for your life you sow the seeds of a marriage that will last. Let's pray:

Our Father in heaven, as we look into this passage of Scripture, we thank You for all that it teaches us about marriage. We want to thank You tonight for our marriage partners; for our husbands and wives and we pray that this summer as we reflect together from the teaching and principles of Your word that You would teach us to be better husbands and better wives. Teach us, O Lord, what it means to be a man of God and a woman of God and a husband of God and a wife of God and do it for Jesus’ sake and strengthen this body of Christ in this place as a result for you glory's sake. Amen.

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