Men and Women After God's Own Heart: The Fellowship of the Ring: The Perfect Marriage

Sermon by Derek Thomas on June 23, 2002

Ruth 4
The Perfect Marriage?

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 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 chapter; that God
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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