God Secures Your Future (Ruth 4)Series: Ruth (Emptied and Filled)
At the beginning of this book it seemed Naomi and Ruth would be ordinary people who lived painful lives of no consequence. If we weren’t reading Scripture, we would expect them to keep walking down their pointless path into death. But, as John Piper has said, this is “a story for people who can’t imagine that anything great could ever come of their ordinary lives of faith.” Some days we look at the rest of our lives and the daily decisions and sacrifices of faith God asks us to make seem do-able and worth it. Other days, the constant endurance and sacrifices of faith are overwhelming. It does not feel worth it. What is the point of telling ourselves to keep on? “Keep on loving your neighbor as yourself. Keep on working hard for your family. Keep on sacrificing for others. Continue rejecting sin and choosing righteousness. Continue entrusting your cares to God.” I feel like I have these days often in teaching and preaching. Some days it feels like everyone you teach falls away and that all this work will amount to nothing in the end. You can probably relate to this in similar or different ways.
If you have ever asked, “Does anything ever come of all this?” then the conclusion to this book is for you. It seemed impossible for anything but death to surround Naomi and Ruth when we first met them, but they will be blessed with life by the end of this scene. Boaz has been sacrificially loving lowly people when it seems to mean nothing in wicked times, but we will see how his ordinary life of faith still impacts the world today. By the end we should see very clearly that the Lord does marvelous things through the most hopeless of circumstances and that great things can come of our ordinary lives of faith. Read Ruth 4 with me.
A Good Name Is Better Than Great Riches
Ruth asked Boaz to spread his wings over her, but Boaz said there is a nearer redeemer who has the first option. Boaz said he would go to the man in the morning, so Boaz went up to the gate of Bethlehem, sat down, and behold, as “chance” would have it, the redeemer came by. Boaz asked him to sit and he gathers 10 elders and asked them to sit. People often settled official business at the city gates. So, Boaz explained the situation.
How Boaz handles Naomi’s and Ruth’s situation is difficult to explain because there are three distinct prescriptions in the law of Moses regarding three unfortunate situations which apply to these women. Numbers 27:1-11, Leviticus 25:23-30, and Deuteronomy 25:5-10 all apply here. Numbers 27:1-11 prescribes that when Elimelech died without sons, daughters, or brothers, then his land must be transferred to his nearest relative. However, a purchase of land happening here in Ruth 4, which could mean Elimelech sold his land before moving to Moab. Since the land needs to be “redeemed,” the land may be owned by a non-family member. Leviticus 25:23-30 instructs the nearest redeemer to buy the property back into the family if since Elimelech cannot do this himself. So, Boaz is probably saying, “Naomi cannot buy back the land, so she is transferring her right to the nearest kin.” This could be a great deal. The lineage of Elimelech is practically dead, so the redeemer who buys this land absorbs this into his inheritance forever. So, the redeemer happily agreed to redeem it.
But what about the widows Elimelech and Mahlon left behind? Deuteronomy 25:5-10 prescribes that when a man dies without a son, his immediate brother must marry her and give her offspring to perpetuate the dead brother’s name in Israel on his inheritance. Unfortunately, Ruth has been unable to bear children for 10 years, there are no immediate brothers, and there is no specific law instructing other males in the family to help because the Law of Moses cannot contain prescriptions for every possible situation. Because of this, Boaz goes beyond the letter of the Law and declares that the one who redeems this property also acquires Ruth the Moabitess to perpetuate the name of the dead in Mahlon’s inheritance. The letter of the law may not instruct the redeemer of the widow’s land to do anything about her childless, widowed daughter-in-law, but isn’t that covered in the spirit of the whole law? “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” (Leviticus 19:18). It may have seemed like the coal of Elimelech was extinguished and that it was time to snatch up his land, but Boaz interjects: no, there is still hope for Elimelech’s line through Mahlon’s Moabite widow.
This does not sound as great to the nearest kinsmen. He says in verse 6, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance.” If he only redeems the land, his inheritance will be enlarged and the land will be passed down to his own children perpetually. There is speculation here, but if he also marries Ruth, his children through her would have rights to the land of Elimelech and potentially in his own inheritance - diminishing the part of his inheritance for other children he already had or hoped to have. This is not an economically advantageous decision for his family. God always provides, but it is easy to think of how there is only so much land to go around. “Some of our land will go to a child of this Moabitess? No.” The nearer redeemer takes off his sandal, gives it to Boaz, and says, “Buy it yourself.”
Despite the potential economical downfalls which have become apparent, Boaz cares for this foreign widow and treats her as family. Boaz knows Ruth is a worthy woman and he states his intentions before the elders and all the people. The people declare that they are witnesses and they ask the Lord’s blessing upon Ruth, Boaz, and their resulting family.
Due to subtle clues in the text, I believe the blessing upon Boaz that he be “renowned in Bethlehem” is meant to stand out to us. Boaz, his son, his grandson, his great grandson David, and the Messiah in his lineage all do end up being renowned in Bethlehem, in Israel, and in the whole world. This stands out to me because someone here not only missed out on this honor, but also missed out on his name being recorded at all. You remember him, right? He is the one who took off his sandal off and who refused to redeem Ruth.
The Holy Spirit is very intentional in the way he ensures that this is the only way we can identify this redeemer. When Boaz greets the redeemer in verse 1, he would have known and certainly used this close relatives name, yet our author either does not record it - probably to ensure his name was forgotten. This is not apparent when we read it in English because most translations say, “Turn aside, friend,” or “certain one,” which may fail to actually capture the author’s intent. In Hebrew, Boaz is recorded as saying, “Turn aside, peloni almoni.” To make a long story short, the words peloni almoni do not literally mean anything. They are a farrago like “Hocus pocus” or “jeepers creepers.” Peloni almoni is used to keep something anonymous or to refer to an undisclosed thing. As the NET and the NJPS Bibles reflect, the author records Boaz as saying, “Turn aside, Mr. So-and-so,” or “Turn aside, John Doe.”
There are many nameless people in the Bible whose identity is not concealed so obviously, so why is this done here? Deuteronomy 25:10 may shed light on the reasoning. If a man refused to marry and give children to his son-less, widowed sister-in-law, the woman is supposed to pull off his sandal and spit in his face and his family will be forever known in Israel as “The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.” Fortunately for him, this unwilling redeemer is not spat upon, but we literally only know him as a literary foil to Boaz. Unlike Boaz, peloni almoni is the one who was only willing to help his neighbor as long as it benefitted him. It was not worth it to Mr. So-and-so to risk impairing his inheritance; but, this decision, caused John Doe to unknowingly miss his opportunity to impact the world forever and to be written in the most important genealogy ever penned. Note two lessons we can learn from this account.
1. Boaz understood something his anonymous relative did not: “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,” (Proverbs 22:1). The economical disadvantage did not seem worth it at the time, but it was more worth it than he could have ever imagined. Mr. So-and-so’s example has reminded me of how deceptively easy it is to ask the wrong questions when we are given difficult, sacrificial opportunities to love our neighbor. It is easy to only ask, “Will this be advantageous or not?” It is easy to only think like an accountant and ask, “What will this do for my bottom line?” Brothers and sisters, if that is what Boaz would have asked, he would have missed out on a great woman, a highly honored name, and a place in God’s kingdom. We are told by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8 that God only asks us to give according to what we have, so the economics matter. However, the better question is, “Who is my neighbor?” and “How would Jesus have me love my neighbor?”
2. What we do for seemingly empty people because of our faith in God can have a greater-than-imagined impact. What Boaz did here seems amazing to us, and it seemed amazing to Ruth, Naomi, and the people of the town, but I guarantee that it did not shake the world at that time. The story was not printed and sent throughout the world and it did not seem important from a global perspective. But it was. It had a global impact. The seemingly small ways we can help people matter. Whether we adopt just one child, giving just one person a family, giving someone food, a place to stay, clothes, our time and words of encouragement - they can impact people, communities, the world, and future generations in ways we cannot possibly know today. Boaz would have never said, “The two greatest kings Israel has ever known - David and Jesus Christ - will result because of what I do today,” yet it was true. Will another Messiah result from our actions? No. But, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9, God is the one multiplies seed for sowing and who multiplies the harvest of our righteousness. The fruit God brings from our submission to his will is up to God. If nothing else, Christ will be seen, and God will be praised and glorified for what we do in his name - and that is sufficient.
Blessed Be the Lord
Verses 13-14 remind us that it is right to give God all glory. The Lord who opened Ruth’s womb and gave her conception and the Lord has been working behind the scenes all along to care for Naomi and Ruth, so he should be praised and honored for what happens here. As we consider the valley of the shadow of death Naomi was in and now look at the fullness and restoration of life God has given her her through Ruth, Boaz, and Obed, you may be wondering about your own situation. Let’s zoom out and consider a few lessons to remember when we walk through difficult valleys as Naomi did.
1. God is to be praised even though Ruth and Naomi did not get their old lives back. Naomi did not receive her husband or her sons back from the dead. Ruth did not receive her husband back from the dead. Neither of them were able to get back those ten difficult years. But God is still to be praised because he restores life and sweetness through another unexpected means. When we walk through dark times and we pray for help and we do not understand how it will come - be both realistic and optimistic. God can bless us with a complete reversal of our situation, but let us trust him and realize that he can bring so much life and sweetness to our souls through other means and other unexpected blessings.
2. God is to be praised because he blessed Naomi and Ruth through their suffering. This son would have never resulted and the future would have never been the same if it were not for this difficult trial. For some reason, God often brings sweetness through bitterness. I cried and praised God for Michael and Joanna’s wisdom to see this in their own life recently. When they first moved to the United States, Joanna became pregnant, Michael and Joanna were filled with excitement, and then Joanna lost her child. They were devastated. But in their devastation, their hearts were opened to looking elsewhere for hope. The result was that when Michael McEuen met Michael and Joanna, they were hungry for the gospel and their lives have changed forever. Now, two years later, they do not have their first son back, but they have a new son, Lucas, that they would not give up for anything!
3. God’s blessings that outwork from bitter circumstances can bring untold blessings to future generations. The blessing of Obed through the trial was a greater blessing than anyone ever anticipated. From a dead family and a barren womb, life came. From a mundane, insignificant place like Bethlehem, the two greatest kings ever to reign over Israel and the world were born - David the son of Jesse and Jesus Christ the Son of God. Our suffering will not result in the birth of the Messiah, but God can bring great blessings to future generations through our trial.
The book of Ruth teaches us in a marvelous way about the providence of God. We simply do not know what God can bring from the love we show other people. We simply do not know what God is doing for us and for future generations when our lives seem completely empty. Let us trust in and praise our great God!