Scripture: Ruth 4
My job is to teach the Bible and it is becoming increasingly difficult because less than half of all Americans are now committed to a Christian church. Less than 35% attend any church regularly. Pastors used to assume that the people listening to us believed the Bible is true. We cannot assume that anymore. And maybe we never should have.
So, before I teach the Bible, I want to give you just one of the many reasons why I trust the Bible – why I believe it is really God’s Word to us. It is because the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection were women.
Understanding history and the culture of the 1st century, if men wanted to tell a convincing story – if they wanted to invent a religion – they would never write it the way they did. Women would not have been the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection, because men did not value the testimony of women. But looking back, it makes the story seem authentic to me – because it is exactly the sort of thing God would write.
Here’s another example – the Gospel of Matthew lists four women in the family tree of Jesus Christ – Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. All four women were foreigners – not Israelites by birth. All four of their stories involved sketchy situations. Matthew wanted to convince people that Jesus is the Messiah – but humanly speaking, his argument would have been stronger if he left those women out. Except that God wanted those women in the story. It’s authentic.
God values women far more than the world does. And as we consider the resurrection today, we are going to do it through the story of one of those women in the family tree of Jesus – the one named Ruth.
Before we read the last chapter, let me summarize the story so far.
It begins with death. Naomi, a woman from Bethlehem, travels to the land of Moab in search of food. After ten years in a foreign country, Naomi loses her husband and both of her sons. She returns to Bethlehem as a widow with no children. But Ruth, her daughter-in-law, decides to go with Naomi.
Ruth takes on the responsibility of providing for the family by collecting leftover barley in the field of a man named Boaz. He turns out to be a very generous man. He protected Ruth and broke the rules of his culture, allowing her to take as much as she wanted.
After a few months, Naomi sent Ruth on a dangerous mission to propose marriage to Boaz – something women in that culture never did. It was risky and bold because marrying Ruth would be a great personal sacrifice for Boaz. Surprisingly, Boaz agreed to the proposal. But first, he had to deal with a legal problem. Boaz was not the closest relative. By law, there was another redeemer with first rights to Naomi’s inheritance. And that’s where we will take up the story in Ruth 4.
1 Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” 6 Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
Boaz is shrewd. He waits to tell the man about Ruth, because Ruth complicates the transaction. He wants the man to think he is getting a good deal, but then he changes the terms.
If the man buys Naomi’s land, all he has to do is take care of an old woman for a few years and then the land will belong to him – because Naomi is too old to have a son.
But if the man has to marry Ruth, everything changes. If Ruth has a son, then the son would inherit Naomi’s land and keep her dead husband’s last name. The man is not interested in that arrangement, and Boaz gets what he wants.
7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” 11 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 in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 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.”
Notice the mention here of three important women, including Tamar who is also listed in the family tree of Jesus.
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. 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! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The final picture, of Naomi holding Obed, is significant. Ruth and Boaz fade away. This story was not about their romance. This baby, in a very real sense, belonged to Naomi. Boaz was really supposed to be her kinsman redeemer, but she was too old.
Naomi was the great grandmother of King David. And that’s why God’s fingerprints have been all over this story. David would begin the greatest dynasty in Israel’s history. He would also write most of Israel’s poetry and song. And I’m certain the influence of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz made its way through his grandfather Obed and his father Jesse to young David.
But please remember – this story began with hunger and death and grief. It ends with redemption and restoration, but there was a lot of sacrifice and tension along the way.
The pagan view of the world – the common view of the world is that we are all part of something called “the circle of life”. Does that sound familiar? Listen to how Mufasa explains the circle of life to Simba in the Lion King:
Mufasa: Everything you see exists together in a delicate balance. As king, you need to understand that balance and respect all the creatures, from the crawling ant to the leaping antelope.
Simba: But, Dad, don’t we eat the antelope?
Mufasa: Yes, Simba, but let me explain. When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass. And so, we are all connected in the great Circle of Life.
Almost every ancient civilization described the world in this way – and most people today still think of the world this way. [CIRCLE SLIDE] We are born. We live. We die. And then something or someone else takes our place. It sounds cute in a Disney movie, but our destiny is not just to be worm food – or antelope food.
The Bible rejects this view of the world. Instead, the Bible tells a story that looks more like this [CURVE SLIDE]: not a circle, but a curve. Death to Resurrection…
The Bible begins with the story of the Fall. It tells us how sin and death entered the world. And the Bible ends with resurrection and restoration. Death before life.
The circle of life only offers us hope for today. The Bible offers us hope for today and hope beyond death.
One of the things I love about the story of Ruth is that the background seems so hopeless. The world counted Naomi and Ruth as worthless. Naomi felt worthless. But God never counted them as worthless. He saw tremendous value when the world did not.
If you remember our study of Judges, God seemed mostly absent from the entire book. But He was always there. He was in the background, working out his masterful plan in the lives of a farmer and two widows and countless other people whose names we will never know.
As far as we are concerned, the works of God are usually in the small things – the everyday things. Boaz and Ruth had no idea we would be reading their love story a few thousand years later. Naomi had no idea how important that child was to God’s plan.
And we have no idea what kind of legacy will flow from the words we speak or the choices we make. God is not absent from our lives. Even in the difficult moments – especially in the difficult moments. God is busy forging life out of death.
But there’s something else important in this story I don’t want you to miss. Do you remember the part when Boaz announces the transaction? He uses formal, legal language. And then there was this custom of exchanging sandals.
Boaz intended to love Ruth and to help Naomi – but the HOW was just as important as that intent. There was a legal process. Boaz had to announce the transaction in formal, legal language. He had to exchange sandals with the other man.
We don’t know exactly why they did that, but we do know that a man’s sandals were the dirtiest, smelliest thing on his body. And that was their chosen symbol of redemption.
And I want you to know, that is also how God’s love works. It is the same with God. God’s love for sinners is good news, but HOW God achieved that good news is vital. It was also a transaction. Not with dirty sandals, but with a bloody cross.
Jesus became our Redeemer by dying in our place. Paul explains the legal transaction in 2 Corinthians 5:21.
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God exchanged our sin for the righteousness of Christ at the cross. That’s what God’s love looks like. That’s how He loved us. He took our dirty sandals and we really have nothing to offer in return.
Jesus demonstrated this love the night before His death by taking the sandals off of His disciples and washing their feet.
Your value… Your future… Your ability to forgive, to love, to find joy and peace – it all depends on the cross… the love of God for you in Jesus Christ. He’s inviting you to trust Him. And just like Ruth, He will write your name in his family tree.
He doesn’t care what the world says about you. He doesn’t care how dirty your sandals are. He’s not inviting you into His family because you worthy. He makes us worthy in Christ. Trust Him and it will be counted as righteousness in Christ.
That’s the resurrecting love of God – not a circle of good and bad – but a better story. Life from death. Love from sacrifice. All the rest and renewal your soul craves can be found in the risen Christ. And He is risen.