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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Yahweh grants redemption, restoration, and nourishment
Text:Ruth 4 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Covenant faithfulness
 
Preached:2014
Added:2014-07-01
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 92:1,2,6,7

Psalm 143:1,2,5,6

Psalm 23

Hymn 80:1,5,6

Psalm 93

Scripture readings:  Ruth 4, Matthew 1

Text:  Ruth 4

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus,

If you’d never read the book of Ruth before and you left off at the end of chapter 3, you’d be left with a cliff-hanger.  The very first people who would have read the book some thousands of years ago would have been left in suspense.  What would happen to Ruth and Naomi?  Would these widow ladies find the happy ending they were hoping for? 

When you read movie or book reviews, sometimes you see these words in bold and all capital letters:  SPOILER ALERT.  The author of the review is about to spoil the suspense and if a reader wants, he or she can stop reading until they’ve watched the movie or read the book.  For us today, I don’t think we need to worry about giving a spoiler alert.  We know that the story ends happily.  Everything does work out between Ruth and Boaz, and therefore also for Naomi.  I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that right now at the beginning of the sermon.

Even though we know the ending, there’s a reason why the book of Ruth is still so treasured.  It’s not just the developing relationship between Ruth and Boaz.  It’s also the fact that the story is well-told.  The story has all the elements needed to keep a reader’s attention.  There’s a problem, a potential resolution, and, eventually a climax.  There are also well-developed characters in the story.  Naomi, Ruth and Boaz are all described in good detail.  We feel like we get to know them well.  However, there is one character in the story sometimes overlooked.  But he must not be overlooked, because he really is the central character of the book of Ruth.  The book of Ruth teaches us more about him and his plans for our redemption.  Of course, I’m speaking about our God, about Yahweh.  We need to see him as the main figure of this book.  We need to discern what he is doing here.

That’s also true when we come to the climax of the book in chapter 4.  Here too, we need to see not only Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi, but also and most importantly the LORD, Yahweh.  What is God doing here?  A big part of the answer to that is found in verses 14 and 15.  The women of Bethlehem praise the LORD (Yahweh) and they recognize that it was his hand that gave Naomi a way out and a way forward.  Yahweh grants redemption, restoration, and nourishment.  That’s our theme this morning as I preach to you God’s Word from the last chapter of Ruth. 

We’ll consider the:

  1. Favourable outcome
  2. Fruitful marriage
  3. Famous genealogy

At the end of chapter 3, Naomi assures Ruth that Boaz will not rest until he settles the matter of being a redeemer for the family of Elimelech and Mahlon.  She’s confident that Boaz will take care of it that very day and at the beginning of chapter 4, we quickly find out that Boaz does not disappoint.  He plants himself at the gates of the city of Bethlehem.  Bethlehem was apparently a walled city in this time and city gates were often a place to carry out important business in public.  Boaz sat there and waited and eventually, the man he was looking for came by.  This was the relative who was closer to Elimelech’s family than Boaz.  The matter of redemption fell to him first, but Boaz had told Ruth that if that man refused, then he would do it.  Boaz calls to him.  Our translation says, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.”  The word “friend” is not a very literal translation here in verse 1, even though it’s used in many English Bible translations. What the author of Ruth really writes is, “Turn aside, so-and-so; sit down here.”  Boaz probably used the real name of this man, but either his name was forgotten or the author of Ruth deliberately obscured it.  What the man does further in the chapter is not exactly honourable and so his name is erased from sacred history.  As we’ll see later, having your name included in the history of redemption is important and this man misses out.

With this Mr. So-and-so sitting beside him at the gate, Boaz then pulls aside ten elders of the city and has them sit down as well.  They’ll be the witnesses for what follows.  It’s important that everything be done exactly right and that includes having several credible witnesses.

Boaz then introduces the situation.  He does so in a peculiar way.  You would think that he would refer immediately to Ruth.  But instead he draws the attention to some land associated with the family of Elimelech.  He says that Naomi is selling the land.  The land is in jeopardy of falling out of the family or maybe already has.  The law of God spoke to this situation in Leviticus 25.  The nearest kinsman-redeemer was to buy back or redeem the land for a relative who had become so poor that it had to be sold.  Boaz begins by appealing to this law. 

He states that something needs to be done.  If the other nameless man wants to take care of it, fine, he can.  But if not, then Boaz is going to step forward to do it.  He will redeem the land for the family of Elimelech.

The nameless man initially agrees to it.  It’s a good deal, after all.  He gets the land of Elimelech.  Elimelech has no heirs, so what would happen when Naomi dies is that the land would belong to him and his family.

That’s when Boaz introduces the matter of Ruth.  He says, “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.”  Now Boaz seems to draw in the law concerning levirate marriage from Deuteronomy 25.  Do you remember that law?  It stated that when a man died and left a widow with no children, his brother was to raise up children for him by marrying the widow.  Now I have to be honest and say that the exact nature of the relationship between this law and the one in Leviticus 25 is not clear to me.  It’s not clear to me how these two things are connecting in this situation.  Various commentators and Bible scholars offer solutions, but at the end of it, I have to conclude that there’s probably something going on here not only with the law of God, but also with the culture there in Bethlehem.  Since this happened several thousand years ago, there’s a gap in our understanding of how the culture functioned, especially in relation to these laws.  What’s important for us to understand is not a precise explanation of how this all unfolded, but the fact that it did.  It’s the fact that Boaz was a man who came forward to protect the vulnerable in Israel.  He was a man of integrity, through whom God was working to advance his plan of redemption, not just for one family, but for all his people.  Through Boaz, God was preserving the name and inheritance of Elimelech.

Boaz is contrasted here with this nameless man who balks as soon as a wife is mentioned.  As soon as Ruth comes into the picture and the idea of perpetuating the name of Elimelech on his inheritance, then Mr. So-and-So has a dramatic change of heart.  He was interested in the land for his own interests and those of his family.  But if marriage to a widow is somehow involved, that changes everything.  If he has children with her, then those children are considered from the line of Elimelech and they inherit the land.  In the long run, he’ll have no possibility of adding it to his real estate portfolio.  His priorities are not only clear, but shameful.  He has no concern for his relatives, but only for himself and his own inheritance.  He has to take care of number one. 

With that, the proceedings moved to the actual transaction.  This involved the nameless man giving his sandal to Boaz in the presence of the witnesses.  The exact meaning of this is another cultural element that’s lost to us.  We could guess and some commentators do.  Some say that it’s symbolic of the fact that Boaz is going to walk on the land of Elimelech and will do so in the shoes of the other man.  That’s plausible, but we can’t say for sure. 

What we can say with certainty is that the transaction took place in a lawful way, with witnesses present.  Boaz told them all that he was buying everything that belonged to Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion.  Moreover, he was taking Ruth for his wife.  And he was doing it, not in the first place because of a romantic interest in her, but because of his desire to preserve the name of his relatives.  He wanted their place to be secure amongst God’s people for generations to come.  Having a name with God’s people was a thing of honour and Boaz was intentional about trying to preserve that.

Verse 11 tells us that not only did the elders witness this, but others too.  Apparently a little crowd had gathered around the gate.  And that’s when we hear the remarkable words in verses 11 and 12.  The crowd, including the elders, invoke blessings upon Boaz.  They ask Yahweh to make Ruth like Rachel and Leah, the founding mothers of Israel.  God blessed them with the children who made up the nation.  So, the prayer is that Ruth too would be blessed with a large family, with a future.  They also pray for God to bless Boaz so that he continues to be a man of integrity in Ephratah, the area around Bethlehem.  They pray that God would bless Boaz so that he would have a good name for himself in the city. 

The last thing mentioned is surprising there in verse 12:  “May your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah…”  Genesis 38 describes the sad story of Judah and his daughter-in-law.  The story is not a pleasant one.  It doesn’t put Judah in a good light as well.  But the focus here and later in the chapter is not on Judah, but on Perez.  You may remember that Tamar was carrying twins from her encounter with Judah.  As she was giving birth, the midwife tied a scarlet thread on the hand of the first baby that was coming out.  But then, remarkably, that baby disappeared back into his mother, and the second baby came out first.  That second baby was Perez.  He became the first-born, the one to carry on the inheritance of Judah.  It was a remarkable situation.  God sovereignly made the last become first.  God worked through a Gentile woman to further his plans for redemption.  So Perez carried on the line of Judah, having his own children and grandchildren. 

Ruth parallels this in some ways.  She too is an outsider, a Moabitess, and a widow.  Tamar’s husband Er was put to death by the LORD for his wickedness and she was left childless.  Unusual circumstances lifted her prospects for the future.  The prospects for Ruth too have been reversed through some remarkable circumstances.  The LORD brings low and the LORD lifts up.  He did that for Tamar through Perez, and now the prayer is that he will do the same through Ruth and her offspring. 

So, there is this favourable outcome to the whole process.  In this, we can clearly see the sovereign hand of Yahweh, our God.  He has guided everything to a successful conclusion, at least far as the legal side of it is concerned.  That has given hope to Naomi and Ruth.  They have been redeemed by the LORD from poverty.  They have had hope restored by the LORD.  Through his hand, they have been nourished with food.  In his grace, and through what he’s done with Boaz, he has blessed them in rich measures. 

Through what the LORD did in Boaz, he is pointing us to what he would do in the great-grandson of Boaz.  Boaz took the interests of his relatives to heart and he made the payment to redeem them.  He preserved their name and inheritance, their place in the family of God was protected and secured by Boaz.  Elimelech had lost so much with his covenant apostasy, but Boaz restores so much with his covenant faithfulness.  You can’t hear these things and not think of how these same things have been done for us by our Lord Jesus.  Like his grandfather Boaz, our Saviour was a man of integrity, but he went further than Boaz and had perfect integrity and perfect obedience – merits which are imputed to us, credited to our account with God.  Like his grandfather Boaz, he made a payment to redeem us and make us his own, but he went further and bought us with his precious blood for all eternity to be his people.  He gave us a name among the people of God and put that name forever in the book of life.  Through Jesus, we have redemption from sin, restoration to life, and nourishment so that we can grow as his people.  Boaz was a shadow of this great Saviour that we have.  Loved ones, don’t get stuck staring at Boaz, look beyond him to the great Redeemer, look to Christ in faith again this morning and rest and trust in all that he’s done for you.  Through him we have a future and a hope!                      

The story concludes in verses 13 to 17 with a fruitful marriage.  Boaz and Ruth become husband and wife.  Now I need to remind you that Ruth had been a barren woman in her first marriage.  With Mahlon, there were no children.  That was part of the problem.  So her getting married to Boaz still left one last question hanging:  would she continue to be barren?  Or would Yahweh  open her womb?

The author of Ruth makes it clear that it was God who “gave her conception.”  That’s not just something that the LORD did with Ruth – anytime a baby is conceived, it’s because God is at work.  He has his hand in that every single time.  But it’s mentioned here in Ruth to drive home the fact that God is the central character of this book.  He is the one who is giving this family a future and also, most importantly, a place in the history of redemption. 

Nine months pass and a son is born to this newly married couple.  The significance of this extends beyond the husband and wife, beyond Boaz and Ruth.  This child has a huge meaning for Naomi too.  Because of the circumstances of the marriage, the child is considered her child too.  This child is in the line of Elimelech, legally a son for Mahlon. 

This is why the women come to Naomi with the words of verses 14 and 15.  They praise the LORD for what he’s done for Naomi.  It’s important that we see that.  The book began with Naomi in a bad place.  There was famine and apostasy and discipline.  Things were not going well for Naomi and when she returned to Bethlehem it was as a bitter cranky woman.  In his grace, Yahweh dramatically turned things around for her.  She had returned empty, but now the LORD has filled her cup with blessing.  Now the book ends, not with Ruth, but with Naomi again and now she has great joy.  God has given her a redeemer in this little baby, someone who gives her a future.  In this baby, she has the restoration of life.  As she looks at his tiny hands, she can see that he will be there for her in her old age to nourish and sustain her.  Her empty arms are now full with a beautiful baby boy.  Plenty of reason here to praise the LORD indeed!

Verse 16 gives us a glimpse into how Naomi really bonded with this child.  The Hebrew suggests that she became a nurse for him and our translation reflects that.  It’s possible that this refers to her being a wet nurse for the baby, but it’s more likely that this refers more broadly to her being a caregiver or some kind of formal adoption procedure.  Certainly that would also fit with what it says in verse 17 about the women of Bethlehem saying that this baby has been born to Naomi.  Even though he is biologically the son of Boaz and Ruth, legally his line goes through the family of Elimelech.  When he grows older, the property that was mentioned earlier by Boaz will fall to him. 

Then at the end of verse 17, we finally hear the name of the baby:  Obed.   We’re reminded of his significance:  he’s the father of Jesse and therefore the grandfather of David.  This baby is therefore a hugely important figure in the history of Israel and in God’s dealings with Israel.

A baby is born who changes everything.  It wasn’t the first time in Israel and it wouldn’t be the last.  We can think of the birth of Isaac to Abraham and Sarah.  There was the birth of Samson to Manoah and his wife in the time of the judges.  In our English Bibles, the very next chapter describes the birth of Samuel to Elkanah and Hannah.  Much, much later, John is born to Zechariah and Elizabeth.  Then, of course, the Saviour is born.  Born in the line of Judah, in the line of Perez, descended from Boaz and Ruth too.  This is the baby who really changes everything, not only for one family, but for all the people of God, for all who would believe in him.  When this baby appears, he is truly the Redeemer, the restorer of life, the nourisher for both old and young.  All of this points to him and what the LORD does through him for us and all God’s people.  Like those women of Bethlehem, this gives us today plenty of reason to bless and praise the Name of Yahweh. 

The book of Ruth concludes with this famous genealogy.  The very last word of the book is “David.”  That’s what all this is leading up to.  It’s all pointing to the most famous king of Israel, the man after God’s own heart and his family line.  This story is the background to David and how God works through him for his people. 

As we look at this genealogy, there are some things that strike us.  It begins with Perez, whom we looked at earlier.  He was the son of Tamar.  There’s nothing really striking or noteworthy about Hezron, Amminadab, or Nahshon.  But Salmon is noteworthy because, as you’ve heard before, he married Rahab from Jericho.  Rahab was the mother of Boaz.  In the background of this short genealogy, there are these three remarkable women, all from outside Israel:  Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth.  The LORD graciously brings them all into the line of David, and then also into the line of our Saviour.  Today we still remember them and how the LORD worked through them to redeem, restore and nourish his people.  Their names will always be remembered by God’s people and thanks and praise will be given to God for them.

So there is that.  But one other thing that often strikes people is the fact that legally Obed was the son of Mahlon, but yet here in the genealogy he is listed as a son of Boaz.  The same happens in Matthew 1.  If Obed was legally from the line of Elimelech and Mahlon, shouldn’t that be accounted for in these genealogies?  Here in the book of Ruth, both of these elements are accounted for.  The legal connection with property and inheritance, etc. to Elimelech and Mahlon is there in verse 17 where Obed is said to be a son for Naomi.  In Bethlehem, according to the law, Obed would have received the rights of a son of Mahlon.  But then how do we explain the fact that Boaz gets inserted into the genealogy?

Here we have to go back to Mr. So-and-So at the beginning.  His name gets erased because he doesn’t want to impair his own inheritance, he looks out for his own interests.  This was a matter of shame.  However, Boaz is the man who acts honorably, with integrity and covenant loyalty.  He reflects the chesed [pronounced ‘kesed’], the steadfast love of God.  Boaz is the man in this book who goes the extra mile and cares for the weak and vulnerable.  He aims to do the right thing, seeks to do God’s will.  In his grace, God rewards Boaz for his faithfulness by giving him a place of honour in the genealogy of David, and therefore a place of honour in the genealogy of our Saviour.  When you compare and contrast Boaz with Elimelech and his sons at the beginning of the book, this makes perfect sense.  Elimelech, along with Mahlon and Chilion, they were covenant-breakers.  They lived shamefully in unbelief.  On the other hand, there’s Boaz.  He gets an honourable mention in these genealogies because he was an honourable man.  This is confirmed if you look at the place that Boaz has in this genealogy.  He is number 7 and that was considered to be a place of honour.          

Well, brothers and sisters, that brings us to the end of this amazing little book.   Through the book of Ruth, we have seen the tragedy of human sin and covenant apostasy.  We’ve seen bitterness and resentment towards God.  As the book began, things were dark.  But gradually, in his sovereign grace, Yahweh turned things around.  With his Spirit, he brought a pagan woman into the covenant people.  He brought that woman, Ruth, into contact with a godly man who through the Spirit reflected the big heart of his God.  Through that godly man, the LORD graciously worked sweet redemption for bitter Naomi – and ultimately for all of us through Christ.  As we look back on this book, we can praise God for what he did in this story and how he led his people.  We can be thankful that the God revealed here is also our God, the one who continues to work in our lives with his grace.  AMEN.

PRAYER:

Yahweh, our sovereign and gracious God,

We’re thankful to you for what you did for Naomi and Ruth through Boaz, and what you’ve done for us through our Lord Jesus.  You are a gracious God who sovereignly works salvation.  Through our Saviour Jesus, you give redemption, buying your people back from the slavery to sin.  You give restoration to life, filling us with your Holy Spirit.  You nourish us with your Word and with the sacraments.  Father, you promise us an inheritance that is secure.  For all these things we praise you.  Now we ask for your help, so that we would continue to trust all your promises.  Please continue to hold us in your hands and work with your Spirit in our hearts, as you’ve done in generations gone by.  We humbly ask you to continue to redeem, restore, and nourish us, also in the week ahead.                                 

                                                

          

   




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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