December 18, 2016

God Keeps Promise to the Royal Line

Speaker: Bret Rogers Series: Ruth: From Emptiness to Fullness Topic: Advent Passage: Ruth 4

With the number of children we have, I imagine a number of you have seen the animated comedy called The Lego Movie. In The Lego Movie, we’re taken on a journey into a world where “everything is awesome.” But not everything stays so awesome. The evil Lord Business decides to suppress creativity, fix the world under his control. He has the ultimate weapon, otherwise known as “the Kragle.”

The story then focuses on a lowly character named Emmet Brickowski, “the Special.” He ends up saving the day with the Piece of Resistance. But very close to the end, the movie pans outward to a basement filled with a father’s expensive Lego sets. And his son, Finn, is being a bit more creative with the Lego sets than the father would like. His father’s perfectionism smothers his own creativity. To our discovery, the story of Emmet defeating Lord Business is actually a story within a story—the larger story giving further depth and meaning to the smaller story.

A story within a much greater story. Something similar happens in the book of Ruth. The events in Ruth focus on everyday happenings in the life of one family from the little town of Bethlehem. We walk with them through their sin and their loss and their grief, and then find the Lord’s kindness working in simple ways through Ruth stumbling upon the field of Boaz, and Boaz bringing fullness to Naomi’s emptiness.

But just as you reach the end of their story, we’re caught up into a much greater story. We find a genealogy extending from Perez to David, from generations past to generations future of a royal line in Israel. It’s as if the camera pans outward and signals that this story of Ruth reveals way more than we initially expected. It’s not just about Ruth finding a husband, or even Naomi finding an heir, it’s about all of us finding hope in the Lord who promises to send a Redeemer-King.

Will Boaz Remain Faithful to Redeem?

But before we go there, we need to see if Boaz remains faithful to his pledge (Ruth 3:13). That’s where we left off. Boaz is a worthy man in Israel (Ruth 2:1). Ruth is a worthy woman (Ruth 3:11). He’s committed to helping the helpless; she’s committed to helping the helpless. It’s a “match made in heaven.” They want to get married. We want them to get married. She says, “Spread your wings over your servant.” He accepts! Magic is in the air.

There just happens to be this one little snag: somebody else is in line to redeem Ruth. There’s a redeemer “nearer than Boaz,” 3:12 said. He gets first dibs on redeeming the land and the family. But if this fella doesn’t redeem Ruth, Boaz promises he will (Ruth 3:13). He won’t rest until Ruth is redeemed (Ruth 3:18).

What’s going to happen next with this other fella? Will he redeem her or not? None of us want him to. We want Boaz! We’re supposed to feel the suspense. Sometimes we don’t feel the suspense since many of us know the end of the story—especially since I’ve told you the end of the story three weeks in a row! I just couldn’t help it. I’m like a kid who tells you the punch line before I’ve finished telling the joke. So, pretend like you didn’t know the ending, or the story won’t impact you the way it’s designed to impact you. What’s going to happen with this other guy?

The Redemption Pursued

That’s where chapter four picks up, where we see the redemption of Ruth and Naomi pursued—the redemption pursued by Boaz. Verse 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…” The ESV uses “friend.” Another translation uses, “Mr. So and So.” The point is that we’re already getting a negative vibe about this fella. The narrator’s not even willing to name him. We’ll see why…

“Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3Then 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. 4So 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.” 5Then 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.” 6Then 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.”

Let’s recall the role of a redeemer—a kinsman-redeemer. This kind of redeemer was a close relative who was responsible for the economic well-being of another relative.[i] When the relative happened upon a crisis and couldn’t get out of it, the redeemer stepped in to rescue. Quite relevant for understanding the book of Ruth was the redeemer’s ability to buy back property—the point being to keep the property within the clan the Lord gave it to (Lev 25:25-30). In this case, Naomi is in a bit of a jam.

We’re never told what her husband Elimelech did with the land when they ran off to Moab (Ruth 1:1). It could’ve ended up in the hands of outsiders; he could’ve left others to tend to it until they returned. Well, Elimelech ends up dying (Ruth 1:3). Naomi returns to Bethlehem—doesn’t have a husband, son, or grandson left to inherit the land (Ruth 1:6, 11). Under the law, widows without a husband or heir weren’t permitted to keep ownership of their land (Num 27:8-11). Naomi was too old to keep it up anyway by this point (cf. Ruth 1:12). Whatever she has, she must sell it.[ii]

But if there was a way for somebody within her husband’s family to redeem it; if there was a male relative who had the means to purchase it and farm it, so that she could benefit from it; even better, if there was a man who could also provide an heir for Naomi by marrying Ruth while he’s holding on to the land until the child grows up, maybe the land would stay in her immediate family after all.

Boaz pursues both the redemption of Elimelech’s property and the marriage of Ruth to perpetuate not his own name but the name of the dead. It’s a self-less act of redemption. Even when the law doesn’t mention the exact situation in which Boaz finds himself—remember, he’s no brother-in-law; he has no obligation to redeem. But the principles within God’s law direct him to love, to redeem, to show grace, to look out for Ruth and Naomi’s well-being.

Not so much with Mr. So and So. As long as redeeming Naomi means getting rights to the land, he’s all in: “I will redeem it.” Seems like a good business deal. Naomi is too old to produce an heir. If he buys it from her, no risks in losing it. More than that, he gains the reputation of showing kindness by redeeming Naomi’s property.

But that’s where Boaz presses him. How far will his kindness really go? “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.”[iii] At that point, he’s out. The reason given: “…lest I impair my own inheritance.”

Was it the fact that he’d have a widowed mother-in-law and now also a wife to support? Was it the fact that by marrying Ruth and having a child, he’d actually perpetuate Elimelech’s name instead of his own? Or, was it the fact that Ruth is a foreigner, a Moabite? Maybe it was a combination of all three.

The point is that this fella is willing (cf. Ruth 3:13) to be part of the covenant people just as long as he doesn’t have to sacrifice anything.[iv] He’s willing to show kindness, just as long as it involves no risk, no sacrifice, no cost to his own name. He’s willing to pay, just as long as you’re not asking to invite another race into my people. He’s willing to follow the commandments when he can see the immediate blessings; but otherwise, he doesn’t want to follow the law.

In the narrator’s eyes, this is what makes him not even worth naming. People who live only to make a name for themselves, don’t deserve to have a name at all. People who limit the extent to which their kindness will go—their reputation isn’t one to remember. People who only obey God when it’s convenient and doesn’t mess up their stuff, deserve to pass out of memory. That’s a sobering thought worth returning to in a moment.

But for now, it’s simply good for us to note how much this fella contrasts Boaz’s kindness. Boaz is willing to redeem Ruth (and Naomi too), regardless of the cost to himself. Boaz follows the law even while knowing that it’s for the sake of someone else’s name in the land. Unlike Mr. So and So, Boaz reflects true kindness.

The Redemption Confirmed

That brings us to the redemption confirmed—Boaz and the elders of the city confirm his redemption of Elimelech’s property and Ruth. Verse 7,

7Now 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. 8So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. 9Then 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. 10Also 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.”

Boaz seals the deal. He remains faithful to his pledge. The elders approve the redemption. But it’s much more than a business transaction. Everybody at the gate celebrates Boaz finally marrying Ruth; and that comes out in a loaded three-fold blessing. This isn’t just politeness, like “Bless you” after you sneeze. Blessing comes within a covenant context. For them to bless Baoz and Ruth was for them to want God to shower the blessings promised to Abraham upon Ruth and Boaz.

The first blessing comes in verse 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.”

You’ll remember that the twelve tribes of Israel came from Rachel and Leah (Gen 29-30; 35:18). This is a huge blessing, because Ruth is a Moabite, but here she gains the status that’s equal to one of the patriarchal mothers. At one level, the hope is that Ruth will bear many children for Israel; that God would multiply her offspring like he promised to multiply Abraham’s offspring. In fact, Ruth is evidence that Abraham’s offspring weren’t going to come solely from Israelites but from the nations too.

At another level, though, it’s not just Ruth’s children in and of themselves that will build up Israel, but Ruth’s relentless kindness passed along through the children that will build up Israel. It’s her covenant loyalty and relentless kindness that will hopefully rebuild Israel. The idea is something like, “Oh that generations and generations like Ruth would come forth to rebuild Israel, not just physically but spiritually!”

A second blessing comes in verse 11 for Boaz: “May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem.” They not only want Boaz’s name to be remembered, they want the strength of his loyal and gracious character to become famous in Bethlehem. You ever watch a really good athlete hit a home run, or score a touchdown, or land a dismount? They do it so often that they’ve become famous for it. As a kid, I couldn’t help but want to run outside and try to imitate everything they were doing.

Boaz it that guy in this story. They want all the men in Bethlehem to remember him and imitate his strength of character. They don’t want him to be famous just to be famous, but because this man knows God’s word and walks in his ways—which is a big deal considering that these were the days of the judges. There was a famine of godly men; and they long that Bethlehem would be different because of him. I’d say God answered they’re prayer in part by inspiring the book of Ruth.

The third blessing comes in verse 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.” Back in Genesis 49, Judah is the line God chose to bring forth a royal offspring for Abraham (cf. Gen 17:6; 35:11). Judah would be elevated above his brothers as he conquers his enemies. He’s like a lion. He’ll gain the obedience of all the peoples. His kingdom will prosper, and so forth.

Well, Judah ends up having five sons. But all the promises of a royal offspring get passed along through Perez. So their hope is that Boaz and Ruth eventually preserve the royal line of Judah (and ultimately Abraham). So huge blessings here…

And the Lord is the only one who can answer any of them. In fact, that’s part of the point. Throughout the story, it’s been Boaz, Boaz, Boaz, who’s the redeemer. But here we find the true Redeemer behind the whole story. Nothing of true and lasting significance will grow out of the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, unless the Lord himself acts. The Lord was the one who took away the bread and then gave the bread; he’s the one who rescued Ruth from Moab and filled Naomi’s emptiness; he’s the one who brought Ruth and Boaz together; and he’s the one who must act in answering their prayers for future blessing. The Lord is the true Redeemer here.

The Redemption Consummated

So all eyes are not just watching what will happen between Ruth and Boaz. Everybody wants to know if the true Redeemer, the Lord himself, will advance this story any further. Will we see the Lord redeem? How will we see his covenant blessings come to fruition? That leads us to one last part. As the book of Ruth draws to a close, we witness the redemption consummated, not only for Ruth the Gentile, not only for Naomi the Israelite, but also for all of us.

First, in verse 13, we see Ruth’s redemption. “So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the LORD gave her conception [so the Lord is fulfilling the blessing here], and she bore a son.” In chapter one, Ruth lost her husband, left her home, had no heir. Now Ruth has a husband, a home, and an heir—and all by the Lord’s gracious doing. But is there more about this heir than we first think?

Look next at Naomi’s redemption in verse 14…

14Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD [so again, it’s the Lord who is providing here; the Lord who is ultimately redeeming here], who has not left you this day without a redeemer [they’re talking about Ruth’s son now, not Boaz], and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15He 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.” 16Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse [i.e., his nanny]. 17And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed.

“He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age [Why?], for [or because] your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” In other words, the son will be to Naomi a restorer and a nourisher, because that’s what his momma is like. His momma is going to train him in the Lord’s kindness. And the hope is that the son will exemplify the Lord’s kindness.

Just a little side-note here for mothers: you have the incredible opportunity to pass along covenant loyalty and relentless kindness to your children, so they become that for others. Don’t ever think that serving your kids till you’re weary every day of the week is a waste. I know it feels like it’s a waste some days. But the Lord can use your sacrifices mightily to bring forth children that restore and nourish others, whether physical or spiritual children.

Anyway, Naomi had lost her husband and both sons. She had no one to perpetuate Elimelech’s name or to preserve his inheritance. But now the Lord had provided an heir. They even call the son a redeemer since he’ll be able to continue the name and preserve the inheritance in the Promised Land. Naomi said before that the Lord has brought her back empty, but now she was holding in her bosom the fullness of life.

The story would seem to end rather well on that note. But it doesn’t. The camera begins to zoom out and we find our story within a greater story. It’s hinted at in verse 17; it shocks us actually: “He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” Wow! We just went from small town family blessings to massive promises spanning generations of salvation history. These events happened within the days of the judges, but they were written and intentionally connected sometime after David became the King of Israel.

Meaning, the point of the story isn’t merely about Ruth and Boaz. It’s about the Lord’s faithfulness to preserve the royal line leading up to David. Ruth and Boaz—their lives actually become a window through which we see God’s covenant loyalty and God’s relentless kindness to the world.

Even in the dark and desperate days of the judges, God was still working out his promise to Abraham to produce a royal offspring to save Israel and the world. That’s the point of the genealogy in verse 18: “Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.”

Ten generations. Ten generations are also listed in Genesis 5:1-32 as the story follows the offspring from Adam to Noah. It also happens in Genesis 11:10-26 as the story traces the offspring from Shem [Noah’s son] to Abraham. Now we’re getting the son of Judah, Perez, all the way to David. There’s a theological point being made, in other words, not just a historical one: God is still directing all of history to his appointed end to save the world. The story of Ruth gets caught up into God’s larger story moving from Adam to Noah to Abraham to Perez and now onward to David.

David! As in the David for whom God promised to establish the throne of his kingdom forever (2 Sam 7:14). The same David you hear about at Christmas time from texts like Isaiah 9:6-7. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore…”

In the New Testament, the Lord’s purpose through David reaches its climax in Jesus Christ. We have the fulfillment of God’s plan through David in Christ. The same genealogy you find here gets reproduced in the birth narrative of Jesus in Matthew 1:3-5. But Matthew expands the genealogy even further to stretch from Abraham through David through the exile and back until Joseph, the husband of Mary of whom Jesus was born.

And what all do we learn about this Jesus, this son born to Mary? We learn that he’s much greater than previous sons of David. He was born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matt 1:20). Matthew 1:21 also tells us that “he will save his people from their sins.” Boaz could buy back land for Naomi; he could even buy Ruth to be his wife.

But Boaz could never pay the price required to rescue anybody from their sins. Boaz himself is a sinner. We know that from the genealogy. He died. His generation passed. By contrast, Jesus died and then rose again. He had no sin to keep him in the grave. The only sins he took to the grave were our sins. And he left them there, brothers and sisters, no more to be counted against us. He saved his people from their sins.

We also learn that Jesus is Immanuel. He is truly God with us. He is not merely a man like Boaz and David and others. He is God in the flesh. He’s worthy of worship. That’s what we see the wise men doing in Matthew 2:11—“going into the house they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh.”

Jesus is the true son of David, the true son of Abraham. Jesus is the one Redeemer in whom all of God’s blessings come to us. Paul says that it’s in Christ that we gain every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. The redemption of Ruth and Naomi by Boaz isn’t just about the redemption of Ruth and Naomi. It’s ultimately about the Lord’s redemption of Gentile and Jew alike in the true Redeemer, in the true Son of David, Jesus Christ. It’s pointing to our redemption as well.

What a story! What an awesome picture of the Lord’s sovereignty and the Lord’s kindness to his people.

The incorporation of Ruth helps to understand the law & to identify with Christ

What can we gain from a story like this one? How can we leave different from when we arrived? One way the book of Ruth can change us is by changing the way we understand the law. Deuteronomy 23:3-4 forbids any Moabite from entering the Lord’s assembly—even to the tenth generation. But here we find Ruth incorporated into God’s people—and incorporated while the Mosaic covenant was still in place.

Ruth’s inclusion to God’s people shouldn’t be seen as a contradiction of that law, any more than it was a contradiction for the Lord to include Rahab into the people of God. Rather, Ruth’s inclusion is an example of how the law applied in certain situations. The law was never meant as some arbitrary exclusion of any and every foreigner. It only excluded those who refused to identify themselves with the Lord and the covenant he put in place. It was still possible for a Moabite to become a Jew—a real Jew that was circumcised in heart. The question was, who do you identify yourself with?

The Lord was happy to include those who sided with him. It would be good for us to remember this as we read the law. The law may be strict, but it still comes from a kind and merciful Father. Ruth chose to identify with him. By doing so she gained the blessings of his covenant. Indeed, the Lord included her within the lineage of Christ.

Who do you identify with? Now that the new covenant is established, do you identify yourself with Jesus Christ? Would your coworkers know you belong to Christ? Would your neighbors? What is it about your life that marks you as a Christ-follower?

Identifying with Jesus isn’t just coming to church and going through the motions of Christianity. It’s giving over every loyalty to Christ. It’s abiding in the covenant and following the terms spelled out in it. It’s following in Ruth’s humble and loyal footsteps. Even after losing a husband, she still leaves her gods, her family, and her homeland—everything precious—if it meant gaining the Lord and being used for his good purpose. For that, she was incorporated into David and ultimately into Christ.

True kindness willingly gives all to see others redeemed

And speaking of being used for his good purpose, let’s return to Mr. So and So. Mr. So and So lived only to make a name for himself and thus didn’t deserve to have a name at all. By contrast Boaz lives to make a name for someone else and he’s the one rewarded with being remembered in Bethlehem. True kindness willingly gives all to see others redeemed, to see others inheriting God’s blessings. What about you?

Whose name do you live for? Do you like to play it safe in order to preserve your own name? God commands us to love and show mercy and risk everything for Christ’s name, but do you size up how much it’s going to cost you? Are you like the rich young ruler who bragged to Jesus at how well he keeps the law, but when Jesus told him to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, he walked away sorrowful (Matt 19:22). The opportunity for mercy was there; he had the resources to help. But he couldn’t follow Jesus; he loved his stuff too much.

What about you? Do you follow Jesus’ commandments, but only to the degree that they have immediate, material benefit to you? When the opportunity to show kindness and build God’s kingdom through kindness is present, do you walk away to build your own kingdom? Do you find yourself willing to love others, just as long as it doesn’t keep costing you anything emotionally, financially, or physically?

Boaz exemplifies true kindness throughout the story. He gives everything for those who cannot pay him back. Of course, he’s the pointer to Jesus, and what Jesus’ kindness looks like as he lays his life down for our sake. Jesus forgoes his right to be seen as glorious, and takes the form of a servant. He has the name above all names, but he chooses to die in order to give us a name in his kingdom. True kindness has a cross at its center that bids us come and die—die to self-glory, die to storing up treasures on earth, die to self-seeking ambitions, die to laziness and self-pity…to see others live.

God’s commitment to Christ means pour yourself out for his sake

If we don’t, we lose our soul. If we do, we gain every blessing in Christ. You have every reason to pour yourself into Christ’s kingdom and into others for his kingdom. Times may be dark and society falling to pieces around us, but God hasn’t forsaken his covenant love. Ruth teaches us that. God’s commitment to save his people never wavered, even during the darkest of times. Just like it was during the dark days of the judges, it is while we were still sinners that God worked to save us.

And that includes not only how he works in the big and the miraculous. It also includes how he works in the small and the mundane—like we see with Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. He’s at work in our sufferings and losses. He’s at work in our grief. He’s at work in famines and in times of harvest. He’s at work in our vocations and when we’re barely scraping by. He’s at work when we’re faced with risky plans and he’s at work in the romance between a husband and wife. He’s even at work through the inconveniences of a “Mr. So and So.” All of it is serving his sovereign purpose.

If the Lord is faithful through all of that, if he never wavers in accomplishing his goal for history through all of that, then everything in life becomes meaningful. Everything we choose to devote ourselves to should carry out the Lord’s purpose of kindness and covenant loyalty. Every relationship becomes opportunity to advance the Lord’s kingdom of kindness. There are no interruptions, just providences.

Every situation becomes an opportunity to ask, “What is the Lord doing next to advance his plan through me?” Every unexpected pause in our plans should direct our hearts and minds back to the Lord who uses all things to carry out his one purpose in Christ. We ask, “Lord, what part do I play right now? Is this another opportunity to show your kindness to someone? How can I act to glorify your name and love your people?”

Even when we find ourselves deeply confused, even hurt, by the people and the circumstances in life, the book of Ruth reminds us that our stories aren’t ultimately about us. Our stories don’t center on us. Our stories don’t find their true meaning in us. Our stories are serving God’s greater story, the story of the Son of David. Everything we walk through—or better, everything he brings to us—is ultimately for his sake. Whether peaceful or painful, whether relaxing or heart-rending, whether joyful or jarring, whether surprising or suffering—it’s all happening so that your life and your reputation and your sacrifices become a pointer to the Son of David. Jesus Christ came once; he will come again. How is your story pointing others to him? How will you change so that your story does point others to him?


[i]Block, Judges, Ruth, 674.

[ii]Debate ensues on whether Naomi could have actually owned the land in the first place (cf. Lev 27:9-11), in order to sell it. See, e.g., the discussion in Block, Judges, Ruth, 709-711, who proposes that Naomi wasn’t selling the land itself but the right to use the land (i.e., the “usufruct”). Nevertheless, the example of the widow owning property in 2 Kings 8:1-6 is informative, at least in how the law was being applied. The widow in 2 Kings 8:1-6 also sojourns in the land of the Philistines and then returns with her son. Could it be that Naomi is selling the land preemptively, in hopes she will have an heir?

[iii]This is an explicit reference to the levirate law in Deuteronomy 25:5-10. Boaz seems to be applying the principle of kindness within this law (i.e., the spirit of the law that is hesed) to the situation at hand.

[iv]See Bruce Waltke, Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 860.

other sermons in this series