July 22, 2010 David Balzer

Ruth 4: The God of Big Finishes

Today our gentle little story about Ruth comes to an end. But it finishes with a BANG, rather than a whimper! It doesn’t just slow down and fade away in the little village of Bethlehem/ with a marriage, a new baby, big smiles all round, and happily ever after.

Yes, the credits roll at the end, but rather than being the end of the STORY, it’s really only the end of the CHAPTER. And we catch a glimpse at THE REST OF THE BOOK.

The rest of the book which goes RIGHT BACK hundreds of years. To the early Fathers of the Jewish nation. To Jacob. And to a sordid little tale involving his son Judah and another foreign woman called Tamar.

And it’s a book that goes FORWARD a few generations. Past the mess of the Judges. Past the power struggle of Israel’s search for a king.

It’s a journey which climbs the road to the mountain top of Israel’s story. The pinnacle. To King David. Israel’s golden age. Of peace and wealth and justice.

And for the CHRISTIAN, the story doesn’t finish THERE. Because it finishes – not in a throne room – but in the dirty food trough of a stable. A stable that’s ALSO in Bethlehem. Perhaps even just around the corner from the village gate where today’s action happens. But it’s 1100 years later. And in the hay isn’t just the king of Israel. But the king of the Universe. God become man. Who descended from the line of David, and Boaz and Ruth, and Judah and Tamar.

And all of that’s in Ruth 4! It’s only 22 verses long. But it packs a lot in!

Ruth’s such a TINY story. But it pulls together the WHOLE OF ISRAEL’S story. The whole story of how God deals with his people. It’s like the tiny key that unlocks the largest bank vault. Or the eyepiece of a telescope that’s focussed on the huge expanse of the night sky.

1. Doing the right thing gladly and graciously

So let’s get into it. Remember where we’ve been? Ruth and Naomi have arrived back in Bethlehem from Moab. They’re widows without family or support.

But they’ve arrived back just in time for the barley harvest. So Ruth decides to glean – to collect the leftover grain after the harvesters. She just so happens to end up in Boaz’s field, who’s a kinsman-redeemer. That is, a relative who’s job it was to fix things for family. To buy land, to repay debts, to avenge, even to marry widows so they can produce heirs for the family line.

Ruth and Boaz meet, things go well. They both love God, they’re both got good reputations, they both treat people with KINDNESS.

And when Ruth suggests Boaz might marry her, as the kinsman-redeemer, and rescue her from the mess she’s in. Boaz reckons it’s a great idea. But there’s a problem, there’s a male relative who’s closer. Technically it’s HIS responsibility. He gets first option on the obligation.

But Boaz promises Ruth he’ll sort it out.

And that’s where Ch 4 begins. What we see is Boaz doing the right thing GLADLY and GRACIOUSLY. Making sure Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi are looked after long term. He doesn’t HAVE TO. It’s really the responsibility of ANOTHER. But he’s doing it simply because he’s KIND and because he LOVES Ruth.

And there’s no mucking about. He’s said he’ll organise it. And that’s what he does. That very morning. Verse1. Boaz goes up to the town gate. Where all the business went on. The centre of village life.

So Boaz sits there, and waits for his relative to come along. The one who’s got first dibs on Ruth. The fly in the ointment. And after a while he arrives. And Boaz tells him to come and sit down.

But while NAMES have been important so far, they don’t matter too much for this guy. Because listen to how the author tells the story. “When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, SO-AND-SO, and sit down”

That’s literally what it says. (“Come over here, my friend” misses the point a bit. The King James comes up with another beauty here. “Ho, such a one! Turn aside! Sit down here!”)

It’s obviously not what Boaz SAID. He probably USED the man’s name. But for our writer, as he tells the story, this man’s SO UNIMPORTANT, that it doesn’t even MATTER what his name was. He’s Mr No-name. Such a one. So and So. “Buddy. Mate”:. He’s given the chance to play a part in the story. To MAKE A NAME for himself. A LEGACY.

But he dips out. And so he remains anonymous for the story-teller. His name’s not even worth recording for posterity.

1a) a cunning plot from the good guy

So Boaz gets ten of the village elders as witnesses. Verse 2. And then he tells them his plan. And it’ not quite what we were expecting. It’s a cunning plot from the good guy.

It’s cunning because we’re expecting a proposal about the beautiful young RUTH, and MARRIAGE. But instead we get something about old NAOMI, and some LAND. Look at verse 3.

(Ruth 4:3-4 NIV)  “Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, “NAOMI, who has come back from Moab, is selling THE PIECE OF LAND that belonged to our brother Elimelech. {4} I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that YOU BUY IT in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.”

Boaz’s deal involves buying Naomi’s land. It’s land that’s never even been MENTIONED before. But somehow, Boaz knows about it, and he offers it for sale.

One of the jobs of the kinsman-redeemer was to buy the land of bankrupt relatives so it wouldn’t leave the family. The idea was the poor relative’s children would still inherit it, and use it. And it would stay in the family.

But for our Mr No-name, his eyes light up at the sniff of a bargain. As long as he only knows about NAOMI, the deal’s all positives for him. Not much chance of NAOMI having any kids to inherit the land. He won’t have to hand it back to them. It’s just a business deal too good to be true. And he’s in the box seat, with Boaz having dropped the deal in his lap. As far as he can work out there’s no downside.

“Sure, I’ll be HAPPY to play the part of the kinsman-redeemer!” he says. That’s BIG of him!

But now Boaz has the fish nibbling the bait. He gives the line a swift tug, and the guy’s hooked.

“Well now, if you’re going to play the part of the kinsman-redeemer, I better fill you in on the REST of the story. There’s more to redeeming than just getting a new field on the cheap. ” Redemption is COSTLY.

“You see NAOMI may not have any kids left, but RUTH’S still around. You’ve also got to marry HER, so she can have kids to inherit the land. That’s part of your responsibility as well.

Here’s the deal. You can BUY THE FIELD, AND marry Ruth, AND support her, And her mother-in-law Naomi. AND provide her with CHILDREN. AND SUPPORT her children, and THEN … give the field back when the children inherit it!” That’s very generous of you to offer to be the kinsman-redeemer!

“Whoa!! Hang on a minute!” says Mr No-name, “No-one said anything about all of that mess!”

“Oh yeah! I forgot to mention that, didn’t I?”, says Boaz.

1b) Mr No-name counts the cost, and misses out

So in v6, Mr No-Name counts the cost, and misses out. He misses out on making a NAME for himself. In wanting to PRESERVE his family line, he ends up MISSING OUT on building a legacy. “I can’t redeem it because I might endanger my own estate – It’ll cost too much! YOU DO IT!”

And so, in verses 9 and 10, Boaz announces that HE’LL do it instead. Which we suspected all along. And they shake hands on the deal. Well, at least, they swap sandals – same thing!

1c. redemption is COSTLY

And as we compare Boaz with Mr No Name, we learn some lessons about the nature of redemption.

First, redemption is COSTLY. Mr No Name didn’t want to jeopardise any of the family fortune, so he passes on the opportunity.

It’s a significant thing to bail someone out. And it can be COSTLY. But if you get the opportunity to help someone out. To show kindness and generosity. But then worry too much about counting the cost – what you’ll miss out on. Then DON’T BOTHER.

Help that’s VALUABLE normally isn’t easy to give. Redemption like this COSTS.

1d. redemption is FREE

We also see that redemption is FREE. There’s no obligation. Nothing owing.

Mr No-name was happy with the deal while he thought he was going to benefit. But once he realised he was going to be WORSE OFF, he wasn’t interested.

You see, Mr No-name is a kind of MEASURING STICK for Boaz.

For most of us, our first reaction is to act like Mr No-name. We get put into the situation of being able to help someone, and we put SELF-INTEREST before other people. Our first thought is to COUNT THE COST, rather than IMAGINE THE REWARDS AND OUTCOMES.

But the best sort of redemption – the best sort of help we can offer each other. Is kindness that’s COSTLY and FREE. The help that’s simply because you want to help family. You LOVE them. With no expectation of return, of payback. No weighing up of costs to benefits. No keeping score. No waiting until you’re asked, or until it’s EXPECTED.

Help that’s FREE and COSTLY.

Exactly the sort of redemption God offers us in Jesus. Free, undeserved and costly.

And it’s what Boaz offers. Free and costly redemption. He’s willing. He’s EAGER to bear the cost. Even though there’s no expectation on his part. He steps in and rescues Ruth and Naomi. EAGER to make a name for himself. The NAME that Mr NO-NAME misses out on.

And that’s what everyone who’s been watching says. They all join in to bless Boaz. Perhaps Mr No-name skulks off into the shadows at this point. Hanging his head, and kicking the dust with his one sandal.

The crowd pray that God will make Boaz even more well-known than he is already. And to bless Ruth too. Verse 11.

(Ruth 4:11-12 NIV)  “Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. MAY YOU HAVE STANDING IN EPHRATHAH AND BE FAMOUS IN BETHLEHEM. {12} Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.””

That’s their prayer. That God will lift the name of Boaz out of this little village, and make it famous. And just like the other prayers in the Book of Ruth, it’s important. Because that’s JUST WHAT GOD DOES.

2. The Telescope Lens

It’s really this prayer that’s the tiny key that unlocks the huge bank vault. It’s the little telescope lens you look through to see the immensity of the night sky. Let me explain what I mean.

You might remember the nation of Israel descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. And that the twelve sons were born to Jacob’s two wives Rachel and Leah. Just like God had promised their ancestor Abraham to make him into a GREAT NATION. And HE HAD.

And all the elders are praying that Ruth will be as fertile as that! That’s a big ask!

But the blessing gets MORE interesting. Because they go on to pray for Boaz. They pray that his children will be like those of Perez.

“Who?” Well, Perez was the son who Tamar bore to Judah! And JUDAH’S important because Judah was one of the twelve tribes of Israel. One of Leah’s sons. And the people of BETHLEHEM were from the tribe of Judah. So they’re talking about their ancestor. BOAZ’S ancestor.

But apart from THAT Perez isn’t all that famous. But he’s not mentioned for NOTHING. The little we DO know about him is certainly very colourful. And we find his story in Gen 38. Please turn there with me. (Page 29) Another story about kinsmen redeemers and foreign women.

3. Doing the right thing unwittingly (Gen 38)

While Boaz does the right thing GLADLY, Gen 38 is about Judah who does the right thing RELUCTANTLY and UNWITTINGLY.

At the start of the chapter, Judah leaves home, and goes off by himself. He marries a Canaanite girl and has three sons. He finds a wife called Tamar for his first son. But, in v7, the son was evil, so God put him to death. We don’t know why.

So Judah tells his SECOND son, Onan, to lie with Tamar. To provide her with a child. To be the kinsman-redeemer. But Onan was selfish. He didn’t want to split his inheritance with someone ELSE’S child. So, in verse 9, he SLEEPS with Tamar, but won’t allow her to become pregnant. He spills his seed on the ground. He makes a WITHDRAWAL before he DEPOSITS anything.

He could’ve just said, “No!”, and let SOMEONE ELSE be the kinsman-redeemer. But he chose to ENJOY HIMSELF at Tamar’s expense, without any of the RESPONSIBILITIES that went with the privilege.

And so in verse 10, God puts HIM to death as well. (I told you it was a lovely tale, didn’t I?)

He puts his OWN desires above his responsibilities to his FAMILY. And that’s exactly what his father Judah does as well. In v11, Judah decides that Tamar must be jinxed. She’s already gone through two of his sons, and he doesn’t want to risk the third one. His OWN agenda is more important than fulfilling his family obligation to Tamar. His OWN priorities come before obeying God.

So he tells her to go back home. Verse 11

(Gen 38:11 NIV)  “Judah then said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Live as a widow in your father’s house until my (last) son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He may die too, just like his brothers.”

3a) a cunning plot from the good guy

Well, now it’s Tamar’s turn for a little scheming. After a long time, it becomes pretty obvious that Judah NEVER INTENDS to give her his third son, so she decides it’s time for some affirmative action. Time for a cunning plot of her own. If she can’t get these men to do the right thing KNOWINGLY, she’ll get them to do it UNWITTINGLY.

So, in v 14 she dresses up like a prostitute, in disguise, and waits by the road for Judah. Judah comes by, and wants to sleep with her. He offers his personal seal, and his staff, as SECURITY.

So he sleeps with Tamar, and she becomes pregnant. It’s what she’s wanted all along. Children to continue the family line. But when Judah tries to pay up, and to get his security back, the woman’s nowhere to be seen.

Well, verse 24, eventually news of Tamar’s pregnancy sneaks out. As it often does. She’s not married. So she must be a prostitute.

Judah finds out. And he’s filled with the righteous anger only a HYPOCRITE can generate. “Bring her out and have her put to death!”

But it’s all part of Tamar’s cunning plot. Because as she’s being dragged out, she sends the seal and staff off to Judah with a message. “The man who owns these is the one responsible.” “See if you recognise whose they are,” she says.

Well of course Judah recognises them. They’re HIS. And by the time she arrives, he’s had time to have a good hard look at himself, and he realises he’s treated Tamar badly. Verse 26.

(Gen 38:26 NIV)  “Judah recognized them and said, “SHE IS MORE RIGHTEOUS THAN I, SINCE I WOULDN’T GIVE HER TO MY SON SHELAH.” And he did not sleep with her again.”

It’s a big call, isn’t it? That Tamar’s more RIGHTEOUS than Judah? Mind you, Judah’s been a slime. But Tamar’s plan is really the cunning plot of someone who’s righteous.

Just like Boaz. Tamar’s goal was children to continue the family line. To continue building the family God had promised to bless Judah with.

If Tamar HADN’T done this, Judah may have had no other descendants. And so, both Boaz and Tamar, are righteous and blessed by God.

And the end result of the story is that Perez is born. One of twins. And so the family line continues. Abraham to Isaac to Jacob to Judah. And now to Perez. And if we jump over to the end of Ruth 4, the family line continues. Perez (son of Tamar), Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon, Salmon. And Salmon’s son was a guy called … Boaz.

And there’s God’s amazing planning!! The coincidences of his providence. Back in Judah’s time, the smooth generational line of Israel had a spike in it. A hiccup. When a Canaanite woman, Tamar, entered the scene.

And there’s another hiccup EXACTLY SEVEN GENERATIONS LATER. This time ANOTHER Gentile. A Moabite woman called Ruth. ANOTHER woman who needs the help of a kinsman-redeemer. But instead of doing the right thing UNWITTINGLY, Boaz helps GLADLY.

And all of this story’s come to light for us/ because of that little blessing the townsfolk give to Boaz back in Ruth 4. It’s the little key that opens up the whole big world. The telescope lens. That shows how this one little CHAPTER fits into the whole BOOK. The book about how God is working for Israel.

God works out this purposes, as his people deal faithfully with each other. Same TODAY as it was then.

3. A Match and A Hatch:

But back to our story. Ruth 4. It’s winding up. Boaz doesn’t waste any time. There’s a wedding and a birth. A match, and then a hatch. And as always, God’s behind it all. Verse 13.

(Ruth 4:13 NIV)  “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, AND THE LORD ENABLED HER TO CONCEIVE, and she gave birth to a son.”

And then, perhaps unexpectedly, the focus moves to Naomi. SHE’S the one who’s hometown it is. SHE’S the one the women welcome back from Moab at the end of chapter 1. It’s HER family God’s been working in. And THAT’S what the women say in ANOTHER prayer. Verse 14.

(Ruth 4:14-16 NIV)  “The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! {15} He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” {16} Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him.”

She’s as proud as punch. The woman who arrived back in Bethlehem EMPTY is now FULL. The one who’d been BITTER, now has JOY AND PEACE. And the one who had NO future, now HAS a future. She actually resembles her name again, PLEASANT.

And verse 17. Just to emphasise what a change there’s been. Look at what the women say. NAOMI has a son. Naomi. Not Ruth! It’s the complete OPPOSITE of how Naomi started out at the beginning.

Naomi has a son. What seems IMPOSSIBLE, is possible with God. In Chapter 1:12 she tells her daughters-in-law how IMPOSSIBLE it would be for her to have sons who could marry them. And just to show that God’s got a sense of humour, that’s what he gives her at the end of the story. A son!

And it’s here that the significance of this son is finally seen. All the clues finally come together. The son’s name is Obed. It means SERVANT. And Obed’s grandson was King David.

3. The History of His-story

So who’s the story really about? It’s CALLED the Book of Ruth. Is it mainly about Ruth?

Maybe you could argue that it’s mainly about Naomi. You should call it “Naomi” instead. Or maybe “Boaz”.

Is it about King David? Perhaps we should give it a sub-title. “Stories from the background of King David”.

Or let’s go even bigger. Is it about Israel? – “How Israel became the nation it is today”

Well, I’m not going for any of these options. Like the rest of the bible, the Book of Ruth is about God. It tells us the History of His-story.

It’s not a COMPLETE RECORD of history. Ruth’s not like Chronicles or Kings. But if we look closely, it makes us look at just as big a picture as those big books. It’s just more subtle. We see how God works through the actions of people. How God’s providence is worked out through his people acting faithfully towards each other.

But that’s why Ruth is MORE life-like. More real. Because “subtle” is a lot like everyday-life, isn’t it? We live life in the small events. In the day-to-day. The dozens of decisions and choices that make up a day. And it’s in those little parts that God works out the whole. And if we recognise him working at all, it’s often just in SMALL ways. In the kind actions of other people.

But Ruth also lets us take a step back. To get some perspective behind the small events. To spin the microscope around, and to focus our telescope on the stars. Because the God who works in the day-to-day, also puts all those days together to make a “history”.

His purposes were worked out when Tamar tricked Judah. Because out of Tamar came Perez and the ancestors of Boaz. And God was working in Boaz’s plan for Ruth. Because out of Ruth came Obed, and Jesse and King David. God worked in cunning plans.

And God was STILL in control for the next thousand years while David’s thin line of descendents endured international wars, local rebellions, exile, famine, foreign conquerors, wickedness, disobedience, sickness, and long journeys.

It was a line that wound up right back in Bethlehem. Perhaps just round the corner from the city gates. Because from King David descended a carpenter called Joseph, whose young bride miraculously gave birth to ANOTHER King. The one that God had chosen as the hinge around who all of history would revolve. His birthday the reference point for every date before and after.

All the events of the history of HIS-STORY find their purpose and their goal in Jesus. Because it’s IN JESUS, the ULTIMATE kinsman redeemer, that God finally controlled the REAL PROBLEM for humanity. It wasn’t famine or drought or death.

It was SIN. Humanity’s rebellion from God that kept them his enemies.

Jesus redeems us from the debt our sin has built up. He wipes the slate clean before God with his death in our place. The perfect costly sacrifice.

In Jesus, we can be friends with God, and that’s been God’s purpose in the whole of history. Right from Abraham to Perez to Boaz to David to Jesus. To be friends with the one who controls history. The one who made the world. Who made you and me.

It’s the hugest story of all. But Ruth has told it on the small scale.

We’ve been fed a huge meal. But Ruth’s given it to us in bite-size chunks. And that’s just as well. Because as we live life in bite-size chunks, we’ll be better able to see God’s hand at work. At work in the small events. But also at work in the huge panaroma. Because the God who provides bread for the table, also provided Jesus, the bread of life, so that we could find LIFE in HIM.

Let’s pray to that great God.

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