Law, Love, Providence and Salvation

Text Ruth 4 Time 23 03 22 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church (Zoom)

We come then to the final chapter of the little Book of Ruth, the denouement, where the hero of the book, Boaz, takes up the legal obligation to redeem Elimelek's land for Naomi and to marry Ruth. He has first to deal with a closer guardian-redeemer informing him that he has a prior claim to the land but pointing out that there is also an expectation that the one who redeems Elimelek's land will also marry Ruth, which, it turns out, he does not want to do. All this takes place at the town gate and the elders and the people present there gladly bear witness to it and wish the couple every blessing. We then learn of Boaz and Ruth's child Obed and how he is held in Naomi's arms. The book ends with a genealogy showing that Obed is the grandfather of King David!
I want to say four things from these verses tonight.
1. Be thankful for God's wonderful Law
So Chapter 3 leaves us at the point where Ruth has made it quite clear that she wants Boaz to marry her and for him to redeem Elimelek's land and Boaz has said that he will get things sorted and deal with the fact that there is someone who has a prior claim on Elimelek's land. And so we read that on the morning after the night at the threshing floor, while Ruth is back with Naomi. Meanwhile Boaz goes up to the town gate where all legal business and related matters were dealt with and sat down there. He did so just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. We will speak about God's providence in a moment but here is a little example of it. Boaz said, "Come over here, my friend, and sit down." So he went over and sat down. Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, "Sit here," and they did so. A legal court is now in session.
Then (3, 4) he said to the guardian-redeemer, "Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative Elimelek." As much gleaning as can be expected has been done and now, faced with their great poverty, Naomi has decided to sell her land. It will be best if she sells to a family member rather than a stranger. He goes on 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, as he is closest (Elimelek's brother the Jews suggest but we cannot know) and I am next in line." (a nephew the Jews suggest - again unproveable). We don't know how Boaz was related to Elimelek but it is clear that this unnamed man is more closely related and so has a prior responsibility and claim. Hence he agrees to redeem Elimelek's land.
But Boaz has a trump card, as it has been put. He tells his relative (5, 6) "On the day you buy the land from Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the dead man's widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property." At this, the guardian-redeemer said, "Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it." Boaz points out that it is not enough to buy the land, he is morally obliged also to marry Ruth if he genuinely wants to help this needy family. This is because when Ruth married Elimelek's son there were no children. The man is willing to redeem the land because that would be to his advantage to some extent - it would eventually revert to Elimelek's clan which is his clan but to marry Ruth, he fears, would endanger his estate as a child born to such a couple would have rights and so he legitimately but hardly making himself look good hands over responsibility to Boaz. Some conjecture that he had a wife or didn't want to marry a Moabite or thought superstitiously that as her first husband had died he might do so too. but it says clearly he was thinking about his finances and not about the needs of this poor family. The writer is kind not to name him.
In order to seal the deal the unnamed man removed his sandal and said "Buy it yourself." That may seem a strange thing to do but the writer explains (7) (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalising transactions in Israel.) Indeed, it is not uncommon to find shoes buried in the walls of houses and little portions of soil being handed over. The idea is no doubt of standing on land. The guardian-redeemer is saying, I guess, you can tread on the land, here's my shoe.
What we see here is God's law being worked out. The particular laws to the fore are those of redemption of land and the levirate marriage broadly interpreted, civil laws. However, they are reminders of how wonderful God's Old Testament laws were - protecting the poor and the needy and giving legitimate ways forward when hard times came. We are no longer under such laws, though the moral law, the Ten Commandments, continues through all time. The ceremonial law (the feasts and sacrifices, etc) have been fulfilled in Christ. We should pray that the same equity seen in Old Testament civil law is found in the laws that exist in our country today. Thank God for his law.
2. Keep in mind the powerful nature of love and of witness and of blessing
We have three main things in verses 9-12.
1. The power of love
In verses 9 and 10 we come to the climax of the book. Here we read Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, "Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelek, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, Mahlon's widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from his hometown. Today you are witnesses!"
What Boaz say here is not only legally correct but full of earnestness, kindness and devotion. Boaz is utterly selfless. What a contrast he is to the other, self-seeking man who remains nameless. Ironically, the other man had been trying to preserve his own best interests but Boaz sees that by acting as he does he has really gained something. As we shall see, it was more than Boaz could have guessed at first. He is a reminder to us of the importance of not merely following the letter of the law but acting in love. More than that, if a man will have compassion on a Ruth and redeem her, won't God do the same for his people? One writer says "Just as the redeemer Boaz preserved the name and the place of a Elimelech in Israel, the Christ restores the names of his own for all time and gives them an eternal inheritance." More on that later.
2. The power of united witness
The reason Boaz did things in such a way and not in a quiet corner is not that he was a show off who liked to be in the public eye but that he saw the power of united witness. If he had spoken only to the other man in private, the man might have tried to deny it had happened like that at some point or may be he himself would have been tempted to cast Ruth off. That was not going to happen, however, because everything had been done in a very honest and open and public way. Not everything should be done in public but many things should. Witnesses are important. Marriage would be an example, the witnesses to the resurrection, of which there were many, would be another. We who believe must be faithful witnesses to the Lord.
3. The power of prayerful blessing
These people, the elders and all the people at the gate not only said, We are witnesses but also May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the family of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.
So they wished for Boaz and Ruth the blessing of many children and great respect. There are parallels between Tamar and Ruth.
We underestimate what we can do by prayer and by blessing others. We should not.
3. Recognise God's wonderful providence towards his people
In this book we see a whole series of providences that bring Boaz and Ruth together and lead to further blessing. We should recognise God's providence and see that he is at work in the lives of his people and that should encourage us. So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife (13a) is a very simple statement but when we consider all that led up to it, it is amazing that they ever met and married as they did. Every Christian couple could say a similar thing. Marriages are part of the amazing providence of God.
Then in 13b it says When he made love to her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. Here the writer is careful to say that it was the LORD who enabled her to conceive. Sometimes we forget that fact, that a couple can only conceive if the LORD does it. We ought to remember that.
You get more blessing in verses 14 and 15 The women said to Naomi: "Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. Notice that, Obed is a guardian-redeemer as it is through him that Naomi is delivered. May he become famous throughout Israel! 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. They were recognising what a blessing a grandchild can be especially if, as in Naomi's case, you have lost your husband and your sons. They do not miss either what a blessing Ruth has been to Naomi. She has not only loved Naomi but she has been better to her than seven sons. What a blessing when you have someone in your family like that - a daughter-in-law, a mother, a son. Or may be it's a friend, not a family member, but they can be better to you than seven sons.
In verse 16 we see the love of a grandmother for her grandson - Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. Most grandmothers love their grandchildren but there was something extra special about this one. This one was also a her redeemer. It helps us imagine how it was for Mary much later on too. What providences had led to his safe arrival. And then again you get the comment (17a) The women living there said, "Naomi has a son!" And they named him Obed. It was the village who named the baby and they called him servant as they could see that was what he was. Again, it speaks very much of the Lord Jesus.
Then one more thing of the same sort, He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. This was no ordinary boy. No, this was the grandfather of a king, of David no less. We do not know who we are dealing with sometimes.
When Martin Luther used to enter a classroom he would address the children as doctors and lawyers and teachers. He did not know which would be which but he knew there would be some among them and so he showed them respect. So should we.
4. Never forget God's salvation in Christ, the great theme of Scripture
The book ends with this little genealogy or family tree in verses 18-22.
This, then, is the family line of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram he father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.
Perez was the son of Judah as comes out elsewhere in the chapter and so the genealogy takes us the ten generations or so from Judah son of Jacob to David the King. Some think that is not enough and that some must have been missed but there is no need to think that.
This then is the royal line, the line that will lead eventually to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah himself. And so we are reminded that the great theme of the Bible is always the Lord Jesus. It is all about him and the salvation that he brings to all who trust in him by the grace of God. Look to your Redeemer Jesus Christ.