Friday, 1 March 2013

Ruth 3: 'The kindness of God shown through his people'

A Christian worker who ministers to down and outs in Chicago came across a prostitute who was in dire straights. This woman was homeless, sick, and unable to buy food for her two year old daughter.  He asked her if she had ever thought of going to a church for help.  She looked at him with shock.  'Church!' 'Why would I go there?  I was already feeling terrible about myself.  They'd just make me feel worse.'

That story is tragic because our God is a forgiving God who gave his own son so that guilty people like us can experience forgiveness.  That story is tragic because our God is a kind God who longs to bring desperate people like us under the shelter of his wings.  That story is tragic because God longs to use people like us as the channel through which he helps those in need.  Yet no church had convinced that prostitute of these truths.  

We have already seen God's kindness to Naomi in giving her Ruth; God's kindness to Ruth in bringing her to the field of Boaz; and we will see God's kindness as Ruth and Boaz are given to each other.

1.  Naomi and the quest for rest (1-4)
One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided ...”  Apparently, in the original Hebrew Naomi says, 'I must find rest for you.'  Rest is a recurring theme in this book.  These chapters could be described as a quest for rest.

Indeed rest is a recurring theme in the Bible.  In the book of Ruth rest is associated with economic security.  In Psalm 95 rest is linked to the Old Testament promised land.  The author of Hebrews quotes that psalm and says that there is a rest that still awaits us on our journey towards heaven.  Jesus said, 'come onto me all you who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.'  The Book of Revelation says, those who die in The Lord are blessed because they will rest from their labours.

The rest that we need is not simply a quite Sunday afternoon stretched out on the couch.  Like Ruth we can depend on the God who gives us our daily bread.  Those who are striving to be respectable, who want to be hailed as good people, who think that they can make up for the evil we have done, who imagine they can earn their way to heaven can cast aside the heavy burden of self-righteousness and accept Jesus' offer of rest.  Those who are terminally ill, and we are all in decaying bodies that are destined for the grave, can know the peace that we are on our way to eternal rest.

The prostitute we mentioned in our opening illustration needs to experience God's rest - would it not be wonderful if God's people came to her aid?  The proud church goer needs to told of Jesus' offer so rest - wouldn't it be wonderful if we could learn to simply admit our need and trust God for the forgiveness which kindly offers to all?  A dying world needs to know about an eternal heaven and that Jesus is the one who can take them there.

2.  Ruth invites Boaz to be the answer to his prayer (5-9)

In God's kindness he offers people rest.  In God's kindness he uses people to bless others.

“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.  She goes down to the threshing floor, uncovers Boaz feet and lay down.  He wakes startled and she explains, "I am your servant Ruth ... Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”

What is a kinsman/guardian redeemer?  It is described in one Bible Dictionary as a 'Male relative who, according to various laws found in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) had the privilege or responsibility to act for a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need of vindication' (Baker).

So it is after the barley harvest.  How are Naomi and Ruth going to survive now?  By another provision in God's law.  Did God have Naomi and Ruth, along with thousands of other people, specifically in mind when he gave Moses the laws relating to the kinsman-redeemer?  Of course he did, he is omniscient.  Before they came into being he knew the circumstances they would face and he made provision.  Before we came into being he knew the circumstances we will face and he promises us that we need not be afraid.

What does Ruth mean when she asks Boaz to spread his wings over her?  Well there is nothing seedy going on here.  She is not propositioning sex.  But what she is saying does have deliberate ambiguity to it.  In Hebrew this phrase could mean 'marry me' (she is not backwards about going forwards).  Spread the corner of your garment over me is like asking for an engagement ring to be placed on her (Tinker).

But the word for garment is also the same word used in chapter 2 for wings.  Do you remember when Boaz met Ruth he prayed, 'May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge?'  'You know when you were moved by compassion and prayed that God would provide me with rest?'  'Why don't you become the answer to that prayer by being my kinsman-redeemer?'

A kind God places compassion and mercy in a kind man's heart, causes him to pray, and then offers him the joy of being the answer to his own prayers.  May God put compassion in our hearts that would cause us to pray, and maybe even move us to be the answer to those very prayers.

3.  Boaz reflects God's kindness (10-18)

Boaz is struck by Ruth's kindness.  She could have gone to Moab and let Naomi fend for herself.  She could have chosen to pursue a younger more attractive man than Boaz.

Undoubtedly she admired the godly character of Boaz.  Character is more essential to happy marriage than looks.  But there is another reason she chose Boaz; she chose him out of kindness to Naomi.  Another provision in the Law of Moses stated that the first male the kinsman fathered would be considered as the child of the widow's dead husband.  In other words through Boaz, Ruth could produce a descendant for Naomi. Remember when Naomi said that God had not stopped showing kindness to the living and the dead - that is because through Boaz God will provide descendants for the deceased Elimelek and Mahlon.

But Boaz points out that there is a problem.  There is a male relative closer than he.  That man has priority in the duty and privilege of being kinsman- redeemer.  Like a suspense novel we will have to wait until the last scene to see how things will work out for Ruth and Boaz.

Boaz then acts with care towards Ruth by ensuring that no gossiper is given the impression that anything seedy happened between the two of them that night.  He also shows kindness by sending six measures of wheat home for Naomi.  Naomi had returned to Bethlehem declaring that she was empty.  Through Boaz she is finding rest, economic security.  God's kindness is being shown through the actions of his people.

Conclusion: Jesus our kinsman-redeemer

Desperate people like Ruth and Naomi find refuge under the wings of the almighty.  God is going to use his man to bring them rest.  Wouldn't it be great to have such a kinsman-redeemer!  Well, we do.

Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer.  He is willing to redeem that prostitute in Chicago, whose life is entangled in desperate evil and hopeless poverty.  He paid an ransom of infinite value as he shed his blood to free us from our guilt.  He is willing to redeem proud church-goers from their arrogant self-righteousness.  We can rest from the tyranny of trying to fool ourselves into thinking that we could ever be good enough for a perfectly pure and holy God.  He has redeemed us from death - so as we see our bodies decay and the passing of time drags us unceasingly towards a grave we need not fear for we are heading towards our eternal rest.

God is kind.  He shows his kindness through his people.  He shows his ultimate kindness through the person of his Son.

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