WONDER WOMEN — RUTH
by Pastor Mike Fortune
July 31, 2010
- Love is loyal [Ruth 1:16-18]
- Love is worth the risk [Ruth 3:1-9; Isaiah 56:3]
- We've been redeemed [Ruth 4:13-14; 17; Deuteronomy 25:7-9; Job 19:25; Isaiah 44:6,22]
Luke and Courtney aren’t the only ones to live lives of love and loyalty. The Wonder Woman we’re studying today in addition to the man in which she proposed did as well. Aside from the reverse proposal, what makes their love story even more compelling is she was a foreigner who became equally yoked with God before she met her man. Which as we’ll see, is the only way to be complete. In God. Not man. But love is worth the risk. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. So let’s begin in the beginning of the book of Ruth which begins like many good love stories: “Once upon a time when the judged of Israel ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons went to live in the country of Moab.”
Any Israelite reading this story to their children at bedtime would stop right there. Because even children knew that the Moabites didn’t like them and they weren’t supposed to like the Moabites either. Because if you go way back, they might be surprised to learn that they were once related. The Moabites were descendants of Lot’s eldest daughter through her drunken incestuous relationship with her own father as described in Genesis 19:30-38. But these days, they were enemies. Deuteronomy 23:3-6 explains why: “3No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. 4For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you came out of Egypt, and they hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in Aram Naharaim to pronounce a curse on you. 5However, the LORD your God would not listen to Balaam but turned the curse into a blessing for you, because the LORD your God loves you. 6Do not seek a treaty of friendship with them as long as you live.” In addition to not helping the Israelites enter Canaan, and actually trying to curse them through Balaam, during their time of wandering, the Moabite women deliberately seduced Israelite men and encouraged them to participate in human sacrifices to a god they called Chemosh that 1 Kings 11:7 and 2 Kings 23:13 calls “the abomination of Moab.”
So can you see how surprising it would be even to children who knew this history that Ruth’s story would begin with an orthodox and respected landowner from Bethlehem named Elimelech whose name means “My God is king” moving east across the Dead Sea to the high fertile tableland of Moab 4300 feet above the Dead Sea? But times were tough. So they moved to Moab. And once they arrived, times got tougher! Elimelech died. Leaving his wife Naomi with two sons. After about 10 years, Ruth 1:3-4 says they married Moabite women even though Deuteronomy 7:1-3 forbid unequally yoked relationships with Canaanites.
One Moabite was named Orpah—not Oprah! And the other Ruth. And then times got even tougher! The Bible doesn’t say how, perhaps from the famine disease, but Naomi’s sons died too leaving Naomi childless, widowed, impoverished, and aging with two Moabite daughter in-laws according to Ruth 1:12. So she decided to move back to Bethlehem and on the road back, she told her daughter in-laws to return to Moab since she could not provide anything for them. And Orpah decided to return to her mother’s home in Moab. But Ruth replied in some of the most poetic and compelling words found in Scripture, turn to Ruth 1:16-18 to read them, “‘16Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’”
Which leads us to point n umber one: Love is loyal. 1 Corinthians 13:7 says, “Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” Undoubtedly, Orpah loved Naomi too. Ruth 1:10-14 says there were tears and hugs and kisses when they separated. But apparently, Ruth loved more than just Naomi. Ruth also loved YHWH. For she adds “Your God will be my God.” And in verse 17, she uses the regular Hebrew formula for an oath using the sacred name Jehovah in it [cf. 1 Samuel 3:17; 1 Samuel 25:22; 2 Samuel 19:13]. A love that is loyal is first and foremost a love that is loyal to the God of Heaven not the gods of Moab. And apparently, when Naomi realized this was what also fueled Ruth’s love and loyalty, she could not argue with that. She didn’t know how she was going to provide for her daughter, but she did know the God of Heaven could!
Years ago I saw this movie with Tom Cruise and Renee Zellwegger in it. His character’s name was Jerry and his partner’s was Dorothy. It too was a love story with lots of drama and tears. In one memorable scene, early on, Dorothy says to Jerry, “You complete me.” And as any co-dependent relationship based not primarily on God but on man, it falls apart and you have to watch the rest to see what happen happens. But that line remains well known nearly 15 years later. Why? Because it’s good theology? No! Because it’s poetic and compelling! It sounds good. “You complete me.” But in actual fact, that’s terrible theology! Because as Nichole Nordeman sings so well, God must be our “All in all.”
No man, not even your dreamy husband, not even your kinsmen redeemer, should complete you. Only God can complete you! You are whole in Him whether you’re single or married. Sometimes, men who love God come into your lives. Like Boaz will for Ruth. But guess what! Sometimes, they won’t! Approximately 70% of the Christian church is women. That means 30% are men. There are good Christian guys out there. But sometimes they’re hard to find. So don’t settle for less! Jesus was single too you know! Love is loyal. To God first. And then, if God provides, to man. If you reverse this recipe, or circumvent it, God still loves you like crazy, but you may experience lots of unnecessary heart ache tears.
Moving on, if you’re equally yoked as 2 Corinthians 6:14 says, and you both believe and love God, then point number two, love is worth the risk. So Ruth 1:18 says, “18When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.” And Naomi and Ruth walk the 75 miles from the heights of Moab to the depths of the Dead Sea and then up 2400 feet to the hills of Bethlehem six miles south of Jerusalem. Today, a large Berlin looking wall separates the Arab town from Jerusalem and when we were there in January, our Jewish tour guide had to get off the bus and be replaced by an Arab tour guide as we toured the Church of the Nativity and literally drove right by the fields of Boaz. I think I’ve got a couple pics of those fields covered today with olive trees fueling the tourists demand for olive wood nativity scenes and Christmas decorations. But back then, these fields were covered with barley [Ruth 2:23]. And they belonged to Boaz. Who Matthew 1:5 reveals was a son or grandson of Rahab Who we studied last time so check the church website if you want more info on lying prostitutes. Which is something you don’t hear in church very often is it!
Anyway, Leviticus 23:22 described how the poor and foreigners should always be allowed to earn a living by picking the remains of the harvest. Whether it was fruit left on the tree or sheaves of barley left in the fields. So Ruth asks for permission to do so and receives it from both Naomi and Boaz. Boaz was obviously wealthy since he owned so many fields and was a man of influence in Bethlehem. And when he realized that Ruth was the young Moabite women who came back with his relative Naomi, he encouraged her to stay close to his harvesters and to glean only in his fields. He provided water for her to drink and told his men not to touch her and to leave even more barley for her to pick up thus lightening her load. Ruth 2:17 says Ruth gleaned in the fields until evening taking an epah—which is about half a bushel—home with her which would feed them for about five days. Daniel Whitehead, using his considerable drawing skills, drew me a picture of Ruth gleaning in the fields this week. I think we have that on the wall so take a look. BIG thank you and WTG to Daniel for continuing to use his artists gifts for God. John MacArthur says the grain she gleaned was about four times as much barley as one could hope to gather on a typical good day.
And the results pleased Naomi. But it also gave her idea. From the amount of grain Ruth brought home, she suspected that Boaz might have feelings for Ruth. Even if Boaz didn’t know that yet. So at the end of barley and wheat season, Naomi suggests something crazy. Basically, she tells Ruth to propose marriage to Boaz! And as crazy as it sounds today for a woman to get down on one knee, pull out a ring, and ask her man to marry him, imagine how crazy it must have seemed to Boaz when Ruth basically does the Biblical equivalent in chapter 3! For sure this next scene would be the one on all the romantic movie posters perhaps with a tagline that reads as point number two reveals: “Love is worth the risk.” Let’s read Ruth 3:1-9. “1One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? 2Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.’ 5'I will do whatever you say,’ Ruth answered. 6So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do. 7When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet. 9'Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she said. ‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’”
Now I know that doesn’t sound like a good proposal. But trust me, it was. Any proposal that doesn’t end with the other person laughing in reply is a good one. I’ve told you about mine haven’t I? No? Let me remind you this week. Especially since Jackie is visiting her dad this weekend. So we’re strolling through the fall foliage at Andrews University down near Lemon Creek behind Berman Hall and as we’re walking back, the sun is shining through the colorful leaves, and I figure this is the perfect moment. I’m thinking, “This too, should be on a movie poster.” And while I didn’t have a ring, I did drop to one knee and ask her to marry me. But before I did, my knee hit the ground harder than I hoped which jarred my shoulder which I had recently separated playing a very manly game of flag-football, and I groaned a little bit. Which she apparently thought was a hilarious way to memorialize the moment. All I’m saying is, ladies, if you’ve found a Godly guy in this world, and he proposes any weird way he can, you ought to say yes first and not laugh at him!
So Ruth does her lay at Boaz’ feet thing as Naomi said. And though he was apparently much older than Ruth and apparently clueless regarding her intent, by his own testimony in verse 10, he was pleasantly surprised Ruth deemed him suitable for marriage. In proposing this marriage, Ruth was breaking protocol. Still today, the woman usually waits for the man to propose. But not this time. Even though Boaz didn’t know who Ruth was at first, he caught up quickly. And because he loved her too, he sent her away before morning broke, to avoid even the appearance of evil. But before he did, he made sure she knew he loved her too. Ruth 3:10-11 says, “‘10The LORD bless you, my daughter,’ he replied. ‘This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.’”
Extending or receiving these kinds of proposals are risky. But they were especially risky for Ruth because she was from Moab. She was a foreigner. But apparently, God loves foreigners like crazy too. Especially foreigners who love him back. And don’t forget, Ruth had professed love for both Naomi and YHWH in the most legal and accepted oaths of her time. She was dead serious about both.
So regardless of your past, where you’ve been and who you are, know that God always accepts those who accept Him! Why Deuteronomy 23:1 prohibited eunuchs from entering worship I’m not entirely sure. But the prophet Isaiah longed for the inclusion of all foreigners and even some eunuchs. Isaiah 56:3 says, “3Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, ‘The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.’ And let not any eunuch complain, ‘I am only a dry tree.’”
Even in Jesus’ day, Acts 8:32 reveals that Isaiah’s longing of the kind of kingdom where foreigners and even eunuchs would be welcome was becoming a reality. For Philip meets one studying Isaiah outside of Jerusalem. Despite Mosaic requirements for priests to be from the tribe of Levi, Isaiah even longs for the day when foreigners would become priests and Levites leading worship to the Lord [cf. Isaiah 66:19-21]! Bethlehem wasn’t ready for Ruth to lead worship, but Ruth 4:11-12 says they rejoiced when they learned of her proposal to Boaz and of Boaz’s efforts to make it happen. Which leads us to point number three: We’ve been redeemed. You remember that camp song “I’ve been redeemed [echo] / by the blood of the Lamb [echo] / I’ve been redeemed [echo] / By the blood of the Laa-aaa-amb”?
We know this is true because the word the writer of Ruth uses to describe her redemption is kinsmen-redeemer [goel]. A kinsmen-redeemer was someone who would if necessary be the one to avenge the blood of a murdered relative [Joshua 20:2-9]. He could buy back family lands sold in times of famine and hardship [Leviticus 25:23-28]. And he could pay the redemption-price for family members sold into slavery to pay off debts [Leviticus 25:47-49]. Or if he was a single eligible batchelor or widower, he could revive the family lineage when someone died without an heir by marrying the widow and fathering offspring who would inherit the name and property of the one who had died. This was known as the the law of levirite marriage.
Deuteronomy 25:7-9 explains it so let’s take a look. “7If a man does not want to marry his brother's wife, she shall go to the elders at the town gate and say, "My husband's brother refuses to carry on his brother's name in Israel. He will not fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to me." 8Then the elders of his town shall summon him and talk to him. If he persists in saying, ‘I do not want to marry her,’ 9 his brother's widow shall go up to him in the presence of the elders, take off one of his sandals, spit in his face and say, ‘This is what is done to the man who will not build up his brother's family line.’”
What Ruth did was much nicer don’t you think? Risky but much more subtle and romantic. So Boaz takes care of the rest of the details [ minus the spitting in the face part] and before ten of the elders of the town, Ruth 4:1-8 says he checks with the only other relative eligible to participate in the levirite custom of kinsmen-redeemer, and after he declines, Boaz accepts Ruth’s proposal and marries her legalizing it by removing his sandal according to Ruth 4:8.
Which reminds us that not only was Ruth redeemed, we have been too. Job knew that way back in his day. The same word [goel] Ruth used with Boaz is the same word Handel uses in his Messiah that Job uses about God in Job 19:25. How do we know people way back then understood and believed in the resurrection of Christ? Job says, “25 I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.” In verse 27 he adds, “I myself will see him with my own eyes! How my heart yearns within me!”
We know Ruth’s heart was yearning too [cf. Ruth 3:9]. As was Boaz who promised Ruth “as surely as the LORD lives, I will marry you” [cf. Ruth 3:13]. But when word reached the rest of the town that Boaz agreed to marry Ruth, the whole town blessed them [cf. Ruth 4:11-12]. And then Ruth 4:13-14,17 concludes, “13So 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. 14 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!’”
And famous he would become. Because Obed became the father of Jesse the father of King David whom Jesus traced his lineage in Matthew 1:5. Verse 17 says, “17And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” And because of Jesus, point number three, we have been redeemed. We can look forward to the day He returns and the dead in Christ, like Job, will join in the air. And then we who are live and remain, will be caught up to meet Him too [cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18]. Are you looking forward to that day of the 2nd Advent?
The story of Ruth is a love story. It reminds us that Godly love is loyal. Risky. But worth it. Because by it, we are redeemed. Isaiah 44:6,22 says it this way. “6This is what the LORD says—Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. 22 I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.”
In a moment, to help us remember our redeemer, we’re going to sing a song about Him as Isaiah 44:23 says we should. But before we do, if you would like to commit your lives first and foremost to loving God back and being loyal to him, would you please read 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 in closing from off the screen? “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. 10That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” Amen. For more info, read John MacArthur’s book Twelve Extraordinary Women pp. 69 - 86.