[This sermon was preached on Ruth chapter 4 on Sunday, April 16, 2017, at Christ Church Paarl by William King. The audio version can be found here.]
Life without a king
Israel was in a hopeless situation. Spiritually they had left the one true God to serve the gods of the surrounding nations. On the surface, they were still practising their religious ceremonies, but inwardly, they were in love with foreign gods. Morally they were on a downward slope. They loved the lifestyle of the heathen nations, full of sexual perversity and sin! Even the leadership in that time was a bit flaky. Samson craved women, Gideon ended in idolatry, Barak needed a woman to hold his hand in battle! No wonder the book of Judges repeats the refrain over and over:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
What a hopeless situation! The absence of a king and a kingdom is directly responsible for this situation. Read against the backdrop of 3 important promises by God, the situation is more than hopeless – it questions the faithfulness of God.
In Genesis 3:15 God had promised someone who would crush the power of the prince of darkness; in Genesis 49:8-12 Judah was promised a Ruler, whose sceptre shall not depart from him. He will deserve obedience and tribute; and to Moses God had promised a Prophet who would be like him (Deuteronomy 18:15). Now many centuries later, these promises have still not come to fulfilment. Is God so unreliable that He would make promises and not fulfil them? His promises of a Ruler seemed like a fairy tale, which started with the all too familiar “Once upon a time, long ago, in a land far away”.
The nation of Israel was in a bad place, with a very bleak future.
Elimelech and Naomi had problems of their own. The idea of a king was the least of their problems. They needed food. And they made a plan – to move! This did not turn out to good for them. Their sons marrying heathen woman (sounds like they were true Israelites), barrenness (neither Orpah nor Ruth had children), and death soon struck them. This left Naomi in the same hopeless condition as her people back in Israel. The same question was on her mind, although from a different angle: is God faithful? Where is He when you need Him most? She could surely do with some God-intervention! She did not even have any hope of an offspring that could carry the family name into the future. Death and bitterness were all that was left.
The master plan unfolding
In the book of Ruth, the problem of an offspring is forced to the foreground. This is already evident in chapter 1. Although the sons marry foreign women, there is no offspring. In the span of 10 years no grandchildren were born to Naomi. Naomi also focusses on this when trying to dissuade her daughters-in-law to stay behind (1:11-13).
When Ruth came back from gleaning in the fields of Boaz, hope lit up for Naomi. God’s kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead (2:20). This hope flickers up when she remembered Boaz is one of the family redeemers. Boaz brings the hope of an offspring. The family name has the hope of being perpetuated after all!
Even Boaz himself hopes for an offspring for Ruth when he prays that God will reward her (2:11-12). When God appeared to Abram in a vision He said to him:
Your reward shall be very great. (Genesis 15:1)
Abram immediately responded pointing out his childlessness (15:2). There could be no reward because the reward is an offspring.
So, when Boaz prayed this for Ruth, he was hoping that God would give her an offspring.
Ruth joins the conversation when she asked Boaz to marry her on the basis that he is a redeemer in the family (Ruth 3:9).
But there was a problem that neither Naomi nor Ruth realised – Boaz was not first in line to redeem. Boaz mentions this to Ruth during their midnight meeting (3:12-13):
Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I (3:13).
The first 10 verses of chapter 4 describe how this problem would play out. Boaz, true to his nature, and faithful to his promise, did not rest to get the issue resolved. He summons the elders of the town and the “nearer redeemer” (4:1-2). After sketching the scenario to him, he pushes for an answer (4:3-4). One cannot but sense the tension in the story as Boaz explains everything. And then the devastating blow to Boaz’s plans and Naomi and Ruth’s hope – the nearer redeemer answers:
I will redeem it (4:5).
It is at this point that we all want to shout “No!” This is not how the story is supposed to develop. Well, it seems Boaz had thought this through, as he throws in his trump card – Ruth (4:5), with the explicit mention of perpetuating an offspring for Mahlon through Ruth. The other guy did not appreciate this one. Boaz bowled him middle pen! He withdrew his offer to redeem and offered it to Boaz (4:6). After contractually completing the transaction, Boaz acknowledges and calls the elders to witness that he was now the legal owner of Naomi’s land and Ruth’s husband, with theintention of building a name for Mahlon (4:7-10).
A kingdom of life
What follows is a beautiful prayer for Ruth and Boaz by the village people (4:11-12). Immediately we see the barrenness of chapter 1 replaced, under the direct influence of God, by an offspring, a son (4:13).
Verse 16 is a very significant verse in the whole book considering the journey Naomi had to walk. It was one of misery, bitterness, and hopelessness. When someone would tell her at the end of chapter 1 that she would become the nurse of her grandson, she would probably have responded with a laugh of bitterness. But here she is, holding the baby, nursing him! Even the women of the town said that a boy was born to Naomi – and not Ruth (4:17).
She must’ve now pondered her life up to now and remembered her own words in 2:20:
May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!
Her doubts have been repeatedly answered: God IS faithful. He is not a man that He should lie. He will never leave you nor forsake you!
Fortunately, this is not where the story ends. It is also the message the writer wants to give to the nation of Israel. God did not forget His promises to them. He was actively busy bringing His promises into fulfilment. He was all along busy with kingdom preparations! This is what verses 17-21 tells the nation. The son Obed, would be the grandfather of the greatest king Israel ever new, king David, the ancestor of our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
Moreover, the kingdom God was preparing, would be one of life, restoration, and nourishment (4:15). Boaz embodied all these to Ruth, Obed would be all these toNaomi, King David would be all these to the people of Israel, but more importantly, David’s kingdom would become an everlasting kingdom in Christ Jesus, the King of kings, and Lord of Lords! He is and will forever be the ultimate Redeemer who would bring life,restoration and nourishment to all who believe and find rest in Him.
God used the sinfulness of Israel, the desperateness of Naomi, and the brokenness of lifethat is filled with hardship, misery and death, to bring Ruth from Moab to be the wife of Boaz because He was preparing the Kingdom of life, restoration and nourishment for His Son, which would steer the course of Israel, and ultimately alter the outcome for humanity. This He did because He is faithful.
The aim of Ruth’s story is deliberate. It wants us to ask the question “where is God?”. From there it wants us to marvel at the way God manages the minute details, and finallyit wants us to burst out in praise with the acclamation “What a God!”