Trust and Obey (shortened) - Ruth
Trust and Obey
Book of Ruth
Preached at CGEFC
July 29th, 2007
I hope you enjoyed this comical look at living in the comfort zone. Today we will be looking at how one amazing woman of God did just the opposite – she stepped outside of her comfort zone to trust and obey God no matter where His path led.
If you have your Bible please turn to the book of Ruth. You can find this powerful story sandwiched between the book of Judges and 1st Samuel in the Old Testament.
You know this has been a tough summer on our church family. Within a few weeks time, not one but two pastors have moved on and we are about to embark on a journey in building a vision for the future of this church, which for us contains uncharted waters and some unknowns. As humans it is natural that we do not like change because we like to be in control. We like to know what is coming next. We have that same prideful inclination as Adam and Eve did… to be like God because we know that, unlike us, He is ultimately in control of everything, because He is the Creator. He holds the reigns to our lives and He has never let go!
When life becomes unsteady, when our boat is “rocked” a bit, we want that solid ground where we have more control over our own footing and a place we can know with somewhat certainty that the next step we take won’t swallow us alive. It is at these times when we need courage and boldness to do what is right, to trust and obey the God who tells us “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”, and to step into the unknown knowing that God knows.
For Ruth, this was the clearest choice. When all seemed to be lost, the only solution to her was to trust and obey. Chapter one, verse 16 has Ruth exclaiming to her mother-in-law: “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.” To summarize chapter one up to this point, we have Ruth, a Moabite woman, who married a Hebrew man by the name of Mahon who was living in Moab. His family came to live there when Israel had begun to experience a famine. Sometime after his family had relocated, his father, Elimelech, died leaving Mahlon’s mother, Naomi, his brother Chilion and himself. The men then married Moabite women – Ruth and Orpah, but before they could have children, the two brothers died. So now we have three women, Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, in the middle of Moab. Naomi had heard that the famine in Israel was over so she decided to return to her native Bethlehem. She told Ruth and Orpah to return to their families, but Ruth insisted on accompanying Naomi to Bethlehem.
Now it would have been safer and easier for Ruth to have stayed among her own people and find a husband who could give her children than to go with Naomi, her mother-in-law to a foreign land. First of all, the journey itself was dangerous. Secondly she was going to a place where it would be custom for a Moabite woman to be shunned and given the lowest status – even lower than a slave. By claiming Naomi’s faith as her own and by following her back to Bethlehem, she was going into the unknown and we see the first character trait of a person of obedience – It is a person who is a risk-taker fully devoted to God.
In the old testament we see another man of faith who is the model risk-taker. Turn with me to Hebrews 11:8. You are familiar with this chapter – it is the hall of faith. This chapter pours out for us role models to encourage us in our faith and one of those role models for risk-taking is Father Abraham. Take a look at verse 8: “By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise.” Do you realize what kind of risks Abraham took as he acted on his faith in God? He had a secure future. He risked leaving friends and family (forever!), he risked financial loss (the loss of his inheritance), he risked highway robbery (it was a frequent even of those days), he risked bad health, he risked food and water shortages for himself and his livestock – he risked it all! And God blessed him through making his name famous by creating a whole nation out of his descendents.
The people who just gave testimony about their experience in Honduras also took risks and because of the risk they saw God’s blessing on their lives and in their ministry toward the Hondurans they encountered. Sometimes the blessing of God on our lives comes in physical form, sometimes in other forms like the enjoyment of seeing people coming to know Christ. And sometimes we won’t experience God’s blessing and see the total fruit of our obedience until we’re heaven where our full reward is. But we will be blessed in some way for our obedience to Christ, just as Abraham and just as Ruth were.
Ruth states in verse 16 and 17 of chapter one “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.” Loyalty. Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law became one of the cornerstone features of this amazing story of obedience and love and is the second characteristic of a person of obedience. Perhaps the author of Proverbs thought of his great-great-grandmother Ruth when he wrote these words in chapter 3 verses 3 and 4: “Never let loyalty and kindness get away from you! Wear them like a necklace; write them deep within your heart. Then you will find favor with both God and people, and you will gain a good reputation.” The Hebrew word for loyalty here is ḥeseḏ and can be translated as love and it means loyalty to one’s covenant or commitment. When we speak of a marriage covenant, we speak of a relationship marked by ḥeseḏ – it is a deep love motivated by commitment. If we are have ḥeseḏ with God we love God to the extent that we are committed to Him and to His teachings. Jesus said that if you love me, if you are loyal to me, you will obey my commandments. Loyalty and obedience go hand in hand. You cannot be loyal to a King and disobey Him. If you disobey, you are not loyal. Ruth’s display of ḥeseḏ toward her mother-in-law, her display of commitment, is a mark of her obedience.
At the beginning of chapter two a new name is introduced into this narrative, Boaz. What do we know of Boaz? Well, if we look ahead a little we discover that he was a relative of some sort to Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband. He was also a wealthy land owner in Bethlehem (as verse 3 tells us), verse 8 tells us that he was a generous person and from the title that is given him in verse 1 of chapter 2 and from his actions displayed at the end of chapter 3 he was “a man of standing” - he was obedient to the law of the land and lived an exemplary lifestyle. – Men – don’t you want people to say these things about you? I knew a man once who held a leadership position in his community. Now we all know that anyone can hold a leadership position yet not have the respect of the people. However this man that I knew had the people’s respect and every time his name was mentioned, there was nothing but good things to say. It was the same with Boaz. A man with integrity. A man who had sensitivity. A man who displayed honor and was honored.
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Naomi and Ruth, now living in Bethlehem, needed food. So Ruth offered to Naomi in verse 2: “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.” We see a third characteristic of a person of obedience: A person of obedience seeks ways to serve! Ruth sought ways to serve her elderly mother-in-law. She basically became a servant when she followed Naomi back to Bethlehem. If you are a follower of Jesus then you must be a servant. Anyone who calls themselves a Christian takes on the identity of the ultimate Servant of the world. Are you willing to lay down your life? Are you willing to become the lowest of the lowly as Christ did on the cross as he hung up there with murders and thieves? We are to take on the same attitude of Christ who took on a posture lower than a Jewish slave when he washed the disciples dirty and calloused feet. Paul states in Galatians 5:13 that we were “… called to freedom… only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” And Peter in 1 Peter 4:10 states: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” You are in obedience to Christ when you serve one another, for Christ said in Matthew 25:45: “‘I assure you, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” Servanthood is a mark of obedience.
Going back to our text, we see Ruth seeking a place to glean grain, and she just happens to find herself in the field of Boaz. Was this a coincidence? Of course not – God is directing the path of Ruth for His divine purposes and her eventual enjoyment. Now it states in verse 7 that she had come in the early morning and according to verse 17 she gleaned until the evening. This woman was a hard worker and she displays the fourth characteristic of a person of obedience. If you are going to follow God’s call – know that He will provide the gifting and skills and you need to follow His call, but He expects hard work. Again, Solomon, the great-great-grandson of Ruth might have thought of her as he wrote the words in Ecclisiates 9:10: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” And Jesus addresses this quality in his parable of the talents in Matthew 25. The servants who were rewarded were those who did the most with the master’s gifts. The servant who did nothing, was rewarded with nothing. Following the call of God requires work and the investment of the gifts which He has promised. A person of obedience is a person who understands hard work and does it joyfully knowing their reward is in heaven.
Going back to the second chapter of Ruth we see that Boaz takes notice of this woman gleaning in his fields and asks his servant in verse 5 “Whose young woman is this?” When he finds out who she is, he approaches her and grants her permission to gather the same amount of grain which his servants are gleaning. Talk about a huge blessing! Ruth came out only looking for crumbs and she’s going home with food in her belly, according to verse 14, and her hands full.
Did you notice what Boaz states in verse 10? Ruth is amazed by his generosity and asks “Why have you looked upon me with favor?” and Boaz replies, and I summarize, your reputation precedes you! Word had gotten around about Ruth and her loyalty and servanthood. Boaz basically states “Woman – you are amazing – that a foreigner would take such good care of a person who is not even blood related is beyond me. May you be blessed!” Ruth’s reputation was beyond reproach and I believe that this is a quality in which Boaz found to be very attractive.
Did Naomi pick up on what was happening here? Of course she did – and she encouraged what she hoped would be a strong relationship between Ruth and Boaz. In verse 22 Naomi told Ruth that “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field.” She was concerned for Ruth’s safety, but even more concerned was Naomi for her daughter’s future well being and she could sense, from the way Boaz was treating Ruth, that there may be something more here than just Boaz being nice to her.
It makes me smile because here was a wise and old lady playing match-maker and in chapter three we see Naomi making more of an effort in getting this relationship moving in the right direction. She knew where Boaz would be and told Ruth exactly what to do – she was to go to Boaz in the darkness of night while he was sleeping, uncover his feet and lay down at his feet. So ladies – was this what you did to get your husband’s attention that it was time to pop the question? Did you go to his bed and uncover his feet and think, “OK, I’ve uncovered your feet, so you can pop the question now.” Of course you didn’t – what Ruth did represents a cultural idiom - we need to figure out through the text and by studying the culture what this means. When Ruth uncovered Boaz’s feet and asked him to cover her she was essentially saying to him – “I submit myself to you.” In Hebrew culture if a woman uncovers a man’s feet and he then takes the blanket and covers the woman, it is a sign of marriage and of protection. Once the blanket covers the woman, she becomes his fiancé or even wife – it is the sign of his commitment to marry her.
Now why does she think Boaz would want to marry her? She is after all a Gentile. In Hebrew culture Boaz was what you would call Ruth’s kinsmen-redeemer (in Hebrew language Go-el) - according to law and custom, the kinsmen-redeemer (Go-el) must REDEEM the land, property and family of his own blood. Putting it into context of today’s culture, lets say I have a brother and my brother dies and leaves behind him a wife and a house and whatever else – debt, savings, anything that has been done in his name. If I am not married and my brother never had children, it is my job to REDEEM his namesake. What does it mean to REDEEM his namesake? It simply means this – I become the owner of his house, his car and I marry his wife so that his name would continue through the children I would bear with his wife. As kinsmen-redeemer, Boaz is being asked to carry on the name of the family of Elimelech so that the land which was Elimelech’s may remain in his family for future generations. Property was a precious commodity. It determined how a person lived and died.
Now here’s the thing – Boaz was not the true kinsmen-redeemer to Ruth. Only the brother had a legal responsibility to marry his deceased brother’s wife. Boaz, not being a brother, had no obligation, but he took Ruth as his wife for reasons other than duty – Ruth and Boaz shared true admiration and love with each other.
This whole act, this whole way in which Ruth went about asking Boaz to redeem her, shows the integrity of Ruth. By uncovering his feet, she gives him the opportunity to accept or reject her. And the fact that she goes to him at night allows Boaz the opportunity to say no without public embarrasment being brought to his name. Ruth’s desire from the beginning is to honor Boaz. A person of obedience honors their elders or superiors – the fifth characteristic. God places a high priority on honoring those who have more years and more wisdom. Leviticus 19:32 states: “Show your fear of God by standing up in the presence of elderly people and showing respect for the aged. I am the Lord.” In other words, if you truly believe God and truly love God, then you will honor and respect those who are elders. Proverbs 23:22 asks us to “Listen to your father, who gave you life, and don’t despise your mother’s experience when she is old.” And 1 Peter 5:5 asks “younger men… to be subject to your elders.” Paul tells Titus in Titus 3:1 that “believers (are) to submit themselves to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, and to be ready to do any honorable kind of work.” In Japanese culture elders are highly respected by the younger generations. It is custom to give a slight bow when meeting a peer, but when you meet an elder, the bow is to be lower, signifying a deeper respect for the elder. Now we don’t bow in America, but are we bowing with our hearts, with our words, with our actions? Are we doing a good enough job in our lives of respecting those who are older and wiser than us? Are we going at lengths to give honor to the ones whom God has honored with long life? Ruth respected Boaz enough to honor him by protecting his reputation. Through her actions you can see Ruth’s deep respect for her elders.
Now notice that Boaz does not grant her request to be covered right away for he is a man of honor and of integrity. Even though he would jump at the chance to marry this woman, he knows that there is a relative who is closer who could be the Go-El, the redeemer. So he shows due diligence and in the beginning of chapter four, we see Boaz sitting in his place of prominence at the gate of the city which is where the official business was done. On this day Boaz had a purpose – to find this closer relative. Lo and behold, this relative comes by and, to make a long story short, in front of the elders of the city, in front of witnesses, Boaz gets permission from this closer relative to redeem Ruth. He marries her and they have a child named Obed and as the book of Ruth ends it states that this child was placed in the arms of Naomi and this beautiful blessing was announced by the women who were present: “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.”
What does this blessing mean? It is first a praise to the Lord for this newborn baby. Secondly the women have asked God to make Obed’s name famous – don’t mistake it for Boaz’s name. Yes, Boaz redeemed Ruth and Naomi, but it is Obed that becomes the redeemer of the family legacy. It is Obed who eventually becomes the father of Jesse, who is the father of King David. It is through the line of King David whom God promised to deliver His ultimate Redeemer, Jesus Christ! Indeed – Obed became famous in Israel because he became part of the genealogy of Christ.
Have you seen the picture yet? Are you catching on to what just happened? God, in His incredible timing and wisdom and grace, inserted not just once but twice Gentiles into the ancestral line of Christ. The first time we have not mentioned, but Matthew does in his Gospel. Quickly turn to Matthew 1:5: It states in Matthew 1:5 that “Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse.” Do you remember who Rahab was? Rahab was the prostitute who was found in the walls of Jericho by the spies of Israel. She was a Gentile and a Gentile who was a prostitute at that. Ruth, from Moab, was also a Gentile! It excites me every time I think about it – Christ came not only to redeem the Jews, but the Gentiles as well because His human blood was part Gentile. God knew what He was doing as He guided the paths of the people of Ruth’s day. And He knows now. Don’t ever think that God is not in control, because He is. Don’t ever think that your suffering, whatever you are going through, is worth nothing to God. Because it is. Naomi’s suffering was. Ruth’s suffering was. God used it to bring glory to His name and He used it to not only provide a redeemer for Naomi, but a Redeemer for the world. The results of Ruth’s obedience far outweighed the suffering in Ruth’s life. Because she took risks, because she was loyal, because she served faithfully, because she submitted to her elders and to God, because of Ruth’s obedience to the Spirit she was blessed by God and became a special part of His plan to bring Light into a broken and dark world. God, knowing that we are sinners, utterly and totally depraved, sent His Son into the world to be our Redeemer, for we are as Naomi and Ruth. According to chapter 2 verse they were considered as if they were dead. And we too are considered as if we are dead. We are helpless and without hope. We have no hope of an eternal life in peace without a Redeemer who, by His grace and mercy, shed His blood for us and paid the ultimate sacrifice of
His life on our behalf. It is through faith in Jesus that we are saved, but it is through obedience that we are blessed.
Sometimes obedience means getting us out of our comfort zones. What you and I need to do is determine what our comfort zone is and then realize that our comfort zone can be a stumbling block in placing our full trust and obedience in God. We can start trusting our comfort zone instead of trusting our God.
If God is pulling on your heart string and asking you to do something – do it! If God wants you to go on that mission trip you’ve been putting off for a few years – do it. If He is calling you to talk to a friend or another relative about Christ – do it. If He is calling you to become more active in the church – do it! If He is calling you to give a little more in the offering plate to the point that it makes you a little uncomfortable – do it! If He is calling you to quit your job and to go into vocational ministry for the furthering of His kingdom – do it! If He is calling you to forgive your co-worker who wronged you or if He is calling you to seek forgiveness for something you know you did was wrong – then do it! Don’t wait around until it is too late. Take some risks for God! Get into that place where it is uncomfortable because chances are, that may be exactly the place where God wants you to be.
He said He would give us eternal life, He never said life on this earth would be comfortable. The people I know who are alive and on fire for God in their old age are the people who took risks for Him and are still taking risks! Do you desire to be like them? You know who I am talking about because Christ pours out of them. They didn’t get there just sitting twiddling their thumbs wondering when God was going to make His move – they got there because they trusted and obeyed God even when it was uncomfortable. I want to be like them. I don’t want to be like the guy in the video who made himself an unapproachable island, missing out on relationships, opportunities and life. I don’t want to die knowing that I could have taken more risks for Jesus and allowed the Spirit to use me more for His kingdom. I want to be like Ruth. I want to be like Boaz. Integrity. Submissive. Selfless. A risk-taker. And a person who took the task at hand seriously. My prayer is is that we would be like-minded in this desire to be sold out to Jesus for His kingdom and for His glory.
The simple truth is this - If we would only trust Him, then obedience would be a cinch. Because putting our trust in a sovereign God allows us to relinquish all control to Him and we have no other choice but to follow His lead obediently. Do you trust Him? Will you obey Him?