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"A Redeemer Nearer Than I": Ruth 3:1-18

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“A Redeemer Nearer Than I”: Ruth 3:1-18 Sunday, June 7, 2020 We’ve been moving through the book of Ruth, and we’ve seen how during the period of the Judges, a time when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes”, that Elimilech & his wife Naomi and their two sons fled to Moab during a period of famine. In chapter 1 we learned that over a period of years, Naomi’s husband dies, her two sons die, leaving her with two childless Moabite daughter-in-laws named Ruth & Orpah. With no viable future for her in Moab, Naomi hears that the famine in Israel has ended and decides to return to her homeland. Ruth decides to accompany her. Even though Naomi felt empty and hopeless, bitter towards God over all that had happened to her, Ruth it seems, had faith that God might turn things around. In chapter 2, we saw how Ruth headed out to the fields to glean for food, hoping to gather just enough scraps to feed Naomi and herself. By God’s providence, she ended up in the fields of a worthy man, Boaz. Last week, we examined Boaz’s character and discovered that not only did he show God’s kindness toward Ruth by treating her as family, even though she was a poor foreigner, he also took steps to protect her, and serve her as she gleaned in his fields. On top of all that, he showered Ruth and Naomi with grace by ensuring Ruth’s work was productive. At the end of her first day of work, she went home with more food than many gleaners would collect in several days. Moreover, we saw last week that Boaz wasn’t just a good man who treated Ruth with kindness and grace. He was a kinsman redeemer, a relative who, under the provisions of the OT law, might be a candidate to secure a future for Ruth by assuming the financial and familial burdens left after her husband’s passing. As we said last week, there were some loopholes Boaz could have used to in order to avoid serving as a redeemer. He wasn’t a close relative of Elimilech or his sons. And even though her husband was a Jew, he had violated the law by marrying a Moabite woman. Since Ruth was a foreigner, it’s unclear whether she had any legal claim to the redeemer provisions at all. What is clear by the end of chapter 2 is that Ruth’s hard work and Boaz’s generosity had begun to soften the heart of bitter Naomi and replace her emptiness with hope. God hadn’t forgotten about them after all. He was, in fact, blessing them. God had used Boaz to remind Naomi of God’s covenant love and faithfulness and to provide for one of their pressing needs: food in the form of an 50-pound sack of barley seed. But chapter 2 ends with reminding us of one other need that is still unmet. Ruth is still living with her mother-in-law. While that arrangement might work for now, it wouldn’t in the long term. Naomi was getting older. Any legal claims and protections that her foreign daughter-in-law had might not be preserved at all once Naomi passed away. Ruth needed more protection than Naomi could offer. She needed a husband, and the seed of a child who would give her a right to the inheritance of Elimilech’s family line. Naomi recognizes this problem at the beginning of chapter 3:1 when she says to Ruth: “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” But how would an outsider like Ruth find a husband willing to support her and care for her? Nowadays, she might go on FarmersOnly.com and create a profile: “Widowed Moabitess who can carry a whole ephah of grain seeks hardworking man for long walk in the barley fields and quiet evenings by the fire. Must love children.” But in ancient Israel, this was a tricky problem that was going to require a creative solution. Who around Bethlehem would provide a place of rest for an outsider like Ruth? In part because of Israel’s troubled history with the Moabites, taking her as wife would be socially awkward, if not worse. Who would be willing risk of taking her in? But as Ruth recounted Boaz’s conversation towards her in chapter 2, the wheels began to churn in Naomi’s mind and she began to think that maybe Boaz was the man for the job. He’s already shown himself willing to care for the poor and needy. He’s protected Ruth and even expressed his admiration of her faith and character. But it’s almost the end of barley harvest and weeks after they first met, there doesn’t seem to be much progress in Ruth & Boaz’s relationship. Naomi senses the window of opportunity may be closing and that she may need to give these two a little push to speed things up, but this was a delicate matter. Women didn’t exactly initiate romance in this day and time, and Ruth couldn’t exactly drop down to one knee in the middle of the field and pop the question to an older man. Naomi comes up with a risky plan. She tells Ruth in verse 2: Isn’t Boaz working late tonight processing the harvest? When everyone has gone home, he’ll be sleeping out with the grain, guarding it. Get yourself cleaned up, make yourself look nice, and once you see he’s fallen asleep, go and lie down next to his feet and wait for him to tell you what to do. Now, it isn’t hard to imagine the things a man might be tempted to do in that situation. And you kind of wonder if Naomi hasn’t been reading Cosmopolitan magazine a bit too much: “15 Surefire Ways To Snag Your Man.” Just because this is the Bible, we shouldn’t miss that this is a risky and compromising strategy Naomi is asking Ruth to pursue, and it could have easily been misunderstood. If it fails, Ruth’s reputation was shot, maybe worse. But they are trusting that Boaz was indeed an honorable man of integrity who would respond appropriately to Ruth’s advances. Ruth responds in verse 5, “All that you say I will do,” and puts the plan into action. So the party ends, everybody goes home, and Boaz lays down to get some sleep. And toward the end of verse 7, the Bible says: “Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” Iain Duguid points out that most English translations fall short of the surprise & shock Boaz expressed in the Hebrew original. But if you’ve ever been startled awake at night, you can probably imagine the mixture of surprise and confusion Boaz felt in that moment: “Whoa! What’s going on? Who are you?!” And Ruth anwers in verse 9: “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings (literally, the corner of your garment) over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” In the ancient world, a commitment of marriage was symbolized by covering someone with the corner of your robe, roughly equivalent to giving someone an engagement ring in our culture. By asking Boaz to spread his wings over her, Ruth was making it clear that she wasn’t looking for a night of passion, but for a lifetime commitment. Ruth was asking Boaz to marry her, and to act as a kinsman redeemer for her. We talked about the role of a kinsman redeemer last week. A close relative was obligated to “redeem” or buy back his relatives if they fell into debt and had to sell themselves into slavery. If a man died without a child to inherit his property, the kinsman redeemer was instructed (Deuteronomy 25:5-10) to marry his brother’s widow in order to raise up a child to inherit his estate. It’s clear at this point Boaz had no legal obligations to do this. Otherwise, Ruth could have just walked up to him and insist he do his duty. Instead, she asked him to act according to the spirit of the law, to help provide and care for those whose future was uncertain at his own cost, even though he was required to do so. And Boaz agrees to her request. He complements Ruth faith in taking this risk and for asking him rather than a younger man. Just as Ruth had demonstrated faith by taking refuge in the Lord rather than the gods of her people, and had left her home to demonstrate God’s hesed faithfulness toward Naomi, now Ruth is demonstrating faith by choosing Boaz’s character over the prospects of younger men. And for his part, Boaz was choosing Ruth’s character, too. It was socially risky for Boaz to marry a foreigner. But he didn’t just see Ruth’s ethnicity. He saw her heart. Before we move on, a couple of quick applications from this section. First, when it comes to romantic relationships, choose character and spiritual compatibility above all. Young people, so much of the world’s advice about what makes a great romantic match is shifting sand. The attractiveness of the other person, their accomplishments, their prospects for wealth, your stomach does backflips when you’re around them, you’ve just never felt this way before. Listen, all that stuff is fading. Find you a Ruth or a Boaz, someone who follows the Lord, has a servant attitude towards others, and is a person of character. Second, in this time where our country is once again struggling with how to deal with issues of racism and injustice, let us see that here is just one more piece we can add to the mountain of evidence in the Bible that all of us, red, yellow, black, and white, are created in the image of God. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. It’s easy to judge someone by their outward appearance. Sometimes we do that based on skin color. Sometimes we do it based on economic status, or what someone wears, or who they associate with. In a society where many looked at Ruth as an outsider, Boaz welcomed her and saw what was in her heart. As Christians, we are called to value the heart, or as MLK said, “the content of their character rather than the color of their skin”. Adrian Rogers once said, “The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart.” So much of our problem, I think, comes from fear of those who are different from us and our tendency to insist on getting our point across rather than listening and seeking to understand the perspective of our neighbor. Rather than dealing with the log in our own eye, almost all of us find it easier to point out the speck in our neighbor’s eye. What would our society look like if all of us sought to love our neighbor and love our enemies? I’m getting away from Ruth & Boaz now, but if there’s one thing we can learn from Boaz, it’s that for all the excuses he could have made to treat Ruth as “less than” in his culture— she was poor, she was a foreigner, she was a woman—he treated her with the utmost respect and dignity. May we all do the same toward every person that we meet. Back to the story. In verse 11, Boaz says that “all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman”. How did Ruth go from being an unknown foreigner in Bethlehem to being known as a “worthy woman” in just a few weeks? It wasn’t by tooting her own horn or building her brand on Instagram. It was by making herself a servant and working hard through the heat of harvest season to provide for her mother-in-law. Jesus taught that those who are great in God’s kingdom are those who serve. If you want to be first in God’s eyes, make yourself last. He humbles the proud and exalts the humble. A complication arises in verse 12-13. Boaz says: “It is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” The word “willing” in the Hebrew has the idea of pleased. In other words, you get the sense that Boaz means if this other guy isn’t excited about taking Ruth under his wing, then Boaz intends to find a way to talk him out of it altogether. It speaks to his love for Ruth and growing excitement at the possibility of a life with her. But for all the romantic feelings developing between them, this was still a legal matter. And there was another closer relative who could potentially serve as a redeemer. But Boaz assures Ruth he will take care of sorting the matter out. But one way or another, Ruth can sleep tonight knowing she and Naomi will be taken care of. In the morning, before it was light enough for people to see Ruth and for rumors to begin to spread about where she had been all night, she headed home. But not before Boaz could send a gift. Verse 15 says: “He measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city.” Six measures was about 80 pounds of barley, which explains why Boaz had to lift it and put it on her back. And she carried it home. Ruth clearly wasn’t a frail creature. This abundance of seed wasn’t just a generous gift of food meant as a sort of dowry payment to Naomi. It had symbolic significance. In the Bible the number 7 often stands for completeness, but the number 6 often stands for incompleteness. The world was created in 6 days, but was incomplete without the seventh day, a day of rest. The concept of rest is important in this chapter. In verse 1, Naomi expressed her desire for Ruth to find rest from her uncertain social position. Boaz’s gift of six measures let’s Naomi know that he will not rest until he has fulfilled his commitment to Ruth. The gift of seed is also a reminder to us that Ruth is still awaiting the rest another kind of seed—a child—would provide. And we’ll find out how God provides for that need in chapter 4. But for the rest of our time today, I want you to go back to something Boaz said in verse 12: “There is a redeemer nearer than I.” Of course, Boaz was talking about Mr. First-InLine, the potential redeemer we’ll meet in chapter 4. But it’s clear that all through this story, there has been a Redeemer close than Boaz, a sovereign God who has been working in every detail behind the scenes to accomplish his purpose for Ruth & Naomi and shelter them under His wings. God had brought them back to Israel at just the right time. Harvest season. He had led them to just the right place. The fields of Boaz. And He had connected Ruth with the right person, a worthy man Boaz who is now committed to redeem her. In the Old Testament, three things must were required for a redeemer: 1. First, he had to be related to the one being redeemed. Thus, Boaz was from the “clan of Elimilech” (2:1). 2. Secondly, he had to be able to redeem. Boaz had to have the means to redeem Ruth and Naomi. As we will see in chapter 4, sometimes a potential reedeemer’s own financial indebtedness or liabilities caused him to be unable to redeem. 3. Thirdly, he had to be willing to redeem. Besides the financial commitment required, redeeming a relative—especially a widow in Ruth’s position—was a burdensome task. It meant more mouths to feed, more noise and commotion at home, etc. Not everyone was willing to endure the relational commitments redemption required. As we turn the page to the New Testament, we learn that Jesus Christ came as our Redeemer, to bear the burden of our sin debt and redeem us from the curse of the law: 1. Just as a Redeemer had to be related to the one in need of redemption, the Son of God became like us, taking on human form in his incarnation. Speaking of Jesus, John 1:14 says, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Hebrews 2:14-17 says: “Since therefore the children (that’s us) share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, [15] and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery…Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 2. Not only did the eternal Son of God become like one of us in order to redeem us, he was able to redeem. Mankind’s chief problem is that sin has corrupted our nature. Sin touches every part of our human experience. It separates us from God and causes us to be deserving of His wrath and punishment. We see the problem in the very first and highest commandment God gives us: to love Him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Who among us has always loved and obeyed God fully and perfectly? No one. Sin enslaves us, and leaves us owing a debt to our Creator that we cannot pay. Even our best efforts Isaiah 64:6 says, appear as a polluted garment before a holy God. But not so with Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 says, he was tempted in every way as we are, yet He was without sin. Because of he was without sin, Jesus was able to stand as our Redeemer and appease God’s wrath against our sin by offering Himself as a ransom for sin. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says: “Know that you were redeemed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” 3. Finally, Jesus was willing to redeem. As our nation celebrated D-Day yesterday, we remember just how amazing it is for someone to lay down his life for another. As humbling as it is to consider the bravery and sacrifice those Allied soldiers demonstrated on the beaches of Normandy, Romans 5 makes it clear that Jesus’ willingness to redeem sinners ought to astound us even more. It says, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus said in John 10:17-18: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.” Who killed Jesus? Was it the corrupt authorities of his day? Yes. Was it my sin and your sin? Certainly. But above all that, Jesus willingly laid His life down for us. He could’ve put a stop to the horrors of the cross at any time. But he didn’t. Why?! Because he was willingly paying the price of our redemption. Folks, Jesus Christ is our Boaz. He is the one who is related to us by His incarnation, who is able and willing to redeem us from sin. In Ruth chapter 3 we see a love story unfolding between Ruth & her redeemer, Boaz. But it’s meant to point us to the love story unfolding behind the scenes, where our Redeemer, Jesus, looked out among the fields and saw us wandering about like lost sheep without a shepherd, and took compassion on us, and set out to pay whatever price necessary to give us rest from our wandering & bring us back into the fold of God. The question before us this morning is are we, like Ruth, willing to take the risk of seeking redemption and shelter in Jesus? Are we willing to leave the comfort and complacency we’ve developed with sin and go to Jesus and seek shelter in His wings. Are we willing to trade our polluted garments for the covering of His robe of righteousness? If so, all that is left for us to do is to take hold of Jesus and find rest for our souls. He is able & willing to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness. Will you come to him today? If so, I’d love to know of your decision to follow Jesus today. I’ll be right here at the front of the room after the service is over, and I’d love to rejoice with you and help you take your next steps of faith. Many of you have already trusted Christ. You’ve already taken the risk of following Jesus and found He is more than able to redeem and save you from sin. But don’t forget His love story is still unfolding. There are more lost sheep wandering out in the cold. Who will have compassion on them and take the risk of going to them with God’s message of redemption and forgiveness? Don’t let the window of opportunity for some lost soul around you close without sharing with them that there is a Redeemer who is willing and able to save. Let’s pray.
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