Ruth: My Son, My Redeemer


3rd Sunday of Advent
Ruth 4:13-17

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus who is our eternal Redeemer, dear friends in Christ, my 2 year old son David has learned a new word: Why. I think there’s a time in every child’s life when they learn that word and it becomes a favorite. “David, go to the toilet.” “Why?” “David, come to the table.” “Why?” “David, stop playing with that!” “Why?” “David, don’t hit your sister!” “Why?” If you have children, I’m guessing you know what that’s like. J Now, I don’t know if he just picked that up from one of his parents or one of his siblings or if he just likes saying the word and doesn’t care about an explanation. But it does strike you that he’s questioning whether someone else knows what’s better for him than he does. But, really, that’s a question that never really goes away in life. “Why?” And what about when it comes to God? Do you ever ask that question of God? Do you shake your head, look up, and wonder, “Why God?” Do you think God looks down at us and sees a bunch of little children asking “Why?” all the time?  And why would we ask why? Isn’t it because our definition of life or the way things should be in life is not lining up with the way God is working things out in life? Don’t our questions come when our ideas of a good life are not matching up with what God has in the works?

You see, our relationship with God is based on trust. He doesn’t spell everything out for us, He doesn’t explain everything to us. In grace He’s given us His Word, in love He’s won us for eternal life. And He says to us, “If you give up your definition of what you think life should be and you follow me, doing the right thing, your life won’t be what you expect, probably won’t even be the good life you were hoping for, but I’ll take care of you and it will be great.” Let’s think about that as we review this incredible account about Ruth.

It all begins with the family of Elimelech. Elimelech and his wife Naomi move out of Israel and into the foreign country of Moab because a famine is devastating Israel and they don’t want to die. They had two sons who, while they were living in Moab, meet and marry two Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. Well, in the course of time, exactly what they were trying to avoid happens!  All the men die. Elimelech and his two sons. And Naomi hears that there is food once again in Judah. So she sets out to move back to her homeland. Ruth and Orpah accompany her, but Naomi urges them to stay in Moab because it will be much better for them, they’ll be by their own families, they’ll be taken care of, and have better prospects for getting married and having status in life. But that leaves Naomi in a devastating position. She’s old and she’s a widow.  So, there were really 4 ways that she could be taken care of as a widow: 1. Work in the fields, but she’s too old, 2. Get married, but she’s too old 3. Your children support you, but her children are dead and her daughters in law are Moabites 4. Sell her dead husband’s property and hope that she can survive on it. And as we’ve noted before, a widow in Bible times was the most vulnerable in society. She had to live at the mercy of others. Naomi’s life is miserable, she’s lost everything in that culture that would give her meaning and significance in life. In tears, Orpah returns to her own home. But not Ruth. We’re told that Ruth “clung” to Naomi. It makes no outward sense for Ruth to go with Naomi. Her home, her family, her status, her safety, her prospects of a getting married and having a good life are in staying in Moab. But this is what we hear from Ruth, “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where 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.” What a confession of faith from this Moabite woman! Finally, Naomi relents and lets Ruth come with her.

When Naomi returned there was quite a stir among the whole town of Bethlehem where she was from. This is how down Naomi is, she tells the other women to not call her Naomi, which means “pleasant,” but Mara, which means bitter. Well, Ruth immediately sets off to work in order to have food to eat. One of the things that God allowed for was farmers to not harvest every single piece of grain in their field and maximize their profits. They were actually supposed to purposely leave some in the field so the poor could go through and find food to eat. This is what Ruth did and she just so happened to pick a field that was owned by a man named Boaz. As she was going through after the harvesters, Boaz noticed her, inquired about who she was, and showed her incredible kindness. He doesn’t want her to glean in anyone else’s field, well, why not? Because he’s warned his servants not to touch her. Why would he have to do that? Well, as a Moabitess, she was an outcast of Israel and vulnerable to being hurt or harmed, he protects her, then he has her work with his working women who were harvesting, that means now she’s not just gleaning, she’s harvesting and can keep what she harvests.

Then Ruth went back to Naomi not with just a few gleanings, but a ton! Where did you get this? And Ruth tells her about Boaz and how he had been kind to her. Naomi says, “Oh my! Boaz is one of our “goels” – our kinsman redeemers.” Since Naomi had no husband or son or any income she was forced to sell her property. You see, there were two ways that a poor person could keep their property. God didn’t want all the land owned by only a few people destabilizing the economy and creating an impoverished underclass. So, first there was the year of Jubilee, every 50 years, property that had been sold would revert back to the original owner. Second, the kinsman redeemer. A close relative could “redeem” or “buy back” the property to keep it in the deceased family member’s name. Then the purchaser would buy it, maybe go into debt, work the land as Naomi’s trustee. But who would do that? But, then, in this case the land couldn’t really be restored because there was no descendant of the family. But another law also said that if a man died his unmarried brother was to marry his widow and if they had a son, that son would legally carry on the name of the deceased brother in order to preserve his deceased brother’s name in Israel. Well, this seemed to extend voluntarily to close relatives as well. Under this law, if Ruth, who was married to one of Naomi’s sons, would marry again and have a son, that child would then be able to legally claim a right to Naomi’s property and it would remain in her line. But who would do this? Who would marry a Moabite and then knowing that a male child would then be legally another families and then inherit the land you just purchased? Who would do that?

So, Ruth indicates to Boaz that she would be willing to marry him, even though he was quite a bit older than her. And what does Boaz say? “I’ll do it all. I’ll redeem Naomi’s property and also marry Ruth fully knowing that the first male child will legally carry on the name of Naomi’s family and inherit the property.” And it happened, and God blessed them with a son named Obed, who then becomes the grandson of Naomi, a son to carry on her family’s name, inherit her property and take care of her. But also think about Ruth, her life has taken a total reversal. She went from being an impoverished foreigner to having equal share of all of Boaz’s wealth –none of it she worked to earn!

A “redeemer” is really someone who “gives something to buy someone or something back.” And we have several redeemers here, don’t we? There’s the obvious one: Boaz. He takes on the debt of his relatives to keep them from poverty, he unselfishly unites himself to Ruth giving her equal share in all his wealth.  But then there’s Ruth of whom the book of the Bible is named. What does she do? Every immigrant leaves their own country expecting to have a better life, but look at what Ruth does, she leaves her home country expecting a worse life! She had a choice between a life that would have seemed good and what she knew was right, was what God wanted. She knew that if she didn’t go with Naomi, Naomi’s life was humanly speaking over, she had nothing and no reason to keep going, her life was “bitter.” So, if Naomi was going to get her life back, Ruth had to give hers up! She has to give up everything to go with Naomi. She impoverishes herself so Naomi can be rich. She leaves her home, becomes a foreigner in a strange land, gives her life in marriage to Boaz, all so that Naomi’s life is redeemed, restored! Why does she do it? Because she has placed God at the center of her life, she’s going to do what is pleasing to the LORD. “I will obey, I’ll do the right thing, I won’t expect an easy life.” And she put no conditions on it, “nothing but death will keep me from doing what I need to do.”

But there’s another Redeemer far greater than Boaz or Ruth. You see, Boaz became the father of Obed, Obed had Jesse, and Jesse had King David. And one day, born in the line of David, in Bethlehem, the town of David, the ultimate Redeemer was born. Like Ruth, the Redeemer, Jesus left behind a “good” life, left behind glory, to be impoverished in a world foreign to Him because of sin. Like Ruth, He gave up His life, so that we might have eternal life. Like Boaz, He paid our debt our ransom of sin with His own blood shed on the cross. Like Boaz, He unites Himself to you with the waters of baptism and His own body and blood in the sacrament, so that all of His wealth might become your wealth. Like Boaz, He is our true relative, our God took on our human flesh and blood, not to show us how we can live a good life to please God, but to be the good life, the perfect life we couldn’t live in our place as our substitute. And greater than Ruth, our Redeemer Jesus doesn’t even let death separate us from Him, but rose from the dead to prove without a doubt that we are His eternally.

With a Redeemer like Jesus, we can give up our own definition of what we think life should be or how life should go or what we think would be a good life, and even though we might not see it or understand the why, we can do what’s right, what God wants us to do, what is God-pleasing, and know that our life might not be what we expect, but it will be great. For we have been bought eternally by our Redeemer, Jesus, Ruth’s Son, our Savior. Amen.

What’s in Your Heart?

21st Sunday after Pentecost
Ruth 1:1-19

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!  In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,

A while back a company started running some ads in which they used a certain phrase that’s kind of become associated with them.  The company was the credit card company, Capital One, and their ploy was to convince you that with all of the extra fees, penalties, and high interest rates of so many credit cards out there, their card was different.  And the phrase they coined was “What’s in your wallet?”  The point, I think, was to make you stop and think about what kind of credit card you have and how their Capital One card was so much better.  So, they asked the question: What’s in your wallet?

Well, there’s something that God cares about far more than what’s in your wallet.  And the question that our text for this morning leads us to ask ourselves is: What’s in your heart?  And particularly a time when we must ask ourselves – consciously or not- about what’s in our heart is when we have to make decisions.  We make decisions all of the time, don’t we?  And often our decisions have really little consequence, like, “What am I going to eat for dinner?  Green beans or carrots?”  “Should I watch this movie or that movie?”  But then there are some decisions that we make that are much more important, like, “Whom should I marry?”  “What college should I attend?” “What career should I pursue?”  Those decisions may affect the direction of our entire lives.  Well, interspersed throughout all of the decisions we make in life are the decisions we make as Christians.  Decisions like, “Should I serve God or not?”  “Do I do what is God-leasing or not?”  “Do I do what God wants or what feels good?”

And then add to all of that a further dimension to the decisions and the choices we make day after day: hardships and trouble.  It can be even more challenging to God-pleasing decisions when we’re in the midst of heart-ache and trouble.  We just heard about the 10 lepers.  They were in misery- forced to die a miserable death ostracized from society, yet, in their trouble they cried out for mercy from the only One who could do something for them.  But after Jesus healed them, they had another decision: Do we return to thank Jesus or keeping going on our way and get back to our lives?  Well, the same is true for us.  Do I blame God for the troubles and problems of my life?  When I face hardship is one of my first thoughts, “How could God allow this?”  “When I meet trouble do I become bitter and angry and upset or continue to serve God and trust in Him?”

Well, in our text for this morning, a lady named Ruth was faced with a very important decision.  The time of our text is during the point in Israel’s history when the nation was ruled by “judges.”  This was a time of shocking religious and moral degeneration, we’re told, “Everyone did as he saw fit,” foreign nations invaded Israel, it was a mess.  But there was one God-fearing family who because of a famine in Judah moved to Moab in order to find food and survive.  Now Moab was a neighboring country to Israel, probably about a 70 mile walk, so about the distance from here to Grand Rapids.  But while they were there the family’s dad died.  Then the 2 sons married Moabite women.  This wasn’t something directly forbidden by God as was marrying Canaanites.  The Moabites were actually a cousin people of the Israelites as they were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot.  But, unfortunately, they had abandoned God and for the most part became unbelievers and enemies of the Israelites.

Well, after 10 years of being in Moab, Naomi’s two sons also died- leaving 3 widows.  In our day it’s hard enough to lose a child or lose a spouse, but in these days it was even more difficult.  The men were the ones who were expected to take care of and provide for the family, with them gone their lives would have been very difficult.  But then Naomi heard that the famine had ended in her hometown in Judah and decided to head back.  It was common courtesy for both of her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to accompany for a little while, but then turn back.  So after a while Naomi encourages them to go ahead and return home.

This situation led to an important choice Ruth and Orpah had to make: return home or remain with Naomi.  Consider what this meant for the ladies.  Going with Naomi would mean that their hopes of getting married as foreigners in Israel would have been very slim, going with Naomi would have meant leaving their family and probably never seeing them again, going would have meant leaving behind their culture, their home, their nation, their friends, pretty much everything they knew.

Orpah chose to return to her home.  Notice Naomi’s apparent disapproval.  First, when addressing Ruth she refers to Orpah no longer as “daughter” or even “daughter-in-law” but now it’s “your sister-in-law.”  Besides that, when Naomi points out that Orpah has left she’s pointing to an example Ruth could logically follow, but not one she’s encouraging her to emulate.  Finally, we’re not told that Naomi kisses Orpah, but Orpah kissed Naomi and then left never to be heard of again.  What happened to Orpah?  Finally, we don’t know.  But from Naomi’s words that “she has gone back to her people and her gods” gives the impression that she went the way of the world and not only turned her back on Naomi, but turned her back on the Lord she had come to know and likely died an unbeliever.

But Ruth’s actions were different.  She chose differently.  “Don’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.  Where 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.”  Remember too that she is speaking to Naomi.  Naomi who has been trying her faith by seeming to permit her to go back to her family’s home and her nation’s gods.  Add to that how Naomi – in her frustration and despair- has spoken about God!  The God to whom Ruth is committing herself to continue to follow is the God whom Naomi has in essence described as a harsh judge and executioner!  Who has caused all of her troubles and emptiness who’s “hand has gone against” her!

So, not only did Ruth know that the true God is the God of the Israelites, but she also saw a fellow believer who was struggling, struggling under the ways of God, doubting God’s goodness and grace.  So in loving the Lord her God above all else and loving her neighbor as herself, Ruth set aside any personal goals, any marriage prospects, an “easy” life, any worldly gain, and chose to live as a poor beggar and take care of her mother-in-law.

Well, what about you?  Would that have been your decision?  I guess we won’t likely face a decision like this, but we do face decisions of the same nature every day, don’t we?  Do I let this conversation with my spouse escalate into an argument or deal with patience and love and kindness?  Do I join my friends and do something I know is wrong or do I show my faith in God and stand up for what is right?  Do I complain about my life and harbor a resentment against God about how things are going or do I joyously forsake all things for Him and gladly help others who are struggling?  If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us here has to admit we’re guilty.  We don’t deserve to be included among God’s people.

In self-less love Ruth chose to remain with Naomi and give up her life to help and take care of Naomi.  Why?  Well, it all goes back to where we started, doesn’t it?  What’s in your heart?  Finally, our decisions are made from what is in our hearts.  So, what’s in your heart?

A self-less, faithful love that Ruth showed Naomi didn’t originate or come from her, did it?  Really, it came from the God whom she had come to know and love.  The God of faithful promises, the God who remained faithful to His covenant people, the God who would fulfill every promise that he made and bring into this world the promised Messiah, the promised Savior of the world, the one whom God had promised to Abraham would be a blessing to every nation on earth, the God who promised Ruth’s first parents Adam and Eve that He would send a Savior to crush the devil’s head, the God who described Himself to Moses as the Lord the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin.  This is the God whom Ruth came to know and love and serve.

But, do you know any less about the love of God than Ruth?  Actually, you know even more!  You know how God kept His promise to send a Savior, you know how at just the right time this very Ruth’s great, great, great, great, etc grandson was born!  Jesus came to this earth and had a heart perfectly devoted to God, Jesus came and made every right decision, including the decision to go the cross.  Why?  Because at God’s very heart is a love we’ll never get to the bottom.  At God’s heart is an incredible desire to see you in His paradise.

The love of God that transformed Ruth’s heart is the very same love of God that you and I know.  This love of God transforms our hearts.  It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when we have a choice to keep going on with our own lives or to thank Him like the one leper, to thank him.  It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when we are faced with trouble and trial –even as the apostle Paul was who faced death- to choose to rely on God rather than become upset and bitter and frustrated.  It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when faced with the choice of doing what’s good for me or doing what’s good for someone else, to serve others just like Ruth did.

And knowing this affects so much of your life!  Instead of facing decisions from a self-centered standpoint, face decisions by asking yourself first, “Who is my God?  What has my God graciously done for me?  How can I use this decision to thank Him and live for Him?”  If you’re a young person, I’m so glad you’re here to hear this.  You’re being faced with more and more decisions in life and it may be tempted to base your decisions on your own wants or desires, or your feelings, or on what other people think, but instead of allowing the bad decisions of the people around you influence you, think about how your God-pleasing decisions and choices might influence the people around you!

In the end, of course, God shows himself to be the very God who does all things well.  In the end God uses His faithful servant Ruth for His work.  He showers even further grace upon Ruth by using her in His plan of bringing the Savior into this world.  In the end?  Boaz becomes the Kinsman-Redeemer.  As a close relative he could buy Naomi’s family’s land and marry her oldest son’s widow.  Then as Kinsman-redeemer his first born son would carry the name of the family he redeemed.  God blessed them and Ruth had a son who would later become the grandfather of great King David who would be the great, great, great, etc. ancestor to the Redeemer, the Savior.

So, yes, in the end God does all things well.  But the question remains: what about you?  In what ways might God work through you?  How might God use your godly decisions for working good and bringing His grace to more people just like Ruth?  What’s in your heart?  Since it’s the amazing love of your Lord may you live and make decisions out of faithful love and thanksgiving to Him!  Amen.