A friend of mine recently asked if I would post the manuscript of a sermon I recently preached on Ruth 4. I preached a series of sermons on the book of Ruth in 2013 and will make the manuscripts available throughout the coming weeks. I was initially very hesitant about making these manuscripts public since they are written in a “sermonic” rather than literary style but I hope that they might prove helpful and edifying nonetheless.
Redemption Accomplished and Applied- A Sermon on Ruth 4
If there is one foundational truth that we learn from the book of Ruth it is, as William Cowper puts it in his famous hymn, that the people of God are met with many “frowning providences” throughout the course of their lives. The story of Ruth begins with famine, exile, sin, barrenness and death. During the period of time in Israel’s history when the judges ruled, a dark and depraved time in which people did what was right in their own eyes, a famine struck the town of Bethlehem, a famine so severe that it drove a man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to leave the promised land for the pagan lands of Moab. After arriving in Moab, we saw that the hard hand of God’s judgment fell upon Elimelech’s family. Elimelech, the family patriarch dies; Mahlon and Chilion take for themselves Moabite wives; and after 10 years of childlessness, Mahlon and Chilion die, leaving Naomi all alone, with two Gentile daughters-in-law, in a land of exile and death, with no hope of offspring to continue the family line; and this fact is really the major problem of the book that needs to be resolved- Naomi is an old woman, Ruth is a barren widow, the name and identity of Elimelech’s family stands on the brink of total destruction. And so even in spite of the blessing of Ruth, Naomi’s loving, faithful, devoted daughter in law; in spite of returning to Bethlehem where the Lord had provided food for his people, Naomi concludes chapter 1 with a lament- “The Lord has dealt very bitterly with me, I went away full and the Lord has brought me back empty.” Naomi had experienced firsthand the black side of God’s providence and the conclusion she drew is that the hard hand of God’s judgment was the final word in her life.
And the book Ruth begins this way- it begins with the black side of God’s providence- with the emptiness of Naomi- because the purpose of the book of Ruth is to set before us how the Lord restores Naomi from emptiness to fulness through the characters of Ruth and Boaz. The story of Ruth is almost like a miniature version of the story of the Old Testament. The story of the Old Testament is the story of God establishing his typological kingdom in Israel out of the chaos of sin, particularly out of the chaos of exile. The story of the book of Ruth reflects the larger story of the OT- it is the story of God establishing his kingdom in Israel out of the chaos, barrenness, and exile which marked Naomi’s life through the work of the kinsman Redeemer Boaz and his great grandson King David. The book of Ruth begins with desolation and ends with new creation; it begins with death and ends with resurrection; it begins with slavery and ends with redemption; it begins with anarchy and ends with monarchy.
And so it is to chapter 4 that we turn our attention this morning and the one big idea I want us all to understand and rejoice in this morning- the one central and foundational truth that we are able to derive from chapter 4 is that the Lord secures our redemption and establishes his kingdom among us through the redemption purchased by the divinely appointed kinsman Redeemer. The Lord frees us from our bondage, secures for us an unimaginably great and glorious inheritance, restores us to fullness, and raises us to life through the redemption purchased by a faithful, obedient, Torah-keeping Redeemer . And this reality of redemption or we might say God’s work of restoration through redemption is really the theme of this chapter and so we will look at this idea of redemption from 2 perspectives: First, Redemption Accomplished (v. 1-12) , Second Redemption Applied (v. 13-22).
And the first thing I want us to notice here is the redemption accomplished by Boaz. If you remember from chapter 3, Ruth had essentially proposed marriage to Boaz in a very unusual manner. We saw that Boaz accepts this proposal, but we also saw that there is an obstacle to this marriage. Boaz tells Ruth in chapter 3 that there is another blood relative closer to Naomi that held the right of redemption before Boaz. As we have seen already, there was a particular arrangement made under the Mosaic law that if a man died without any children, the dead man’s brother (called the kinsman redeemer or go’el) could marry the childless widow in order to raise up offspring for the dead husband and thereby preserve the name of the man who had died. Now one of the big problems in the book of Ruth is that Naomi and Ruth have been reduced to emptiness and this emptiness consists in the fact that, from Naomi’s perspective in chapter 1, there is no one who could possibly marry Ruth and continue the family line. We saw in chapter 3 that Boaz is indeed willing to marry Ruth, but now there is this obstacle of the other redeemer who holds the right of redemption. And you might say- okay, why is this an obstacle? There are now two Redeemers who could step in and restore Naomi’s family! Isn’t this good news for Ruth and Naomi? However, it is an obstacle because we [the reader] don’t want just any Redeemer to marry Ruth! We want Boaz- faithful, loving, kind, generous- Boaz to marry Ruth and restore Naomi’s family to fulness. And so in the beginning of chapter 4, Boaz sets out to resolve this conflict.
We are told in v. 1 that Boaz goes to the gate of the city which was the place where business was conducted, kind of the ancient equivalent to the town hall or the courthouse, and as he goes to the gate, the narrator tells us that “behold, the Redeemer of whom Boaz had spoken came by.” Boaz approaches this man and then addresses him. The ESV and most English translations render Boaz’s words to the other redeemer like this: “Turn aside, friend, sit down here” but that’s actually not the best translation. The word translated “friend” is actually 2 rhyming words in Hebrew- Peloni Almoni- and the best translation is actually not “friend” but “so-and-so.” “Turn aside Mr. So and So” or we might say today, “turn aside John Doe or “Hey Mister- Turn Aside and Sit Down.” Now Boaz certainly would have known the name of this relative and yet, curiously, the storyteller refuses to give him a name. And we have to ask ourselves, “Okay, why does the storyteller do this?” and I think there is at least one big reason. The reason why the storyteller refuses to even dignify this other redeemer with a name is because this redeemer, as we find out in just a few verses, refuses to carry on the name of Elimelech by redeeming Ruth. He’s an unfaithful redeemer! The book of Ruth is all about the need to restore and redeem the name of Elimelech and because Mr. So and So refuses to do redeem Elimelech’s name, he himself is not worthy of a name.
So Boaz, after telling Mr. So and So to turn aside, gathers together the elders of the city who would serve as witnesses to this transaction, and then we learn in v. 3-4 that Naomi is seeking to sell some of the land that belonged to her husband Elimelech. In Lev. 25 we are told that if a poor person was forced to sell their land because of their poverty, it was the responsibility of his nearest relative- the go’el- to step in and actually buy back the property which now belonged to this third party. The most likely situation is that Elimelech, before leaving Moab, had sold his property to someone else and Naomi, the poor relative, is in need of a go’el, a Redeemer, to purchase the land back. And so Boaz is giving Mr. So and So the opportunity to step in as the go’el and do this. Mr. So and So decides to purchase the field- it’s a good deal, the fruitfulness of the field would likely compensate for the price paid for it, why not purchase the field? There is a catch, however, that Boaz has failed to mention- “Oh and by the way” Boaz says “when you buy this land, you also have to buy Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate his name and inheritance.” All of a sudden those dollar signs begin to disappear from before Mr. So and So’s eyes. This might not be such a good deal after all! Purchasing Ruth meant that Mr. So and So would become responsible for raising up another son in order to carry on the name of Elimelech, not his own. Purchasing Ruth meant that the land would remain in Mr. So and So’s possession only until this other son became old enough to claim it. Add to this the social stigma attached to marrying Ruth, an unclean Gentile, an enemy of Israel- all of a sudden this deal doesn’t sound so good anymore, does it?
And so Mr. So and So changes his mind. In v. 6 he says that He cannot not redeem the land [why?] lest his own inheritance be impaired. He tells Boaz to take his right of redemption. He is an unfaithful and self-seeking Redeemer unlike Boaz who takes the right of redemption and redeems everything that belonged to Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion. Boaz is worthy of a name; Mr. So and so is not. The narrator then zooms out of the story and records this custom in which the unwilling redeemer would remove his sandal and hand it to the one purchasing his right of redemption. And so the last great conflict of the book- the right of this other redeemer- is resolved. Ruth and Boaz can now be joined in marriage; there is a faithful redeemer in Bethlehem who will continue the name of Elimelech. The elders and the people then bless Boaz, praying that he might be renowned in Bethlehem, that the Lord might make Ruth like Rachel and Leah, that his house might be like Perez, the son of Judah. In other words, they are praying that God might use Boaz and his offspring to continue the Abrahamic line; that he and his offspring might be God’s appointed medium to bring blessing to his people and to the world; and this is an anticipation of what we find out in just a few verses when this prayer is marvelously answered.
Now lets step back for a minute and try to look at the big picture that the storyteller is setting before us in this opening scene because it’s easy to get caught up in many of the legal details and miss the bigger picture. What is the storyteller doing in this opening scene? He is painting a portrait of the faithful, obedient, law-keeping character of Boaz and setting up in stark contrast with with the unfaithful and self-seeking character of this nameless redeemer. Boaz, as we saw at the end of chapter 3, does not rest until he deals with this obstacle of the other Redeemer. But notice how he does it- he doesn’t deal with this obstacle by taking what rightfully belongs to this other Redeemer; he doesn’t bypass the law of God or take short cuts; he doesn’t allow his love for Ruth to soften his commitment to doing things God’s way- no, quite the opposite. Boaz is intent upon acquiring Ruth according to the letter of God’s law and he does it comprehensively and selflessly. He gathers the witnesses, he offers this other man the opportunity to redeem Ruth, he faithfully carries out his responsibilities as the kinsman redeemer no matter the cost. As one writer puts it, Boaz is a model of the faithful King of Israel, who according to Ps. 72, renders justice to the poor and satisfies the needy.
More than that Boaz is a picture or an anticipation of how God will secure the redemption of his people through the promised Messiah. We learn from Boaz that the redemption of God’s people can only be secured through the faithful, rigorous, comprehensive, selfless obedience of a Redeemer, a Redeemer worthy of a name, a Redeemer who humbles himself, who empties himself, who gives of himself for the sake of the helpless, the foreigner, the alien, and the exiled no matter the cost. And in this way, Boaz provides us with a striking and beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Redeemer of God’s elect, whose complete, comprehensive, rigorous and selfless obedience to the will of his Father secured a full redemption for his people; whose obedience to law of God secured for him the name which is above every name (Phil. 2:9)
The redemption purchased by Christ for us is comprehensive and complete: he has purchased us out of our bondage and slavery to sin and Satan; he has removed our guilt by satisfying divine justice; he has removed the curse and sting of death; he has redeemed our bodies; he has redeemed our souls; his redemption extends to the creation itself. This redemption purchased by Jesus Christ was also selfless: though he was in the form of God, he did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. Boaz paid a mighty price to redeem the name and inheritance of Elimelech and yet the price paid by our beloved Savior was infinitely greater. He sealed our pardon with his blood.
I think one of the reasons our hearts, even as believers, often remain cold and unmoved by this good news of redemption through Jesus Christ is that sometimes we really don’t view ourselves like Naomi- as helpless, spiritually barren, completely dependent upon the willingness of a Redeemer to provide for our needs. We don’t view ourselves as foreigners and aliens like Ruth, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:12). But apart from Christ and the redemption purchased by him and applied to us by the Holy Spirit we are spiritually dead, lifeless, children of wrath, alienated, estranged, condemned. Like Ruth and Naomi we are spiritual exiles, completely unable to save ourselves apart from the perfect obedience and satisfaction of a Redeemer. And so I ask you, have you entrusted yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ, have you closed with him by faith? Believer in the Lord Jesus Christ: are you continually entrusting yourself to the Lord Jesus Christ every day? Are you deriving all of your sufficiency from Christ? Are you clinging to Christ, resting in Christ, communing with Christ, delighting in Christ? Are you resting in his righteousness or are you trusting in your own? Is redemption through the consummate kinsman Redeemer your only plea, or are you trying to work your way out of the slave market of sin by your own obedience to the law of God? Ruth and Naomi were entirely dependent upon faithful Boaz for their deliverance; we are completely dependent upon our faithful Savior for our deliverance. We never outgrow our need for the redemption purchased by the Lord Jesus Christ. May it be our prayer that as John Newton writes in one of his letters, every day might show us more and more of our own heart and more of the power, sufficiency, compassion, and grace of our adorable Redeemer.
The second thing I want us to notice in this chapter is the redemption that is applied to Naomi and Ruth and it is in these verses that we finally see the resolution of the central problem of the book- that of Naomi’s emptiness. And we see, in these verses a remarkable series of reversals. Notice 1st, the reversal of Ruth’s barrenness. In v. 13, we are told that the Lord applies the redemption purchased by Boaz in miraculously giving Ruth a son. Notice in v. 14 it is the Lord who gives her conception. Now this might not seem all that remarkable if you forget that in chapter 1, Ruth, during the 10 years that she was married to her husband, was barren. And so the Lord miraculously opens Ruth’s womb and gives her a son.
But then the focus shifts away from Ruth and onto Naomi and the divine reversal of her emptiness. The narrator essentially tells us that Ruth’s son is really Naomi’s son- the Lord has given Naomi a redeemer (v. 14). Notice the words of the women in v. 14. These words of blessing recorded here in chapter 4 parallel the words uttered by the women in chapter 1 and the cry of bitterness from Naomi. Do you remember back in chapter 1, the women of Bethlehem say among themselves as Naomi returns from Moab “Is This Naomi?” and Naomi responds by telling them not to call her Naomi (which means sweet) but Mara which means bitter. The women of Bethlehem are longer saying “Is this Naomi?” (as they did in ch. 1) but rather in v. 14: “Blessed be the Lord who has not left you this day without a Redeemer.” Naomi’s bitterness has been replaced by blessing!
And notice that this Redeemer in v. 14 is not Boaz but the child born to Ruth. This child is Naomi’s Redeemer! The prayer that the elders and the people had just offered up to God a few verses earlier is marvelously fulfilled in v. 14 as Ruth gives birth to a son- a Redeemer- whose name will be renowned in Israel. Notice also how the birth of this Redeemer brings restoration and nourishment to Naomi in v. 15 –“he shall be a restorer of life to you and a nourisher of your old age.” In other words, the miraculous birth of this child brings with it nothing short of resurrection life for Naomi. Chapter 1 begins with death- the death of Elimelech and the death of Naomi’s sons. Chapter 4 concludes with resurrection- the restoration which the birth of this child brings to Naomi and her family.
And so the narrative portion of the story concludes with a description of this little child sitting upon Naomi’s lap in v. 16. It’s a visible picture of the complete reversal of Naomi’s situation. The child is named Obed and and then in v. 16 the narrator provides us with a surprise ending. He tells us that Obed was the father of Jesse who was the father of David. And it is at this point that we really understand the significance of this whole story; we see why it was so important that Elimelech’s family line be preserved. God was at work through this family to bring on to the scene of history the greatest King of Israel- King David. God was working, through this seemingly insignificant little family, in the darkest period of Israel’s history, to establish his typological kingdom in their midst, to usher in the long awaited eschatological kingdom in the person of Jesus Christ. We see, then, that when viewed in light of the whole drama of redemption, the message of the book of Ruth is that the Lord was preparing the way for the birth of the true King, the Lord Jesus Christ, who would redeem us from our bondage to sin and establish his everlasting kingdom among us. In the midst of the darkness, chaos, and anarchy of sin emerged a Messiah-Son who has graciously established his redemptive rule over a rebellious people through the purchase of a full redemption- a redemption unimaginably greater than anything Boaz, Obed, or David could accomplish. Jesus is our “greater than Boaz,” Jesus is our “greater than Obed,” Jesus is our “greater than David,” and he delights in filling empty souls with his soul refreshing presence.
I think we learn an important lesson from the way that this book ends regarding the life of the believer and the character of what Rutherford calls “the black side of God’s providence.” One of the lessons that we learn from the way that the book begins and ends; from these remarkable series of reversals; is that the life of the believer is not a straight line to glory. Who would have thought that God was using the bleak, dark, tragic circumstances of chapter 1, full of famine, exile, death, and barrenness, to bring to on to the stage of history Israel’s greatest King and ultimately, the Lord Jesus Christ? Who would have thought that Naomi’s emptiness would be reversed in such a profound way through the faithfulness of Boaz, the devotion of Ruth, and the birth of a Redeemer? And yet, through all of the twists, turns, dangers, toils and snares, the Lord was carrying out his good and gracious purposes for Naomi and this is no less true for us today. The Christian life is full of many twists and turns and obstacles and trials of various kinds. But if we belong to Jesus Christ- though we are met with dangers, toils, and snares- though troubles assail our souls and dangers afright- we can be assured that God is sovereignly working, through all the events in our lives, to bring us to our final, glorious inheritance through the promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. At the end of Naomi’s wilderness road full of setbacks and tragedies and seemingly impossible circumstances was the infant Redeemer- Obed- who would restore to her everything which she had lost. And at the end of our wilderness road full of set backs and tragedies and seemingly impossible circumstances is the imperishable, undefiled, unfading inheritance purchased for us by the blood of our kinsman Redeemer.
And so this story ends with a genealogy. Look with me at v. 18-22.
“Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron, Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.”
There are a number of things we could point out in this genealogy but I want to point out just a few things. Notice that back in v. 12, the elders and the people pray that God would make Boaz’s house like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah. And then Perez is mentioned yet again in v. 18- he was the great, great, great, great grandfather of Boaz. And you ask- okay who was Perez and why is that important? Perez, you might remember, was one of two twins, born out of the incestuous relationship between Judah and his daughter-in-law Tamar who dressed up like a prostitute and deceived Judah so that she might have a son (Gen. 38). This means that Boaz himself, a descendent of Judah and Tamar, was the product of an incestuous relationship. And remember that Ruth is a Moabite. The nation of Moab emerged out of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughters. And then notice Salmon, Boaz’s father, is also included in the genealogy. Who is Salmon? Salmon, according to Matthew’s genealogy, was the husband of Rahab the harlot. Rahab, according to this genealogy, was the mother of Boaz. Are you beginning to see a pattern? And we ask ourselves why so many notorious sinners? Why hang out the dirty laundry of adultery and incest and uncleanness for all to see? Why would God use such filthy, abominable, heartbreaking sins to establish his kingdom in Israel and prepare the way for the coming of his Son? And the answer is that God wants to put on full display, before all the world to see, that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more! As Iain Hamilton writes “The God of the Bible is a God whose grace bursts every conceivable notion of undeserved kindness and says to people ‘no matter how bleak and black and dark and godless your circumstances, I’m able to make all things new.”
And if there is one foundational lesson that we can take from this book, it is this truth, that God loves sinners, that God delights in saving and restoring the lowest of the low. What Jerome wrote of Matthew’s genealogy is equally true of the genealogy provided here at the end of this book: “In it none of the holy women are included, only those whom the Scriptures blame, in order that He who came in behalf of sinners, Himself being born of sinners, might destroy the sins of all.”
And so let me close by asking you a series of questions. How have you responded to this marvelous grace? Have you believed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, because there is no other name in heaven or on earth by which men can be saved. Have you come, with all of your sin and your filth and your misery, to the foot of the cross? Because it is there and there alone and nowhere else where you will find pardon. Maybe you are here this morning and you think that salvation is far from you. You are too dirty, too far gone, your situation is too desperate. Perhaps you think that you have a lot of work to do before you can lay claim to the heavenly inheritance offered to you in the gospel. I would urge you- consider the kind of people the Lord used, in his grace, to bring his Son into the world- Judah, Tamar, Rahab, Ruth. Look to the cross of Jesus Christ where justice and mercy meet. See there the gracious, kind, compassionate heart of the consummate kinsman Redeemer for sinners. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, and you will be saved, no matter who you are or what you have done. Blessed be the Lord that there is a faithful Redeemer who beckons guilty and polluted sinners to come to him and find eternal redemption for their sin-sick souls.