Teaching Sermons For Pastors and Laymen, The Most Beautiful Short Story In the World,

Sunday, June 25, 2006

The Most Beautiful Short Story in the World

I think that everyone likes to read a love story, especially if it’s true.  The book of Ruth is such a story.  It’s got all the ingredients: there’s a beautiful young girl who met a young man from another country.  There’s tragedy because the young husband died, as well as his brother and father.  There’s a mother-in-law; one of the best you can imagine.  There are tears on leaving their homeland; and there’s another man who brought the young widow happiness. Yes, it’s a good story.  In fact, it’s been called “the most beautiful love story in the world,” but there must be another reason that God put it in the Bible.  I believe that He put this story in His book, because in Boaz, the kinsman-redeemer, we have a great illustration of our redeemer-Jesus Christ.

We are blessed to be living in the twenty-first century for many reasons, and one of those reasons is that we live in the Christian era, on the completed side of the cross.  From here, we can see how God’s dealings with His people Israel were foreshadowing’s of His intervention in human history through the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Let’s see what light the story of Ruth can throw on the purpose of Christ coming to earth. If we are to understand the meaning of the actions of the main characters in this story we must go back into Hebrew culture, because there we can learn about the laws of redemption.  If you owed a debt and were unable to pay it, then you, your wife and children could be sold as slaves, and you would have to work off that obligation. Fortunately, there was another way out, because a member of your family could come along and pay the debt: he would be your “kinsman-redeemer” because he had paid off your debt and redeemed you from slavery.

This principle of redemption also applied to property.  Politicians talk about a “property-owning democracy”: well, in the early years of Israel it was a “property-owning theocracy”. It was an important feature in Jehovah’s provision for His people that property should remain within the family.  Each family unit was given a portion of the land, and it was important that the family maintained that inheritance.  So when a field was sold and the deed was drawn up, there was a clause added that said that in a specified period of time, the property could be brought back into the family; it could be redeemed. The person who accomplished this redemption was the kinsman-redeemer. The principles behind the actions of the kinsman-redeemer are derived from God’s redemptive action in delivering Israel from Egyptian bondage and bringing her into the Promised Land.  It was an expression of His great love for His chosen people. 

God had established a covenant relationship with his people, and He expressed the relationship with these words, “I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be my people.”  That was God’s plan and purpose for mankind, but sin entered the world, bringing with it a separation from God and a desperate need for a kinsman-redeemer.  Thank God He made a provision for one in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ: “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)  He is our redeemer.  Our redemption is In Him.

Here in the book of Ruth there is a classic example of this law of redemption.  In this familiar story, we find a beautiful illustration of a kinsman redeemer which points forward in time to the greatest ever kinsman-redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.  But to understand the significance of what Boaz did for Ruth, we must sketch in a little of the background of the story.  It happened like this. It’s the story of an Israeli couple living in Bethlehem, who fell on hard times because of a severe drought and they decided to move to the neighboring country of Moab, leaving behind them a field which they owned, taking with them their two sons who were quite frail. 

The boys eventually married girls from Moab, a nation steeped in heathen practices. The move to Moab proved to be a disaster for the family, because first the husband Elimelech died, followed by the death of the two sons, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law.  What was she to do? In the providence of God, Naomi heard from travelers from Israel, “that the Lord had blessed his people by giving them good crops again.”  The famine had ended.  She called her daughters-in-law to her and said, “My darlings, I’m going home, but you can return to your parents.”  But they had such a great love for Naomi that they insisted on returning to Israel with her.  Eventually, one of the girls, Orpah, left her, but the other, Ruth, simply refused to leave Naomi.  She poured out her heart in words that have become famous: “Don't make me leave you, for I want to go wherever you go and to live wherever you live; your people shall be my people, and your God shall be my God.” Ruth was prepared to step out into the unknown future, having put her faith in Naomi’s God. That was the beginning of an adventure in trusting in God’s provision, but that didn’t mean that Naomi and Ruth could just set back and expect gifts to drop down from heaven.  Oh no, Ruth was willing to do whatever was necessary to get food.  The two widows owned a field in Bethlehem but it may not have been cultivated and they had to find some other means of supporting themselves.  So Ruth set out to glean in the fields.  The work was menial and backbreaking, but she offered to do it as part of her commitment to Naomi. 
There’s truth in the saying that, “heaven helps those who help themselves.” It so happened that they had returned to Israel during harvest time and Ruth was able to take advantage of the generous provision of the laws of Israel that concerned gleaning.  The law required that reapers in the fields should leave a portion of the crops to be collected by the needy and if the reapers had missed a part of a field they were not to go back to it. It was all part of God’s care for the poor, God’s welfare system—something that we must constantly bear in mind when we rejoice in whatever life provides for us.  A concern for the underprivileged is very much a part of the heart of God; it should be ours as well, both personally and through help given to the community out of our taxes.

So Ruth went out into the fields to glean.  The story says she, “happened to come” to a field owned by a man called Boaz, but this was no accident.  What to Ruth was a sheer coincidence was part of the outworking of God’s gracious care.  The popular song puts it like this, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”  The theologian would prefer for it to be expressed in the words of the apostle Paul: “For everything comes from God alone. Everything lives by his power, and everything is for his glory. To him be glory evermore.” (Romans 11:36)  Both are gloriously true.  God’s gracious providence doesn’t over-ride human decision and action, but rather as we live our lives open to His leading, He works out His purposes.

We can picture Ruth following the reapers, but before long Boaz, the owner of the field, spotted her. “Who’s that?” he asked his foreman.  When he heard who she was he sent for her and said to her, "I know about all the love and kindness you have shown your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, and how you left your father and mother in your own land and have come here to live among strangers.” He made it clear that she was very welcome, and wished her a full reward from the God of Israel under whose wings she had come to take refuge.  But Boaz knew it was worthless wishing someone well and doing nothing about it when it was in his power to do something, so he told his foreman to look after her and make sure that bundles of corn were “accidentally” left behind for her to glean.

God expects us to translate our good intentions into action—often to be expressed in giving of our talents, time and possessions.  God’s gracious provision for us often comes through the generosity of others, and then we in our turn are able to bless others—we have the responsibility of keeping the momentum going.

As in the case of Boaz, it often happens that the one who prays is in fact the one through whom it is answered.  It’s through Boaz himself that Ruth is to be given security; to find joy in marriage, a new home and a new family. 

If we belong to Christ, we are the covenant people of God; we can pray that same prayer for ourselves and for others.  We can experience the refuge of His wings, and also be the means by which others may experience this too. When Ruth got home to Naomi what a surprise she had for her!  Naomi was quick to realize that the hand of God was upon them in their situation.  Through Boaz, God’s “wings of refuge” were already overshadowing them-God was there, God cares, God rules, God provides.  All they had to do was to stay under those wings. 
In practical terms, though, Naomi told Ruth not to stray from the field that belonged to Boaz, because he was her benefactor.  He didn’t know it then, but he soon was to take on a greater role as her kinsman-redeemer. 

One can never tell what a single act of kindness, under the hand of God, will lead to. One must never underestimate the wisdom of your mother-in-law!  Naomi certainly knew when Ruth was on to something good because she remembered that Boaz was a relative of her deceased husband, Elimelech, and so was qualified to be Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, to take the place of her dead husband and so preserve the family name through her having his children. 

The unusual kindness shown by Boaz to Ruth must have set Naomi’s heart and mind racing in planning the next steps in the romance. I don’t know if it was leap year--you know, the year when tradition says that women can take the initiative in proposing marriage!  However, Naomi counseled Ruth to take the opportunity to keep close to Boaz as the harvest workers camped together.  (I am sure that none of you wonderful ladies ever did any conniving to get a man, so you can’t relate to this.) 

In the middle of the night when everyone else was fast asleep she proposed to him on the grounds that he was her kinsman-redeemer—it’s a lovely story; you must read it for yourself.

Well, what would Boaz say?  In all the best traditions of a love story he said, “Yes”.  However, there was a problem because there was another man who was a closer relation and so he had the first right of refusal, but he gave his word that he would see what he could do. Boaz didn’t waste any time because the very next day he went down to the city gate, where contracts were made and publicly witnessed by the city elders, rather like today’s courts where contracts are registered.

When the man who was the nearest in line to Naomi came along, Boaz told him he was acting for Naomi in selling her field and asked if he would like to buy it.  The man said that he would redeem it, but he changed his mind quickly when he heard that not only would he acquire the land, but a wife as well. 

He couldn’t do this because it would endanger his own estate for the law said that in these circumstances the first-born son of the marriage would take Elimelech’s name and the inheritance would fall under that name, not his, even though he had redeemed it at personal cost.  But Boaz, because of his love for Ruth was willing to pay that price. Paying the price, sacrifice—that is what redemption is all about. 

The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” 

Jesus is the supreme example of the kinsman-redeemer.  Mankind, as the first Adam, fell from grace, and like the nearest kinsman, couldn’t save the human race and therefore it was left to the second Adam, the Lord Jesus.  Thank God, He was qualified because of His sinless life.  Thank God He was willing to sacrifice, not mere possessions, but His life, in order to do so.  Just as Boaz had the right of redemption and yet was under no obligation, so it was with Jesus-it was an act of love.

Redemption-the word means that something that was lost has been brought back.  It means liberation, like setting a slave free.  It means to deliver from some great danger.  When our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross He redeemed us.  He bought back that which was lost; He made it possible for those in sin’s slavery to be freed and He delivered them from its penalty.  A new family has been created by the intervention of our great kinsman-redeemer; we are adopted into God’s family.

Yes, the story of Ruth is a love story in human terms.  It is also an illustration, a picture, ever so faint of the greatest love story in the world, of the love of God.  Jesus said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The simple message of the Gospel is that if you’ve trusted in Him, and have come into a relationship with Him, as we have seen with Boaz and Ruth, through the providential love of God, you belong to Him, you are a member of His family, and you have a future and a hope. 

Christ is our kinsman-redeemer.  

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