We’ve come today to the last part in the four-part story of Ruth. It’s a true story. That is, it’s history and not fiction. These are real people and they’re not made up. And in the first part of this true story, Naomi went from Bethlehem to the land of Moab with her husband and two sons, because there was a famine in Israel. And at the end of the first part of the story, Naomi returned to Bethlehem, but without her husband or sons, because all three had died in the land of Moab. As she said, she went away full, but returned empty, because she’d lost her husband and her sons. But she wasn’t entirely on her own, because Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law, had come with her.
In the second part, we were introduced immediately to Boaz, who was a man of standing in the community and who was related by marriage to Naomi. And when Ruth went out to glean in the fields, as the poor people did in those days, it just so happened that she ended up in Boaz’s field. And the two of them met and Boaz was very generous towards Ruth, wasn’t he? He was so generous that she was able to return after a day’s work with a sackful of grain and some leftovers from lunch.
In the third part, Naomi sent Ruth to speak to Boaz at the threshing floor in the middle of the night. And Boaz agreed to marry Ruth since he was their kinsman-redeemer. In those days, a kinsman-redeemer was a relative who was responsible for delivering the members of his family from trouble. And Naomi and Ruth were in trouble, weren’t they? They were both childless widows and therefore they didn’t have husbands or sons to support them. But, by marrying Ruth, Boaz would deliver them from destitution. However, there was a problem, wasn’t there? There was another kinsman-redeemer who was a closer relative to Nomai and Ruth than Boaz was; and the other man may wish to redeem them. So, they had to find out what this other man’s intentions were.
And so, we come to the fourth and final part of this story, where Boaz meets the rival kinsman-redeemer who declines to marry Ruth. And therefore Boaz and Ruth are married and they have a son together, who was given the name, Obed.
And as we’ve gone through this story, we’ve seen the hand of the Lord, haven’t we? Without her knowing it, the Lord sent Naomi to Moab to find Ruth. Without her knowing it, the Lord led Ruth to Boaz’s field to meet him. And we can also see the hand of the Lord in Boaz’s willingness to marry Ruth, because there was no reason why he, a man of standing in the community, should be willing to marry Ruth, who was a foreign woman and who possessed nothing in the world. And yet the Lord turned Boaz’s heart towards her. And the reason the Lord sent Naomi to Bethlehem to find Ruth, and the reason the Lord sent Ruth into Boaz’s field, and the reason he turned Boaz’s heart to Ruth, was because he had ordained that our kinsman-redeemer, Jesus Christ the Lord, would be descended from this man and this woman. And since that was the case, the Lord made sure that Ruth the Moabitess would meet Boaz the Bethlehemite and be married and have a child.
And since this was the Lord’s plan, then we can expect to see the hand of the Lord in today’s chapter and see how he was able to overcome the problem of a rival kinsman-redeemer. Would this rival kinsman-redeemer be able to thwart God’s plan to bring together Boaz and Ruth? Well, of course, no-one is able to thwart God’s plans. And so, the outcome is never really in doubt.
As I’ve done with the previous chapters, let me go through the chapter, explaining some of the details. And then I’ll make some further points at the end.
Verses 1 to 12
When Ruth and Boaz met in the night and agreed to marry, Boaz assured Ruth that he would find out in the morning what the other kinsman-redeemer wanted to do. In other words, Boaz would act immediately. He wouldn’t procrastinate. He wouldn’t dilly-dally. He would find out that day, as soon as he could. And sure enough, at the beginning of chapter 4 we read how he went up to the town gate and sat there. Did he go home after his night in the threshing floor and have a wash and a change of clothes? The text doesn’t say, but I suspect he went straight from the threshing floor to the town gate. And he went to the gate, because that was the place where the men gathered; and that’s where business transactions took place. Sitting down at the gate meant you were there for business.
Now, the NIV doens’t translate it, but the original Hebrew text includes the word, ‘Behold’. So, Boaz sat down at the gate. And behold! The other kinsman-redeemer came along. Behold! Look! Imagine that! Can you believe it! The point of the word ‘Behold!’ is to draw our attention to the hidden hand of the Lord. Nothing happens by chance, but everything happens according to God’s most holy and perfect will. And so, the Lord ensured that this other kinsman-redeemer would come along and just the right time. And as soon as Boaz saw him, Boaz called him over and invited him to sit with him. And then Boaz called over ten of the elders of the town and invited them to sit with him as well. They are to be witnesses to what was about to happen. And with the kinsman-redeemer in place, and with the witnesses in place, Boaz stated his reason for calling them there.
And what he says next is puzzling, isn’t it? According to what he says here, Naomi has some land from her late husband which she wants to sell. And that’s puzzling, because we were under the impression that Naomi and Ruth were destitute. After all, that’s why Ruth went gleaning in the field. If you’re a landowner, you don’t need to glean in another person’s field, because you have your own land. You can grow your own crops. Gleaning was for the poor; it wasn’t for landowners. So, what Boaz says here is very puzzling.
However, at least one of the commentators suggests that the word translated ‘sell’ doesn’t always mean ‘sell’. It can also mean something like ‘hand over’. And this commentator suggests that what’s happening is this: Before Naomi’s husband took his wife and sons and headed to Moab, he probably sold the family farm. And even though he sold it, the family would always retain the right to buy it back. However, there was no way Naomi would be able to buy it back, because she was a widow and didn’t have the money to do so. But she could hand over the right to buy it back to her kinsman-redeemer, who would then have use of the land until the Year of Jubilee, which was that special year which occurred every 50 years when all debts were cancelled and land was returned to its original owner. So, Boaz is saying to the rival kinsman-redeemer that Naomi is willing to hand over the right to buy back and use her husband’s land. So, was he willing to take up this opportunity? If you will redeem it — that is, if you will buy it back — then do so. But if you will not, then I will. But it’s up to you, because you’re first in line. You have the right to do it, and I’m next after you.
And the rival kinsman-redeemer answered at the end of verse 4. ‘I will redeem it’, he said. That is, ‘I will buy this land back’. And you can understand why he would be willing to do so, because he’d be getting more land. More land means more crops. And more crops means more money. It’s a good investment. But then Boaz reveals that it’s more complicated than the rival kinsman-redeemer supposes. Look at verse 5: On the day you buy the land from Naomi…. I’ll just remind you of what I said a moment ago. It’s unlikely Naomi was selling the land; it’s more likely she was giving away the right to buy back and use the land. So on that day, you will also acquire who? The NIV says he will acquire the dead man’s widow. That sounds as if he’s referring to Naomi, which makes no sense, because no one is proposing marriage to Naomi. And so, other English translation say that he will acquire Ruth, which makes more sense. So, Boaz is making clear to the rival kinsman-redeemer what the whole deal includes. If he agrees, he’s not only getting more land for himself, but he’s also getting a wife for himself. Does he still want to go ahead with the deal?
Well, look at verse 6: At this, the kinsman-redeemer said ‘no way’. No way does he want another wife, because it might endanger his own estate. Taking on another wife, and perhaps having more children by her, would be a drain on his resources. He might have to sell some of his property in order to support her. And so, no way does he want to take on another wife. I won’t redeem the land. You do it.
And the writer explains for us that in those days, business deals were settled, not with a handshake, or a signature on a contract, but by one party taking off his sandal and giving it to the other party. And so, the rival kinsman-redeemer took off his sandal and handed it to Boaz. And Boaz turned to his ten witnesses and to the other people who were watching and called on them to witness what had taken place and how he now had the right to buy back and use Elimelech’s field and to marry Ruth. When he refers to maintaining the name of the dead, he means that when he buys back Elimelech’s field, it will never be regarded as Boaz’s field, but it will always be regarded as Elimelech’s field. And Boaz finished his speech by saying to his witnesses: ‘Today you are witnesses!’ And they replied: ‘We are witnesses!’ And so, it was agreed.
And the witnesses pronounced a kind of benediction on Boaz and Ruth. So, may Ruth be like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. Well, there are few woman in the Bible as famous as Rachel and Leah. And so, what an honour to be compared to them! And may Boaz have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Well, Boaz is not only famous in Bethlehem, but he’s become famous throughout the world. Wherever the Bible is known, people know Boaz’s name. And may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah. Perez was one of Boaz’s greatest ancestors. So, may your descendants be as great as your greatest ancestor. And they were, because one of his descendants was David, Israel’s greatest king. And another of his descendants is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world. Those witnesses who blessed Boaz and Ruth could hardly ever imagine the wonderful ways their words would be fulfilled. And with that benediction, the business was done.
Verses 13 to 22
And we read in verse 13 that Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. And the Lord enabled her to conceive. There’s the hand of the Lord again, enabling her to conceive and bear a son. And the woman of the town turned to Naomi and they began to praise the Lord who has not left her without a kinsman-redeemer. Presumably they’re referring to the child, and not to Boaz. And the child was Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer, because — as they go on to say — the child will renew her life and sustain her in her old age. He keep keep her and support her. And then they refer to Ruth. And look how they describe Ruth: she loves you, Naomi. And we’ve seen how she loved Naomi, because though Ruth has the chance to return to Moab, she chose to remain with Ruth. And didn’t she work hard in the fields to collect food for Naomi? And didn’t she listen to Naomi’s advice about visiting Boaz? She loved her mother-in-law and she’s better than seven sons.
And we read in verse 16 that Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap and cared for him. Some commentators think this means that she adopted the child as her own, but that’s reading too much into the text. It’s simply a picture of peace and contentment: granny takes her grandson on her lap and hugs him close to her chest. The Lord had taken away her emptiness and had filled her life with a grandson.
And the book ends with a few lines from the family tree, beginning with Perez and going down through Boaz to Obed to Jesse to David. And if we were to continue the family tree, it would go on down to Jacob the father of Joseph; and Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.
Let’s consider once again God’s providence. God controls and directs all of his creatures and all of their actions. And he controls and directs all of his creatures and all of their actions according to his own most holy and perfect will. Nothing happens by chance, but by God’s design. And so, in chapter 1 he sent Naomi to Moab to find Ruth. In chapter 2 he sent Ruth into Boaz’s field to meet Boaz. In chapter 3 he ensured that Boaz was willing to marry Ruth. And, in the fourth chapter, the author pointed out that behold! the rival kinsman-redeemer came along at just the right time to meet Boaz at the gate of the town. It wasn’t a coincidence. It wasn’t just good luck. It didn’t happen by chance. The Lord was working out his plan. And, of course, while the text doesn’t say so, we believe that the Lord ensured that the rival kinsman-redeemer turned down the opportunity to buy back the field and marry Ruth. The Lord made sure that the other man wasn’t interested in marrying Ruth. That’s how God’s providence often works. We never feel forced to do anything against our will. We always feel that we’re doing what we want to do. We don’t feel compelled. But, you see, the Lord works in our hearts and minds so that what we want to do corresponds with his plans. And so, he directs us according to his will.
And then, near the end of the chapter, we read that the Lord enabled Ruth to conceive. And we should remember that she had been married before. We don’t know how long she was married to Mahlon, but however long it was, they were not able to have any children. But now that Ruth was married to Boaz, the Lord enabled her to conceive and bear a son. So, she was kept from having children when she lived in Moab, because it was the Lord’s will to bring her to Bethlehem in order to meet and marry Boaz.
And so, once again we can discern the hand of the Lord, who was controlling and directing his creatures and their actions according to his most holy and perfect will. And it was the Lord’s will for Ruth and Boaz to meet and marry, because the Lord ordained that our Saviour, Jesus Christ the Lord, would be descended from Ruth and Boaz. Take another look at the family tree at the end of the book. If Ruth had remained in Moab, then the family tree would have stopped at the beginning of verse 21 where it says ‘Salmon the father of Boaz.’ It would have stopped there, because if Ruth did not meet Boaz, there would be no Obed. And if there was no Obed, there would be no Jesse. And if there was no Jesse, there would be no David. And so, the family tree would have come to a halt. And if that had happened, what would have become of God’s plan to send his Only Begotten Son into the world as one of us? And so, in order to fulfil his plan for our salvation, the Lord brought Ruth and Boaz together.
And when did all of this take place? Do you remember when these events happened? We were told right at the beginning of the book? These things took place in the days when the judges ruled. And what were those days like? If you’ve got your Bible open at the book of Ruth, turn back to the end of the book of Judges. The very last verse of Judges says: ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he sat fit.’ Everyone did as he saw fit. In other words, it was a remarkably godless time, when the people often turned from the Lord and worshipped false gods and when they broke his laws and commandments and did not walk in his ways. And if you read the book of Judges, you can see how things went from bad to worse. From time to time, the Lord raised up judges to deliver his people from their sin and misery. But the overall trajectory of the people was downward into sin. And yet, during those dark days, God was at work in the land of Israel. God was at work to fulfil his great plan for the salvation of his people.
And that’s something for us to remember in the days in which we’ve living, when it seems that so many people have turned from the Lord; and when it seems that everyone does as they see fit; and when so many people do what’s right in their own eyes. The times we’re living in often seem so dark and the church seems so small and insignificant and despised. And perhaps we wonder what will become of the church; and what will become of the world. And yet, the book of Ruth reassures us that the darkness of the world does not prevent God from working out his plans.
And his plan for the salvation of his people is not yet over; and it will not be over until Christ comes again to gather his people into the new heavens and earth. And so, until his plan is over, he will continue to control and direct all his creatures and all their actions according to his most holy and perfect will. He will continue to direct the course of history and the lives of men and women so that his will is done here on earth and his people are delivered from their sin and misery through faith in the Saviour and added to his church. And so, there’s no need for us to worry or to be afraid, despite the darkness in the world, because the book of Ruth reassures us that God controls all things.
And while God is working out his plan for the salvation of his people, what should we do? Well, Naomi and Ruth and Boaz show us what we’re to do, because we see their devotion to the Lord in the way they treated one another with kindness.
I didn’t point it out at the time, but in 2:20 Naomi spoke to Ruth about Boaz’s kindness to them. And in 3:10 Boaz spoke to Ruth about her kindness to him. They use a Hebrew word ‘hesed’ which is normally used in the Bible to refer to God’s kindness to us. But here it’s used to refer to their kindness to one another.
And so, think about Naomi’s kindness. In chapter 1, when Naomi was returning to Bethlehem, she did not force her daughter-in-law to come and support her, but she invited them to return to their mother’s home where they would be cared for. So, instead of thinking about what was best for herself, which is what we often do, she thought about what might be best for them. Then, in chapter 2, when Ruth went out to glean in the fields, we see Naomi’s concern for Ruth’s safety. And in chapter 3, she expressed her desire to ensure that Ruth’s future was secure.
Now think about Ruth’s kindness. Instead of abandoning Naomi in chapter 1, she was prepared to remain with her to help her, even though it meant going to a foreign country. In chapter 2, Ruth was prepared to work hard in the field all day long in order to gather food, not just for herself, but for her mother-in-law. And in chapter 3 she was prepared to listen to Naomi’s advice and to follow her instructions.
Now think about Boaz’s kindness. In chapter 2, we see his generosity towards Ruth, letting her glean in his fields; and telling his men not to bother her and to drop some of the barley deliberately for her to gather. When it was time for a meal, he invited her to join them and he let her drink from their water. And in chapter 3, he not only agreed to marry Ruth, but he filled her shawl with even more grain. And in chapter 4 he took care of the problem of the rival kinsman-redeemer and he married Ruth and brought her into his home. He was a man of standing in the community, and yet he was prepared to welcome and marry this foreign woman who had nothing.
The three main characters in this story displayed their devotion to the Lord by loving and serving one another and showing kindness to each other. And the Lord our God calls on his people in every generation to show kindness to one another and to love and serve one another. This is his will for us. And so, instead of being anxious about the state of the world and about your life, you should trust in the Lord who controls and directs all things according to his most holy and perfect will. And while he works out his plan for the salvation of the world, you should love and serve the people around you and show kindness to them, just as God has shown kindness to you in sending his Only Begotten Son into the world to save you from your sin and misery and to give you eternal life in the new heavens and earth.