So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, 17 saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.'” 18 She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”
4:1 Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” 6 Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
This morning we will wrap up the third chapter of Ruth and begin looking at the fourth. In this section we encounter two more scenes in this remarkable story. In the first scene (3:14-18), after spending the night on the threshing floor, Ruth and Boaz have a brief pre-dawn discussion and then Ruth returns to Naomi. In the second scene (4:1-6) Boaz begins to negotiate for Elimelech’s field and Ruth’s hand in marriage.
I hope to help you understand and appreciate the further unfolding of this drama and then draw your attention to the heart of true righteousness. The main thing I hope we all leave here with is a new (or renewed) joyful commitment to cultivating hearts of genuine godliness, godliness that doesn’t need a rule to do good for others. Let’s pray that by the power of the Holy Spirit it would be so.
THE STORY CONTINUES
Pastor Mike did a great job of navigating the tricky waters of the threshing floor scene last week. We joked about the fact that I scheduled my vacation for that week on purpose. If you weren’t here, or don’t remember, in 3:1-13, at her mother-in-law’s insistence, Ruth ended her time of mourning and presented herself before Boaz at night, effectively asking him to marry her. Although the scene involved no immorality and was entirely cast in holiness, it had the potential for serious misinterpretation. And that is why the next scene (our first scene for this morning) begins at a time early enough in the morning that darkness prevented one from recognizing another.
In 3:13 Boaz commanded Ruth to remain with him throughout the night. Having done so—likely after a fitful night of sleep—at the earliest possible time Ruth woke and prepared to leave. Understanding what it might do to her reputation and his if she was spotted leaving the threshing floor (a place known for sexual immorality), Boaz urged Ruth to depart without letting anyone see her. They had done nothing wrong, but they didn’t want to give anyone the appearance that they had.
Before sending her on, however, Boaz added to his already overwhelming generosity. He once again provided Ruth (and Naomi through her) all the grain she could carry.
It had certainly been a stressful night for Boaz and Ruth, but can you imagine what it must have been like for Naomi? She had effectively tasked her daughter-in-law with breaking custom after custom, opening herself up to being taken advantage of, and at the very least putting her reputation on the line. Just as Boaz and Ruth likely struggled through the night, Naomi too must have been on edge. Thus, when Ruth finally returned in the early pre-dawn hours, Naomi addressed her in a term of endearment (“my daughter”). We can almost feel her relief. She then immediately inquired about the success of her plan.
Ruth’s report was everything Naomi could have hoped for—Boaz treated Ruth honorably, agreed to marry her, committed to being their redeemer, and on top of all that Boaz continued to provide for the basic needs of the two women. And yet, as good as all of this was, the question remained, would/could Boaz deliver on his promises? Could he, and if so how would he get around the nearer redeemer (3:12)?
Naomi knew that there was more work to be done and so she charged Ruth to be patient and wait to see how everything would play out. The flavor of the text is of an exuberant Ruth being tempered by the wisdom (and maybe skepticism) of the older Naomi. “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today” (3:18).
Interestingly the close of that scene is also the close of Ruth’s participation in the story. From that point on she is only mentioned in passing. It’s wonderfully notable that Ruth acted righteously, without exception. This is of course a small slice of her life, but in it we see a genuine conversion and a truly godly woman.
The second scene, then, takes place in town, at the city gate. In ancient times, the city gate was a place of significance. There are two aspects of particular interest for us. First, it was the way in/out of the city. Many in Bethlehem lived in the city but worked in the fields outside of the city walls. Everyone leaving for work in the morning had to exit through the gate and everyone returning in the evening had to enter through the same gate. This is significant because it meant that if you wanted to run into someone at the beginning of the day, the city gate was a sure bet.
The second fact of significance regarding the gate was that it was the place where business was held (kind of like a courthouse) in Boaz’s day. It was where the leaders would decide criminal and civil matters—like the sale or transfer of land. That of course is significant because Boaz had business to attend to.
Thus, Boaz “had gone up to the gate and sat down there” (4:1) with the intent of encountering the nearer redeemer and settling the issues of Elimelech’s land and Ruth’s hand.
Again, God’s providence shined down on Boaz and “behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, ‘Turn aside, friend; sit down here.’ And he turned aside and sat down” (4:1). All Boaz needed at that point was a few of the town’s elders to witness the proceeding. “And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, ‘Sit down here.’ So they sat down” (4:2). With everything in place the matters of Elimelech’s field and the marriage of Ruth would soon be decided.
As readers we cannot help but to wonder what tact Boaz would take. How would he go about securing the land and the woman? How would the nearer redeemer respond? What would the elders think?
Boaz began presenting the case with the land, not with Ruth.
…he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.”
We’re not sure what Boaz expected as an answer, but we are sure that it looked on the surface like a can’t-lose financial windfall for whoever ended up with the land. The redeemer would end up enlarging his land (thus allowing him a greater crop) with no possible heir to reclaim it in the future (since Naomi was so old).
Thus, the nearer redeemer responded simply, “I will redeem it” (4:4).
Was that it? Had all been lost seconds after it had begun? Just like that, had Boaz lost his ability to keep his word? Once again, we can’t know for sure how all of this played out in Boaz’s mind before hand (Was this exactly what he had planned? Was he surprised by the nearer redeemer’s answer? Or was it somewhere in the middle), but we are sure that what followed worked perfectly.
Before the purchase could be finalized Boaz raised one more issue, the matter of perpetuating Elimelech’s line.
Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance” (4:5).
We’ll consider Boaz’s interesting combination/application of redeemer and levirate marriage in a bit, but here I want you to notice how he shifted the playing field from a matter of certain financial gain to matter of sacrificial love for the vulnerable. In other words, initially this seemed like a no-lose proposition for the nearer redeemer. In agreeing to serve as Naomi’s redeemer, he would appear faithful and kind while gaining much for himself at almost no cost to himself. With this addition (Ruth), however, his true heart was about to be revealed. Had he agreed to be Naomi’s kinsmen redeemer out of a godly heart or merely out of a desire for personal gain?
His answer came quickly. “Then the redeemer said, ‘I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it'” (4:6).
It seems that unlike Boaz, the nearer redeemer was not a genuinely godly man. And yet, it’s a bit more complicated than that. As we’ll see, the law did not require him to redeem the land or marry Ruth. Thus, he didn’t do anything directly against a direct command of God. However, the contrast Boaz provides helps us to see that genuine godliness doesn’t require a rule to be concerned for the needs of others. Genuine righteousness is a matter of the heart. The close of this verse leaves us wondering how the story will end (more next week), but the revelation of the two men’s hearts leads to the second part of this sermon and provides a window into our own hearts as well.
TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS IS A MATTER OF THE HEART
So far Pastor Mike and I have drawn your attention to two different laws of God which Boaz kept admirably: 1) Gleaning, and 2) Sexual purity. In Leviticus 23 God commanded his people to allow the poor to glean their fields as a manner of providing for themselves. And in Deuteronomy 22 God called his people to remain sexually pure by keeping the marriage bed honorable. Again, Boaz eagerly and joyfully kept these laws of God beyond the bare minimum. He was generous and in every way above reproach.
In this passage we encounter two more laws that come to bear in the immediate context: 1) Redemption, and 2) Levirate marriage. We’d already encountered God’s charge concerning redemption through the role of a redeemer (Ruth 3:9 and Leviticus 25). Specifically, God commanded the Israelites to allow any land sold by a person in need to be purchased back (redeemed) by a relative of the one who sold the land (redeemer). This was to prevent generational poverty and ensure the opportunity for every Israelite to provide for himself and his family for as long as Israel remained in the Promised Land.
Levirate marriage, however, is a new concept in the book of Ruth. God first commanded this practice in Deuteronomy 25:5-6.
If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.
The practice and the purpose are both clearly stated in these two verses. The practice was that if a man were to die without a son, the man’s brother was to marry his wife and produce an heir. The purpose was to carry on his brother’s name.
One commentator explains this in emphatic terms, “Now, one must fully grasp how important it was for an Israelite to have an heir living on the family land. The loss of the land and heirs amounted to personal annihilation—the greatest tragedy imaginable” (Hubbard, NICOT, 244).
This is what Boaz had in mind when he said that the redeemer would also need to marry Ruth, “in order to perpetuate [literally, “raise up”] the name of the dead in his inheritance” (4:5).
By allowing Ruth to glean and by being so generous to her on top of that, Boaz took care of the women’s immediate and most urgent need: food. If he were to keep his word and become their redeemer, their short term-care would turn into long-term provision. The introduction of the levirate marriage law would take care of their even larger problem: their lack of an heir.
But here’s where it gets interesting and to the heart of the matter (and the heart of the sermon). God’s command regarding levirate marriage only specifically named the man’s brother(s). That’s certainly how the Sadducees took it in Matthew 25 where they tried to trip Jesus up in asking him how this worked. There is no indication at all that either Boaz or the nearer redeemer were an actual brother of Elimelech.
In other words, as I mentioned earlier, the law did not explicitly apply in this situation. Why, then, did the nearer redeemer not simply reject Boaz’s terms? Why did he not highlight Boaz’s misinterpretation of Deuteronomy 25:5-6, take the land, and leave Ruth and Naomi to fend for themselves?
Again, the answer is at the heart of the passage and the heart of this sermon. The reason the man did not do so was because it was obvious that Boaz’s interpretation was right even if it was not explicit in the text. The law was never meant to cover every possible situation. And God’s laws were never meant to cover every possible application in the situations they did cover.
Jesus tells us that the sum of all the laws and prophets is to love God with all that we have and our neighbor as ourselves. The actual laws in both the Old and New Testaments are merely meant to describe what that looks like in certain common situations. The nearer redeemer couldn’t argue with Boaz’s interpretation because it was so obviously right. It was the best way to show genuine love to Naomi and Ruth and that is the highest law.
Boaz kept the laws of God in admirable ways. And yet the most remarkable thing about Boaz (and all truly godly people) was that his actions were not ultimately about following laws/rules as they were about have a truly godly heart. One commentator writes this, “The lives of genuinely good people are not governed by laws but character and a moral sense of right and wrong” (Block, NAC, 698).
I want to bring all of this together and to a close by quickly naming four implications/applications of all of this:
- Transformation of heart is the goal of the Christian life. Wait, you might say, I thought it was to glorify God and enjoy him forever. It is, and the means to that end is the transforming power of God. Glorifying God and enjoying him forever is our primary charge, but none of us are there yet. To get there Romans 12 tells us that we need to be transformed. Our minds need to be changed, our affections need to be changed, and then our motives and actions can be changed. The point is this: your goal is not to become more obedient (as an end in itself). Instead your goal must be to love God in such a way that obedience is the natural and joyful outworking of love. When you love college basketball you don’t need a rule requiring you to watch it. When you love chocolate you don’t need a rule requiring you to eat it. When you love someone who is poor, you don’t need a law commanding you to bring them food. When you love someone who is hurting, you don’t need a regulation to listen to their struggles. When you love the person and will of God, you don’t need a rule requiring you to walk in righteousness. Thus, Boaz didn’t need a rule telling him to marry Ruth and acquire Elimelech’s land on his (and her) behalf. Is that how you see God’s calling on your life? Is that how you see the commands of God? Are God’s rules your delight since they give you a clear path to express your love to God and others? True righteousness is always from a transformed heart of love.
- Love is the affectionate pursuit of that which is best. Boaz was probably pretty old. Ruth was probably pretty young. Boaz was wealthy. Ruth was poor. Boaz was an Israelite. Ruth was a Moabite. Ruth’s intrusion into his life likely made Boaz’s life harder. Ruth had nothing to offer. Boaz had everything. None of these things are ordinary ingredients for the kind of romantic love that our society is obsessed with. There is very little to indicate that anything like a modern romance was budding in the pages of this story. But that only serves to highlight my point: we are tragically confused about the true nature of love. Love for most people means this: I like the way you make me feel. In that way the modern notion of love is entirely selfish. I love you = You provide for me something I desire. I love you for most = I love me and you are a means of furthering my self-love. That’s why so many marriages end…the other person stops furthering our self-love. They no longer make us feel good about ourselves and so we claim to have fallen out of love. The fact is, when that’s the case, there never was genuine love in the marriage. There never was godly love. Godly love, the kind Boaz continually displayed, however, is much different. Godly love is the affectionate pursuit of that which is best for another. It is first outwardly, not inwardly oriented. It is first vertically, not horizontally oriented. Boaz loved Ruth (and Naomi) in that it was his (God-given) joy to use his (God-given) resources and influence to provide for them in a time of total vulnerability. And he did this not for some personal gain of his selfish desires, but because the women’s best was his reward. Is that the nature of your love? Is your love, like Boaz’s, outward and upward focused?
- Character as the primary attractive feature. While romance wasn’t the driving force behind this courtship, it is plain in the text that Boaz was attracted to Ruth. But once again, his attraction to her was not in line with what drives most of us. Everything around us works unimaginably hard to get us to be attracted to things that can be purchased. If certain hair color is attractive a company can make a lot of money selling that color. If a certain breast size is attractive a company can make a lot of money providing the necessary additions or subtractions. If a certain physique is attractive a company can make a lot of money providing the diet or machines needed to develop that physique. If a certain nose shape is attractive a company can make a lot of money sculpting noses into that shape. If a certain color or style or brand of clothing is attractive…you get the picture. And you and I have in many ways bought entirely into the system. Boaz (along with the rest of God’s Word) doesn’t shy away from attraction. It can be very good and godly to be attracted to others. But it’s only good and godly when we are attracted to the things God says are truly beautiful. Charm is deceptive and beauty if fleeting but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Ruth was such a woman. We have no idea what she looked like. We have no idea what shape her face or body took. We have no idea what color her hair was. But we do know that all she had done for Naomi had been told to Boaz and he was amazed at her God-given courage and loyalty and kindness. Boaz knew that she could have offered herself to him but didn’t. Boaz knew she could have chased after younger, richer men but didn’t. And those things were what attracted Boaz to Ruth. You can’t sell character or cheat to get it and so our society has little use for it, but the people of God know that character above all is what we ought to celebrate and desire. Young people, as you contemplate dating and marriage, is the other person’s character the main thing you’re looking for? Husbands, as you contemplate that attractiveness of your wife, are you more impressed with size, shape, and smoothness or godliness, righteousness, and faithfulness?
- Finally, as notable as all of this is, it is in Boaz: 1) It is but a small glimpse of the love and integrity of God. Whatever admirable characteristics we find in Boaz, they are but a dim reflection of the perfect glory and character of God. If Boaz impresses you, consider the God to whom he points. 2) Our only hope for the kind of righteousness God possesses and Boaz models is the blood of Jesus and the power of the Spirit of God. None of us will ever become this on our own. None of us can ever become this on our own. None of us would ever want to become this on our own. Our only hope is salvation in Jesus and transformation in the Spirit. Is it easy for you to remember that whatever good we see in the world is a dim shadow of the blazing glory of God? When it comes to living the Christian life are you relying on your own strength or are you leaning wholly on the triune God? God made us to know him in all his fullness and therein be satisfied in him forever. Jesus came because we sinned and fell short of that. And the Father sent his Spirit to empower us to look to Jesus, to unite us with Jesus, and to walk as Jesus walked. Therefore, turn (or return) to him in faith today and know all that you were meant to be. Know the righteousness that comes from God to your heart and out in joyful obedience. And know it not mainly because a law tells you to do so, but because your heart is God’s heart by God’s grace. Amen.