The Glorious Goodness of God

Ruth 4:7-12 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” 11 Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.”

Good morning. Pastor Dave got sick this week, so I’m filling in. Pray for a complete recovery for him.

If you are a visitor, welcome. I’m really glad you’re here. We’d love to have the chance to meet you and visit with you after service. I also want to invite you all to our Easter play tonight at 6pm. Our kids have worked really hard and are excited to act out the story of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.

This book is a beautiful story, so this morning I want to do my best to simply tell the story and tie it to other stories in scripture to show God’s goodness. Ruth and Boaz aren’t isolated from the rest of the biblical story. They weren’t cut and pasted randomly. Their story, like yours and mine, is thoroughly connected to the gospel story that God has revealed. When we are frustrated with circumstances, when we wonder where God is, we have to remember that God is good and is working to display his glory through our circumstances. The main point then in this text is the Glorious Goodness of God. God gives good things that draw us to worship his name.

The God of the Bible is good both in his character and in his provision. From the first chapter of the Bible, God is portrayed as good. He is morally good and he gives good things. His creation was good. Whenever God made covenants with his people, he promised good things like children, land, and the blessing of others. James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift is from above.

In our passage this morning we will look at a number of ways that God shows his goodness to the characters in the story, and the ways we can enjoy that same goodness.

So here’s the structure of this sermon There are two sections each containing 2 signs of God’s goodness:

  1. Common means of goodness: Order and Fellowship (7-10)
  2. Glorious blessing for the house of Boaz: Family and Salvation (v11-12)

And the point of all of these areas of goodness is to recognize God’s glory.

Let’s catch up in the story from where we left off last week. The winding path of glory has turned upward and we now begin seeing all of the goodness of God. After the threshing floor encounter with Ruth in chapter 3, Boaz went to the city gate in the morning to settle the matter with the other redeemer. Remember that the city gate was where business was conducted in the sight of the elders. The other redeemer gets the first right to redeem Naomi’s field, and initially opts to redeem the field, but then Boaz introduces the additional factor of Ruth. The redeemer withdrew his offer and that opened the door for Boaz to act as redeemer for Naomi and also to inherit Ruth to perpetuate the name of the dead. These were the two Old Testament laws in Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 25 that Boaz is combining in this scene.

We pick up the story at the city gate as Boaz now turns to the elders of the town to confirm what he just agreed upon with the other redeemer.

Common means of goodness: Order and Community (7-10)
Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal.

To get to the first sign of God’s goodness, the goodness of order, I first need to explain this custom we encounter. The book of Ruth has been filled with cultural references and customs that we don’t immediately understand because they occurred so long ago. Our text this morning begins with another one of the customs lost to history. But here’s the cool part: We’re not alone. The original readers apparently didn’t know about removing sandals either, so the writer inserts this parenthesis to explain.

If you have been here in the past several weeks, we’ve looked a few times at Deuteronomy 25 and this concept called the Levirate marriage law that God provided for continuing a family line. If you have read Deuteronomy 25, there is also instruction for the widow to pull the sandal off the man who refuses and spit in his face.

This scene at the gate is different. There is no shaming of the other redeemer. Ruth is not even at the city gate. Apparently what’s happening in our story was a standard practice to signify a fixed deal. Instead of a contract, signing a deed, or a handshake, you got to take a sandal as proof. If someone ever questioned Boaz’ property, he could present the sandal.

So far in Ruth we have seen a handful of ways that God provided laws to provide order to the community. While the laws of redemption and Levirate marriage were given by God for the sake of structure and to provide ways to care for the poor, this custom of a sandal for transactions doesn’t have a law to connect with. It was just a custom. But the purpose of the custom was to provide order and integrity to this kind of exchange. While it isn’t a biblical command, there can still be benefit from observing the customs of a culture. In this case, it was to help deals be above board. It might sound strange to our ears, but was normal for this time and place.

God is a God of order instead of chaos. God works even in customs to provide order, organization, and righteousness. The second aspect of God’s goodness for order is the biblical concept of witnesses.

9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon.

In addition to the customs, God also uses witnesses to ensure that matters are handled in an honest way. If someone ever questioned Boaz’ ownership or his marriage, he not only had the sandal as proof, but he could also call upon the elders of the town to verify the story.

While the shoe custom was a cultural instruction, witnesses is an idea that God spells out in the Bible.

Deuteronomy 19:15-17 “A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. 16 If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, 17 then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days.

As a way to reduce or eliminate the chance of unrighteousness, God instructed Israel to handle matters in the sight of other people. That way it wasn’t one person’s word versus the other’s. In Boaz’ case, it prevented the other redeemer from claiming he was ripped off, or that Boaz did something unethical to obtain the land. It was done in public at the city gate in the presence of witnesses.

This principal also relates to the church. While the elders of the town performed different roles than New testament elders, we can still see the goodness of God in giving us both elders and people in the church. Throughout the history of scripture, God has always provided multiple leaders for his people. Whether it was the priesthood, judges, prophets, or kings, in the Old testament or a plurality of elders and deacons in the New testament, God has always raised up multiple people to lead his people.

Gift of elders and the church-the plurality of elders, along with a congregation. There shouldn’t be anything that one person should fast-track. Even if we as elders have a strong recommendation, you as members of the congregation still have a voice, and voting power. We work to provide as much transparency at Grace Church as we can.

There are times when it’s inefficient. But that also prevents us from speeding headlong into the wrong direction behind the force of one person. In God’s goodness, he gives us this order and organization.

The second means of goodness is fellowship. This purchase and marriage take place in the context of community. They receive blessings from the people. The people are able to celebrate this story of redemption that God had worked. Notice how the author of Ruth uses the townspeople throughout the book as a kind of 3rd party to the events. The community has watched this story develop. From Ruth and Naomi’s bitter return to Bethlehem, to Boaz hearing Ruth’s story, to witnessing both Boaz and Ruth’s worthy character, to now at the city gate. They have actually served as witnesses the entire time. They get to share in the goodness of this story.

We have the same kind of privilege in Christian community. We get to experience life and share one another’s stories. We celebrate milestones together like births, marriages, baptisms, and everyday marvelous works. We experience suffering and hardships together. We attend funerals and visitations for others. We take meals to people in hardship or simply sit and listen. But we do it in the context of our community. Romans 12 says we rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.

It’s not perfect-we have not mastered community at Grace. But when we are able to enter into one another’s lives, know each other’s stories and relate it to the gospel, it is good. Because that’s what God intended it to be.

At this point we move to the second section of the passage and look at the final two signs of God’s goodness in the story. If you will allow me some creative license, imagine if the book of Ruth was a movie. It’s near the end of the movie and you can picture Boaz triumphantly holding up the sandal. I got the sandal! I got the land! I got the girl! And the townspeople shout, “Yes! Hurray!” And then they break out in song. That’s how this part of the story ends, with the people responding in a prayer of blessing.

Glorious Blessing for the house of Boaz (11-12)
God’s goodness in Ruth culminates in marriage. And as the townspeople agree to the transaction, they turn it into a prayer of blessing. The prayer points first to the goodness of marriage and family. Point three in our sermon.

The prayer first addresses Ruth, although notice that her name is not used. We’ll come back to that later.

May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel.

Rachel and Leah were of course Jacob’s wives, who, along with their maidservants, built up the house of Israel by mothering twelve sons who became the twelve tribes of Israel. Leah was the mother of Judah, whose territory included Bethlehem, and was the kingly line of Israel. Rachel, the mother of Joseph and Benjamin, died in Bethlehem. These women were key to the multiplication of God’s people, which is part of the blessing. And the first blessing of the townspeople is that Ruth would be like these women. A poor, sojourning Moabite is compared and connected to the ancestors of Israel. This is the very thing Ruth claimed when she returned with Naomi to Bethlehem. That “where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge, your people will be my people, your God my God.” Now the town recognizes the same thing that Ruth had already understood for herself. By Ruth coming into Boaz’ house, it also points to the heart of God. He desires people from all tribes, tongues and nations to be brought into his house.

May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem

The next line is directed toward Boaz: that the LORD would make Boaz’ name famous. In a short passage notice how many names there are: Boaz, Ruth, Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Chilion, Rachel, Leah, Tamar, Ephrathah-the clan name of Boaz, Perez. Names matter. As Boaz said earlier, he redeemed the land and Ruth to perpetuate the name of the family.

And yet there is one person who is never named in this passage or the book: the other redeemer. As Dave mentioned last week, his heart lacked the righteousness and loving kindness that God expects. And the writer of Ruth emphasizes and contrasts this with Boaz by never naming him. After verse 8, he disappears forever.

But God worked to ensure that the name of Boaz and the clan of Ephrathah would be remembered forever. And in the same way, we also have hope of being remembered forever. Not for our accomplishments or our own legacy, but because we must put our faith in the redeemer who will perpetuate our name. While that’s our heavenly legacy, we also must strive hard to pass on our faith to the next generation. We tell our children of God’s goodness over and over and over like the good story that the gospel is. This is how we honor God’s name and work to make our children followers of God too.

and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah

It’s easier to understand the connection to Leah and Rachel, but now we have Perez. Why Perez?

The story of the birth of Perez, found in Genesis 38 is filled with scandal. Leah’s son Judah, had three sons with a Canaanite. The first was a wicked man named Er. Er married a woman named Tamar. God killed Er for his wickedness, so Judah made his second son, Onan, perform the duty of a brother-in-law and raise up offspring. But Onan refused to provide offspring to Tamar, and God struck Onan down too. Then, Judah was seeking a prostitute, Tamar pretended to be a prostitute, Judah gets his daughter-in law pregnant and the result is two children: Perez and Zerah.

That’s Perez’ birth story. It’s filled with scandal and less-than-worthy acts by almost everyone involved. The Bible doesn’t describe Perez as dishonorable, in fact his family line does some noble things. Perez becomes the connection through which the Davidic line traveled. So, the people of Bethlehem are part of the house of Perez. And yet the townspeople don’t just mention Perez, but they mention Judah and Tamar too. Why?

Boaz’ actions are a reversal of the wickedness of Er and the Onan. Onan refused to care for his widowed sister-in-law.

Further, while the townspeople would not have known about the threshing floor, we have the privilege of seeing the whole story. In that light, there are a number of similarities between Judah and Tamar’s encounter and Boaz and Ruth’s at the threshing floor. Listen to this description of the two stories:

A widow seeks someone to provide children, and when there is no brother in-law to fulfill the duty, she takes the initiative to find someone to provide offspring. After finding out where a certain man will be at night, she changes her clothes, hides her identity and in scandalous circumstances has an encounter with the man in question.

There are so many parallels. The difference is that Judah and Tamar acted sinfully while we have seen that Boaz and Ruth acted in worthy ways. Ruth and Boaz act as a reversal of the sinful, dishonorable way Judah and Tamar acted. The townspeople and elders see this is as a blessing to be compared to the house of Perez. How much more should a noble couple like Ruth and Boaz be blessed?

Finally, the fourth sign of goodness gets us to the most glorious sign: the story of salvation. Boaz and Ruth get married, and even before the wedding is consummated, the focus of the story moves to the offspring. Remember that Ruth was married to Mahlon, but they didn’t have any kids. It appears that Ruth has been unable to conceive to this point in the story. But the townspeople offer this prayer

because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.

While the previous blessings allude to a multitude of children, with the language of building up your house, the word here is offspring.

Offspring is singular. They are not saying, may this young woman have lots of babies, which is certainly a blessing in scripture. The people say ‘offspring’ in the singular. One particular baby. A baby in Bethlehem. And a good God would be the one to ensure it.

Notice again how names are used and strategically omitted. The text says, “The offspring of this young woman.” Clearly the people are referring to Ruth, and yet she is not named in this prayer of blessing. The offspring of this young woman brings us both backwards and forwards. It harkens back to the women of Genesis: Leah, Rachel, and Tamar, but it goes even further back to the first woman, Eve. After Adam and Eve sinned, God spoke to the woman, the man, and the serpent.

The curse of Adam and Eve, is also our curse. We are all under the curse. We see the signs of the curse in Ruth: famine, barrenness, death of loved ones, bitterness. But this curse in Genesis three also gives hope:

Genesis 3:15 I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring;
he shall bruise your head,
and you shall bruise his heel.”

This first mention of the gospel and the promise of a future child who would crush the serpent is the hope for the rest of the Old testament. That line ran through Israel, Leah, Judah, Tamar, Perez and through Ruth and Boaz.

It runs through David’s line, all the way to Joseph and Mary. And in Luke 2, they travel to the temple in Jerusalem and meet a man named Simeon. And in similar fashion to the elders and townspeople in Ruth, Simeon blesses the offspring of Mary:

Luke 2:28-35 [Simeon] took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation
31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”

Do you see the connections? The blessings prayed over Boaz and Ruth run all the way to the birth of Jesus where Simeon speaks the same blessings: The blessings of salvation, a light to the Gentiles, glory to the people of Israel. All through one blessed offspring.

Look at how God takes this simple story of two humble, worthy, kind, characters in a very normal setting, and expands and grows it into a vital piece in the story of redemption.

The goodness of Christ given to us, enables any of us can act like Boaz and Ruth.

The goodness of Christ invigorates us to witness to his goodness.

The goodness of Christ welcomes us from strangers into the house of God.

The goodness of Christ ensures that we will have a future land to enter.

The goodness of Christ ensures our names are perpetuated in the book of life and not cut off.

The goodness of Christ as bridegroom ensures that we will not be left alone.

The goodness of Christ results in his name being honored.

All of these signs of goodness came from the worst sign of evil ever: A good and holy man Jesus Christ, being crucified on a tree outside the city gate. This is the story that we belong to. This is the goodness of God through Christ. Grace, believe that God is good and then live in ways that bring honor to his name.