Summary: God works through unexpected circumstances to protect and redeem his people.
Tell about time when Helen and I were sound asleep and suddenly – plop, something jumped into the bed with us! I woke, sat up, stared blindly into the dark (of course saw nothing), and laid back down thinking I had a bad dream. When it happened the second time, I was certain it was not a dream. I still could not see anything, but I could feel it on the bedspread!
Guess what it was?
A chipmunk! What would frighten you if you woke up with it in bed with you?
Today we read about a man who went to sleep one night after a party and when he awoke in the middle of the night – lo and behold, a woman lay at his feet.
When you are ready to get married, I doubt that you will use this method to find a wife or husband. But what seems pretty strange to us made sense to them and we actually do some things pretty similar.
Read Ruth 3.1-18.
Americans exchange about 141 million cards around Valentine’s Day, second in volume only to Christmas cards. Last year, Hallmark celebrated its 100th anniversary and noted that the simple process of buying and sending a card to someone keeps over 13,000 people employed. They gross about $4 billion per year and employ 700 writers, artists, and photographers. Since tomorrow is Valentine’s day, it seems strangely appropriate that we have Ruth 3 this morning.
Proverbs 30.18-20: Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with a virgin.
In the Bible, Proverbs sits in the section called, “Wisdom Literature,” sound council on how to live faithfully in a fallen world. And you can be sure that no one is invited to write the wisdom of the Bible if he is “a few fries short of a Happy Meal.” What I’m saying is that this Agur fellow who wrote Proverbs 30 was smart above the normal smarts. He knows a great deal about a great deal. And yet when it comes to women and men, he throws in the towel: “It’s too wonderful for me,” he says. Nowadays, we would say, “It’s above my pay grade.”
Maybe Agur’s wisdom is his willingness to bow out of a discussion of romantic love. We usually do not talk about such things in church; it makes people uncomfortable. But God made us male and female; so I am pretty sure that he is not ashamed or embarrassed about human intimacy. The Song of Songs is a book of the Bible dedicated to exploring romantic and passionate love. And so too Ruth, especially the chapter we consider this morning.
Many scholars consider this one of the best short stories ever written. Let me remind you of the events so far.
Naomi and her husband, Elimelech, lived in Bethlehem until a famine forced them to move to a neighboring country… where he dies, leaving Naomi with her two sons. Desperate, she negotiates marriages for them, and they remain in this land of “Moab” for ten years. But the tragedy worsens when her two sons also die. God seems to shut himself off from Naomi’s tears. Broken and bitter, the woman drags herself back to Bethlehem to survive without hope or happiness.
Now one of Naomi’s daughters-in-law, Ruth, has come to believe that God can be trusted to do good even while taking us through paths of suffering. That is a pretty big step of faith, but she trusts God and so she returns with Naomi to Bethlehem to care for her mother-in-law.
You should know that in Israel, the “law of gleaning” provided for the poor and widowed by requiring landowners to leave the corners of their fields untouched while harvesting. Then the poor could pick that grain and survive. Naomi taught this system to Ruth on their walk back from Moab, and Ruth determines to glean for food as soon as she and Naomi get settled in. With no idea of where she is or where she is going, Ruth “happens” upon the field of a relative. Boaz does more than allow Ruth to glean; he notices her, complements her, and gives her kind attentions. This continues for weeks of harvest.
Ruth appreciates Boaz’ generosity and begins to feel warmly toward him. She likes the attention he shows her and begins to dream of love and marriage. Boaz is older, but Ruth wants a man who can provide, one who is wise and strong, one who is kind and caring, one who is suave and sophisticated. Ruth is beautiful, no doubt, so she could have any number of young men. But she is concerned with compassion and godliness, two traits Boaz exudes in abundance.