Ruth 4 – Faith in God works
By James Galbraith
First Baptist Church, Port Alberni
July 8, 2007
We have been following the lives of two widows, Naomi and Ruth.
Naomi is Ruth’s mother-in-law, and she is past the age of remarriage and child bearing. Without assistance she would have been reduced to begging for her survival.
Ruth is the widow of Naomi’s son, and she is also a foreigner to the land of Israel. She accompanied Naomi back to Israel after losing her husband.
She believes in the God that she learned about through her husband and in-laws, and has tried to serve him through caring for Naomi.
Her hard work and devotion to Naomi’s care have earned her respect from the small town of Bethlehem that the two women live in.
God has blessed her richly, mostly by bringing her into the life of Boaz.
Boaz is a wealthy, God fearing man who has fallen in love with Ruth, and is willing to marry her. There is one issue standing in the way of their union.
There is a legal custom called the levirate law that is designed to help widows without children. It allows a man’s close relatives to marry his widow should he pass away.
This seem odd to us, but in those days it gave the widow hope that someone would care for her.
Boaz is a relative of Ruth’s deceased husband, so he can marry Ruth.
But there is another man who is a closer relative, and thus has first rights to marry her and then receive the property of the deceased.
Boaz, in order to marry Ruth legally, has to first convince this other man to turn down his opportunity. It is this encounter that gets played out before us today.
And just as a word of warning, we are dealing today with ancient, before Christ laws and customs that did not accord a woman the rights and freedoms we do today.
I want to share them and tell the story accurately, but that doesn’t mean that I in anyway support the restrictions placed on women in this story.
Vss. 1-2 – Setting up Court, Israel style
There’s a TV show my wife enjoys watching. It deals with real life problems between people that they feel inadequate to settle on their own.
It’s the Judge Judy show - a half-hour of honest to goodness courtroom drama. “Real people, real cases, Judge Judy justice” - the by-line goes, and sure enough, each show has some battle over property or money brought to the attention of the judge, the audience and who knows how many viewers.
(Funny thing here – my first time around with the book of Ruth was 8 years ago, and this illustration still fits :))
This public settling of affairs enjoys a ripe, long history, reaching back to the writing of the Bible and even before. The passage before us today is a great example of how legal proceedings were carried out ages ago.
Boaz first finds the other man who could put a claim on Ruth.
He bears this man no ill will, indeed, he has probably done business with him and enjoyed his company.
Moreover, they are family, since they are both related to the man that Ruth was married too.
This man is not referred to by name, he is simply called the kinsman-redeemer, since he is a kin to the deceased who can redeem his wife and property.
Boaz then sets out to gather up enough men (sorry, but in those days only men could validate legal proceedings) to bear witness to what he is going to do.
The group of ten respected elders of the community that he gathers
would be more than enough to bear witness to what is about to happen.
Since they were in a public setting, they would also attract the attention of passers-by - a good thing for Boaz, who wants his actions to be public record.
So by the end of verse two we have a public court set up and ready to go.
We now get treated to some Ancient Israeli public justice,
and it can be a little confusing to follow,
since it is based on the laws they lived by, and not the laws we live by.
Boaz gets things underway by bringing up what seems to be an unrelated issue. The death of Naomi’s husband has left some land in limbo - there is no child to inherit it and Naomi can do nothing with it.
In the laws they lived by women could not inherit, own or work with the property, so it was up to a man to take over the property and work it.
If a man died and left property without a male heir,
the widow was left with a very limited title.
She didn’t completely lose the land - she could hold onto it until she had a male child who could claim it, or sell the rights off to someone else.
Since Naomi has no heirs to pass this land onto, the resale value of the land is pretty low.
When she dies the land will go up for auction to the highest bidder,
and those who want it would take their chances on the auction rather than pay a high price now.
Another technicality in Naomi’s case is that her title may not be directly on the land at all. It is possible that her husband sold this land when they left Israel.
If so, she has a legal right to be first in line to buy this land back and pass it to a male heir. It is possible that it is this right to buy the land that is being sold here.
I read a story a while ago about customers waiting to buy a Gulfstream jet. For the latest model, one unnamed source actually paid ten million dollars to move up in the list of people waiting to buy the jet. He wasn’t paying for the jet itself, he was just paying to get a better chance to buy one!
To relate this to our story - Naomi is like the person selling her place in line to buy - only it is land, and not a corporate jet, that we’re taking about.
Anyways, all this is a good deal for the unnamed kinsman-redeemer.
He can buy the rights to the land for a good price and add it to his estate.
His position in front of the line gives him the chance to buy at a low price.
He, in good faith, decides to go ahead and claim his right, supposedly helping Naomi out and acquiring some good land in the process.
Boaz then brings up the issue of Ruth.
Ruth, through her marriage to one of Naomi’s sons,
is considered the last hope for carrying on the name of the deceased.
If she ever remarried and had a son, that son could claim the land and carry on the family name.
Because of her status, the kinsman-redeemer would have to take her as his wife and attempt to have children with her.
A kinsman-redeemer not only took on the property of the deceased,
he took on the responsibility of keeping the man’s name alive and well.
Now, again, we say "so what" if his name disappears.
To us this may not mean much,
but to the Israeli it was the worst possible fate.
There was a belief in Israel at that time that a person only lived in "the afterlife" if he or she had descendants alive and well on Earth.
To have no one to carry on your name would lead to your permanent disappearance - not something anyone would wish.
- Just a reminder here, this was a belief that cropped up outside of the written word of Scripture. There were many things that Israelis believed that were outside of the Old testament, and this was one of them. -
So the kinsman-redeemer would marry the widow and their first son would carry on the family name of the deceased husband.
So why, in verse 5, is Ruth called the dead man’s widow,
even though she is his son’s widow? It is just a way to simplify things.
Officially, she could be referred to as:
"widow of the son of the dead man, whom the family name would have passed to had he not died before having children",
but this is a little awkward.
The kinsman-redeemer considers this new twist more than he is able to handle, because it puts his own family’s future in jeopardy.
If he married Ruth and they had a son, and Ruth’s son ended up being the sole survivor of the family, then everything that the kinsman redeemer had would also go to this new son.
This new son would also carry on the name of Ruth’s former husband and father in law, rather than his birth father, the kinsman redeemer.
This is not a chance he is willing to take,
so he invites Boaz to go ahead and redeem both the land and Ruth.
The giving of the sandal is like the writing down of a signature - it is a physical sign that a commitment has been made between two parties.
Should the man making the commitment try to renege, the other party simply had to produce this sandal as a sign of the commitment made.
Having made this deal in front of so many witnesses,
this act was all but unnecessary.
However, it does show that he willingly agreed to let Boaz redeem both the land and Ruth. He now drops away - his part in the tale is done.
Boaz, finished with the other man, now turns to the crowd,
both elders and onlookers, to announce his intentions.
He is going to acquire all the property of the deceased men, and the widow of the man’s son.
The property has never been a big deal to him, but it’s part of the process.
If he hadn’t brought it up, the other man could have claimed that Boaz was trying to trick him. Now both the land and Ruth have been discussed openly, and Boaz has been given his right to claim them.
And that he does. The rest of the book is very interesting reading and study, but it can be wrapped up like this: "They lived happily ever after"
In terms more familiar to us,
Ruth got her Prince Charming,
Boaz got his Sleeping Beauty,
and Naomi got her loving family.
Naomi will be taken care of both by the purchase price and by his continued care for her. Throughout this tale Boaz has been mindful of Naomi, even though there was no need for him to care.
Ruth will now become his wife, and together they will both carry on the name of the her former husband and forge a new life as husband and wife.
Boaz will enjoy his new wife and their expanded estate.
Those watching show their approval.
These are the same people that have seen Ruth work day after day to take care of Naomi. They may have been suspicious of her at first, but her continued love and faithfulness won them over.
Their words to Ruth are that she be as blessed as Rachel and Leah,
the two women whose children became the forefathers of all of Israel.
The crowd also has deep respect for Boaz, who has always been a prominent figure in the city. He comes from a very distinguished family line, the line of Perez, who was a son of one of the forefathers of Israel.
Their blessing to him is that his line continue in prosperity and importance.
And they rejoice with Naomi,
who instead of dying as the widow of a man destined to disappear from history, will now be known as part of a very important family in Israel.
They are ecstatic for her when Boaz and Ruth quickly have a first child.
Their blessing to Naomi is that this child, called "her son" for simplification, would go on to be blessed by God.
And they are all given a blessing bigger than any could imagine.
They are incorporated into God’s plan to bring a Saviour into the world.
The boy goes on to be the grandfather of King David,
from whose family tree the Saviour of the world will be born centuries later.
It’s the perfect ending to a beautiful story of faith, love and perseverance.
SO now the big question - what does all this mean to us today?
Faith works. God is faithful, and believing in him and his promises is as important today as it always has been.
A long time ago, a young woman learned of our God through the family of her husband, and what she took to heart was that this God loved her and would see her through her time of need.
When she lost her husband, she turned to this God to see her through, believing that he would take care of her if she would only believe.
She translated that faith into actions,
helping her older, more helpless mother in law, also a widow,
re-establish herself in the land she had left many year ago.
She drew the attention of those around as a foreigner,
yet as she showed such a faithful spirit she impressed all who knew her.
And God blessed her every step of the way:
bringing her and Naomi home,
bringing Ruth to Boaz’s attention,
giving her wonderful gifts and eventually clearing the path for the best of all possible outcomes for Ruth at that time in history.
And yes, this story is history, but the faith demonstrated by Ruth is certainly not.
We are called to have such faith, and to have that faith become actions, and not just words.
Faith is not merely a concept, it is an action.
We can talk about it all we want, but the level of faith we have in something or someone is directly related to how much we depend on it.
Ruth depended on God to see her through a hard time.
Are we willing to do the same?
Ruth believed that God would help her. Are we willing to do the same?
Ruth was blessed beyond anything she expected. Are we willing to have the same thing happen here, in our lives, in our church, in our town?
Faith’s not an order form for God to fill,
or a magic coin we drop in God’s blessing machine;
God is God and we dare not treat him like a commodity.
But we can trust that if we live in faith, trusting God, he will not let us go.
We may be disappointed when what we thought was best does not happen, but we have to believe that God knows what he’s doing and will see us through the hard times and bless us richly and deeply as he sees fit.
Faith works, but it has to be worked to work.
Let’s work out our faith more, and see what God has in store.