Behold, the Redeemer (Ruth 3)

Publié le 19 décembre 2020 dans Traductions

Sermon by Pastor Vincent Bourrel

We are in the third chapter in our series in the Book of Ruth. We find ourselves in Bethlehem, a small town 10-15 km south of Jerusalem. Two women (Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth) recently arrived from Moab, a neighboring country where Naomi and her family had sought refuge. Unfortunately Naomi’s husband and 2 sons died there, and she returned to Bethlehem with Ruth her Moabite daughter-in-law. They are both widows and destitute, without children.

The last few days, Ruth has courageously gleaned from a field that happens to belong to Boaz, a man of mercy and a close relative who has the right of redemption (2.20).

It is a provision of the law of Moses providing that when an Israelite had sold his property (not the ground, which remained his, but the whole series of harvests until the year of Jubilee), he himself or one of his close relatives could buy it back. It is likely that Naomi and her husband Elimelech had sold their property on their way to the land of Moab. Returning to Bethlehem it is natural for Naomi to seek a close relative who can buy back the property so that she can enjoy it again (Lev 25.23-28).

The law also provided that a childless widow could become the wife of the brother of her deceased husband, or of a close relative so that the first male child born of this union perpetuates the name of the deceased who would otherwise be cut off. This is the law of the Levirate (Deut 25.5-10).

There was therefore the need for a close relative who not only could redeem but who also wanted to.

Reading of Ruth 3 (by the youth group):

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” 5 And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”

6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings[a] over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” 10 And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. 12 And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”

14 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.” <end of reading>

This custom demonstrates a great spiritual reality: that of

the work of redemption willed and performed by God to redeem those who are strangers to the family of God and who are sold to sin (that is, all of us). Boaz is an image of Christ who, like a brother, redeemed by his death on the cross those who were slaves of sin.

But how is this going to be done? this is what we are going to see now.

Naomi’s Ambiguous Idea, v. 1-8

When we see a possibility for deliverance we tend to try to force fate, don’t we? This is what Naomi does to assure Ruth’s rest (vv. 1 and 18). The right moment presented itself: that of winnowing the barley. Winnowing means  threshing the wheat to separate the grain from the husk (which is an envelope around the grain), then everything is thrown into the air, and the wind carries the chaff and the grain falls to the ground.

In the evening (because the wind has risen) the winnowers eat together around a fire, celebrate the harvest and have a drink, then go to bed in the straw to watch the sacks of grain. There’s a good atmosphere, it’s a bit of the spirit that reigns during the harvest. The joy of a good day’s work, the fruit of the harvest, and there is the guy who sets the mood with his guitar or accordion.

Naomi knows that when Boaz goes to bed he will be in a happy mood also because of the wine (v. 7), he will be willing to bestow a favor more easily, or maybe even that this virtuous man will abandon his principles for a time… She encourages Ruth to put all her assets on her side (v.3) wash yourself, perfume yourself, and put your normal clothes on. Rather than putting on her old clothes, Younger (commentator) suggests that Naomi invites her to give up her mourning clothes and introduce herself to Boaz no longer as a widow, but as a potential wife, implying « I am open » to any proposal. This is Naomi’s plan: You won’t have to say anything. « He will tell you himself what you have to do. »

Isn’t it a common attitude to want to give a boost to the providence of God, using strategies that are borderline or questionable? This was how Rebecca and Jacob got hold of the blessing of Isaac. Jacob pretended to be his brother Esau in order to obtain the blessing from his father, Isaac. 

And in the same way, Naomi’s method is borderline and dubious. But these two stories can be compared through the same “violent emotional shock” shared by both Boaz and Isaac.

In Ruth 3 v. 8, « At midnight the man was startled and turned over, » one has the impression that something awakens him and it is there that he discovers that a woman is lying at his feet. It is not the woman who wakes him up and it’s not a slight chill (as per some interpretations) like the one I can have when I realize the blanket is no longer covering me at night. The expression is translated as « a violent trembling » when it is first mentioned in Genesis 27:33 « Then Isaac trembled very violently and said, “Who was it then that hunted game and brought it to me, and I ate it all before you came, and I have blessed him? Yes, and he shall be blessed.”

It is about the emotion that Isaac felt when he realized that he had been manipulated into giving the blessing to someone other than Esau. But he realizes that even though the method is fraudulent, it is God’s will that has been fulfilled. Both Boaz and Isaac see God’s purpose despite the questionable methods.

I think of Joseph’s emotion when he learns that his fiancée Mary is pregnant. He knows how babies are made, and he knew he hadn’t done his part of the job. And as he was also a good man, he did not want her to have a bad reputation or to shame her, instead he sought to break up with her secretly. But an angel appeared to him and said, « Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. » (Mat 1:20).

Ruth’s Humble Request, v. 9-10

But now we see Ruth failing to follow her stepmother’s advice. Naomi had told her « he will tell you what to do ». But Ruth speaks up and asks him to spread his wing (or the hem of his coat) over her because he has the right of redemption, v.9. This is a marriage proposal. By specifying « because you have the right of redemption » she reveals her motivation, she shows that she intends to carry on the name of the deceased in his inheritance (4:10).

It uses the terms that Boaz himself had used in his blessing in Ruth 2:12.

And Boaz’s response confirms to us the noble intentions of Ruth’s request.

V.10 ”bless” = chesed (1.8, 2.20) « The Lord bless you my daughter, » he said to her. What you just did is an even greater show of love for your mother-in-law than you ever did. « You have shown great loyalty by following your mother-in-law so far in a foreign land, courageous and hardworking, grateful, generous …

By saying this, she shows that her first desire is to carry on the name of her late husband and to take care of her mother-in-law. Here she shows great loyalty to her family before thinking about her own situation. And I think that’s what the narrator wants to highlight, since in this chapter there is never any mention of her being a foreigner, a Moabitess, while in the other chapters she is always called Ruth the Moabitess. She acts as a true daughter and protector of the family (Naomi calls her “daughter” in v. 1 and v.18).

Boaz is really won over, not so much by the freshness, the youth, the fragrance, the new clothes of Ruth, but by her heart and her loyalty. He is aware that in human terms he is not the most attractive person for Ruth, he is already a certain age it seems (he also calls her my daughter v. 10 and 11). She could objectively look for a young man, handsome and rich, as Boaz says. He associates this marriage proposal as a sacrifice she makes in order to ensure the well-being of his mother-in-law and to carry on the name of her late husband. He thinks she could have ignored the issue of the right of redemption and responded to the advances of a young suitor.

As Daniel Arnold points out in his commentary, a man other than Boaz might be sorry to learn that Ruth did not choose him for himself but out of obedience to a law of the Lord. This is not the case with Boaz because he too places the will of God above all else.

How can we not think of Mary, a young woman who also finds herself in a very ambiguous situation, she is pregnant without being married… It is an angel who announced to her that she would become pregnant with a baby to whom she must give the name of jesus. She accepts even if it means knowing shame, being rejected by her fiancé. She says: “I am the servant of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word. » (Luke 1:38) What confidence, what obedience! Enough to inspire Joseph’s admiration and love.

This is an attitude we should seek: God’s will is always better than ours.

The noble response of Boaz, v. 11-18

The fame of Ruth v.11 has spread in a few weeks throughout Bethlehem probably by the testimony of the reapers (2.7) and the loyalty shown to her mother-in-law « you are a virtuous woman » it is the same word which is used for Boaz 2.1 “powerful and rich” (literally powerful of value), the virtuous woman mentioned in Proverbs 31.

Boaz also wants to accomplish what the law asks of him, even if in a way Ruth is not a dream either: she is younger than him certainly, but she already has 10 years of marriage on the clock, she is probably sterile, foreign, poor and in addition she has a stepmother with her!

But there is a BUT (v.12). A closer relative has the right of redemption before him. We imagine here that Boaz had already considered the redemption of Ruth, but that he had not undertaken anything since another was priority. He made a solemn oath « the Lord is alive » to settle this matter the next day.

He told her to stay and sleep there, going back to his mother-in-law’s place in the middle of the night could have been dangerous with all these drunk people. But he is also concerned with preserving Ruth’s reputation. They have a good conscience, but if she was seen to leave Boaz’s bed, it could tarnish her reputation and frustrate her potential next-of-kin redemption v.14.

Boaz sends her back in the early morning with 6 scoops of barley (25 liters), a larger load would be difficult to carry. « Then he came into the city » (v. 15) he quickly fulfilled what he had promised.

She arrives at her mother-in-law’s house and recounts everything that has happened. And she records the words of Boaz (v. 17) which shows that he intends to take care of her.

Have you noticed this oddity in the New King James Version (v.16)? Naomi asks Ruth upon her return: “Is that you, my daughter?” Who did she think it was? Maybe the meaning is: « In what capacity are you coming back? Or « Who are you now? » Still widowed or soon remarried? Machlon’s widow or Boaz’s fiancée? « 

She anticipates the redemption, a redemption that will radically change her identity. Machlon = sick, Boaz = strength.

Through faith in Jesus Christ, our Redeemer offers us a new identity. We are no longer strangers, excluded, rebels … but people of the house of God. We are fellow citizens of heaven, children of God, Jesus is not ashamed to call us his brothers. This new identity changes everything. Imagine what obtaining documents for a refugee represents: he goes from being an illegal immigrant who has no rights, to that of a citizen. He can work, get medical treatment, receive housing assistance, he no longer fears expulsion, rejection. God does more than that for us and in a more definitive way: he offers us citizenship to remain in his presence, he offers us his provision (just as a father takes care of his children), he offers us his advice, his instruction. To be accepted by him in his family is better than by any other school, company, or family…

We have already seen in v. 8 that the expression “startled” or “trembling” refers to the violent emotional shock felt by Isaac when he realizes that he blessed Jacob, thinking he was blessing Esau. And why did he bless the wrong son? Because he was old and blind. When Jacob pretended to be Esau Isaac asked, “Who are you, my son? He answered Esau and received the blessing. Then Esau arrived with his dish to be blessed, so Isaac again asked the question « Who are you? » I am Esau your eldest son. And there Isaac was seized with a great deal of violent emotion. The same expression used for how Boaz felt in the middle of the night. The « Who are you? « From Boaz v.9 and the » Who are you? « From Naomi v.16 echo these » Who are you? Pronounced by Isaac in Genesis 27. If you add to this Naomi’s dubious method which echoes that of Rebecca and the solemn promise of Boaz: « As the Lord lives!” (V.13).

It is obvious then that the author of the book of Ruth wants us to think about this episode of imparting the blessing, it is plain for all to see. He wants us to associate this story of Boaz and Ruth with the great promise God made to Abraham that all the nations of the earth will be blessed in his seed. The blessing was transmitted to Isaac who transmitted it in spite of himself to Jacob who blessed his son Judah (the inhabitants of Bethlehem) to whom he assures the scepter of kingship (Ge 49.10) until the coming of Shiloh = the Messiah. « The scepter shall not depart from Judah, Nor the sovereign staff from between his feet, Until Shiloh come, and the peoples obey him. »

Conclusion 

Chapter 3 ends with a mixture of expectation and hope for the redemption of Ruth and the uplifting of Naomi. In the very dark period of the Judges, when there was not yet a king and where everyone did what they saw fit (often anything and everything), the author of the book invites us to remember the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, and that this promise now rests on Boaz and Ruth, the great-grandparents of David from whom will come the Messiah by whom all the nations of the earth will be blessed.

It is as if the author told us, « Follow Ruth, and you will find the Messiah, and the blessing. »

Remember Luke 1.68-75 (which we have already read earlier during the service):

Zachariah (father of John the Baptist) by the power of the Holy Spirit blessed God, who remembered his covenant, the oath made to Abraham that he would give us a mighty Savior, as announced by the prophets. Roughly 1000 years separate Abraham and David and 1000 years separate David from Jesus. But God is faithful. He gave us the promised Savior.

He is Jesus Christ the Redeemer, the One who redeems us from our vain way of living, from our slavery to sin and who makes us God’s children, heirs of his glory.

We have lived a difficult year, a year full of fear, of uncertainty, but this story points to that of Christmas which still reminds us how faithful God is. He keeps his promises, he gives grace. Jesus Christ is our redeemer, he saves us.

A very merry Christmas to all!