The Story of Ruth (Ruth 1-4)

Good morning. Please open your Bibles to Judges 21. Now, I know your bulletin says we are going to be in Ruth this morning, but we are going to start at the end of Judges, and I’ll explain why in a minute.

While you are turning there, I also want to recognize all the men and women from our church who have put in a lot of long days assisting with disaster relief after Tuesday’s tornado. This has been a unique situation this week, because we’ve got both the providers and the recipients of disaster relief here this morning. Some of you had storm damage. Others of you helped with storm damage. I had the privilege of going out on Wednesday and Thursday as a chaplain with Alabama disaster relief. Jeff Williams asked me at the end of Thursday if I could go out again on Friday, and I said, “not unless you’re ok with me just googling “Mother’s Day Sermon” and preaching something I find online. And Jeff said, “Well, ain’t that what you do every Sunday?”

So I say all that to say this morning may not be as prepared, may not be as polished, but for better or for worse, at least it’s all from me.

I actually started outlining this sermon in the shower on Thursday morning. I was thinking about how I would summarize the book of Ruth:

1.Ruth picks a spot to gather grain in someone’s field. It turns out to be Boaz’s field.

2.They get married.

3.They have a child.

4.And that child turns out to be the grandfather of King David, and eventually, Jesus is born from this family tree, and now we all have a chance at redemption through Jesus Christ.

So if you want to boil that down to a concise, easy-to-remember, preachery outline, here it is:

  1. Ruth picks a spot
  2. Ruth and Boaz tie the knot
  3. Together, they have a tot…
  4. …who is the ancestor of our only shot.

So really, that’s today’s sermon. And if you want to go ahead and be dismissed so you can get in front of the Mother’s Day lunch crowd at Olive Garden, I totally understand. But if you stick around, I want to show you one of the clearest Old Testament pictures of the gospel you’ll find.

Hopefully you’ve found Judges 21. And what I want to do is look at just the last two verses, and pretend like there is no break between the end of Judges and the beginning of Ruth. We are going to read it as if it was just the next paragraph in an ongoing story.

24 And the people of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and they went out from there every man to his inheritance.

25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes..”
(Judges 21:24-25)

On the first day of our series on Judges, remember when I said that most Bible scholars believe the period of the Judges lasted between 350 and 400 years, but that there are a few who make a case for a period of around 150 years? I told you to come back on Mother’s Day to find out why. Today, you’re gonna find out why! So I am sure that that’s THE reason you showed up this morning!

I want to talk first about how Ruth is a bright spot in a dark time.  It’s a dark time for Israel in general. We’ve been talking about Judges for the past several weeks, and the last two verses of Judges really kind of sum up the entire book. Something awful happens in the last couple of chapters, and by the last two verses you see that Israelite society has pretty much fallen apart.  You can barely even call it a nation anymore. The people are divided, everyone is just worried about their own tribe and their own factions, and in verse 25, everyone is just doing what was right in their own eyes.

Whew. It’s a good thing we can’t relate to that today!

So it’s a dark time for Israel, but it’s a really dark time for Naomi as well. Let’s keep reading: 

1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

Ruth 1:1-5

After this, they get back to Bethlehem. Naomi tells her daughters in law to go back to Moab, that even if she gave birth to sons that day, that she didn’t expect for Ruth and Orpah  to wait around for them. So Orpah turns back and goes home to Moab, but Ruth gives her famous response, which has probably shown up in more wedding ceremonies than it actually should–

16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”

This is a beautiful statement of commitment, but before you put it on the cover of your wedding order of service, just realize that it was spoken by a widow to her mother-in-law. It’s not really a statement of commitment between a husband and wife. So if you do include it in your wedding, just make sure you feel really good about your mother in law!

So Ruth is a bright spot at a dark time, both for Israel in general, and for Naomi in particular. But Naomi is, still, understandably, in her feelings. She’s been a refugee from her home because of a famine, and she’s lost her husband, both her children, and one of her daughters in law. Now she is returning to her home town of Bethlehem because she believes she has a better chance of being provided for in Israel than in Moab. But you can’t really blame her for feeling like God has turned against her. Check out what Naomi-from-the-block says to all her high school friends when she gets back to Bethlehem.

The women come out and they’re like, “Hey, isn’t that Naomi?” And Naomi says to them…

20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21)

Some of you get this, don’t you? Thursday, a bunch of us were at the home of a woman who had a ginormous tree come down in her yard. As a chaplain, it was my job to come to the door and just talk with her while the rest of the team started in with the chainsaws.  First thing she said to me was, “Well, I’ll be honest. If this year doesn’t get better in a hurry, I’m just going to ask Jesus to take me home. [Explain her situation]

Mara is a Hebrew word that means “Bitter.” This is actually a good time to talk about the significance of a lot of these names–

Mahlon and Chilion probably didn’t date much in high school. It’s a little like naming your sons Broke and Homeless. 

Summarize all of chapter 2, about how Ruth met Boaz. In chapter 2:1, Boaz is described as a “worthy man.” More on that in a minute. After finding out who she was, he made sure everyone knew she was under his protection (verse 9). Not only did he give her permission to take water breaks alongside the young men (also verse 9), but later in the chapter, he actually served her himself.

14 And at mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:14-15)

In verse 14, it says that she ate the roasted grain he served her from his own hand. He invited her to dip the bread into the wine with him. Then, as if that wasn’t blessing enough, he instructed his servants to pull out some of the sheaves from the bundles that had already been harvested and drop them for her to glean. He allowed her the dignity of work, but he also provided for her above and beyond. So he provided for her, protected her, served her, respected her, and blessed her above and beyond.

And this is when you begin to see why the book of Ruth made it into the Bible. If there’s one thing that you’ve learned over the past three years in Sunday School, it’s that every story in the Bible-–Old and New Testament– is designed to point to Jesus!

Charles Spurgeon, one of the greatest preachers in the English language, made the comparisons between Boaz in this chapter and Jesus. In his devotional book Morning and Evening, Spurgeon called Jesus “our glorious Boaz” wrote about this meal that Ruth had with Boaz and said,“Whenever we are privileged to eat of the bread which Jesus gives, we are, like

“Whenever we are privileged to eat of the bread which Jesus gives, we are, like Ruth, satisfied with the full and sweet repast. When Jesus is the host no guest goes empty from the table. Our head is satisfied with the precious truth which Christ reveals; our heart is content with Jesus, as the altogether lovely object of affection; our hope is satisfied, for whom have we in heaven but Jesus? and our desire is satiated, for what can we wish for more than “to know Christ and to be found in Him?

Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening

And now, let’s talk about Ruth.

Ruth’s character– she is working hard. Scholars say that the amount she gleaned in one day was the typical yield for two weeks’ work. Even though she doesn’t know who Boaz is, Boaz knows who she is. He knows what she sacrificed for the sake of her mother in law, who don’t forget is his relative.

But Ruth doesn’t meet her sugar daddy and then forget about Naomi. She doesn’t decide that her ship has come in and start buying bridal magazines and practicing writing ”Mrs. Boaz” over and over. Look at Ruth 2:17:

17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah[b] of barley. 18 And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 

In Ruth 3:11, Boaz calls Ruth a “worthy woman,” or a woman of noble character. The only other woman in Scripture who gets that description is the ideal, hypothetical, theoretical, seemingly unattainable woman of Proverbs 31

We actually talk about her almost every Mother’s Day– the same way we talk about the birth of Jesus at Christmas and the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. If you come to church on Mother’s Day, there is like a 90% chance you are going to hear about the wife of noble character from Proverbs 31. But in Ruth, the theoretical description becomes flesh and bone. Ruth is proof it can be done!

But then there’s Boaz and his character. When Boaz is introduced in Ruth 2:1, he is introduced as a worthy man. Same word!

So when we get to chapter 3, both Ruth and Boaz have shown that they are people of noble character.

And its important to keep that in mind when we look at chapter 3, because there has been a lot of speculation and questions throughout history about exactly what happened at the threshing floor. Here’s what we know:

In verses 1-5 of chapter 3, Naomi realizes that Boaz is what is called a kinsman-redeemer. In Levitical law, if a woman’s husband died, his nearest relative was expected to marry the widow, assume the debts of the dead family member, and work his land.  That way, his property wouldn’t be passed to someone from another tribe. Also, any children they had together would be considered the sons of the dead man. So Naomi realizes that in God’s providence, Ruth “just so happened” to have been working in the field of one of her kinsman redeemers. So she gets Ruth ready for date night.

Ruth goes to the threshing floor, waits until Boaz has had plenty to eat and maybe a little too much to drink, then goes and lays down at his feet.

Now,  I don’t want you to read Ruth 3 and think that Ruth did something sketchy or inappropriate by coming to the threshing floor at night and uncovering Boaz’s feet. You will read in some commentaries that “uncovering thefeet” might have been polite language for something else. But realize that  before this encounter and after the encounter, she is described as a woman of noble character.

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.” (Ruth 3:8-9)

Ruth is asking Boaz to receive her and be her redeemer. She calls herself a servant. She submits herself to the authority and the protection of Boaz. And she calls him “a redeemer.”

But notice this: Ruth doesn’t yet call Boaz “her redeemer.” Yes, she submits herself to the authority and the protection of Boaz. But let’s be clear that Boaz is the agent of her redemption.

Let’s be clear that Boaz is the agent of her redemption. Ruth has made her request. She has acknowledged that Boaz is able to save her, but it’s Boaz that does the saving.

Remember, the whole point of the book of Ruth is to point us to Jesus. Jesus is our great and glorious Boaz. And this is a beautiful picture of what it means to ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior. We come to him as His servant. We ask Him to cover our sins, just like Ruth asked Boaz to spread his cloak over her.

We acknowledge that he is able to save, just as Ruth said, “You are a redeemer.”

And then, we ask him to save US.

Can we do something together? Can we agree that when we talk about someone getting saved, we don’t talk about them accepting Jesus? Salvation isn’t when we accept Jesus. It’s not like “The Voice,” where you hear Jesus sing, and you turn your chair around and hit the button and say, “Hey, Jesus. I want you on Team James.”

Salvation is when we ask Jesus to accept us. And the story of Ruth reminds us to get that right. But let’s also remember that Boaz just points to Jesus. He isn’t Jesus. Verse 12 points out that legally, there is a closer relative to Naomi that should get the first right of refusal.

So in chapters 3-4, Boaz tells Ruth to stay there until morning, and the next day Boaz meets the other relative to see if he wants to exercise his right of first refusal. And at first, he’s all ready to get Naomi’s land. But then Boaz says, in 4:5, ok, but just know that on the day you get the field, you also get Ruth, and any children you have together are considered to be part of Naomi’s family, not yours.  And so, In one of the greatest ironies of history, This nearer relative turns Ruth down, and look at why:

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.” (Ruth 4:6)

This guy is worried about his inheritance, so he rejects Ruth. By the way, do you know what this guy’s name is?

Neither do I! Neither does anyone else, ever, in all history. We will always know the name of Boaz. But the guy who is worried about his inheritance and his legacy disappears from history!

Here is yet another foreshadowing of the gospel. Jesus said in Matthew 16, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it. When we reject Jesus’ offer of redemption, we gain the world, but lose our soul.

If you are following the outline, here’s what you’ve got so far:

1.Ruth is a bright spot.

2. Boaz ties the knot. And number three…Together, they have a tot.

So Ruth and Boaz get married, and they consummate the marriage, and a child is born to them. But when you look closely at chapter 4, you see something really interesting. Here you have two people of noble character. Their personalities have been defined by sacrificial serving. Ruth has sacrificially met Naomi’s needs. Boaz has sacrificially met Ruth’s needs. And that a son is born to them, look at verse 14 and following:

14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 4:14-17)

With these verses, it starts to dawn on us that this isn’t really the story of Ruth’s redemption. It’s the story of Naomi’s redemption. Naomi went from “sweet and pleasant” to “bitter” and now she’s back to Naomi again. Ruth is the one who gives birth to a son.

But verse 17 says that the women of the neighborhood were the ones who named the baby. (Cody and Kendyl, is that how you named Eden? Did you get on the neighborhood facebook page and do a survey?

Obed is a Hebrew name that means “serving”

THIS IS THE GOSPEL!

A willing servant (Mary), gives birth to a son, Jesus. But when the prophet Isaiah described this, he didn’t say, “For unto her a child is born.” He said, “Unto us a child is born!”

Mary didn’t name the child. His name was picked out by someone else.

And just as Obed’s name means “serve,” and he redeemed Naomi, God’s word says that Jesus didn’t come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

Centuries after this, Matthew would begin his gospel account with this story. And this, by the way, is why some people argue for a shorter time period for the Judges. Remember that Rahab was the prostitute from Jericho who sheltered the spies at the beginning of Joshua. So if Matthew didn’t skip any generations, then there were only four generations from the beginning of Joshua to the end of Judges, the beginning of Saul’s reign, and the birth of David.

But don’t you see that the story of redemption in Ruth is so much bigger than just the love story between Ruth and Boaz. It’s Naomi’s story of redemption. And through Jesus, it is our story as well. 

[INVITATION]

Author: James

I pastor Glynwood Baptist Church in Prattville, Alabama. I read a lot, write a little, and drink lots of coffee. I have three callings in life: surrender to Christ, be a husband to Trish, and be the best father/grandfather I can be. Everything else is an assignment, because everything else can be done by someone else.

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