May 12, 2019

The Love of God

Passage: Ruth 3:1-18

Good morning! And Happy Mother’s Day to all of you, moms! We’re glad that you are here with us, this morning. If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the book of Ruth. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Ruth 3.

We are in part 3 of a 4-part sermon series on the gospel love story of Ruth. And this morning, we come to the climactic point in the story, where the romance and the tension and the drama is about to be turned up. But before we dive in, I just want to take a moment to recap what we’ve looked at so far in the book of Ruth:

Chapter 1 begins with a Jewish man by the name of Elimelech, leading his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, from Bethlehem to Moab, because there was a famine in Bethlehem. But Moab isn’t exactly a good place for the people of Israel—they don’t have a good history.

And when they get to Moab, suddenly, Elimelech dies. And Naomi’s two sons take Moabite wives, but then, both of her sons also die, suddenly. And after 10 years of just one tragedy after another, Naomi is left widowed and childless with two Moabite daughters-in-law, who are also widowed and childless.

But the loyalty of God is shown towards His children, as He visits Bethlehem and gives them food. Naomi hears about this, so she decides to go back to Bethlehem, telling her two daughters-in-law to stay in Moab. One stays, but the other, Ruth, says to Naomi, “I am going with you. Where you go, I will go. Where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. Where you are buried, I will be buried.”

And at the end of chapter 1, Naomi and Ruth walk into Bethlehem, and Naomi tells all of these people who recognize her that she is bitter, that she went away full but has come back empty, and that God has brought this calamity upon her.

And this leads into chapter 2. These women are in need of food and family, and the question that will be answered throughout the rest of this story is how these needs will be met. And this is where we see the providence of God.

It was the harvest season in Bethlehem, so Ruth goes out into the fields to glean. And she just happened to glean in the field belonging to Boaz, who just so happened to belong to the same clan that Elimelech belonged to, who just so happens to have been Naomi’s husband. And Boaz just so happens to walk up to the field right when Ruth was working in it.

I mean, you can’t make any of this stuff up. This story is woven together better than a Marvel movie. I just saw the final Avengers movie, and while it blows me away how they can weave all of these character’s storylines together, it does not compare to the overarching narrative of the Bible, which was written by about 40 different people, inspired by the Holy Spirit, over the course of 1,500 years.

And so, we should be blown away at how all of this just so happens to happen the way it does, not because it’s all chance or luck, but because God is ordaining all of it for the good of His people and the praise of His glory.

Continuing on, we read that Boaz gets to the field, and he sees Ruth. And it’s love at first sight. He shows extraordinary kindness to her, offering her protection, letting her drink what the young men had drawn, inviting her to the table where she was served so much food that she had some left over, and allowing her access to about 30 to 50 pounds worth of grain. And Ruth can’t believe it.

She comes back to her mother-in-law, and Naomi is excited, to say the least. All the darkness of chapter 1 is gone. God has turned her bitterness into blessedness. "The Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me" has given way to "His kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead."

But when Ruth tells Naomi whose field she was in, Naomi immediately recognizes that Boaz is from the clan of Elimelech, which makes him one of their redeemers. And so, Naomi tells Ruth to continue to glean in Boaz’s fields, which Ruth does, until the end of the barley and wheat harvests.

And it almost seems a little anticlimactic. Chapter 2 closes with the need for food being met, where they have more than enough grain to last them a long while. But the question that we are still left with, is: How will the need for family be met?

And this sets the stage for chapter 3, which is quite likely the sketchiest chapter in all of Scripture. I mean, the whole chapter takes place from sunset to sunrise. There are things that happen in this chapter that would have made a Jew, during the time when this was written, blush. So, we will be breaking this chapter down, verse by verse, so that we are better able to understand what's really going on.

And as we do that, I want us to be mindful of the love of God that is pictured in this chapter. We have looked at the loyalty of God and the providence of God, already in this series. But this morning, I want us to look at the unfathomable love that God has for you, and the relationship that He is pursuing with you.

Look at Ruth 3:1. “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?’”

In other words, Naomi is telling Ruth, “You need a husband.” That word, rest, should be familiar to us, as it’s the same word used in 1:9, when Naomi is telling her daughters-in-law to stay in Moab. She says to them, “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!”

What Naomi desires for Ruth, and has desired for her, ever since Ruth’s husband died, is that Ruth would find another husband with whom she could start a family, so that she could have that provision and protection and care and lineage that was so important in that culture. “Ruth, you need a husband.”

And here is what the scheming mother-in-law comes up with. Verse 2: “Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.”

A significant tidbit about Boaz, that we have seen mentioned a few times throughout the story of Ruth, is that he is their “relative,” or, as some translations say, their “kinsman.”

In Hebrew culture, the kinsman was a male relative who had the responsibility of acting on behalf of a relative in need. We looked at that, last week. Well, now, we discover that Boaz just so happens to be an eligible bachelor, and Ruth just so happens to be a relative in need of family.

So, what we need to understand is that Boaz is being presented as the most likely candidate for being Ruth’s husband, where Boaz is going to be called upon to be Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer.

And Naomi knows when and where Boaz is going to be, so that Ruth can go to him to make her intentions known. He is going to be winnowing barley at the threshing floor.

Now, what would happen is, at the end of the day, when there was a cool breeze coming across the land, you would toss the barley up into the air and the wind would come and blow away the chaff, and the grain, which was heavier, would fall to the ground. That was winnowing. And the farmer would usually spend the entire night on the threshing floor, because it was the only opportunity for him to do the winnowing.

And Naomi knows this. She knows that Boaz is going to be at the threshing floor all night long, so this is Ruth’s opportunity, when no one else is around, to make her move. And this is where Naomi’s plan gets unbelievably sketchy.

Look at verse 3. Naomi says to Ruth, “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.’”

Now, if you were a Jew hearing this in the original context, you are blushing right now. You are covering your children’s ears. You can’t believe that Naomi would suggest that.

Go back to the beginning of verse 3. Naomi tells Ruth to wash and anoint herself, and put on her cloak. This isn’t because Ruth smells bad, but rather, Ruth is indicating something by doing this.

If you turn over in your Bibles to 2 Samuel 14:20, King David does the exact same thing. Upon hearing that his son is dead, it says, “Then David arose from the earth and washed and anointed himself and changed his clothes.”

What Naomi is suggesting to Ruth is a transition from mourning to availability. For Ruth to wash and anoint herself with oil and to change out her clothes that were associated with mourning, she was saying she was no longer mourning the death of her husband and that she was now available for marriage.

And once she has done that, Naomi tells her to go down to the threshing floor, but to not make herself known to Boaz, until he was finished eating and drinking and was asleep. This isn’t Boaz getting drunk and passing out. This is just him enjoying a good meal and a good drink and having a nap.

Naomi knows that at some point Boaz will go to sleep, and Ruth needs to know where he is sleeping, because this next part is extremely crucial. Naomi then tells Ruth to “go and uncover his feet and lie down.”

And we’re all thinking, “What's the big deal?” It’s his feet. It’s not like she’s uncovering something else, right? Only, the expression, “uncover his feet,” is a polite way of saying, “expose his genitals.”

Right? So, you can see why this would have taken the original Jewish readers by surprise. With that in mind, now we’re all thinking, “Where does Naomi think this will lead?” Why not have a conversation with Boaz, instead of this highly suggestive and risky midnight maneuver? Did Naomi care that Boaz could potentially drive Ruth away in moral indignation, or that Boaz might give in to the temptation to have sexual relations with her? What is Naomi thinking?

And the answer is that we don’t really know why Naomi chose this sexually tempting strategy to win Boaz for Ruth, but what we do know is that this will either lead to a passionate and illicit scene of sexual intercourse, or it will lead to a stunning scene of purity, integrity, and self-control.

“He will tell you what to do.” That’s scary, if you're Ruth. Your life is hanging on how this man will respond to your advancement. But then, look at Ruth’s response, in verse 5: “All that you say I will do.” Whatever might happen, whatever fallout comes out of this, she’s committed to doing what Naomi is saying for her to do.

Verse 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.”

Imagine that you are Ruth: You’re all dressed up. You smell good. You’ve managed to get to the threshing floor, unnoticed. And you’re just waiting. And waiting. And waiting for Boaz to fall asleep.

And this is where the romance is, right? You’ve just watched your man thresh out a bunch of grain, and now you're watching him fall asleep. And you tip-toe over to him, and you uncover his feet like Naomi said, and you lie down. And that’s all the text says about that, which indicates that it goes no further than that. According to the text, nothing happens that calls Ruth’s morality and purity into question. She lies down and that’s all she does.

Then, verse 8: “At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet!”

Now, imagine you’re Boaz: You’ve just had a meal and a drink, so you’re in good spirits, at least, but you’re exhausted from threshing out all of that grain. And you wake up from your nap, probably because of the cool wind on your bare legs.

And what Boaz finds when he wakes up, no doubt, is a little shocking to him. I love his question, in verse 9, “Who are you?” Like, this isn’t an everyday occurrence for Boaz. He was alone when he went to sleep, but when he woke up, there was a woman at his feet. It’s not like this happened to him, every night. So, he’s likely more scared of Ruth, at this point, then she is of him.

But look at how Ruth responds. She answers, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”

Now, going back to Naomi’s plan, did Naomi say anywhere that Ruth was supposed to say anything to Boaz? No, Naomi said that Boaz was supposed to tell Ruth what to do, next.

So, this is Ruth taking initiative. She’s not merely Naomi’s pawn. Ruth is clearly articulating to Boaz why she is there. No more subtle hints. “I’m here because you are the redeemer: the one who can redeem our inheritance and our family name from being lost. I want you to fill that role for me. I want to be your wife.”

And this kind of reminds of when I proposed to Helena, and she is probably going to blush that I’m saying this, right now. But just to explain how this happened: Helena and I had been talking about marriage for a couple of months, but I was waiting for the go-ahead from her mom, before I asked Helena to marry me.

So, when I got the green light. We wore these fancy clothes, went and had a nice dinner, and came back to my parent’s place, which is where we spent a lot of our time together.

And I was in the middle of proposing to Helena, telling her that I loved being with her and that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. And then, out of nowhere, Helena blurts out, “Then propose to me.” And so, I was a little surprised by this, but I thought, “Well, I was going to, anyway.” So, I got down on my knee, and she lost her mind. She wanted it to happen but certainly wasn’t expecting it.

And she felt really bad after that, because she felt she had ruined my proposal by insisting that I propose to her. But I assured her that it was all good, and we continue to laugh about it to this day.

But we see that Ruth takes the initiative by asking Boaz to pursue her in marriage. Notice the language that Ruth is using here. She says, “Spread your wings over your servant.”

And this kind of language should be familiar to us, because back in 2:12, Boaz is praying this blessing over Ruth, and he says, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

Now, you can imagine that Ruth and Naomi had pondered these words for some time, wondering what Boaz meant by that. And they realize that it’s a subtle invitation for Ruth to come under Boaz’s wings.

And so, Ruth is saying, “Hey, remember when you prayed that the Lord would spread His protection over me? Well, I would love it if you were the answer to that prayer. I’m responding to your invitation by putting myself under your wing, so to speak. I’m saying, ‘Yes,’ to you being my kinsman-redeemer.”

And then, we all wait in silence, until Boaz speaks, in verse 10: “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.”

Wow! I mean, this is quite the love story. Boaz is a middle-aged man in love with Ruth, a young widow. He’s not sure whether she’s going to go after younger men. He sure doesn’t seem to be the greatest at communicating his intentions to her, but it’s the best way he knows how. And he shows himself to be the “worthy man,” as he was described, in 2:1.

And then, you have Ruth, who is reading between the lines and is willing to risk it all by coming to him in the middle of the night. And we read how Boaz describes her as a “worthy woman,” and our attention is immediately drawn to Proverbs 31. And we don’t have time, this morning, to read that, but I encourage you to read the last half of Proverbs 31 and picture Ruth in light of all these descriptions.

This is an amazing story of love and purity. But the story is not over. Look at verse 12. Boaz continues, “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.”

There’s another man in the picture? No, this was the end. He loves her; she loves him. The credits should be rolling. They should be living happily ever after.

But, instead, we read these words: “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.’”

Because Boaz is a “worthy man,” he is doing due diligence in this matter of Ruth. He isn’t letting his feelings get in the way of what is right. He is making sure that the right man is redeeming Ruth. Whether that’s him or whether that’s this other guy, what matters to him most is that Ruth is cared for. And he will figure it out.

And what happens here at the end of chapter 3 is the curtain closes on two women still in need of family, sitting in their home, waiting. And while everyone is focused on Boaz to see what he will do, God is behind the scenes, orchestrating all of it, as He has done, throughout all of human history.

Turn back in you Bibles to Genesis 19. I just want to point out an interesting parallel that we see in Scripture. Do you remember how the Moabites got their start? We see it here, in Genesis 19:30. It says, “Now Lot went up out of Zoar and lived in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to live in Zoar. So he lived in a cave with his two daughters. 31 And the firstborn said to the younger, ‘Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the earth. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve offspring from our father.’”

Now, notice the parallel between Genesis 19 and Ruth 3: In Genesis 19, two women—two sisters—are scheming on how to preserve the family line. In Ruth 3, we see the same thing with the two women, Ruth and Naomi.

In Genesis 19, the older suggests to the younger that they get their father drunk, so that they could lie with their father and preserve offspring from him. Now, notice the difference, in Ruth 3. Naomi suggests that Ruth approach Boaz after he had finished eating and drinking, but notice that Boaz doesn’t get drunk.

In Genesis 19, the oldest daughter lies with her father, gets pregnant, and bears a son, and his name was called Moab. And in Ruth 3, you’re reading that a Moabite woman is going to lie with an Israelite man, and your mind immediately goes back to Genesis 19, and how the whole Moabite problem was started with an incestual sin and sexual immorality.

But instead of reading what we would expect to have happen, we see the shining picture of purity in love that is absent so often in history and present day. The mantra of our culture is: If it feels good, do it. Who cares about purity and faithfulness. It’s just physical. And the reality is that Ruth gives us a different, more grand view of love than how the culture views love.

Look at Ruth 3:10. Boaz says to Ruth, “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.”

You might want to circle that word, “kindness.” In the original language the word is, “hesed,” and there is no direct way of translating that word into English. There is no English equivalent. If you were to combine the words, kindness, love, loyalty, faithfulness, grace, mercy, and compassion, you would get hesed. The best that translators can come up with is something like, “loving-kindness,” but even that falls short of what this word means.

But here is what is truly amazing: The majority of the times that this word, hesed, is used in the Old Testament is used to describe God’s love toward His covenant people. This is no man-made love; this is the divine love that God has for us.

The greatest love story ever told is the love story of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We were created in the image of God to perfectly reflect the God of the universe in Creation. But each one of us has turned to our own way, choosing rather to be our own god. God, in His holiness, is right and just to pour out his wrath on sinful humanity. But God, in His hesed, His loving-kindness, has made a way to shelter us from His wrath.

Ezekiel 16:8 paints this picture so perfectly. God is speaking to His chosen people, Israel, and He says to them, “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.”

God has spread His garment over us, in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. Though we were due the punishment of our sin, God chose rather to save us and redeem us from our sin, by sacrificing His Son on our behalf, so that if we put our faith in Jesus, we will be saved.

This is the gospel. This isn’t the petty, cheap love that the world thinks is love; this is the unfathomable love of God, who did not leave us in our time of need, but made a way to rescue us by His grace.

And so, I just invite you to receive this love, today. If you are not a follower of Jesus, will you open up your heart to the God who loves you so much that He sent His Son to become your shelter? Will you stop looking for love in all the wrong places and finally rest in the loving-kindness of God your Saviour?

Maybe things are a little out of your control and you are in this period of waiting, like Ruth and Naomi, and you don’t know how things are going to play out. Moms, maybe you are looking for your sense of identity in being a wife and a mother, rather than being rooted in Christ.

Would you just let this love soak into your heart, today? Wherever you are at, this morning, would you consider that the supreme God of the Universe, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, loves you and desires to call you His?

My hope is that we would embrace this Ruth 3 Christianity that says no to the world’s definition of love and yes to a more pure and rich and abounding love that comes from God. Let’s pray…

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