Sermon Prepared by Rev. Peter Janssens, Wingham, Ontario (sermon 4 of 4 in this series on Ruth)
In Yellowstone National Park there is a geyser named Old Faithful. And one of the reasons why it is called Old Faithful is because since its discovery in 1870, it has faithfully erupted on an average of every 90 minutes. Old Faithful has become so predicable that a formula has been developed to help tourists know when the next eruption will be.
One website states that the time to the next eruption is predicted using the duration of the current explosion. The duration is timed from the first heavy surge which lifts water skyward at the start of the eruption until the last small splash above the cone at the very end. The longer the eruption lasts, the longer the interval until the next eruption. For instance, a 2 minute eruption results in an interval of about 55 minutes whereas a 4.5 minute eruption results in an interval of about 90 minutes. Old faithful is a geyser you can count on.
God Not Always Obvious
Well today we are talking about faithfulness, ut not the faithfulness of a geyser. No, we are going talk about the faithfulness of God. And wouldn’t it be amazing if, like Old Faithful, you could predict when God is going to show up? Well, the trouble is that God isn’t always so obvious. Sometimes God seems rather hidden. And generally he seems absent when we are going through some kind of struggle, or pain, or doubt. When life is tough it is not always easy to see God. And when we can’t see God it is not always easy to believe that he is faithful.
Just because we cannot always see God, doesn’t mean that he’s not there. As we see over and over again in the book of Ruth, God is the King who is often behind the scenes, in the shadows, working through people and circumstances in order to bring restoration to the world. And throughout the story we see him providing hope. We see him provide favor and we see his passion as he works through the love of a childless widow named Naomi, a young foreign girl—also widowed and childless—named Ruth, and a man of standing named Boaz. In Ruth 4, we see God’s faithfulness to these people.
Previously in the story, Ruth proposed to Boaz down on the threshing floor, and Boaz said that he couldn’t marry her because there was another kinsmen-redeemer who was closer than he. The law said that it was the responsibility of the closest relative to redeem the widow of the dead husband and Boaz was not the closest relative.
So Boaz loads down Ruth with a deposit of barley, 80lbs to be exact, as a guarantee that he would take care of the matter of finding Naomi a kinsmen redeemer. So Ruth goes home to Naomi and Boaz heads into town to take care of business. Our passage begins, “Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate (which would be like our town hall) and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend (lit. Mr. So and So), and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. Boaz then assembled ten elders of the town because a full slate of elders would ensure that a transaction was legal. He said to them, “Sit here,” and they did so. Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” (Ruth 4:1-4a)
Now let’s stop here for a moment because if you’ve read the first three chapters of Ruth it would appear as though Boaz has just given us some new information that may be a bit confusing. Where did Naomi come up with land to sell? And if she has land to sell, why is she living in poverty?
Well there are two possible explanations to this question.
1. The first explanation is that Naomi has land to sell, but she is so destitute that she is forced to sell the land to someone outside the family.
2. The second explanation is that Naomi doesn’t own the land because it was sold just before Naomi and her family headed off to Moab.
Either way, Naomi is in a situation where she is not only husbandless, and childless, but now she will also be landless. The only way she could get it back was through the law which said that she could buy it back. However because she lacked the resources to do this, she was dependent on a kinsmen-redeemer, that is, a close blood relative, who would be willing to buy it back for her. The law said, “If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.” (Leviticus 25:25)
Well when Mr. So and So hears the offer, he does the math and thinks that taking care of an old lady in return for the long term payoff of land sounds like a pretty good investment so he says, “I will redeem it.” (Ruth 4:4)
“Well that’s wonderful.” says Boaz. “But wait. There is more.” In Ruth 4:5 he says, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” (Ruth 4:5) In other words, Boaz tells Mr. So and So that he has first rights to Naomi’s land, but then he must marry Ruth the Moabitess as well so that he can preserve Mahlon’s name through her by having a child with her. And then when this child grows up, he automatically gets the rights to the land and carries on his father’s name.
All of this has Mr. So and So scratching his head and doing the math again. He thinks to himself, “I lay down a pile of money in order to buy back land for Naomi. And if I have a child through Ruth and he gets the right to the land, that means I’m going to be out a whole bunch of cash. And not only that, but the child is going to be in a position to possibly take over my land.”
So after surveying his options, he turns to Boaz and the Bible tells us, “At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” (Ruth 4:6) And then he does something very strange. The Bible says “(Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)” (Ruth 4:7)
What is going on with this sandal? we might ask. Well, in ancient times, the removal of a shoe was a sign of relinquishing authority. To have shoes on was to elevate oneself, but to remove the shoe was to lower your position. Therefore by removing the shoe, Mr. So and So was saying, “I am relinquishing my right, and my privilege and I give the authority to you.”
So in case anyone is lost, here’s what’s going on. Mr. So and So has an opportunity to redeem Naomi and preserve the family name through Ruth and her eventual son. But he looks at what it might cost him, and he determines that the cost is too great. So instead of taking the risk for his family, he decides to play it safe and says “No.”
But here’s the irony in it all. By playing it safe and refusing to preserve the family name through Ruth and Naomi, Mr. So and So loses something. And if you have your Bibles open you can see what he loses. Notice in the story what never gets mentioned—Mr. So and So’s name. It is not there. You could say that because he chose to play it safe, his name gets blotted out of the book of life. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
Counting the Cost
You see, the Bible is teaching us that the best life, the life worth living, the life where we are truly alive is when we are filled with a perfect love for God and a perfect love for each other. Jesus said ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40 New Living Translation)
In other words when we are filled with this kind of love, everyone benefits. We benefit individually because we become more content and more confident. We become more hopeful, we have more joy, we are more grateful. And others benefit because they will be on the receiving end of our patience and our understanding, our kindness, and our forgiveness. And that is the life that God wants us to live. That is the life he offers.
The trouble is that none of us can love this way. There is not a person in this room who loves God perfectly or loves others perfectly. Most of us are still struggling with unforgiveness, selfishness, greed, jealousy, lust, gossip, anger, impatience, or laziness. And this stuff does not fill us with life, nor does it fill others with life. But here is the good news. Jesus said, “If you lose your life, if we are willing to die to our gossip and anger, etc. then I will be faithful in giving you this new life. A life of joy and of hope and of peace.
Now ask yourself this question: “Is it worth it to give up our old lives?” We need to ask this question because moving from the old life to the new life is going to cost us. Surrendering unforgiveness to become forgiving is going to cost us. Surrendering sexual impurity so that we can be sexually pure is going to cost us. Surrendering selfishness in order to become generous is going to cost us. It will cost us because it will involve confession. It will involve admitting things about myself that I may not want to admit. It will involve humbling ourselves before others. It will involve thinking of others as being better than myself. And in the process of doing these things, I might lose the respect of some people. I might lose friends. I might lose a position or an opportunity to get ahead. I might lose some of my personal comforts.
But the question still remains, “Is it worth it?” Is it worth abandoning the old life in order to gain this new life? In other words, do I believe that when I give up my life of sin God will be faithful in giving me more than what I lost?
It is so important that we consider this because here’s the deal. Jesus said, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” (Matthew 16:25)
You see, Mr. So and So had an opportunity to show grace and redeem a family. But he thought that the cost was too great and he didn’t believe that God would be faithful. So he clung to his own life, and he says to Boaz, “Buy it yourself.” And we never hear of him again.
But we do hear from Boaz! The Bible says, “Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!” Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” (Ruth 4:9-12)
Notice that the elders give their blessing to Boaz for his actions. And they name three women: Rachel, Leah and Tamar. Why do the elders mention these names? Is it because these women’s lives were free from pain and struggle? Is this what the elders are saying to Boaz? May your life be free from pain and struggle and hardship? No, this is not what they are saying. The reason the elders mention the names of these three women is not because their lives were struggle-free. It was just the opposite. Their lives were filled with struggle.
Leah was the unloved wife of Jacob. Rachel was loved but she was barren, and Tamar was the rejected daughter-in-law of Judah. So if anyone understood hurt and pain, it was these women. Every single one of them was broken. So again, why are they mentioned? Well, they are mentioned because it was their brokenness that drove them to God, and it was in their brokenness that they experienced God’s grace in ways that they would never had known if they had not struggled. Through their struggle, God used them to bring about the nation of Israel and out of Israel would come Jesus, the kinsmen redeemer of us all.
When the elders use the names of these women in this blessing to Boaz, they are basically saying, “May the struggles in your life lead you to experiencing God’s faithfulness and blessing in ways you would never know. And may God use your struggles to lead people to Jesus.”
That’s not how we think, is it? When we think about being blessed, we don’t often think about struggles and hardships. Those two things don’t seem to go together. And yet, my friends in Christ, struggles can be the place where we experience God’s faithfulness more than in any other place.
To illustrate how this works, let me tell you about singer-songwriter Jennifer Rothschild who shared her story in Decision magazine 2007. She writes,
As a little girl, I was captivated by colors. I loved to get the biggest box possible and read the titles of each crayon. I would study the differences between garnet, scarlet, maroon, and burgundy. My dream was to be a commercial artist. I remember taking a crisp white paper from my dad's office, and with a black felt-tip pen, learning to draw caricatures.
When I was about 12, I began to have some difficulties with my sight, but they were subtle and I didn't immediately associate the struggles with vision problems. As my junior-high years unfolded, things that most students in my grade could do so easily—like opening the combination locks on their lockers, reading from the chalkboard, or catching a ball on the softball field—were becoming really hard for me.
I remember sitting in class and feeling a wave of anxiety when the final bell rang because I had to navigate the crowded hallways. I would constantly run into students, and that was so embarrassing. I couldn't understand what was happening; no one else seemed so clumsy! It took me forever to realize it was because I couldn't see the students, and my classmates could see much better than me.
I'll never forget the night my mom and I were visiting a friend who lived in an upstairs apartment. I was probably 13 or 14, and as we were walking up in the dark, I was stumbling. My mom asked, "Jennifer, can't you see the stairs?" I asked her with just as much curiosity, "What do you mean? Can you see the stairs?"
By ninth grade, my eyesight had worsened. The glasses I had worn since I was a little girl were no longer compensating for my sight loss. After several visits to the eye doctor, he told my parents and me that there was something wrong and recommended we go to an eye hospital. I had no idea what I was about to discover.
At the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute in Miami, the doctors told us that I had retinitis pigmentosa, which essentially meant my retinas were deteriorating. The prognosis was total blindness. I don't remember the exact words that were used that day, but I do remember the word "blindness," because that's not a word I expected to hear. My parents and I had the same response: silence. We knew something was wrong with my eyes, but even so, we were shocked.
In the silence of that difficult ride home from the hospital, my mind was racing. I thought, I'm not going to be able to drive a car. I'm not going to be able to be an artist. I remember the disappointment of that. And I questioned, Are boys going to want to date me? How am I going to finish high school? Will I be able to go off to college? Sitting in the back seat of our family car, I felt my fingertips and wondered if I would have to read Braille someday.
Finally, we arrived home. I went straight to my old upright piano in the living room, and the silence of the hospital and the ride home was broken as I began to play. I had taken a few years of piano lessons and could sight-read in simple keys. But on this day I could no longer see the sheet music. Instead, I played by ear for the very first time.
The song that filled my living room that day—the song that fills my heart to this day—was that beloved hymn "It Is Well with My Soul."
It was a miracle that on that very dark day, God gave me hope and light through the gift of playing by ear. But the greatest miracle wasn't that I played "It Is Well with My Soul;" the greatest miracle was that, because I was a Christian, it really was well with my soul. With such a concise statement, God gave new color to my life. Blindness has remained with me; it's still not well with my circumstance, but God has made it well with my soul.
One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is that God uses painful circumstances in our lives for good. My hero, Joni Eareckson Tada, who has been in a wheelchair since she was a teenager, makes this point well when she says that God allows what he hates in order to accomplish what he loves. I know that God's heart is broken when he sees our hearts break. I believe that just as Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb, Jesus weeps when he sees us cry tears of loss. I'm convinced that God is well acquainted with the sorrow and struggles that I experience. Yet, at the same time, he loves me enough—and this is why I'm so loyal to him—to let me encounter sorrow, taste bitter emotions, and feel loss. He trusts me to be a good steward of that sorrow. He loves me enough to let me experience that pain so that he can accomplish something he loves—which for me has been a deeper character and a more eternal perspective.
I am convinced that God's grace has sustained me. If healing were sufficient, God would have provided it. If deliverance were sufficient, God would have delivered me. But he's allowed me to live with blindness, yet live equally with the sufficiency of his grace, and that grace shows up in different ways on different days. But in whatever way it shows up, it has always been truly sufficient. It may never be well with our circumstances, but through God's grace, it can always be well with our souls.
And that is the blessing in the midst of our struggles and our pain. And the blessing is that, even if we struggle, God is faithful and he can use our pain to draw us closer to him.
Well, after Boaz receives the blessing from the elders the Bible tells us, “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.” (Ruth 4:13-17)
And that is how the story ends. But what a curtain call. Every single person experiences some kind of transformation because of God’s faithfulness.
First, look at Naomi. At the beginning of the story, she experiences tragedy. She loses a husband and two sons. Her status in that culture is reduced to that of a dead woman. She describes her own life as empty. But God was faithful. He never stopped loving her. And through circumstances and the love of others, God restores her life. A baby is laid in her lap. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.”
But as the story closes there are others who experience transformation as well. Maybe a little more subtle but equally surprising is that of Ruth. Did you notice the change in her life? At the beginning of the story she is a Moabite widow with no children. So her status is like that of a dead woman as well. But did you ever wonder why she was childless? It is because she is barren. Married 10 years in an age where there are no contraceptives and no family planning. And she has no children. But now she is barren no longer, because God is faithful, because the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.
And then there is Boaz. Ever notice in the story how there is never any mention of a Mrs. Boaz or of a Boaz Jr. The reader is led to believe that Boaz also has no spouse and he has no children. So Boaz is as good as dead. But God is faithful, he gives Boaz a son and Boaz’s name is not blotted out of Israel. This, then, is the family line of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David. (Ruth 4:18-22 )
But the end of Ruth isn’t just about God faithfulness to individuals; it is also about God faithfulness to a nation. The story begins in the time when the judges ruled. It was a time when Israel had no king and everyone did as he saw fit. It was a time of disorder, chaos, unrest. But God is faithful and he leads them from the time of unrest, from the time when they have no king, to a time where they have a king and Israel has rest. Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.
And God’s faithfulness goes beyond the nation of Israel. It extends to everyone. As the story weaves from generation to generation, from situation to circumstance, God works through this family of faith which eventually leads us to his Son. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever shall believe in his name will never perish but have everlasting life.”
At the end of Ruth we are left with three truths.
1. God’s grace is the most powerful force in the universe.
2. God’s grace is never absent no matter how bad the world gets.
3. All who choose to live in God’s grace will have eternal life.
That brings us to today. You see, the reality is that every single one of us is going to go through struggle. Every single one of us will experience challenges in life. Every single one of us will go through times where it will seem like God’s hand has gone against us. But here is the good news. God never abandons us. His grace is always available and if we choose to live in that grace than we can be confident that “he who began a good work in us will be faithful to carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Let us pray.
Great is your faithfulness O God our Father. There is no shadow of turning with you. God help us to stay committed to you even when it seems impossible. May we lose our lives for your sake so that, in the end, we will find true life in Christ. Thank you God for your goodness. Thank you God for your love. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Psalm 84:1-4
Silent Prayer: Concluded with: #633 He Is Lord
God’s Greeting: We thank you God that you welcome us into your presence. We thank you that you are God Above Us, God Beside Us, and God Within Us, In the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.
Opening Song: #253 Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
God’s Will For Our Lives:
Confession of Sin Romans 3:9-12; Romans 7:14-20;
Assurance of Pardon: Romans 7:24-25; Romans 8:1
Hymn of Faith: #267 And Can It Be
Hymn of Preparation: #557 My Jesus I Love Thee
Prayer of Illumination
Scripture Reading: Ruth 4
Hymn of Application: #489 When Peace Like A River
God’s Parting Blessing: Great and Awesome God, May we be kept and upheld in your Faithfulness each day this week, May we know your authority Heavenly Father, May we be kept in your love, Lord Jesus, and may we be comforted by your power Holy Spirit. In Jesus name we pray. Amen
Doxology: #634 Father We Love You