Our Part in God’s Unfolding Plan
This Sunday we conclude our series of sermons on the Book of Ruth. It is a story of sin, judgment, steadfast love, faithfulness, and redemption.
Elimelek and Naomi should have trusted the LORD to provide for them in the Promised Land during the famine, but instead, they chose the road to Moab. Following the death of Elimelek in Moab, Naomi should never have allowed her sons, Mahlon and Chilion, to marry Moabite women. The law of Moses expressly forbade it, but Naomi permitted it anyway.
After Mahlon and Chilion both died childless, Naomi was left with two Gentile daughters-in-law. Naomi managed to convince Orpah to return to her people, but Ruth displayed remarkably steadfast love and faithfulness to Naomi. Ruth bound herself to Naomi with an oath, and so the two set out together for Bethlehem. They arrived at the beginning of the barley harvest, a hopeful omen.
Ruth wasted no time and went to work gleaning to provide sustenance for Naomi and for herself. A kind providence attended Ruth’s steadfast love and faithfulness. An unseen hand guided her to glean in the fields of Boaz, a wealthy man of integrity who was also Elimelek’s kinsman.
Naomi had been ashamed of her Moabite daughter-in-law. Ruth was a living reminder of Naomi’s bad decisions, but Ruth’s persistent, steadfast love and faithfulness won over Naomi’s embittered heart. Naomi began to feel the need to provide security and well-being for Ruth, and so Naomi devised a daring and risky plan to find a husband for her daughter-in-law.
Ruth agreed to Naomi’s scheme. She bathed, put on her best clothes, and anointed herself. Then she snuck undetected onto the threshing floor at night, uncovered Boaz’ feet, and lay down next to him. When Boaz awoke, startled to find a woman sleeping at his feet, Ruth proposed marriage to him and asked Boaz to act as her and Naomi’s redeemer. Boaz readily agreed, but there was a problem. There was another man who was a closer relative to Naomi than Boaz who had the first right of redemption. None-the-less, Boaz promised to act on their behalf. Ruth and Naomi were forced to wait and see how things turned out. This morning we learn the conclusion of the matter.
Boaz went to the gate of the city of Bethlehem where business was conducted and found the other next-of-kin. The Hebrew text does not name the kinsman. In fact, it renders his name as roughly, “Mr. So and So!” Boaz explained to the unnamed man that Naomi was selling the parcel of land that belonged to Elimelek, and “Mr. So and So” had the right of first refusal. The man immediately said he would buy it. It was a good business deal. All he had to do was support a widow until she died; then the land would become part of his holdings, but again, there was a hitch. The man would have to marry Mahlon’s Moabite widow and produce an heir who would maintain the dead man’s name and inherit the land (vs. 5).
Suddenly, the deal was not so appealing. The man would have to support Naomi, marry a Gentile, produce an heir to fulfill the requirements of the law, and in the end, he would have nothing to show for his investment. The man said, “I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take the right of redemption for yourself” (vs. 6).
Boaz wasted no time in exercising the right to redeem Naomi and Ruth. He acquired the parcel of land that belonged to Elimelech, Chilion, and Mahlon. He took Ruth the Moabite as his wife, and together they produced a son, Obed, to carry on the family name. All's well that ends well.
The Book of Ruth is a beautiful and inspiring story of steadfast human love and faithfulness, but its place in the canon of scripture reveals that it is also a story of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.
Remember that the book is set in the time of the judges. This was a horrible period in Israel’s history. “In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The result was the sin cycle: sin, judgment, repentance, redemption, and a return to sin. At this point in her history, Israel had not even thought of asking for a king, but God is always thinking of the future. As one commentator observed, “In his sovereign and faithful love, God was already preparing ahead of time the line of the one who would ultimately fulfill that need (i.e., the need for a king).”
The little genealogy tacked on at the end of the book reveals God’s unfolding plan. “Now these are the descendants of Perez: Perez became the father of Hezron, Hezron of Ram, Ram of Amminadab, Amminadab of Nahshon, Nahshon of Salmon, Salmon of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David” (vs. 18-22).
David was Israel’s most beloved king. Who could have guessed the surprise ending to the Book of Ruth at the start of the story? Our God is a God of surprises. Ultimately, Jesus would trace his lineage to King David and be born in Bethlehem. He would be the promised king who would break the sin cycle through his death and resurrection, inaugurating the reign of God on earth. This is an even bigger surprise.
Another surprise in the story of redemption is the kind of people God works through. The people gathered at the gate of Bethlehem that day said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem; and, through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah” (vs. 11-12). You may recall Tamar’s story from Genesis 38. Judah, one of Jacob’s sons, married a Canaanite woman and produced three sons. Judah married off his first son, Er, to Tamar, who was also a Canaanite, but Er died without a son. Judah gave Tamar to his other son, Onan, but Onan also died. Judah was afraid to give Tamar to his remaining son, Shelah, fearing he would suffer the same fate. Judah promised Tamar that he would wed Shelah to her when he was old enough, but he reneged on the promise. Tamar took matters into her own hands. She pretended to be a prostitute, seduced Judah, and produced a son by him, Perez, who is mentioned in the genealogy. We have repeatedly noted that Ruth was a Moabite and that the Israelites and Moabites were enemies. Unlike Tamar, Ruth’s character was sterling, but like Tamar, she was a Gentile too. Despite prohibitions against intermarrying with non-Jews, God’s people, including Boaz, intermingled with their Gentile neighbors.
Then there is David. Although he was a beloved king, he committed adultery with Bathsheba and tried to cover his sin by murdering Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, who was also a Gentile, a Hittite, but none of this admixture of faithlessness and faithfulness could thwart God’s plan. God was still working his purpose out as year turned into year.
We must not imagine that God’s unfolding plan of redemption reached its culmination with the death and resurrection of the Messiah. The Christ even was a pivotal turning point in history, but God is still thinking about the future. God’s plan continues to unfold in the vicissitudes of human history. We know the final goal of God’s plan. The Apostle Paul gave voice to it in 1 Corinthians15:24-28. “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, after he has destroyed every ruler and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘All things are put in subjection,' it is plain that this does not include the one who put all things in subjection under him. When all things are subjected to him (to Jesus), then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who put all things in subjection under him, so that God may be all in all.” The end goal is that God will be all in all.
Until that day dawns, we are to be like Ruth and Boaz. We are to be people who are characterized by steadfast love and faithfulness in all we do, say, and think. The apostle was right when he said, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:34-35). We are to fear God and work righteousness all the days of our lives. We are to trust in Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, to save us from sin and death and judgment. We must look to God’s future.
Brothers and sisters, we have enjoyed the story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. Through the story we have seen steadfast love and faithfulness depicted in ordinary lives. We have also gained a glimpse of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness, particularly in God’s unfolding plan to raise up a Savior. The plan is still in progress. The stories of our lives are also part of God’s ongoing work. As one commentator wrote, “It is not just Ruth’s story that turned out to be part of a much bigger narrative than she ever imagined. Your story and my story are also woven into the bigger tapestry of what God is doing in Jesus Christ.” Through Christ, God is in the process of subjecting everything to himself so that one day God may be all in all.
Let us play our own little parts in God’s great plan well with as much steadfast love and faithfulness as we can muster. Let us fear God and work righteousness. Let us trust in the promised king who traced his lineage to Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, and David. Let us look forward to the great and glorious day of the Lord that is yet to come.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All glory be to God. Alleluia! Amen.