Ruth 3:1-5 One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing-floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing-floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered.
When Ruth had returned from her gleaning with a huge bag of grain Naomi’s eyes had popped out. “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. “The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers” (Ruth 2:19&20). You find people making claims of a relationship to anyone famous – a sportsman or a singer: “I’m related to him,” they say, and then when you tease out the nature of the relationship you find it a bit tenuous to say the least. But Boaz was indeed a close relative; he was one of their family’s kinsman-redeemers.
- WHAT THE OFFICE OF KINSMAN-REDEEMER WAS.
The office of kinsman-redeemer in Israel was not a human invention like the office of the Pharaohs of Egypt, or the Sun Kings of the Incas, or the Freemasons’ Worshipful Grand Masters, or the Speaker of the House of Commons. All those are simply human offices, but a kinsman-redeemer was a divinely appointed office. If a family in Israel became impoverished, falling on hard times so that it had to sell its land then God made provision for that land to be redeemed by one of their own kinsmen who could produce the sum of money and buy the land back restoring it to the family. He then became a kinsman-redeemer.
Again, if a marriage ended with the death of a husband and there were no children the widow could be married to a brother of her dead husband or another of his relatives. He was legally permitted to take this lonely and unprotected woman into his house; he cared for her, and their first-born son would be regarded as the son and the heir of her first husband – the dead brother. The dead man’s name and line would then be continued in Israel, and so the brother who married her became her kinsman-redeemer. This institution can be read of in Deuteronomy 25 and verses five and six; If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.
So if this were something God instituted and wrote into the Scripture then it tells us some things about God, that he cares, and that he cares for the weak, the defenceless, the lonely and the childless. God loves them; he loves the widow. Let us assume today that the loss of a husband is one of the greatest possible calamities that a woman can pass through, that it is one of the most profound crises of her life, and that a woman may feel for a time afterwards that life isn’t worth living. “I can’t put the pieces together again. I can’t cope. I’ll never recover.” Let us assume that there’s somebody in this distinguished congregation today and they are saying, “I’m at an end. I’m absolutely alone. Life has no longer any joy or meaning.” Perhaps they have passed through bereavement, or separation, or divorce, or some other calamity, and maybe they are finding the most difficult theological problem in all the world to accept that God loves them and is their Father
We are saying that God instituted the office of the kinsman-redeemer because that widow matters to God. He particularly cares for her and for the childless person. He is interested in the lonely and the grieving, and when they cry they don’t cry into a void. God is listening and answering; he comforts and consoles; he restores their self-confidence; he strengthens them and comes close to them to meet their deepest needs of brokenness. He puts together what is breaking apart. He makes them feel that the future is worthwhile.
When people open up to us about their lives we learn that there are many Christians whose providence has been very different from ours today. Again, we know that there were days in the past when we didn’t have the problems we’re meeting today, and there will be days in the future for some of us, indeed for all of us, which will be quite different from our circumstances today. We might face a time when we’ll be wading through waves of multiple pain and will be bending under it and wondering how we can keep going. That may be a reality that some of us know little about today, but it is a great possibility for every human being. Maybe one day we will find ourselves carrying a great burden with our minds and emotions cracking under the strain and we go right down into the whole perplexity of despondency and despair, what men call a ‘nervous breakdown.’ Then I am saying to you today that God is terribly concerned for you.
But more than that, we are told in this institution of the kinsman-redeemer that God makes provision for us today and he does so through our new kinsfolk, through the household of God and through the family of faith, the people we belong to by our common union with Jesus Christ. At regeneration we were baptized by the Spirit into one body. We find ourselves members of a new body, the body of Christ, this healing community of the redeemed. There we will find our counselors; in the congregation we will make our friends; there we’ll receive service and ministry and love, a sense of belonging and community. Paul urges the congregation in Philippi to be, like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phils. 2:2-4).
We should be concerned about the interests of other believers because God is. I am saying that Almighty God cares for the widow and those in need, and he makes provision for them by making them members of his people and one another. He joins them to the family of faith who minister to them. Jehovah was the God of Ruth and the God of Boaz.
- NAOMI’S RESPONSE TO GOD’S PROVIDENCE.
We are told that one day Naomi took the initiative and took Ruth aside. Boaz had shown unusual kindness to Ruth and expressed his admiration for her thoughtfulness towards his aunt, but nothing much more was happening, and Naomi was not a patient woman. She was the kind of woman who needed to be doing things when there were difficulties. Still submission to the providence of God was not a grace found in abundance in her. So she drew Ruth aside and said to her, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be provided for” (Ruth 3:1). She takes on a new role of match-maker; she is going to find rest for Ruth. She is quite obsessed with this, that Ruth can only find rest in marriage. She has said to her earlier, “May the Lord grant that . . . you will find rest in the home of another husband” (Ruth 1:9). She does not seem to think of the possibility of finding true and strong rest in the will of God, and while for some people that may mean marriage, for others that rest is obtained in the rich life of singleness.
Naomi is determined that Ruth will be married to Boaz and she tells her what she must do to achieve this. Boaz will be supervising bringing in the last of the harvest that day. He will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor and then there will be the harvest supper. What Ruth must do is this; Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing-floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do (vv. 3&4). Now there is nothing wrong with perfume; there is not a husband in this congregation, I hope, who has not bought perfume for his wife. There is nothing wrong with attractive clothing and having what the Bible calls ‘your best clothes.’ There are occasions for best clothes. We come to worship as we would go for a job interview, not wanting to build any barrier between ourselves and that one we respect from whom we expect great help.
Now if this were a man telling Ruth to act in this particular way then we would smell a rat; we would think this behaviour Naomi recommends to be more then odd, even sinister, but we might be tempted to take it for granted because . . . “Well this is Naomi, isn’t it?” The Naomi of some Christians is not scrutinized as she should be for her conduct. I find a pattern in her attitude and behaviour and it runs through the book. She lived in Israel during its theological decline, when everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes, where the practice of levirate marriage had not become as clear as in earlier days. Access to the teaching of the law seems to have become vague, and much less precise folk memories had taken its place. Besides that, Naomi had lived too long in Moab. She had reacted like the people of this world facing up to the problems of famine, suffering and widowhood. Here is some incredible advice which she gives the new kid on the block, someone unfamiliar with the ways of the people of Bethlehem, and their laws and customs. Ruth is easily manipulated and taken advantage of. Here is the older woman, the local person, the believer in Jehovah and she is giving Ruth her own advice on how to get a terrific husband.
Naomi is going to undertake for Ruth’s future; she is going to arrange security for the girl, and she outlines the plan. Ruth is typical of any of us who moves overseas into a different culture where other people’s practices often seem rather obscure. In my judgment Naomi’s counsels are quite extraordinary; the principles are sub-Christian; the advice is worldly in its tone, and the whole plan is fraught with danger of ever kind. It is done in the middle of the night when the only light is that of the moon and stars. Ruth is to make herself as alluring as possible with perfume, oils and her best clothes. She is to creep up to him as he lies in the field asleep and she is to uncover his feet to wake him up gently. Then when he is awake and sees a dark shape lying down near him she is to make this proposition, Spread the corner of your garment over me since you are a kinsman redeemer (v.9). Sinclair Ferguson says, “When you see a certain kind of secrecy – not a happy secrecy but a calculated one – in your children, you instinctively think, ‘Something’s up!’ Why is it that they do not tell you? Because something is wrong.”
Why did Naomi suggest all this to Ruth? Why did she have to go to these extraordinary lengths to get Boaz into a levirate marriage situation? Why did she have to take this path to get him to become her kinsman-redeemer and husband? The answer I see in the fact that there was a nearer kinsman, a closer member of the family who had priority over Boaz. Boaz was quite aware of this man, saying to Ruth, “Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I” (v.12). To him was given the first opportunity legally of taking Ruth to become his wife. He had the precedence in the eyes of the law and the culture of the day, and this was known in Bethlehem, and it seems that that particular man was not such a catch in the eyes of Naomi. He was probably a poorer man and a more inadequate man, and certainly seemed a less eligible husband than Boaz, and out of this fact came this plot. Naomi was engineering the whole thing, using her authority and knowledge to influence Ruth and take this course of action in the night in the cornfield.
Let me apply this to ourselves. We are told in the days of the Judges that everyone did as he saw fit (Judges 21:25); that is how the book of Judges ends. You can look at those six words that immediately precede Ruth chapter one verse one and introduce the book. Everyone doing as he saw fit . . . and here is an example in the life of Elimlelech and Naomi: Everyone did as he saw fit . . . In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab (Ruth 1:1). This is the pattern throughout the book; the core family behaved just as many of the judges had behaved, Jephthah and Gideon and Samson (though without their powers), in a sub-Jehovahist manner.
Today we read of so much two-tier Christianity, of those who are considered ‘ordinary’ Christians and again those who have had the second blessing, and the only way any Christian would know of this distinction is that the others shyly make this immodest claim that they’ve had this religious elaboration or promotion. If they didn’t tell you you would never know from talking to them and seeing how they lived or preached. There is nothing else at all about their lives which would warrant you believing that they were hyper-Christians, or anything more than ordinary disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ as you are. Yet there is so much emphasis today on that particular possibility, that one can become more than a mere Christian, that one can get upgraded to becoming a transcendental Christian, a extramundane Christian, what the apostle Paul refers to as the super-Christians, the “super-apostles.” Twenty-six times in the second letter to the Corinthians where he has to deal with the influence of the false teachers who have permeated their congregation Paul uses the prefix ‘hyper’ or ‘super.’ That was their claim for influence and hearing in the church, their attempt at a modest hint of being ‘super-Christians’ because they possessed more of the Spirit than the mere believer.
There is, however, another biblical emphasis which is more challenging to us, not on being hyper-Christians with eminent perfection in holiness – for which I find no warrant in the word of God. I see nowhere two classes of Christians or the possibility of anyone at all becoming a super-believer, but I do see the possibility of our leaving our first love, and our becoming neither cold nor hot but lukewarm and the Lord spitting us out as tasteless professors. I see the possibility of decrepitude coming upon a believer, grey hairs here and there on him and the man knowing it not. I see that possibility of carnality coming into one area of a man’s life resulting in weakness and vulnerability characterizing that aspect of his conduct and so pulling him down. I see carelessness in putting on all the pieces of the Christian armour. I see Lot lingering near Sodom. I hear many warnings about that kind of behaviour in the Bible.
Maybe this is the structure we find in the Bible; there is the ordinary believer, the mere Christian who is an extraordinary man in Christ, a person touched in every part of his being by the Spirit of God and so filled with the Spirit (though always open to more of the Spirit, and longing for more of Christ’s fulness), and then there are the others, the lukewarm believers, the Christians who are going through a time when they have abandoned their first love, the disciples into whose life a winter time of declension and chill has come. They are singing, “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord?” There is an absence of the spirit of prayer, and steady wisdom, and trust in God’s love.
That is what Naomi had become. That is what she was doing when she gave this advice to Ruth. She had not become a Sabbath-breaker, or immoral, or a thief, or a drunkard, but there was a carnality in her counsels, in that one area of her life she was carnal and not spiritual. We do not believe in the carnal Christian heresy. The carnal Christian heresy says that everyone who has made some sort of vague decision for Christ is a real Christian and on his way to heaven. They do not worship God; they do not resist temptation; Sundays are spent like any other day of the week; they have no desire for fellowship, for Bible preaching, and they over-indulge in the things of the world. They are worldlings, but, because they once made a decision and got baptized maybe fifteen years earlier they are considered to be Christians still, but because of their lives they are called ‘carnal Christians.’ I want to say that there are only two classes of people saints and sinners. There is no such third category half way between the sheep and the goats. You are either one or the other; a sheep or a goat; there are no ‘geep’ no religious/worldly hybrids.
When a person in the Corinthian congregation made a hero of Peter or Paul or Apollos and trumpeted his gifts and would only listen to his favourite preacher then he was acting in a carnal way. Do you understand? He was carnal in one aspect of his life. You can be carnal in one department as Peter was when he denied his Lord, or as Naomi was when she gave this advice to Ruth. There can be carnality in a certain area and one still be a Christian. There cannot be carnality in every single area and yet you maintain any credibility of being a Christian. A ‘carnal Christian’ is as much a myth as a unicorn or a flying horse. It simply does not exist, rather it is an excuse for a man to behave like a devil and yet say to himself, “once saved always saved; I am a Christian because I made a decision, but I am a carnal Christian.” No, you are not. Jesus says, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Your fruits are bitter, unholy, godless fruits. They do not taste of Christ.
Do you understand what I am saying? There can be an area in our lives which we are not bringing under the influence of the Bible and the Spirit of God. You have heard of these people who have monomania, who in 99 parts of their lives are perfectly normal but in one area are all screwed up, and so are acting in a bizarre manner. Naomi was a Christian monomaniac. She represents a parent who is so keen for her child to marry someone out of the top drawer that she manipulates, takes risks and ignores sensible moral acts. She is like Peter who hears the Lord speaking of suffering and trial and death. He loves him and loves his own life and cannot bear to think that the Christian life is going to be like that, and so he argues vehemently with Christ about this foolish determination to go to the cross. He judges things from a purely human perspective; he speaks quite carnally. It didn’t happen just once in Peter’s life. Years later he was intimidated by Judaizing Christians introducing Old Testament food laws into the fellowship lunches of the church in Antioch and refusing to eat with his brothers and sisters who were Gentile Christians who didn’t keep a kosher diet. His separation from those brothers divided the congregation and when he acted like that then in that area of his life Peter was carnal. Peter was not at all carnal in any other area of his life; he loved the Lord, the maintained private and public devotions living a self-denying life, but he was behaving carnally just there. He was not walking in the Spirit.
We must face the possibility of that for ourselves that we have a moral and spiritual blindness in one area of our lives. Perhaps we will snub one particular Christian; we will misrepresent and belittle him, criticizing him behind his back, and when we do that, though in so much of the rest of our lives we are grand believers, acting like that we are being carnal! Let us give wise counsel. Let us not go exclusively to people who will tell us what we want to hear but go to those who will tell us what the word of God teaches. Judge the advice we get. Is it God-fearing? Is it God-honouring? There is no guarantee of that from the fact that they are kind to us, and smile at us and that we might feel that what we hear is right. How often has every Christian felt something was right when they later could see that it was wrong. The devil is expert in creating warm glowings in Christians. Is there honesty in the advice? Is it done in daylight? Will it bear the scrutiny of the world? Let all things be done decently and in order, says the apostle. Is there chapter and verse for what I am going to do? Is some scriptural principle being served?
You can search through all the legislation of a kinsman-redeemer in the Scripture, and look at the examples of levirate marriages, and the behaviour of men and women beginning a marriage and you’ll not find such counsel as Naomi encouraged. There is no reference to Jehovah in her words. It is the wisdom of the world. Ruth herself is not beyond censure; she had disobeyed Naomi once before; she could disobey her again. “Thanks, Ma’am, but I’ll talk to Boaz in the morning.” That is all that was needed. Was she possibly excited and enamoured with the thought of marriage to Boaz, and not praying, not thinking as a fine believer in the Lord should? Naomi carries this fearful responsibility for what could have happened, how Ruth could have been compromised. What was the penalty for adultery under the civil legislation of the Old Covenant? It was stoning. What was Naomi doing?
- BOAZ’ RESPONSE TO GOD’S PROVIDENCE.
What an attractive person Boaz is. The governing principle of his life was that the Lord is going to repay us for what we do (Ruth 2:12). Boaz was conscious that he served a righteous God, and that he faced a Day of Judgment. He would then be judged by the law of the Lord which he knew from its clear wise declarations in the Bible. You can see the ideals by which he lived. What was honourable and dignified? He pursued these truths. In other words he was going to avoid all that was base and contemptible. He was not going to be content with what was ordinary. He was not going to look at the prevailing customs of the people around him and be influenced by them. He was not going to make the popular social consensus of his day his standard. He wasn’t going to take advantage of people. He was going to seek the venerable and weighty. His righteousness was going to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees. It was going to pass conventional morality. His aim was the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
That was his goal in life and then that was tested that night in the cornfield when his cold feet woke him up and Ruth was lying at his feet offered herself to him. She is beautifully dressed, wears the most sensuous perfume, has a lovely nature and she proposed to him and wanted him. The situation was dark and secret, and he is feeling good after eating and drinking that night. Who would know what would happen there? Why didn’t he go ahead and take her and then announce the union as a simple fact and pay a fine to the relative who had the priority? All around him this was happening; men and women were doing as they saw fit. Boaz didn’t because he never mistook temptation for opportunity, even though all your chums are rolling their eyes and smiling and saying, “Go for it!” The Sinclair Fergusons was eating at a Chinese restaurant, and at the end each of the family was given a fortune cookie. His daughter Ruth opened hers and read aloud, Never mistake temptation for opportunity. Wise words indeed.
Did Boaz love her? From all that we see in the following narrative we are encouraged to believe he did. When he heard that unmistakable Moabite accent stumbling over the unfamiliar Hebrew words, Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer (v.9), then he knew she’d been set up to do this. Surely Boaz guessed that his aunt Naomi lay behind this midnight proposition, and he loved Ruth even more for coming and proposing to him like this; she had no guile. The perfume and the best clothes in a cornfield – come on! It was all too much in his face! More than that, Boaz is touched that this much younger woman should even want to be his wife, and that she should be seeking to do so by God’s law, in the levirate marriage system. It impressed him – even though she had not gone about it exactly as it required. Notice what he says so tenderly to Ruth, “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier. You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor” (v.10). So girls ran after men 3,100 years ago as they do still, and men encouraged them then as now, but not Boaz.
Then he says this to her, “Don’t be afraid” (v.11). Why should she be afraid? Because of the death penalty for adultery, and for fear of losing her reputation for ever by propositioning a man sleeping in a barleyfield in the middle of the night. “Don’t be afraid,” he said, thinking months ahead of her. All my fellow-townsmen know that you are a women of noble character (v.11). He assures her that she is not going to lose that reputation so that people would consider her cheap, moving around the place at midnight, walking away from where he’d been sleeping, especially after everyone knew he’d been taking special interest in her and had shown her many kindnesses. To walk away now across the barley field where other men were sleeping would be utter folly. “Lie here until morning,” (v.13) he tells her, and so she did, rising at dawn, to get away before many recognized her, but he underlined his concern for her good name by speaking to his men and saying, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor” (v.14). He is earnest in saving both her reputation and his own. “No wagging tongues now!” But there is one more thing, that before she leaves that place he makes sure she doesn’t return to her and Naomi’s home empty-handed. He asks her to open up her shawl and he pours into it bushels of barley. It is in fact an enormous amount! How could she carry that home? I think Boaz was saying to her, “You ain’t seen nothing yet.” It was an earnest of what she would get from him when they were married.
Boaz could not do what was suggested and spread the corner of his garment over her because both the law of God and the ordinance of men said that certain steps had to be taken first, public and legal steps. You didn’t start a relationship in a barleyfield in the middle of the night. You couldn’t do it your way; you have to do it God’s way, and his way was that in this circumstance the nearest of kin had to be informed first of all. That other man had the prior claim to take Ruth as his wife, and Boaz was under legal obligation, and a social obligation, and a divine obligation to inform his kinsman of all these circumstances. Avoid all forms of evil.
Necessity was laid upon Boaz to inform this cousin of Ruth’s existence and need first of all. Even if he were head over heels in love with Ruth and she were desperately in love with him there was the law of God and the existence of someone else, and that other man might take Ruth. So you see Boaz’ submission to God; Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it (vv. 12&13).
We must live by the word of God, he is saying to Ruth. That must govern all our conduct. We must trust the Lord in all of this and there must be no sour grapes. There is no Plan B in the purposes of God, and so there must be no ‘if only’s’, and no vain regrets. ‘It is well with my soul.’ That must be our conviction. Boaz knows what is right and he does it, and the consequences and the possible results do not enter into the analysis of what is his duty. Whatever is going to transpire it would be wrong to take Ruth like that. It is foolhardy to begin a marriage on a God-dishonouring basis. What hope can there be for future blessing if the foundation is wrong? No matter if he loses her, better to lose her within the will of God than to have her outside the will of God. So Boaz must leave the issue with God, and that is often the case for the Christian. We can have little influence on what is going to be the outcome of certain events; they are beyond our control. For example, there may be medical men discussing our case, or an interviewing committee considering our CV, or a parole board discussing our application. We have done what is right to the best of our ability and then we leave the matter with the Lord.
What are the general lessons we learn from Boaz about how to interpret the providences of God? Sinclair Ferguson suggests three:
i] Boaz has developed a commitment never to run ahead of God.
ii] Boaz understands that the providences of God in our lives are not, in and of themselves, self-interpreting. They must always be interpreted in the light of the teaching given to us in God’s Torah, his trustworthy word. Scripture provides the lenses through which we interpret and respond to every providence of God. ‘Providence is a Christian’s diary, not his Bible,’ said Thomas Watson.
iii] Boaz recognizes that love for a woman implies responsibilities towards her family. While marriage involves a new family unit (a man ‘leaves’ his parent in order to hold fast to his wife, Genesis 2:24), he does not abandon either his family or his new wife’s family. ‘Love me, love my family’ is part and parcel of marriage – even when families are difficult. In this case, Boaz is implicitly being asked to love and care for Ruth’s mother-in-law – her first husband’s mother – a challenging calling! (Sinclair Ferguson, Faithful God, Bryntirion Press, 2005, pp. 100&101).
2nd March 2008 GEOFF THOMAS