Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Redemption - Ruth 3-4

“Redemption” – Ruth 3-4

I’m glad to be starting a new week. In a lot of ways this has been a rough week. We got word on Monday that my aunt had taken a bad fall at her church in Houston and her prognosis was bleak. She did, in fact, pass away a couple of days later leaving her husband of 59 years and scores of relatives and friends. My sisters and niece and I drove down to Houston on Thursday, which gives me another level of respect for Morris who does that every week. We then came back Friday and I got back late that night.

Thank you all so much for praying for us! I would say that you don’t know how good that made us feel but the fact is, some of you do know. Some of you do know how it feels to have somebody praying for you in a difficult time in your life, don’t you? You understand the waterfall of God’s grace and comfort when life brings heartache. You even understand that God can and will bring good things out of the worst crisis. You can relate to being able to almost feel and smell the feathers of God’s sheltering wings.

God's timing is absolutely amazing.  We heard several stories about how the family had all just gotten together before Aunt Cecile had her fall; how the Lord had allowed certain, special things to happen just before she died and how peoples' schedules were amazingly opened so they could attend.  And we all commented on what a blessing it was that she was getting older and feeble and yet was not any kind of burden on anyone.  We even learned that Uncle Nell had prayed for years that he would outlive Aunt Cecile so he could take care of her to the end.  All of that is just God's perfect timing and another instance of his protective, sheltering wings of grace covering our family.

So, it's not surprising that God would add to all of that the fact that this comes at a time when we can appreciate that while reading about His protective wings covering Ruth and her family in the Book of Ruth.  We have seen in the previous couple of weeks that Ruth was a Moabitess and while that may sound like an insect from the outback of Australia, it actually just means that she is from the country of Moab which was on the other side of the Jordan River from Israel.  It also means that she was originally an enemy of Israel but, if you remember, she married into the Israelite family of Naomi and her husband Elimalech.

She married into the family when they went to Moab to get food but the men in the family all died and ultimately left Naomi and Ruth to come back to Israel and try to eek out a living which was difficult since they had no man to protect or provide for them.  So Ruth goes to pick the scraps of grain in a nearby field that "just so happens" to be owned by Boaz and finds him to be not only generous but later finds out that he is actually a relative to their family.  That is the quickest way I can describe what has happened up to this point and gets us up to where we ended last week.

Please turn to chapter 2 of Ruth and go to verses 10-12.  Ruth has just been allowed to remain in the field of Boaz and he has provided for her far above what the law commands.  I want you to keep something in the back of your mind as we read through this book.  This book has been called one of the most beautiful love stories in all of literature and part of what makes it so beautiful is that when you read about Boaz, he is a picture of Jesus Himself and Ruth is a picture of the church.  You will see many similarities as you read this but when I say "picture" some people might understand that to mean that it really is Jesus in some OT form but that's not the case.  It just shows some similarities and that is what I want you to think about.

Read Ruth 2:10-12.  "At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me —a foreigner?  Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband —how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.  May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.

In the last part of that verse Boaz prays that Ruth will be rewarded for being so good to Naomi.  As in the case of Boaz, it often happens that the one who prays is in fact the one through whom it is answered.   The law stated that the owner of a field should leave some scraps for the poor people which was the forerunner to Social Security but Boaz goes much further with Ruth.  He not only instructs his men to leave extra but he then invites her to join them for lunch and at the end of the day gives her even more grain and some leftovers to take home to Naomi.

So, Ruth comes home to Naomi and her hands are full of groceries and Naomi's eyes light up.  Read in verses 19-20.

 Her mother-in-law asked her, “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.20 “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 guardian-redeemers.

Some of your translations say "closest relative" or "kinsman" or "kinsman-redeemer".  The idea behind this is the OT law that had a provision for widows who had no children.  In order that the husband's name would not die out in Israel the law said the widow could go to a close male relative and ask him to marry her.  If they had a son in that marriage then the boy would take the deceased husband's name.  This was a big deal.  This was a lot to ask of a person.  The son would get the new husband's inheritance but not his name and also the new husband would be required to protect and provide for the widow.  And to top it off, it was the widow's responsibility to ask.

All of that leads us to the next passage in chapter 3.  Evidently some time goes by and Naomi gives her daughter-in-law some advice in verses 1-4.  

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in 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. 4 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.”

Now, how many of you ladies proposed to your husbands this way?  Let's see a show of hands.  Nobody?  That's what Ruth is doing and evidently this is still practiced occasionally in parts of the Middle East.  It may seem very forward to us but Ruth's moral integrity is never in doubt as we will see in verses 7-11. 

When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!9 “Who are you?” he asked.“I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.”10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character.

Did you catch that part in verse 9 where she asks him to spread the corner of his cloak over her?  I want to read a few other verses to you starting with Psalm 17:8, "Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings."  Psalm 61:4, "I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.   And Psalm 63:7, "Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings."

Do you know who wrote those 3 Psalms?  David wrote those.  David understood the symbolism of the shelter, the provision, the protection of crawling under the wings of God and hiding there, dwelling there, taking shelter and then singing praises to the Protector.  He knew the desperation of having nobody else to turn to and having his enemies coming closer and closer.  He said, "Hide me in the shadow of your wings." 

That's exactly what Ruth was asking of Boaz, her kinsman-redeemer.  She went to him and asked him for protection and provision...and then she rested there.  When he put the corner of his garment over her that night, she knew that she was safe.  It didn't mean that all of her troubles were over.  It didn't mean she would never have to work again but ultimately, it meant everything would be ok.  And it was ok for her and for Naomi as well.  Ruth and Boaz had a baby boy sometime later.  His name was Jesse.  And do you know who Jesse's youngest son was?  David.

Ruth, who ran to Boaz and asked for protection under his cloak or wing was the grandmother of King David who well understood what his grandmother had gone through.  I wonder if she had even relayed that story to young David some time when she was babysitting him and years later he used that same symbolism in a way that, thousands of years later, would affect and encourage...me.  That's almost too much for me to comprehend.  That's too much grace.  I can't believe that God would use a widowed enemy of Israel to be in the lineage of a man who inspires me so.

But you know that it doesn't end there.  David was not only a king and an inspiring author and so much more.  He was, of course, in the very lineage of Jesus Himself.  He was the ancestor of the King.  He was in the family line of the Savior, the Creator, the Sustainer, Deliverer...and Redeemer!

Many generations after Ruth and even after David, Jesus would say these words in Matthew 23:37, "Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing."

A mother bird will have the same protective, motherly instincts that any mother will have.  They will often sacrifice themselves to protect their young.  In a hail storm a hen's wings may wind up bloody and featherless but she won't allow her chicks to be hurt by the storm.  She doesn't do that because she has to.  There is no bird law that says she has to or she will be punished.  She does it because she wants to, because she loves those under her wings.

That's what Jesus wants for you today.  His hands and feet are side are scarred from protecting you from that sin that you think is not that big of a deal.  He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)  He is waiting for you to seek shelter from the storm.  The price has been paid.  Now you have to make the decision to ask him to redeem you.

He can redeem your very life.  He can be the shelter from the storms of life.  Even as believers we still need to lose that attitude of "I got this" and just trust Him.  One of the characteristics of being under God's wings is the fact that it is often dark.  We can't see what is out there.  We don't understand what is going on.  I hear the lightning and thunder.  I smell the rain.  My feet may even get wet but I know I won't drown because I trust the one under whose wings I take refuge. 

I trust Him because generation after generation He has proven Himself trustworthy.  He has proven Himself trustworthy in my own life, even this week.  He proved Himself to Ruth and to David and to Aunt Cecile as well.  She knew Him.  She had a relationship with Jesus and knew to take shelter in Him and because of that we don't have to wonder about where she is.  The only thing we wonder is if she is singing praise with Ruth or David or with Pa and Grandmother  and Uncle Dewayne or if she is just still sitting at the feet of Jesus, her Redeemer.

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