March 18, 2012

Risk, Redemption, and Reward

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Ruth Scripture: Ruth 3:1–18


Risk, Redemption, and Reward

Ruth 3:1-18
Sunday, March 18, 2012
Pastor Randy Smith

Last week the author left us hanging. How would the relationship between Ruth and Boaz turn out? They spent several weeks together in the fields, but now the harvest season had come to an end. Was this also the end of what appeared to be a promising relationship? It seems they would both go their own separate ways. We have seen the hand of God working behind the scenes (bringing good out of bad situations) through the normal events that surrounded these normal people. We have to wonder, was there still more to be expected?

As you know we have been studying the book of Ruth (this is the third of four sermons). The story occurred during arguably the spiritually darkest time for the nation of Israel. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi had experienced the death of their closest relatives and a nation-wide famine. Yet despite Naomi's bitterness, Ruth trusted in the Lord and committed herself to the God of Israel. Both of them return from Moab to the Promised Land. And in the Promised Land God provides the food they need from a successful landowner named Boaz. But what will Ruth and Naomi do for food now that the harvest has concluded? And as I said, is there anything more to this relationship between Ruth and Boaz? Would God provide either? Would they both be on the same ticket?

Last week's sermon was about God's providence. This week's sermon is about redemption and I give this sermon a "PG" rating.


Let's first begin with Naomi's plan. The woman has a lot on her mind and according to verse 1 she is consumed with Ruth finding a husband. We are not just talking about fairy-tale romance. Not having a husband for an older single lady back then was often a matter of life or death. So the wheels are turning. Naomi knew Boaz, now an acquaintance of Ruth, was a relative of her late husband (Ru. 2:1) and a man with excellent character. Perfect match! But now that the farming connection between Ruth and Boaz had ended, how could the two be reunited?

According to verse 2, Naomi has some inside information that Boaz would be "at the threshing floor." This was often a level place with a hard surface where the grain was separated from the chaff. Now that the harvest had concluded, no doubt the entire town knew about the big party that would be happening there at the threshing floor that evening. She knew Boaz would be in attendance.

Naomi has a plan. Her plan, spelled out in verses 3-4, has four parts.

First she says to Ruth, "Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor." From Naomi's perspective, the only lady Boaz had seen up to this point was the woman walking through the mud and laboring in his field throughout the heat of the day. Modern day equivalent - Boaz only knew Ruth as a "dumpster diver." Naomi's advice: Lose the work clothes and buy a new dress. Drop the head covering and highlight your hair. Shower off the sweat and apply some makeup and perfume. In other words, make yourself look good, go to the threshing floor and let's see if Boaz takes notice of you!

The second part of Naomi's plan, verse 3, "But do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking." The party at the threshing floor was a big celebration. The famine was over and a successful harvest had concluded. Naomi wants Ruth to catch Boaz's attention when he will be most responsive. Guys are easily distracted. We do not multi-task very well. So it is essential that Ruth present herself in a way that does not compete with Boaz's concentration. My modern paraphrase of Naomi's advice: Let the man finish his beer and chicken wings. Don't interrupt his stories of the good-ole-days when he used to be able to lift more barley than anyone on the farm. And if the game has a late start, at least wait until halftime before you pull off this big stunt!

The plan continues, part three, verse 4, "It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down." What's going on here?

And if I haven't lost all the legalists by now, I'm guaranteed to lose you as we read part four of Naomi's plan. End of verse 4, "Then he will tell you what you shall do." After a provocative display like that we have to wonder what Boaz is going to tell her to do!

No doubt some explanation at this point is in order. I'm sure there are several questions buzzing in your head as we speak that I need to answer or you won't be able to concentrate on what I have to say going forward.

Question number 1: Was this good advice from Naomi? I have to answer, "no." We can soften Ruth's actions with all kinds of cultural customs (which are very difficult to prove) that may have been normative for the day, but any way you slice it, Naomi's advice was outright dangerous. Ruth could have been abducted along the way. She could have lost her upstanding reputation through the appearance of making sexual advances on Boaz. She could have destroyed his reputation. In the Bible we read of prostitutes frequently visiting the threshing floor, offering their services to intoxicated landowners now with money after the harvest looking for a "good time" (Hos. 9:1). This plan gone wrong could have resulted in anger, embarrassment or sexual sin. At a minimum it brought unnecessary temptation.

I believe this account is in the Bible not to prescribe a course of action for dating couples to pursue. I believe it is only to describe without endorsing as to what occurred that evening.

And before we leave this question, I am left wondering why this dangerous and imprudent option was selected for Ruth. The Scriptures do not provide the answer, but based on experience I can read between the lines and provide two possible suggestions. Both of these suggestions are applicable as to why young ladies make foolish decisions today. One, Ruth did not have a father to guide her. Naomi had a husband and two sons, but no one knows how men think, better than a well-informed and prudent father. And no one should take greater interest in guiding and protecting a daughter than a father. Without a godly father-figure, Ruth was left grasping for straws. And two, Boaz, (and I say this with caution because everything in this book speaks positively about his character) in a way left Ruth hanging. As we will see, it appears he was always interested in her, but he never made his feelings known to her. Had he taken control of the situation, Ruth never would have needed to place herself in such a dangerous situation. This problem is so prevalent today. Women in a relationship and clueless as to where the relationship is going. Are we just friends? Are we dating? Is this relationship working toward marriage? How long until marriage? In 2:10 it was Ruth who basically asked, "Why are you being so nice to me?" Again, Ruth is forced to be vulnerable because she has no clue as to where the relationship is going?

Question number 2: What is the biblical position on drinking alcohol? Again, we may feel uncomfortable with Boaz knocking down a couple drinks at the threshing floor. So does the Bible give permission to consume alcohol? Short answer, "yes." Long answer, "yes, with a few exceptions." Permitting you do not violate the law (underage drinking/drinking and driving), do not get drunk (we are to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, not a substance) and do not cause another believer to sin who has a problem with alcohol, you are welcome to partake providing you have a pure conscience. I could give you twenty reasons why it is probably best to avoid the stuff, but none of those reasons have direct biblical support.

Most of the water back then was purified with wine. Alcohol was part of the custom of the day. Alcohol was present at most parties in the Bible. Was Boaz intoxicated? I doubt it; especially when you consider what he did or maybe I should say what he didn't do, and what he said that we will see in a moment after this encounter with Ruth.


Moving on to the second point, beginning in verse 6, "So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law had commanded her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry [not necessarily drunk, better, "contented"-NEB-"at peace with the world"], he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly [ninja], and uncovered his feet and lay down. It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled [not by Ruth's warm body but the cool air] and bent forward; and behold, a woman was lying at his feet. He said, 'Who are you?' [startled, it was dark] And she answered, 'I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative [NIV-"kinsman-redeemer", Hebrew-"ga'ol"]'" (Ru. 2:6-9).

Before we unpack this, we have to answer another popular question: Did Ruth and Boaz have sexual relations that evening? My answer is "no." Based on their godly reputations described throughout the book, I find it very difficult to believe they did anything impure. It seems that these were two honorable people trying to make the most of a dishonorable situation. The best support for innocence comes in Boaz's words that follow in verse 11: "You are a woman of excellence." "Excellence," this is the same word used of the godly woman in Proverbs 31: "An excellent wife, who can find? For her worth is far above jewels" (Pr. 31:10). In Boaz's case, you don't fornicate with someone and then praise her for being a woman of godly virtue. You don't violate a clear biblical command and then say as he did in verse 10, "May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter!" It just doesn't work that way!

So Ruth says to Boaz, "Spread your covering over your maid, for you are a [NIV-"kinsman-redeemer"]." Naomi's plan all came down to this question. Would Boaz redeem Ruth? There was a provision in the Mosaic Law. If a man died, it was the expectation that his brother would marry his widowed wife and preserve his family lineage (Dt. 25:6). It was called redemption. But redemption also went beyond nearest brothers. Family member were to redeem other family members and not only redeem people, but also redeem land that may have been lost as well (Lev. 25:25).

Boaz was a distant relative of Elimelech, Naomi's late husband (Ru. 2:1). Ruth is proposing that Boaz propose. She is asking him to redeem her which would include inheriting Elimelech's land, marrying Ruth, caring for Ruth and Naomi and raising up children. In chapter 2 we learned that Ruth sought protection under God's wings (Ru. 2:12). And here she is also seeking protection under Boaz's wings. "Be my redeemer, Boaz!" We'll come back to the significance of that word, "redeemer."

There is some drama that is lost when we read this passage through our cultural glasses. Several cultural taboos were violated. This was a woman asking a man. This was a Moabitess asking a Hebrew. This was a younger person asking and older one. This was an employee asking an employer. Yet despite all of this, God was working (as we learned last week) because He is sovereign and He is good. But there still were two obstacles to overcome. First, how would Boaz respond? And second, how would this happen since Boaz was not the closest relative as he said in verse 12. We will come back to that second obstacle in a moment. For now let's see how Boaz responds - let's move to Boaz's provision, our third point.


Boaz responds to Ruth's comments in verse 10, "May you be blessed of the Lord, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich."

What do I see in this response? Godliness! The first thing he does is he takes it to the Lord. I also see humility. "I've seen all those younger handsome men checking you out and you have chosen to be with me?" The man was financially secure, running a successful business, respected in the community and known for his impeccable integrity. And he responds wondering, "Why me?"

Verse 11, "Now, my daughter, do not fear." What a real man! "Do not fear that I will fail to provide for you." "Do not fear that I will string you out with a ten-year engagement." "Do not fear that I will mock your mother-in-law for her crazy ideas." "Do not fear that I will hurt you emotionally." "Do not fear that I will ever lay an angry finger on you." "Do not fear that you will be replaced by the couch and the remote control." "Do not fear that I will cease to be the spiritual leader that you thought you married." "Do not fear that I will ever leave you."

As verse 11 continues, "I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence." In other words, "You are a woman of honor and I respect that character and I will do all I can to preserve your honor."

How is that seen today men? How do we preserve a woman's honor? "I'm not going to sleep with you or move in with you to remove the potential of any suggestive thoughts that others may formulate about your reputation." "I'm going to take responsibility so people in the community don't wonder why a woman of excellence would marry a buffoon like me. "And I'm going to want to see you grow as a 'woman of excellence' because of me and not in spite of me."

So Boaz agrees to redeem Ruth, but there is a problem. Every good love story does have some drama. Verse 12, "Now it is true I am a close relative; however, there is a relative closer than I." That is the second obstacle.

Verse 13, "Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives. Lie down until morning." Verse 14, "So she lay at his feet until morning and rose before one could recognize another; and he said, 'Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.' Verse 15, "Again he said, 'Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it.' So she held it, and he measured sixmeasures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city."

More integrity from Boaz! He takes initiative and exercises diligence to get the job done. He gives Ruth physical protection for the evening. He makes plans to guard their reputation from the town gossips. "We didn't do anything, but I do not want people to think we did!" He makes a promise and seals it with the vow to the Lord. And maybe most important, he provides a gift for his future mother-in-law!

Beginning in verse 16, "When she [Ruth] came to her mother-in-law, she said, 'How did it go, my daughter?' And she told her all that the man had done for her. She said, 'These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, 'Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.'' Then she said, 'Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today'" (Ru. 3:16-18).

We have to wait until next week to see how this story concludes, but as we conclude I want you to focus with me as I promised on that word "redeemer."

This story is about redemption in the physical sense. Boaz without any obligations would go beyond the expectations of Law and make the necessary efforts to provide for Ruth. We know it's going to have a happy ending, holding out hope for this young woman and her mother-in-law.

Great story, but God's intention is that we see the word "redemption" in a much deeper sense. Boaz though a real person with great character is only a picture used by God to foreshadow a greater Redeemer. The day would come that no man, but God Himself would redeem His people. He would redeem His people not just physically, but spiritually not just temporarily, but eternally. Like Ruth, we were unable to redeem ourselves, but as the Scriptures declare, "For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6). We have accrued a debt that we couldn't pay. And the wages of that debt is spiritual death (Rom. 6:23). But Jesus Christ came to redeem us, not because we deserved it, but because of His love and mercy - not because we were strong, but because we are helpless. Jesus came to redeem us through the shedding of His blood. And through His redemption the Scriptures declare, "[We have obtained] an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for [us], who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Pet. 1:4-5).

So we come to Jesus like Ruth came to Boaz. We acknowledge our helpless condition and cast ourselves fully into His strong arms. We trust Him to do all the work. All we simply need to do is ask Him to redeem us and if we are serious, He will. Have you done that? Have you received the free offer of His eternal grace for a blessed life in this world and secured future with Him in the world to come?

other sermons in this series

Mar 25


Redemption Accomplished

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Ruth 4:1–22 Series: Ruth

Mar 11


Famine To Fullness

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Ruth 2:1–23 Series: Ruth

Mar 4


Hope When All Appears Hopeless

Preacher: Randy Smith Scripture: Ruth 1:1–22 Series: Ruth