Friday, July 22, 2005

Ruth Chapter 3 (1)

Coming to our redeemer
We have been seeing that the book of Ruth is in some ways a picture book. In Ruth herself we have seen a picture of us all by nature, weak, helpless, hopeless, no place amongst the people of God. In Ruth we were given a simple picture of conversion. In the changed Ruth we can see the Christian - all her needs met by someone very special.

And then in this book we have seen in a very clear way that Boaz, the kinsman redeemer is a picture, an illustration of the Great Kinsman Redeemer, the Lord Jesus.

And we have seen what sort of a redeemer he is - kind, generous, protective, loving.

In chapter 3 we see Ruth coming to her redeemer. And how it is that we should come to Christ.

4 main lessons in this chapter for us:

Christ redeems us, not because of our efforts v1-6
Do the opening verses of this chapter strike you as odd?

Naomi's actions have puzzled me for years. Her suggestion to Ruth that she get all dolled up and go and get under the blanket with Boaz in the dead of night, seemed more than odd, it seemed downright dangerous. But I always assumed that what she did was strange to me, but must have been ok then. Perhaps it was some strange custom.

But as I've looked at it over the last number of weeks, the more and more unhappy I've become with it.

And I think it teaches us the very serious lesson that you can go about the right thing in the wrong way.

There are a number of factors that contribute to this:

It seems to me that Naomi is guilty again of using human reason, instead of relying on God. We have seen this before. Naomi and her husband Elimelech reasoned that it was better to go to Moab, than to stay in Bethlehem because of the famine. A seemingly good idea, except that it ignored God's word. Then there was her terrible advice to her daughters in law "Go home to your gods and you'll be more likely to get a husband there - again very practical, very true, but utterly unbiblical. And here she is again in Chapter 3 giving advice that seems tinged with the same disease. Its full of human wisdom, but utterly lacking in godliness.

She is putting Ruth's virtue and her reputation on the line, and as well as that she is putting Boaz's reputation and his virtue on the line. She is playing with fire, and it isn't herself that she puts at risk it is two other people.

It is the end of the harvest, a time of celebration and enjoyment. The threshing floor, would be a place where the barley would be threshed with a heavy sledge dragged over the grain, or cart-wheels. The aim was to separate the husks from the kernels. Then with a fork or shovel the whole lot would be tossed into the air, and the breeze would blow the chaff, husks and stalks a short distance away, while the heavier kernels would fall nearer the winnower. The men would winnow the barley, and eat and drink there, and stay to guard the grain.

It wasn't an ideal place to send a young woman, dressed to kill, and scented with fine perfume. Naomi herself knows this and warns her to be sure to wait until everyone in asleep, and to be sure to go to the right man, because there will be others present. And to tell her to get under the blanket, admittedly at his feet, is almost beyond understanding.

Naomi doesn't want anyone to see Ruth, because she knows, as Boaz makes clear later in v14, that it will destroy her reputation if it were known that she went to the threshing floor. At best her reputation could have been irreparable damaged, at worst she could have been raped. Naomi is a giver of bad advice. So why should we follow her example here any more so than when she allowed her sons to marry unbelievers?

Not only that, but we see from Boaz reaction. In the middle of the night, for some reason he is startled, perhaps his feet are cold, since Ruth has lifted back the blanket. The word is "trembled" - he awakens, something is at his feet, and as the fog of sleep clears, an unusual scent hits his nostrils. It certainly isn't the aroma of sweaty farmers after a days threshing. There is a woman in the threshing floor, and she is at his feet! Is it any wonder he asks, "Who are you?"

And his reaction shows us that the last thing he expected was to find a woman at his feet. Least of all Ruth.

The goal was a good one, but Naomi went about it in completely the wrong way.

It becomes all the more apparent that it is the wrong way to go about things when we think of what is happening here on a spiritual level. This whole incident is designed by God to be a picture of the sinner coming to the redeemer. Is this how a person is to come to Christ? All dressed up in their own efforts, and putting on their best appearances? Certainly not.

What are you dressing yourself up in to come to Jesus? The rags of your own good works? Your own reputation? Christian do you think you are more acceptable to Christ because of your good reputation?

Boaz was a man who looked on the heart. Our Redeemer is one who looks on the heart.

You can do about a good thing in completely the wrong way. And it not just when we become Christians that we can make this mistake. That is a disease that many modern Christians are susceptible to - they seek to do a right thing in the wrong way.

They follow their own thinking, rather than God's instructions. Certainly, like Naomi, they have admirable motives, but it doesn't make it any less wrong or dangerous.

We want to see our friends or our colleagues converted, or even our own family members and so we push Christianity down their throats day and night. This can especially happen with our children. Like Naomi we can be so keen for a good thing to happen that we go about it in the wrong way. And we can get their backs up and put them off altogether.

Or as we tell people the gospel, we don't want to offend and so we maximise the bit about going to Jesus, and we play down their guilt.

Just the other evening a young man said to me, "This one is interested in me, she's doesn't go to church much, but I'm taking her to such and such a church event, and I'm praying that God will make it clear what I should do." Here is a young person who thinks like Naomi. He wants to witness to this girl, that's a right thing, but he's going about it in entirely the wrong way, by going out with her. That's asking for trouble.

A good idea - a wrong way to go about it

There are many lessons to learn from Ruth and Boaz here - don't play games with your reputation. Don't put yourself in a situation that you know is wrong, no matter for how many good motives. Here are Boaz and Ruth in a situation that can make or mar them. Our whole reputation can hang on one decision. Don't go to places where you know a Christian shouldn't be seen. Don't put yourself into those situations - Ruth shouldn't have been where she was.

Young People - Getting married is a good thing, but you can go about it in entirely the wrong way. There will be times perhaps when a boy or girl shows interest in you, and I know that its hard to find a Christian partner, and you may be tempted to see this as God's providence - Boaz could have seen this as God's providence - Nice evening, under the stars, and a beautiful woman under your blanket. Don't read into circumstances things that aren't there. If a non-Christian is interested in you - it is utterly against God's word, without a shadow of a doubt. Don't follow your instincts, follow God's word.

The situation might arise when you find yourself in a situation like Boaz and Ruth where no-one else is around, and the temptation is there, and no one will know. Like Boaz, the night was silent, the person beautiful, the invitation plausible, but he restrained his lust, putting godliness first. And he has no intention of taking advantage of the situation. He assures her, in v11, "Do not be afraid… tomorrow." He knows that his own reputation as well as Ruth's could be in tatters. And it is in your reactions and responses that you will be seen for what you are. It is not the crisis that makes the person, but the crisis always reveals the person for who they really are.

Be like Ruth she had set her heart on this man of God. Set your heart only on men and women of God.

Young people and all of us - let us learn to rely on God and his timing, rather than taking things into our own hands. Marriage isn't the be-all and end-all. Don't make it a god.

And be careful who you take advice from. By all means take advice from other Christians. That is what they are there for. But always measure it against God's word. And be very careful with the advice given by another Christian who is backslidden like Naomi was. If you don't see them living out the Christian life, and talking out the Christian life, be very careful what advice you take from them.

And you older Christians be careful with the advice you give - is it scriptural?

I can't help thinking that if Naomi had listened to her own advice in v18, it would have been a much better situation.
"Then Naomi said, 'Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.'"

Wait on the Lord.

Christ redeems us when we humbly ask v7-11
Ruth, a newcomer to the ways of the people of God, does what most in her situation would do - she takes the advice. She doesn't know any better. But when it comes to the bit, she departs from Naomi's advice in one crucial area

Naomi told Ruth to go and lie down at Boaz's feet, and to wait for him to tell her what to do. But instead of waiting for Boaz to tell her, Ruth instead makes a request:

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 kinsman-redeemer."

Now let us not imagine that there was anything untoward going on here, there is not even a hint of moral impropriety. This seems to be the equivalent of a proposal. Asking someone to spread their garment over you was asking them to protect and shelter you. And there is a play on words here. Earlier Boaz had said, (Ruth 2:12) "May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."

The word 'wing' and the word 'garment' here sound very alike. So Ruth is saying, "Will you be the one God uses to provided refuge". Ruth takes matters into her own hands and she asks. She doesn't rely on her having washed herself, or beautified herself, she just asks that Boaz would fulfil his role as redeemer. That he would be her saviour.

Now that was all that was needed. Why this whole elaborate scheme? Dressing up, dolling herself up? All she had to do was ask. This didn't have to be done at night, this didn't require any great scheme. See how willing Boaz is. V10,13.

And we know from the character of Boaz that it isn't outward appearances that impress him. He has seen Ruth dusty and sweaty in the field gleaning, but instead he focuses on her character - "Ahh you are the one that came back with Naomi, May the Lord bless you richly for what you have done". He has heard all about her, and what she has done has made an impression. And again in v11 he speaks about her character, "All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character."

Boaz is a man who looks at the heart, at the inner beauty of a person, at their relationship with God and how that relationship works itself out in their lives.

All she had to do was ask. Which is what she did. And Boaz responds with "Yes".

And here is the lesson for each of us here. It isn't our good deeds, or our idea of how clean we are that impresses our Redeemer. Naomi's is a gospel of good works. Ruth instead relies on grace. She comes to the feet of Boaz, a sign of humility. She takes up her position there.

So here we see to great lessons about coming to Jesus - Jesus isn't interested in the outward appearance. He is much more interested in the heart. And the sort of heart he wants to see is a humble heart that comes asking him to redeem us.

Think for a moment what Ruth is asking him to do. She isn't just asking him to marry her. She is asking that he will go to great costs to redeem her. He will have to pay a price as we will see God willing next week. This will involve personal expense.

In reality these two ladies are still beggars, they are still living on the scraps that are around the perimeter of the fields, they still have no future, no permanency among the covenant community of God.

But Ruth does not remain a beggar with scraps she makes every effort to come close to the kinsman redeemer. And she comes humbly, asking to be redeemed.

When you come to Jesus you need to come humbly, acknowledging that we have no right to be there. You need to come humbly admitting that you need his help, admitting that you are in the wrong, that you have broken his commands and his laws, admitting that you deserve his punishment. And when we come humbly and ask him to redeem us, he will.

All you need to do is ask

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