God Writes the Last Chapter
Ruth 4:1-12Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.On the night Marlene and I got married 46 years ago, a wise old man took me aside during the reception and repeated those words. Then he smiled and somewhat cryptically said, “Love is blind, but marriage is a can opener.” I’m still pondering that bit of wisdom.
“Love is blind, but marriage is a can opener.”We like to say marriage is made in heaven, and it is, in the sense that God established it for our benefit. But as Shakespeare noted, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”Suffice it to say, very little has run smoothly for Ruth. As a little girl growing up in Moab, she could hardly have imagined she would one day marry a Jewish man named Mahlon. Much less did she know he would soon die, leaving her a widow among her own people. Not in her wildest dreams could she have foreseen moving to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law Naomi, a decision that meant leaving her people, her homeland, and her religion.Finally, she would never have expected to propose marriage to Boaz during a midnight rendezvous on the threshing floor.But that’s how it unfolded.Do you ever wish you could know the future? Suppose I offered you an envelope with the next ten years of your life described in detail. It includes the good and the bad, the victories and the defeats, the happy and the sad. Let’s further suppose I say, “You can open it, but you can’t change the contents.”What would you do?I know my answer. If you put an envelope like that in front of me, I would run the other way fast! Life is hard enough living it one day at a time. It’s far better to take things as they come. At some point we have to believe God is at work behind the scenes.Through all the twists and turns, God has been writing Ruth’s story. Now at last we come to the conclusion. A happy ending is just around the corner. Let’s see how God writes the last chapter.
Scene # 1: Preparation (vv. 1-2)Boaz was a man of action.When he made up his mind to get something done, he didn’t waste time. That’s why he went to the gate of the city and sat down. Don’t think of the gate the way we think of a gate in a fence. It’s not like that at all. Every town of any size had a wall to protect the inhabitants. A small village might have only one gate where you could enter or leave. Evidently that was the situation in ancient Bethlehem. That meant the gate was equivalent to what we call Main Street today. The farmers, the merchants, and all the visitors passed through the gate.
There is only one problem!It was a place where people went to do business and to settle disputes. The elders of the town gathered near the gate because they would be called upon to act as legal witnesses.In this case, Boaz needs ten men to serve as witnesses for his attempt to redeem Naomi’s land and take Ruth as his wife. There is only one problem. A man who was a nearer relative to Elimelech had the first right to redeem the land. Boaz must find a way to make a legitimate offer and then have him turn it down.But for that to happen legally, he needs witnesses. So that’s why he has come to the city gate. It’s the place where all such transactions took place. He also knows the nearer relative will pass by the gate sooner or later.Boaz is nothing if not a shrewd businessman.When the other man appears, he calls him “Friend,” and asks him to sit down and talk with him. The other man’s name is lost to history. Although many English versions use the word “friend,” that’s not exactly what the Hebrew says. It’s an untranslatable phrase that means something like, “Mr. So-and-So.” His unwillingness stands in contrast to Boaz’s generous spirit.Mr. So-and-So is about to get an offer he can definitely refuse.
Scene # 2: Negotiation (vv. 3-10)Boaz knew how to close a deal.First, he starts with the good news. “Naomi, who has returned from the territory of Moab, is selling the portion of the field that belonged to our brother Elimelech” (v. 3). This evidently means Naomi had to sell the property to ease her poverty. As the nearest relative (possibly a brother or an uncle or a cousin) to Elimelech, “Mr. So-and-So” has the first right of refusal. Boaz could only redeem the land if the nearer relative refused.On its face, this was a good deal for Mr. So-and-So. He could pick up the land (at a fair price, presumably) and add to his own estate. When he died, it would pass down to his descendants. A good deal now, and a great deal later. That’s why Mr. So-and-So says, “I want to redeem it” (v. 4).
Get Ruth as a bonus!However, there was a catch. (There’s always a catch, isn’t there? That’s why you should wait until you have all the information.) It turns out this was a package deal. Buy the land, and you get Ruth thrown in as a bonus. Now, based on what we know about Ruth, this was a good thing because she was a woman of high character. But it also meant whoever bought the land had to marry her and have a child with her.That’s a complicating factor.Which is why the man suddenly changes his tune: “I can’t redeem it myself, or I will ruin my own inheritance” (v. 6a). This probably means he was already married with children who would be the natural heirs to his property. Adding Ruth and a son to the mix would complicate everything. In an instant Mr. So-and-So realizes he’s got to say no to the opportunity of a lifetime. He’ll be buying nothing but a future headache, which he can’t afford. So he says to Boaz, “Take my right of redemption, because I can’t redeem it” (v. 6b).I imagine Boaz trying to hide a smile because his plan has worked to perfection. He knew Mr. So-and-So would have to say no. Sure, there was always a chance he might say yes, but Boaz knew what he was doing. If the man said yes and followed through, he would take care of Naomi and Ruth. That’s what Boaz wanted. But in his heart, he hoped and prayed the man would say no because then he could redeem the land and marry Ruth.In those days, a property sale was sealed by one man giving his sandal to another man (vv. 7-8). It’s like selling your home and then handing over the keys to the buyer. Giving the sandal meant, “I am giving up my right to walk on this property because it now belongs to you.”
Does Boaz love Ruth? Absolutely!With the deal done, Boaz twice says to the ten men who had watched this transaction, “You are witnesses” (vv. 9-10). He intended to do everything by the book because he was an honorable man. He even makes it clear that he wants to honor the name of Ruth’s dead husband Mahlon. Any son born to Boaz and Ruth would be perpetuating Mahlon’s name, not his own.Does Boaz love Ruth? Absolutely!Has the plan worked? Definitely!Is it legal? Totally!By the way, where is Ruth? She is at home with Naomi. Neither woman knows what is happening at the city gate. She follows Naomi’s advice to wait, knowing Boaz would settle the matter one way or the other. Did she pray for him? We don’t know, but I think she did. I’m sure Naomi was praying too. No matter what happened at the gate, this would be Ruth’s final day as a single woman. She would soon be the wife of Boaz or Mr. So-and-So.Boaz stands out as a man of action, wisdom, and integrity. He doesn’t wait around for something to happen. He takes the initiative and presents the matter in a clever way that causes Mr. So-and-So to say yes and then no. He makes sure there are multiple public witnesses once the deal is done.What a good man he was.
Scene # 3: Acclamation (vv. 11-12)If this were a modern wedding, the organ would start playing and people would stand and cheer. Boaz has taken Ruth as his wife even though she is not present.The people who watched all of this (passers-by plus the ten men) now pronounce three blessings on Boaz and Ruth. First, they ask God to make Ruth like Rachel and Leah. Those two women (along with their maidservants) gave birth to Jacob’s sons, who became the leaders of the twelve tribes. They “built the house of Israel” (v. 11) from the ground up through the children they bore. This is a prayer for children from Ruth’s womb who will carry on the family name into future generations.
All the odds were against itSecond, they pray Boaz will prosper in Bethlehem: “May you be powerful in Ephrathah and your name well known in Bethlehem” (v. 11). Boaz was already well-known in Bethlehem, but now they pray his prosperity will increase so that his name will be even greater. The people understood how extraordinary it was for an older Jewish man to care so deeply for a younger Moabite woman (who was a widow). All the odds were against it. How would they meet? How would they fall in love? In God’s providence that’s exactly what happened.Third, they pray for future generations to be blessed “like the house of Perez, the son Tamar bore to Judah” (v. 12). This is the most amazing blessing because it brings up a shameful event in Israel’s history. If you don’t know the story, read Genesis 38. Just know this. Judah (son of Jacob) sleeps with a woman he thinks is a prostitute, but it turns out she is Tamar (his daughter-in-law), who married his son Er (now deceased). She does it to preserve the family line, but her means are less than noble (masquerading as a prostitute). To say the least, it’s unseemly and highly irregular. From that illicit union came Perez, and from him came descendants who built up the “house of Perez” within the tribe of Judah.
Rascals in our family treeAll of us have things in our family history we don’t like to talk about. I often tell people, “If you go back far enough, you’ll be embarrassed by what you find.” We all have rascals and scalawags in our family tree. Judah didn’t cover himself with honor by sleeping with a woman he thought was a prostitute. But in Ruth 4, we see good fruit from a bad seed. It’s Romans 8:28 in action, Old Testament-style. Some people think we should skip Genesis 38 in our preaching because it’s “untidy.” But God has a way of redeeming our untidiness. In this case, he uses a Moabite widow who marries a Jewish man. Together they will have a son who will be part of David’s family tree.A thousand years later, Jesus will be born. He will come from Abraham and David, by way of Perez and Boaz and Ruth. God uses the unlikeliest people in the unlikeliest ways to fulfill his promises.
Lessons for TodayWhat should we learn from this story?From Boaz, we learn about the importance of integrity in all things. Just as Boaz refused to take advantage of Ruth at the threshing floor, he also refuses to take advantage of the unnamed relative. Mr. So-and-So must have the first choice. If he redeems the land and marries Ruth, so be it. Better to live with disappointment than with a guilty conscience. He follows the letter of the law by accepting the sandal from the nearer relative. Twice he informs the ten men that they are witnesses.There is nothing hidden because there is nothing to hide. He is a man of unquestioned integrity.
Better to live with disappointment than a guilty conscienceFrom Ruth, we learn the importance of waiting on God. Having met Boaz at midnight and having asked him to marry her (for that is certainly what she intended), she has done all she can do. Naomi’s advice to “sit tight” turned out to be the course of wisdom. She doesn’t appear at the gate because she wasn’t needed there. Only Boaz (as one of the “family redeemers”) could be there. She has no place in this part of the unfolding drama.When you have done all you can do, don’t feel guilty because you cannot do more. At some point, we must “leave room for God.” Try as we might, we cannot orchestrate all the affairs of life. It’s wise to do what we can do and wait for the Lord to take care of the rest.Waiting time is not wasted time if you are waiting on the Lord. In this case, Ruth won’t have to wait much longer.When we follow God’s plan, we should expect God’s blessing. Everything about this story seems unlikely, yet it was part of God’s plan from the beginning. No one could have scripted it but God. If you roll back the clock to the famine in the land, Elimelech’s decision to go to Moab seems questionable at best. Yet God used it to bring Ruth and Naomi together. When Ruth said, “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your God will be my God,” she had no inkling of what was to come. The future was as much a mystery to her as ours is to us.
From Ruth to JesusRuth didn’t conspire to live with Naomi so she could meet Boaz years later. She committed herself to Naomi’s God and took the next step of faith. Those steps led to Bethlehem and then to the field of Boaz. Later they led to the threshing floor. Soon they will lead to a wedding and later to childbirth.Generations will come and go, and the road will lead to David and then to Jesus. That part of the story was hidden from Ruth. Faith means taking the next step with God and leaving the results with him. We won’t live long enough to see the outcome of our faith. We hope to see our children grow up, and if we are fortunate, we may see our grandkids grow up. We may not live long enough to see our great-grandchildren.
Take the next step!It doesn’t matter because Psalm 100:5 says God’s mercy endures “to all generations.” It means God’s mercy goes from one generation to another. Suppose we line up a grandfather, a father, a son, a grandson, and a great-grandson next to each other. What God is to the grandfather, he will be to the father. What he is to the father, he will be to the son. What he is to the son, he will be to the grandson. What he is to the grandson, he will be to the great-grandson. And so it goes across the centuries. Generations come and go, one after the other. Only God remains forever.I am 67 years old, heading for what? 70? 75? 80? Maybe 85 or even 90 years old if God blesses me with long life. But I won’t live forever. As the years roll by, I find myself realizing how much of my life is wrapped up in our sons, their wives, and our grandchildren.
You're not home yetWill God still take care of them? Will he be there when they need him? Yes, because God’s faithfulness doesn’t depend on me but on his character, which spans the generations. After I am gone, and even if all my prayers have not been answered, I can trust God to take care of my children and grandchildren. What a comfort this is. I can do my best to help them while I’m here, and after I’m gone, God’s faithfulness will continue for my great-grandchildren yet to come.As we near the end of Ruth’s story, our eyes focus on the God behind the scenes. The story stretches on over the horizon, reminding us that only God sees the big picture while we see life through a keyhole.Have faith, child of God. Do not despair if you feel like you are alone. Trust in God and take the next step. If your current situation seems hard, remember that you are not home yet.God writes the last chapter.
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