Ruth: The Transforming Power of Redeeming Love

Series: Ruth

In our culture, today is a special day: Mother’s day. Mother’s play a very important role in the plan of God and I want to spend some time talking about a special woman today: Ruth.

Ruth is one of those books that we likely know the basics on, but it is a book that is so rich and filled with goodness and beauty. There are many things we could talk about with this book, but I want to focus on one overall theme: The transforming power of redeeming love.

To begin, let’s set the scene of the book. Ruth 1:1 tells us that this story was in the days of the judges and that there was a famine. Two things should jump out to us: First, the times of the judges was a very difficult and dark period in Israel’s history. This book then is a light during a dark time. It is a message of hope where God is working during a challenging time. Second, there was a famine. In the book of Deuteronomy (chapter 26), this was a clear indicator that the people were in sin. They had rejected God and this was the reason they had these challenges.

With this backdrop, we are introduced to a family that decides to immigrate to Moab. In their effort to flee the famine and possible death it would bring, death finds them. All three men in the family die and Naomi is left desperately poor with her two foreign daughters-in-law. It then presents the plot conflict: What will Naomi do?

At this time, there were four main ways to provide for yourself: 1. Work - but she’s too old to work.     2. Marry - but she’s too old to marry and raise up another family. 3. Children - they could provide for her, but all of them were dead. 4. Land - this is the last option she has (Leviticus 25:25ff). So this is the option she decides to take and she wants to return home.

Now, we need to appreciate the level of her poverty and trial. This is woman would have been broken. She would have had very little to give her meaning in the cultural context of that time: no land, no family, no name. If she died in that state, she would be another person lost to the sands of time. But this story is about the reversal of fates. By the end of the book in Ruth 4:14-15, she has been redeemed! She has been transformed by the power of redeeming love!

This story gives us a beautiful picture of what it means to be redeemed. Redemption can be a difficult concept for us to understand. If you look it up, it simple means: to buy back. But a story like this gives us categories for what God is offering and promises to do for his people, much like the Exodus. And this redemption will go beyond Naomi, it will include her family and even the nation because there is more than one redeemer at work in this story, there are three!

The Formal Redeemer - Boaz

As the story continues, Ruth decides that she will return with Naomi and she is going to provide for Naomi. As part of this, she goes out to glean. Deuteronomy 24:19-22 explains the process for landowners and the desire of God to provide for the most vulnerable of their society. This is the exact situation Ruth is in: she is a poor, immigrant, widow. However, this could be a very dangerous situation because she is a single, foreign woman.

As she goes out, she “happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz”, who was of the clan of Elimelech, Naomi’s husband that died. Boaz realizes the danger she could be in and provides generously for her. He tells the men not to touch her, and he tells her to harvest in the field with the other young women, instead of being on the edges. This would have provided better safety.

Ruth is struck with his generosity and asks why - Ruth 2:10-13. It was because of the “kindness” or “hesed” that she had extended to Naomi. He knows everything that Ruth gave up in order to come to a foreign land and what she was doing to care for Naomi.

Then, he goes even further, he allows her to come for dinner and makes sure that the servants leave extra behind for her. Ruth returns later after working hard all day and beating it out in the evening and they reflect on the days events and Ruth tells her that she worked in the field of Boaz and that he could be their kinsmen redeemer.

Let’s pause here and ask, what was a redeemer? When the people came into the land it was divided according to families. God knew there would be differences in abilities and situations, so he provided ways for the people to get their land back in event of hard times and their need to sell it. Two of those ways were the Jubilee year every 50th year, and the other was this concept of the redeemer. In event the family had to sell the land, the redeemer could by the land to keep it in the family. This was God’s way of making sure there were not great distinctions between poor and rich, provided for the poor, and kept the land in the family.

Now, Boaz could redeem them, but… buying the land was not a cheap expenditure. In this case, another law actually was involved - the levitate marriage. The land can’t be restored without heirs. In this case, you had to marry and the firstborn child would succeed the name of the dead in order to prevent their name from being blotted out. Further, that marriage would be to Ruth, who was a Moabitess. Who would do this?

But Naomi and Ruth put forward a plan. Naomi tells Ruth to put off her clothes of mourning and dress up, then to go down and preform an act of proposing marriage and ask for redemption. Ruth does this and look at Boaz’s response - Ruth 3:8-13. He wants her to be blessed by the Lord, and this action was an example of “hesed” like before.

Eventually the story works out that Boaz does redeem not only Ruth, but the entire family. Boaz is the great bridegroom. He took on all their debts and absorbed them to himself. And further, all of his wealth automatically became theirs. They had a brand new life! He gives us a wonderful picture of what redeeming love does and how it transforms the lives of others. It’s a beautiful picture and an example of the type of love we should have for the poor and strangers that we are surrounded with.

The Secret Redeemer - Ruth

Now, we have seen one slice of the overall story, but there is more. There is a greater redeemer - how do we know this? The book is called RUTH! Not Boaz! Consider this statement in Ruth 4:15: “who is more to you than seven sons.” The reason we’re not more shocked by a statement like this is because we are not in a traditional society. If you had a family of seven sons, you were very blessed. In societies like this one, power, wealth, transfer of land, and more, were all done through men. Women were marginalized at times in that society. This is an amazing statement that a woman is more valuable.

Why then is she the greater redeemer? Remember, Naomi wanted Ruth to stay in Moab. Ruth had connections there - money, family, etc. If she came with Naomi she give all that up - she would have a worse life! Why go? First, consider her statement in Ruth 1:16-17. This is a statement of radical loyal love for Naomi. But it’s more than that, Moabites did not use the name YHWH. She is committing to the God of Naomi as well, perhaps because of the influence of their family. In Moab she would have her family, friends, money, etc, but her faith would likely die. This then is a statement that regardless of outcome, she is going!

Second, she is going so that Naomi can survive. Ruth gave up riches, family, wealth, comfort, and perhaps more because she cared for Naomi. She is suffering outside the gate. She is becoming a stranger in a foreign land. She went out not knowing where she was going. All as part of caring for Naomi and through that she is redeemed. She is the suffering servant who gave up her life to bless her mother in law.

Takeaways so far

Love like this comes from grace

These types of cross cultural, cross ethnicity, cross age, extensions of mercy and grace are rooted in the events of the Exodus. In Deuteronomy 24:22, why did God want them to do this? “You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt.” Radical generosity was shown in the exodus and it was to be a framework for people to care for the most oppressed and neglected in society. This is the power likely behind the heart of Boaz. He knows the LORD and knows the story. Because of this, he is a man changed by grace and acts with compassion.

We are to be people like Boaz as well. We have experienced God’s grace in a greater exodus. We were slaves to Satan and sin. We were without hope in the world. But God extended his grace to us and wants us to extend that grace to others (Galatians 6:9-10, James 1:27).

Love like this involves sacrifice

The next element all the way through is sacrificial acts of love toward others in need. Wether it’s Ruth’s radical act of giving up everything for Naomi, or Boaz’s sacrificial provision and care for a woman from Moab, a hated enemy. They both highlight the beautiful story of loving others as ourselves - even our enemies or those in difficult relationships (mother-in-law).

We are to be people like this as well. We are people who have been loved while we were enemies. God provides all things for us from his goodness and many others have sacrificed for us. We now are to love our enemies and sacrifice for them, like God did for us (1 John 4:7-12).

Love like this shows loyalty

All of these stories highlight commitment on a radical scale. We see it in Ruth and her willingness to commit to death instead of leaving Naomi. She is that true and loyal friend who cares and provide in the times of need - the type of friend we all need.

We also see in Boaz, that he steps into a very flawed situation in order to bring about redemption to this widow and their family. This was a situation with some heavy costs if things turned bad, but he remains loyal to them. This is part of what “hesed” means.

We need to be these types of friends! We need to have this type of loyalty to our brethren. We need to bear with people through life’s difficult situations instead of stepping away and rejecting them during the hard times.

However, if we see this story simply as examples to follow, we will likely be crushed by the difficulty of the task. These aren’t things that can be simply legislated to be done. These types of actions require a complete heart change. It requires another redeemer.

The Great Redeemer - Jesus

In Ruth 4:13-17 we have a curious reading “May his name be renewed in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age… has given birth to him…” - Who is he talking about? Boaz is a notable man. But it looks like there is a reference to the child. Their child was a man named Obed. We don’t know much about him, but we know about his grandson - David and that’s right where the story goes.

This book is a story about God’s hand in the life of David and the bringing forth of the redeemer. Notice Ruth 4:11-12 - the word offspring brings us back to the overarching narrative (Genesis 3:15). This is the BIG story contained in the LITTLE story. It is showing God’s consistence providence and activity through the faithful actions of his people, even though God does not specifically act anywhere in the book, God is working to bring his redeemer.

This story points forward to a greater redeemer who was born right here in Bethlehem that looks very much like his ancient grandfather and grandmother. Like Boaz, he not only paid your debt, but unites with you to share his wealth. He became your flesh and blood - your kinsman redeemer. He didn’t step in to save us by appearing in the sky and telling us what to do, he lived it and became a man. He became the pioneer, the author, and the bridegroom for us.

But, like Ruth, he left his throne above to become a poor alien, a suffering servant, one who willingly gave his life away for all of us. He even went further than Ruth, death would not even separate us from him! Jesus is the greatest friend, foreigner, stranger, and poor man! He is “hesed”- faithful love.

However, to be a christian isn’t just saying “I’ll be like Boaz, Ruth, and Jesus”, even though we need to be! Being a christian is to be like Naomi to realize that we have flaws and that we are bankrupt with our Jesus. Only Jesus is the one who can step in and transform our situation. It is only after we have experienced the grace that Jesus provides that we will live the life that he wants for us and we will imitate his character.

But finally, the message is not: Trust God and you’ll get what you want. No, the message is give up the life that you have now and God will give you something better. Did Naomi have a child? No! Yes! It’s not what she wanted, but it was so much better - better than seven sons!

We must realize that in Christ we have all that we need. Our deep need for redemption has been met through the love of Christ and that we can be transformed by that to like Him and bring redeeming love to those around us.