June 7, 2009

A Sacred Night – Ruth (4)

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

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The Israelites have a provision that if a married man dies without a son, the nearest kin must marry his wife and bear children with her. The first child will be the heir of the man who died, and carry his name. Naomi’s husband Elimelech had died, her two sons Kihlion and Mahlion had also died. This clan was about to be forgotten. Elimelech’s nearest kin must marry Naomi and give Elimelech descendants. But then, Naomi was already old, she was no longer able to bear children. So, Elimelech’s kin must marry Ruth. This was the reason Ruth went to Boaz on this night. I called this night “A Sacred Night,” because the three characters, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz acted in purity, making that night of darkness shone with purity.

I. Naomi ‘s Purity

2:23 records that the wheat and barley harvests were finished, the harvesting period was nearly over. Ruth’s work of harvesting was about done. Thus, it would be difficult for her to meet Boaz again. So at this time, Naomi gave Ruth a suggestion. In verse 1, Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi, said to her, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?” Naomi was looking for a husband for her. This is usually a mother’s words to her own daughter. It was unusual for a mother-in-law to say this to her daughter-in-law. Which mother-in-law would look for a husband for her daughter-in-law?

That night, I believe Naomi must not have been able to sleep. She must have been very anxious that Ruth and Boaz might abandon their scruples because that was not their wedding night. That night Ruth was simply going to ask Boaz to fulfil his duty to marry her. I believe Naomi must have been praying the whole night, asking the Lord to preserve them, because there is danger in a single man and a single woman being together alone.

Naomi had another thing to be concerned about – if Ruth remarries, she will be left alone, she will have to take care of herself. All of us are selfish. We do not want our children to leave us. We want them to be near us so that when anything happens, we have them to take care of us. But, Naomi acted with purity. She thought of her daughter-in-law’s welfare, as a result, when Ruth and Boaz were married, Ruth took her in to their home and took care of her. Jesus said: “Do to others what you want others to do to you.” How true this was for Naomi!

II. Ruth’s Purity

That night, Ruth followed her mother-in-law’s advice. She went to see Boaz. That night was harvest night. It was also a dangerous night, because thieves would usually come on this night. So the Israelites were very happy because of the harvests, but they would also be very cautious on that night. The men would not go home because they were going to protect their harvests. In verse 7, “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.”

Boaz had eaten and drank, what if he sleeps till morning? The only thing Ruth could do was to pray, to ask God to wake him up. Verse 8, “In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet.” Startled means to be frightened. This was not man’s doing, this was God. God woke him up.

Boaz saw a woman lying at his feet. He immediately inquired who it was. Ruth answered, “I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” What does “spread the corner of your garment over me” mean? Ezekiel 16:8 “Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.”

“Spread the corner of your garment over me” means one is asking for marriage. Ruth was a courageous woman, she knew what she did was right. Because Boaz was her nearest kin, he was obligated to take care of her. But Boaz answered her, “Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.” So, Ruth lay there till morning.

Ruth was a woman of purity. When she heard that there was a kinsman-redeemer nearer than Boaz, she did not say another word. She lay there till morning. I believe they were not able to sleep; for it would be difficult to sleep. I believe Ruth really liked Boaz. Boaz had treated her with kindness and generosity. Actually, Boaz was much older than Ruth. Boaz often called her, “my daughter.” Boaz was indeed a partner Ruth could depend on. I believe Boaz must also have liked Ruth. Boaz, again and again, spoke well of Ruth. They liked each other, but they did not do anything that was not right. During the rule of the judges, everyone did what was right in his own eyes. People did whatever they wanted. In that dark period, that a man and a woman could spent a night together and yet maintain their purity is indeed a noble thing.

III. Boaz’ Purity

1. He did not hide the truth

When Ruth asked him to be her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz did not hide the truth. He did not hide the truth for his own advantage. I felt this was a noble act. Many times, when we have conflicts with our fellowmen, we would make cover-ups, intentionally hiding our own faults and things that would make us look bad. We want to appear righteous. Boaz could have hidden the truth, because the kinsman- redeemer did not even want to redeem Ruth; for to redeem Ruth, he would have to give a portion of his properties to Naomi. But Boaz acted in purity, he told Ruth that there is one nearer than him. He would only redeem her if the man refused.

2. He controlled his passion

Boaz was a man. We must not forget too that on that night he had just eaten and drank, he had drunk some wine. Alcohol weakens a man’s willpower. The whole evening, there were only the two of them together, and Ruth must have made effort to look beautiful, put on perfume or make-up. Lying down at Boaz’ side, it was truly a dangerous situation. The whole evening, Boaz had to control his passion. I believe they must not have slept. Yet, this dangerous evening became a sacred evening because Boaz respected Ruth. In this age of sexual immorality, this is truly exemplary.

This is what the Book of Ruth truly meant to teach us. During the reign of the judges, during a time of darkness, a group of men and women abided by the truth and shone for the truth. Brothers and sisters, in this dark 21st century, are you willing to shine for the Lord? May the Lord bless us!