June 14, 2009

A Fine Finale – Ruth (5)

by Rev. Jeremiah Cheung

[iframe 500 500]

The Book of Ruth records the story of how a Moabite, originally an outcast according to God’s Law, entered God’s kingdom. It is stated in Deuteronomy 23:3 “No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation.”

Ruth was a Moabitess; according to the Law, she was not allowed to enter the assembly of the Lord, not even down to the tenth generation. However, Ruth did enter the assembly of the Lord, furthermore, she became the great grandmother of King David, as Ruth 4 records, “Boaz (was) the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.” Originally, Ruth was an outcast according to God’s law, but she received the Lord’s blessing. Because of faith, Ruth was able to enter God’s kingdom.

In chapter one, Ruth told Naomi, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth used to worship the gods of the Moabites, but she turned away from the gods of the Moabites to worship the one and only True Living God. This is the greatest reason for Ruth’s blessings. However, that God blesses a person doesn’t mean a man no longer has responsibilities. Ruth, Naomi and Boaz experienced wonderful blessings because they did their best to fulfill their own responsibilities. In chapter 4, we discover two important factors: God’s grace and human responsibility.

I. God’s Grace

When we read the Book of Ruth carefully, we will discover that two important events occurred, revealing God’s amazing grace:

1. Coincidences Kept Occurring

The Bible used the phrases “as it turned out/as/just then” to describe the many amazing coincidences in the Book of Ruth. We know that everything happens according to God’s arrangement.

Ruth 1:22 records “…arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.” Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem just as the barley harvest was beginning, not earlier neither later, such that Ruth was able to glean in the fields for barley, such that she was able to meet Boaz.

Others may say this is coincidental, but in our eyes, this is divine arrangement. Ruth 2:3 records, “So she went out… as it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz.” With so many fields around, wasn’t it an amazing coincidence that Ruth happened to glean in Boaz’ field, and that Boaz happened to be Elimelech’s near of kin? Wasn’t it wonderful coincidence that on that day, Boaz just happened to visit his field, making it possible for Ruth to meet her future husband on the very same day?

In chapter four, Boaz decided to do his best to fulfil his duty, but wanting to be careful and allow the nearer kin to fulfil his duty, sat by the town gate as this man happened to come along. Chapter 4:1 says, “…When the kinsmans-redeemer came along, Boaz told the man, ‘Come over here, my friend, and sit down.'” Was this mere coincidence or not? What if the man went away to someplace else, how would things have turned out? This was not coincidental, this was divine arrangement.

2. Ruth’s Pregnancy and Giving Birth to a Son

We do not know how long Ruth and Mahlon had been married because the Bible makes no mention of it. But, Naomi had lived in Moab ten years. I believe Ruth must have been married to Mahlon for several years, yet she was not able to conceive. Even Orpah did not have a child. During that time, it is truly pitiable when a woman is unable to have children. But this turned out to be God’s grace. If Ruth or Orpah had children, then there would have been no reason for Boaz to marry Ruth, because Elimelech would already have had descendants.

The Lord did not allow Ruth to conceive before, but after she was married to Boaz, 4:13 records, “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.” We know that the younger a woman is, the easier it is for her to conceive, but Ruth was unable to conceive in her youth; when she was older, then she conceived. Boaz himself was much older than Ruth, in chapter 2, when he first met Ruth, he called her “Daughter!” Boaz was old enough to be Ruth’s father. They were an old husband and a young wife, not an ideal situation for conception. It was truly God’s grace that Boaz and Ruth was able to have a son.

II. Human Responsibility

When we mention God’s grace, we are not denying human responsibility. Man’s responsibility and God’s grace work hand in hand; they are not contradictory. When we do our best to fulfil our responsibility, God’s grace will come upon us. In the Book of Ruth, Boaz and Ruth were both responsible people, they fulfilled their responsibilities and as a result, God blessed them.

1. Boaz – a prudent and responsible man

Boaz told Ruth, “Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I . …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.”

Boaz told the man, “For no one has a right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” (4:4) To say that he was next in line meant Boaz was careful to respect the order of their kinship. Then, Boaz told the man, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”

At this the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.” The man gave up his right to redeem when he realized he would have to maintain Elimelech’s name on the property. He gave the right and responsibility to Boaz. Boaz made witness before the townspeople, acquired the dead man’s property, and married Ruth. Boaz was a prudent man, and a responsible man. He fulfilled his responsibility to his utmost and as a result, the Lord blessed him with a son in his old age and he became the great grandfather of King David.

2. Ruth – a person willing to walk the extra mile

Ruth was blessed because she was willing to walk the extra mile. In Matthew 5:41, Jesus said, “If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” At that time, the Jews were under Roman rule. Romans had authority to ask any Jew to walk with them for one mile. For example, a Roman, carrying a heavy load, may force a Jew to help carry his load. The Jew was duty-bound to comply but only for one mile. However, Jesus said, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” What does this mean? Jesus meant that when one goes along for the first mile, this is but done out of duty; but to go the second mile, is to do so out of love.

In chapter one, we saw two good daughter-in-laws. One is Orpah, the other is Ruth. We cannot say that Orpah was not a good daughter-in-law. Orpah fulfilled her duty as a daughter-in-law, she was willing to go back with Naomi; but Ruth was the better one because she who was willing to go the extra mile. She was willing to expend more, and as a result, she gained more.

In chapter four, we saw that Boaz was a man willing to go the extra mile, too. There were two relatives in chapter four, one was the nearer kin, the other was Boaz. We cannot say that the nearer kin was bad, for he was willing to buy Elimelech’s property. But Boaz was better because he was willing to walk the extra mile, he was not only willing to redeem the property, he was also willing to marry the Moabitess Ruth as his wife, to retain the dead man’s name over his property. Because he was willing to expend more, in the end, Boaz gained much more.