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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:A permanent home among the people of God
Text:Ruth 3:9 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Communion of Saints
 
Preached:2012-08-05
Added:2012-08-06
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise
Bible translation: NKJV

Psalm 111:1,2,3

Psalm 25:10

Psalm 34:1,2,3,4

Psalm 118:8

Psalm 111:4,5

 

Read:  Ruth 3; 1 Peter 1:1-21

Text: Ruth 3:9

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Dear brothers and sisters in Christ.

One of the greatest things in life is that sense of belonging.  To be a stranger, to be isolated and disconnected from those around you is hard:  we want to belong, we want to be a part.

Our Bible reading today was about a woman who lived many years ago, in Old Testament times, whose name was Ruth. She wasn’t from Bethlehem originally: she was a stranger who had come from Moab.  But Ruth did not want to remain a stranger; Ruth wanted to belong fully and permanently, with body and soul to God and to His people.  Ruth no longer wanted to be seen as Ruth the Moabitess, but as Ruth of the house of Elimelech, a daughter of Israel and a full member of the people of God.  And in His grace, the LORD provided the way for Ruth to find a permanent home among the people of God.

And today God still opens the way for us to belong to Him and His people.  And praise the LORD for that, because we need to belong so much!  We live in a world where we are strangers, isolated and somewhat disconnected from those around us.  We are, as First Peter One puts it, exiles or pilgrims of the dispersion – we don’t belong here.  But the good news is that the God who provided the way for Ruth to receive a home in Israel through Boaz has now provided the way for you to receive an eternal home, through Jesus Christ.  A home that you may share forever with God and the people of God.  A home where you belong!

And so I preach to you this morning from Ruth chapter 3, and I have the following heading:

It is good to desire a permanent home among the people of God.

1.    A home required.

2.    A home provided.

1. A home required.

It had been a good night.  It had been a good harvest!  After years of famine and a struggle to survive, the LORD had once more come to the aid of His people and there was bread again in Bethlehem.  Those years of famine had been long and difficult, but now their memory was beginning to fade, for this year again the crops of barley and of wheat had been good. 

And Boaz was pleased.  It had been hard work, but now the harvesting was coming to an end.  A large pile of barley lay heaped up on his threshing floor and the winnowing of the barley had begun.  (A threshing floor, by the way, was a hard, round, flat surface, ten metres or more in diameter.)  Earlier that day, as the afternoon sea breeze had begun to blow, Boaz had come to winnow the grain that had been brought in.  For this, Boaz and his men had taken six-pronged forks, and had spent a number of hours throwing the grain up into the air.  As they did this, the chaff that was mixed in with the grain was blown away with the wind, the loose bits of straw settled closer by, and the kernels of grain, being heavier, fell back on the threshing floor, where, at the end of the day it was heaped up into a pile.  And as night descended, Boaz, along with the men who had worked with him, had eaten well, had drunk some wine and so ended a hard but good day of work.  He clearly wasn’t drunk, but Boaz was happy and content as he lay down to sleep. 

And so he lay there, at the end of the heap of grain, with a bit of distance between himself and whoever else may have been there that night.  He lay where he was, resting contentedly but also in a position that enabled him to protect his grain from potential thieves and robbers.  And so he should, for in those dark days of the Judges you could never be too careful:  Who could tell if there were eyes out there in the darkness, watching his every move, even tonight?

But tonight, happy and satisfied, Boaz would sleep well.  The wind had died down,  but it was still cold out there in the open, and so he covered himself with a large, warm garment and he settled in for the night.  And so he lay down, in the dark, under the starry skies of Bethlehem, and Boaz went to sleep.

But then, as the night deepened, at about midnight, he stirred.  Something was amiss, something didn’t feel right.  His feet were cold.  His garment that he’d so carefully covered himself with had come loose.  But it was not just a matter of cold feet: there was also something else.  He could smell something…  Soap … and … perfume!  Someone was there!  A stranger had come to his threshing floor!  And being startled, he turned – and there was a woman lying at his feet!  And so he said,

“Who are you?”

What are you doing here?  Why have you come?  What do you want?

 “Who are you?” The question may have been an obvious one to ask, but it was a fair one.  Who was she?  What kind of a woman was this?  She obviously had not come to steal – for then why would she deliberately wake Boaz up and lie there at his feet?  But a threshing floor at night was the not place for a woman to go – certainly not for a  virtuous woman!  Winnowing was a man’s business, and the only women who might come to a threshing floor at night were those who were not of the virtuous kind, those who came for other reasons, those whom Boaz, himself a godly man of virtue, would not have invited to come in that night.  And anyway, that kind of a woman would have made herself known when there was still eating and drinking going on . . .

“Who are you?”

Yes, who is she?  And what is a nice, virtuous, young woman like that doing –  washed, perfumed and well dressed –  on a Bethlehem threshing floor at night, lying at the feet of a man?

Her name was Ruth.  She wasn’t from those parts but had come from Moab.  She had married into the house of Elimelech, but Elimelech had died, and so had Mahlon her husband as well as Chilion her brother-in-law.  And then she had left Moab to accompany Naomi her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem.  She had come to stand by her mother-in-law for as long as she lived.  And she had come with the full intention of leaving Moab behind, along with the family and the gods she had left behind.

“Your people shall be my people” she had told Naomi, “and your God, my God.”

And it was this commitment of Ruth that had led her on a journey that had ended up at a Bethlehem threshing floor, lying at the feet of a man called Boaz in the middle of the night.

It had been Naomi’s idea.  Things had gone well for her and Ruth now that they had left Moab and come to live in Bethlehem.  Ruth had made good use of God’s laws that permitted gleaning.  She had not asserted her rights, but asked the reapers to show favour and allow her to pick up the grain that had fallen.  And by God’s providence she had ended up in a field that belonged to Boaz, a close relative of Elimelech.  Boaz had shown great kindness to her because he was so pleased that Ruth had come to Bethlehem, seeking refuge under the wings of the LORD God of Israel.  And so Ruth had continued to glean in the fields of Boaz until the end of both the barley and the wheat harvest.  But now the harvest was over.  And now Naomi was left to wonder what should be done now.

But it was not a desperation brought on by poverty that led Ruth to Boaz’s threshing floor that night.  Rather it was a desire, on both the side of Naomi as well as Ruth the Moabitess, for the provision of a permanent home among the people of God.  It was the desire to belong.  Naomi knew that to receive such a home, Ruth needed a godly husband.  And so she said to Ruth in chapter 3:1,

“My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you?”

“Shall I not seek security?”  Or, it literally says in the Hebrew language, “Shall I not seek rest for you?”  Naomi had wished this for Ruth earlier, in chapter 1:9 when she said to Ruth and Orpah,

“The LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.”

But then Naomi had meant that they return to their own people in Moab and find a husband for themselves there.  And at that time Ruth had refused to listen to Naomi but insisted that she accompany Naomi to Bethlehem.  But now Naomi tries again, for Ruth does need security, she needs to be taken care of, and the best way for that to happen was for her to have a noble and God-fearing husband. 

And Naomi knows just the man.  Boaz.  Boaz, after all, was a relative, and as a close relative of the house of Elimelech, he had shown more than just a passing interest in Ruth and Naomi.  He had gone above and beyond what God’s law required in providing Ruth the opportunity to glean in his fields.  But now Naomi was looking for more than a little barley from Boaz: she hoped in Boaz Ruth might find a new husband, that through him her name might be changed from “Ruth the Moabitess” to “Ruth the wife of Boaz, a daughter of Israel.”

And so, while Ruth was busy gleaning in the fields of Boaz, a plan began to take shape in the mind of Naomi.  And then, when the time came, she told Ruth what to do.  Ruth 3:2-4 –

“Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative?  In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor.  Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking.  Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.”

Well!  That was quite the plan!  And as you read this, you might wonder, what was Naomi thinking when said this to Ruth?  What was she implying?  What was she suggesting Ruth to do, and how did she think that night at the threshing floor might end up?  And the way this is written in the original Hebrew language  is indeed quite suggestive and filled with a number of possible double meanings.  We can not dismiss that, but how then should we interpret these words of Naomi, words that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit have been written down for our edification? 

It was indeed a delicate and some-what risky situation that Naomi was placing Ruth in.  But we should not read too much between the lines either.  And we must be careful that we not misinterpret what was going on.  What Ruth did was highly unusual for a virtuous woman, but Ruth chapter 3 also makes it clear that both Ruth and Boaz were people of integrity, and their integrity was maintained that night at the threshing floor. 

But why did Naomi tell Ruth to do this?  Well first of all, Naomi did not have reason to think that Boaz would take the initiative and ask for the hand of Ruth in marriage.  There were barriers that could prevent him from doing so even if he was attracted to her, and although he was a close relative, God’s law did not obligate him to do more than he had already done.  But from Naomi’s perspective, Boaz was still the best man for Ruth, and Ruth needed security, she needed a permanent home among the people of God.  But how could Ruth attract the attention of Boaz and make him fully aware that she was available for marriage?  The best way, she concluded, was for Ruth to meet Boaz at the threshing floor at night.  Yes, the timing was well considered, and yes, Naomi encouraged Ruth to present herself well.  (That perfume she used would not have been cheap!)  But it was so that a woman of virtue could ask a godly man for a permanent home among the people of God, and not to play the harlot at the threshing floor on the dark side of town.

 And so Ruth said to Naomi her mother-in-law,

“All that you say to me I will do.”  (Ruth 3:5)

She may have said “no” earlier when Naomi told her to find a husband from the men of Moab, but now she would go along with Naomi’s plan.  And so it was that while he was eating and drinking, Ruth came up and stood in the dark, watching, and waiting to see where he would go to sleep.  And then, once he was asleep, she crept in quietly, uncovered his feet – and more than likely much of his legs as well – and lay down, waiting for him to stir.  And then it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there, a woman was lying at his feet!  And he said, “Who are you?”

And then answered and she said, “I am Ruth, your maidservant.”  Not Ruth the Moabitess, but “Ruth, your maidservant.”  No, she was not his servant, but this was the respectful way that a woman spoke more often in Old Testament Israel, also to a prospective husband.  And then, going beyond what her mother-in-law told her, she told Boaz what she was there for.

“Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.”

“Take your maidservant under your wing.”  Back in Ruth 2:12 Boaz had said to Ruth,

“The LORD repay your work, and a full reward be given you by the LORD God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge.”

And now Ruth is saying, “Boaz, I, Ruth, who have come for refuge under the wings of the God of Israel, want you to take me under your wing.  I’m looking for a home, Boaz, a permanent home among the people of God.  And I want it to be with you.”

And just how she wanted Boaz to take her under his wing was also clear from what Ruth said.  “Take your maidservant under your wing” our text says in the New King James Version.  But there is another way to read this as well, as the footnote in your Bibles and the New International Version of the Bible makes clear.  The words of our text have  a double meaning and can also be translated to say,

“Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman redeemer.”  (Ruth 3:9 NIV)

And so Ruth is asking Boaz, “The garment that I’ve lifted from your feet – please spread it over me!”  And with these words, it is not a night of passion that Ruth is asking for – to the contrary, she makes her desire very clear:  “Boaz, I want you to marry me!”

And why Boaz?  Because, she said, “you are a close relative.  You are a kinsman redeemer!”  And with those words Ruth makes it clear to Boaz that she does simply want this for herself.  It was not Boaz’s money she was after, nor an easy life, not even security or rest as such.  And even though there likely was a considerable amount of attraction for one another, it was not even love that drove Ruth to the threshing floor that night.  But Ruth wanted Boaz to marry her so that she might have a permanent home among the people of God.  And even more, so that Naomi too could be included in that family and, should a son be born, that son might be counted as a son for Naomi, one of the clan of Elimelech.  And in that way not only Ruth but the family of Elimelech too would once more have a permanent place among the people of God.

2. A Home provided.

It was quite the plan that Naomi had made up, and it was quite something for Ruth to creep up to Boaz’s threshing floor in the dead of night.  For a young woman to do that and then lie down at the uncovered feet of the man she wished to marry, and then to ask him to marry her, a woman proposing to a man, the younger to the older, the poor widow to the wealthy farmer, the Moabite to the Israelite – that was a bold thing to do!  But it was not impertinence, it was not brazen cheekiness for Ruth to speak to Boaz in the way that she did. 

It was right of Ruth to ask Boaz to marry her as a close relative or a kinsman redeemer because God had given her the right to do this.  To ask Boaz to marry her was in accordance with the revealed will of God.  In the law of Moses, in Leviticus 25 and in Deuteronomy 25, the LORD God taught His people Israel that the next of kin would be responsible for the well being of his family members, particularly with respect to their freedom, their land and their family line would not die out.  Please turn with me to those passages in Leviticus and Deuteronomy so that we can learn both what these laws were and the intent of them.

Leviticus 25:23-25.

“The land shall not be sold permanently, for the land is Mine; for you are stranger and sojourners with Me.  And in all the land of your possession you shall grant redemption of the land.  If one of your brethren becomes poor, and has sold some of his possession, and if his redeeming relative comes to redeem it, then he may redeem what his brother sold.”

In these verses the LORD taught His people that He and not they were the true landowners of Israel, and that each Israelite was in fact a stranger and a sojourner with Him!  But He had redeemed them to be His people, living with Him.  And so should one become rich while the other was poor, the who received much from the hand of the Lord was expected to help him who had little so that no one was without and each could serve the LORD with gladness.  And not only that, but should a person need to give up the land which the LORD had given him, then his brother could redeem this property so that it would remain with the family that God had given it to and so that the family could always have a permanent home among the people of God.  That is what these laws were all about:  living together forever with God and His people.

But what if a man died and his wife had not yet given birth to a son?  What would happen to his inheritance in the land?  Let us read what God said about that in Deuteronomy 25:5,6.

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.  And it shall be that the first born son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.”

It is a strange custom for modern ears, a custom we will consider in more detail when we turn to Ruth chapter 4.  But the intention of this law was not just that the widow would be well cared for, but also so that the name of the one who died would not be forgotten in Israel, but that his line would continue throughout the generations, always living before the LORD and enjoying the land, the inheritance that He had provided for them.  And so a permanent home could always be found among the people of God.

And now Ruth comes to Boaz and asks that he be that kinsman redeemer, so that through her marriage to him, not only would she receive a permanent home among the people of God, but that this home be restored to Naomi and the household of Elimelech.  And so He would be their God and they would be His people.

Did the family of Elimelech deserve this?  Hardly!  Many years earlier they had turned their back on the fields of Ephrathah, the land that the LORD had given them to possess.  Elimelech had sold his birthright, had turned his back on the covenant community and had moved to the badlands of Moab.  Neither Naomi nor Ruth could demand Boaz or any other relative to redeem them now that Naomi had returned to Bethlehem.  But redemption is not so much a matter of the law but a matter of grace!  Just as the LORD had shown His steadfast loving kindness to His people Israel in redeeming them from Egypt and giving them an inheritance in the Promised Land, so Boaz was now blessed to be able to live out of the redemption he had received and enable Ruth and Naomi, not just as individuals but also as representatives of the family of Elimelech, to join him by providing them with a permanent home among the people of God.  Because that is what it was all about:  Living together as the redeemed people of God, safe at rest in the land that He had given them to possess.

And so we may look back and be encouraged by the story of Ruth and Boaz at the threshing floor.  But now what about you and what about me?  Has the Lord provided a way for you also to enjoy a permanent home among the people of God?  Now that Christ has come, things have changed.  As members of Christ we are not called to travel to the country of Israel, nor can we expect to receive a portion of the land there.  And those Old Testament laws of redeeming the land and marrying your brother’s widow have been fulfilled with the coming of Christ: we do not live under those laws in the same way as the Old Testament people of Israel did.

But we still need to be redeemed, we still need a home, we still need to belong!  That need has not gone away for we all are strangers in the place in which we live.  We are, as the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1, “pilgrims of the dispersion”, strangers in the world.  We are exiles, homeless, temporary residents, eagerly waiting for the rest that awaits us in our eternal home.

But you may be sure that God does not give you less than He gave to Ruth: He gives you so much more!  In order to belong, in order to have a permanent home with God and His people, we also need a Redeemer, a Redeemer whom God in His grace has provided in His Son Jesus Christ.  1 Peter 1:18,19,

“Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

Jesus Christ is your Redeemer.  And so it is to Jesus Christ that we must plead,

“Take me under Your wing, for you are my Kinsman Redeemer.”

Take me Jesus, Redeem me to be Your treasured possession!  Keep me in the shelter of Your wings!

And the good news is this:  While Ruth could never be certain how Boaz would respond to her bold but humble plea, you can be certain beyond doubt that Jesus Christ will never turn you away when you seek the shelter of His wings.  Because the price has been paid, the redemption has been secured!  So go to Him and keep on going to Him!  Be joined to Him, for He is Your God and you are His people. 

And then you may always look forward to a home that is so much more glorious than the earthly home Ruth would receive among the people of God in the Promised Land of Canaan.  For the home that Christ is preparing for you is an eternal one, where you may live with God and His people forever.  You may look forward to an inheritance that 1 Peter 1:4 says is “incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away.”  That is what your Redeemer has prepared for you.

You may begin to enjoy this now, for Jesus Christ has already redeemed you so that you already belong to Him today.  And already today you belong not just to Him but also to His people, the community of God, His church!  And together as His church we may look forward to our eternal home, when we may join that great multitude that Revelation 7 speaks of, a multitude  of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne of God, all redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  And then God will fully dwell among us and then we will be home, then we will belong completely, then we will enjoy our full rest and security in Him!  Amen. 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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