Choosing Your Next Chapter, 19 May 2024

Choosing Your Next Chapter
Ruth: Finding God in the Ordinary
Ruth 4:1-12

Series Big Idea:
God does extraordinary things in and through the ordinary.
Big Idea: Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s stories.
Today is the first day of the rest of your life! Isn’t that exciting? What are you going to do about it? If you’re like most people, you live moment to moment, day to day, hoping something will magically interrupt your routine and change your life. Unfortunately, life is filled with interruptions, but not always the “you’ve won a new car” or “you’re up for a promotion” or “we’re pregnant” kind.
Whether you know it or not, you and I are creating the future…every day.
Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s stories. Our character and actions matter.
Nobody wakes up one morning and suddenly realizes they are a college graduate! There is a long process of application, registration, classes, and exams over several years which lead to a diploma.
Nobody wakes up one morning and suddenly realizes they are in great physical shape. There is a long process of visits to the fitness club, time on the treadmill, and weightlifting.
Nobody wakes up one morning and suddenly realizes they have a great marriage, respectful kids, and beautiful grandchildren. There is a long process of dating, sacrifice, sleepless nights, dirty diapers, and parent/teacher conferences, among other things!
We’re in the final chapter of the book of Ruth, a short yet powerful story of two widows and a man who God uses to bless one another and—ultimately—change the world. At the end of their lives, they had no idea how God would use their kindness and decisions to impact the future of human civilization…literally.
This book is filled with hesed…kindness, blessings done by and to all three characters. Hesed is a Hebrew word. I wish there was an English word that was more accurate than kindness or blessing, but it’s a beautiful thing done by and to humans…and God.
Naomi and her husband are from Bethlehem. A famine comes and they move to Moab, likely searching for food and a better way of life. Naomi’s husband and two sons die, leaving Naomi alive with her two daughters-in-law. She tells them to return to their families of origin. One does, but Ruth refuses, instead committing herself to Naomi. The two widows go to Bethlehem where Ruth gleans in the fields of a man named Boaz in hopes of avoiding starvation. Boaz hears about Ruth’s kindness and commitment toward Naomi and shows kindness to Ruth, including access to an abundance of food. Naomi instructs Ruth to essentially propose to Boaz, an act viewed by Boaz as kindness. He is very interested in marrying her, but according to the law, the closest male relative had the primary responsibility to marry a widow, and it wasn’t Boaz.
Boaz went to the town gate and took a seat there. (Ruth 4:1a, NLT)
Toledo doesn’t have a town gate, at least not one of which I’m aware. Back in the day, the
city gate was the center of life, where all important business was done. Perhaps it was like our city hall…One Government Center…or even Franklin Park Mall before Amazon! The difference was almost everyone passed through the gate twice a day on their way to and from the fields.
When someone was praised in the gates, it was a sign they were being honored by the community. The woman in Proverbs 31 is one example.
Just then the family redeemer he had mentioned came by, so Boaz called out to him, “Come over here and sit down, friend. I want to talk to you.” So they sat down together. 2 Then Boaz called ten leaders from the town and asked them to sit as witnesses. 3 And Boaz said to the family redeemer, “You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. (Ruth 4:1b-3, NLT)
South Asia Bible Commentary offers this helpful background:
Elimelek’s land would have been sold to someone outside the family when they left Bethlehem. When Naomi returned with Ruth, she probably did not have the means to reclaim it. So Naomi had land over which she had historical claim, but no actual ownership (an all-too-familiar situation in South Asia). The only way for her to get the land back was for it to be restored in the Year of Jubilee or redeemed by a kinsman-redeemer prepared to pay the full price.
I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish. If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses. But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.”
            The man replied, “All right, I’ll redeem it.” (Ruth 4:4, NLT)
Deal! But there’s a catch to this land.
Then Boaz told him, “Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.” (Ruth 4:5, NLT)
Land for sale…wife included! Of course! For some, this might be a bonus, but evidently this man said, “No deal.”
“Then I can’t redeem it,” the family redeemer replied, “because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it.” (Ruth 4:6, NLT)
This deal would jeopardize his kids’ inheritance…we don’t know about the wife part, but he rejects the offer. His own kids would not get to inherit the land, something which might not make complete sense to us in our culture, but it was a big deal.
Now in those days it was the custom in Israel for anyone transferring a right of purchase to remove his sandal and hand it to the other party. This publicly validated the transaction. 8 So the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, “You buy the land.” (Ruth 4:7-8, NLT)
There were no notary publics or title companies, but they had their own ways of doing real estate transactions. It’s interesting that we never know the name of the man who had the first right of refusal. He’s the rightful heir to the land, yet he declines.
Then Boaz said to the elders and to the crowd standing around, “You are witnesses that today I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. 10 And with the land I have acquired Ruth, the Moabite widow of Mahlon, to be my wife. This way she can have a son to carry on the family name of her dead husband and to inherit the family property here in his hometown. You are all witnesses today.” (Ruth 4:9-10, NLT)
Boaz is a good man. He was respected in the community as was his family. He was a direct descendant of one of Israel’s greatest leaders, Nahshon. He wants to preserve the name of Naomi’s husband and relatives. He didn’t need more land. He didn’t need more power. His concern was for Ruth, not the land. His act seems to be one of generosity and kindness. Remember, Ruth was barren with her first husband who died, so talk of a son is wishful thinking or pure faith. Contrary to those who see Boaz as the hero of the story, he’s not. God is.
Throughout this short book we’ve been introduced to Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. They are an unlikely trinity God uses—each in a unique way—to execute His will, His plan, His purposes. But I love this move on the part of Boaz. He’s concerned not about himself, but saving the family of Elimelech, Naomi’s late husband. Jesus said,
For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. (Matthew 16:25, NIV).
The Kingdom of God is an upside kingdom as I said on Resurrection Sunday. Blessings—God’s kindness, His “hesed” to use the Hebrew word without a clear English equivalent—often follow selfless acts.
When is the last time you sacrificed for another person? When did you stand up to injustice and defend the weak, the widow, the stranger, the orphan? When did you last take a faith-filled risk and do something that cost you something, that got you out of your comfort zone, that involved losing your life for God or another?
As I said, this book is filled with hesed…kindness, blessings done by and to all three characters. So much of this scene is not about any of them, but rather Elimelech and his legacy. Instead of merely starting a family, Boaz and Ruth will rescue a family. These three image bearers join God in saving the world, and we’re invited into that same mission. But it is rarely easy. It’s certainly not safe. But it’s worth it.
Do you remember the gate at the beginning of the chapter, the center of community life?
Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the LORD make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the LORD give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.” (Ruth 4:11-12, NLT)
Carolyn Custis James notes,
Bethlehemites pray that, like Rachel and Leah, Ruth will be a nation builder too. More significantly, they connect Ruth to Tamar,1 the revered mother of their tribe. She and Ruth have a lot in common. Both were foreigners who married Israelite men. Both are widowed (Tamar twice) and exhibit deep familial loyalty by courageously breaking with social protocol (an understatement in Tamar’s case) to rescue their deceased husbands from extinction. As with Ruth, Tamar’s righteous actions had a profound spiritual impact on a man. She pulled her father-in-law, Judah, out of a spiritual ditch and back on the solid path, where he thereafter lived as a true son of Yahweh. Tamar was the mother of Perez, from whom Elimelech, Boaz, Mr. No-Name, and other Bethlehemites descended…Ruth’s family surpasses the glories of Perez…
But that’s for next week! Here’s a hint: Bethlehem!
So What?
Throughout the book of Ruth, we see examples of providence…the protective care of God. There are some who live life as if it all depends upon God and we’re just pawns who can do nothing to change the future…or even the present. After all, God is sovereign and in control of all things, so we should sit back and watch (although some of these people might make voting an exception!). Others—obviously atheists and agnostics are included—believe it all depends upon humans. We make the messes and we have to clean them up. Carolyn Custis James writes,
one of the central tenets of providence — concurrence — which is the fact that the “God in whom we confess faith invites us to participate with him in the completion of his program for the world.” His preferred method of getting things done is to work through his image bearers. We aren’t spectators to what God is doing in the world, but participants. Right from the beginning and still today, he is fulfilling his great plan for the world through our actions and efforts. It may come as a surprise to some, but providence is one of the strongest incentives God could give us for bold, vigorous activism.
I love that! We’ve been invited by Almighty God to co-create, to co-labor, to do life with God for the sake of the world. For example, when you pray, “LORD, please feed the starving children,” perhaps God is saying the same thing to us! We can sponsor a child with Compassion, International. We can serve food at Cherry Street’s Mac Café. We can foster or adopt a child and end food scarcity for one young life.
The book of Ruth is a story about God, but also Naomi and Ruth and Boaz. It’s almost as if God wrote the script and they are the actors on stage. You need both!
Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s stories. Every day we make choices which will impact ourselves…and others. Often we fail to see the influence we have, and perhaps that influence will not be known until after we die. What kind of legacy are you living and leaving?
This is a great moment to remind you of the importance of a will. Many people don’t have one, and if you have more than one dollar in the bank, it’s probably a good idea to get one. Our
“give” page on the church website has some resources. Imagine the legacy you could leave if you left some of your wealth to the Alliance Great Commission Fund to support International Workers for decades to come. How different would First Alliance be if your passing could help fund a Dream Center where kids could meet Jesus and shoot hoops instead of guns. Wouldn’t it be great if people approach you in heaven and tell stories of how your generosity led to them to be there with you?
Those are but a few financial examples, but the same can be said of our time, talents, love, and kindness. Our world is desperate for hope, and we’re called to be hope dealers. Our world is desperate for love, and we are to be known for our love. Our world is desperate for relationships, and we were created for community.
Today’s decisions will determine tomorrow’s stories. What do you want that story to be?

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