Sunday, June 1, 2003

Ruth 3:1-18

Family Redeemer
01 June 2003
Cornerstone Covenant Church

“Around midnight, Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! [9] ‘Who are you?’ he demanded.

“‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she replied. ‘Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.’" – Ruth 3:8-9

Now things are really starting to heat up for Ruth – and depending on how you read verse 9, here in chapter 3, they could be getting hot! But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

As you recall things started out looking pretty bleak.

Naomi and husband and two sons had moved to Moab because there was a famine around the home town of Bethlehem. The sons married Moabite women. Then Naomi’s husband died – and then her two sons died as well. Naomi was devastated and was convinced that God has done this to her and that she had no future – so she might as well return to her hometown of Bethlehem. Besides, the word out on the street was that the famine in Bethlehem was over.

She encouraged her daughters-in-law to return to their original families so they could get married again. One does – but not Ruth. She was hopelessly devoted to her mother-in-law. So leaving behind her native land, language, culture, and people she went to Bethlehem with Naomi.

So we’ve got these two poor women trying to eke out an existence in Bethlehem.

In that era if you didn’t have a man you didn’t have much hope because it was a male dominated world. Men owned the property. Men earned the living. If you were a single woman not under the covering of some man – a father, an uncle, a brother, a husband – you were stuck.

And such appeared to be the case with Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth.

Although, they could still do the things that poor people did to survive. So Ruth went out into the fields to glean.

Well, as it turned out she ended up gleaning in the field of a middle-aged balding, overweight guy named Boaz. And Boaz, was extremely nice to Ruth – making it easy for her to glean. He even provided lunch and extra grain for her to take home to Naomi.

Ruth goes home to Naomi with her booty and Naomi says – “Wow, this guy would make a great husband for you. Hey, he’s even a member of my late husband’s extended family.”

And according to ancient custom members of the family had the option – even the obligation – to marry the widow of someone in the clan. There were some specific guidelines as to who was first in line to do this.

Eugene Peterson’s rendering in his Message translation of Ruth carries the story line quite well. Naomi is speaking. Ruth 3:2-4 (Msg) – “And isn’t Boaz our close relative, the one with whose young women you’ve been working? Maybe it’s time to make our move. [A regular Yente!] Tonight is the night of Boaz’s barley harvest at the threshing floor.

[3] "Take a bath. Put on some perfume. Get all dressed up and go to the threshing floor. But don’t let him know you’re there until the party is well under way and he’s had plenty of food and drink. [4] When you see him slipping off to sleep, watch where he lies down and then go there. Lie at his feet to let him know that you are available to him for marriage. Then wait and see what he says. He’ll tell you what to do."

In our way of thinking it’s kind of a strange way to express interest in marriage. And it was probably strange to Ruth as well. Remember she was a foreigner and Naomi has to explain the custom to her.

So Ruth does exactly what Naomi says. She goes to the threshing floor where Boaz has been working and apparently eating dinner, too. She waits in the wings until Boaz has eaten and had plenty to drink.

It’s dark. He has to get back to work early in the morning. There’s nothing good on TV anyway. So he lies down to sleep.

As soon as he is snoring Ruth sneaks in, pulls the blanket off Boaz’s feet – exposing them to the cool night air – and she lies down next to his feet.

About Midnight Boaz realizes that his toes are cold and wakes up – only to discover that there is someone else in the room. And not only is someone else in the room, that someone is at his feet. And that someone is a woman!

He’s a bit startled – not knowing if it’s the boggy woman or what.

And thus we’re at verse 9 again – "Who are you?" he demanded.

"I am your servant Ruth," she replied. "Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer."

A few weeks ago in D/C class was discussing how Jesus is our redeemer. And it became apparent to me that no one knew what I was talking about – which is not all that unusual – but I figured out that no one in our class had ever heard of the word redeemer.

No big surprise when you consider that these kids grew up without S&H Green stamps, which my mother use to get at the grocery store and we’d take them to a redemption center to redeem them for cool stuff like small kitchen appliances.

By the way, they still do S&H in some parts of the country and you can even get an S&H Visa card. But the point is that a redeemer is someone who cashes these things in for something more valuable. To redeem is to move from something lesser to something greater – to make provision. To redeem is paying-off someone’s debt – or buying someone from slavery so they can be free.

In this case Boaz has the option of being the designated family redeemer – of taking the poor widow Ruth to be his wife – of redeeming her from a life of poverty and aloneness. That’s what this is all about – redemption!

So Ruth says to the startled Boaz – I’m here. Take me to be your wife. Spread the corner of your covering over me.

Now we can read that several ways. She could be inviting him to receive her into his bed – which is really all it would take in that culture to consummate a marriage. He could marry her right then and there.

But there is more to it than that. Some of your translations render verse 9 as “spread your covers” or “your cloak over me.” But even more literally Ruth is saying “spread your wings over me.”

The same word is used in 2:12 where Boaz says to Ruth – “May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully."

Ruth is asking Boaz to protect her in the same way that God has given her refuge.

We have a mourning dove nest in one of the hanging plants on our back patio. And there are currently three baby birds in that nest. Until about two days ago those birds were small enough that the mother would cover them with her wings whenever I got too close to the nest. She would literally hide them under her wings.

That is the image conjured up by Ruth’s request.

“Boaz, you’re a family redeemer. So redeem me. Take me under your protective wings.”

And what does Boaz do?

I love this guy. He is so sensitive and faultless. He starts heaping compliments on Ruth – expressing flattery that such a beautiful young woman would be interested in having him as her redeemer. But he says, “there is one little teeny tiny problem. I’m not really the first in line to redeem you. There is one other relative that is closer. So let me see what I can work out.”

He gives here another load of grain to take home. And just before the sun rises he sends her back to Naomi in a stealth fashion.

But as soon as things started to wake up in the little town of Bethlehem Boaz took his place at the city gates to wait for the other relative. And I’m getting ahead of myself in the story. Although, I’m sure you can see where this whole thing is going. GOD IS ABOUT TO PROVIDE A REDEEMER FOR RUTH – and then I would add in way of reflection AND IN DOING SO HE IS ABOUT TO REDEEM THE WORLD.

I don’t think I’m really spoiling anything in the story since you’ve all read the entire story over multiple times in the past couple of weeks, anyway – that was your homework assignment.

For it is Boaz and Ruth who become the grandparents of king David – and also the great, great, great, great (I don’t know how many times great) grandparents of Jesus the Messiah – the Redeemer of the world. It is through the union of Ruth and Boaz that God eventually brings redemption to the world.

This is why I say, and by the way, this is the key point today... This is why I say that GOD IS ABOUT TO PROVIDE A REDEEMER FOR RUTH AND IN SO DOING HE’S ABOUT TO REDEEM THE WORLD.

It’s all a part of the big story of redemption. This isn’t just the story of two really kind and wonderful people finding each other. This is about something even bigger. It’s about God’s plan for the world – and indeed for you.

You know, in someways, Boaz is a picture of God. He’s not God. But he is an illustration of what God is like and what he is doing. What were some things in Boaz’s life that were Godlike? Mercy. Generosity. Righteousness. Most of all – REDEEMER..

In a few minutes we’re going to celebrate the Lord’s Supper – the sacrament which reminds us of our redemption. The fact that God has taken us under his wing – that God has bought us out of poverty and slavery to sin – that God has acted on our behalf – even before we knew that we needed redemption. And this is the good news – that there is forgiveness. There is new life. There is mercy and righteousness. And it’s ours – all ours – not because we are worthy or deserving. We’re foreigners – Moabites – but it’s because we have a great great great family redeemer.

Let’s pray.

Gracious and Merciful God we thank you for Ruth and Boaz. For in their story we see that you were busy preparing the world for redemption – even 1100 years before you sent the redeemer.

So we bless you and honor you and praise you for your mercy and kindness.

Help us, as children of your family line, to live out the family characteristics and qualities. Transform us into kind and merciful people – in your image. Amen.

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