Ramble through Ruth – Part 4

With thanks to Jonathan Durke for this guest blog.

 Read Ruth 4:1-6

So, Ruth has presented herself to Boaz at the wise and caring recommendation of Naomi. Boaz, in response, has shown concern for Ruth and even gone the extra mile. He sets out to find the relative closer to Naomi than he, so he can honourably give that relative the first opportunity to provide and protect for Naomi and Ruth. We now read of Boaz making his way to the city gate of Bethlehem to sit and wait for his relative to come along. Soon enough he walks by and is called to sit with Boaz along with ten city elders he has gathered, to discuss the matter.

In the ancient Near East, the city gates were where legal transactions would take place. Official business regarding property, law and economics etc. would be processed while the people involved, including the respected elders, would sit and negotiate. So, Boaz explains the entire situation and offers the relative the parcel of land that was Elimelech’s and which now Naomi is selling to make ends meet. The relative thinks this sounds good – he gets more land – but Boaz adds that he must also redeem Ruth. At this the relative rejects the offer. If he took it, it would have adverse effects on his own children and their inheritance. Marrying Ruth would mean producing more children which would take away from his own children’s inheritance.

  • How do you think this made Ruth feel?
  • How does God act differently to us compared with Boaz’s relative to Ruth?

 

INTEGRITY

 Read Ruth 4:7-12

The right and responsibility to now redeem Ruth has come to Boaz. Boaz proceeds to make this transaction with love and integrity. He does it properly and with transparency, making sure there are witnesses to the authentic and honest way he has dealt with this matter.

  • Are there any areas in your life (family, business, etc.) in which you think you could be more transparent?
  • Are there areas of your work or private life where there is pressure to NOT live with integrity?

We may never know how the outcomes of our actions will unfold. They could work out differently than we thought, take longer than we anticipated or fall short of our expectations. That can be especially frustrating when we have gone about them with integrity and in a way God is pleased with. However, regardless of the outcome, if we have done it with integrity, that pleases the Lord. He will work out what is best for us and most glorifies him.

 

NEW IDENTITY

Read Ruth 4:13-22

Ruth and Naomi have both received a kind of new identity in and through Boaz and the kindness he extended to them.

Remind you of anyone?

Jesus Christ has redeemed us, just as Boaz did for Ruth. Jesus is our “kinsman redeemer” because He became incarnate as a human being, so He relates and empathises with us.

Jesus, has also given us a new identity, through his life , death and resurrection. Martin Luther, a 16th century German Catholic monk turned Protestant reformer, called this transaction ‘the great exchange’. Christ exchanged His righteousness to us and He received our sin. As Boaz took on himself Ruth’s, poverty, hunger and shameful reputation, he gave her his righteous reputation, home security and bountiful provision.

All Jesus has He has now transferred to us.

The cross was a similar and greater declaration of payment. It was a divine transaction.  We have received new identities as righteous children of God through Jesus’ gracious kindness.

  • How will knowing we have a new identity inform and influence your lives?
  • What does the truth of ‘The Great Exchange’ conjure up in you?

 

FRUITFULNESS

Ruth is now married and bears a child. She is protected, provided for and blessed. Naomi is blessed too, as she nurses her grandchild and has her life restored to her again.

This child of Ruth’s, Obed, will become the father of Jesse, and Jesse will become the father of David. David’s descendants will lead to the birth of Christ and the salvation of the World. (Matthew ch1 lists Ruth as one of Jesus’ ancestors!)

God is always at work, unleashing His plans and purposes to accomplish His desires. We do not know the full fruit that will come from our ministry and decisions….

In conclusion, let’s do the following:

  • Wait in faith that his plans are GOOD!
  • Embrace our new identity, learning who we are ”in Christ” and that all he is, is ours.
  • Believe God for fruitfulness

 

 

 

Advertisements

Ramble through Ruth – Part 2

Thanks again to Jonathan Durke for this guest blog: part 2 of a study guide alongside a series on the book of Ruth.

Read Ruth 2:1-13

Naomi and Ruth have now returned to Bethlehem and have arrived at the time of the barley harvest. However, the two ladies have returned empty. They are empty of a home, empty of relatives and particularly empty of food. They were poor widows.

Yet, emptiness is healthy and helpful when it is God who does the emptying. As we shall see later in the story, it is God’s providence that has caused Naomi and Ruth to be emptied because He is about to do something remarkable in their lives.

  • Reflect on a time when the Lord has emptied you or has permitted a seemingly bad situation but, on reflection, was His sovereign working in your life.

When the Lord is emptying you do not resist Him but embrace His activity in your life.

God does not empty us for no reason. He empties us so He can place something else within us. God is about to fill their lives with good things .

The barley harvest was a significant time for the Israelites. It was the time just of the Passover Festival – where Israel remembered their exodus from Egypt, when the Lord passed over their firstborn to kill the firstborn Egyptians and rescue them from slavery.

  • Can someone remember and explain the key command God gave them for that night so He would pass over them?
  • Discuss how is this event is an image of the Gospel?

As the Israelites were provided a redeemer for their children, a lamb, so Ruth now meets her redeemer in the form of Naomi’s relative Boaz. He was a relative of Elimelech, Naomi’s now dead husband.

Read Ruth 2:14-23

Ruth asked her elderly mother in law Naomi if she could go to the field to glean (pick up) the ears of grain, which was a right for those who were poor. Ruth begins to glean and just so happens to be working in Boaz’s field. Then Boaz appears, greets his reapers and comes across Ruth. He engages her in conversation.

As Boaz and Ruth talk we can begin seeing her trust in the Lord blossoming.

  • Which verse might indicate Ruth growing faith in God and why?

Perhaps Ruth being in the fields of a foreign land, with alien people and conversing with a stranger was a difficult place to be in. Yet, in spite of all the change going on in her life and the hard circumstances, it was the right place. The best and safest place to be is where God wants you to be.

  • Share a time that appeared difficult but on reflection you knew to be where God wanted you. Share why God may have wanted you there.

Aside from the core relationship in this narrative between Ruth and Boaz, let us look briefly again at the other key relationship in this story, Ruth and Naomi. These two had a remarkable friendship. They cared for each other. When leaving Moab, Naomi gave Ruth the opportunity to go back to her family and be protected and provided for. In Bethlehem, Ruth took the initiative to go out and work hard to provide for and protect Naomi. Ruth resolved to be dedicated in every way to Naomi all the days of her life. They had a culture of honour and respect towards each other.

  • How might this kind of honour, respect and dedication be reflected to each other in our church family today?
  • What would it be like for a single, foreign woman to go into the harvest field?

There is another relationship we can glean from the book of Ruth that may go unnoticed to our modern eyes. It is the relationship between the Church and the poor. The activity Ruth was engaged in as she gleaned from the fields was an activity instituted by God in the Law.  Land owners were instructed to not glean the entirety of their property but to leave the edges alone. This was so that the foreign, poor and destitute might be able to glean, eat and not die in their poverty.

In New Testament times the early Christians, though not all Jewish, were instructed to continue with this principle. (See Galatians 2 v 10)

  • How can you in your church continue to remember the poor?

The account of Ruth includes statements such, ‘as it turned out’ and ‘as it happened.’ This symbolizes the fact that nothing which occurred was manipulated by Ruth or part of a grand and intricate strategy. Instead, God guides her as she takes steps. The truth is we really know very little of what the Lord is doing all the time around us. While we are walking the path, the Lord is directing our footsteps and clearing the way. (See Proverbs 3 v 5 – 6)

  • Are there areas where you are just having to trust God? … that he is, or will, work things out?

Ruth was prepared to work hard while God was working on her behalf. It is the comforting and inspiring revelation that God is sovereign and we are responsible.

Returning to Ruth and Boaz’s interaction, it is here that we see what Boaz is really like, or rather who Boaz is really like…Jesus Christ. Boaz foreshadowed what Jesus would do for us. Let us briefly observe from Scripture how Boaz reflects Jesus.

V.5 – Boaz noticed Ruth straight away. Jesus notices us all the time.

V.14 – Boaz provides for Ruth. Jesus provides all we need.

V.15 – Boaz protects Ruth. Jesus protects us by His mercy.

Boaz shows Ruth grace. v 10 “Why have I found such favour in your eyes?” Jesus showed us “favour” or “grace” – the undeserved kindness of God!

As true a reflection as all this was, all pictures fall short of the reality of Christ. Nothing is better than the real thing!

Boaz was what was called a “kinsmen or guardian redeemer”. (For more details on this law – see Leviticus 25:23-55)

Conclusion

  • Care, protect and love each other as Ruth did for Naomi, Boaz did for Ruth and Christ has for you.
  • Show respect to those who are older and those who have come from another culture.
  • Remember the poor
  • Trust Jesus as your redeemer who has knows us, provides, protects and shows grace to us.

DOODLING JESUS

Somewhere in Africa our minibus rattles along the interminably long, hot, dusty, potholed road. It’s been a long day and I am sleepy. A sudden braking and crunching of gears and I awake… Rousing myself, I see a large crowd blocking the road, waving sticks. The driver leans on his horn and edges slowly through the crowd who, very reluctantly, part.

To my amazement, in the centre of the mêlée, stands a naked lady. She is trying to protect her modesty, and, at the same time, avoid the worst of the sticks with which she is being struck.
I feel as if I have slept and awoken in a parallel universe. I have no idea what is happening. Our driver is nonplussed and accelerates out of the crowd, continuing on our journey wordlessly.
Disturbed, I ask him “what was happening? What was that all about?”
“She has been a very foolish woman” he solemnly replies. – Verdict and end of conversation!

My mind wanders to a different time and place but, maybe, a similar lady. Caught “in the act of adultery” she is dragged before Jesus. Leaving aside the question of where the man was, (last time I checked, statistically, it took two to commit adultery), Jesus is told that the law of the day required a death sentence – What did he think?
Though they did not know it, he is the only one qualified to punish her, since he’s the only guiltless one present. However, he calmly declares “Let the stoning commence – providing the first person to throw a stone is guiltless”
He then bends down, seemingly without a care in the world, and doodles in the street dust. The doodling continues for some time until the crowd, so recently roaring for a stoning, slowly slink away.
“Is there no one left to punish you? – neither am I your punisher… go … and sin no more”
This lady had looked for love in destructive places and the law had tried and failed to steer her from the outside. She now experienced love of a different quality. This love freed her from guilt and freed her to choose. The love of Jesus steers from the inside.

The writers of the New Testament didn’t encourage us to go and sin! – “I am writing this so you won’t sin”… but, on the other hand, they were keen for us to know what would happen if, and when, we messed up.
• “You have an advocate” – One who speaks -up on our behalf – Jesus
• “You have a propitiation” – A giant Bible word which simply means that God’s right wrath against sin has been taken away, through Jesus’ work on the cross – there is no punishment.
“By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy!” You are a work in progress – but while others, and sometimes you yourself, may condemn, Jesus can still doodle!

The bones of this teaching is found in John 8 v 1 – 11, 1 John 2 v 1-2 and Hebrews 10 v 14

OUTRAGEOUS ”FORGETTERY”

Once he had put behind him his God respecting father, he was able to embark on a disastrous, debauched, reign of his own.

He began by celebrating religious diversity. Leaving behind the God of his Fathers, he promoted any and all kinds of cult – the more perverted the better.
Baal, or “The Master”, a storm god, and his consort Asherah were favourites – and depraved in the extreme. Asherah , – a female mother deity – was worshipped with ritual prostitution, famous for phallic “Asherah poles”. Sex as worship soon became very popular and he led his nation into an enthusiastic celebration of immorality.

In the temple, built for the one true Creator God, he placed altars for stars and planets, angels and demons. As bad became worse he introduced a cult to honour Moloch, involving the horrific ritual sacrifice of children to the fire.

He replaced his cabinet with witches, mediums and spiritualists resulting in civic chaos; a corrupt government filled the capital with innocent blood.

Perhaps, at some point, his conscience was pricked but he learned that, with constant practice, he could ignore it and that, eventually, it even seemed to go away.
Those challenging him were silenced. One brave prophet gave him two words… One was a simple picture of a builders plumb line; “what isn’t built straight, God will flatten”. The other, “like a dirty bowl, I will clear you out, and turn you upside down”.

When the end came it was dramatic. Brought down by a foreign power, Manasseh was led around with a hook through his nose, like a prize bull. Having been ritually humiliated, he was then exiled and imprisoned in what is now Iraq.

Hooray!! The prophet killing, child murdering, despotic, satanic, God rejecting, sex addicted tyrant was history! … Except, before we all cheer, he wasn’t!

This atrocious, obnoxious man turned to an amazingly gracious God. In some “god forsaken” dungeon he prays and finds he is not, after all, God forsaken. He vomits up the deep truths about himself – and God forgives him. Whilst I might have given him a million years solitary confinement, and then the same on probation, God even restores him to his throne!
Grace is truly outrageous!

God loves to respond to “gut prayers” and he alone sees what is going on in our hearts. Genuine repentance irresistibly releases God’s mercy. This was not a token gesture kind of “sorry”, but a genuine remorse. – “I wish I’d never done this, I wish I could undo it, I am ashamed before God and want to renounce it all” kind of praying.

The reinstated King then removes all the idols and altars, rebuilds the neglected capital city and its defences and reinstates the worship of Creator God.

This king, Manasseh, illustrates a wonderful Bible phrase – “their sins … I will remember no more” This is “grace” – a totally undeserved “forgettery” in which go all our demerits. No atrocious sinner is beyond the grasp of an amazingly gracious God.

Perhaps our temptation is to identify ourselves too much with our past sins, and mistakes, when the truth is that “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our sins from us”

Paul once wrote to a people trapped by their past and reminded them “this is what you were”. The Christian can grasp hold of a whole new identity – “I was this but now …”
• “You have been washed” – the work of Jesus totally cleanses you from sin and shame
• “You are sanctified” – the Holy Spirit has set you apart and gifted you with a new identity
• You’ve been justified – The Father himself has declared His verdict “not guilty”.

This is outrageous – and wonderful.

(The bones of this story are in the Bible – 2 Kings 21 and 2 Chronicles 33 v 10ff. Other useful verses, for the curious, are Psalm 103 v 10-12, Heb 10v17, 1 John 1 v 9 and 1 Corinthians 6 v 9-11)

SHOCKING LOVE

She’d never settled, though she had been married once, and had children with her husband. Those who knew her, and liked her, said she was discontented. Those who liked her less spoke of her being wild and flighty. Those who disliked her said much worse!
Perhaps inevitably, her eyes wandered. She took a steady lover and later left her husband. A tragic cycle developed as she loved, lost and moved on … A couple of children later, and with no one to support her, she found that certain men were willing to pay for her attentions.
When it finally all fell apart she felt deserted and damaged. Dishevelled and penniless, the decision had been made for her – she would sell herself into domestic slavery.

The Market Place.

I can picture her there, in the market place. Humiliating though it all is, shameful though it may be, there is plenty of interest in this lady! She may no longer be in the first flush of youth, but she remains beautiful, so the bidding rises sharply.
“9, 10, 11 pieces of silver”
“12” – and the lower bidders drop out.
“13… 14 … 14 and a half” – the half a sure sign of dwindling resources!
“15” says “H’”…
Another bidder, out of cash and on his way home from the market, adds, “And a bushel of barley”
In desperation “H” shouts “15… and a bushel and a half!”

The gavel falls. Gomer, for that is her name, is now the property of Hosea.

The Scullery.

After the silent trudge to her new owner’s house, she sits, head bowed. He stands, clears his voice, and outlines his household rules…
“1. There will be no unfaithfulness – no prostitution, no sleeping around, no sex – purity”. – That’s not a line Gomer has heard for a good few years!
“2. You are going to live here for a long time, – and I will wait for you to love me”.

WHAT!?!? – This is not “the ideal Christian family”! – It is amazing, shocking, tragic and wonderful!
Here is a man, Hosea, who wants pure, faithful love; but can do nothing to ensure it. He wants intimacy not just sex. But you can’t make someone love you. You can’t force faithfulness. His is an extreme vulnerability.
The final twists in the plot, like a tale of the unexpected, are that Hosea is already Gomers’ husband, a believer, who claims he’s done the whole thing “because God told me to!”

You can find the gist of this drama in the book of Hosea. Shockingly God tell this man to “go marry an adulterous woman, and get children … for the whole country has become nothing but a whore, by abandoning God”. Later, after being abandoned, he is instructed to go and find her again…

The Great Grace Drama

History’s greatest drama is God’s fixed and determined desire for an intimate relationship with us.
Playing the part of God in a living drama may well have appealed to Hosea at the audition. It sounds good, until you realise that God compares himself to a deserted husband of an adulterous wife!

If we re-live the story, playing the part of Gomer, we discover a story of grace like no other. Created to be in intimate friendship with God, who has pledged himself to us, we have disgraced ourselves, repeatedly. Uncomplimentary as it is, the story portrays us as unfaithful, prostituting ourselves with other, lesser loves.
Many things in this world make bids for our affections, offering fun, power, satisfaction, comfort and security; and to our shame, we fall for them.

The outrageous “Grace news” is that while we were still “adulterous” Jesus entered the market place to buy us out of slavery and to win our devotion. Christ’s own love was demonstrated by his bidding his own life blood – He used the exact word, “ransom”, the price paid to free a slave, to describe his mission. (Mark 10 v 25)

Accepting his love, he re-clothes and re-homes us and asks us to live in friendship with him. What undeserved love!
There is, in this story and within God’s love, a fierce vulnerability. Determined to love us, under no illusions as to who and what we are, He cannot make us love him, yet longs for closeness with us.
God has never desired sterile religious adherence. He has, shockingly and wonderfully, purposed to overlook our former disloyalty, and deeply longs now for us to “abide with him”. Receive his love, and respond to him with new affection.