A Mixed Up Minister?
What insights does the book of Jonah have for ministers today?
Led by The Revd Tom Stuckey, a former President of the Methodist Church.
Three Funerals and a Wedding Part 3
In the last two editions of METConnexion, we’ve considered two great Biblical themes in our journey through the book of Ruth: providence and grace. The theme of chapter 3 is provision and to guide us through this chapter we have three headings beginning with ‘P’: Provision, Protection and Patience. Some months have passed since the end of chapter 2. Harvesting has finished and winnowing, the process through which the chaff was separated and removed from the grain, has begun. The action moves from the fields to the threshing floor. That was where Boaz was living and sleeping, protecting the harvest from thieves who, after such a long famine, may have been especially tempted to steal the grain.
So let’s turn our attention to our first heading, ‘Provision’, introduced by verse 1, ‘One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to [Ruth], ‘My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?’ As we thought about chapter 2, we considered one of the laws God had given the people of Israel to ensure the poor were cared for, which allowed them to glean in the fields during harvest time. There was another law that ensured widows without a son to care for them were also provided for and the family line was continued. It was the concept of the kinsman-redeemer. We discovered in chapter 2 how delighted Naomi was to hear that Boaz had treated Ruth so kindly, ‘That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers’ (2:20). Deuteronomy 25:5-6 is one of the passages that explain this kinsman-redeemer law: ‘If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfil the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.’ It seems that if there was no brother-in-law, the duty of the kinsman-redeemer fell upon the nearest relative. So, here in chapter 3, Naomi has a plan. She realises that Boaz is able to fulfil this duty of kinsman-redeemer for Ruth, but she needs to find out whether he is willing to do it. So she suggests to Ruth that she goes down at night to the threshing floor where Boaz sleeps, lies down at his feet and then follows his lead. It’s a custom that seems strange to us today and quite possibly seemed strange to Ruth – who was also from a different culture – but was recognised in ancient Israel. Lying at someone’s feet symbolised submission, trust and dependence. Perhaps we ought also to say at this point that, despite what some commentators suggest, there is no suggestion here of sexual immorality. In fact, quite the opposite is true – it is stressed that everything was done with integrity and modesty. So, Boaz was able to be kinsman-redeemer, but was he willing? It is a question that hints at the theme of the next chapter, Redemption, and perhaps it is a question that also reminds us of one of the greatest questions in all the world. There is no doubt that God is able to meet every single need the human race has. The question is, is he willing? You may remember that on one occasion a man with leprosy came to Jesus and said, ‘Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean’ (Mark 1:40). He didn’t doubt Jesus’ ability. What he didn’t know was whether Jesus would be willing. The great message of the Bible is that God is willing to meet our deepest needs. Will Boaz be willing to be kinsman-redeemer for Ruth?
That brings us to the second stage of the story-line in this chapter: protection. Ruth obeys Naomi’s instructions. When Boaz discovers her down at his feet and asks – perhaps with quite an element of surprise – ‘Who are you?’ Ruth replies, ‘I am your servant Ruth … Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman redeemer’ (v9). That meant more than she was cold and wanted some warmth. It has a far deeper meaning. She was asking Boaz to become the one who would protect her through all the joys and sorrows of life by fulfilling the duty of a kinsman-redeemer and marrying her. It’s a wonderful picture of marriage – protection and provision – ‘spread the corner of your garment over me’ and it’s a wonderful picture of our relationship with God. Boaz said to Ruth when he first met her, speaking of all she had done for Naomi, ‘May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge’ (2:12). It is an image that appears time and time again throughout scripture. Psalm 17:8 is just one of many verses: ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings’. Boaz responds to Ruth’s request by praising her for her integrity: ‘The Lord bless you, my daughter … This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor’ (v. 10). She could have married anyone she wanted, but a man who wasn’t a relative would have been under no obligation to care for his new wife’s former mother-in-law. Ruth’s integrity resulted in protection and provision for Naomi as well.
Finally, for chapter 3, patience: Ruth returns home to Naomi with a gift of as much grain as she can carry and Naomi is anxiously waiting to find out how everything went . When she has heard all about it, Naomi tells Ruth she must wait patiently: ‘Then Naomi said, ‘Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens’ (v. 18). Boaz had responded to Ruth’s request by explaining there was a closer relative than him, who had the right to be kinsman-redeemer if he wished, so Boaz must approach him first. Perhaps Boaz had already thought this through. Perhaps he was really hoping that he would be able to marry Ruth. Perhaps the existence of this closer relative was the reason Boaz couldn’t make the first move and Ruth had to take the initiative. For now, Ruth must wait patiently while Boaz approaches this other relative, but Naomi reassures her, ‘Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today’. Ruth must wait, but Boaz will not rest. It’s another wonderful picture of our relationship with God. Sometimes in life we must wait patiently, but we can be sure that the Lord will not rest in his quest to bring about his great and glorious plans for us.
So the chapter concludes with another ‘cliff hanger’ and another hint of hope: ‘Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today’.