The relationship between Ruth and Boaz has developed and grown. Initially, Boaz noticed Ruth, found out who she was and took steps to protect her. He recognises her character in looking after her mother-in-law, and shows her kindness even though she is a foreigner. In the threshing floor, he says he has been told about her reputation, and he recognises and acknowledges the kindness she has shown him by not chasing after young and rich men (he says so in Ruth 2:11). They talk again, and for a second time, Boaz gives Ruth provisions to take home to Naomi after their encounter. (The first was the surplus of the meal she was given in the field, the second was the barley he gave her on the threshing floor).
Ruth has asked Boaz to step in as kinsman redeemer (which includes taking her as his wife). In order to do this, there are some customs and laws he must comply with. Boaz must go to the City Gate to settle the matter.
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I am going to make some comments about things which have struck me as I’ve read, and studied this week. Some have more ‘depth’ than others!
Boaz follows legal and social protocols
He goes to the City gate.
The city gate had real significance in Israel. The first mention of one is found in Genesis 19:1. It was at the gate of Sodom that Abraham’s nephew, Lot, greeted the angelic visitors to his city. Lot was there with other leading men of the city, either discussing the day’s issues or engaging in important civic business. As Israel combatted the Philistines, the priest Eli waited at the city gate for news regarding the ark and to hear how his sons fared in the battle (1 Samuel 4:18). The city gate was the place where important legal business was transacted. For example, in the Law of Moses, parents of a rebellious son were told to bring him to the city gate, where the elders would examine the evidence and pass judgment (Deuteronomy 21:18-21). Amos 5:12 mentions the city gate in the context of taking bribes and denying justice: ‘For I know how many are your transgressions and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and turn aside the needy in the gate’. So, it seems like the city gate was the equivalent of the town square, it was the centre of community life, of commerce, law and news.
So it must be to the city Gate that Boaz must officially claim the position of kinsman-redeemer by meeting with the city elders at the gate of Bethlehem.
There is, however, a fly in the ointment, Boaz does not have the legal right of redemption. There is a closer relative whose claim takes priority. Boaz follows the law and customs of the day by presenting the inheritance to the other man (whose name we don’t know) and giving him what we would call ‘first dibs’. The man turns down his right of redemption for Boaz. We’ll look at why and what we can learn from that in a moment.
Firstly, I want to think a little about the relationship between us and the culture we live in. Unlike those who do not believe, as Christians here in the UK, we have two sets of law or protocols and customs which we must consider.
- The laws and customs of the UK
- The laws of God.
Before we became Christians, the culture we lived in, its laws and its customs were the only standards we lived by. When we became Christians, our citizenship was transferred. Spiritually we are ‘born again’ and we have become a new nation, a redeemed people, and our primary allegiance is now to God. However, we still live physically amongst people who are not citizens of heaven. In many cases, they are enemies of God. But we must still live amongst them.
So, the first ‘rule’ we must follow (which is probably offensive to modern sensibilities) is this one: Our allegiance to God trumps any worldly allegiances we might also feel. It is not for no reason that Paul writes in Galatians 3:28-29 that, ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise’. This means, your allegiance and concern for your fellow Christian must and should take priority over any other characteristic you share with anyone else (you are a Christian BEFORE you are a man or a woman, you are a Christian BEFORE your nationality, before your ethnicity, before your social, economic or political position). If you add any identifier to your Christianity, you are completely missing the point of what becoming a Christian is all about. So:
- If our culture or our laws forbid any action which God commands, or
- If it commands on which God forbids,
Then we have an obligation to give priority to God’s law not man’s.
To misquote St Athanasius of Alexandria: ‘if the world is against God, then I am against the world’ (the real quote is about truth, not the world).
Secondly, we must be able to understand and differentiate between the various ‘laws’ we find in the Bible. Some people, if they want to be antagonistic will pull some obscure levitical ‘law’ which we don’t follow to suggest we pick and choose which we follow and which we don’t. For example: why DO biblical Christians think it’s ok to wear garments of blended threads, or eat food which is deemed to be unclean, but say that a homosexual lifestyle is sinful? Note these are not questions, they are accusations.
In answer to this accusation. In the Bible we see three types of law:
- Ceremonial/Sacrificial laws
- Civil Laws
- Moral Laws
The Ceremonial/Sacrificial laws are those which the people of God followed to make themselves clean before a holy God. They include things like the laws mentioned above, which are to remind them that they are different to the people around them, and to ensure they kept ceremonially clean. Their main purpose was to provide a way they could atone for their sins, So they included all the sacrificial requirements which were designed to do just that. When we say that Jesus came to fulfil the law, it is primarily this law which he fulfils.
The Civil laws were intended to create and maintain a societal structure in which the people of God could live peacefully. They established a society which was distinctive from the nations around them. Sometimes you will find in the pentateuch (the books of the law), God saying ‘you must not be like the other nations’. For example, Leviticus 18:2-5 says:“Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD”.
The Moral laws are those which have universal application. They are such things as ‘don’t murder’ or ‘don’t commit adultery’. These are, by and large, commended and reinforced in the New Testament. Jesus sometimes raises them to a higher level (e.g. being angry is as wrong as committing murder : “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
So, our basic rule is : the sacrificial/ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Christ. The civil laws applied to Israel and not to us. The moral law is, however, still relevant. When we look at the laws in the Bible we must ask the question, what category does the ‘law’ fit into—before we determine whether it is binding on us.
The long and short of it is that there are lots of laws and customs in our society which are neither commanded, nor forbidden. So, we may use other criteria as to whether or not we follow them. For the most part, this will probably mean following them. the only laws and customs we should adhere to and comply with are those which do not go against God’s laws.
Finally, to this point, when dealing with people in circumstances where the law itself is not an issue, we would do well to try, as far as is possible, to comply with societal protocols. We are not ‘OF’ the world, but that doesn’t mean we should go out of our way to alienate people.
This is a real echo of Paul who writes in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22: ‘To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some’.
Jesus also laid aside his majesty – we sang it earlier in the worship.
Philippians says this of Jesus: that although he was in his very nature, God. He became a man like us. He identified with us. The NIV says it like this: ‘Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness’ (Philippians 2:6).
Hebrews 4:15 says he suffered the same troubles and temptations we do: ‘for we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are —yet he did not sin’.
The Kinsman refuses his right to redeem.
Nowadays everyone it seems is making a very strong and very vocal assertion of their rights. Everything is a right, and nearly every pressure group we have has been created to defend and protect someone’s right:
- Disabled rights
- Gay rights
- Transgender rights
- Women’s rights
- Human rights
The thing is this — concentrating all our efforts and thought only on our rights is unbalanced. People not only have rights they can exercise, they also have responsibilities they must discharge. The same was true in biblical times. When people in the Bible had rights, they also had responsibilities.
The exchange between Boaz and the kinsman-redeemer is real example of this two-pronged fork. The kinsman wasn’t just entitled to the Naomi’s son’s property and assets, he also had the duty of all of his responsibilities. INCLUDING that of fathering children to maintain his family line.
This is written in the law of Moses. So, for example we read in Deuteronomy 25 that if a man dies and he has no son, then ‘the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel’ (Deuteronomy 25:5,6).
When Boaz goes to the kinsman redeemer, he makes sure not only to say about the property and possessions, he also takes care to point out his responsibilities. It is for this reason that the closer redeemer passes over his rights—he doesn’t want the responsibilities which go with them. Particularly he doesn’t want to take Ruth.
Ruth 4:6: ‘Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”’
I sometimes think that if as a society we were to attach (or perhaps recognise) responsibilities that go along with rights, we would be more focused on them. Then quite probably, people would be much happier and our society would have far less conflict in it.
Importance of witnesses
Even nowadays, witnesses are required for
- Legal agreements
To name just three. Witnesses are exceptionally important. They were important in biblical times as well. Deuteronomy 17:6-7 for example, gives witnesses the power of life an death: ‘on the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness. The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death’. This is not the only place where witnesses are mentioned. Another is here:
The 10 commandments forbids falsehood in witness: ‘You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour’ (Exodus 20:16). In fact being a false witness does not only break the 9th commandment, it is also mentioned in Deuteronomy 19, where we read: ‘One witness is not enough to convict anyone accused of any crime or offence they may have committed. A matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If a malicious witness takes the stand to accuse someone of a crime, the two people involved in the dispute must stand in the presence of the LORD before the priests and the judges who are in office at the time. The judges must make a thorough investigation, and if the witness proves to be a liar, giving false testimony against a fellow Israelite, then do to the false witness as that witness intended to do to the other party. You must purge the evil from among you’ (Deuteronomy 19:15-19).
In the New Testament, Jesus says to the pharisees: ‘You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me’ (John 8:15-18).
So Witnesses establish the truth of a matter. In commerce, the witness establishes the legality of the transaction, in a trial, the witnesses (note that one witness in Biblical times was not enough to establish the truth in a trial). Being a witness to the resurrection of Jesus was one of the requirements for the one who was to be chosen as a replacement for Judas.
1 John says ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you’.
We talk about our witness, we see the word as being interchangeable with testimony and even call evangelism ‘witness’. In truth, the only ‘witness’ we can ;legitimately bring is about what Christ has done for US. We cannot, by definition be witnesses to something we read about in the Bible, or even that which we hear about. We can only testify to what He has done for us.
What we can do though is this (from 1 Peter 3:15) : be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have. We witness to what God has done for us, we declare the truth of the gospel and WHY we believe it, and we leave the results to God. We are NOT responsible for whether or not people believe or even listen to us.
Hebrew 12:1,2 describes us as being surrounded by a cloud of witnesses (interestingly, the word translated ‘witness’ in Hebrews is the root of the word martyr). The significance of this is that those witnesses show our faith to be true! Remember, two witnesses settle a matter, we don’t have two, we have a crowd!!
Boaz ‘PURCHASES’ Ruth!
In acting as kinsman redeemer, Boaz not only acquires possessions and property, he also purchases Ruth herself! That thought is very offensive to our modern ears. It screams of patriarchy, slavery, and the subjugation of women. Culturally, though, this custom provided protection for widows, we have to remember that in the time of Ruth, there was no social security network to provide for her.
We looked at that when we talked about gleaning a couple of weeks ago.
Inheriting nowadays means we get stuff. In the ancient Near East, you didn’t just inherit possessions, you inherited responsibilities as well. The thing is that the kinsman who had a better ‘claim’ to the estate of Ruth’s husband wasn’t willing to take on board the responsibility for marrying and providing for Ruth as well.
This custom is mentioned in the New Testament as well. The Sadducees came and asked a question of Jesus: ‘The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question, saying, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for his brother.’ Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother. So too the second and third, down to the seventh. After them all, the woman died. In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her.”’ (Matthew 22:23-28).
The custom has its roots in the Law. In fact it wasn’t as much a custom as an obligation:
“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’ (Deuteronomy 25:5-10)
As Boaz purchased Ruth, Christ purchased us.
Paul says we were bought with a price, in fact he says it twice, in 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20, and in 1 Corinthians 7:23, on both occasions He is referencing the custom of buying freedom for slaves. The cost of this redemption was nothing less than the blood of Jesus himself:
Revelation 5:9 says that the four living creatures and the 24 elders sang a new song:
‘they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
We cannot ever forget our value to God. You are SO valuable to God that He willingly paid the price for your redemption from sin.
You were a slave to sin, you could not free yourself, so you needed a redeemer. The price was so high that only God himself could pay it. Jesus Himself tells Nicodemus ‘for God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him’ (John 3:16-17).
Last thing to say this morning is
Don’t EVER believe the lie that God doesn’t love you and that He is indifferent to your situation. He paid the ultimate price for your freedom—for your freedom for all eternity!