This week we’re finishing off Ruth. I’ll start, as usual, by reading the passage:
Ruth 4:13-22 (NIV 📖)
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
This, then, is the family line of Perez:
Perez was the father of Hezron,
Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon,
Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David.
That’s the end of the book of Ruth.
So, what is it this morning that we can learn from this last chapter of Ruth. The ‘so they all lived happily ever after’ ending? Three things happen: each of which I think we can learn from :
- Boaz takes Ruth as his wife
- Naomi receives back that which she lost.
- Ruth becomes an ancestor of Jesus
Boaz takes Ruth as his wife
It might seem odd to make this point again, but (as we have previously noted), Ruth is a Moabitess. She has already once married an Israelite (Mahlon : although not specified in Ruth 1, Ruth 4:10 describes her as Mahlon’s widow). I made the following point when we looked at Ruth 1 a few weeks ago, but it deems repeating: Taking a wife of a foreign religion was forbidden in Israel:
Deuteronomy 7:1-3 says: ‘When the LORD your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the LORD your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons’.
Joshua 23:9-13, likewise, says: ‘The LORD has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day, no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the LORD your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the LORD your God. But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the LORD your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the LORD your God has given you’.
I think the most obvious candidate to look at to show us WHY the Israelites were not to marry foreign wives comes from the description of Solomon in 1 Kings 11:1-2. For all of his legendary wisdom, Solomon’s main weakness was his taking of foreign wives: ‘King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women besides Pharaoh’s daughter—Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians and Hittites. They were from nations about which the LORD had told the Israelites, “You must not intermarry with them, because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods.” Nevertheless, Solomon held fast to them in love’.
The text tells us that in marrying foreign wives, Solomon disobeyed God. It quotes instructions given to Moses by God in Exodus: ‘because they will surely turn your hearts after their gods’.
Given all that, given that Boaz, in taking Ruth as his wife, was (strictly speaking) breaking the law every bit as much as Mahlon was (and Solomon for that matter, though Solomon has yet to arrive on the scene). When he took Ruth as his wife, Mahlon was showing how far from the will of God he had gone. How is it that Boaz, in marrying the SAME woman, doesn’t? How is it that, instead, it shows how righteous He is?
Why is Boaz blessed when he marries Ruth? Why does he seem to be commended by all the people in Bethlehem, for this? The passage itself records the ‘women’ blessing him by saying, “may he become famous in Israel!” (Ruth 4:14)?
How is it that an action by one person may be an indication of sin or distance from God, yet that same action, undertaken by another, is seen as something wholesome and righteous and blessed by God?
The answer, I believe, lies in three places, two of which are inextricably linked:
For that reason, I’ll tackle the first two together, they are relevant to any actions, not just marriage.
- The heart of the one who carries out the action/task.
- The intention/purpose of the action.
In marrying Ruth, Mahlon showed how far he had gone from God. They were married 10 years and were childless. Very unusual, and a cause of real shame in the time. He married Ruth BECAUSE he was far from God.—BUT—Boaz was righteous, his desire and decision to marry Ruth came not from a position of distance from God, but from a place of righteousness. His purpose was to protect Ruth and Naomi and continue Elimelek’s line. They conceived and bore a son (immediately, it seems). We read in the Bible, “children are a blessing from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3). That Ruth and Boaz conceived so quickly was, for the community in which they lived, a clear indication of God’s hand of blessing on their union.
The Bible is clear that our actions come from our hearts. From the Lord saying to Samuel when he looks upon David’s oldest brother Eliab at the house of Jesse: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7); to Jesus saying: “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart” (Luke 6:45); to Revelation which calls us to take to heart the words of God: “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near” (Revelation 1:3). It is the sinful heart that causes us to turn away from God, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). It is in the heart where we find, or reject faith: Romans 10:10 says “it is with your heart that you believe and are justified”. Worship involves drawing near to God with a sincere heart (Hebrews 10:22). In fact, Psalm 24 asks: “Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?” It goes on to tell us that it is “The one who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3,4). God blesses those who are “pure in heart” (Matthew 5:8).
So, a good heart gives good intentions and leads to good actions. A bad heart does not, and will, likely, lead in the opposite direction.
An illustration from church life:
Worship WHY do people lead worship? If the motivation is because the person loves to be up front and be congratulated by people about ‘how good the worship was’, is that good? Or honouring to God? Is it even worship for them? (Well yes, it is, but is it worship of God?)
Giving What is our motivation for giving? To feel good about ourselves? To boast about the amount we give? Jesus says: “Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:1-2).
We may not Physically break the law of God, but Jesus says if you break it in your heart, it’s exactly the same. Take, for example, adultery: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:27-28)
I could go on, but you get the point. Our hearts and our motivations matter more than we would care to admit.
The Third point is about marriage itself and comes from the prohibition about marrying foreigners.
You see, like I’ve said in previous weeks, the point of the prohibition is NOT Xenophobia or ethnic hatred, it is the likelihood (< probability, < certainty) that, as Moses puts it in Exodus 34:16: “when you choose some of their daughters as wives for your sons and those daughters prostitute themselves to their gods, they will lead your sons to do the same.”
It has nothing to do with ethnicity and everything to do with spiritual purity.
There is an aside here for marriage today. Paul talks in 2 Corinthians 6:14 about not being yoked together with unbelievers. The reason isn’t that God doesn’t want us to be happily married, but that inevitably, if we marry an unbeliever, it is they who will draw us away from God, not the other way around. Haggai says the unclean will always defile the clean. That’s not to say sometimes God works and it does happen that someone will bring an unbelieving spouse to God, but it is unusual enough not to risk your faith by starting out that way.
There is no danger of Ruth doing that. There is no danger that Ruth will lead Boaz to worship the Moabite gods. The reason for this is embedded in the story and finds its origin in Ruth 1:16, which records Ruth’s response to Naomi’s urgings for her to stay in Moab:
“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”.
In other words, spiritually, Ruth is not a woman of a foreign religion. She is no longer a Moabitess in the sense that she is not a follower of another god. She has chosen Yahweh as her God, and she will not lead Boaz astray.
When we choose to turn away from our old way of life and our old gods and follow Yahweh, we change. We transfer our allegiance from the world to the Lord. This is the essence of being “born again”. No longer are we bound to the ‘gods’ of the nation we come from (we might have outgrown shrines and altars and suchlike, but the things we chase are ‘gods’ nevertheless). We are now bound to Yahweh, through Christ. Ruth’s life sits in a time before Christ came, but she also bound herself to Yahweh, and is no longer, spiritually speaking, a woman of a foreign religion. For Ruth, the ‘dividing wall of hostility’ as Paul describes it in Ephesians 2:14 has been torn down.
This echoes Galatians 3:28, one of my favourite verses:
“there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”.
There really are only two ‘races’ in the world we should be concerned about today. Summarised in 1 Corinthians 15:22, which says: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive”.
- The race of Adam — that is, those who live according to the values and practices of the world. Those who reject the offer of eternal life through Jesus.
- The race of Christ — that is, those who have accepted the offer and have transferred from Adam’s line to Christ’s.
The question every single one of us must ask ourselves is this: ‘which race do I belong to?’
Naomi receives back that which she lost.
Naomi went to Moab with her husband and her sons. She lost them all, she came back to Bethlehem and had to live initially in poverty. She had nothing, she had no hope and no future. She even says to the town “don’t call me Naomi” (which means ‘pleasant’), “call me Mara” (which means ‘bitter’). She is destitute, not just physically, but also in her heart. At the start of this chapter in her life, she has no hope, ‘bitter’ sees no future. She attributes her misfortune to God: “I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” (Ruth 1:21).
Yet when Ruth conceives and gives birth to a son, the women say to her “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer” (Ruth 4:14). They declare that Ruth is better than seven sons would be to Naomi (Ruth 4:15). Bitter has again become pleasant.
Unlike Job, who lost everything even though he was righteous and upright, Naomi and Elimelek lost everything and were not. I won’t go so far as to suggest they lost it because they were not, but they had showed their distance from God by moving somewhere they shouldn’t go to, and by approving of marriages they shouldn’t approve of. Sometimes we lose things and it’s our own fault, sometimes we lose things through no fault of our own. Either way, we have lost out. Do you feel like you have lost something? Some hope has been dashed, something that you wanted, or wanted to do, and you feel like it’s all your own fault, so you have no one to blame but yourself?
God promises to the people of God: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you.” (Joel 2:25).
Haggai prophesies and describes the experience of the people: “You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it” (Haggai 1:6), why? Because the people were not putting God first. Yet Haggai goes on to declare God’s promise to them: “But now be strong, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD. ‘Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt. And my Spirit remains among you. Do not fear.’
“This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In a little while I will once more shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. I will shake all nations, and what is desired by all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:4-9).
The account of Ruth, and particularly the life of Naomi, should give you encouragement. God can restore to you that which you felt you would never get back. EVEN IF you feel you lost it because of some bad decisions and choices you have made.
Ruth becomes ancestor of Jesus
Ancestry is important in Jewish culture. Remember that the primary reason Boaz marries Ruth is to preserve Eliakim’s family line. But Eliakim is not mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus: Boaz and Ruth both are. As a Moabite, Ruth should not have any part in Israel. Yet she plays a key role in the lineage of David (and, by extension), of Jesus Himself. Biblically, lineages are followed through the male line, Matthew’s gospel concentrates on the men (so-and-so became the father of so-and-so). In total, there are 28 generations and, by implication, 28 fathers in Jesus’ ancestry from Abraham to David to Christ, Matthew names every one of them, but he only mentions 5 mothers: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Uriah’s wife, and Mary. This is the section of Matthew 1 which mentions Ruth:
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David.
David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife (Matthew 1:5,6)
Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus includes:
- Tamar, who had her child by her father-in-law, Judah.
- Rahab is the mother of Boaz: and she was a prostitute in Jericho.
- Ruth is a Moabitess, a woman of a foreign religion.
- Solomon’s mother “had been Uriah’s wife” (Bathsheba, who committed adultery with David, is mentioned, but not by name).
- Manasseh was one of the most evil kings in Israel’s history. His evil deeds are responsible for the exile (Jeremiah 15:4 says of Israel: “I will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh son of Hezekiah, king of Judah did in Jerusalem.”).
Manasseh’s father was Hezekiah, one of the good kings, yet Manasseh “did evil in the eyes of the LORD, following the detestable practices of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites” (2 Kings 21:2). This is a common occurrence in the Old Testament, even Solomon, we are told that “Solomon did evil in the eyes of the LORD; he did not follow the LORD completely, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:6). My point here, particularly if you are a believer and have children who are not following the Lord despite your best efforts to bring them up in the faith, is that our children will make their own choices, and we cannot, we must not, take on more guilt about that than we should. Remember, Adam and Eve had the best and most perfect father (God Himself), and they went their own way, not His. The flip side of that is we should beware of getting too proud about their faith. Our children don’t come to faith in a vacuum, they don’t become Christians by accident, but there comes a point where they must choose the faith for themselves. If they make the wrong choice, that’s down to them, not you.
Back to talking about ancestry:
The Catholics venerate Mary. If I understand Catholic doctrine correctly, they teach that Mary was not just a virgin, they believe and teach that she was without sin. They venerate her in a way we protestants don’t. I am not going to dive down a rabbit hole about Mary (except, perhaps, to say I personally don’t believe she was without sin—because I believe, excepting Jesus Himself, Romans 3:23 says,“ALL (not some) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”), but I do want to note that not one of the people in the lineage of Jesus was perfect (none of us are). Some of them engaged in some particularly egregious things, yet they were still included in the lineage of Jesus.
You may feel there is something in your life, or in your lineage, which somehow disqualifies you from being used by God. We are all very sensitive to that idea.
I think the one I hear most about is freemasonry. Any HINT at all of it, and Christians seem to collapse into a frenzy of breaking curses and all sorts of things which they might be under the influence of. Don’t misunderstand me, freemasonry is something which runs contrary to the teachings and beliefs of Biblical Christianity and its influences must not be underestimated and must be dealt with. I am not belittling the importance or significance of ensuring that such things in our past don’t affect us, but we must understand that Jesus IN us by His Holy Spirit is far greater than anything else.
John writes: “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4).
We walk a fine line between recklessly disregarding all ancestral influences we have and thereby allowing ourselves to be vulnerable to them, and being so preoccupied with them to the degree that it hamstrings us from living in the freedom that Jesus died to bring us.
The point I want to make is this one:
There is nothing in our background, our history, or in our family line, which will prevent God from using us in His plan—sometimes it is the very things we disqualify us which God uses for His glory. All we have to do is to make ourselves available to Him and He will do the rest. He will use us (to quote Oliver Cromwell) ‘warts and all’.