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I love superheroes.
On the count of three, I want everyone to say the name of your favorite superhero. Got it? One. Two. Three.
The truth is that we like heroes of all kinds;
The super ones, and the real ones. I had a conversation with some of our high school students on Wednesday night about heros. We listed the things that heroes do. When you boil it all down, a hero does what? “Here I come to ______?” Save the day. right.
There are heros of all kinds in real life.
We have sports heroes that save a team from being losers. We have soldiers and firefighters and doctors that put their own lives at risk to save people from danger. We have political heroes that save large groups of people from poverty and oppression.
One of the things that I really like is when there is a story that tells about the background of a hero.
I got really addicted to a show called Smallville that told the story of Superman from the time he was a freshman in high school and went for ten years. Maybe you like to watch shows on the History channel that tell the story of a great politician, or artist.
I bring this up because today we come to the final sermon in our short series on Ruth.
As I read chapters three and four this week, something really struck me. Ruth is a hero back story. The real point of this story is found at the very end. Look at chapter four verse seventeen says,
“A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The story of Ruth is really the back story of one of the greatest heroes of Israel: King David.
Here’s what I want to do.
[level-free]I’m going to tell this story in two ways. First, I’m going to tell it like this, backward and forward. Second, I’m going to tell it like this, Big, little, big. Do that with me…backward and forward. big, little, big.
Whenever you look at a story in the Bible you need to keep in mind that there are several stories around the story itself.
Look at this timeline.
Around 500 B.C. the nation of Israel was trying to rebuild itself. They had been beaten badly by the Babylonian Empire and taken into captivity. 70 years later the Persian empire allowed them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple and the city. They were licking their wounds and trying to figure out who they were, what had gone wrong, and where God was in all of it.
They decided that it was time to compile all of their stories and documents and put it into one book. That is when the Hebrew Scriptures were formed into the way we know them know. As they are doing this, they are thinking through their national history and trying to remember a time when things were better and when it seemed like they were in step with God’s promises.
Looking back there were two big heroes.
The first was Moses.
Moses saved the people from slavery in Egypt and gave them the Law. He led them to the promised land and then handed it over to Joshua.
The people settled into the land and then the twelve tribes turned to idolatry and fought with each other. Do you remember how bad things got at the end of the book of Judges. “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” The people kept getting enslaved by their neighboring countries and it was a mess.
Then came our second hero, David.
David was the man that unified the twelve tribes into one nation and drove out the idols and got people to focus on worshipping the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Moses and David.
They were heroes. They rescued the people.
The hebrew word for this is Messiah.
It means one who delivers. The anointed one of God.
So, here we are in 500B.C. and the people are looking back at David and saying, we need a hero like David?
Some people, however, weren’t so convinced that David is the hero that others think he is. So, it was very important that everyone knew who David really was, and the kind of stock from which he came.
That’s where Ruth’s story comes into play.
Ruth is the hero back-story for David.
See how I’ve gone big, to smaller, and now I’m going to zoom in on the story of Ruth. Within this bigger context, let’s look at the actual story of Ruth, and then zoom back out and see how it fits into the bigger story.
We’ve spent two weeks looking at Ruth.
We know that she is a foreigner, from Moab. She is widow and her mother-in-law, Naomi, is a bitter woman who feels that God has abandoned her because her husband and sons are dead. Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem, where Ruth starts to glean in the fields of Boaz. Boaz is a relative of Naomi, thus an in-law of Ruth’s. Ruth works in the fields and gleans the leftovers that Boaz has graciously left for the poor and the aliens.
That’s what we know so far.
Today, I did not ask the reader to read all of chapter 3 and 4, because it is just too long to read, so let me tell you the story really quick.
Naomi has a plan. She tells Ruth to put on nice clothes and make herself look and smell good. After Boaz has gone to bed, sneak into his room, climb in bed with him, and he’ll tell you what to do. [awkward silence]
So, Ruth’s like, OK.
She gets in bed with Boaz. He rolls over and, “Whoa! There’s a woman in my bed!”
He asks what she’s doing there.
Look what she says in verse 9.
“spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.”
This doesn’t make any sense to us, so let me tell you what this meant in that culture.
There are two important things here.
First, the phrase “spread your cloak over your servant” meant to marry someone. We have to remember that this was a male dominated society. If a woman was going to survive, she needed the protection and support of a man. When a man threw his cloak over her, she was under his protection through marriage.
Do you see what she just did? She proposed to Boaz. You go, girl. That was a bold move for a foreign woman.
Now, the second thing is even more important.
She told him why he should marry her. She looks at him and said,
“because you are the go’el”
Our english says “you are the next-of-kin” but that is translating the one word, go’el.
This is an incredibly important concept and is completely foreign to our culture.
In that society, the clan and the tribal structure was the most important thing. If someone in your clan was in trouble, and you had the money and power to help them, then it was your responsibility to rescue them from whatever that trouble might be.
For example, Leviticus 25:25 said,
“If anyone of your kin falls into difficulty and sells a piece of property, then the next of kin shall come and redeem what the relative has sold”
In other words, if your kinsman is in financial trouble, it is your obligation as the go’el, the kinsman, to rescue him.
In the case of a widow, it is the go’el’s responsibility to marry the widow so that she can provide a son to carry on the family blood line.
Boaz was flattered and impressed by this bold, foreign woman.
She had no obligation to play the go’el card on Boaz. She was a young, foreign woman who could have easily gone home and left Naomi childless and in shame. Instead, she throws herself at Boaz and proposes to him.
Again, Boaz is flattered, but he is a man of integrity and realizes that there is someone closer to Ruth in the clan who would be first in line to marry her.
The next day he goes to the town gate and makes the man a proposal. This is a funny story. He says, “hey, would you like Elimilech’s land?” They guy said, “Yes, of course.” Then Boaz said, “you have to marry Ruth first.”
So, he gives Boaz his sandal, apparently that’s how they sealed deals in those days, and Boaz is free to marry Ruth.
This is a story of faithfulness and redemption.
- Boaz was Faithful to his role of redemption.
- Boaz was Generous to the foreigner.
- Ruth was generously faithful to Naomi.
- Ruth was willing to admit need and ask.
We began this journey in Ruth with famine, barrenness, and bitterness.
Now, through faithfulness and generosity we see that there is life. Even to the point where Naomi’s breasts produce milk and she can be the nurse for the child Obed.
Out of death, there is life. Out of hopelessness, there is redemption. In faithfulness, there is salvation.
That’s the small picture.
Zoom back out, and come forward again.
Obed, the child of faithfulness is the father of Jesse. Jesse is the father of David. David is the son of faithfulness and the Messiah of the people.
In other words, our hero comes from good seed.
Zoom out further.
It is 500B.C. The city is in ruins. All seems lost. The people need another David. They need a Messiah.
500 years later Jesus is born. He is the descendent of Ruth.
Then look how the apostle Paul put this all together in Acts 13, when he was talking to a group of Jewish people.
“he made David their king. In his testimony about him he said, ‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart, who will carry out all my wishes.’ 23 Of this man’s posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised…
36 For David, after he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, died, was laid beside his ancestors, and experienced corruption; 37 but he whom God raised up experienced no corruption. 38 Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 39 by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.”
Jesus is our go’el.
We are lost in our sin and selfishness. We are without hope and in need of a savior.
Here’s the so what for us today.
We need to take our cues from Ruth. She was bold. She knew that Boaz was her go’el, and that he could rescue her, and she was not afraid to ask.
Jesus reminded us of this simple truth in our gospel reading. In Matthew 7:7-8 he said,
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.”
He wasn’t talking about money, or power, or toys. He was talking about redemption.
God is faithful. Jesus is our go’el. Our redeemer. Let me ask you a simple question. Have you asked, today?
Here is the plight of the suburban Christian.
We come to church every week and we agree in our words that Jesus is our savior. We say the prayers. We listen to the scripture. We sing the songs. We take communion. But then, as soon as we get out of those doors, we live our lives like it’s up to us to save ourselves.
Have you asked Jesus to save you today?
Salvation is not a one-time transaction that happened.
It is a way of life.
We need Jesus, and it is only when we acknowledge that and die to our own strength, that the Holy Spirit can work with us and through us to bring life to the world.
Ruth needed Boaz and she asked for help. They were faithful to each other and they gave birth to the hero.
May we call on that hero and live in that hope today.[/level-free]