Ruth, chapter 4: New Life

Ruth 4: New Life

HutchinsonSignWhere do big, legal decisions happen in Hutchinson? I suppose they happen in court rooms and in lawyer’s offices. Today, however, we find ourselves at the city gate, along with Boaz and his unnamed uncle, the guy who is next in line to marry Ruth. This is the place – the city gate – where legal decisions were made. Out in the open air.

What’s being chewed on is called the levirate law that states when a woman is widowed, the for_sale02brothers of the deceased step forward to marry her, to preserve and build up their family name and to take care of the widow. So it was a matter of both family honor and the woman’s survival.

Boaz was not related directly to Ruth. Boaz’s father was the brother of Elimelech, Naomi’s deceased husband. The other brother is the unnamed man in this story – he’s the one who is technically first in line to marry Ruth before Boaz and so Boaz is dutifully following the law that is laid out in Deuteronomy 25, for those of you curious enough to look it up.

And what transpires is awesome. It’s hilarious, really. At first blush, it sounds like a simple land deal. Boaz says, Your sister-in-law is selling land that belonged to your brother. You have first dibs. Pretty straight forward deal, right? Oh, and by the way, behind door #2 is the foreign woman that comes along with the land. Did I mention that? That you’ll marry her?

Ruth-and-BoazWho knows what he would have said about the land deal. But this, “oh, by the way” addition seems to be the deal breaker. That the brother remains unnamed is not a mistake: he refuses the land and the transfer of inheritance and the marriage to Ruth. He will not help carry on the family name and reputation with Ruth, so he remains unnamed. So we see that the character of Boaz has been tried and is true. And the community gathered there at Bethlehem’s city gate bless him, even using God’s name to do so, which is something important to note in this book where God is active but not largely unnamed.

The community also invokes the names of both place and people. The family name and the place they were from were extremely important and are seen as big elements of God’s blessing.

31118_000_026_12The story gallops along now. They are married and, for only the 2nd or 3rd time in this entire story, God is explicitly named as blessing them with a son, the equivalent of winning the 1st century lottery. And it is the women of the town who call a thing a thing: they bless God and point to God as the source of faithfulness for Ruth and Naomi’s future. It’s the women who name the blessing that is Ruth and highlight for Naomi that Ruth has been a bigger blessing than even 7 sons could have brought her. They point to Ruth’s faithfulness and selflessness in her loyalty to her mother-in-law.

 

 

 

ruth_storyCan we take a step back for a minute? This is a book named after a woman. Of the 66 books in the Bible, 2 are named after women, the other being Esther, which is also an incredible story. Ruth is a book that dependent on two women to. There would be no story without them. Women play key roles in many other stories in the Bible, especially in the ministry of Jesus, but the Bible largely features men to tell its story and is credited to men as its authors. So let’s just take a moment and recognize that we have given 4 weeks of faithful attention to a book named after a woman and maybe even written by a woman.

Now, what’s it all been for anyway? What, finally, is the book of Ruth about?

deargodI think this book reflects our lives. This story is told and hardly mentions God, yet God is active throughout it. It is God’s faithfulness that is present from famine and death to harvest and new life. Just think how God is faithful to you in your job, at school, in your relationships with your friends and your spouse. Through the good and the bad, God is there, just as God was with Ruth and Naomi in their despair and in their joy. Yet, how often do you name God in the daily routine that is your life? Maybe you thank God each and every day. Maybe you see God active in your life constantly. Or maybe this is news to you. Such is the story of Ruth. It is extraordinary. And it is the stuff of every day life.

What is the book of Ruth about?

It’s about God’s faithfulness to us in good times and in bad. It’s about risk-taking and survival. It’s about living your life and God being an active part of it. It’s about family. But it’s not just about carrying on the Johnson or the Tillmann or the Krommenhoek name, right? It’s about a much bigger family.

alice_family_treeDo you see how the book of Ruth ends? It ends with one of those boring old lineages. A list of who came from whom. Maybe you have a family tree listed somewhere. Maybe you can name your relatives back to who stumbled off the boat into this country.

Throughout scripture, who you came from was important. There were laws about who got to do what depending upon your ancestry. These genealogies point not only to historical truth but to the truth about who we are. Obed, Ruth and Boaz’s son, is mentioned in the genealogy at the end of Ruth. Obed goes on to be the father of Jesse who becomes the father of David — King David. And if you go to the end of the line of King David’s family tree, who do we find but Jesus.

So I flipped to the genealogy in the 1st chapter of Matthew which starts all the way back with Abraham. And low and behold, who do you find in that boring ‘ol list of names? Ruth. Ruth is mentioned in the run up to Jesus. Our Ruth – the widow who pledged her loyalty to Naomi, gave up her citizenship to become a foreigner and then proposed to and married a Jew. And do you know what else I learned? Boaz’ mother also makes the list. His dad was Salmon and his mom was Rahab who was the epitome of outsider: not only was she not an Israelite but she harbored the enemy who sought to destroy the very city she lived in. Oh, and she was also a prostitute.

There is nothing in Ruth that explicitly says, “and because Boaz was born to an outsider, he too married an outsider.” But isn’t it interesting to see who is counted in the connection to Jesus? I don’t think it’s a coincidence or an accident that more than one outsider is mentioned in the family tree of Jesus. God redefines family and Naomi and Ruth are part of that redefinition.

Now, we too are in this great family, never to be erased or forgotten in the lineage to Jesus. We are rabblerousers and trouble makers and God-leavers all of us. And God is loyal to us to a fault; faithful to us without fail. Finally, that’s what the book of Ruth is all about.

Thanks be to God.

Amen

 

 

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