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Mercies In The Shadows

Providence In Waiting

Rev. Philip Miller | August 23, 2020

Selected highlights from this sermon

Sometimes doing the right thing is the very last thing you feel like doing. When the pressure is on, we discover the kind of character that we have—we discover who we are. Looking again at the story of Ruth, Pastor Miller shows us four bold moves of obedience that changed the trajectory of the story. Obedience to God, doing things the right way, is the only way to get the blessings of the Lord.

Sometimes doing the right thing is the very last thing we feel like doing. Anyone can do the right thing when there’s no pressure, but to do the right thing when the pressure is on, that takes character, doesn’t it? And it’s when there’s pressure that we discover the kind of character that we have. It’s when we discover who we are.

And last week we saw with Naomi and Ruth that the pressure is getting to them. After two months of waiting and waiting, waiting for God to move, waiting for Boaz to do something, nothing has materialized. And Boaz is their hope. He’s their goel. Right?

This concept in ancient Israel, the goel, was the redeemer. He was the one who in levirate marriage could be their rescuer. Just to remind us what levirate marriage is all about, you know, if a man died and left his widow without an heir it was the responsibility of the deceased man’s brother (if he was unmarried) to go ahead and marry the widow and provide an heir so that the clan would stay intact. There would be someone to inherit the property and keep the social structures in place. It was like a social security net in those days. And if there was no brother available then it fell to the rest of the clan, to the rest of the relatives to find a way to redeem, to support the widow. And nobody was obligated to do it, but someone could volunteer, and that person was called the goel, the redeemer. And Boaz is one such eligible receiver who could provide this service. And as Ruth is out in the fields day after day Boaz has been extremely kind and generous, but nothing romantic has materialized here.

And as we saw last week, Naomi has grown desperate, and she’s starting to grab and control and manipulate, take things into her own hands, and she concocts a scheme. She’s tired of waiting on God. She’s going to get redemption no matter what it takes. And Naomi decides that what it’s going to take is that Ruth is going to have to go back to her Moabite ways. Moabite women were infamous for being promiscuous, and Israelite men were known for being particularly enamored with them. And so Naomi sends Ruth out into the field to get Boaz the Moabite way. And so she tells her to bathe and perfume herself, and put on her most attractive clothing and proposition Boaz when he’s happy from the wine and under the cover of darkness on the threshing floor in the middle of the night. And as we saw last week, friends, this is not a good plan. We would never advise our daughters to go about getting a husband this way, would we? This is not the way that God intends. In fact, it has scandal written all over it.

And I know some of that, just hearing it, bothers some of us, because Naomi and Ruth have become to us such heroes of the faith. We admire them for their strength and their courage, and how this redemptive story points ultimately to Jesus, our true kinsman redeemer, the one who has ransomed and redeemed all of us, and to learn of a shadow side of this story somehow makes these characters seem less heroic, less honorable, less holy. And I know for some of us it kind of feels like the whole book of Ruth is ruined to learn about these scandals here.

But let me see if I can redeem this a little bit for us today because this sordid tale is about to turn incredibly splendid, and it’s going to take place as there are four bold moves of obedience that the characters engage in in this story that ultimately changed the trajectory of this tale. It looks like it’s going to make a turn to the bad, and it’s going to be full of disobedience and not good things, and all of a sudden it’s going to make a course correction. It’s going to make a turn toward goodness and obedience and righteousness today because in a moment of greatest pressure, (Listen to me) in a moment of greatest pressure Ruth and Boaz and Naomi turn and do the right thing. This is where character is forged.

And so today, if I were going to summarize what we’re going to say today, I would just put it in this phrase. Do the right thing, even when it’s tough. Do the right thing, even when it’s tough.

Grab your Bibles wherever you are. If you will open up to Ruth, chapter 3, with me, we’re going to be looking, (Focus on this Sunday) we’re going to work on verses 8 through 18, but I want to read the first verses just to remember the context of where we’ve been. But before we do that would you bow your heads? Let’s pray together.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Word, how it challenges us and pushes us to be obedient and faithful to you, how it shows you to be a faithful God who is for us and with us, and that you are sovereign over us. Help us to trust you with our days. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen. Amen.

Ruth chapter 3! Let me begin here in verse 1: “Then Naomi her (That’s Ruth’s) mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.”

Just remember that line for a second. “He will tell you what to do.” It’s going to be very important.

“And she replied, ‘All that you say I will do.’ So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.’”

Thanks be to the Lord for the reading of His Word.

Now, there, just for a moment, did you see it? Did you see the first act of bold obedience? Did you see it? Let me see if I can show it to you. Do you realize here Ruth calls an audible? She deviates from the plan. Naomi told her to go lay down by Boaz, “and he will tell you what to do.” Right? In other words, let Boaz drive the interaction. He’s going to make a request. You do whatever he asks. Okay? But Ruth here, to use a very 2020 term, pivots. Right? She makes a change of plans here, and she will not allow herself to be used. As soon as Boaz turns over and realizes she’s there she says, “Marry me. Spread your wings over me.” This is covenant language. “Redeem me, and redeem Naomi, for you are a goel. Spread your wings over your servant.”

This is covenant language. You’ll remember that Boaz used the language in blessing Ruth and said that the Lord had spread His wings over her. She had taken refuge under the wings of the Almighty. This is the covenant keeping love of God, this imagery. And it was also used of husbands who in covenant keeping love were covering over their brides and families in protection. And in using this language, Ruth is taking charge of the situation. Yes, she is making herself available to him, but only because she’s asking for his hand in marriage. She’s not asking for a one-night stand here. She’s not asking for a baby daddy. She’s asking for marriage. This is a proposal. And she adds, “for you are a redeemer, a goel.” Boaz knows exactly what she’s asking for. She’s asking for him to marry her. She’s asking for him to father an heir to be named after Elimelech’s line, so that his family may go on and Naomi’s future may be secure.

Now basically this is how levirate marriage would work in this situation, and we know this from chapter 4. We’re going to get there next week. But as the goel, Boaz first marries Ruth, then he’s required to purchase all of Elimelech’s assets that belonged to Naomi, to purchase those assets and pay Naomi a lump sum payment so that she has equity and she has income, and she has something to live on. Boaz then farms this land until the heir, Ruth and Boaz’s child (the son that is born eventually we’re hoping) is of age. And as soon as he is of age the land goes straight to that child with no payment back to Boaz. So this is extremely expensive, costly. In other words, Boaz is required to make an investment in land that he will eventually gift back to Elimelech’s heir. And so it is a purchase and then donation.

It’s a huge “ask,” what Ruth is asking Boaz to do here. He could easily say no. But here’s the first bold obedience. It is that Ruth does the right things in asking Boaz for marriage, even when it raised the stakes of being rejected. Ruth does the right thing in asking Boaz for marriage, even when it raised the stakes of being rejected. It would have been so much easier (Don’t you see this?) for Ruth to sort of lure Boaz in, sort of string him along and then add this in later and ask him for it later, but she’s upfront about it. She says, “I am available to you, but only if you are willing to marry me and redeem Naomi.”

Now, what made Ruth change course here? We don’t know for sure, but here’s my theory. She went out into the field with one plan and then she pivots. She makes a choice to change here. I suspect that when she’s in the field seeing the big heap of grain, she’s thinking about the last two months of her life. You know, she’s only been in Israel life for two months. Right? And she’s contrasting her former Moabite ways with the last two months and what she’s seen of the covenant-keeping faithfulness of God, the generosity and kindness of God mediated through Boaz. And I think she just starts to realize, “If I do things the way I used to do them in Moab, I’m going to keep getting those kinds of results: death, devastation, hopelessness. But if I choose to live into my new identity, into my new covenant position as one of the people of God, if I do the right thing here, the outcomes will be very different.” She realizes, “I can’t do this the Moabite way. I have to do this God’s way.” It’s a major change.

Now, verse 10. Look at this. “And he (This is Boaz) said, ‘May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.’”

So he blesses her here in the name of the Lord, which I think is significant. Boaz is invoking the presence of God. He’s right there with them. He sees all, knows all. He is right there with them. This is a move toward obedience. First, he invites the presence of the Lord. The second thing he does here is he calls Ruth, “my daughter,” not once, but twice. Do you realize what he’s doing here? He’s defining their relationship. This is not the language of lovers. This is the language of care and protection of a guardian. He says, “I will do all that you ask. I will marry you. I will father a child. I will do all the things that are necessary here, but not here, not now, not tonight.” And this second bold move of obedience is that Boaz does the right thing in honoring Ruth as a daughter, even when temptation was so readily available.

Boaz does the right thing in honoring Ruth as a daughter, even when temptation was so readily available. He says, “We’re going to do this the right way,” because this is what Boaz knew, that doing things the right way was the only way to get the blessing of the Lord. Do you realize what self-mastery this must have required? What character? We’re reminded that he is a chayil gibbor. Right? He is a mighty man of valor, a righteous man, honorable, upstanding and good.

And notice how he praises her here. “You have made this last kindness greater than the first.” Well, what are the two kindnesses here? Well, the first is her offer of herself to him. “Here I am available to you.” That’s very kind, but the second kindness is in her request for marriage and redemption. Boaz realizes exactly why Ruth has picked him of all people. She could have gone after anyone, any of the young strapping men who have been working side by side in the fields over the last couple of months. Any one of them would have been happy to be married to Ruth, but she picked Boaz for Naomi’s sake (Do you realize this?) because Naomi needed redemption.

The person in the story who needs redemption is Naomi. It’s Naomi’s husband who’s died and not left an heir for her. She’s too old to have children though, and this poses a problem because there’s no point in marrying Naomi, but Ruth, listen, Ruth has pledged herself to Naomi, and Ruth commits to be the means by which Naomi will experience redemption if Boaz chooses to do the same thing. And Boaz here says, “Do not fear, for I will do for you all that you ask, for everyone knows you are (and he says) a worthy woman.” Right? The phrase is chayil eshet, a mighty woman of valor. It’s so amazing. You could feel the pairing. He is a chayil gabor. She is a chayil eshet. They belong together. Their happily after is right at hand. You can feel it, but not so fast!

Look at verse 12: “And now it is true (Boaz continues) that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I.” Dun dun dun!! (chuckles) Are you kidding me? Can you imagine how Ruth’s heart must have just caught in her throat and just sank to the bottom here? Here she’s put herself out. She’s asked for her dearest wish of her heart, for all of her dreams to come true in the marriage to Boaz. She’s taken this huge risk in stepping out, and now she finds out there’s this other dude in the way? And he’s got next-of-kin priority? And now we’re beginning to realize why it is that Boaz has not made a move in two months here. It’s not been his place. There’s somebody else who should have stepped in before this. We don’t even know his name, but he has the first right of refusal here.

Now in saying these words it couldn’t have been easy for Boaz either. There’s clearly chemistry here. Right? There’s desire. There’s passion. And yet Boaz decides, he refuses here to take shortcuts. He says, “Let’s do this in the right way.” Now, verse 13, he says: “Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”

And talk about suspense. I don’t think either of them slept a wink. Verse 14: “So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before before one could recognize another. And he said, ‘Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.’” He’s protecting her honor here.

Verse 15: “And he said, ‘Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.’ So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city.”

Now what’s the significance of the barley here? Well, it’s a promise, isn’t it? It’s a pledge. It’s a sign of Boaz’s commitment. He’s saying, “I will not leave you empty-handed. I will provide for you. I will take care of you. If this other redeemer chooses to redeem you, good! Let him do it, but if he’s not willing to do it, then as the Lord lives, I will redeem you.” It’s a seal, his promise!

The third thing that is the move of bold obedience here. It happens they both (both Ruth and Boaz) do the right thing in honoring this next of kin, even when it threatened their hope and happiness. We know Boaz and Ruth are meant for each other, don’t we? We know that. We can feel God’s redemptive plan at work. It’s so close we can taste it. Everything in us wants to see them married, and if that’s how we feel, imagine how they felt. Imagine how they must have felt as they longed to see their plot line, you know, brought together in this beautiful story of redemption. And they know that everything they hope and dream for could be snatched away in a moment if this nameless, faceless nobody, who hasn’t had the honor even of showing up for a conversation yet in the story, that this guy could ruin everything. But even in the face of all of that uncertainty, Boaz and Ruth here choose to do the right thing, even when it’s difficult, when all of their dreams hung in the balance.

Now verse 16: “And when she (Ruth) came to her mother-in-law, she said, ‘How did you fare my daughter?’ (The matchmaker wants an update, right?) Then she told her all that the man had done for her saying, ‘These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, “You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.”’”

This is an illusion. If you’ll remember back in chapter 1, Naomi said that she had gone away full but she had come back empty, empty-handed, and now she’s not empty-handed any more. Right? It’s beautiful symmetry.

Verse 18: “She replied, ‘Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.’”

The key word here is wait. Wait. Wait, my daughter. In the end, all that Naomi and Ruth can do is wait. (chuckles) This chapter began with Naomi manipulating and scheming and trying to get redemption on her own terms, and Ruth’s plan to go and seduce Boaz. In other words, they were not waiting on the Lord. They were taking matters into their own hands. They were doing things their own way, but here at the end of the chapter all they can do is wait. They have to be still, and know that He is God. They have to be still and know that God will fight for them.

They have to be still and know that the Lord is on their side. In fact, none of them are in control here at the end. Not Ruth, not Naomi, not Boaz. They are all waiting on God. They have to be openhanded with their lives, surrendered, yielding, resting, relying, trusting. And the fourth thing here of bold obedience is that all three of them do the right thing in waiting on God, even when being still and surrendered is hard.

All three do the right thing in waiting on God even when being still and surrendered is hard because they are in God’s school of faith. God is teaching them here. He is teaching them to trust Him, to look to Him, to rest in Him, to rely upon Him. They are learning that when everything is beyond their control, everything actually safely rests in God’s loving hands. It isn’t out of control. It’s just out of their control. But it is firmly within God’s control. And God is faithful and true, and His steadfast love never fails. And He intends more for them than they could ever ask or imagine.

And so Naomi and Ruth and Boaz are learning to wait on the Lord, to trust an unknown future to an all-knowing God, to let go of outcomes and hold fast to Him. In other words, they are learning to do the right thing even when it’s tough. Do the right thing even when it’s tough. And friends, obedience always requires faith, always requires surrender, always requires letting go, doesn’t it?

I remember when I was a senior in high school, I felt the Lord calling me into ministry. And I had seen the weight that pastors bear and some of the heartache and heaviness of life in a pastor’s house. And I didn’t want to have anything to do with that. So when God was calling me to ministry, I thought He was calling me to misery. And so I was like, “No, God, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to have any part of that.” But He persisted. And He kept insisting, “No, this is what I have for you.” And the problem with God is you can’t argue with Him very long. I mean, eventually you have to say yes. It’s just a matter of time. Right? How long are you going to kick and scream?

And I remember it was a January morning in 1999, and I had tears all over my pillow as I was crying. I felt the call of God and I was so reluctant. I had this American dream, you know? I wanted to have a certain kind of life and drive a certain kind of car, and live in a certain kind of house, and have a certain kind of family, all of that. And the Lord just said, “You know what? I love you enough to die for you. I’ll never do you any harm. Do you believe me? Will you let go of your life, all of your dreams, all of your hopes, all of your plans, all of your schemes? Will you let go of control of outcomes? And will you trust me that I will be enough for you?” And I had to surrender, and with tears and reluctance (chuckles) I finally said yes. And it felt like dying. It felt like something died that day. But something else came to life. My faith and trust in the Lord came back in a way that was richer and fuller and more alive than I had ever experienced.

And here’s what I have learned. The path has not been easy. Ministry is hard, but God is so faithful, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way. His plans are so much better than my plans. His dreams are better than my dreams. His outcomes are better than the outcomes I would have planned. He is faithful and true, and He is worth trusting with my life.

And I tell that story not because, you know, to make myself out to be a hero at all because I’m not a hero. In fact, God’s the hero. I’m the reluctant one, kicking and screaming, who finally yielded. There’s nothing heroic in that. But friends, this is the kind of moment that Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi are forced into at the end of this chapter, where they have to let go of their hopes, their dreams, their lives, their outcomes, and trust that God will take care of them, that His purposes are good, that He is watching over their life, and that every moment of their day is safely held in His hands. And God in His grace moves them into this space where they are learning radical obedience, aren’t they?

And so here’s my question for you. Where is God calling you to surrender today? Where is He calling you to let go of outcomes, to be openhanded with your life, to freely let go, not hold on tightly like this, but to release it into His care, to wait on Him, to rest in Him, to look to Him, to be still and know that He is God? Where is He calling you to this kind of surrender? Where is He calling you to do the right thing even when it’s tough?

And if you would, wherever you are gathered, wherever you are seated or standing, or consuming this, listening to this, this morning, would you just bow your heads right now? Let’s ask the Lord, would you just take your hands and put them palm up in your lap as a symbol of surrender and openness? Let’s pray and ask the Lord to take providential care as we wait on Him.

Heavenly Father, we confess that so often we hold tightly to our lives for the outcomes we think we have to have. We have dreams, we have plans, we have goals, and they’re all fine. They’re all fine things, but we can hold too tightly to them. We right now acknowledge that you are the Sovereign One, that you are providentially watching over our lives, that our lives are safe in your hands. We yield to your will. Not our will, but yours be done. We pray that you would have your way in us. We give you our lives, our futures. We hold on to them so tightly, but we release them. Right now we release them in faith and obedience and trust. Father, we give you our futures, all our hopes, our dreams, and our plans. We trust them to you. We ask that you would work your perfect will in our lives, that your goodness would be something we know and see as you unfold Your plans. We rest in you. We surrender to you.

Father, help us to obey. Father, there are things that you are calling us to right now that are gutsy, that take a lot of courage and strength, and it feels like we might lose things if we finally do what you are calling us to. It’s full of risk. We’re not sure. The future is unclear, uncertain, but you’re calling us. We feel it. Help us to obey, to do the right thing even when it’s tough. And we trust that as we are faithful to you, You will be faithful to us. Help us to trust and obey.

Father, would you be strong for us? Would You be our Deliverer, our Redeemer, the lover of our souls? Father, we love how this story of Ruth and Boaz is pointing to Jesus, the ultimate Redeemer who, in His great love, laid down His life, paid way more than a field’s ransom, but paid His entire life that we might be redeemed and have a hope and a future and a name and an inheritance in Jesus Christ, that we might be crowned with glory as sons and daughters of the most-high God because of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf. And all this costs us one of the hardest for us ever to give: faith, trust, surrender, openhandedness. Father, help us surrender to you, we pray for the glory of Your name, for the good of our lives. Help us to discover that covenant faithfulness of you, our God. And so we give you ourselves, and everything we have in Jesus’ name. And all God’s people said, Amen.

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