There is nothing better in this life than knowing that we are accepted. It is craved by the many, but found by the few. We can so easily feel lost in a crowd, alone in a family, an outsider in this world. It is the pursuit of such acceptance that often draws many people to Christ, but soon irony takes over because it is not popular to believe in God. It is not culturally acceptable to live the way Christ calls us to. Being a Christian can sometimes make us feel like an outsider in this world, or even not welcome. We don’t speak like them, act like them, think like them. This, however, should come as no surprise. Jesus, on many occasions when speaking to His disciples—the first followers of Christ—warned them of this outsider mentality.
“If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you.”
Essentially, Jesus is saying, “you will feel like an outsider in a land not your own.” But this is not the Gospel. This is not why we follow Christ. It is, in fact, because he gave us a new land to live in, a new home in Heaven, a new life to live. It is in those moments of feeling rejected by the world that we can so easily forget the beauty of be accepted by God.
Acceptance always comes at a price. If you have had a child who went to college, or went there yourself, you know what I’m talking about. It starts with the acceptance letter. Joy spills from your son’s face as he comes into the living room, waving his prize. “I’m in. I’m in!” He cries… but you are crying too. Though he holds the right of acceptance, you are staring, glassy-eyed at the bill you have to pay. Acceptance is a beautiful thing, especially in a world full of rejection, but it always comes at a cost.
Ruth’s story proclaims this truth all too well. It’s brimming with great moments of acceptance, but the house being built does not have such a strong foundation. It is a dark moment in the history of Israel. We discovered the darkness in its fullness last week as we walked through the Book of Judges, and we don’t have to go too far down the timeline to find the little town of Bethlehem in Judah. What we find there is not a time of pleasure and plenty, but failure and famine.
In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a severe famine came upon the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.
This family from the line of Judah finds a home away from home. They are forced to leave to find food as the Israelites fall into a downward spiral again. A famine from God to judge the people for their unfaithfulness to him, and even though some are still faithful, they face the pain of the society around them. In the land of Promise they were to find peace and plenty, but as we zoom the story in on this little family of faith, we see that’s not the case.
Naomi and her husband search for belonging among the Moabites, people who should have been their enemies, but they find more acceptance there than at home. Naomi’s sons marry foreign women of this new land they think will be their place of refuge. Just when you think the story is looking up it takes a turn again; around the next bend Elimelech and his two sons die leaving Naomi and her two new daughters-in-law alone.
Though things may look bleak, this is not a story without hope. This isn’t the first time that
God uses a famine to accomplish his purposes. Joseph hangs in the shadows of Naomi’s past, and she is left wondering if maybe her story will look the same. Perhaps God has a great show of grace and hope in store for her, but it’s hard to see the sun when you’re face-down in the mud.
The first sign of hope shines through the trees as Naomi hears that the famine is ended. With no reason to stay in Moab anymore, she starts the long journey home, a more lonely road than the one that brought them. Naomi, words matching the desperation in her heart says to her two daughters, “Go home, back to your people.” If there was barely any hope for this widow back in Bethlehem, surely there was none for two foreigners. They could find new husbands, new lives, forget that Naomi had ever come into their lives (for what had she truly brought them but pain). One woman leaves, but despite her mother’s urging, Ruth stays.
Ruth replied, “Stop urging me to abandon you!
For wherever you go, I will go.
Wherever you live, I will live.
Your people will become my people,
and your God will become my God.
17 Wherever you die, I will die—and there I will be buried.
May the Lord punish me severely if I do not keep my promise!
Only death will be able to separate me from you!”
What a show of faith from this woman who had no ties to Yahweh in her past. She was from a people of idol-worshippers and should have known more about child sacrifice than commitment to a God who never knew her. Naomi had much to learn from Ruth in this great role reversal. When arriving back in her home town, she doesn’t praise God for the end of the famine of the provision of Ruth who chose to stay with her when she didn’t have to. Naomi was known for her pleasantness, but not anymore. She grows bitter.
20 But she replied to them, “Don’t call me ‘Naomi’! Call me ‘Mara’ because the Sovereign One has treated me very harshly. 21 I left here full, but the Lord has caused me to return empty-handed. Why do you call me ‘Naomi,’ seeing that the Lord has opposed me, and the Sovereign One has caused me to suffer?”
“Naomi means pleasant. That used to be me, but not anymore.” Mara means bitter, a name she could relate with. God had a plan for Naomi and Ruth, one that was beyond their wildest dreams. In the middle of the pain, it’s hard to celebrate with what God is going to do, but his plans never changed. He is constantly seeking to redeem his people, and on the other side of the pain, Naomi and Ruth would find redemption in more ways than one.
Ruth Meet her Redeemer
It is never those who have their lives together who are in need of redemption but the lost, needy, helpless, and hopeless. Ruth was lost in this foreign land. She traded the familiar for the foreign, a new beginning for living in the land of her enemies. Israel and Moab weren’t at war at this time, but nations have long memories. Ruth was needy. She had no home, no food, little family. Naomi was helpless. She had no land to work if she could find the energy, and no house to clean if she could find the time. She was hopeless, serving a God she felt gave up on her.
Along comes their redeemer. Ruth is picking up whatever scraps she can in the fields to take back to her hopeless mother-in-law, perhaps enough to get them through one more day. Boaz notices her lagging behind his harvesters, gleaning what she can. He is intrigued by this foreign beauty, enthralled by her audacity—a woman all alone in the fields, unafraid and unashamed. He finds out that this is not the first time she was so bold, for what blind faith it must have taken for one such as herself to leave everything she knew to follow Naomi to Bethlehem. What loyalty, commitment, and trust. In a word, Ruth was Devotion.
Such women acting so strong amidst her weakness should not be ignored. Boaz comes to her, touches her soul and says, “don’t glean anywhere else, for here, under my wing, you will have all you need.” Ruth replies in 2:10-12
10 Ruth knelt before him with her forehead to the ground and said to him, “Why are you so kind and so attentive to me, even though I am a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied to her, “I have been given a full report of all that you have done for your mother-in-law following the death of your husband—how you left your father and your mother, as well as your homeland, and came to live among people you did not know previously.12 May the Lord reward your efforts! May your acts of kindness be repaid fully by the Lord God of Israel, from whom you have sought protection!”
Ruth risked everything, but what reward she receives. Her people oppressed God’s people for 18 years, but Boaz holds no national prejudices. He sees her as more than a Moabite. She is a widow in need of his care, and one of greater character than most. He accepts her as one of his own harvesters.
Ruth, full of joy, life, and wonder, rushes home to tell her mother-in-law. “Mother!” She cries, out of breath. The weight on her soul was lifted, but arms loaded down with grain replaced the weight.
“Daughter,” Naomi says, trepidation trembling her lips. “Where did you get such plenty? Blessed be the one who looked on you with such favour.” She felt the sting of that blessing in the deepest parts of her soul, a blessing from the Lord that once she knew… such grain from another a mere shadow of God’s provisions.
That single word lifted Naomi’s heart more that Ruth could have known. Through Boaz there was hope. In Boaz there was a way, through slight it might be, for Naomi’s name to be restored, her house to be established… but Boaz would have to give up much. Perhaps, if he found such favour in Ruth, he would continue to bless them.
Naomi knew the Law well, being raised in such steep tradition. Ruth didn’t understand the true blessing that caused her mother’s eyes to sparkle until she quoted the words passed down from Moses so many generations before.
5 If brothers live together and one of them dies without having a son, the dead man’s wife must not remarry someone outside the family. Instead, her late husband’s brother must go to her, marry her, and perform the duty of a brother-in-law. 6 Then the first son she bears will continue the name of the dead brother, thus preventing his name from being blotted out of Israel.
Ruth understood. Boaz was Naomi’s kin, a close relative of her lat husband. Could this be what God had planned all along? With this the only question in her mind, Ruth heads out with the same boldness she once had in the fields, but this time it is to Boaz while he sleeps. She lays herself down at his feet like a servant to a king, a peasant to a king—a woman in need to a man who could provide. Perhaps to some this marriage proposal would look strange, and to others it would be too bold to ever imagine performing, but Ruth has faith. Perhaps she was still learning the laws of this new land she found herself in, but she knew the ways of this new God she now followed. All night she lay there, prostrating herself at the feet of Boaz, and praying to Yahweh.
Boaz is gracious to her again, accepting such a bold proclaimation, but grace does not come without a cost. He promised to redeem Ruth and Naomi, but at what cost to himself? Boaz was wealthy. How much would he have to leave behind to join himself to this humble family with little more than hearts full of hope.
Ruth didn’t belong. She didn’t feel at home with her own people who rejected the God of Isreal, and wasn’t at home in Bethlehem either. She was lost and alone when Boaz comes into her life and accepts her. He accepts her right where she is. She did not promise him anything grand, nor did Boaz have anything to gain from showing her grace, and not only did he gain little but lost much by joining her to himself. His house was forfeit; his own inheritance no more. His land, servants, riches, all gone for the sake of this foreign woman who deserved much less than he gave.
It was not long before this unlikely couple was married, and but a short year later they have a son named Obed which means “worker,” and indeed he would have to be. He would work much, but through great work comes great reward. His reward would be seeing his grandson growing up, raised from lowly shepherd to might warrior and king of all Israel. King David.
Not only is this the start of David’s story, but it is no surprise that many generations later, still behind the great clouds of fog in Israel’s future, this very city would produce another child, and he would be a worker too. He worked for grace, out of faith, and became a redeemer too. But this child born in Bethlehem was not such the redeemer of one widow and her mother-in-law. Jesus, the Christ, came to be the redeemer of the world.
Boaz is but a shadow of the redeemer to come, yet his story holds the patterns of the gospel in the lines between lines. As we read between those lines we find Jesus who too noticed us when we didn’t deserve it. He accepted us is a world filled with rejection; noticed us lagging behind the work of his angels, called us and said, “come. Glean in my fields of plenty, for you won’t need to go anywhere else. Come in under my wind. He found favour in us the favourless.
Not only this, but he gave up his own inheritance to be with us.
6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
—even death on a cross!
He had it all. Not just a grand field and large home. Not just plenty of servants and a beautiful future. He had a crown, a throne, the highest place in all of Creation. More than this, he shared equality with God… but he did not hold onto such inheritance. He let it all go, emptied himself, but a greater price was yet to come. The price of his blood. When we sat at his feet and cried out for his help, he showed us the holes in those soles. He didn’t just give up his throne, his inheritance, but his life. For you. For me. To be our redeemer from the hopelessness of this world.
Now, when the world tells us we are nothing, we can find our acceptance in God. When they tell us to go to Hell, we can smile and say, “no, I am going to a better place. We have been reborn into a new family, taken out of this world and given a new inheritance in glory. We have been redeemed at the Cross. He holds the bill for our freedom in those nail-scarred hands, and smiles. May we rejoice in the freedom of his grace, the hope given to the hopeless, help to the helpless, acceptable to the rejected, and a new home to the lost.