Posted by: stpowen | May 25, 2015

Ruth, A Story of Hope (3). The Kinsman Redeemer

Hebrews 2:14. ‘Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death he might destroy him who holds the power of death- that is, the devil.’

Read Ruth 1:22; 2.

We looked last week at Naomi returning with Ruth to Israel from the land of Moab, forlorn and destitute. Their situation seemed hopeless; materially, they might have been better off in Moab, where Ruth might have received help from her family. But Naomi had set her face toward Israel and the God from whom she had turned away all those years ago, and Ruth, finding something supremely attractive in the dignity and determination of the older woman, had committed herself to following her.

There were two signs of hope as the two women entered Bethlehem: firstly, contrary to what Naomi had said, the Lord had not brought her back home again ‘empty’ (v.21). Ruth was beside her. Secondly, we read that it was the start of the barley harvest. We saw last week how this festival speaks of Christ. Just as the festival of ‘first fruits’ was celebrated on the first day of the week following Passover, so ‘Christ, the firstfruits’ (1 Cor. 15:20-23) also rose on that very day.

2:1. ‘There was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz.’

Straightaway in Chapter 2, we are introduced to Boaz. His name means ‘strength.’ ‘He who is mighty has done great things for me’ (Luke 1:49). As we shall see, he is a type or foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus Christ. We read that he is a relative or kinsman of Naomi through her late husband. Christ also shares in our humanity: ‘Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is the devil……… Therefore in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest…..’ (Heb. 2\;14, 17). Boaz is also ‘a man of great wealth.’ So Christ is able to redeem with an offering of infinite value. No one can outbid the Lord Jesus for our souls. ‘Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver of gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Peter 1:18-19). We shall hear more of this later.

V.2. ‘So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favour.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”’

Having returned from Moab, Ruth and Naomi are in need of two things. The first would be shelter, but this is not mentioned. They must have been able to obtain somehow a roof over their heads. The second would be a means of sustenance, and presumably of paying whatever rent would be due. Gleaning was a way in which poor Israelites might find something to eat. ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. And you shall not glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather every grape of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am the LORD your God’ (Lev. 19:9-10). Naomi was poor and Ruth was a stranger. They qualified absolutely for this divinely-ordained largess. Surely there is a message in this for big businesses and multi-national corporations today? Profits should not be maximized and tax avoided at the expense of the poor. So gleaning was a means for Ruth and Naomi to live; Ruth could collect stalks of barley that were in the corners of a field or that had been dropped and left by the harvesters.

So Ruth goes to glean (v.3) and she ‘happens’ to come to the field of Boaz. We must realise that nothing ‘just happens.’ God directs every path and every decision. ‘The lot is cast into the lap, but every decision is from the LORD’ (Prov. 16:33). It may have been a ‘toss up’ for Ruth whether she went to glean in this field of that, but God knew exactly where she would go. He had decreed mercy for Ruth, and also that the Messiah should be born of her line 1,200 years later and so, although she made a free choice of where she should glean, God directed her to the field of Boaz.

We should observe two important things about Ruth: firstly, she is under the wings of Jehovah (v.12). She has left Moab and its gods and customs behind her to come to seek the God of Israel, the One who says, “The one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out” (John 6:37). Secondly, she has come to glean in the field of Boaz. She has to find her Saviour, and God directs her towards Him. “No one comes to the Father except though Me” (John 6:44).

V.4. ‘Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “The LORD be with you!” And they answered him, “The LORD bless you!”’

Boaz is central to this story. None of his workers is mentioned by name. Likewise the Lord Jesus Christ is central to His Church; only His name is honoured and exalted. We call no man ‘holy’ or ‘reverend’ because none is. We call no man ‘master’ or ‘Father’ because He alone deserves such honours and we are all brethren (Matt. 23:8-12). The field of Boaz represents the Church of Christ. The Church is where sinners gather together to find the Bread that came down from heaven (John 6:35).  Yet all His workers are godly men.  When Boaz gives them His godly greeting, “The LORD be with you!”  They also have God’s name on their lips; “The LORD bless you!”

There was one obstacle standing in the way of Ruth. She had turned her back on Moab and followed Naomi to Bethlehem. Her desire was to join herself to the people of God (1:16-17) and to come into their inheritance. One great problem prevented her. The law of God stood in her way because she was a Moabitess. Repeatedly (1:22; 2:2, 6, 21) we are informed that she is the ‘Moabite woman’ and the law declared, ‘An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the LORD; even to the tenth generation none of his descendents shall enter the assembly of the LORD forever’ (Deut. 23:3). Just as the law forbade Elimelech from leaving Israel to go to Moab, so that same law declared that a Moabite would not be accepted among the people of Israel, at least, not in their religious aspect. The law pointed its finger at Ruth and said, “You can’t come into the inheritance of God’s people. You are part of a wicked, idolatrous nation which has hated Israel from the very first.” It’s just a little clause in the law, but it was enough to stop Ruth from entering into the inheritance she was seeking.

‘…..What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh……..’ (Rom. 8:3). The law was incapable of letting Ruth in because it was weak through Ruth’s flesh, which was Moabite. The law is holy and just (Rom. 7:12), but it couldn’t do anything for Ruth. Moab was in her blood and therefore she was excluded. It has always been the same. We read in Gen. 3:24 that after Man’s fall into sin, an angel with a flaming sword blocked the way back to the tree of life. It is the righteous judgement of God that ‘The soul that sins shall die’ (Ezek. 18:4). There is no way back to Eden for sinners. ‘Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully. He [and by implication, he alone] shall receive blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation’ (Psalm 24:3-5). Are your hands and mine utterly pure, our hands completely clean? Have we never desired anything but God; never told a lie? Our way to God in our own strength is blocked just as surely as Ruth’s was, by the law. ‘For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things that are written in the book of the law, to do them’ (Gal. 3:10; cf. Deut. 27:26).

But praise God, the law is there to highlight His grace! Indeed, it is just as much a revelation of God’s grace as it is of His justice. The very law that forbade Ruth from entering the congregation of God also made provision for her to come in. ‘When you reap your harvest in your field, and forget a sheaf in your field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not glean it again afterward; it shall be for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. And you shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this’ (Deut. 24:19-22). The harvest is for the people of God. But the gleanings are for the stranger, the fatherless and the widow. Ruth was a stranger in Israel, she was fatherless in Israel and a widow in Israel. The law that forbade Ruth to enter the congregation of God’s people gave her the right to glean among those very people. In the same way, membership of a church is reserved for Christians- those who have made a credible confession of faith and been baptized. Yet the worst of sinners can come into the service, sit at the back and listen- to glean, as it were, among God’s people, picking up whatever he can of the spiritual food which is the birth-right of Christ’s people.

In this connection, I remember the first time I came into an evangelical chapel. Before that I had never attended anything other than the highest of Anglican churches. Everything was strange: there was no prayer-book, no vicar in ecclesiastical dress, no choir. Everyone was very friendly but they all seemed to understand what was going on and I didn’t. But for the first time in my life, I heard the Bible explained. I was not yet a Christian; not yet part of the people of God, but I could glean among them and pick up bits of understanding as the Spirit revealed them to me.

As we have seen, Boaz was required by law to allow Ruth to glean in his fields, but he went beyond the law to show her grace. In verse 8, he encourages her to stay on his land and to work with the other young women.. In verse 9, he shields her from possible danger and gives her refreshment. In verse 14, he gives her fellowship among God’s people and in verse 16, he gives her something extra. There is abundance in the field of Boaz; he has more than enough to spare. ‘And of His fullness we have all received’ (John 1:16). He is ‘able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think’ (Eph. 3:20).

Gleaning is a harvest thing. You can’t glean at sowing time, growing time or watering time. Only when the harvest is ready can you glean. It is done on the basis of a finished work. Someone else has tilled and planted, tended the ground and chased the birds away. The gleaner benefits from the work of another. The Gospel comes to us in somewhat the same way. “Most assuredly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain” John 12:24). The Seed has fallen to the ground; it has died; it is now bearing much fruit. The work is done; by His death, Christ has opened the way for sinners to come to God. The sword wielded by the cherub in Gen 3:24 has been plunged into the heart of Jesus. The curtain that kept us from the mercy seat is torn in two (Matt. 27:51).

We posed a riddle earlier based on Psalm 24. Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD?’ The answer is Jesus Christ. He is the one who has ‘clean hands and a pure heart.’ He is the one who ‘has not lifted up His soul to an idol nor sworn deceitfully.’ By His sinless life and His atoning death, He has earned salvation for us. Sin is no longer a barrier that keeps us from God, ‘For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him’ (2 Cor. 5:21). Christ has borne our sin and taken our punishment; there is no longer any debt to pay (Col. 2:14). Salvation is a finished work, and our Lord says, “Come!” Unworthiness cannot keep you out, nor sin, nor law, nor judgement. ‘And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let Him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely’ (Rev. 22:17).

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