If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Ruth, chapter 3, verses 1 through 18.
Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I find security for you, so that you will be taken care of? 2 Now isn’t Boaz our relative? Haven’t you been working with his female servants? This evening he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfumed oil, and wear your best clothes. Go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let the man know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, notice the place where he’s lying, go in and uncover his feet, and lie down. Then he will explain to you what you should do.”
5 So Ruth said to her, “I will do everything you say.” 6 She went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law had instructed her. 7 After Boaz ate, drank, and was in good spirits, he went to lie down at the end of the pile of barley. Then she went in secretly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.
8 At midnight, Boaz was startled, turned over, and there lying at his feet was a woman! 9 So he asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Ruth, your slave,” she replied. “Spread your cloakover me, for you are a family redeemer.”
10 Then he said, “May the Lord bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say, since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character. 12 Yes, it is true that I am a family redeemer, but there is a redeemer closer than I am. 13 Stay here tonight, and in the morning, if he wants to redeem you, that’s good. Let him redeem you. But if he doesn’t want to redeem you, as the Lord lives, I will. Now lie down until morning.”
14 So she lay down at his feet until morning but got up while it was still dark. Then Boaz said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 And he told Ruth, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and hold it out.” When she held it out, he shoveled six measures of barley into her shawl, and she went into the town.
16 She went to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who asked her, “How did it go, my daughter?”
Then Ruth told her everything the man had done for her. 17 She said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, because he said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”
18 Naomi said, “My daughter, wait until you find out how things go, for he won’t rest unless he resolves this today.”
This is the word of the Lord.
Naomi’s husband Elimelech never really saw her, so he made every decision about their lives for her, so he dragged her out of the promised land and off into a pagan nation where she’d be mistreated. Naomi’s sons never really saw her, so they ignored her when they went off and found pagan women and converted to their religion rather than converting them to hers. But God saw Naomi, like God saw the Israelites, like God saw Ruth.
To quote David Dark, a professor at Belmont, “God remembers everything the world around us forgets.” God sees the people that the world forgets. God sees you.
In last week’s passage, Naomi asks Ruth whose field she went gleaning in, and Ruth tells her that she was in Boaz’s field. Naomi tells her that this is good news, because Boaz is one of their “Kinsman Redeemers.”
We talked about how a ‘kinsman redeemer’ was something that God established in the law that he gave to the Israelites through Moses, and your role as a kinsman redeemer generally meant that you were going to marry a helpless widow in your family, or that you were going to buy back a piece of land that one of your family members had lost because they went bankrupt after a bad harvest, or you were going to buy back a family member of yours out of slavery.
Boaz is a kinsman redeemer in Naomi’s family, meaning that he has a responsibility, given to him by God, to see to it that neither Naomi, nor her close relatives, ever come to a point where they starve to death, or have to live with malnourishment, or don’t have a roof over their heads, and so on and so forth.
So it’s strange that after Naomi learns that Ruth has been gleaning in the field of Boaz, her Kinsman Redeemer, she never once approaches him and asks him for help.
Instead, Naomi says to Ruth, “Should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for?” She tells Ruth to go present herself to Boaz, in the hopes that he’ll “get the idea,” head down to Jared, get a ring, come back and put it on her finger.
So Ruth does everything Naomi says. She goes to the threshing floor, after “washing and perfuming herself” and “putting on her best clothes,” and after Boaz goes to sleep, she quietly pulls the blanket off from his feet so that the cold air will wake him up. And while she waits for him to wake up she lies down.
Now, this is not the ancient Hebrew version of one-night-stand, like you might have heard in some of the books you’ve read. This is a marriage proposal. Ruth is proposing to Boaz, exactly like Naomi asks her to. Ruth is placing herself at his feet, she is asking him to become the person who provides for her, who sees to it that her needs are met, and she’s pledging herself to him as his bride, if he’ll accept her proposal.
If Boaz says, “I do,” Ruth’ll be set for life. She’ll never go hungry again. But that does nothing for Naomi. In all of this, Naomi gives zero thought to her own needs.
Naomi never asks Boaz to redeem the land that used to belong to her husband. Naomi never tells Ruth to tell Boaz to fulfill his role as “kinsman redeemer,” because Naomi has been hardened by the way she’s been treated throughout her life. Naomi’s been turned callous by the darkness of the world – like most of us probably have – to the point that she no longer really expects people to embody the mercy that God requires from us. So she leaves the Kinsman-Redeemer law alone, and she sends Ruth to go lay herself at Boaz’s feet in the hopes that he will favor her and that it’ll work out well for Ruth.
If she can just see to it that her one comfort left in the world, her daughter-in-law Ruth, can be well taken care of, Naomi figures she can wither up and die for all she cares, because she’ll have done this one last thing.
I can understand that. I do not like asking for help. The first time I ever had a flat tire, I don’t know how long I sat outside in the rain trying to figure out how to change it myself – telling people to drive on, that I was fine, every time somebody would pull over and offer to help me out. When I finally got the tire on, I hadn’t actually screwed it on tightly enough, so it rode pretty rough all the way back to my house.
So I can see a little of myself in Naomi. Naomi is the same kind of hard-headed as me, and left to her own hard-headedness, left to her own pride, Naomi would probably just wither up and starve. Half the folks I know would do just about anything for just about anybody – they’d break themselves in half bending over backwards to make sure that the needs of others are met but refuse to give even the slightest bit of attention to their own needs.
We talked about this already several weeks back, but I suspect there are a handful of Naomis in here. I suspect there are more than a few folks who need to be reminded nearly every day that you are not a burden because you have needs. You’re not a burden just because you aren’t always already okay. There’s very much a tendency among some of us to be horrified at the thought of putting anyone out, horrified at the thought of needing emotional support, of needing someone just to be patient with us, of needing people to respect our fragility. But that is a legitimate thing to need. That is a perfectly reasonable thing to ask.
Because you do not exist purely to satisfy other people. You do not exist purely to be able to help others and then stop making noise so nobody notices you when your down. You are not purely a tool in service of other people’s happiness. And if most of your personal relationships are characterized by you giving deeply of yourself and getting absolutely nothing in return, you’re probably exhausted. In all likelihood you’ve been “running on empty” since like 1996. Right?
Like, some people are still paying their ex-husband’s light bill, and they’ve been divorced since George Bush’s presidency. You know what I’m talking about? You might be like Naomi. And you may very well need to allow yourself to acknowledge your own needs and ask some of the people in your life to “meet you halfway” on them.
So Ruth sees that Naomi needs infinitely more than she’d ever ask for, because God sees that Naomi needs infinitely more than she’d ever ask for. And because God sees Naomi, God causes Ruth to see Naomi in a way that nobody else does.
So Ruth proposes to Boaz, like Naomi instructs her to, but Ruth goes further than proposing. She does more than Naomi instructed her to do. Naomi tells Ruth to go “lay down at Boaz’s feet” as a way of securing a good home for Ruth, but Ruth pushes further and tells Boaz to, “Spread the corner of [his] garment over [her], since [he is] a ‘kinsman redeemer’.”
She doesn’t just ask Boaz to marry her and provide for her, she asks Boaz to marry her and adopt her mother-in-law, and then buy back the land that should have belonged to her mother-in-law if her husband hadn’t defaulted on it and then abandoned it for Moab, and then provide her with a child that would one day inherit the land out from under him.
That was a lot of information in one sentence. So I’m going to go slowly through it. She tells Boaz that he is her kinsman redeemer, and like we talked about before, that means that his responsibility isn’t just to marry Ruth, which is a pretty good responsibility to have; as “kinsman redeemer” he has a God-given obligation to buy back the land that used to belong to Naomi at his own expense. So that’s responsibility number one.
Responsibility number two, he has a God-given obligation to financially support Naomi for the rest of her life. That’s responsibility two.
Responsibility three, he has a God-given obligation to provide Ruth with a child, but since Ruth was previously married to someone else, the child that Boaz provides Ruth with would not legally be considered “Boaz’s child”; legally, that child would be considered Ruth’s dead husband’s child.
Meaning that if the child Boaz provides to Ruth lives to adulthood, that child would inherit the land that used to belong to Naomi and Elimelech. Meaning that after Boaz has purchased that land with his own money, provided for Ruth and Naomi from his own pocket throughout the entirety of their lives, worked that piece of land and seen to it that it was fruitful, when that child reaches adulthood, that piece of land will belong to the child and not to Boaz. Ruth is asking Boaz to flush a vast sum of money down the toilet so that one of his distant relatives can get a piece of land back that her husband foolishly let slip away because of his own sinfulness. Ruth is asking a lot from Boaz.
But God sees Naomi, and he causes Ruth to see Naomi, so Ruth does not content herself with asking Boaz to marry her and take care of her, she throws herself at Boaz’s feet and asks him to do everything that is required of him in the law that God gave Moses. That’s bold – and if you ask most people, it’s foolish.
Because if Boaz were anyone else on planet Earth, he’d probably have laughed at Ruth, sent her away, and told her that he never wants to see her again. If he were anybody else, he probably would have told Ruth that she was presumptuous, and that it’s not very ladylike to be presumptuous, and that if she had any sense she would have asked him for a job as one of his female servants rather than asking him for charity by telling him to fulfill his obligation as their Kinsman Redeemer, but Boaz is exactly the person that God sent into the lives of Ruth and Naomi to bless them, and not to curse them.
Because God sees Naomi. God sees Ruth. And he causes Boaz to see Ruth and to see Naomi. So instead of spitting in her face for her presumptuousness, Boaz says, “The Lord bless you, my daughter.”
And he goes further, and instead of accusing her of being entitled, he says, “You’ve shown me a great kindness.” He says, “Instead of chasing after a younger man, you thought of me.” And he says, “I will do everything that you asked.”
Boaz isn’t just love-struck. He is eager to do everything that God has commanded of him. Boaz is eager to do everything God’s Law requires of him. Boaz wants to be good.
Don’t misunderstand me, there’s a deep crookedness in every single one of us. There’s something wildly wrong with all the best people that we know. And yet, there are people – you can see it, you can watch it play out in them – who are gripped by a desire for the goodness that God offers to us in a way that most of the people around them are not.
That is a solid 85% of what I noticed when I first fell in love with Elyse. When I met Elyse, and then we started dating, and started getting to know each other more, and more, and more, something was different about her. She genuinely wanted, from the deepest places in herself, to be good.
There are people who have been given a desire to be gentle, to “wash the feet” of others, to serve their neighbors and their friends and their family and their enemies alike.
There are people who earnestly desire to embody the goodness that God has called us to, so that the thing that brings you pleasure – like, the thing that excites you, the thing that makes your heart glad – becomes chasing “goodness,” living out the “supernatural kindness” of God by submitting to the Holy Spirit. God has prepared Boaz to be the tool that he uses to intervene on behalf of Ruth and Naomi by molding him into exactly that sort of person.
So I have zero doubt that Boaz is love-struck, like I was love-struck when Elyse and I became an item. I get that. But that’s not the whole story. Boaz is desperate to walk in the righteousness that God calls us to. So when he sees an opportunity to do exactly what God’s commands would call him to on behalf of two destitute widows, he jumps on it. He does everything that Ruth asks, and more.
Like I said before, the book of Ruth is filled with people who image God for us. And here Boaz images the God who sees us. He images the God who cares more deeply for us than we’re usually willing to care about ourselves. Boaz images the God who knows our needs more intimately than we know our needs, and who acts on our behalf in ways that we would rarely dare to act for ourselves. God sees you.
That’s not always an easy thing to believe. Over the last few weeks at Mount Zion we have watched so much suffering play out. There’ve been two funerals, and those were joyous occasions just as much as they were occasions for mourning, but there’s no papering over the devastation that comes with losing people, even temporarily.
Other folks have been ravaged by sickness, or you’re watching your loved ones fight through disease or debt; one of the reasons I have never committed tax fraud is that things like Medicaid exist and they’ve got to be funded somehow, but this past week one of our own people was denied the care she needed by Medicaid on a technicality; not one of us hasn’t been affected by some kind of grave injustice or tragedy – the kind of injustice and tragedy that come with the territory of living in a world that’s been broken apart by The Fall. Not one of us has come out unscathed.
In Romans chapter 8, Paul says that “the creation has been subjected to futility.” As a result of the Fall, everything has been disfigured – and even though God has promised and will fulfill his promise to “put everything right that we put wrong,” to turn everything – every tragedy, and every injustice that’s been inflicted on us – that he will “turn it for good,” that he will redeem the world that he’s made, that he will “wipe away every tear,” that does not change the fact that we suffer today.
And that our suffering is horrific. There is no sugarcoating that. I’m not going to stand up here and make a bunch of syrupy racket to try and drown out the reality that “in this world you will have trouble,” and that your trouble will often bring you to nothing – that the trials you get dragged through in this life will make you feel like less than nothing. But God sees you.
God sees you. If the world has made you invisible, God sees you. If your experience has been such that the world seems to have placed no value on your existence, the problem is not you, the problem is the world.
Because the value that God has placed on your existence is a bloody cross. That’s the value that God has placed on your existence. This is not a pep-talk. This is the truest thing about you. God values you to the point that God gave himself to be nailed to a cross, to be humiliated as the “least of these,” to wither up as the sun went dark, hung up between two criminals, drowning in his own body fluids as his lungs filled up with blood and God-knows-what-else as the strength left his body and the crowds mocked him.
The value God places on you is seen in the way that God gives himself to be crucified in your place, that he descends to a cross to redeem you, that God would curse himself to pull you out of the pit. We worship a “crucified God.” We worship a God who sees us. And God sees you even if Medicaid doesn’t. God sees you even if your family doesn’t. “God remembers everything world around us forgets.” God sees you.
As we stand and worship the Lord through song in a moment, I will be standing at the altar. I’d love to sit down with you, place your trials, your anxieties, your fears, before the God who sees us, like he saw Ruth and Naomi. To trust him with our sufferings.