Ruth 4: What is needed.
Ruth 4: 1-22.
So for those of you who have been on holiday and missed this story so far...
Naomi and her husband and sons go to Moab because there is a famine in Israel. There her sons marry a couple of local girls and all goes well for a while.
After a while her husband and sons die.
There is no one to look after Naomi so she goes back to Bethlehem where hopefully extended family will look after her. She sends the two daughters-in-law back to their homes for them to be looked after by their families.
But Ruth stays with her mother-in-law.
Back in Bethlehem they arrive just before the barley harvest so Ruth can go out and harvest some barley to make bread. There she bumps into the owner of the field Boaz and there is obviously some chemistry going on there.
However it seems Boaz is a typical man and has to be manoeuvred into making a decision. When forced to make a decision he admits that he wants to marry Ruth.
However there is one last hurdle to contend with.
You see God had given the people the Promised Land. Through land people could grow things and harvest and have security.
The people and the land were so bound that the land was allocated to tribes.
Now in times of struggle the family could sell the land to make money to survive. And I suspect that is what Naomi is thinking of doing as the harvest is finished and they need to buy food to survive.
But that land would then be lost to future generations who might need that land.
So to prevent that from happening there was a Year of Jubilee. On that year, which was meant to be every 50 years, the land would return to the original family, giving, especially poor families, a fresh start, a new beginning.
But what happened if the family completely died out.
Well they tried to prevent that from happening by their marriage laws.
When a husband died then it was the brother’s responsibility to marry the widow and the children of that union weren’t counted as the new husband’s children, but the old husband’s children. That way the linage carried on.
If all the male relatives in that household died then the nearest male relative in the clan could take the responsibility, knowing that any children born of that union would inherit the land of the original family.
So here is the situation.
Boaz wants to marry Ruth and is happy to take on the responsibilities that entails. When the year of Jubilee comes then any children they have will inherit the land of Naomi’s husband and sons.
The only trouble is that he is not the next-in-line to take on that responsibility.
Which probably wouldn’t be a problem until Boaz announces that he wants to marry Ruth. Then the whole village knows and someone is sure to say. ‘Isn’t that nice. Ruth and Boaz, what a nice couple. Hold on. Wouldn't that mean that Boaz gets Naomi's land when the Year of Jubilee comes along? Isn’t the Year of Jubilee about three years time? I thought Old Simeon said that when the Year of Jubilee came along that he would be getting that land as he was the next in the male line. He had big plans for that field. I bet he will be furious.’
And Simeon would find out. Simeon was probably already harvesting that field as the next in line. So the first person who would be affected by any new owners would be Old Simeon.
Simeon could end up being so furious that he might insist that he take on the responsibilities of Ruth.
What to do?
Well Boaz gets Old Simeon and the elders together to discuss it.
Naomi is going to sell the land, does Simeon want it?
But if he takes on the land then he takes on Ruth that is the law.
Old Simeon thinks about that.
Well that means he has a new wife, and the old wife can’t complain because it’s the law. If the old wife is giving him a hard time then he can just sleep with the new wife.
Can you imagine that situation with that was me and Roseanna.
‘Of course I don’t want to consummate the marriage with that young new wife Roseanna. But I have no choice. I am being forced to do it. It is the law.’
Simeon gets a new wife. The old wife can’t complain, and even if she does he can threaten to divorce her. He gets the land. This is a win-win situation.
Old Simeon can’t believe his luck.
And what is more the whole neighbourhood praises him for being the good guy.
Then Boaz drops the bombshell.
Of course any children from Ruth inherit the land come the Year of Jubilee.
Old Simeon is thinking this through.
Once the old wife finds out her children aren’t inheriting the land then she is going to make his life a misery. And when the time comes he can’t just give it to his sons because the whole neighbourhood is witness to what he is now agreeing.
Having his old wife be a pain in the neck is one thing, but if she uses the inheritance to drive his children against him then the household won’t be worth living in.
As it was, it was the families that harvested the land, your sons and daughters, the old wife would be poisoning his own children against him. Telling them that they are preparing and planting and harvesting the land that will one day go to someone else...not to them.
The Old Simeon is thinking to himself, ‘Is a new wife worth that hassle?’
Old Simeon gives up his right and lets Boaz take on the responsibility.
Boaz marries Ruth and they have a son Obed,.
And so this tale ends and we say to ourselves, ‘So what?’
But there is a twist in the tale...
And the end of the tale tells us that Obed had a son Jesse, and one of Jesse’s sons was David, who would one day be king of Israel.
Two very important lessons;
Never underestimate how important you are.
We live in a world that tries to crush us into insignificance.
We are numbers to be used and churned up.
We are unimportant.
Try phoning a human being at the tax office if you don't believe me.
And when you try to phone anyone they don't want your name, they want your reference number.
But here is Naomi and Ruth.; insignificant in anyone's eyes, powerless in everyone's eyes.
Yet if it wasn't for them the greatest king of Israel wouldn't have existed.
Behind every decent person who has lived has been a mentor, often unknown, who has inspired that decency.
Billy Graham, while he was alive he was believed to be one of the six most influential men in the world. He didn’t start of that way.
A guy called Albert McMakin inspired him. He did it by asking him to drive his pick up van to the Christian rallies. Billy Graham wouldn't be seen dead at one of those things, but the chance for a teenager to drive a van, taking all the other teenagers in the back to the rallies....and one night, fed up waiting in the van for the rally to finish, he went inside.
Albert McMakin, you’ll probably have forgotten his name by the time you get home. Yet if it wasn't for him there wouldn't have been a Billy Graham.
Never underestimate how important you are.
The things we say, or do, have great influence in others.
In a world that treats others as numbers, our actions can bring humanity to others, and no one knows where that might end up.
The other lesson is equally, if not more, important.
The way the world squeezes us is by isolating us.
Even our recreation now is isolating. We have people playing games on computers on their own.
We see people walk the streets and they have ear phones in so that they don't need to interact with anyone.
We interact on computers that tell us that we have 300 friends, most of which we have never even met.
And 99% of the conversations we have on those computers are superficial.
We make a big deal about being independent.
About not needing others.
About being financial secure.
If this passage tells us anything then it tells us that we need other people.
Naomi needed Ruth. Even though she spends the start of this book trying her best to chase Ruth away, she needed Ruth.
Ruth needed Boaz.
Boaz needed Ruth.
Israel needed Boaz and Ruth.
The temptation we all have is that when we are struggling we hide and lick our wounds. We don't want others to see our weakness. We want to pretend to everyone that everything is all right.
Trust me when I say this...
I am one of the most non-people people you will meet.
People drain me.
When all the family are together my children will have bets as to how long I stay in the room before I leave to get some time to myself. And that is with my closest family.
And yet even I know that life is not worth living if I try to live it alone.
Life is meaningless if we don't share it with others.
We need others, we need to be open to others.
One bonus point before I finish.
Naomi goes through a lot of suffering. If you knew how it was going to end it might be tempting to say to her, ‘Don’t worry, everything will be all right in the end. Just wait.’
Equally it could be tempting to say to people who are suffering just now, ‘Look at Naomi, everything works out in the end. So just be like her and wait. Everything will turn out OK.’
I think that would be wrong advice to give anyone.
Naomi rejoices in the end and it is right that she does so.
But Naomi also grieves, and at the time she was grieving it as right for her to do so. She loved her husband, she loved her sons, and it was right that she grieved them.
I think if anyone waits in this story, it is God.
God finally gets a mention when they say that God blesses Ruth with a child.
But who was whispering to Naomi to go home?
Who was whispering to Ruth to stay with Naomi?
Who whispered to Ruth to pick the field she did?
Who whispered to Boaz to visit the field that day?
Who inspired Naomi’s plan to force Boaz to make a decision?
Who inspired Boaz to get the elders together to sort out what happened to Naomi’s land?
God is always there, sometimes we listen, most of the time we don't even notice hm.
God is the one who patiently waits for us.
And maybe that is the greatest comfort we can have.
No matter what we face, and no matter how we face it...God will wait for us.