March 6, 2007

Faith says “Yes”

If a woman did today what Ruth did in the Old Testament several hundred years ago, she would be sending an entirely different message!

Ruth, daughter-in-law to Naomi, was widowed in her homeland along with Naomi. When the older woman decided to return to Israel, Ruth insisted on coming with her, even on worshiping her God. Israel’s custom was that if a man died, the family line must be preserved. The nearest relative should “redeem” the family name by marrying the widow. Naomi was too old for remarriage, so her hope was that her family line would be continued through Ruth. In Ruth’s case, a wealthy and respected man named Boaz appeared to be an eligible choice.

So Naomi instructed Ruth in another custom. She said, “Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do."

In our culture and time, this looks like seduction, or at least setting yourself up for it, but in those days, it was the way a woman could ask a man to marry her. Boaz, because he was older, and perhaps because she was a foreigner, would not have approached Ruth, so Ruth approached him.

Around midnight, Boaz rolled over and was startled to find Ruth lying at his feet. After she explained why she was there, he said, “Blessed are you of the Lord . . . for you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men . . . I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.”

After Boaz said yes, Ruth stayed at his feet until morning. No immorality occurred. Boaz, after dealing with a minor detail of one eligible closer “kinsman-redeemer”, married Ruth and their lives prospered. Not only was the family line preserved through their son, Obed, but Obed turned out to be the grandfather of David, king of Israel, the same family line that produced Jesus Christ.

Some people read Old Testament stories like this and presume twenty-first century attitudes and behavior. Without understanding the deeper implications, this story does seem strange, either risque or even Victorian, but in it, God illustrates a far greater truth. The kinsman-redeemer custom applied to family members sold into slavery, land sold during economic hardship, and those cut off from their family name by death. A close relative who could redeem (buy back, set free) pictures Christ who redeems those who are in bondage to sin, have lost all possessions and privileges granted in Eden, and are alienated from God.

The illustration is not perfect—Christ does not hesitate to invite us to be His bride—yet one thing about Ruth speaks volumes about the human side of redemption. Sinners must be willing to put themselves at His feet and their lives at His disposal.

When Naomi said, “ . . . he will tell you what you should do,” Ruth had a choice. She could say, “No way. I’m not doing anything that man tells me” or she could respond in humble obedience. I know many people who pick the first response. In pride, they cannot see or admit that they are slaves to sin and have a need for redemption.

This was also a test of faith. Ruth once told Naomi, “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”

She did go with her mother-in-law, and did live with her, and did adopt her culture and her life. Her choice in response to Naomi shows that she also made the Lord God her God. What she said to Naomi clearly shows me the response God wants when He or His representatives in my life give a command . . . “All that you say to me I will do.”

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