The Resources of Hope

Steve Viars October 11, 2009 Ruth 4:1-12

 

- Last week, one of our church members forwarded an article to me that was written by the Associated Press entitled Religious Life Won’t Be the Same after Downturn….

- the article began like this…

Organized religion was already in trouble before the fall of 2008. Denominations were stagnating or shrinking, and congregations across faith groups were fretting about their finances. The Great Recession made things worse.

It's further drained the financial resources of many congregations, seminaries and religious day schools. Some congregations have disappeared and schools have been closed. In areas hit hardest by the recession, worshippers have moved away to find jobs, leaving those who remain to minister to communities struggling with rising home foreclosures, unemployment and uncertainty.

Religion has a long history of drawing hope out of suffering, but there's little good news emerging from the recession. Long after the economy improves, the changes made today will have a profound effect on how people practice their faith, where they turn for help in times of stress and how they pass their beliefs to their children.

- there are quite a few observations that could be made about all of this, but the one I’d like to ask us to especially focus in on is that, by God’s grace, this has not been our experience at all…

- although some of the members of our church continue to face unemployment, and others are dealing with rolling layoffs and future uncertainties in their jobs, we’ve been able to make our budget each month, expand our ministries, and maintain a healthy emergency fund…

- that says a lot about the faithfulness of the people of our church family and their willingness to trust God with the “first-fruits” of their labor, as the Bible would call it…believing that as we do what we know Scripture calls us to do…God is more than capable of blessing us and supplying our needs…

- we’re also glad and thankful for the new men and women that the Lord has added to our church family – this has been a year of historic growth for reasons we’re not exactly able to put our fingers on…but it came at a very good time for sure because there’s the excitement that comes from seeing God bless us with new friends, co-laborers, and fellow faithful servants…

- now I know you would agree with me in saying that it would be a terrible thing if we failed to recognize/acknowledge/be thankful for the provision we’ve enjoyed…and subsequently failed to view our future through the lens of hope…

- when you look at all the resources God has given us in the past, and is showering upon us today…we certainly should view any possible challenges in the future through the lens of hope…the principle is – recognizing blessings in the past and acknowledging resources in the present breeds contagious hope for the future.

- with that in mind, please open your Bible to Ruth chapter 4…[that’s on page 201 of the front section of the Bible under the chair in front of you]

- we’re making our “final descent” on this series we’ve been doing this fall entitled about Finding Hope in a God Who Provides…this has been a verse by verse study of the book of Ruth…we plan to spend today and next Sunday bringing all of this to a conclusion…

- however, I realize we have new folks with us every week…and that’s great…

- here’s the very abbreviated summary of where we are in our study…

- this story unfolds in the days when the judges governed…summarized in … Judges 21:25 - In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

- it’s in that setting that a woman named Naomi and her husband Elimelech, and their two sons leave Bethlehem in the land of Judah to sojourn in the land of Moab because of a severe famine…while they were there, Naomi’s husband Elimelech dies…

- her two sons marry Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth…and then the two sons pass away…and neither of their wives had conceived children…

- then they hear that the famine has subsided back in Bethlehem and choose to head back to where Naomi is from…

- but at some point in the journey Naomi sits down with her daughters in law and says…you should go back to Moab, to be with your people, and your gods…the key verse is…Ruth 1:9 - May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband…[please note that terminology carefully…it will play an important role in what we’re studying today…]…

- what’s curious about that is Naomi admits that by their doing so…they will be returning to their own gods…which apparently doesn’t matter much to Naomi, because after one of the daughters in law takes her up on the offer, Naomi tries to persuade Ruth to do the same by saying…Ruth 1:15 - Then she said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”

- see, your hope is in finding a man, regardless of what he believes, and about now, any man will do…she was functioning as an individual like Israel was functioning as a nation…that’s the clear point of all of this – everybody does that which is right in their own eyes…

- in an amazing contrast to that lack of faithfulness, this young Moabite woman says…

Ruth 1:16 - But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God…Ruth believed – The God of Israel is capable of being faithful to me, I choose to be faithful to Him…

- Unfortunately, Naomi chooses the path of bitterness…and when they got to Bethlehem and women of the city asked...isn’t this Naomi…she replies… Ruth 1:20-21 - …“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.“I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

- that’s what this book is about – who has the right view of God?—Naomi or Ruth?

- and frankly, at the end of chapter 1 – the Jewish mother in law looks like the realist…

- and the young Moabitess appears to be exercising faith that’s somewhat naive if not downright reckless…

- maybe it would be smarter for her to be like Naomi as an individual and Israel as a nation…to conclude that God is not faithful, He has no loyalty to the covenant He made with them, He’s not a God of hesed (covenant love/faithfulness/loyalty)…therefore she should take a cue from their playbook and do that which is right in her own eyes…

- that’s the whole issue – Is God faithful to His people…and should they choose to be faithful to Him…and let’s face it – sometimes it looks like the answer to both of those questions is no…

- things start changing in chapter 2 – but remember, 10 long years have elapsed since the death of Elimelech) Naomi’s husband)…that’s a lot of emptiness…

- but when they get back to Bethlehem, which just happens to be at the time of the barley harvest, Ruth asks permission to go glean in the fields…and God directs her to the land of a man named Boaz, who turns out to be a relative of Naomi’s deceased husband…

- and this man treats Ruth with incredible graciousness, and when she takes a large amount of grain and even some leftover lunch home to her mother-in-law, Naomi finally starts to get the point…and we’ve enjoyed watching her bitter heart melt…

- then comes the shocking events of chapter 3, where Naomi tells Ruth to go down to threshing floor that night where Boaz and his men are threshing grain, and to wait until after Boaz has laid down by the grain to sleep for the night, to uncover his feet and lie down…which in that culture and in those circumstances would have been a clear proposal of marriage…

- what you have to remember is that both Naomi and Ruth are tethering their hopes on what God’s Word says about the way family members care for widows…and for Naomi, that is a relatively new way of thinking about life…through the eyes of faith in God’s Word even though ones’ circumstances are uncertain…

- as crazy as all of this might sound, the plan worked to a tee…but Boaz explains to Ruth that there was actually a closer relative to their family than him…but that he would act on their request that very day…

- so we left all of this 2 weeks ago with a fair amount of suspense…Hollywood is not the first entity to come up with the cliffhanger…- this morning we’re going to look at the first half of chapter 4, and learn about The Resources of Hope…read Ruth 4:1-12

 

- with the time we have remaining, let’s think about 6 ways God provides for His people…what kind of resources does He offer to people like you and me if we’re willing to find our hope in a God who provides?

 

I. God Provides Oversight for Even the Smallest Details.

- the pressure was on Naomi and Ruth in the previous chapter – they took an incredible risk and you’re left wondering if things are going to work out for what they’ve planed…

- well, now they’re off the hook---Naomi can say at the end of chapter 3 -- Ruth 3:18 - Then she said, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.”

- but now the focus is on Boaz…he’s the one taking the risk at this point in the story…

- but please don’t miss the detail…

A. The nearer redeemer was just “passing by.”

- the writer is making a definite point to us…that’s why he uses the word “behold…”

- Ruth 4:1 - Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by…

- the principle is – when you do your part (like Boaz keeping his word to Ruth and going that morning to the city gate…God is certainly capable of doing His (part)…

- I think it would be very interesting to go around the auditorium this am and hear stories of how God orchestrated minute details in your life in ways where you could not help but seeing His sovereign hand…

- we saw that same emphasis earlier in the book…

 

B. Ruth “happened” to glean in Boaz’s field.

- Ruth 2:3 - So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

 - think about the point to the original readers of this book…

- just because people have concluded that God is unfaithful and incapable of providing for them and therefore it is perfectly logical to do that which was right in their own eyes certainly does not mean that they are correct…

- that is a constant mistake the people of God make, confusing sincerely believing something with it actually being true…

- and the writer is driving them, and us, to repentance of the stubborn belief that God has deserted us and therefore we’re on our own to use whatever methodology we think will best solve our dilemma…

- see, one of the “resources of hope” is the ability and resources of God to orchestrate even the smallest details…and if He wants to the near relative to walk by as soon as Boaz gets to the city gates…then that’s exactly what’s going to happen…

- seeing God’s hand at work in orchestrating the small details can really free you up to do your part and trust the Lord for the rest…

- I had the privilege of conducting my nephew’s wedding up in Elkhart the weekend before last…and you know I’ve been traveling quite a bit…so a wedding at a different church could have added some extra stress…

- but my nephew’s future bride and her parents along with their church’s wedding coordinator did such a great job of caring for all the details that it made my part a simple and enjoyable task…repeatedly I found myself saying---I know they’ve got that under control…in fact, they were more obsessive about details than I am…and some of you know that’s saying something…

- it got to the place where I didn’t even care about the details because I was absolutely convinced the other folks would have them covered…

- well, multiple that thousands of times and you begin to approach the doctrine of the sovereignty of God…and the writer wants to be sure that we don’t miss that point…

- we can have hope because God provides oversight of even the smallest details…

 

II. God Provides Strength to Live with Integrity.

- now, we probably need to pause for a minute and quickly discuss…

A. Three important cultural issues.

- otherwise, what transpires here won’t make much sense.

1. The significance of the city gate.

- in Bible times, many important decisions were made by the leaders of the community at the gate of the city…

- so the reason Boaz did what he did was because he was submitting his plan/desires to the God-given authorities of the day…

- what is transpiring here needed to be evaluated through the grid of biblical truth…and in this case that determination would be made at the city gate…

2. The kinsman redeemer.

- the OT had a specific provision for people in Ruth and Naomi’s position…

- it was the law of the goel, or the kinsman redeemer…

- Leviticus 25:25 - If a fellow countryman of yours becomes so poor he has to sell part of his property, then his nearest kinsman is to come and buy back what his relative has sold.

- if you want to read more about that, the subsequent verses discuss it more fully, and you can also read more information in Deuteronomy chapter 27…

- but that’s why it was so amazing that Ruth ended up in Boaz’s field…because he was in the same family as Naomi’s deceased husband, and there is the issue of the disposal of the property that used to belong to Elimelech but after his death would have been owned by Naomi…but what Boaz explains to Ruth is that there is actually someone who is more closely related than he – which means he has “rights of first refusal”, we would say today…

 

3. Levirate marriage.

- we talked about this a few weeks ago, but if you weren’t here, none of what we’re studying today will make much sense…

- Deuteronomy 25:5-10 - When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.“It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.“But if the man does not desire to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to establish a name for his brother in Israel; he is not willing to perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’“Then the elders of his city shall summon him and speak to him. And if he persists and says, ‘I do not desire to take her,’then his brother’s wife shall come to him in the sight of the elders, and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face; and she shall declare, ‘Thus it is done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’“In Israel his name shall be called, ‘The house of him whose sandal is removed.’

- this power of the sandal issue was illustrated even in our day when the man took off his sandal and hurled it at President Bush at a press conference…we would hear that and wonder what in the world the fellow was doing---that made perfect sense to people in that part of the world…

- by the way, you notice in our text, the nearest kinsman was so unwilling to take responsibility for Ruth and Naomi that he just took off his own sandal…let’s just cut to the chase…

- now, with that background in mind, let’s go back to the main point…what we have here is a clear contrast between faithful Boaz and this other man who was a nearer kinsman…

- now, you might say – why don’t we know his name…

- the writer is making a very important point…

B. The significance of the nearer kinsman remaining unnamed.

- in that culture, that was a sign of condemnation and judgment…

- remember, the whole point in a community where the family or the clan was your source of protection or provision…your name being blotted out was a terrible thing…

- even back in Genesis 12, a significant aspect of God’s promise to Abraham was when God said… Genesis 12:2 - And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and so you shall be a blessing;

- well, who doesn’t know Abraham’s name?...and how many nations and cultures and religions view him as a central figure?...

- that doesn’t make nearly as much sense to us today…

- for example, my dad was my grandfather’s only son…and I am my dad’s only son, and Drew is my only son…

- it’s highly unlikely that Drew will ever be married or raise children…so that part of the family line will die out….

- that won’t have any significant impact on my mother, my sisters, my wife, my daughters…it’s a non-issue…

- it that culture, which relied on the perpetuation of the family and the clan for protection and provision and preservation…the perpetuation of your name was huge…

- otherwise levirate marriage would make no sense…

- the big point is – the fact that this nearer kinsman is not even named is a sign of judgment upon him…and the key question is – why?

1. Up to this point, he had done nothing to assist Naomi and Ruth.

- remember, Bethlehem was a small city.

- and we already read that the whole city knew Naomi had returned as a widow.

- Ruth 1:19 - So they both went until they came to Bethlehem. And when they had come to Bethlehem, all the city was stirred because of them, and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”

- well, why hadn’t he done anything to come to Ruth/Naomi’s aide?...because he was like everybody else in that culture in that day…they were all doing that which was right in their own eyes…they possessed no hesed (faithfulness) whatsoever…so what God’s Word said about their obligations to one another had no bearing on the way he chose to live…

2. Was unwilling to fulfill his moral responsibilities because of his concern for himself.

- Ruth 4:6 - The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.

- well [lah dee dah], we wouldn’t want you to do that…

- let these widows starve as long as your inheritance is protected…

- “His words clearly express concern for only his own interests; they show no concern for Ruth and the line of Elimelech at all.” (Bush, Ruth, p. 246).

- “Since he refused to restore the name of the dead to his inheritance, he himself has no name.  Anonymity implies judgment” (Tribble, God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality, p. 190).

- now, this is what we need to especially note…just like Orpah had been a contrast (foil) for Ruth…this unnamed kinsman was a contrast (foil) for Boaz…and remember, Boaz would have known everything about this man that we’ve just said…but still…

 

C. Boaz still made sure he fulfilled his responsibility to this man, although this man had not fulfilled his responsibility to Naomi and Ruth.

- “Boaz functions in the story as an example of covenant fidelity and God’s reward for faithfulness. A relative closer to Elimelech, who refuses to marry Ruth, serves as a foil for Boaz, but Boaz’ supreme act of virtue is not his marriage to Ruth, but rather his willingness to inform the nearer kinsman of his rights. By this gesture Boaz was setting aside his personal desires for the requirements of the covenant law (Anchor Bible – “Boaz”).”

 

- so what do we do with this?...we’re not here to glorify Boaz, but the God who provided Boaz with the strength necessary to live differently than the people around him…

- God can help you live with integrity…

- Boaz made sure that this man’s rights in the matter were considered…

- that’s what integrity does…and it doesn’t matter if everyone else is doing that which is right in their own eyes…

- and it’s like a plaque that someone made for me that I still have hanging on the wall of my office…in Noah’s day everybody else was doing it, but everybody else but Noah was wrong…

- as a student, deciding you’re not going to cheat…

- or as an employee, I’m not going to cut corners…

- as a spouse or a friend…I’m going to be loyal and faithful…

- integrity is a priceless commodity…and God stands ready to provide it to anyone who wants to live in a way that glorifies Him…

- [could develop – some of you have been the recipients of this gift – you have a Boaz-like person in your life – I hope you don’t take that person for granted…]

 

III. God Provides for the Needs of Widows.

- many have suggested that perhaps this book should have been named “Naomi”…

- and you understand, the titles were added later…and that comment isn’t something to get wound up about…but there’s no question that Naomi’s name often comes up in surprising places…and the point is…

A. He met Naomi’s needs in spite of her bitterness.

- you see that in this exchange between Boaz and the nearer kinsman…

- Ruth 4:3 - Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech.

- Ruth 4:5 - Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.”

- Ruth 4:9 - Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon…

- aren’t you glad we serve a God who does not cut us of the first time we mess up, or the second, or third…

- and I’m not trying to minimize sin, or suggest that sometimes there aren’t direct and even immediate consequences for our shortcomings…

- but the fact that Naomi could doubt and insult the Lord the way she did, and turn around and receive this kind of provision, demonstrates the truth of passage like…Psalm 103:10 - He has not dealt with us according to our sins, Nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

 

B. God emphasizes this principle throughout Scripture.

1. Under the old covenant.

- Psalm 146:9 - The Lord protects the strangers; He supports the fatherless and the widow, But He thwarts the way of the wicked.

- Proverbs 15:25 - The Lord will tear down the house of the proud, But He will establish the boundary of the widow.

2. Under the new covenant.

1 Timothy 5:9-10 - A widow is to be put on the list only if she is not less than sixty years old, having been the wife of one man,havinga reputation for good works; and if she has brought up children, if she has shown hospitality to strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has assisted those in distress, and if she has devoted herself to every good work.

- don’t you love serving a God who provides for every class of His people, especially those who are weak?...

C. This is an important opportunity for church members today.

- [talk about checking in with a senior saint – cleaning gutters, raking leaves, winterizing]

- thank John and Bonnie Holt, the Leffews

- cf. stat – half of the babies born today will live until they are 100?...think of the future ministry opportunities…

 

D. This is another reason the “sting” of death is removed.

- what is one of the primary worries people have as they get older?...

- if I pass away, who will take care of my wife?...who will care for my husband?...

- the ultimate answer – our faithful God, the secondary answer – His faithful people, who choose to be like Boaz…

 

IV. God Provides for Those Who Trust in Him.

 

A. Ruth became the bride of a very good man.

Ruth 4:10 - “Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.”

 

B. Her trust in God was vindicated.

- Ruth 1:9 - May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

- Ruth 1:16 - But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.

- I kidded a little bit about this being used in weddings, because the groom dies…well, that is, the first groom…

- but what looked like naïve rust turned out to be mature faith

 

- [tie to those who may be trusting God today, even though it’s hard]

 

V. God Even Provides for Those Who Have Died in Him.

 

A. Their inheritance was protected.

Ruth 4:9 - Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses today that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon.

 

B. Their lineage was perpetuated.

Ruth 4:10 - “Moreover, I have acquired Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of Mahlon, to be my wife in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance, so that the name of the deceased will not be cut off from his brothers or from the court of his birth place; you are witnesses today.”

 

- [develop -- been traveling a lot lately—time in airports and airplanes gives you a lot of time to think – I’m finishing up 22 years here, and we’ve had a number of people go one before us…but for those who died in Christ, we’re able to say…

- 2 Corinthians 5:6 - Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—

- Philippians 1:21 - For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

- Psalm 23:6 - Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

- Psalm 116:15 - Precious in the sight of the Lord Is the death of His godly ones.

 

 

VI. God Provides for Those Who Choose to be Faithful to Him

- the contrast was so stark between the unnamed kinsman and Boaz that the witnesses erupted in a spontaneous blessing…

 

A. The witness’s blessing.

- Ruth 4:11-12 - All the people who were in the court, and the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, both of whom built the house of Israel; and may you achieve wealth in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem.Moreover, may your house be like the house of Perez whom Tamar bore to Judah, through the offspring which the Lord will give you by this young woman.”

- there’s dozens of lessons there, but the point is that as they saw the significance of what Boaz had done, they likened his marriage to Ruth to some of the best known characters in Scripture…

-that your house be built, that your wealth be increased, and that your testimony be advanced…

 

B. God values faithfulness in others because it magnifies the faithfulness in Himself.

 

- the hesed of Boaz was a marvelous picture of the hesed of God…

- his fierce loyalty to His covenant…

- the words here are breathtakingly similar to Genesis 12…

- when you’re not doing that which is right in your own eyes, you open yourself up to receiving substantial and unique provision from your God.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987. He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and have two married daughters, a son, and two grandchildren. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church. He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors, Biblical Counseling Coalition, Vision of Hope, and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video