Here we are two weeks after the end of lockdown and I wonder how you are feeling. There’s a lot to be hopeful for. Many people have been vaccinated and it seems that this is helping reduce the number of people ending up in hospital. At last, we can look forward to normal church returning and other aspects of our lives getting back to normal again. They are even letting the crowds back into Valley Parade again. Though I think most Bantams fans are hoping that it won’t be “normal service resumed”. At the same time, so many of us are still understandably anxious. We’ve been warned that there could be further lockdowns and a difficult winter ahead. And all of us carry the scars of the last year, we’ve lost time with loved ones, we’ve felt trapped and isolated, some of us have been seriously ill and many of us have suffered grief and loss through the pandemic.
I’ve been challenged again and again that our aim shouldn’t be just to “survive these tragic and desperate times.” God calls us to be holy, to grow in likeness to him. To be godly. How are we to do that? It seems that much of the Bible is about “big heroes. If we were an Elijah, a Gideon, a Solomon or a Paul then it might be obvious as to what we should be doing. But what about ordinary people like us living through extraordinary times?
Tucked in between the big stories of judges, prophets and kings is this little story of one ordinary family and indeed of one ordinary person, Ruth, a refugee, a widow with nothing to her name, a stranger in another country.
Our story starts in Bethlehem. There’s a man called Elimelech, and he’s married to Naomi. The story is laden with irony which is brought out by the names of people and places. Elimelech’s name means “God is my king” and his wife’s name has the idea of pleasantness and beauty. Bethlehem means ‘ House of bread.’ So all the names point to trust in God and his provision. However, they face famine, their children’s names, Marlon and Killion sound very similar to the Hebrew for ‘weak’ and ‘sickling’ and the family find themselves as refugees in Moab, a foreign country.
There tragedy strikes again. Dad dies and his two sons also die having married Moabite women. Naomi returns home to Bethlehem hearing that the famine has ended. One daughter in law, Ruth persists in coming with her. They arrive as the Barley Harvest is happening and Naomi announces a name change. From now on she is to be known as “Bitter.”
Ruth goes out to glean. The Law provided for those who were poor and widowed, requiring that land owners must not harvest all the grain but leave some on the edges of fields for the poor to collect. The landowner, Boaz is a gracious and righteous man. He could use all kinds of excuses to get out his responsibilities, after all, these are uncertain times, who is to say there would be good harvests to follow? And doesn’t charity start at home? Why look out for a foreigner. Yet he chooses to go above and beyond, protecting Ruth, allowing her to keep gleaning in his field, inviting her to join him to eat and telling his workers to provide for her abundantly.
It turns out that Boaz is a “kinsman redeemer”. The aim of the law was that land stayed with a family and was passed down to descendants. Part of that law meant that widows were to be looked after including by a relative stepping in to marry a young widow if her husband died. Boaz was related to Elimelech and Naomi. However, before he could step in, we discover in chapters 2-3 that there was someone else who might have a prior claim. Boaz offers him the chance to step in. He is keen on getting the land but not the wife so backs out from his responsibilities. Boaz steps in and becomes Ruth’s redeemer. They marry and have a son, Obed. Does that name ring a bell? Well Obed was the father of a guy called Jesse and Jesse had a son called David.
Ruth, the Moabitess, the foreigner and outcast who has lived with death, curse and shame is not only brought into God’s people, not just looked after as a refugee but becomes part of the family line of King David and therefore of Jesus.
A story of refuge and salvation
I want to highlight two verses. First in chapter 1, Naomi is returning to Bethlehem. She urges Ruth to go back to her home town and mother. Ruth responds.
16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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.
Then in chapter 2, Ruth asks Boaz why he is being so generous and caring towards a refugee girl like her. He responds:
12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
What is Ruth’s place in the story? What does she do in chaotic and uncertain times? How does she make a difference? The answer is very simple, she seeks refuge in the Living God. She does this by being willing to leave behind all of the security and support of home and attach herself to her mother-in-law. Instead she looks to the true and living God to be her refuge,
She does this also as she looks to Boaz. You’ll have noticed the word “redeemer”. Boaz is meant to point us forward, he is giving us a picture of what the true and great redeemer, Jesus, is like. There’s another guy who seems to have a claim on Ruth and that has to be dealt with first. Ruth must come to the stage where she isn’t looking to anyone or anything else for her salvation, protection and refuge. And that’s how we must come to Christ, “nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.”
Our place in the story
So, what about our place in the story? What does God ask of us? Can you identify with Ruth today? You see the first, most important and in fact only thing that we are asked to do is to find refuge in Jesus, to cling to Christ, to trust him to look after us. It means acknowledging our helplessness, we need a saviour to rescue us, a redeemer to buy us back from sin and death, to forgive us and give us new life. Have you done that? Is there anything or anyone else you are looking to or depending on? Or have you learnt to cling to Christ and trust him alone.
If we’ve trusted in Christ and are clinging to him, them the follow on is that we can simply live our ordinary lives. By being a kind and generous neighbour (like Boaz) even when things are tough for us, by playing our part in the life of the church, however big or small that seems, by being ready to tell people your testimony when they ask. These things may seem small but God chooses to use the small and weak things for his glory.
Ruth ended up being part of the lineage of the King of Kings (as an ancestor), we find ourselves part of that same family line (as younger brothers and sisters) and there is enough hope to see us through uncertain days.