Growing in God’s Love: “Love’s Foundation” – Ruth 4

Like most healthy and reasonably “normal” children, I didn’t really follow politics, but there were some names I overheard and learned in my early life. One of those unmistakable family names was “Kennedy.” I don’t think it is a stretch to say that most Americans of that time thought we would likely have decades of the Kennedy family in the news and perhaps even in the White House…

John F. Kennedy (D-Mass.) the Senator from Massachusetts, in his Washington, D.C. office, February 27, 1959. (AP Photo)

I was only two years old when President John F. Kennedy was cut down by an assassin’s bullet as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas. Later, when I was seven years old, President Kennedy’s brother, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, was shot and killed in Los Angeles, California, after winning the California Democratic primary for the upcoming Presidential election. With both gone, most eyes turned to yet another Kennedy brother – Ted. Just a year after the loss of Robert Kennedy, a single-vehicle car accident on Chappaquiddick Island brought his journey to the White House to an end. U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy’s admitted negligence in driving resulted in the death of his 28-year-old companion, Mary Jo Kopechne. According to Kennedy’s own testimony, he accidentally drove his car off the one-lane bridge, swam free and left the scene. He pleaded guilty to “leaving the scene of a crash causing personal injury” and was given a two-month suspended jail sentence. I believe it is safe to say that scandal haunted the rest of his political career. Some in the media murmured about the family being “cursed.” Others waited to see what the next generation would bring.

Perhaps you were moved, as many Americans were, while watching television on the day of President Kennedy’s burial by the salute of little “John-John.” He became the hope for the Kennedy clan’s future. That is until he perished in a plane crash. Our nation again stood shocked around television sets in the summer of 1999 when John Kennedy, Jr. at the age of thirty-eight, crashed into the waters off the coast of Massachusetts. His wife and sister both died in the crash as well.

The sense of a curse deepened in the press. Yet, the truth seemed simpler than some plot or curse. Investigators concluded Kennedy was a qualified pilot but only according to VFR (visual flight regulations). He was not qualified to fly by instruments (IFR–instrument flight regulations). As he flew along the Atlantic Coast, he encountered a blinding fog. Only an IFR trained pilot would have been properly prepared to navigate through the confusing haze.

Immediately after the accidental crash, some pilots explained the disorienting nature of flying without any visual reference points. As strange as it seems, a pilot can lose all sense of direction relative to the ground. Without a view of the horizon, some lights in the distance or another reference point, a pilot can’t reliably perceive what direction he or she is heading. Some have come out of such fog banks flying perpendicular to the ground of even upside down from the earth! There is only one way to safely fly in such conditions, and that is for the pilot to keep his eye fixed on the instruments in the cockpit. The plane electronically provides an artificial horizon marker and makes clear the height, airspeed, and attitude (ascent or descent). The instruments tell the pilot the truth when they can’t see it with their eyes. The toughest part, according to many seasoned pilots, is learning to have unquestioned faith in the instruments – particularly when you feel something different from what they indicate.

Think about the faith it takes to fly on instrument flight regulations. Could you overcome your feelings and trust the panel in front of you?

Now, look at the situations in your life. Sometimes the way forward is clear. The alarm clock says, “Get up!” You hit the button, jump out of bed and head to the shower. It isn’t a mystery; you need to get ready for work. How you feel isn’t all that relevant, since you know the bills will roll in either way. That seems simple enough – but that isn’t all there is to daily life.

A plane lands in thick fog today at Heathrow Airport. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Tuesday November 22, 2011. Photo credit should read: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

Maybe the circumstances you are passing through aren’t all that clear. Maybe you sympathize with the pilot in the fog bank because it feels like that is where you are living right now. Maybe circumstances don’t look particularly good, and God doesn’t seem particularly close… or even fair right now. This wasn’t in the brochure. You don’t know how to trust without being able to see… If you understand that feeling, then you understand my friend Naomi, and you can pick out the struggle she went through long ago. If you feel unprepared, remember that is the very reason stories like this one are in the Bible – to train you to keep focused on the instruments (in this case the promises and Person of God) when flying in the fog.

In the Book of Ruth, Naomi had a crisis of trust. God loved her, but she couldn’t see it. For a long time, it felt like He didn’t love her, didn’t want to tenderly care for her, and didn’t make anything clear. As you open Ruth 4, listen to the truth she learned from her “fog bank” experience…

Key Principle: Walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not my limited view of life’s circumstances.

Naomi learned a spiritual version of flying by “instrument flight regulations.” She had to stay focused on God’s character and not her circumstances – and that took training.

Because you may have been away from the story for a while, let’s recall what the Book is all about.

In chapter one, Naomi was given by God two sons, but they were both sickly. She was given a husband, but he died. She was given by God a farm, but a famine drove her from living there for a time. Widowed and broken, she set her face to return from Moab back to Bethlehem. Against her initial wishes, one of her daughters-in-law, a Moabite girl named Ruth, came with her. Naomi arrived back to her old family farm with a companion, but utterly overtaken by bitterness toward God.

In chapter two, we find Naomi begin to soften a bit. Ruth asked to go and glean in the fields among the leftovers, and God directed her to a relative of the family who was kind and generous named Boaz. His care for Ruth and for Naomi’s situation revived hope in Naomi, and allowed her to see that God wasn’t cruelly stripping her of everything – He was repositioning her.

By the third chapter, Boaz showed love to the family and promised that he would see their needs through to the end… We feel like good things are coming, but they don’t happen until the last chapter.

Throughout the story, we learn that we need to live patiently before God.

We need to face the fact that God doesn’t rush us out of discomfort if leaving us there will position our life where He can best use us. We learn that He can set the stage by removing people dear to us and by removing situations that are both comfortable and familiar. He supplies people to help us, and He opens doors for us – but He does it to fit His plan and His timing.

As we close the story of Naomi’s life, we need to consider how walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not our view of circumstances. I have in mind an ironic truth: The greatest joy of this life is that our greatest joy isn’t found in this life. Because of that, we can’t see purpose here. It is only found in finally viewing the story from Heaven’s perspective. To that end, look at the last chapter, which we can divide into three simple parts:

• First, there is the story of the redemption of the family of Elimelech, the deceased husband of Naomi (4:1-12).

• Second, there is the marriage and childbearing of Ruth that brings about the celebration of Naomi (4:13-17a).

• Third, there is a narrator’s note on the reason the whole story is essential to this day (4:17b-22).

Ruth was promised by Boaz in chapter three that he would be willing to help Naomi raise up the name of her dead husband and restore their farm and standing in the community. How did he do it?

Redeeming the family and name of Elimelech (4:1-12)

The text records the redemption of the family at the ancient courtroom found in the gate of the city of Bethlehem. Watch as Boaz makes good on his promise:

Boaz organized the gathering (4:1-2)

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, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down.

There they sat, Boaz and eleven men gathered by him to discuss the matter of the loss of the name of Elimelech and the need to redeem his property. The Law had few restrictions on women of the era in terms of their ability to buy, sell or grow a business or run a farm. Proverbs 31 illustrates the fact that a good woman performed many business functions. Don’t get hung up on the fact that she stayed at home, for that is where people operated their businesses – both men and women. The chief issue was this: a woman couldn’t operate her home business pursuits without a male heir whose name was listed among the tribes of Israel. This allowed the property to be identified by tribe and family and held the land in trust according to God’s prescribed order. Elimelech died leaving no male heir. The relatives could redeem his name by marriage and “takeover” of assets and liabilities, but the order in which they could apply to the court was based on a specific lineage order. Boaz wanted to see Naomi and Ruth cared for, and the farm redeemed – but he knew he wasn’t first in the line to redeem the family – someone else was before him. The text continued:

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. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 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.” 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.” 7 Now, this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning the redemption and the exchange of land to confirm any matter: a man removed his sandal and gave it to another, and this was the manner of attestation in Israel. 8 So the closest relative said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself.” And he removed his sandal. 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. 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.”

The court witnessed three issues that day.

First, the land and property of Elimelech were, in effect, purchased by Boaz.

He was taking on all debts and responsibilities for the property. Boaz removed his sandal and put on the sandal of Elimelech, openly beginning a journey to “walk in his shoes” as a metaphor for taking over in his place.

The idea of redemption in the Bible is simple: it is a purchase. When Boaz redeemed the property of Elimelech, he was making crops raised on that property saleable under Elimelech’s name. He was reviving the position of one who had been removed from the rolls because of his death. Real estate hung in limbo for a time because of no permanent tribal record of a living heir. The property was in jeopardy when the next Jubilee year would reset the records of property. Boaz pledged his fortune to cover all the markers on the land.

Christians use the term redemption in a related way as we look in the Christian Scriptures. The idea comes, in part, from the Law and stories like this one in Ruth. We find the term used in places like Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus where he wrote:

Ephesians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, 4 just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love 5 He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, 6 to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. 7 In Him, we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us ...

Don’t get lost in all the words. Paul made the point that God blessed us with all kinds of rich spiritual blessings which will reach completion when we are in His presence in Heaven (1:3). He intentionally chose us long before we were here – with the end purpose of bringing us to holiness (1:4). Out of love God purposefully adopted us (1:5-6). How did He do it?

He did it by redeeming us. The term translated “redemption” is “apolýtrōsis” and literally means “to buy back, to re-purchase something once owned but later lost.”

The Bible teaches that man was created by God and was His personal property. In rebellion, mankind turned from God as a child that ran away. When God “found” us (an analogy with limits, to be sure), we were enslaved. He had to buy us back. Fortunately for us, God had what was required in the form of the sacrifice of His Perfect Son. The blood that paid for our sin, should we decide to accept it, is effective to cleanse us. It also provides the full re-purchase price to put us into the family of God as adopted children. We who follow Jesus are His twice over: once by creation and the second by redeemed purchase.

Second, the name of Elimelech was overtaken by Boaz.

All children of the union of Boaz and Ruth were legally named after Elimelech, and the property remained in his name under his proxy, Boaz. To redeem the name, Boaz lost the right to transfer his own name to others. He gave up his place so that others would have the proper attachment to their rightful father.

Throughout the Bible, the idea of “giving a name” was to take responsibility for and to act on behalf of and in the character of another. Think about these two meanings for a moment:

In some Bible stories, a person gave a name to another to show they were (in some way) taking responsibility for them. Adam did this with the animals, to show he recognized his responsibility to care for them. He named Eve to show he understood his responsibility to her as well. In the Ruth narrative, Boaz took the responsibilities of the dead man Elimelech from chapter one.

Think about this: When I pray “in the name of Jesus,” I am consciously recognizing that He is the One Who can DO the things I ask. He is the One with the responsibility to act where I cannot.

In other Bible stories, the giving of a name is about ascribing character. Many are the stories where understanding the name of the people is key to recognizing the whole story. In Ruth, her name is derived from “Re-ut” – the term for “friendship.” Who can miss that she is the example of the concept? Like Jacob, whose name meant “trickster,” and scores of others, their name helped their story along.

Again, I remember that when I pray “in the name of Jesus” I am to bring petitions that match His character. I dare not ask for something He would not ask. I offer a request because I know, in the end, the granting of it will bring honor to my Savior.

Third, a marriage was announced.

Boaz announced his intention to marry Ruth in hopes of bearing children to re-stock the household of Elimelech with boys. These would carry the name of one who formerly was lost from the tribal records because of death and loss of all of his name-bearing sons. The people were excited, and their blessings reflect they understood what the priority of the marriage was for Boaz. They exclaimed:

Ruth 4:11 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. 12 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.”

Between Rachel, Leah, with Bilhah and Zilpah (their maids) the twelve sons of Judah were born. According to Numbers 26:20-21, the house of Perez was a very sizeable clan. All in all, they were exclaiming, may your house be full to overflowing – the best way to both become people of wealth and of fame!

It shouldn’t escape any Jesus follower that the completion of the redemption happened with the wedding of the two. That same truth applies to our own re-purchase by Jesus! We await the coming of the groom as the “bride of Christ!” It is for this reason, we are to be preparing ourselves, by walking distinctly from the world around us.

That is the first of the three stories of the passage, that is, the court proceedings that redeemed the family. The other two parts of the passage are the results of that story. Notice the first outcome was the fruitfulness of the family…

The marriage and childbearing of Ruth (4:13-17a)

Ruth 4:13 So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife, and he went in to her. And the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. 15 May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her lap, and became his nurse. 17 The neighbor women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi!”

Did you happen to notice that most of the focus of the account was not on the baby, nor on the baby’s parents – but on Naomi, the matriarch of the redeemed and restored family? Naomi suffered loss and became bitter. Now God showed her a small touch of His love and a slight glance at the beginning of His purpose. She didn’t live long enough to see it all, but she began to get a glimpse of this truth: the death of Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion were not the end of her family’s story – they set up the special way God chose to use them.

The reason the whole story is essential to this day (4:17b-22)

The last story unfolds the true underlying purpose of the whole story. This was a legal document of lineage for a king that sat on the throne of Jerusalem. Little “nobody Naomi” and her unloved and forgotten family were awarded a critical role in the plan of God! The writer ended the story with these words:

Ruth 4:17b “…So they named him Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: to Perez [s]was born Hezron, 19 and to Hezron was born Ram, and to Ram, Amminadab, 20 and to Amminadab was born Nahshon, and to Nahshon, Salmon, 21 and to Salmon was born Boaz, and to Boaz, Obed, 22 and to Obed was born Jesse, and to Jesse, David.

Can we not see that our life is bigger than we know? Can we not understand what the Lord told us concerning the plan? Proverbs 16:9 echoes through history: “The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.” God is at work behind the staging of your life, before your life, beneath the fabric of your life. He forgets no one. He misses nothing…

In a way, your life is in His hands. Your role in the world is His to write into the scroll. In another way, you have much that you can and should do. You must learn to fly by instruments because the fog will roll in. Even though you won’t choose the fog that one day will surround your life, how you see where you are in the midst of the fog is your choice. You can prepare to learn to fly without sight.

A young student in China decided to play a trick on his elderly teacher one day. He caught a small bird and cupped it in his hands behind his back. He then approached his master with a plan in mind. He would ask the wise man what he had in his hand. If he answered correctly, he would then ask the teacher if the bird was dead or alive. If the wise man said, “Alive,” he would crush the bird. If he answered, “Dead,” he would release the bird. Upon approaching the teacher, the young student said, “Old man, what do I have in my hand?” The man responded, “A bird, my son.” “Is he dead or alive, old man?” the boy asked with a grin. The old sage thought for a moment and then he replied, “The answer to that question, my son, is in your hands… It’s in your hands.”

Here is the truth from Naomi’s life: No matter what you think about your circumstances – God is at work in, through, and around you. She thought God left her family, but she found out that only by famine would she move to Moab. Only in Moab would she find Ruth, and only through Ruth would the story of her family be redeemed.

• The loss of her husband wasn’t a fluke – it made her leave Moab and go home to start the king’s lineage.

• The loss of her sons wasn’t happenstance – they set the stage for a redeemer.

“Wait!” you might say, “I have made so many bad choices! I am not like Naomi at all!” That is nonsense. Her sons married forbidden women. A Moabitess shouldn’t have been in the gown of an Israelite wedding. You must understand: No matter how much you think your bad decisions have blocked God’s love, as long as you are breathing, God is at work in your life. Your bad choices didn’t put you too far from God’s ability to work in your life.

You simply MUST learn to fly by the instrument panel etched on His face. You have to trust His character and not the foggy mess of your circumstances.

When you learn to fly by instruments, you place your faith in His ability and begin trusting a mind greater than your own. That is part of the surrender process. You begin by plotting the course to the destination by allowing God to lead you – since you know He knows what you cannot know. In short, flying by instruments includes beginning my journey with the end in mind.

The first thing we learn to do in our journey is to think through our destination, because it has much to do with how we get where we are going. When we know where we are headed, the point of the journey becomes clearer. What we take with us and why we value it becomes clearer.

Let’s say it this way: My first task in learning to trust God and not my circumstances MUST be to clarify in my mind where I’m headed.

Philippians 3:20 reminds me: “You are a citizen of Heaven!” How does that affect my view of Washington’s woes and the mountains of problems of this life? I must keep in mind that what looks like a reversal and defeat of the Lord’s plan isn’t that at all.

I must also learn that my Father may chart a course through a storm I cannot see in, but He is not unsure of where I am going and how to get me there. The way for Israel to get to the Promised Land was THROUGH the harsh desert and hot sands. The way for you to get to the land of His promise may take you for a time through that same sand pit. For a while, you may smell the camels. God hasn’t left; He is leading where you cannot see. Remember, Israel wasn’t ready to fight for the land without attacks from desert people that taught them warfare. Some of your problems are to teach you and prepare you to use the defenses God has set up for you. You cannot “fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6) alongside the likes of the Apostle Paul and his fellows, without some fight club training and a few bruises.

If I second-guess His way, I’ll grab the wheel and begin living by feeling! If I waste time fighting His every directional change and keep “putting in my two cents” every time He inputs instructions for my directions, I keep arguing the foolish point that I can do this as well as He does. He has told me to “Trust in HIM with all my heart and NOT lean on my own understanding.” He has explained that I must “in all my ways acknowledge Him, and He will make my paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5, 6). He knows the best way for me to get where He is leading. I simply don’t.

The excursion may be long, but I know I’m going to arrive if I trust Him to get me there. No matter what I see or cannot see right now, knowing He is leading me opens the door to freedom and optimism, because “He Who began a good work in me will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ!” (Philippians 1:6).

If I am willing to let the instruments take over, there is a great opportunity. Think of it this way: The beauty is they start wherever I am. The instruments don’t tell me there is no way to get there from where I am. If I grab the controls and pull things off course, I have a reset – a renewed trust – where they will again take over. It is possible that I may willfully disobey and pull away in mistrust, but I have a Savior who reassures me that doesn’t put me beyond His grasp. That is why He has told us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

• If it is true that He can grab the controls and lead me home, then it is also true that my future has more power over me than my past. The journey is all about what lies ahead.

• All the nonsense detours, all the silly wrong turns, all the accidental forays away from the destination mean little to the journey once the instruments take control.

• Stop acting like you can’t turn over the controls when you can’t see anyway! You can have a start fresh.

Walking in God’s love means trusting His character, not my limited view of life’s circumstances… Love’s foundation is trust. The problem is you have to choose to trust what He knows over what you think you see.