Everybody loves a story of redemption. But try to define it. Most dictionaries define redemption as “to buy back.” But who is buying what from whom? I think redemption is better defined by seeing it in action. The Book of Ruth is a great example of a redemption story. Though it seems bleak in the beginning, everything and everyone is redeemed in the end. What once seemed lost and wasted, God redeems miraculously. It is a picture of how He also redeems our hurt, our time, and ultimately our very souls.
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.
This story doesn’t start out very good. In the first verse people are starving to death. So this guy takes his wife and two sons to Moab. An Israelite family leaves Bethlehem (which ironically means ‘house of bread’) so they can get some scraps of bread in an enemy country. They didn’t have the patience or faith to believe that God would provide for them. And they would suffer the consequences.
Here is some background that is important to this story. Moab is the enemy of Israel for many reasons. Remember Sodom and Gomorrah? When Lot and his daughters escape and Lot’s wife looks back and turns to a pillar of salt and the daughters freak out because they think the end of the world has come and they need to get daddy drunk so he will have sex with them? Don’t tell me the Bible’s boring. Well, Lot had incest with his daughters and they both had sons as a result named Ammon and Moab. Then Moab founded a city and named it Moab. And they didn’t like Israel and Israel didn’t like them. Moab even hired a prophet to pronounce a curse on Israel, but before he could do it his donkey started talking to him and saved his life from the Angel of the Lord who was about to kill him with a sword. Read it later. Numbers 22. So God gave a command in Deuteronomy 23:3.
No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.
This story takes place in the 11th generation. As we will see, God redeems Ruth just as He redeems us.
3 Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
All of this happened after Naomi left God’s protection and provision because she thought she knew better. Even Moab looked good compared to trusting in God to provide food and security. But sometimes God has to wreck your life so He can resurrect your life. Naomi would have stayed in Moab and been content to live in “barely enough.” But God had bigger plans for her.
In your hand is a rose, the standard of beauty for flowers. Do you know what a rose bush goes through to produce roses like this? After a rose blooms, it starts to fade. If nothing is done, it might bloom again, but it won’t even look the same. But if a gardener cuts off the head, it will bloom fuller and produce more flowers. So a rose has to live and die before it can bloom again in the spring bigger and better than ever. God prunes us and sometimes it hurts and seems to ruin our lives, but if we trust in Him, we will live fuller and more abundant lives.
20″Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them.”Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
Naomi means “pleasant” and Mara means “bitter.” Naomi feels like God went out of His way to attack her. It isn’t clear who or what killed her husband and son, but it is clear that God wasn’t finished with her yet. This is only chapter one. You might think that your life has been wasted. That you were never meant to have a normal life. That God has abandoned you or even made your life harder. But that is only the beginning of your story. This is only chapter one of the story of your life.
Now if you are going to blame God for all your troubles and hardships, then you have to give Him credit for all of the good things. It was not God’s fault that Naomi and her family decided to leave Bethlehem and settle in Moab. What were they expecting to happen? They might get scraps of food that were bigger than the lean times in Israel, but was it worth it? Sometimes we look in the wrong places and settle for lesser things because the road is easier and the risk is smaller. Don’t settle in Moab. Don’t settle for someone willing to date you. Wait for someone worthy to date you. Don’t settle for a job that doesn’t use the talents and skills God gave you. Volunteer your time and talents to help people in need.
You never get anything good from something good. Only through overcoming adversity are we even able to understand what good really is. Sometimes I wish we could just go back to the Garden of Eden and eat fruit all day, naked. That seems easy enough. But God had a better plan. If we stayed there, we would never really get to know Him. He could say He is good and holy and perfect and loving, but if we never experienced evil and hatred and difficulty then we would never know what good really is. We could hear it and read about it, but good and holy would sound like blah-blah-blah if we never experienced evil and adversity. We learn that He is strong when we are weak. We learn what it means for God to be holy when we sin. And we learn about God’s mercy and grace and love when we experience hatred, unforgiveness, and bitterness.
Many of us are in the midst of doing an exercise program called Insanity. Towards the end of one of the dvds, Shaun T says, “I’m not trying to hurt you, I’m trying to make you better.” That is the goal of any exercise routine. It hurts. Our muscles burn, then get sore the next morning and the next morning after that. We sweat. We are humbled. We doubt ourselves. We doubt our trainer. We doubt our bodies and lack courage and determination. But if we press on, we will get ripped just like me. (start lifting up shirt) If we trust in God to get through the adversity and difficulties in life, then He will redeem our hurt. We will be stronger. We will be better. And we will be better able to handle other challenges as they come our way.
Hurt actually intensifies our joy. When we finish Insanity, we will be filled with satisfaction and joy and accomplishment because we put in all that work and sweat and tears to become stronger and more flexible and ripped. You don’t get that feeling from surgery or starving yourself. God redeems our hurt by making us stronger and replacing our hurt with joy.
God redeems our time as well. For many of us, we think of this time in our lives as a waiting period. We are waiting for our career to pick up, waiting for school to be over, waiting for our spouse, waiting for Jon to stop saying waiting. But there is no waste of time with God. While we wait, God is molding our character so we are worth even more than we ever hoped to be. God made you with a purpose, for a purpose, on purpose. And he is not done with you yet.
When creating a vessel for special purpose, a wise potter follows a certain procedure. There is a plan and destiny for the lump of clay in the potter’s hands. The clay is pounded, pressed, and pressure placed upon it to make it pliable. It is placed upon the potter’s wheel and pressure applied to start molding it into shape. When the desired shape is achieved, the potter places his creation into the kiln for intense heat to be applied to harden it. After cooling, stain is applied to the hardened pot. It is fired again to make sure the stain and colors are permanent. The pot is beautiful and ready for use, right? NO! The wise potter wants his creation to be completely ready for its intended purpose. He places it on a shelf in a dark, lonely place to age. When the time is right, he takes the pot out of the darkness and brings it into the light for use. Otherwise, an unprepared vessel could break and spoil the contents it carries.
So rather than look at this time as a waiting period, we can look at this time allowing God to shape and mold us into better people. Naomi’s daughters chose two different paths and perspectives. One was ordinary; one was extraordinary.
Naomi decided to go back to Israel and her daughters-in-law wanted to go with her.
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me–even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons– 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!” 14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.
Oprah (I know it is Orpah, but Oprah is way more fun to say) did what any of us would. She went back to her hometown and tried to start over. It was the easier road. She would not have to leave her friends and family and gods and she had a much better chance of finding a husband there to take care of her now that she was a widow. Oprah did what was expected and reasonable; but Ruth was different. She had already begun to learn from her adversity and develop extraordinary character. Oprah turned back; Ruth turned to God.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
Moab served a different god than Israel. By leaving Moab, Ruth was turning her back on her gods and idols to serve the one true God. She could never return to Moab again. Only through adversity could she learn loyalty. God was teaching her how to be loyal so she could be loyal to God and her future husband. Think of it this way. A brain surgeon doesn’t suddenly pick up a saw one day and start to do brain surgery successfully, does he? He gains confidence as he learns more and more each day through teaching, observance, and experience. The training is hard and becomes increasingly more risky, but it is the only way that he can become a great brain surgeon. Similarly, we can not become great men and women of character if we get handed everything on a silver platter. We have to take the time to learn from our mistakes and other’s mistakes. Though it seems that we are accomplishing nothing, if we allow God to mold our character using our circumstances, then He will redeem our time and make everything worth waiting for.
Ruth was so loyal that she vowed not to leave Naomi even after she died. When they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth didn’t worry about herself. She did all that she could to take care of Naomi.
And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.
Ruth went out to the fields at random and gathered what she could of the wheat left for the poor. Ruth 2:3 matter-of-factly states, “She happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz.” Of all the fields that she could have “happened” upon, “her chance chanced upon” (the more literal translation) the fields of Boaz, her future spouse. The Bible is not teaching us to believe in chance or destiny or fate; it is showing us an example of what God will do for those who are faithful to Him and trust in Him. It was God who led Ruth to the fields of Boaz and it is God who will lead each of us to our future. Don’t get wrapped up in obsessive methods of searching for “the one;” keep your mind on The One who created you and your future and you will “happen” upon your future as you are faithful to Him. God is faithful. He will do it. Let your chance chance upon you as you are obedient to God.
Ruth happens upon the field of her future husband and redeemer and the very next verse confirms that God’s timing is perfect.
4Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters
There are no coincidences with God. Just as Ruth just happened to chance upon the fields of her future spouse, Boaz just happened to show up just in time to meet Ruth in that same field. God orchestrated this whole story. God will orchestrate your life into a beautiful symphony. He redeems the time. When you think your biological clock is ticking, His clock is right on time. His timing is perfect. You could spend years planning something that it takes God only a few seconds to get done. Let Him take control. He has better plans for you.
Unnoticed and ignored before, Ruth’s character becomes obvious as time goes on.
7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She went into the field and has worked steadily from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” 8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
Ruth could have been like, “hey, who wants to help me pick up some wheat today?” But then she’d be fishing for the wrong type of man and never would have met Boaz. Boaz’s character also shines through. He is generous, compassionate, and protective.
10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?” Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband–how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Ruth is also humble and kind and loyal and trustworthy. How do you know when you have these characteristics? When other people say them about you – even behind your back. Boaz said “I’ve been told about what you have done.” He did his research and everyone had only good things to say about her.
13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant–though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.”
Ruth lists Boaz’s characteristics: “you have given me comfort” another translation says you have “allayed my fears” and “have spoken kindly” Are your words biting and mean? Are you quick to criticize? Or are they encouraging and uplifting, helping allay fear and doubt? Adversity will bring that out in you and give you the ability to empathize better. When you are going through a hard time, do you want encouragement or someone to tell you your faults?
Boaz’s generosity was more than enough for Ruth and Naomi during harvest time, but winter was coming. Israelite law provided widows with a kinsman-redeemer who would take care of them and give them a home. The kinsman-redeemer was the closest relative to a widow’s husband. He had the option of redeeming her property and making sure her family line would live on by fathering a son for her. Naomi was too old to have any more children so Ruth would take her place. Unfortunately, their closest kinsman didn’t compare to Boaz. He pales in comparison so badly that the story doesn’t even mention his name. He is literally called “so-and-so.” But we will call him Bozo.
1 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. 2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so. 3Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line.” “I will redeem it,” he said. 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.” 6 At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, “Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it.”
Bozo – For very little money, he could carry out a respected family duty and look good doing it. His little investment would develop into years of productive, profitable harvests that would make him and his children rich. But when Boaz mentioned that he would be responsible for marrying Ruth and fathering a son, he didn’t think about family duties anymore or all the great things he had heard about Ruth. He only thought about his children and how much money it was going to cost him to provide for Naomi, Ruth, and any kids they would have in the future. Suddenly it was too expensive and dangerous for him.
Notice Boaz does not speak poorly of Ruth as he tries to convince Bozo to not redeem her. He could have said, “She’s plain-looking, she’s a golddigger, her hips are too narrow for having children, but he focuses on how it will affect Bozo and his wallet..
While waiting on your Boaz don’t settle for any of his relatives: Brokeaz, Poaz, Jackaz, Halfaz, Lyingaz, Cheatingaz, Dumbaz, Fakeaz, Cryingaz, Punkaz, Goodfornothingaz, Lazyaz, Drunkaz, Cheapaz, Lockedupaz, Crazyaz, Stupidaz, Donkeyaz, Fataz, Smartaz, Controllinaz, Cracksmokinaz and especially his distant cousins Beatyoaz & Badcreditaz. Wait on your Boaz and make sure he respects Yoaz.
God redeems the time. Rather than being a waste of time, God uses your difficulties to mold and shape your character so you become a better person. I wrote a poem about it. You wanna hear it?
I think about the years I’ve spent, just passing through
I’d like to have the time I lost, and give it back to you
But you just smile and take my hand
You’ve been there, you understand
It’s all part of a grander plan that is coming true
Every long lost dream led me to where you are
Others who broke my heart, they were like northern stars
Pointing me on my way into your loving arms
This much I know is true that God bless the broken road
That led me straight to you
I said I wrote a poem. I wrote down the lyrics. I didn’t say I was the original author.
God is your original owner. He created you with a purpose, for a purpose, on purpose. And your value has not decreased no matter what you’ve said, what you’ve done, or what you haven’t accomplished. You are not damaged goods. You are worthy. Jesus proved that when He died for you. You are worth His only son’s life.
When you choose to follow Jesus, you leave your owner and start moving towards a different path. Before you were a slave to sin, but now you are a servant of God.
The Book of Ruth is a picture of what God has done for us and what He is doing with us: the process of redemption. Naomi was lost. She used to be a child of God, but she turned her back on God and walked away and settled for Moab. Only when she lost everything and hope was dead did she turn to God and start following Him back home. But redemption isn’t just that one moment when you exchange your life for His. You don’t become perfect overnight. Redemption is a process. You aren’t earning your redemption, but you begin living worthy of your redemption. Because God didn’t redeem you at your lowest value. God redeemed you at your highest potential value. He couldn’t pay a higher price for you; He paid it all for you. When God looks at you, He doesn’t see your past and your faults. He sees a man or woman of God that is and will be worthy of redemption if you allow Him to shape and mold you. He doesn’t want to hurt you; he wants to make you better.
God redeems our hurt. God redeems our time. God is redeeming us.