Practically every Fairy Tale ends with the same words, "And they lived happily ever after."
This is everyone's dream. To live "happily ever after." To marry your dream girl. To land your dream job. To live in your dream house. To enjoy a dream vacation.
Yet for most of us, at some point along the journey, the dream gets derailed. For some, it is shattered. Marriage is harder than you expected. Every job has its thorns. Sometimes it rains at the beach. And then there are pandemics.
The plight of Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth is a story embedded with a shattered dream that leads to anger at and resentment toward God—resentment that eventually crystalizes into bitterness and despair. It is also a dream of redemption where a new and even better dream than before is birthed and grows in the very place where hope had died. After walking through the valley of the shadow of death, these two widows find themselves in the hills of hope with a mountain-top experience awaiting them in the final chapter.
You may be walking through your own valley right now. At some point, we all do. And with how the corona crisis has impacted our world, we all have walked a kind of valley.
Every day in the news we are met with the numbers of how many people have died from the virus since yesterday—a death toll that has surpassed by thousands in just months the number of Americans killed over ten years in the Vietnam War. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. When we calculate the exacerbation of domestic violence and drug abuse, the looming bankruptcies, depression, and anxiety spikes, the impact is even more wide-ranging than the medical impact.
There is so much sadness everywhere. And there always has been. Disease and death and war and injustice is nothing new. It is a consequence of living in a broken, what the Bible calls a sinful world.
It would seem as if fairy tales were written to mock us.
Or maybe they are intended to uncover a deep desire within each of us that longs for the paradise of Eden to be restored.
That is one reason why the story of Ruth has been written for us—to awaken the desire for joy and fuel it with hope with confidence that the paradise for which we long is not just a dream.
We really can live happily forever after.
Ruth chapter 4 shows us how this is possible by outlining three critical components of making the new dream a living reality.
The first step toward paradise takes place in verses 1-12, where…
THE LAW IS FULFILLED
1 Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 And he took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. 4 So I thought I would tell you of it and say, ‘Buy it in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it. But if you will not, tell me, that I may know, for there is no one besides you to redeem it, and I come after you.” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you also acquire Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead, in order to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” 6 Then the redeemer said, “[Then] I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” 7 Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. 8 So when the redeemer said to Boaz, “Buy it for yourself,” he drew off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. 10 Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have [secured] to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” 11 Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, 12 and may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the Lord will give you by this young woman.”
Obviously, the marriage between Ruth and Boaz is no ordinary marriage. He is agreeing to participate in what is called levirate marriage.
The word levirate
comes from the Latin word levir
, which means "husband's brother." In levirate marriage, a childless widow marries the closest unmarried relative of her deceased husband, usually a brother-in-law.
In this arrangement, the brother would agree to provide for the widowed sister-in-law, as well as to produce an heir for the deceased brother, an heir that would take on the brother’s name and receive the brother's inheritance. However, it didn't have to be a brother. While the closest relative was given the first opportunity to serve as a levirate husband, but he could decline, allowing the next in line the opportunity to become the redeemer of the widowed woman.
This is what happens with Ruth and Boaz.
Levirate marriage, like any marriage today, was a legal contract between two people who take vows, making promises of faithfulness before gathered witnesses. Therefore, fulfilling the law becomes critical. This is what Boaz is doing in verses 1 and 2 by going to the town gate first thing in the morning.
He is fulfilling the law. Making it official. Closing any loopholes.
The town "gate" was like the courthouse where the elders functioned as a city council who would witness legal transactions and settle disputes. It is here that the other potential kinsman-redeemer "just happens" to be walking by.
Verses 3-8 depict the negotiation between Boaz and this other, unnamed man. In a brilliant move, Boaz gets the man to renounce his right to purchase Naomi's land so that Boaz can step in as the redeemer of the land and, more importantly, as the redeemer of Ruth. Boaz had promised Ruth that she would live "happily ever after." Now he is ready to legally fulfill that promise.
This is why, in verses 9-10, Boaz calls for ten men to witness the legal proceedings, with the elders formalizing the legal marriage contract with a solemn benediction in verses 11-12.
With a legally ratified public ceremony, Boaz wants there to be no doubt that Ruth is his!
This is what Jesus, as our Boaz, has done for us! Upon a cross, he publicly fulfilled the law’s demands for justice by sacrificing himself in the place of his bride, demonstrating for us that there is no doubt that we have been redeemed before the court of heaven. The exchange isn’t a sandal for a sandal but righteousness for unrighteousness where Jesus takes our sin upon himself and gives to us the merits of his perfect obedience.
Just as the demands of the law had to be fulfilled by Boaz to secure Ruth’s dream, so Jesus fulfilled the law to secure our dream of paradise restored. But this is only the first step. After the law is fulfilled, a second factor in the dream becoming a reality is when…
A CHILD IS GIVEN
In verse 13 we read the happy news, "So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. And he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son."
The author of the story is quickly getting to the point. The union between Ruth and Boaz would produce an heir—a child who would perpetuate more than a family line but would carry on the Messianic line. More on that in a bit.
What stands out to me in verse 13 is the word gave.
It is the Lord who gives. This is significant because Naomi and Ruth had both lost husbands who had been taken away in death. As Ruth and Naomi's lives descended farther and farther down the J-curve, they could only see the Lord as a taking God, not a giving God. In their interpretation of events, the Lord had removed his open hand of blessing and replaced it with a backhand of punishment.
Have you ever felt that way?
When the script of our lives does not go according to our plans, it is easy to interpret events in such a way that God appears distant, impersonal, and uncaring at best. Or we convince ourselves that he is a dispassionate divine being who loves to rain on parades and ruin lives. Neither is true.
In Ruth and Naomi’s story, the Lord has been present through the entire script, though most often in the shadows orchestrating events with his invisible hand—events that would be woven into a tapestry of astonishing grace. God was weaving history with a storyline that no human author could have devised.
If it were up to me, in my life script, I would marry the same girl and want the same children. But we all have parts of our stories we would change. I would never have included my parents' divorce in my story or losing a child and suffering from clinical depression and social anxiety.
However, what we learn from the story of Ruth is that in God’s plan, each stitch is purposeful, even if in the moment of its weaving we can't imagine how. Somehow, the Lord is able to knit a beautiful tapestry out of stained fabrics with frayed edges. Part of my problem and yours is that we can only see the stains and the frayed side of the quilt, not the redemptive design being crafted from God’s perspective.
In my opinion, one of the most hopeful and practical passages in all the Bible is Romans 8:18, where the Apostle Paul reflects on the hard of this life in view of the glory of the next, saying, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us."
Remember, at the end of chapter 3, Naomi tells Ruth to wait for Boaz to fulfill his promise. Embracing this hope of glory laid out for us in Romans 8:18 requires that we, like Ruth, wait. Admittedly, that four-letter word is one of the most challenging in the English language. Wait for the meal to arrive. Wait for the show to begin. Wait for the wedding day to arrive. Wait for Christmas. Wait for glory to be revealed.
Theologians call this time of waiting between promise and fulfillment the "already, but not yet."
For Naomi and Ruth, they had already received the promise of redemption but had not yet entered into the fulness of its joy. Ruth married and conceived but had to wait nine months to give birth to the child who would usher in the fullness of their joy. Ruth had waited for Boaz. Now she would wait for the child that had been given.
The same is true in our lives. We must wait. We live in the already, but not yet. The promise of eternal joy is the already. The fulfillment is yet to come.
In Jesus, the law has been fulfilled, and the kingdom has been inaugurated. He is the child who has been given for us, and we can taste the joy. But we still must wait for the fullness of joy that lies before us when the dream of paradise restored is consummated.
For Ruth and Naomi, the law has been fulfilled. A child has been given. And finally, after waiting...
JOY IS RESTORED
I want you to notice in the final verses in the book of Ruth that there is a complete reversal of the first verses in the story. The narrative began with death. It ends with resurrection. From the rubble of misery and a shattered dream comes new life and a new dream with joy restored.
This is what happens in verses 14-22.
14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse. 17 And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. 18 Now these are the generations of Perez: Perez fathered Hezron,19 Hezron fathered Ram, Ram fathered Amminadab, 20 Amminadab fathered Nahshon, Nahshon fathered Salmon, 21 Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, 22 Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
The same David who we become the King of Israel.
Has something happened in your life that made you feel as if you would never smile or laugh again? Some of us remember that day—the day that joy died.
Naomi could recall that day.
She never dreamed that she would smile or laugh again. She just couldn't see verses 14-22 coming. But they came. God gave Ruth. God gave Boaz. Now, in an unexpected comeback, the Lord gives Obed.
In Hebrew, the name Obed means "one who serves." In their blessing over Naomi, the women of the town call him a nefesh, which is translated, "a restorer of life [or literally, a restorer of the soul]." It is the same word that is used in Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd, who restores my soul [nefesh]."
With the birth of this child, all of Naomi's hopes and dreams are coming true. Naomi knows that she is loved by the Lord. She does have a hope and a future. She wasn't forsaken after all!
God’s plan had just not yet come to completion. Even though she walked through the valley of the shadow of death, the LORD was with her. She had been living in the already, but not yet.
What Naomi learned is what we need to discover, which is that living in the "already but not yet" is different than living in the never.
Even for us who are waiting in the not yet, God's redemptive plan is being fulfilled stitch by stitch—even if we cannot discern how. This is reiterated by verses 18-22, which provide a glimpse into the Lord's larger story that would continue to unfold far beyond Naomi and Ruth's lifetime. Through the birth of Obed, Naomi would become the great-great-grandmother of Israel's greatest King. And generations later another unexpected child would be born in the line of David.
We read of this child in Isaiah 9:6, "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
This son's name would be Jesus, whose shadow is all over the story of Ruth. Consider these parallels.
- Boaz fulfills the law at the gate.
- Jesus fulfills the law on a cross.
- A child named Obed is given to restore Naomi's soul.
- A child named Jesus is given to restore our souls.
- Obed would be one who serves.
- But Jesus would be the ultimate, suffering servant, who would say of himself in Mark 10:45, "I have not come to be served, but to serve and to give my life as a ransom for many."
Isn't that really the dream we wish would come true. That we could finally shake the guilt. Live with peace. Secure that God as Father does not see us as condemned sinners, but as forgiven sons and daughters, beloved, treasured… with the guarantee of paradise restored.
Glory on the Horizon
At the end of the first post in this series, I described a scene from the movie Elizabeth. Sir Walter Raleigh is explaining to the Queen what it's like to be on a journey across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. His description of the adventure is a parable of what we all face on the journey we are traveling from this life to the next.
I want to close this series by showing the clip. I want you to feel the Queen’s longing—her deep desire to experience the feeling of hope. As you resonate with her longing, I want to challenge us with the same words of Sir Walter Raleigh, who says that hope becomes reality when you "dare to let yourself believe."
Watch the clip:
“For weeks, you see nothing but the horizon. Perfect and empty. You live in the grip of fear. Fear of storms. Fear of sickness onboard. Fear of the immensity. So, you must drive that fear down, deep into your belly. You study your charts. Watch your compass. Pray for a fair wind. And hope. Pure, fragile, naked hope.
“At first, it is no more than a haze on the horizon. So, you watch. And there’s a smudge—just a shadow across the water. For a day. For another day. The stain slowly spreads, taking form along the horizon. Until, on the third day, you let yourself believe and dare to whisper the word: Land! Life! Resurrection! A true adventure, coming out of the vast unknown. Out of the immensity. Into new life. That, your Majesty, is the New World.”
Just like that, the story of Ruth and Naomi and our lives are stories of resurrection, where God brings life out of death. Faith out of repentance. Joy out of sorrow. Hope out of despair. That is the gospel story. It can be your story, if you will dare to believe—really believe—that through the perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection of Jesus that you—you—can live happily forever after.
Not because of your goodness but completely because of God’s grace in Jesus, our greater Ruth, our greater Boaz, and the greater, Obed.
Listen to the post here or watch the video here.
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This practice was common in ancient cultures and is still practiced today in some parts of the world.
Later, ten men would be the quorum for a synagogue meeting. Maybe that is what was required even in Ruth's day. We don't know for sure.