This article is an exposition of Ruth 4:1-12.

Source: The Evangelical Presbyterian, 2010. 3 pages.

Seeing Beyond

Do you remember the detective series Colombo? It had a simple story line, because usually from the outset you knew who was guilty. You witnessed the crime, so rather than being a Who Done It programme, the story centres more on how the bumbling Lieutenant catches his man. In some senses, if you have seen one Colombo you have seen them all, because they all follow this predictable story line.

Now the story line of Ruth could never be described as being predictable. There are just so many twists and turns, so many ‘chance’ happenings along the way, that it keeps you guessing throughout. In fact we encountered an unexpected obstacle last time. Boaz was prepared to fulfil his responsibilities towards Ruth and Naomi, but then a mystery man appears on the horizon, who has a prior claim over the two women, which leaves us wondering what will happen next?

1. Beyond the Letter🔗

Well, in this article we are going to look at Ruth 4:1-12 and there are two questions that you need to answer. Question One Can you see beyond the letter of the law? A few years ago a child was taken ill, but when the child’s father went to get his car to take the child to hospital, he found that the car had been clamped. He contacted the firm and explained his situation, but they insisted that he had to pay the fine first, which he was unable to do. The police got involved and one of the officers even offered to pay the fine himself, but for some technical reason this was not permitted. Eventually, the child was taken to hospital in the back of the police car. Now technically speaking, the clamping firm may have had the letter of the law on their side, but I am sure that we can all see that there is a bigger picture here, that should have encouraged the firm to release the car.

Now Boaz is someone who can see beyond the letter of the law. Just as Naomi predicted, (3:18), Boaz moves quickly to resolve the issue with this mystery relative. We read in 4:1: “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 sat down” (ESV). Now all of this flows out of Boaz’s promise to fulfil his responsibilities towards Ruth and Naomi (3:11-13), but what is interesting is that, technically speaking, he has no responsibilities towards them whatsoever.

If you have ever played the board game Monopoly, you will know that there is a Get Out of Jail Free card, which can be very useful at times, and Boaz has a few of these up his sleeve. Firstly, technically speaking, Boaz is not obliged to marry Ruth to perpetuate the family line, because the law concerning Levirate Marriage only applied to brothers (Deut 25:5-10), and Boaz was not the brother of the deceased Mahlon. Secondly, regarding the obligation to redeem relatives and their property, who are in debt to creditors (Lev 25:25-55), all Boaz has to do is to point out that he is not the nearest relative. If Boaz wants to get himself out of this situation, there are various legal loopholes that he could employ, but he doesn’t.

Now the romantics amongst you will say, “Yes Andrew, but he’s in love”, and I am sure that that is true, but to explain away Boaz’s behaviour simply in terms of his feelings would be to do him an injustice. From the moment that we first met him, Boaz comes across as an incredibly generous man, who goes beyond what the law actually requires of him (2:8-16). You see, Boaz doesn’t simply know the law, but he knows the law’s Author. He knows that the reason why the law requires him to be generous to the poor, is because God himself is generous. The law of God reflects the character of God, and as someone who has experienced God’s grace in his own life, Boaz displays those same characteristics and is a gracious and generous man. Iain D Duguid puts it eloquently when he writes, “Boaz was not concerned simply with the obligations of the law. He had a heart that had been touched by God’s covenant faithfulness, and it overflowed in covenant faithfulness to those around him.”

Now what kind of people are we? Boaz could see beyond the letter of the law, because he knew intimately the God who first penned that law, but is that true of us? Are we gracious, because God is gracious? Loving, because God is loving? Forgiving, because God is forgiving? And are we willing to go beyond the letter of the law, or are we cold and legalistic, only doing what we are obliged to do and no more?

2. Beyond Self🔗

So can you see beyond the letter of the law? Question Two Can you see beyond yourself? Have you ever read Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen? In the story Elinor Dashwood meets Edward Ferrars and there is an obvious attraction, but there is a problem. Now we don’t find out what that problem is until much later, but Edward has gotten himself engaged to Lucy Steele, and being a gentleman, he is unwilling to break his word, and we are left wondering how this problem will be resolved. Now we have a similar problem in Ruth 4. It seems obvious that Ruth and Boaz are meant for one another, but there is this other man, a closer relative, and it is difficult to see how these two will ever get together.

Well, Boaz goes to the city gate, waits for the mystery man and when he arrives, he calls upon the elders to act as witnesses. Boaz explains that Naomi is selling land that belonged to Elimelech, and he gives the mystery man the opportunity to buy it, otherwise he will buy it himself (4:3-4). But then something happens that we least expect. The man says, “I will redeem it” (4:4 ESV). What a disaster! The mystery man is honourable and is willing to fulfil his responsibilities towards his relatives. Ruth and Boaz will never be together. But then Boaz speaks again, “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.” Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.” (4:5-6 ESV)

Now what is going on here? Well, its very simple. Before Ruth is brought into the equation, this mystery man is happy to redeem the field, because he knows that in the absence of any male heir, it will remain his forever. But when he hears about Ruth and the duty to perpetuate the family line, he realises that the field will never be his, but will ultimately belong to any child born to Ruth.

This man cannot see beyond himself. You see, whilst it made financial sense, he was willing to fulfil his Biblical responsibilities, but as soon as he realises that he will be out-of-pocket, he doesn’t want to know. Funnily enough there is something similar in Sense and Sensibility. When Edward’s mother finds out about his engagement to Lucy Steele, she disinherits him and transfers everything irrevocably to her younger son Robert. Now faced with the prospect of being married to a penniless clergyman, Lucy drops Edward like a stone and runs off and marries Robert instead. Did she love Edward? Yes, as long as it continued to make financial sense that is. Now the sad thing is, that whilst our mystery man’s decision makes financial sense, he actually writes himself out of history, and in that way he resembles Orpah, who returned to her family, rather than face an uncertain future with Naomi. Both he and Orpah made the sensible choice, but importantly, it is Ruth and Boaz that were blessed and it is Ruth and Boaz that we remember.

Now again there is something incredibly challenging about this. Being a Christian is costly and quite often it involves costly choices, where we say – “no” to self and “yes” to God. But when we are faced with those kind of choices, can we see beyond ourselves or is it only our wants, our needs, our hopes and our ambitions that influence our decision as to whether or not we fulfil our responsibilities to the Lord? Now none of this is easy and we will have to wrestle with many of these choices, and sometimes we will shed tears over them. But once again Boaz can help us. What was his secret? Well, we have touched on it before. Boaz was a spiritual man, with a living, vital relationship with his God and having experienced God’s grace in his own life, he was able to look beyond himself and make those costly choices. Both he and Ruth resemble Moses, in that they “considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth that the treasures of Egypt” (Heb 11:26 ESV).

But as we close, the example of Boaz naturally leads us to another Redeemer. This Redeemer knew God’s will and rejoiced in it. This Redeemer reflected God’s character perfectly. This Redeemer was faced with a choice that would cost him dearly and yet he willing bore that cost, and aren’t we glad that he did? Friends let us rejoice in our faithful Redeemer, Jesus Christ “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Col. 1:14) Amen.

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