This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
(Sermon 3 of 4 in a series on Ruth.)
Scripture: Ruth 3:1-18
I’d like to talk today about the word “passion.” Now the word “passion” is interesting, because it draws together two realities that seem to be opposed to each other. On the one hand, when you think about passion, you think about love. You think of a couple that is passionate about one another like Romeo and Juliet. On the other hand, when you think about passion, you think about suffering, like the Passion of the Christ. So passion then can be described as a love so intense that you would be willing to endure suffering.
According to the late Lewis Smedes, passion involves three things.
1. First, it involves imagination: One of the reasons why we get passionate about something is because we can imagine a world or a situation better than the one that we have now. So the first thing is imagination.
2. The second thing that passion involves is belief. You see, it is one thing to imagine a better situation but it is quite another to believe that this is possible. So passion involves imagination and belief. But there is a third thing.
3. And the third thing is investment. This is where passion gets painful. If we want to make our dreams become reality, than we need to be willing to invest ourselves in it. This means sacrifice and surrender.
Now according to the Bible there are things worth getting passionate about and things that are not worth getting passionate about. For example, I can be passionate about having a big house and a fancy car, and enough money so that I can retire at 55 and spend the rest of my life golfing or laying on a beach somewhere. And if this was my passion for life, the Bible tells me that I’d be wasting my time, because the Bible says that those things aren’t worth being passionate about.
Matthew 16: 26-27 says, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done.” (Matthew 16:26-27) In other words, to use the words of that great “theologian” Shania Twain, what God is saying here is, “So you got a car. That don’t impress me much.”
So as Christians there are things that God says are not worth being passionate about. However, there are also some very important things that are definitely worth getting passionate about. And these are generally things that ennoble people, or that inspire hope, or that bring grace into this world. Think of Martin Luther King Jr. and his passion to end racism. Or think of Mother Theresa and her passion to end the suffering in leper colonies of Calcutta. Think about a husband or a wife passionate about making their marriage as strong as possible, or parents passionate about raising great kids. These are the kind of passions we are talking about. And if there was one person who had this kind of passion in the book of Ruth, it was Ruth.
As the story goes, shortly after the tragedies of losing a father-in-law, a brother-in-law, and a husband, a passion ignites in Ruth. And this is not a passion for herself, but a passion for her mother-in-law, Naomi. You see when Ruth looked at Naomi, she had this dream that this broken down woman, who lost a husband and two sons, could have her life restored. And she believed that the restoration of Naomi’s life was somehow connected to her God. So she invests everything she has to make this happen.
Think back to Ruth 1:16-17 where we read, “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. 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.’”(Ruth 1:16-17)
So basically Ruth is covenanting herself to Naomi. And when she does this she is basically saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the covenant, may I be put to death.” And if these words sound at all familiar, it is because they echo the words of God’s covenant with Abraham. So obviously as we a reading the story of Ruth, the author is telling us over and over again that God is never absent, but that behind the scenes he is working in Ruth and through Ruth to bring blessing and restoration back to Naomi.
Now when Ruth and Naomi get back to Bethlehem, Ruth throws herself at Naomi’s God and she commits herself to any law that had to do with restoring widows and the poor. And so she sets out to glean because that’s how widows care for themselves. And she happens to find herself in the field of Boaz who just happens to be a close relative of Naomi. Well Boaz is so inspired by Ruth’s passion and love for Naomi that he loads her down with food.
And when Naomi sees the food, she recognizes that God has not stopped loving her. He has not stopped showing kindness to the living and the dead. And so for the first time in a long time, Naomi has hope. And for the first time in a long time, Naomi starts to dream of a life better than the one that she has. And for the first time in a long time, Naomi starts to believe that God still wants to bless her family.
And this is where we pick up our story for today. The Bible tells us that one day Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours?” (Ruth 3:1-2a)
So basically what’s happening is that Naomi looks at Ruth and says, “All you’ve ever done is love me. You left your family, your home, your future—all for me, And all you’ve ever done since we came back home is work your tail off just to provide for me. But look at you, you are still a widow, you are still childless. Should I not try to find a home for you.
If you know the story of Ruth you will remember that this is not the first time Naomi encouraged Ruth to find a home. Back in chapter 1 she said, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. . .May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.... Look,” said Naomi to Ruth, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” (Ruth 1:8-9;15)
There Naomi encouraged Ruth to find a home, but this time it is different. This time, instead of turning Ruth away from God, she was pointing Ruth to God. You see, Ruth’s passion and love for God clicks a light on for Naomi. And when she sees the food in front of her she starts to realize—Moabite or not—it doesn’t matter who you are, you aren’t going to get life from running away from God. That just leads to frustration, and hopelessness, and death. But life happens when you run to God, when you are passionate about his grace, when you are passionate about his mercy, when you are passionate about his love. That’s when you start to live. So Naomi looks at Ruth and she concludes that the only hope that her family has of not getting totally wiped out is passionately pursuing God’s grace.
Grace in the Old Testament looked like this: God made a provision for widows and orphans through a law that said “If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, his widow must not marry outside the family. Her husband’s brother shall take her and marry her and fulfill the duty of a brother-in-law to her. The first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 25:5-6) This was God’s law for protecting widows and orphans. And Naomi looks at this law and she sees Ruth has found favor in the eyes of Boaz. And Boaz just happens to be a close relative, so it would only make sense that Boaz would be the guy to marry Ruth.
So Naomi comes up with a plan. She says “Tonight he [Boaz] will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.” (Ruth 3:2-4) It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what Naomi is thinking here. She is not suggesting that Ruth go down to the threshing floor to have an in depth conversation about the price of barley in Bethlehem. She is telling Ruth to let Boaz know in no uncertain terms that she is available. And when Ruth hears this plan she says, “I will do whatever you say.” (Ruth 3:5)
But you have to understand the risk involved here for Ruth. Remember back in chapter 2 Boaz tells his worker not to touch Ruth. And remember when Boaz said this to his workers it was in the day time, in a grain field, where Ruth was covered in sweat and dirt and wearing her work clothes. So even in those conditions Ruth could turn heads. And now it is night time and Ruth is dressed to kill, and she is heading down to the threshing floor where men are drinking. Not only that, but she is a Moabite woman dressed to kill. And in Israel Moabite women were known for their promiscuity. So if anyone sees Ruth, there is a good chance they might get the wrong idea.
In many ways, when Ruth agrees to Naomi’s plan, she is risking her life. And here is the kicker, Ruth doesn’t have to do this. She is a Moabite. She could go home and get a husband. She is not bound by Israelite law. So why is she doing this? Well, she’s doing it because she has a dream that Naomi’s life will not get wiped out of the books of Israel. And she believes that the only way this is going to happen is by throwing herself at God. And so she takes the risk, and she sneaks off to the threshing floor, and does everything Naomi tells her to do.
The Bible continues, “When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet. “Who are you?” he asked. “I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.” (Ruth 3:7-9)
Let’s pause here for a moment so that we can focus on those words, “Spread the corner of your garment over me.” You see the Hebrew word for “corner” can also be translated “wing”. Which is the same word that Boaz used in chapter 2 when he said to Ruth, “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 2:12)
That recalls another biblical of a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wings offering them protection and security. In the Hebrew culture, the wing represents God’s love, protection and grace. As a matter of fact, Jesus uses this image when he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)
When Ruth says, “Spread the corner or the wing of your garment around me, she is saying, Take the wings of your garment and put them around me. “Embrace me with the love of God, protect me with his grace, share your garment with me.” Do you hear what she’s saying? Do you hear her request? She is saying to Boaz, “Marry me.”
When Boaz hears Ruth’s request, his heart skips a beat and he says, “The Lord bless you, my daughter.” Then he added, “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.” (Ruth 3:10-11)
Basically, Boaz is floored by Ruth’s proposal. He’s amazed at how much Ruth loves Naomi. And he admires her passion, her willingness to risk everything to see that Naomi’s name not disappear from Israel. After all, Ruth could have gone after younger men. She could have gone home and found herself a husband but she didn’t. And she didn’t because she was so convinced that God could restore Naomi’s life. So much so that she takes all of her ambitions, all of her hopes, and all of her plans and she surrenders them into God’s hands in order that God could use her to bring life to Naomi. She takes God’s word to heart and her faith amazes Boaz.
Boaz has nothing but admiration for Ruth and his respect and love for her rises by the day. As a matter of fact, he has so much respect for her that he calls her a woman of nobel character which is one of the highest compliments that a woman in Israel could receive. Proverbs 31 says, “A wife of noble character who can find? She is worth far more than rubies. Her husband has full confidence in her and lacks nothing of value. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:10-11; 30)
Now what is interesting is that the language used to describe the wife of nobel character is in many ways similar to the language used to describe the charater of Boaz. Back in Ruth 2:1 we were told, “Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.” (Ruth 2:1) So what the Bible is saying here is that even though Boaz is wealthy and even though Ruth is physically attractive, it is not their wealth and physical attractiveness that makes them beautiful. What makes a person beautiful is when they are filled with grace and love.
They are beautiful not because they are passionate about their physical appearance or their wealth. They are beautiful because they are passionate about God. Because they are so filled with love. That is why we love these characters.
A Closer Relative
By now some of us might be thinking, “Well if Boaz is such an outstanding man and Ruth is such a prize, then why isn’t Boaz proposing to Ruth. Why does she have to risk her life to come to him?” This is a good question, so let’s read on. After Boaz tells Ruth how much he admires her, he says, “Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I.” (Ruth 3:12)
Now isn’t that a disappointment? Why should it matter that there is a relative closer than Boaz. Besides, Boaz and Ruth love each other, so why doesn’t he marry her anyway. Well, not so fast. You see the law said that when it came to redeeming a widow, the primary responsibility fell on the shoulders of the closest relative. And as long as the closer relative was in the picture, he still had the right to claim the widow and her land. So basically what Boaz is saying to Ruth is that no matter how much he wants to, as long as there is a closer relative involved, he cannot marry her. This was God’s law.
Does this mean that Boaz and Ruth will never get married? Not necessarily. You see, Boaz is a man of passion. But he also has a vision that in Israel there be no more poor, or widowed, or orphaned or destitute. And he believed that the only way to care for them was by loving them with the love of God.
But because of the way Ruth approached him, he’s going to do everything in his power to ensure that the names of Ruth and Naomi don’t get wiped out of the books of Israel. So he says to Ruth, “Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives, I will do it. Lie here until morning.” So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” (Because you are a Moabite, remember, and they will tear you limb from limb.) He also said, “Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out.” When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and put it on her. Then he went back to town. (Ruth 3:13-15)
The fact that Boaz pours six measures of barley into Ruth’s shawl is significant because it is “six” measures. And in Hebrew the number of completion or the number for rest is “seven”. In the ten commandments God said, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work but the seventh day is a Sabbath.” So seven is the number of completion. It is the number for “rest”. And Boaz does not give Ruth seven measures the number of completeness; he gives her six, the number just shy of rest.
Second, Boaz’s gift is significant because of the amount that he gives. You see six measures is the equivalent of 80 lbs of barley, which is unheard of. You see, if the ephah of barley that Boaz gave to Ruth in chapter 2 was beyond the requirements of the law, this gift was way beyond the law. So why does Boaz give Ruth this much. Why does he do this? Because Boaz loves Ruth and Naomi. And he wants them to know how passionately he loves them. He can’t stand the thought that their names might be wiped out of the books of Israel.
You can almost see him grabbing a bag and filling it frantically, giving up most of his harvest and giving it to Ruth and Naomi as a way of saying, “I will give anything, and I will do anything, to see that your names are not wiped out of Israel. And I will not rest until you are fully protected. I will not rest until you are my bride.”
When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?” Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her and added, “He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’ ” Then Naomi said, “Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.” (Ruth 3:16-18)
That ends chapter 3. But if you read through the book of Ruth, you might notice that chapter three is the only chapter where the name Elimelech, whose name means “My God is King”, does not appear. So it is the only chapter where we are not reminded that our God is King. It is the only chapter where we are not given a reminder that God is working in the shadows to accomplish his purpose. And why is that? because we don’t need a reminder. God’s passion is everywhere. It is in the love of a Moabite woman who is willing to give up everything so that the name of her mother in law might be preserved. And we see it in the passion of Boaz, who would give anything to fulfill the requirements of the law, to see that a Moabite woman and her mother in law might live. And it’s there in a great big sack of barley to prove that he will not rest until they have rest.
Dear friends, all of this points to a God who is so passionate for you and me that he was willing to give everything including his own life so that we can live. Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
So what is your passion? What’s your dream today? Do you dream of a better world? Do you dream of stronger marriages, no more cancer, no more depression, no more war, or loneliness. If you have a dream then Jesus, our Redeemer, says come to me. And if you need something to believe in, something that can give you hope, something to prove that your dream is possible, Jesus our redeemer says, “come to me.”
And if you are looking for strength to make your vision a reality, Jesus says come to me. Come to me, and I will give you rest. For I will not rest until you have rest.
Let us pray.
Wonderful God who passionately loves us. Thank you so much that you care so much for us. And thank you for the truth that in this world of restlessness, you are working behind the scenes, fully committed to your promise that you will not rest until we have rest. May we all find our hope and our rest in you today, we pray in Jesus name. Amen.
Order of Worship
Call to Worship: Psalm 103:1-2
Silent Prayer: #627 Bless His Holy Name
God’s Greeting: We thank you O God that you welcome us today, in the authority of God the Father, in the Love of God the Son and in the Power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Opening Hymn of Praise: #501 Oh For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
God’s Will For Our Lives:
Invitation to Rest: Matthew 11:28-29
God’s Plan for Rest: Exodus 20:1-17
Hymn of Commitment: #488 I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
Hymn of Preparation: #490 Blessed Assurance: Jesus Is Mine
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading-Ruth 3
Prayer of Application
Closing Hymn: #479 I Will Sing Of My Redeemer
God’s Parting Blessing: As we leave to serve in your world, we thank you for the promise of your blessing, that you will never leave us or forsake us, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Doxology: #629 Worthy Is Christ