In 1915 there was a man named Joseph born in Massachusetts. Joseph’s father was an influential businessman and his grandfather was the mayor of Boston. It seemed like destiny that little Joe was going to be an influential politician.
Both his father and grandfather made it clear that they would do whatever it took to make this young man president one day.
When World War II started, Joseph enlisted in the Navy and became a pilot. His plan was to finish out the war and then, in 1946, he would run for the US House of Representatives to begin his political career.
On August 12, 1944, Joseph was part of a top-secret mission to pilot a remote-controlled B-24 bomber packed with explosives - one of the earliest examples of drone technology. His job was to arm the bombs and then bail out so the plane could be crashed into its target.
Unfortunately the bombs detonated prematurely and Joseph was killed in the explosion, ending his life and his political career.
Back home, Joseph’s grieving father and grandfather decided they weren’t done trying to raise a president, so they turned their energy and ambitions to Joe’s younger brother. His name was John F. Kennedy.
Without that plane exploding in 1944, our world may have looked very different.
I just love stories like that, don’t you? Stories that reveal how small moments in the human experience have profound ripple effects on world history.
Plus, everybody likes a plot twist. You thought I was talking about some WWII aviator, but I was really talking about JFK.
Well, all month here at Grace we’ve been looking at a story just like this in the Bible. A story you think is about one thing, but then turns out to be about something else entirely.
In this case, it’s about the origin of one of the most famous men of all time - King David. And how some very small moments in history led to the lineage of Israel’s kings.
The story is in the book of Ruth and today we’re going to see how it ends.
Just in case you’ve missed the last few weeks, let me give you a quick recap of the story so far.
The book of Ruth is all about a very vulnerable family. Specifically, a widow named Naomi who, at the beginning of the story, loses everything. Her home, her husband Elimelech, her two sons…
She becomes an economic refugee in a foreign country, she comes home destitute with only her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, for support. Who, let’s remember, is also a vulnerable widow.
She’s vulnerable, but Ruth is an amazing woman. Relentlessly faithful, hard working, and loyal to her family – even as a foreigner she commits herself to supporting Naomi…
Anyway, Ruth goes out to harvest grain and ends up in the field of a man named Boaz. As it happens, Boaz is actually a relative of Naomi and makes sure she and Ruth have enough food.
One thing leads to another, and Ruth and Boaz decide to get married. There’s just one problem… Based on the customs of the time, there is another man ahead of Boaz in line. If he wants to marry Ruth, it’s his right.
So what is Boaz going to do? Well, let’s find out. Grab a Bible and turn with me to: Ruth 4, Page ______
As you do I’m going to pray for us.
So, Boaz, this generous and godly man, has declared his intentions to marry Ruth - this honorable, virtuous, and loyal woman.
Sounds like a great match. Why can’t they just get married?
Yet again, here we’re encountering in the Bible some very foreign, very different cultural values than our own. While today we just marry someone we love, back then marriage was tied up with issues of family names and tribe and land ownership.
Specifically, in each Israelite clan there were individuals who were called:
Family Redeemer (go’el)
In short, their job was to keep their very extended family - their clan - intact. When people in their family lost their land or found themselves in debt slavery, the family redeemer’s role was to bring them back - to pay off the debt.
Sometimes this even included marrying vulnerable widows or buying land to keep it in the family. The point was to keep their extended family whole.
Well, as it happened, Boaz was a family redeemer for Naomi’s clan. This meant he didn’t just have the ability to marry Ruth, but a responsibility to carry on Naomi’s family name.
Again, it’s weird and odd sounding to us today, but this all would have made perfect sense to the original hearers of this story.
So, Boaz wants to marry Ruth. As a family redeemer he can. But, as we read in chapter 3, there is another man who is more closely related to Naomi who is also a family redeemer (a go’el). Technically, he gets first dibs on marrying Ruth and buying Naomi’s land.
So if Boaz is going to marry Ruth, he has to convince this other guy to give up his claim. Boaz is going to follow the law. He’s honorable. He’s going to do things the right way.
Which means he has to ask the man what he wants to do. It sounds risky, but don’t worry, because Boaz has a plan.
BAIT AND SWITCH
And that’s where chapter 4 begins.
Boaz went to the town gate and took a seat there. Just then the family redeemer he had mentioned came by, so Boaz called out to him, “Come over here and sit down, friend. I want to talk to you.” So they sat down together. Then Boaz called ten leaders from the town and asked them to sit as witnesses. And Boaz said to the family redeemer, “You know Naomi, who came back from Moab. She is selling the land that belonged to our relative Elimelech. I thought I should speak to you about it so that you can redeem it if you wish. If you want the land, then buy it here in the presence of these witnesses. But if you don’t want it, let me know right away, because I am next in line to redeem it after you.”
The man replied, “All right, I’ll redeem it.”
Oh no! That’s exactly what we don’t want to happen. We want Boaz to marry Ruth, not this rando… (he doesn’t even have a name in the story - let’s call him Toby)
The author is building up the suspense. Well, don’t worry. Because like I said, Boaz has a plan.
What he’s doing here is setting up this land as a pretty sweet deal. This other guy - Toby - could buy the land, and he wouldn’t have to worry about losing it again some day.
You see, in Israelite law, land always went back to its original family eventually. If Naomi had another son, for example, the land would eventually be his. But good news: Naomi is old.
It’s a little unclear whether the buying of this land by a family redeemer also required caring for the widow who owned it, but regardless, she’s old. She’s not having any more kids who would have a claim on the land.
And she’s probably not going to live that much longer anyway.
The future profits from this land would far offset any expenses Toby might incur in caring for this older woman.
It made perfect business sense back then. “All right, I’ll redeem it.”
Here’s where Boaz hits Toby with a bait and switch. “Oh, and one more thing…”
Then Boaz told him, “Of course, your purchase of the land from Naomi also requires that you marry Ruth, the Moabite widow. That way she can have children who will carry on her husband’s name and keep the land in the family.”
Suddenly the game has changed. Ruth is young. She could have several sons. The first one would have a claim to the land and any other sons would likely get a slice of Toby’s own inheritance.
Suddenly, buying this land might lead to him losing money, not gaining it. He quickly changes his mind.
“Then I can’t redeem it,” the family redeemer replied, “because this might endanger my own estate. You redeem the land; I cannot do it.” Now in those days it was the custom in Israel for anyone transferring a right of purchase to remove his sandal and hand it to the other party. This publicly validated the transaction. So the other family redeemer drew off his sandal as he said to Boaz, “You buy the land.”
And that is where we get the expression, “passin’ sandals.”
Anyway, the bait and switch is successful. Toby gives up his claim. And that is that. The path is clear for Boaz to marry Ruth.
Now, I get it. Doing business deals by the city gate to essentially “purchase” the rights to marry somebody is hardly rom-com material.
But to the ancient readers, this moment was all they needed to understand that Boaz - who had so deeply admired Ruth for her faithfulness - had now been faithful to her.
He used his power - he used his position - to bring healing into Ruth’s situation. I call that love, even if he never got down on one knee.
So now we come to the end of the story. And here the author pans the camera back to Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law.
If you remember, when the story began, Naomi was hopeless and bitter. Remember how she snapped at the women of the town?
“Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me home empty.”
Naomi began this story shaking her fist at God. But now we see that God had always been working - through Ruth, through Boaz - to bring Naomi new life, new joy, new hope.
So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the LORD enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the LORD, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”
Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!”
And then we come to the big twist ending. When we realize what this story was really all about. This baby was not just anybody.
They named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David.
And David, as we know, became the king of Israel. And all the rightful rulers of God’s people from that time on, including Jesus himself, came from his line.
Just like that story at the beginning of my message about a random Navy pilot which was really about the future president of the United States, in one sudden plot twist, we zoom all the way out and see this tiny human story in light of the grand sweep of history.
Ruth and Boaz were the great grandparents of a king whose royal line would lead to the healing of our entire world.
Now that is a story worth remembering.
So there we have it. The book of Ruth. What began in tragedy ended in hope and new beginnings because God never stopped working to redeem it all.
So as we look back on the last few weeks and think about this story, let’s ask one more time: what do we take away?
How does this story apply to us? I mean, our spiritual ancestors have handed this story down generation after generation for thousands of years (that’s why it’s in the Bible). There’s got to be a bigger reason than just, “it’s a nice story.”
I believe there is. This story helps us remember a truth that can be very easy to forget when our lives are a mess like Naomi’s.
It’s what we’ve been talking about all month. Our spiritual ancestors passed this story along because they wanted us to never forget that:
God is working even when we can’t see it.
Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem. As it happened it was the start of the Barley harvest.
Ruth goes into a field to gather grain. As it happened the field was owned by Boaz.
As it happened Boaz was Naomi’s family redeemer. As it happened, their child became the grandfather of King David.
Could all of this have been just a coincidence? Sure. But that’s not what the author of this story wants us to see. That’s not what our spiritual ancestors want us to see.
No. They want us to see God’s fingerprints all over this tale because this is how he works.
Most of the time God does not work through miracles and burning bushes - but through the ordinary faithfulness of his people.
Ruth’s steadfast loyalty. Boaz’s incredible generosity. Even the prayers of the other women in town. God was working through them all, even if they couldn’t see it in the moment. That’s the truth this story points us to.
So again, what do we do with this in our lives? Well, I think there are two big takeaways for us to consider.
First, if God is really working in our lives even now, then we can trust God hasn’t finished writing our story.
I know this can be hard to do when you are in the middle of hardship. And I know it doesn’t answer the question of why God would allow such pain and brokenness in the first place.
Remember, Naomi starts out the story shaking her fist at God because she lost her husband and her sons. Maybe that’s where you are too. Again, as I said in week 1, it is ok to be honest with God.
“How could you do this to me? How long, O Lord?”
But even as we do that the book of Ruth invites us to take a step back. To see the broad brushstrokes of God’s purposes in our lives. To remember the ways he has already come through for us and to be confident that he will do it again. Not just in your life, but in the lives of those who come after you.
Who knows? Maybe just like Naomi, God will take the very hardship you are experiencing right now and make something beautiful from the ashes…
God is not finished writing your story.
So that’s the first big takeaway. You can trust that God is still working, even if you can’t see it. Hold onto that trust, especially when your life is a mess. That’s the foundation of faith in a still broken world.
The second takeaway kind of flips things around a bit.
As I said, the book of Ruth shows us how God works through the ordinary faithfulness of his people. Through Ruth, through Boaz, God brings redemption to Naomi.
So here’s what I want you to think about:
You might be someone’s Ruth or Boaz right now.
What I mean by that is that it is entirely possible that it is your ordinary faithfulness that God is going to use to redeem someone else’s story.
Remember, as a follower of Christ you are his hands and feet in the world. It is Christ’s love and generosity and compassion that transforms the brokenness around us, but that love and generosity and compassion is expressed in this world through you.
What might it look like if you had the mentality that at any moment God could be working through you to redeem someone else’s story?
When Ruth showed up in Boaz’s field, he chose to be generous and let her harvest some of his grain. He had no idea that this small, ordinary act was a part of God’s redemption story for Naomi. But it was.
Again, little moments can have ripple effects that change the course of our world. Sometimes God is the one tossing the stones.
If that’s your mentality, it changes the way you act on a day-to-day basis.
• Choosing to ask the person working the grocery checkout line how they are doing instead of just ignoring them… That’s pretty ordinary. But if the Spirit prompts you to do it, who knows how God might use that little bit of kindness to alter the trajectory of their life? Ripple effects, right?
• Or how about being patient with that coworker who annoys you…
• Or checking in on that friend you know has been going through a tough spot…
• Saying sorry to your child when you make a mistake…
• Saying hi to that person at church who always sits alone…
• Maybe it’s being generous like Boaz - giving money to someone in need.
• Maybe it’s being faithful like Ruth - sticking with someone through a difficult time.
None of those actions are earth shattering. They’re ordinary.
You might feel like going the other way in any one of those situations would have very little impact on the world.
And you could be right about that. But you could be wrong. Saying “yes” when the Holy Spirit prompts you is the only way to find out for sure.
God is working even when we can’t see it and that includes him working through you.
You might be someone’s Ruth or Boaz right now and you don’t even know it. You could be God’s instrument of redemption as he reveals the love of Jesus to them through you.
You can’t know for certain that it’s happening. But are you willing to live like it is?
Say “yes” and you might just be astounded at the story he is writing through you.