I have greatly enjoyed preaching through the book of Ruth over the past few weeks. We have discussed HESED love, kinsman-redeemers, romance, marriage, dealing with unmet expectations in life, characteristics of a godly man, the gospel, etc.
In the first 3 chapters we find that life does not go the way that Ruth and Naomi had hoped. They have dealt with the death of loved ones and now they are struggling to just to make ends meet. In chapter 3 Boaz graciously agrees to marry Ruth and to become their kinsman-redeemer. Things are beginning to look much more hopeful! There is one catch. There is another relative that must be asked if he is willing to function as the kinsman-redeemer.
In chapter 4 we find Boaz meeting with this relative to ask him if he is willing to take on this responsibility. As Boaz meets with this other relative I believe that what we are meant to see, and take note of, is the difference between Boaz and this relative.
Boaz at first tells the nameless relative that he has the opportunity to buy back the land that Naomi has sold and that he will also be responsible for taking care of Naomi. The relative quickly agrees to this deal. But I believe I know why the relative so quickly agrees. This deal, for the most part, benefits him. Plain and simple. He would be getting some land. He would probably not have to support Naomi for too long because she is not a young woman at this point in life. This is a profitable move for the relative to make.
But the negotiations are not over yet. Then Boaz tells the relative that there is also a Moabite woman that he will need to marry and take care of. This is the deal breaker for the relative. He turns down the offer. The question is why? Why does the addition of Ruth make it so that he refuses the offer? There are a number of factors that we need to consider. First of all, Ruth is a foreigner from the land of Moab. Jews did not think very highly of people from Moab. Second, Ruth was younger and this meant that the relative would need to take care of her and support her financially for a much longer period of time. Instead of this deal being a profit making venture as he hoped it now looks like he will have to spend his precious money.
I believe that there is a strong contrast being made between Boaz and this relative. Boaz is making a decision based on HESED love. Hesed love is a loyal love that is seeking to put the other person first. The relative is not making a decision based on HESED love. He is thinking about what is best for himself. In fact, refusing to be the kinsman-redeemer in a situation like this was considered shameful. We read this in Deuteronomy 25:
7 And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’ 8 Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’ 9 then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’ 10 And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’
Deuteronomy 25 makes it clear that it was disgraceful to refuse Naomi and Ruth in this particular situation. The woman who is being refused has the biblical right to spit in the man’s face. This is God’s way of communicating to his people that they should be seeking to care for and love those who are struggling and in great need.
The contrast between Boaz and the relative force us to ask some tough questions of ourselves. Which man are we more like? Boaz or the relative?
Are we getting out of our comfort zone and loving people that are different than us?
Are we so preoccupied with our own selfish desires that we are failing to love and serve other people in need all around us?
Are we actively loving people in our everyday life that others tend to overlook or stay away from?
Unfortunately I think that many Christians, and churches, have made being comfortable and safe more important than loving and serving other people. The result of this way of living is that Christianity becomes a boring, adventureless, dead religion.
The end of Ruth shows that God delights to bring hope to those who are hopeless. Joy to those who are in despair. Resurrection life to those who are dead. What will our legacy be? Will we follow in the ways of Jesus? Will we be characterized by HESED love or by playing it safe and seeking our own comfort?