3rd Sunday in Advent – December 17, 2017
One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. 2 Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in 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. 4 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.”
5 “I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
7 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. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man; he turned—and there was a woman lying at his feet!
9 “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 of our family.”
10 “The Lord bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. 12 Although it is true that I am a kinsman-redeemer of our family, there is another who is more closely related than I. 13 Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your kinsman-redeemer, good; let him redeem you. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning.”
14 So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, “No one must know that a woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 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 placed the bundle on her. Then he went back to town. (Ruth 3:1-15)
What should you look for in a spouse? The question can be surprisingly tough. There are a lot of people in the world and each one has their own characteristics, their own values, their own strengths and their own weaknesses.
And if that wasn’t difficult enough, you change over time, too. You don’t always keep the same characteristics. Your values sometimes change. Your strengths can turn into weaknesses – and vise versa.
Ask a grade school student what he is looking for in a future spouse and he will say “nothing.” Pose the same question to a high schooler and they might say “Someone cute, funny, athletic.” Ask someone in their twenties and they might say “Someone with their head on straight, someone with money.” Over time a person’s priorities change.
So what about Ruth and Naomi? Both women had once been married. Both women had lost their husbands. And it is probably safe to say that both women did not expect to be married again. Now, in our culture that opinion would be the norm. But in Old Testament Israel, that could be a problem. If Naomi or Ruth died alone, their family line would cease – like a long piece of thread cut off.
Continuing the family line meant a lot in Israel – especially in Naomi’s tribe of Judah. Everyone knew that from one of these families of Judah would come the promised Savior of the world. But if a family line stopped, there was no chance of that happening. Naomi and Ruth were facing that reality.
But for the first time in years, Naomi had a renewed sense of hope. No, she was probably not going to marry again – but there was still hope for her daughter-in-law, Ruth. So Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for.” Naomi was going to try her hand at matchmaker.
So the question arises again: what do you look for in a spouse? Considering Ruth’s situation, we might think she would be willing to marry just about anyone so she could improve her livelihood. But that wasn’t true, not by a long shot. Ruth had her eye on Boaz, the kind, older man who allowed her to harvest in his field. We don’t know why Boaz wasn’t already married. Perhaps he never found the right woman. Maybe he was ugly.
But the one characteristic Boaz had going for him was that he was a God-fearing man. And that meant a lot to Ruth. So Naomi hatched a plan, as matchmakers do, to get Ruth and Boaz together. “Tonight [Boaz] will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in 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.”
It was a lot of work to do in order to show an Israelite man you are interested. But Ruth did it all exactly as Naomi told her to. And when someone catches your eye, you are willing to do what it takes to be with that person.
The Bible often talks about believers in this way. All of us together are compared to bride – like Ruth. And Jesus is compared to a groom – like Boaz. We like to think that we spend all of our time connecting with our Savior, our groom, being the perfect bride. But we aren’t. We spend time with other things. We chase after worldly riches and praise. It is the mark of an unhealthy relationship when you don’t really want to spend time with you spouse. And sinfully, there are many times when we don’t want to spend time with Jesus in his word or at church or in Bible class. It is all too bad, because Jesus is the perfect groom, and we definitely don’t deserve him.
Ruth probably didn’t think she deserved Boaz. But there in the middle of the night, she showed him in the humblest way possibly that she needed him. She crept up to Boaz as he slept alone near the grain and she uncovered his feet. In that culture at that time this strange act showed that Ruth was interested in Boaz. Hours passed as she waited for him to wake up. How would he react? What would he say?
Suddenly, something startled him and he woke up. Then Ruth said what she had probably been practicing in her mind all night: “I am your servant Ruth…Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer of our family.” Ruth was asking Boaz for two important things. One would ensure her survival, the other would ensure her happiness. She asked Boaz to be the kinsman-redeemer for Naomi and herself. This meant Boaz would have to take care of all of the land Naomi’s husband owned, and he would need to take care of Naomi and Ruth, too. Not every man would do this. But would Boaz?
Here is what he said, “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.” At cost to himself, Boaz would save these two women.
It all pointed ahead. The job of a kinsman-redeemer was to take care of family members who couldn’t take care of themselves. In fact, it meant salvation. And what Boaz promised to do, what every kinsman-redeemer did, pointed ahead to the promised Redeemer – Jesus.
We have a lot in common with Ruth and Naomi. If we were left to ourselves we would be lost. We can’t save ourselves. We have no means of escape. That is why Jesus came. As our Redeemer he took all of our debt upon himself, all of our sins, and he paid the price. And the price was steep. It meant his own suffering and death. And it meant our life.
So what do you look for in a spouse? The world looks for beauty, money, power, and every other selfish thing they can. Like Ruth, we look at Boaz and we see what really matters – faith in Christ. That faith enabled Boaz to redeem Ruth and Naomi. That faith enabled him to give, even when it was difficult. And in the end, it not only mean taking care of Ruth, it meant marrying her.
Your bridegroom is coming. That is what Paul was talking about in our second lesson: “May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” And just like Boaz promised Ruth, so your Lord and Savior Jesus, your Redeemer from sin, will not only talk about bringing you to heaven. No, this is Jesus – your perfect Bridegroom. “The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” Amen.