Have you ever taken a risk? Was it a small one? A Big one? When I was 16 years old, I was living in Germany – a military BRAT, searching for colleges. Being so far away, campus visits and previews, college tours – not really an option. And internet, well, let’s just say I was the first person at my small college to have e-mail! So virtual tours were out. I applied to three schools. One was purely for my own vanity – I wanted to see if I could get in to an Ivy League school. I had no real intention of going. My 16-year-old pride had no concept for what my acceptance would mean for another person who had to wait on the waiting list for me to turn down my acceptance, which I did. I’m actually kind of horrified at my obliviousness now that I think about it! The other two schools were Bible colleges and I was intent on pursuing vocational Youth Ministry. One was in Chicago – a city I had only visited once. The other was in Portland, Oregon. You can see where this is going, right? I had only been west of the Mississippi River three times – Louisiana, Texas, and Arizona. None of those experiences could have prepared me for a life in the Pacific Northwest.
Well, my mom – who was from Chicago – refused to let me go to school there. Besides, the Youth Ministry program in Portland was highly recommended. So, there I was, 18 years old, flying from Frankfurt, Germany, to Portland by way of Nashville, Tennessee (where the rest of my family is from). I was alone. I got off the plane wearing my red, white, and blue letterman’s jacket, holding a HUGE teddy bear, not knowing how I was going to get from the airport to campus, or what the next few days would be like as I recovered from jet lag and found my new normal. But, there, waiting for me, was this kind staff member from the school. He immediately recognized that I was the new college freshman he had come to collect. I wonder what his first clue was? The teddy bear? I looked very out-of-place, I am sure.
It was a risk to travel halfway across the world to school, across the country from any of my family. It was a risk to even get in the car with this man who said he was from the school. What if he’d lied, or had less integrity and took advantage of my ignorance? Was it worth it?
Our passage this week sees Naomi and Ruth taking a risk. Will it be worth it?
Our part of the story this week has an almost chiastic structure, which begins to take shape, as was pointed out in your homework, with the idea of rest framing, or bookending the passage. Let’s read, starting with verse 1:
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?
Naomi and Ruth are widowed, childless, and destitute. They are dependent on gleaning for their survival. They are in need of rest. The word used here for rest is defined as a resting place, or the condition of rest. Elsewhere in the Bible it is translated as “place”, “rested” and “security”. We saw in chapter 1 that Naomi equated rest with a husband and children. We saw that she greatly desired these things for Ruth and Orpah. This is what she means when she says “that it may be well with you.”
Ruth needs rest because what her life should have been does not match what it is. So Naomi conceives of a risky plan to help Ruth “be well”. Let’s keep reading with verses 2-5:
2 Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” 5 And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
I don’t know about you, but I don’t know that my reaction would have been so acquiescent! I would have had some questions! Like, “Naomi, are you feeling okay? You do know what goes on down there, right? And you want me to wait until after he’s done drinking? Maybe I should wait until morning? Or better yet, why don’t YOU go and mention this redeemer thing to him for me? Yeah, I like that plan better. I would be mortified if he said no to my face!”
Then again, I don’t know Naomi like Ruth did, and I have not spent the last six to eight weeks observing the character of the man she has been told to approach. I’m also not in a desperate situation like she was. So, in that vein, this plan may not have been so “out there”.
So Ruth goes. Let’s keep reading.
6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. 7 And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! 9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
We spent some time this week considering these verses, and we were asked to pose some questions of our own. I’m guessing some of you may have wondered if the encounter between Boaz and Ruth here crossed any lines of propriety or purity. The truth is, we don’t know for sure. I do think , though, and many scholars agree, that the context of the entire story pushes me over to the side of propriety and purity. We see Boaz commend her character, and he seeks to preserve her reputation. We have also seen from the author’s descriptions of them both that they are good, kind, and wise.
So, if that is the case, what’s with the whole “spread your wings” phraseology? I think the answer is what follows: “For you are a redeemer.” She is alluding back to his prayer in chapter two, using his same words to appeal to him as her redeemer.
Redemption. This is the center of our chiasm. Keep reading.
10 And he said, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. 12 And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 13 Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.”
Boaz promises her that her status has changed. Whether it will be by this other, closer relative or by him – she is redeemed! The details will play out, the chips will fall, and when it all settles, she will be changed. No longer a widow, but a wife. No longer an outsider, but brought to the inside. No longer destitute, but provided for.
But even here, we see the tension of the now and the not yet. She has been promised, but this other redeemer has to be dealt with. Her redemption is not complete. This is where we see risk reappear. He tells her to stay the night, and she does. Risky!
What if she is discovered? What if she is tempted to try to seal the deal, force the situation, and give in to physical attraction? Seriously! One of the women in my group pointed out a few weeks ago how much the care and protection Boaz offered in chapter 2 would have made her desire him! Staying the night was a risk.
So was going home the next morning. Would her reputation be preserved? Would Boaz follow through? Would he just pass her off to this other man? How long would it take to find out? (Can you tell how much of a worry-wart I can be?)
14 So she lay at his feet until the morning, but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” 15 And he said, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, 17 saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’ ”
What we see here is that risk is not risk at all if we know the character of the one to whom we are trusting the outcome. Boaz displays again his goodness, his integrity, and his kindness by preserving her reputation, and by remembering to honor Naomi.
Then in verse 18, we return to rest.
18 She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”
Naomi reassures her. She assures Ruth that even Boaz will not rest until the matter is settled. And here we are left with the tension of waiting for that future rest.
Take a moment, and forget that you know what’s going to happen next. Ruth didn’t. We are at a cliffhanger moment, right? It’s the scene from the final episode of Friends where Ross is screaming at the answering machine, “Did she get off the plane?!” Let yourself feel that tension, the riskiness, the desire for rest.
Thankfully, we don’t have to stay in that tension for long, because we do know how the story ends, and we will see in the coming weeks how the risk is rewarded.
As you worked through all of this passage, did you happen to notice the mirror to your own life?
A rest was promised in the garden in Genesis. That resting place was lost because of sin. Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden, work became hard, and fellowship with God was broken. We are in need of rest. We are lost, destitute, no hope of security in ourselves. Is this where you are?
From Genesis chapter 4 through the Gospels, time and again people are called to take a risk – to have faith in a promise that redemption and rest will come. When Jesus came, when he turned it all on its head, we began to see that the risk we take in placing our faith in His sacrifice is what allows us to experience the redemption he offers. That risk – Will I trust? Will I believe? Will I humble myself and repent? Will I let go of the familiar for what is unfamiliar? Will I choose what is hard and counterintuitive instead of what is easy and accepted? It’s risky.
But the redemption Christ promises is so much greater in the risk/reward analysis! Colossians 2:9-15 is a beautiful description of our status as redeemed when we believe:
9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Because we know who Christ is, the risk is not really a risk! He is the Son of God, the head of all rule and authority, he is the one who keeps his promises – EVERY TIME! So, if you are still trying to decide if the risk is worth it – YES! Risk it! Believe! Repent! Follow!
It would seem, too, in our mirror, that we still encounter risk – perceived risk, that is. There will be times, and people in your life who will question your faith – or rather if the object of your faith, Jesus, is worth it. Because our reunion is not complete, because we are still trusting in things unseen. They will tempt you to think you were wrong, made a mistake. But just as Naomi and Ruth based their trust on Boaz’s character, we base our trust on Christ’s.
This is why regular study of God’s Word is so vital, why we need the local church. Both of these reinforce our understanding of who Christ is! The more you know the one in whom you are placing your faith and trust, the less of a risk it is.
And yet, we are still waiting. We know we have not fully reached that promised rest. We could be left in that cliffhanger tension again. When is he coming back? How long will we have to wait? What if he never comes back? But again, thankfully, we know how this story – our story – ends!
3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 7 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.
And then John describes the new Jerusalem, and we pick it up in verse 22:
22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. 24 By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, 25 and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 26 They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. 27 But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Who are those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Those who have risked believing in the promise! If you are here this morning, and you know yourself to be a Christian – your name is written in that book! If you are unsure, or know that this does not describe you, but you think you might be ready to talk about taking this risk that’s not really a risk, talk to your table leader, or a friend. Or come talk to me. We want to tell you about this glorious Jesus who endured the cross for you.
Is the risk worth it?
Look at Revelation 22:1-5
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Face to face.
Or look at Jesus’ own words in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The risk is so worth it, to trust in Christ’s redemption and promised rest.