We all love a happy ending, don’t we? Especially in a love story! In the midst of our complicated, crazy, sometimes very painful lives, we thrive on stories that leave us feeling good. This is why we love fairy tales with their signature “And they lived happily ever after” ending. Hooray for the book of Ruth! A book to rival Jane Austin novels…
Surprisingly though, the book begins with overwhelming gloom. If it were a movie we might expect the beginning to be filmed in dark, depressing colors with heavy mood music in the background to express the downcast spirit of our heroine. But as we came to the final scenes of Naomi’s movie, we would expect vivid, bright, happy colors. Maybe the criers among us would shed a tear of joy as the story wraps up. And we’d walk out of the theater happy, feeling better about life.
This is fitting, because we’ve been examining a story of redemption. And redemption is the cry of every heart, whether we realize it or not. The book of Ruth is amazing – it details one story of redemption, introduces another which will point to a third. That’s right – from the story of Ruth we gain three stories of redemption. That’s what we are going to look at this morning.
First, let’s look at Naomi’s redemption.
Did you notice that Ruth is almost absent in our passage this week? Did it strike you as unusual? Yes, the book is named after her and yes, her character takes center stage throughout much of the book. But ultimately, this is a story of Naomi. It began with a sharp focus on Naomi’s pain and suffering in the loss of the three men in her life. It began with the heartbreaking emptiness and bitterness she felt. It ends with quite the opposite, as we see that Naomi’s bitterness has turned to joy and her emptiness has been filled. The narrative in between is there to show us how this dramatic turn of fortune occurred in Naomi’s life. Though Ruth has been redeemed by her marriage to Boaz, it is Naomi’s redemption that is highlighted in the conclusion of the book.
What exactly has been redeemed for Naomi? Let’s walk through verses 13-17 to answer this question.
We’ve noted throughout our study that Naomi was lacking a future because she was lacking a man to ensure that future after the death of her husband and sons. Now we see that she has two males in her life. Boaz has become her son-in-law and has fathered a grandson for Naomi. Now, it is important to note that while there have been many important events that God has used to change the future for Naomi and Ruth, the narrator has clearly shown that God has used normal, human driven means for accomplishing his purposes in their lives. He did not appear to Ruth in Moab and tell her to stay with Naomi when she went back to her home in Judah. And there was no burning bush to tell her to embrace Naomi’s land, people and God. The Lord didn’t issue a direct command for Ruth to go glean in the fields. She just knew it was the right thing to do. He didn’t order Boaz to take care of Ruth, or redeem her. And it was Naomi who gave Ruth the instructions to go to the threshing floor. Don’t get me wrong, God has most certainly been at work in all those situations. But we don’t read of his direct intervention in them.
However, there are two places in the book of Ruth that we do read of his direct intervention. The first, back in 1:6. “The Lord had visited his people and given them food.” And now here in 4:13, “the Lord gave her conception and she bore a son.”
God steps in and personally, kindly, faithfully gives Boaz and Ruth a son. And yet, the following verses make it clear that this is NAOMI’S BLESSING. This son is Naomi’s redemption.
As we read on to verse 14 we see that the women announce that this infant is indeed Naomi’s redeemer, but also identify him as even more.
But first, before we look at that, how cool is it that these women who commiserated with Naomi upon her shameful return to Bethlehem now get to rejoice with her upon this birth! The Lord is so kind to often surround us with others who can both weep with us and rejoice with us.
So, these women call this infant Naomi’s redeemer. They recognize that Naomi’s true kinsman redeemer is not Boaz, but this son that has been born. They give glory to God for this provision in Naomi’s life. And then they make some promises about this redeemer’s life – they promise that he will be renowned in Israel, that he will restore Naomi’s life and will care for her in her old age. Literally, this last phrase means that he will “feed her gray hairs”. Naomi had fled to Moab with her family because of famine in Judah. Then she lost all the men in her life, so she was without provision in Moab. Then she returned to Bethlehem and Ruth had to glean in the fields to feed them both. This was a woman who knew what it meant to go hungry. What a beautiful display of God’s love shown here by these women promising Naomi that she would not go hungry in her old age. She would be well cared for by this baby. He will provide for her out of his love and devotion to her. And we as readers can feel confident of this because we’ve gotten to know his parents. Ruth and Boaz are astoundingly faithful, loving and kind. Obed will surely follow in their footsteps.
Naomi then reaches for this child and cradles him on her lap. We get a glimpse of such a sweet bond between a woman and her grandson. Naomi was empty, but now she is full. She was bitter but now she rejoices. I think we would not be surprised if the author had added a final line “And they all lived happily ever after.”
Instead, we keep reading and we find a genealogy. This might strike us as a strange way to end this book, except that we come across one name that ties it all together. Now, as Bible readers so far removed from the original time and place, we may not feel the full effect of this genealogy. But let’s remember for a moment when the story of Ruth takes place – in the time of the Judges. And we know that at that time “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Naomi wasn’t the only one in need of a redeemer. The nation of Israel needed a redeemer too.
God’s chosen people had strayed so far away from him. They couldn’t be faithful to him. As soon as they didn’t have a judge to lead them in worship, they turned aside to sins greater and greater. They were a broken people. I think that it’s safe to say they were empty and bitter, just like Naomi, though perhaps for different reasons.
They needed hope, and they believed this hope would come from a king. So, they demanded a king from God. God warned them that it wasn’t time yet, but they insisted and so he granted them King Saul. This king that they thought would solve their problems and make them great, instead trusted in himself rather than God and ended up leaving them just as empty as when they started. They needed a good king. They needed a redeemer.
God in his faithfulness, provided such a king. And he did so through Naomi! He gave Israel King David, a man after God’s own heart. He provided this redeemer king not because Israel deserved it but because God loves his people.
David was a great king, but even he wasn’t the answer to Israel’s problems, was he? As we read on in Scripture, it doesn’t take long before we find the same old pattern taking over. God raises up kings, some of which honor him and many of which do not. And the nation of Israel proves their unfaithfulness over and over and over. What do they need? They need a better redeemer.
And once again, God in his faithfulness provides for his wholly unfaithful people. Another son is born. His name is Jesus. Once again, we see that he descends from the line of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, as their startling and beautiful story continues in history. And we know that this redeemer doesn’t disappoint. This redeemer doesn’t fall short. He is the big “R” Redeemer. And he wasn’t born to redeem just one or two people. He doesn’t just redeem a nation. He redeems all who will look to him.
He takes from us the emptiness that we experience because of sin, and makes us full as he covers our sin with his blood “for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22). He takes the bitterness that we feel because of pain and death and gives us joy for “even though we do not see him now, we believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).
Ladies, we serve a God who redeems! When we are feeling empty, or broken, or bitter we can take refuge in this knowledge. In Him, there is HOPE.
Now, let’s be perfectly honest and clear. There is no promise that our story will look like Naomi’s. This account that we have of Naomi’s is a true, historical account but it is a partial account, isn’t it? Though we might tack on “and they all lived happily ever after”, we know this is not true. Naomi certainly still had struggles and pain. She continued to live in a sinful world. Though she was shown great loving kindness by both Ruth and the Lord, she still lived in a fallen world.
And so do we. Just because we give our lives to Jesus doesn’t mean we will be free of pain, emptiness and bitterness. There may not be a happily ever after in our earthly lives. I can think back on the years that I longed for a husband. The many hours I spent praying for true love to find me. I remember well the loneliness that I felt, the emptiness of being single and the bitterness of not knowing what the future held for me. I knew in my head that being married wouldn’t solve everything. But my heart still believed that if I was married, I would be loved so much that I would be content, I would be full. I’ve been married for long enough to tell you that marriage didn’t solve my every problem. It didn’t make me perfectly content. Certainly, it is a wonderful expression of God’s love in my life, but honestly, marriage comes with its own set of problems.
There is nothing here on earth that will fill our emptiness and remove our bitterness apart from Jesus Christ, our perfect Redeemer. We may substitute one set of disappointments for another. We may (and will) taste great moments of joy and happiness. We may have times where our lives and hearts feel so full. But these are momentary. And that is good.
How can that be good? Because our emptiness and bitterness and brokenness point us to our Redeemer. We don’t have a promise that our fortunes will be dramatically reversed in our lifetime, but we have a promise of eternity!
Where is your hope this morning?
Are you hoping that your story will turn out like Naomi’s? That your desperate circumstances will turn around and you will have your happily ever after? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hoping for things to turn around. But what are you going to do if they don’t? Will you still trust in God? Do you believe that he is your redeemer, even if you must wait to feel the full effects of that redemption in future glory?
Or what if your life is actually pretty good, and you don’t relate that much to Naomi? Do you recognize your need for a redeemer, even if life has been smooth sailing? Or are you content to settle for your happily ever after in the here and now?
Friends, let’s not settle. You know that reverberating in our hearts when we read a great love story, that longing to experience a love like that? Remember the scene at the threshing floor where Boaz proves himself to be a man of integrity and honor and promises to ensure that Ruth is redeemed? Our hearts may sigh a little within us. It’s because this story is pointing us to our one great love, Jesus Christ. He is our loving Savior, our perfect redeemer.
Have you ever considered that the final line in your earthly life, if you belong to Jesus, will be “And she lived happily ever after”? Well, it’s true because our God is a Redeemer!