READ : Ruth 4:13-17
The story of Ruth is like the best kind of stories ? wonderful characters who experience a happy ending. “They lived happily ever after” isn’t just for fairy tales. If you believe in the Lord, it’s the way your story will end too.
You know the traditional fairy-tale ending: “And they all lived happily ever after.” But you also know that real life doesn’t really work that way. We don’t all live happily ever after. After the storybook wedding comes the down-to-earth marriage, and in the stresses and strains of daily living, romances can turn stale and relationships go sour. In real life couples bicker, kids come (and later go), financial pressures mount up, career plans don’t work out. Even if everything goes well for us, happiness still doesn’t last forever. Eventually, as our losses pile up, the sorrows of life seem to outweigh its joys. How can anyone live happily ever after when every life, every human achievement and relationship finally ends in the dust of death?
If this life were the only reality, there would be no “happily ever after.” But the good news is that this world is not all there is, and our lives do not end with death. The book of Ruth is the very best kind of story, I think, the kind with wonderful, appealing characters who pass through many hardships and struggles but reach happiness in the end. But the very end of the story of Ruth and Boaz and Naomi points forward to a future that even they could not understand or even imagine. The ending of the book of Ruth suggests an ending for our lives better than even the best fairy tale ever written.
One of the lessons the unknown writer of Ruth intended to teach was that there are no real accidents in life. The biblical writer shows us this truth by giving us a “God’s-eye view” of the story of Ruth as it unfolds. We understand what’s really happening and see where things are really headed long before the characters themselves do. Because of that, we can recognize that the Lord is providentially weaving together the apparently senseless tragedies and random coincidences of the story in order to work out his purpose for each of the characters in the story. And that purpose is to bless his children, to grant them everlasting joy, to bring each of them to glory.
Chapter 2 ends with Ruth coming in from the fields with an amazing amount of grain gathered from just one day’s gleaning. Again, with our God’s-eye view of things, we know that Boaz told his harvesters to intentionally leave extra stalks for Ruth to find. Besides that, Boaz has shared his lunch with Ruth, and she brings the leftovers home to her mother-in-law Naomi as well. When Naomi learns that all this food has come from her dead husband’s relative Boaz, she sees God at work: “May he [Boaz] be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead! . . . The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers” (Ruth 2:20).
Here we learn the reason why it was so significant that Boaz was related to Naomi’s dead husband. In the Old Testament law, if a man died without surviving children, his next of kin was required to marry his widow and father a son who could take the dead man’s place. This would not only provide for the widow; it would secure the dead man’s family inheritance and ensure that his name would not die out. And the kinsman who married the widow was known as the “Redeemer”; in Hebrew, the goel.
But Naomi isn’t leaving anything to chance – or even to providence! The governing providence of a wise and sovereign God does not render our actions useless or needless. Some people are blind to the hand of God behind the events of life. They believe everything is controlled by either fate or random chance. But the opposite error is to believe that everything is so controlled by God that our words and deeds don’t matter, that we are just puppets with no freedom, and therefore no responsibility to act. That is an equally unbiblical view. The Bible insists both that God is in control and that we are free and responsible to do what we can. Though Naomi herself is too old to have children, she has a plan for ensuring her family’s survival by nudging Boaz into marriage with Ruth. So during the feast that celebrated the end of the grain harvest, Naomi sends Ruth out one night to lie with Boaz by the threshing floor.
In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet.
“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.”
“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. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character.
Ruth 3:8-11, niv
Naomi’s instructions propelled Ruth into a potentially awkward situation, but they haven’t in any way compromised her virtue. Ruth’s request, “Spread your garment over me,” means “Take me to bed with you.” But this is not sexual promiscuity. In the context of the law of Moses it is really a delicate request for Boaz to marry Ruth, and thereby fulfill the redeemer’s role both for her and for Naomi. Boaz is at first surprised at finding Ruth lying at his feet, but then he’s deeply moved. Here is Ruth, a virtuous and desirable young woman, who seeks to marry an old bachelor like Boaz. And there is Boaz, a wealthy and important man in Bethlehem, who is willing to accept as his wife a penniless foreigner who has embraced the God of Israel. We’re heading for a happy ending.
Boaz fulfilled the law and became Ruth and Naomi’s redeemer, but in doing so he played out on a human level a role that is ultimately reserved for the Lord himself. Again and again in the Old Testament God applies the word goel to himself in order to describe his saving relationship to his people Israel.
“Fear not . . . I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14); “But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).
But even this isn’t the whole message of the book of Ruth. Toward the close of the last chapter we see what looks like the happiest of happy endings. Boaz and Ruth are married and the parents of a young son, whom Naomi takes up into her own lap. The women of Bethlehem, to whom Naomi once poured out her bitterness of soul, now sing of the blessings she is experiencing. It is the happiest ending any of us can expect in purely earthly terms, the happiness of living to a ripe old age surrounded with the love of family and the comforts of home.
Only this is not how the book ends. Instead, the writer tacks on a genealogy – another of those boring lists of Hebrew names. So Ruth actually closes with these words:
Salmon fathered Boaz, Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.
This seems like an odd way to end a perfectly written story, as if Abraham Lincoln had tacked on the names of a few political friends at the close of the Gettysburg Address. But it isn’t odd if your ears are attuned to the promises of God. For David, of course, was no ordinary descendant. He was Israel’s greatest king, to whom the Lord promised an eternal reign and from whose line the ultimate Redeemer would come.
Another book in the Bible opens with a genealogy very similar to the one that closes Ruth.
. . . and Salmon [was] the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David the king . . .
Only this tracing out of the line of David, found in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, doesn’t stop here with David. It goes on for many more generations until it finally ends,
. . . and Eleazar [was] the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
Matthew 1:5-6, 15-16
So you see where the story of Ruth points. Jesus Christ is the world’s goel, the true Redeemer. When God made all those provisions in the Old Testament for a person to act as redeemer to his family, rescuing the poor and restoring the widow’s inheritance, securing her future, he wasn’t just setting up a system of social welfare for the ancient Israelites.
When God referred to himself over and over as Israel’s goel, he wasn’t just reassuring the Jewish people that he would help them out of their political difficulties. The Lord was offering everyone a glimpse into his plan of salvation for the whole world.
For Jesus Christ is the one who finally and forever offers himself as the Redeemer for all his kinfolk, paying the price to rescue his sisters and brothers in the human family. And because of his sacrifice, those of us who have put our trust in Christ have an eternal Redeemer. If you know and love Jesus Christ, you can be certain that you will – quite literally – live happily ever after.