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Sacrificial Love

April 2 2021

Book: Ruth

Scripture: Ruth 3

Today is Good Friday, the day when Christians around the world remember the cross of Jesus Christ. The death and resurrection of Jesus was the most significant event in human history. It demonstrated the character and depth of God’s love. We will celebrate the resurrection on Sunday, but today I want us to pause and consider God’s love through the lens of the cross.

We are not going to use the typical Gospel narratives. Instead, we are going to continue our study of Ruth. And if you don’t know the story of Ruth so far, let me catch you up.

Ruth was a young woman from Moab, probably in her mid to late 20s. Her husband was from Bethlehem. He travelled to Moab with his family during a famine. Ten years into their marriage with no children, Ruth’s husband died. Instead of staying in her home country, which was the sensible choice, she followed her mother-in-law (Naomi) back to Bethlehem.

Ruth started collecting leftover barley in the field of a man named Boaz. She expected to return home with a few handfuls of grain, but Boaz turned out to be a very generous man. He protected Ruth and broke the rules of his culture, allowing her to take as much as she wanted.

Now, we are ready to read chapter 3.

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? 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.”

Naomi tells Ruth to clean herself up, anoint herself with perfume, and sneak into a sketchy situation with Boaz. Naomi was hoping that Boaz would accept this gesture as a proposal for marriage.

But Ruth would be taking an enormous risk. If the plan backfired, Ruth would be ruined. Boaz could easily take advantage of her, or simply reject her – in either case bringing shame and an uncertain future upon Ruth.

Socially and culturally, this was a terrible idea. At that time, men negotiated marriages. Women never proposed marriage. And Ruth had no bargaining power. She had no dowry to offer. Marrying Ruth would give Boaz no social or political advantages. She was a foreigner. She was a widow. She had been married for ten years and had no children.

This was a risky and possibly even dangerous thing to do. Why did she take the risk?

Because Boaz had proven Himself to be a good man. And because Naomi believes this is their only hope for peace and stability – shalom. Ruth agreed. Let’s find out what happened next.

6 So Ruth 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.

Commentaries have debated for centuries – was this a sexual proposition? Or was it just an opportunity for a private conversation?

We don’t really have enough information, but the sexual tension is clear. This was dangerous, because the sinful heart of any man – even the best of men – could have led Boaz to the wrong choice.

And even if we read the story in the most innocent way possible, it was still a marriage proposition – one that broke every social and cultural convention at the time. This was not a “meet-cute”. This was a bold and risky move by a brave woman. And she’s not done.

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.”

If you remember, Naomi told Ruth to say nothing. She told Ruth to wait and let Boaz do the talking. But Ruth speaks and makes the situation even more risky!

She says two things. First, she says “spread your wings over your servant.” That’s not a request. It’s actually a command! And she is using Boaz’s own words against him. In chapter 2, Boaz gave Ruth a blessing. He said this:

2:12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”

Ruth turns that prayer back on Boaz. She’s saying to him, you can be the answer to your own prayer! Take responsibility for me!

Second, Ruth brings up the law of the kinsman redeemer. This is legally complicated, so let me try to explain.

Boaz was actually NOT a redeemer for Ruth, but for Naomi. Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, owned some land in Bethlehem. Normally, the land would be inherited by their sons. But with all the men dead, there were no heirs for that land.

God’s law provided a way to save the family tree. A close relative could marry the widow and if they had a son, that child would become the new heir. In this case, Naomi was the one to be redeemed – not Ruth.

By bringing up this law, Ruth complicated Naomi’s plan. Naomi only wanted to get a husband for Ruth. She was not looking for a redeemer. Ruth takes it further because she is thinking of Naomi – not herself.

Here’s the bottom line: Both women were prepared to sacrifice their own future for the sake of the other. It was a beautiful, risky mess. And now it all lies at the feet of Boaz. What will he do?

10 And Boaz 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.”

The Hebrew is clear that nothing happens. They both go back to sleep and Boaz has proven himself to be an honorable man. He doesn’t take advantage of Ruth. Instead, he accepts the proposal of marriage and commits to fighting for it – even though he was not the closest redeemer.

Notice that he calls Ruth a “worthy woman” in verse 11. The word is “hayil”, the same word that was used to describe Boaz in chapter 2. The only other place in the Bible that word is used to describe a woman is in Proverbs 31. She is noble. She is honorable. She is strong.

But the world did not expect this response from Boaz. How could it? The world we live in does not treat human beings as equals. Everything in this world is about status, money, power, and sex.

Ruth was at the very bottom of the social ladder and she went to Boaz in the middle of the night like a prostitute. He was one of the most important men in town. His reputation was at stake. His own inheritance was actually at stake. The world expected rejection.

But that’s not how it works in the kingdom of God. Men aren’t more important than women. Rich people aren’t more important than poor people. Citizens aren’t more important than immigrants. God offers us a better way to live than the world’s way.

This story is a powerful illustration of God’s “hesed” love – His steadfast love. We called it a love without an exit strategy. We called it a one-way love. And today we learn that it is also a sacrificial love. It’s a “love until it hurts” kind of love.

We see it in Naomi, willing to give up her own claim for a redeemer to save Ruth. We see it in Ruth, willing to give up her personal happiness for the sake of Naomi’s claim. And we see it in Boaz – willing to submit to God’s way when the world’s way was clearly better for him personally. They all show us what it means to “love until it hurts”. But the story is even bigger.

Why was Ruth accepted and loved when she could so easily have been rejected? And the answer, of course, is because God had bigger plans than they did.

If Boaz had rejected Ruth that night, then the names of Elimelech and his sons would have been forgotten to history. But more importantly, the family tree of the Messiah would have been shattered.

And that brings us back to Good Friday – back to the cross. The cross was the greatest picture of “love until it hurts”. Just as there was a powerful tension that night on the threshing floor, there was a powerful tension that day at the cross of Jesus Christ.

The world had rejected the Son of God. He was the most worthy, most honorable man to ever walk the earth – and the world rejected Him. He left the throne of heaven to become a man. He was willing to risk his reputation to love people into the kingdom. He died the death of a criminal – mocked and scorned as a worthless failure.

But that was our God – defender of widows and father to the fatherless. That was God’s sacrificial love on display at the cross. That was our Redeemer, buying us back at great cost to Himself.

The last promise of Boaz to Ruth, in verse 13, should be ringing in our ears. He said to Ruth, “as the Lord lives, I will redeem you.” As the Lord lives… As He lives… For Boaz, that was just a way to say how serious he was about the promise, because how can the Lord stop living, right?

And yet, that is the mystery of the cross – that the Son of God would stop living so that we could be redeemed.

There is no love in this world without suffering. There is no love without pain. There is no love without cost. There are plenty of cheap substitutes in this world, but the real thing always requires sacrifice.

Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”