"Reward in Redeeming the Rejected"

January 27, 2008 Ruth 4

Redeemed from Loss - by a Field Goal

A key role in the book of Ruth is played by Boaz who becomes the ga'al or "kinsman-redeemer". Some definitions for "redeem" are: "to get or buy back; to pay off; to set free; to deliver from sin; to make amends / atone for." The word redeem isn't only religious, it's still widely used today. For example, following a the National Football Championship last Sunday, the Kansas City Star carried the headline, "Former Chief Tynes redeems himself with Giants' winning kick". Sportswriter Derek Samson recalls: "Sunday ranked as the second-coldest game in Green Bay's nippy history...The temperature was minus-4 degrees by the fourth quarter -- nearly 25 below wind chill -- and [New York Giants kicker Lawrence] Tynes said the football felt like 'cardboard.' 'It doesn't compress off your foot like it normally would,' he said."

Another player, centre Shaun O'Hara, referring to the subzero temperatures stated, "I would not have wanted to kick that football in those conditions...It must have felt like kicking a bowling ball."

The sports writer continues, "With the NFC championship tied 20-20, Tynes missed a 43-yard field goal with 6 minutes, 53 seconds left. But he had another chance, from 36 yards out, as time was expiring. Tynes...clubbed a horrendous-looking boot that had no chance and sent the Lambeau Field faithful [ie Green Bay Packers fans] into a frenzy. [BUT] Tynes' 47-yarder a couple of minutes into overtime gave the Giants a 23-20 win over Green Bay, sending New York to Super Bowl XLII in Arizona" (Feb.3).

The same writer in another article again uses the term 'redeem': "Tynes misfired twice in the final 7 minutes, including a potential game-winner at the end of regulation. He redeemed himself in overtime. "You know, the general stuff, 'We love you, we love you,' " Tynes said of his teammates' reaction to the game-winner. "But ultimately I love them because they got the ball back for us two or three times to have the opportunities." [source: http://www.kansascity.com/sports/football/story/453638.html http://www.kansascity.com/sports/story/453706.html http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/22/sports/football/22blue.html]

Did he really just 'redeem himself'? As he admits there in the last quote, he owed it partly to his team-mates for their effort in getting the ball back so he could try again. They covered for his first two failed attempts to kick field goals that would have ended the game without having to go into overtime.

Today as we conclude our study of Ruth, we see real redemption come into play - not in sports, but in the survival, acceptance into community, and blessing of people who were previously poor, foreign, and could have felt like rejects or failures. Redemption involves a 'buying back' that requires others' sacrifice, payment, and effort.

To Redeem - or Not to Redeem?

When we left off last week, the only remaining hurdle to poor immigrant Ruth marrying Bethlehem's most eligible bachelor Boaz was the existence of a ga'al or 'kinsman-redeemer' closer than Boaz himself. To review the meaning of that term as it pertains to levirate marriage, this was the blood-relative of the deceased husband who had both the right and the obligation to carry on the deceased brother's (or kinsman's) name / property / lineage by marrying the widow and begetting a son.

In chapter 4 vv1-2 Boaz 'gets right on it' (as Naomi predicted he would, being a man of his word) and sets the stage for an official bit of business. He sits at the town gate, where there were often stone benches for the purpose of small official gatherings, and hails the closer kinsman-redeemer, inviting him to sit down. Then he assembles ten elders to be witnesses. (Don't you just love the freedom, relaxedness, flexibility, and directness of this? 'Grab a seat - here's the matter at hand - do we have an agreement? - lawyers...what are they?')

Vv3-4 contain the initial presentation of the offer; at this point, Boaz merely mentions the land that Naomi's willing to tranfer. He says, "If you will redeem it, do so; but if you will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line." The kinsman indicates preliminary acceptance. But then in v5 Boaz makes full disclosure of the ramifications of accepting the deal: with the deed comes the obligation to take Ruth as wife and raise an heir for her dead husband's estate.

Vv6-8 the kinsman backtracks, beating a hasty retreat now that he starts to realize the full extent of what's involved. "I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate; you redeem it yourself, I cannot do it." Having second thoughts, he declines the offer, and removes his sandal to pass to Boaz as a token that he's transferring the right to purchase. In later times, Jews used a right-hand glove or handkerchief as a token instead of a shoe. Perhaps the kinsman already was married and didn't want the complications of more than one wife; or perhaps he feared that his own estate might end up passing to Ruth's son. For whatever reason, he refused to risk it.

Vv9-10 Boaz sums up the outcome of the agreement for the benefit of all listening: "Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon's widow, as my wife, [here he reiterates the context of levirate marriage] in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!" And that's that - it's official; essentially it doubles as a pronouncement of marriage.

The gathered witnesses echo that all is being done decently and in order; they respond with a blessing on behalf of the whole community. Vv11-12, "Then the elders and all those at the gate said, 'We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.'" The references here are extremely appropriate. Rachel and Leah, Jacob's wives, were from a foreign country just as Ruth was; this was likely a usual bridal benediction. And Tamar's interaction with Judah also involved a case of levirate marriage because Tamar's husband had died. So the word-pictures the witnesses choose to use for the benediction are very apt.

The kinsman's refusal of Boaz' proposal highlights the cost of redemption. When Naomi's other daughter-in-law Orpah goes back to Moab, that serves as a contrast to Ruth's determination to accompany Naomi to the bitter end; now the kinsman serves as a foil so we can better appreciate Boaz' willingness to pay the price of redemption, to absorb the risk - his generosity in taking on the liabilities of Elimelech's survivors. Quite possibly Boaz had as much at stake to lose as the other man did, but he still accepted the responsibility. Redemption involves someone else stepping up to the plate and taking the hit that should have been ours.

God Redeems Naomi's Emptiness

This book is named after Ruth because she plays a major role; but really it could have been called the Book of Naomi. Chapter 1 introduces Naomi and her plight; in chapters 2-3 Ruth takes the foreground; but in chapter 4 she fades back into the background, her role is very passive. The spotlight is once again on Naomi. There's really only a single verse directly involving Ruth: v13, in which she becomes Boaz' wife, and the Lord grants them a son.

The closing of the book focuses on how the Lord is redeeming Naomi's emptiness. Vv14-15 the women say to Naomi, God hasn't left you (perhaps in the sense of orphaning / widowing / abandonment) - God hasn't left you without a kinsman-redeemer; NRSV translates this 'next of kin', for the following phrases point to the baby rather than Boaz. They express their hope the offspring will be famous, renew Naomi's life, and sustain her in her old age. Nothing can replace the husband and two sons who died, but finally Naomi does have another descendant to nurture.

The women affirm Ruth in passing at the end of v15 - kind of like a bouquet of roses at the end of the performance: "your daughter-in-law...loves you and...is better to you than SEVEN sons..."! Truly, Ruth is deserving of such praise, having trusted the God of Israel and opting to stick-it-out as an elderly woman's sole support. A study Bible comments, "Ruth's selfless devotion to Naomi receives its climactic acknowledgment."

In vv16-17 Naomi gets some quality grandmothering time, becoming the little child's nurse, treating it as her own. They name him "Obed" for serving, perhaps short for "servant of the Lord". Does this perhaps hint at some spiritual healing for Naomi? She complained back in 1:20f that the Almighty had made her life "very bitter...I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty...The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." But now she has a child in her lap to care for.

Is there an empty area in your life you've been tempted to become bitter about? Is there a loss - perhaps relationally, materially, the death of a loved one - that's been a hurdle for you, hard to recover from? Keep trusting God, who can turn the hard times around; He brings fullness to our emptiness, redeeming our loss.

The genealogical line through Boaz, Obed, Jesse, and David leads to Joseph, legal parent of Jesus, our prime Redeemer. He has dealt with the shame and guilt of our sin by absorbing the cost of the punishment we owed. Jesus Christ gave His life on the cross to buy back our emptiness, our loss, so by believing in Him as Lord and Saviour we might gain eternal life, starting right now through new birth by the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 1(4-8) is a key passage in the New Testament that describes how Jesus has become our 'kinsman-redeemer'. Think of the parallels here with the story of Ruth and Naomi. "In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ [recall Ruth the Moabitess was sort of adopted / grafted into the house of God's people], in accordance with his pleasure and will-- to the praise of his glorious grace [grace is not deserved, we have no 'right' to it], which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood [Jesus gave Himself away as Ruth dedicated herself to stick with Naomi to death], the forgiveness of sins [in Old Testament terms, 'covering' or atonement, as God's wings cover His people, the wings of Boaz' cloak covered Ruth], in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding [Boaz lavished goodness on Ruth, ordering the harvesters to deliberately pull out hands of grain from the stooks for her to glean, inviting her to have lunch with the field-hands, giving her 6 scoops of barley so she didn't go home empty-handed]." Praise God for Jesus, who has become our gracious Redeemer!

A Health Loss Redeemed

Canadian Christian humorist and author Phil Callaway tells the story of Doug Nichols, who majored in women and alcohol at college but became a Christian, attended Prairie Bible College, and in 1966 went to the mission field with Operation Mobilization. During 20 years in the Philippines Doug started churches and founded a new mission, Action International, whose 130 missionaries today feed, clothe, and love thousands of street children around the world.

Later in life, Doug faced a major health loss that the Lord mercifully redeemed. Here's how it happened as Phil Callaway tells it...

Back in 1993, Doug listened...to a doctor's prognosis: "You have colon cancer, Doug. After radiation and chemotherapy you have a 30 percent chance of recovery." "You mean I have a 70 percent chance of dying?" Nichols corrected him. "Uh...I wouldn't put it that way." Doug had no idea the doors cancer would open.

After surgery, radiation treatments left Doug's body racked with pain and insatiably thirst. He knew the end was near. But his world was not the only one collapsing. Nightly news reports from Rwanda indicated that civil war had spiralled out of control and more than a million people had been slaughtered, many by their own neighbours and trusted friends. Terrified Rwandans by the thousands fled across the border into Zaire and crowded into filthy, ill-equipped refugee camps where diseases like cholera found a ready home. People were dying everywhere, 50,000 in three days alone in the little town of Goma. As Doug read those terrible accounts, the thought hit him: I'd like to hold some of those dying children in my arms before I go Home.

And so it was that he found himself with a team of doctors and nurses in the middle of Rwanda hoping to do whatever he could to help. A local Christian leader had hired 300 refugees as stretcher bearers to bury the daily masses of dead and bring in the sick so the doctors could work with them. One day he came to Doug with an expression of deep concern. "Mr.Nichols," he said, "we have a problem. I was given only so much money to hire these people and now they want to go on strike." "In the middle of all this death and destruction these men want to go on strike?" "They want more money." "But we have no more money," Doug told him. "We've spent everything. If they don't work, thousands will die. Can I talk to them?" "It won't do any good. They're angry. Who knows what they'll do to you."

But Doug was undeterred. He walked over to an old bombed-out school building and ascended the steps wondering what on earth he should say. 300 angry men surrounded him and an interpreter. "Mr.Nichols wants to say something," the man called above the noise. "I can't possibly understand the pain you've experienced," Doug began, "seeing your wives and children hacked to death.I can never understand how that feels. Maybe you want more money for food and water and medical supplies for your families. I've never been in that position either. Nothing tragic has ever happened in my life that compares to what you've suffered. The only thing that's ever happened to me is that I've got cancer." Doug was about to continue when the interpreter stopped him cold. "Excuse me," he said, "did you say cancer?" "Yes." "And you came over here? Did your doctor say you could come?" "He told me that if I came to Africa I'd probably be dead in three days." "Your doctor told you that and still you came? What did you come for? And what if you die?" "I'm here because God led us to come and do something for these people in His name," Nichols told him. "I'm no hero.If I die, just bury me out in that field where you bury everybody else."

The interpreter began to weep. Then, with tears flowing down his face, he turned to the workers and began to preach. "This man has cancer," he told the crowd. Suddenly they grew quiet. In Rwanda cancer is an automatic death sentence. "He came over here willing to die for our people and we're going on strike just to get a little bit more money? We should be ashamed!"

Suddenly men on all sides began falling to their knees in tears. One crawled over to Doug and threw his arms around his legs. The others stood to their feet, walked over to their stretchers and went quietly back to work.

[Phil Callaway adds]"What did I do?" he later asked me. "Nothing. It wasn't my ability to care for the sick; it wasn't my ability to organize. All I did was get cancer. God used that very weakness to move the hearts of people. Because they went back to work, thousands of lives were saved and many heard the gospel...I don't pretend to know why. But I've seen it happen over and over. God uses our weakness, our handicaps, and our inabilities when we give them to Him."

Today [Callaway concludes] Doug is more alive than ever. But he's hard to find. We stay in touch mostly by e-mail. If he's not praying over squatters on a garbage dump in Manila, he might be hugging a dying child in a refugee camp. If he's not visiting one of his two adopted Filipino children, he may be celebrating the fact that doctors are shaking their heads. The cancer seems to have vanished.

Let's pray.