“May His Name Be Renowned!”
Ruth 4:1-22 (text); Philippians 2:9-11
March 13, 2016 • Download this sermon (PDF)
Beloved congregation of Christ: What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when someone comes and makes an offer, whether it’s family or friend or business associate? Isn’t it usually, “What’s in it for me? What benefit do I receive from this offer?”
As we meditate today on the last chapter of the Book of Ruth, Chapter 4, we see this reaction in the other kinsman-redeemer whom Boaz mentioned to Ruth in their midnight encounter. At the end of Chapter 3, we find Ruth and Naomi waiting for the next important development in their lives. Boaz will ask Naomi’s nearer relative if he wanted to take the responsibility.
So at the beginning of this chapter, Boaz is at the gate of the city of Bethlehem waiting for the other redeemer to pass by. And when he did, Boaz said to him, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here. So he stopped and sat down.” Now Boaz gathered the ten elders of the city at the gate for this important meeting. In ancient days, a city gate served as a town hall (Prov 31:23) and courthouse (2 Sam 15:2; Amos 5:10) where civil cases are judged (Prov 22:22).
You might be wondering why Boaz would call his relative “friend.” Doesn’t he know his name? Or doesn’t the writer of the book know his name? If you were reading the Hebrew Bible, the words used for “friend” are “peloni almoni.” It is a nice rhyme, but a meaningless one, like “hickory, dickory duck,” or “hey, diddle, diddle; the cat and the fiddle.” The most common translation is “such a one” (KJV), but it is “friend” in the NKJV, NASB, ESV, NIV. This tells us that the writer of the book did not even want to mention, or is not interested in his name. He is insignificant. The NET Bible even calls him, “John Doe.” So let’s call him “Mr. So-and-So.” 1
Boaz tells Mr. So-and-So that Naomi is selling her deceased husband’s land out of necessity. Boaz then offers the relative to instead redeem the land for Naomi. This is the law, “If your brother becomes poor and sells part of his property, then his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his brother has sold” (Lev 25:25). Upon hearing Boaz’s offer for him to redeem Naomi’s land, Mr. So-and-So readily accepted. But Boaz knows the law better than Mr. So-and-So. He tells him about a second requirement: if a man who has a wife dies without a son, the brother of the deceased man shall take the widow as his wife. Then the firstborn son whom she bears “shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel (Deu 25:5-6).
At this, Mr. So-and-So balked, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance.” He was concerned that his own inheritance will be ruined, even destroyed. If he had other children, they would not inherit Naomi’s land, since Ruth’s son will be the heir. Worse, Ruth’s son would also be entitled to his own property. He calculated that this whole transaction will be of no profit for him. But he did not know that if he accepted the offer, Boaz, and not him, will be the man without a name, Mr. So-and-So. At the end of the book, we will see that because of Boaz’s honorable and excellent character, his name became renowned in Israel. And his Son, the ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer, became renowned in all the earth.
Today, our theme is, “May His Name Be Renowned!” under three headings: first, Naomi: Restored and Nourished; second, Ruth: Tamar Recalled; and third, Boaz: Redeemer With a Name.
Naomi: Restored and Nourished
After Mr. So-and-So passed on his kinsman-redeemer duties to Boaz, Boaz summarized the transaction before all the elders and other witnesses: he has bought Elimelech’s property from Naomi, and he has taken Ruth the Moabite as his wife, “to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance.” Then the elders attested to the transaction and granted their blessing to Boaz and Ruth.
In the next scene, verses 13-17, Boaz took Ruth to be his wife, “and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son.” This is only the second time in the book that God is mentioned as directly acting in this drama. The first one was in Ruth 1:6, when after many years of famine in Bethlehem, Naomi heard that “the LORD had visited his people and given them food.” It was at that time that Naomi, after losing her husband and two sons, decided to go back to the Promised Land. Here in Chapter 4, God again acted to repay Ruth’s faithfulness to him, by opening her womb after God closed it when she was the wife of Naomi’s son Mahlon.
The next four verses are striking in that Naomi, not Ruth, is featured. In verse 14, after a child was born to Ruth, the women of the town blessed the Lord, not Naomi, for providing a kinsman-redeemer for her. They also blessed the newborn son, saying, “may his name be renowned in Israel!” Redemption for Naomi consists in two things: her land was not sold to another person, but kept within her family; and the name of her husband Elimelech will be perpetuated by Ruth’s child. This is why the women called the child Naomi’s “redeemer.”
In verse 15, the child is called “a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age.” This means that the child caused life to “return” to Naomi. When Naomi and Ruth returned to Bethlehem, her life was bitter, and she said, “I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21). God restored the sweetness and fullness of life to her through the child. The restoration did not end there, for the emptiness of losing her two sons was also reversed. Now she has a daughter whose steadfast love for her is much more than what seven sons could give her. Seven sons represent fullness of life. Naomi would be nourished in her old age by not only Boaz, but also by his child with Ruth.
Just like any other grandmother, Naomi cared for the child like she was his own mother. The women even said, “A son has been born to Naomi.” Through Ruth, God gave Naomi the rest that she longed for. And it was a custom in those days for the women of the neighborhood to give a child his name, just as when the women wanted Elizabeth’s child to be called Zechariah Jr. But the parents called him John (the Baptizer), as the angel commanded them. But the women of Naomi’s neighborhood gave him the name Obed.
Ruth: Tamar Recalled
The restoration of Naomi began at the city gate after Boaz confirmed with the elders his decision to be Naomi’s kinsman-redeemer. The elders blessed Ruth, saying, “May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel” (verse 11). In their prayer of blessing Ruth, the elders recall the two mothers of the 12 tribes of Israel. Like Ruth, Rachel and Leah were both barren until God opened their wombs (Gen 29:31; 30:22). Leah bore a son named Judah, who is the ancestor of Boaz.
Then in verse 12, the elders prayed, “may the house of Boaz be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah, because of the offspring that the LORD will give you by this young woman.” The elders recall the descendants of Perez who were mentioned in good light in Israel (1 Chr 27:2–3; Neh 11:6; Matt 1:12). But who was Perez? Perez was one of the twins who were born out of the incestuous relationship between Judah and Tamar, Judah’s own daughter-in-law (Gen 38:6-8). In verses 18-22, the writer lists the generations of Perez all the way to King David, who became the ancestor of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In Matthew 1, we read the full genealogy of Jesus, beginning from Abraham to David, all the way to Joseph, the husband of the virgin Mary. What sort of people are mentioned in this genealogy, 42 names in all? We see a few righteous people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; Boaz, David, and a few righteous kings: Asaph, Jehoshapat, Uzziah, Jotham, Hezekiah and Josiah; and Joseph himself. All the rest are evil, of dubious character at best.
There are also five women mentioned in the list: Rahab, Tamar, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. Rahab, Ruth and possibly Tamar are Gentiles. All five are of dubious character, whether true or not. Rahab was a prostitute and a Gentile who became a believer. Ruth was a Moabite who also became a believer. Tamar was not a prostitute, but she pretended to be one to have a child with her father-in-law Judah. Bathsheba had an adulterous relationship with David. Overall, Jesus’ ancestry has much to be desired, a mixed group of righteous and wicked people that include a prostitute, adulterers, warriors, heroes and villains, and Gentiles. Why would God include evil people in the human ancestry of his most holy, sinless Son who came to save his people from their sins?
The ancestry of Jesus that includes Ruth and Boaz points us to several things. First, as we have seen in the life of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz, God uses sinful human beings to accomplish his salvation plan. No matter who you are, whether you are a believer or unbeliever, God will use you for his purposes. Second, even if you think you are a hopelessly evil person, if it is the Lord’s will, he is able to save you from your sin. There are countless people who have lived wicked lives whom God saved by his grace, mercy and love. Until you breathe your last, God is able to save you if he wills, just as he saved the dying thief on the cross.
Third, Jesus’ ancestral line tells us that the righteous can bear evil children, and vice versa. Just look at King Hezekiah, one of Israel’s most righteous kings, and his son Manasseh, who “led [Israel] astray to do more evil than the nations had done” (2 Kgs 21:9). And so with righteous King Josiah, who bore Jechoniah, who was so evil that God let his dead body rot unburied, and cursed his kingly line (Jer 36:30). But we also read of wicked King Abijah who fathered godly King Asaph; or of evil Manasseh who was the father of Amos (Amon), another good king. This list comforts us parents who blame ourselves when our children go astray. Or as children, we are thankful that God was merciful in saving us, even when our ungodly parents did not raise us in the nurture and discipline of the Lord.
Fourth and last, we may think of Jesus’ ancestry as a picture of people whom he came to save. All kinds of people, some are godly, others are self-righteous, and still others are evil. Men and women, Jews and Gentiles, kings and peasants. Ruth and Boaz had a part in the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to Abraham, “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen 12:3). As Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Saved and forgiven in Christ, we stand righteous before God without any distinction. This is our comfort in Christ.
Boaz: Redeemer With a Name
To affirm the agreement between Boaz and Mr. So-and-So, there is a strange custom. In verses 7-8, the one releasing his kinsman-redeemer rights will give his sandal to the one claiming the rights. This custom is not found in other places in the Bible, but a related law is in Deuteronomy 25:9.
After this exchange, the elders and other witnesses express their prayer of blessing on Boaz also, “May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house be like the house of Perez” (verses 11-12). Boaz is already known to be a man of worth and excellence, but the people affirm this, and pray that he will continue to act worthily. Their other blessing was fulfilled: because of his godly heart filled with compassion, kindness and integrity, his name is now renowned or famous in Bethlehem. And since he became an ancestor of the Savior of the world, his name is now renowned in all the nations! In contrast, the other kinsman-redeemer remains anonymous, a nobody, a Mr. So-and-So, because his focus was only on himself and on his own inheritance.
The conclusion of the book is another genealogy, but it is the genealogy of Perez, one of the twin sons of Judah and Tamar. Notice that there are ten names listed, the number ten symbolizing completeness. The life of Ruth and Naomi are now complete with the birth of a child through Boaz. Their son Obed is the grandfather of King David. Notice also that the opening and closing verses of the Book of Ruth are related. The book starts with, “In the days when the judges ruled.” Repeatedly in the Book of Judges, we read “In those days, there was no king in Israel” (Jgs 17:6, 18:1, 19:1). The people needed a king, because “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Jgs 21:25). The Book of Ruth concludes with the name of a godly king, King David. The next book, 1 Samuel, continues where the Book of Ruth left off: God granted Israel a king, King Saul. But King Saul was not a righteous king, so God replaced him with David, a man after God’s own heart. He is the root of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Ruth and Boaz.
The Book of Ruth opens with Israel without a king, and ends with King David. The whole of Scriptures begin with the Triune God the King of creation and end with the final Kinsman-Redeemer, Christ the King renowned in all the earth!
Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord: Boaz was a worthy, godly kinsman-redeemer to Naomi. It did not matter to him that it would cost him much to buy Naomi’s inheritance. There was no profit for him in this transaction, except that it is his son who would be the heir.
So it is with Boaz’s descendant, our Lord Jesus Christ. He knew the cost to redeem or buy his people from the curse of sin and death: he bought us with his own precious blood. He redeemed us from the curse of the law, because try as we might, we will never obey the law perfectly. But Jesus did obey God’s law perfectly. His steadfast love for his people is infinitely greater than Ruth’s love and loyalty to Naomi. He left not only his Father, but also his glorious heavenly home to humble himself as a human being. He surrounded himself with “tax collectors and sinners,” the outcasts of society, those who are like his own ancestors. He was despised and rejected by his own people.
On the cross, he suffered the pains of hell, shame and humiliation, and he had no redeemer to save him from death. In his dark agony, not even his Father in heaven came to his rescue, so he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” What amazing mercy and love he showed to us! We who are unlovable, unworthy, undesirable, aliens and strangers are invited to come to him in faith and repentance. He is the restorer of life, for he not only restores our lives from emptiness to fullness and from bitterness to sweetness, but also gives us eternal life. No one is too evil or sinful for him to save through faith in him.
For Boaz, his sacrifice came with the knowledge that Naomi will be nourished in her old age, and his son with Ruth will gain an inheritance. But our Lord knew his Father’s promise as a reward for his perfect obedience: a people for his own inheritance, his own treasured possession. And that includes all of you who repent and believe in him. He also knew that after death, he would be raised from the grave. And in the end, God will exalt him, and his name will be renowned in all the earth. God gave him a name above every name, more than the name of Boaz, and much more than the anonymous Mr. So-and-So. And he is not only King of Israel like David, but he is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is now King of all nations, from where all people whom he has redeemed with his own blood will come.
The drama that is the Book of Ruth is about how Boaz redeemed Naomi and Ruth from the lowest valleys in their lives. But in the end, we know that they are only three people who are part of a bigger story: that of the redemption of all of God’s own people, our Lord’s inheritance. You who believe are also part of this bigger drama of redemption. For each of you who came from all kinds of sinfulness have also been redeemed by Christ. Christ is the Father’s only-begotten Son, but God has adopted us as his own children. Therefore, he is not only our great Redeemer; he is also our great Elder Brother in the household of God.
- Iain M. Duguid, Esther & Ruth, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: 2005), 181. ⇧