This is What Redemption Looks Like
Fourth in the series,
Ruth: A Handbook for Christians
If you’ve been here from the beginning of the story, you’ve seen Naomi and her family set out from Bethlehem and go to Moab because of famine.
You’ve seen her through the catastrophic loss of both husband and sons, and you’ve walked with her back to Bethlehem in the company of Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law, who clung to her and would not leave her.
You’ve also seen the hunger both of these women went through back in Bethlehem, which reduced them to living off the leftovers of others, leftovers Ruth freely to gleaned from the fields.
And then there was that night at the threshing floor when Ruth dared to uncover the truth so Boaz could see what he had to do to make things right for both herself and for Naomi.
If you’ve been here from the beginning, you might wonder what’s going to happen next. We are at the last chapter, after all.
How are things going to wrap up? How is the promise of the story to see Naomi’s life full again, to see her life flourish again, to see her with children to protect and provide for her in your old age? For a woman of her time and place, children meant everything. A child could be your redeemer, the one who restores your life
As it turns out, Boaz, the close family member on Naomi’s husband’s side, the one who welcomed Ruth into his field to glean and made sure she was looked out for, turns out Boaz left the threshing floor after Ruth left and headed for the city gate. Turns out, Boaz knows what he is doing.
A member of the kinfolk to whom Naomi belonged through her late husband is a step closer in kinship than Boaz. But Boaz is shrewd and knows how to handle himself at the city gate where deals get done and matters get settled.
It is had to tell from the conversation between Boaz and the unnamed kinsman whether there really is a piece of land which Naomi wants to sell or if that is just one of those rural ways of talking about something without coming out and saying it.
Clearly, keeping kinsfolk’s assets in the community of kin is important. And, in the place and time Ruth and Naomi lived, womenfolk were considered a man’s possession, a part of his household (which made life perilous for women like Ruth and Naomi who did not have husbands or sons to keep them). The land was an asset; the women (to someone who did not know them as Boaz did) not so much.
Perhaps the John Doe kinsman didn’t pick up on this when he agreed to the transaction; perhaps he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the box.
But when Boaz laid it out for him—that buying the land meant acquiring all that Elimilech had possessed as a part of his household when he died—land and wife and daughter-in-law, along with the responsibility to raise up children for Elimilech’s line through Mahlon’s widow, Ruth—well, that was a whole different matter.
This unnamed kinsman had his own lineage to think about and his own household, which may have already included wife and children. Why take responsibility for something and someone who will not add to your own household?
Boaz brought it up. Let Boaz have it all. And so Boaz did.
Ruth becomes Boaz’s wife and, in one of the only two places in the story where God is said to have done anything directly, the writer tells us that God let Ruth become pregnant. (In case you are interested, the first time God acted directly in the story was back in 1:6 where we read that Naomi got up and headed back to Bethlehem with her daughters-in-law because “the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them.”) God provides. God provides, indeed. And God provides here, too.
Notice that the child born to Ruth and Boaz is named not by them, but by the neighborhood women, who also praise Ruth, ascribing to her a value greater than seven sons. Sometimes it is only those who know how vulnerable they are who are able to appreciate and name, to bear witness to, the redemptive work of God in their midst.
As it turns out, the story of Ruth and Naomi ends in the celebration of a verb, redeem, which to many of us is vague and abstract, a concept, and idea. But here, in Naomi’s life, it is as specific and concrete as a baby held in your arms and laid upon your breast. And, unlike the other verbs we’ve focused on in this story, cling and glean and uncover, this is God’s word. Redeem is God’s word which comes into the story in the person of a child named Obed, a name which means one who serves God.
Redeem is the word God spoke to Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel and Leah, when children came unexpectedly into their lives; these were all families who knew famine and who also knew the transformational power of God’s provision. Redeem is God’s word which he spoke through Moses to the Hebrew people suffering in bondage in Egypt and which lead them through the wilderness to a restored life in a promised land. Redeem is God’s word spoken through the steadfast love, the diligent work, and the courageous daring, of a Moabite woman named Ruth whose son became the grandfather of the greatest king in Israel’s history: David.
For us, I think, as we come to the end of the story of Naomi’s redemption through the unlikely agency of an immigrant woman named Ruth who bore a son named Obed who became the grandfather of David, I think we are called here at the end of this story to stand with those who know the difference a redeemer can make, to stand with those who are aware of their vulnerability to the famines of food or family life can throw up in your way, to stand with those who know both loss and fulfillment, both death and life, and to celebrate with them the fulfillment and life God is able to bring.
Yet, to celebrate with them, we have to get close to them. Like the women who gathered around Naomi and Ruth’s child, who pronounced God’s blessing on this new family, we have to get into their neighborhood where they live. And when we are there, we can be like Ruth to them by clinging to those for whom life is a precarious thing and gleaning for them in the world so they are nourished in mind, body, and soul and uncovering the truth of their lives so those who have the power to change the circumstances of their lives are challenged to act.
This week, I want you to pay attention to those whose lives have been impacted by the verb that God wields in the world to renew and fulfill the promise of human life. Pay attention to personal stories of redemption, of loss being reversed and of life being restored. Celebrate with those who know what redemption feels like, those for whom it is not an abstraction, but a concrete fact of their lives, much like Ruth’s baby was concrete fact in Naomi’s arms, bringing back to her a future and the flourishing of her life.