Faith in the Midst of Chaos
Last week’s text brought us through promises made and kept. We saw Boaz step up and commit to be the redeemer for Ruth and Naomi, he made a promise, and then he kept that promise. Today we’re going to be revisiting part of that as it relates to our passage today. And we’re going to notice a few things. First, that Boaz went above and beyond the expectation of the day in following the rules and submitting to the law and very interestingly, to the people. Through this all we’re going to see the first point of this sermon which is that leadership submits.
Second, in the last half of the passage today we’re going to look at the blessings and the expectations of the people. There is a sense of mutual accountability that we recognize here this is hinted at in the first point but we’re going to see it in the second point too as we consider what faith looks like in submission. Through it all we’re going to see our main point of the significance of faith in the midst of chaos.
(Ruth 4:9–12 ESV) “Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.” Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house 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.”
PRAYEROur first point today is good leadership submits. We’re going to be looking at verses 9 - 10 of chapter 4 for this. At first glance when I read this, what I saw was Boaz just reiterating what just took place in the previous section. We saw last week that Boaz went to the city gate to take care of official business. He beckoned the closer redeemer to come and sit, as well as 10 elders of the city, and apparently today we learn that a crowd has gathered as well.
Boaz addressing all of them says, “You are witnesses this day that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and to Mahlon. Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, I have bought to be my wife, to perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance, that the name of the dead may not be cut off from among his brothers and from the gate of his native place. You are witnesses this day.”
He starts and ends what he says with the same phrase, “You are all witnesses this day.” Since we met Boaz 2 chapters ago, when he was introduced as a worthy man, we have seen him over and over again going above and beyond in all that he does. He doesn’t do anything halfway. He goes all the way and then some. Look back for a moment at Ruth 1:1. Remember how this book was introduced. “In the days when the judges ruled…” Then look back one more page in your Bible to the last verse of the book of Judges, just as a reminder, (Judges 21:25 ESV) “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”
Who knows off the top of their head the speed limit on 218? How many of us see that sign and set the cruise to 3 or 4 miles over the limit? What if one day, all the state troopers had an all day convention in Des Moines, and it was a required event for every single state trooper. What would traffic on 218 look like that day? Everyone would do whatever they wanted.
If this is the descriptor of the times of the judges, and Boaz is far and away the exception to the rule. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes… except for Boaz. Boaz has followed the law as set in the Torah. He has done what is right, he has sacrificially given, blessed those he comes in contact with, and is a bold example of the loving-kindness, the esed love of the Lord to those around him. Especially those who deserve nothing. Ruth is a resident alien and enemy of the country of Israel. A moabite widow with no rights and nothing to offer, yet Boaz steps into her life with the love of the Lord. Boaz is the type of person you’d say lives above reproach. He is the type of person who you would nominate to be an elder at your church.
(1 Timothy 3:2–7 ESV) “an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
(Titus 1:9 ESV) “He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.”
This is the kind of person that we’ve seen Boaz to be. He is an Old Testament example of the New Testament elder. Boaz is above reproach. In a time when Boaz could have done whatever he wanted, Boaz did what was right in God’s eyes. He adhered to the law even when there was no one watching. When the state troopers are all gone, he still sets his cruise to the speed limit, even though he knows no one is watching. Why? Because he knows it’s the right thing to do.
Boaz could have just done what he wanted to do. He could have had things go the way he wanted them to go, be the redeemer he wanted to be for Ruth and Naomi. The other nameless redeemer who was closer in bloodline was clueless as to what was actually going on. Boaz had to inform him of the situation, to bring it to his attention that there was something to be done here. He submitted to Ruth in what she wanted him to do for her. He submitted to the rules, following the process for how things were supposed to happen. He submitted to this other redeemer at the risk of losing what he wanted.
There is a twofold purpose to the way Boaz began and ended his speech to the people. “You are witnesses this day” is more than just making sure someone else saw what went down so there is some sort of public record to it. That’s the accountability and justice side of things, and that’s very important. We want justice and we want accountability, and that’s part of what good submission looks like. We submit to one another, not so we can point out to each other that we’ve fallen. Some of us are afraid of the idea of accountability but I think it might be because you’ve missed seeing what accountability is supposed to look like. Accountability isn’t about the embarrassment of being found guilty of sin. It isn’t about getting caught at the bottom of the hill in a mangled heap, it is about hearing, pointing out the rumble strips on the edge of the road that reminds me the edge is coming. Being accountable to one another is the way we help each other guard against falling into sin. When we learn how others are tempted, we learn how to avoid temptation in a new way. When we lift each other up, we are encouraging one another to fight the fight of faith. Brother I know you are struggling with sin. I see it. Don’t deny it, but confess. (James 5:16 ESV) “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” That’s just the first half of what Boaz is saying when he calls out his witnesses. But it’s more than just being held accountable for what he is committing to.
Look at how he describes what they witnessed. Verse 9, You are witnesses that I have bought all that belonged to Elimelech and Chilion and Mahlon. Verse 10, Also Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Mahlon, then look at what he says next and remember that this is all part of what is sandwiched between those two “you are witnesses this day” statements. Ruth the Moabitis, “to be my wife” For the purpose of being my wife. He is publicly accepting the responsibility of being her husband and all that is entailed with it. Keep reading, “To perpetuate the name of the dead in his inheritance. The purpose that he took her to be his wife was to perpetuate the name of the dead. It wasn’t to make a name for himself, it wasn’t so he could look good to his neighbors, or the towns people. In fact, Boaz is taking a huge social risk in taking a Moabite wife. There were some in the community that doubtless thought that he was sullying the good name of Israel in doing so. But he’s doing it for the sake of a distant extended family, Elimelech, and Mahlon, because it’s the right thing to do. The accountability is more than just about his action, but about his motive. Motives matter. You can do righteous deeds all day long, but if your heart is not broken and bent before God, then your righteous deeds are worthless. Even the right things you do, if done with the wrong motive is worthless. Let me put it this way. If we start striving to be bent before God, glorifying him in our hearts, then our deeds will start being the righteous deeds he wants to see out of us anyway. Boaz is not a kind of legalistic winner here because he’s following the law, but because of his right view of God, his actions are right also.
Let me restate what Boaz is saying in the reverse order that he says it in so that we can hear it a little differently. “Because we do not want the name of Elimelech and Mahlon to be cut off from among their people, and someone needs to step up and help perpetuate their name and their line since they are dead. Therefore Ruth must have a chance to bear a son which will require someone to marry her. Boaz says, I’ll do it.
Boaz is submitting to Ruth, Naomi, tradition, the Torah (the law), and to God, and he’s doing it for the right reason and with the right motive. That is why he calls those who are watching to bear witness. This is why weddings are public events and we invite our friends and family to be part of it. When Paula and I said I do to each other and to God 21 years ago, there were 200 other people watching. They can all testify to what I promised to do as her husband, and to what she promised to do as my wife. We are accountable to all of them. And accountability isn’t a burden, it’s a joy. I know that there are 200 people who were witnesses that day and they want to see us win. They’re on team Paula and Jonathan and they want to see us succeed in our marriage. In the same way we’re all part of the Grace family. We’re all on team Grace and we want to see one another succeed so we hold one another accountable. That’s why the leadership of this church is accountable to this congregation. You nominate people who have elder qualities to be voted on as elders. And you entrust them to lead this congregation in a way that glorifies God, that follows the teaching of the Bible, and fulfills the missions that he has given us to Spread our Hope in Jesus Christ for the Glory of God in All Things. We work toward that and we give reports on our progress there.
Good leadership submits. Jesus lived out that example as well. As God there is no one higher than him, and everyone is subject to him, because he is God and there is no other. But even when his own creation, when we turned against him, he came and took our punishment on himself. He served us in the most debasing way possible, by dying for his enemy. He is a good leader and he calls us to submit to one another, to serve one another the way he served us. Dying to self is not just how we fight sin, but how we care for each other.
So faith in the midst of chaos is seen here through the leadership of Boaz, specifically through his submission to others.
Faith in the midst of Chaos is also seen through our second point: Blessings and Faith. Let’ s look at the last part of this passage.
(Ruth 4:11–12 ESV) “Then all the people who were at the gate and the elders said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman, who is coming into your house, like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem, and may your house 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 people who gathered affirm what Boaz has said, they accept their role as accountability partners in the community. Yes, we witnessed this, and we’re going to hold you accountable. But they don’t stop there. They proceed to bless, and this blessing come in three parts. The first and the last both invoke the name of the Lord and are like a prayer request to the lord on behalf of Boaz and Ruth, but are much more focused on Ruth. The piece in the middle almost sounds like a charge. An expectation that these witnesses who will hold Boaz accountable are lifting up before him. Lets look at the blessings first.
The first blessing says may the Lord make the woman like Rachel and Leah who together built up the house of Israel. Now there are 12 tribes in Israel and they are named for the children that Rachel and Leah bore to Jacob. These women were barren until the Lord opened their wombs and through them he blessed them with many children, and the foundation of the tribes of God’s chosen people. Catch the significance of this statement from the women. May your new wife, the moabite, the enemy of Israel, be blessed by God, invoking the very name of the Lord. We pray that God would bless her and make her to be like two of the most revered women in Israel’s history. One of the reasons of Naomi’s bitterness from the beginning of this book, her emptiness was in part because her daughters-in-law were barren. The witnesses here are praying that God would reverse that for Ruth and Boaz, but not just reverse the barrenness, but bless them with fertility.
Now the second blessing from verse 12, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah (the paterfamilias and namesake of the tribe) Be like the house of Perez how? By the offspring that the Lord will give you Boaz, through this young woman Ruth. Judah was the son of Leah, and Judah had three sons himself. Where Perez fits in the lineup is unique to this story because of the similarities to Ruth’s situation. You see in Genesis 38, both of Judah’s sons had died, like Naomi’s, and one of them had a widow, Tamar, the mirror here would be Ruth. Judah’s third son was supposed to have fulfilled the Levirate law for her and helped her produce a child in the name of the deceased, but Judah held him back and didn’t allow it. So, Judah’s daughter-in-law tricked Judah by disguise and had a child by him. When Judah saw his sin he repented, but beyond this, that son of Tamar and Judah, the namesake of the tribe is Perez that is referenced here. Perez is the direct line of this tribe and clan traces their lineage back Again here, the prayer of the people, invoking the name of the Lord a second time, in the same way that Perez was the first offspring of the nation, that also the child born to Boaz through Ruth would be like this, that he would be a source of blessing, and growth in the tribe. That through him great things would come.
Now before we get to the charge, or the expectation in the middle, let look at another aspect of these blessings. These blessings were made in the name of the Lord. This is a telling thing. What is the difference between wishing someone well, and praying for them in the name of the Lord. Our culture says “thoughts and prayers” quite a bit. I’ve often wondered what someone who offers their thoughts is accomplishing. Thinking at a physiological level is synapses firing in my mind. And if I am thinking about someone, that a nice thing. It could be a positive thing, but at the end of the day, it is a powerless thing. My good thought have accomplished nothing in the scope of history. It would be the same if I took some iron and sculpted for myself a god to worship and then asked this idol to intervene on your behalf. I can talk to that pile of iron until I’m blue in the face but it will never accomplish anything good or bad. It will sit there, and if I give it enough time, it will start to rust, and eventually be nothing due to decay. Powerless, helpless. On the other hand, if, like these witnesses from the city, they pray in the name of the Lord, they are making a dynamic statement about him. They are saying, “I am powerless to affect things, but I know how I want to see them go, so I am going to beseech God, who is powerful to act on your behalf, to do good for you and to you. That this end result may come. I have faith that God is powerful, able, and willing to act on your behalf, so I am making a commitment of faith, believing that God will act. It is faith in the midst of chaos that can look to God with confidence and expect him to act on our behalf.
What makes this so interesting is that it is happening in Bethlehem, in the time when the judges ruled, there was no king in the land, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. And yet they are acting in faith in the God who brought them out of egypt, out of the land of slavery, who went before them and fought their battles for them.
Finally, let’s look at the charge in the middle of this passage. (Ruth 4:11 ESV) “May you act worthily in Ephrathah and be renowned in Bethlehem” The charge to Boaz is to continue in what he’s already doing. Acting worthily, maintaining his behavior, and also to be known in Bethlehem, presumably because he acts worthily. The witnesses are saying that they have Faith that God will work through Boaz and Ruth and their offspring, and they are trusting, and holding Boaz accountable to act in an upright manner. This is a faith act also.
Faith in the midst of chaos is what gets this community through each day. Boaz acts in faith in his generosity, in taking risks, in serving Ruth, in caring for Naomi. When we act in faith, we say to the world our joy isn’t in what we might lose, our joy is in what we’ve already gained. Our Lord and our God. We are encouraged by the writer of (Hebrews 13:5–6 ESV) “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” What can man do to me? (Romans 8:35–39 ESV) “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is because we are in Christ together, because our confidence is in the Lord that accountability works both ways. Leadership submits to those it serves, and they in turn submit to that leadership, and the expectations are right. I put on Facebook earlier this week a quote from J. Dunlop. "Elders lead ministry, deacons facilitate ministry, the congregation does ministry." Just for the sake of clarification few become elders. Some are deacons, but we are all the congregation. We all do the ministry of the gospel.
We are all accountable to one another, and remember as we talked about last week, none of us are higher on the ladder of salvation than another. No one gets a greater inheritance of Christ. Christ is not diluted as an inheritance. There is only one Christ, and he is our reward and our ultimate joy. There is no room for competition, we need each other to help carry each other over the finish line. The mutual accountability that we share for each other isn’t supposed to be a burden, but a joy, We’re helping each other to stay on course. That’s why we can step out in faith, trusting the Lord to carry us and make us whole in everything we do. It’s why I need you to be the rumble strip on the side of the highway in my life. That’s why you need the person sitting next to you for the same purpose. That’s why we can pray to God for one another, that he would bless our neighbor, and we hold each other accountable, even when it seems like the world is spinning out of control, when order seems lost and chaos looks like it is reigning. We have faith in the God who will never leave us or forsake us.