In our world today, we idolize the people who are brave, who conquer the odds stacked against them, those who beat down the opposition and rise up in triumph. They are glorified and venerated in our society. This is why Marvel and DC are so popular with so many today. We are all looking for a savior from among our ranks whom we can hold up, look to for deliverance, and applaud when the evil is beaten, or when danger is crushed.
In her 1985 hit, “Holding Out for a Hero,” Bonnie Tyler lamented the loss of “all the good men” and “gods, the street-wise Hercules, To fight the rising odds.” This lack of a deliverer causes her to toss and turn, she says, while she dreams of “what I need.” The chorus describes Tyler’s hero as “strong,” “fast,” and “fresh from the fight,” “sure,” and “soon,” and “larger than life.” “Somewhere just beyond my reach,” she says, “There’s someone reaching back for me.” What do these lyrics evoke in listeners? We experience similar emotions when we watch great masterpieces like Avengers: End Game, The Dark Knight, Man of Steel, or Captain America. We place ourselves in that hurried mood, that feeling of immanence, of need. We want to be rescued from something, to be delighted in by someone else, to receive special care and attention of a hero who is watching over us, somewhere, and who swoops in at the exact right time to save us out of our peril. Or, we want to be that person for others, to feel needed by those around us, and we work very hard at making ourselves needed.
We have been watching the story of Ruth through the first two chapters of the book, and we have been thinking about God’s sovereignty, his wisdom, and his love for his people. We have been considering what God’s visitation might look like, and about the concepts of favor and shelter beneath his wings. This week, we will be continuing in chapter three, and taking a look at what redemption looks like.
Back in chapter one, Naomi wished her daughters-in-law well, and every blessing from the LORD as she told them to go back to their mother’s house where she envisioned them finding rest. Now, she turns her attention to Ruth whose steadfast work in the barley fields has now come to an end (2:23). Perhaps an unknown future looms; where will we get food now? Coupled with the favor Ruth has found in her source of provision, possibly Naomi has more in view than simply food. One thing is clear though, Naomi has turned form the detached well-wishing of chapter one, to the duty of actively seeking rest for Ruth (3:1). She seems to be answering her own prayer for her daughter-in-law.
But her plan is, shall we say, risky. What is she trying to accomplish in sending her freshly washed, flashy-dressed, fragrantly-anointed daughter-in-law to the threshing floor – a very public place – for an overnight rendezvous with Boaz? This seems sudden, and rather desperate, not to mention morally ambiguous! Wasn’t Naomi cast as a woman of faith, even in the hardest of times (1:8-9)? She has been provided for throughout the barley and wheat harvest (around three months), but now, with the prospect of dwindling sustenance, she gets jumpy, and maybe too willing to send Ruth into a situation which could turn out to the ruin of everything! And all we get from Ruth is a kind of placid complicity (3:5).
Popular hero movies of today place extraordinary people, with extraordinary talents into extraordinary situations which show their worth. It is not unusual to find them fighting the odds, struggling through doubts, and then rising to defeat the bad guys. And many times, it involves morally circumspect encounters which blur the lines between what we conceive of as upright behavior with what we’re lead to believe is a necessity; a sort of utilitarianism which excuses those failures of character in light of the greater good those failures will accomplish. Is it any wonder we have problems with our leaders and icons of culture? We give them the latitude to get the job done, but when they are found to have fallen, we are aghast that they could act in such ways, when we’ve allowed their bad behavior by our complicity in their sin.
How could this wealthy, powerful, land-owning man during the time of the Judges be trusted in this dark, compromising encounter which our devout Naomi seems to think is a great idea?
Ruth does as she is told, and after Boaz has eaten and drunk his fill, a feasting of sorts in celebration for a productive harvest, she follows Naomi’s instructions with one significant difference: she makes a marriage proposal to Boaz on the threshing floor (3:9). In following the instructions of her mother-in-law, Ruth calls Boaz to fulfill his own earlier prayer for her in chapter two. “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!” (2:12) Ruth claims the LORD’s provision under his wings to be the provision she seeks from Boaz as her redeemer. Ruth’s words bring Boaz back to his earlier prayer for her in chapter two, moving Boaz to the realization that he is to be the answer to his own prayer for her! His response is telling of this mighty man’s character.
And he 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. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my townsmen know that you are a worthy woman. And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I. 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.” (3:10-13)
If there was any more question about this encounter, the narrator takes those doubts away when we read about Boaz not wanting people to see Ruth and think something poorly about her character, or to bring disrepute to her, and so, he gives her six measures of barley to bring home to Naomi (3:14-15).
When placed in a morally difficult situation, where Boaz could have taken advantage of Ruth, we see that he responds with adoration and gratefulness, delight and dedication. He is honored in Ruth’s proposing such an arrangement when she obviously could have pursued other options, and he honors her in his words and actions.
Paul exhorted the church in Rome: “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” (Romans 12.10) When the chips are down for our fragile cast, a redeemer steps into the picture, and rather than gratifying his own desires, and seeking his own advancement, he graciously lowers himself, taking the form of a servant, providing for Ruth and Naomi in abundance. This looks completely different than the heroes of the silver screen, than our political leaders, and cultural voices which tend to cloud our black screens and media feeds.
The Scriptures tell of another redeemer, one greater than Boaz. The LORD God of Israel redeemed his people countless times in the Old Testament, allowing them to find shelter, protection, and healing under his wings (Psalm 91:4; Malachi 4:2). His covenant – his steadfast love and faithfulness – extend to his people from generation to generation (Exodus 34:6-7), although we are often unfaithful to him (Hosea 2:16-23). God was so willing to pay the price for our deliverance that he came to embody our flesh (John 1:14), and bore our sins on the cross (Isaiah 53:5, 11; 1 Peter 2:24). He was willing to be made nothing, that he might save us from what we’ve allowed ourselves to become through our own rebellion (Genesis 2:17, 3:11; Philippians 2:5-11). We need a hero who looks for us, who sacrifices everything, who is worthy, even when he has options. We need a faithful redeemer who protects, provides, and heals our wounds. And we find that redeemer in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. How did we get to Jesus, the redeemer God? We will look at this more in Ruth 4.