grace

Coming Full Circle

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The women said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has remembered today to give you someone who will take care of you. The child’s name will be famous in Israel.

He will bring you a new life and support you in your old age. Your daughter-in-law who loves you is better to you than seven sons, because she has given birth.” Ruth 4:14-15 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

We tend to think of completion with the phrase coming full circle. But a circle has no beginning or end. We can determine a start and end point but those would be arbitrary or theoretical.

A circle is the closest we come to a sense or continuation within our infinite world. We can try to imagine eternity and try to grasp the concept of eternity but it is literally beyond us. The symbol we have for infinity is like a sideways figure eight—two circles looped together as a continuous line.

God is eternal in nature. He is the Self-Existent One (Rev 1:8; 22:13) as He told Moses, I AM WHO I AM (Exo 3:14 [also see John 8:58]).

God isn’t restricted within eternity for He is the One who created all there is and sustains all there is within eternity. He is both inside and outside eternity at the same time. He is beyond our capacity to fully understand or He wouldn’t be God.

Full circle and more

The end of the story of Ruth gives us a glimpse into how coming full circle has a beginning and end only as we view it within history. But there’s far more in these last few verses than the culmination of the story of a Moabite woman named Ruth.

Before we look at some insights from these last few verses, let’s consider all that takes place. Boaz follows through on his commitment to marry Ruth. She becomes pregnant as they consummate their marriage and gives birth to a son.

The women of Bethlehem rejoice with Naomi and bless her with encouraging words of how the Lord as shown His care and love with the birth of her grandson and how great a blessing Ruth is to her.

Naomi becomes a nanny to her grandson named Obed who will become the father of Jesse and grandfather of King David. The story ends with a significant genealogy, which looks ahead a few generations and beyond.

Some Redemptive insights

At the beginning of Ruth in Chapter 1, the focus in on emptiness with a sense of futility. Naomi expresses it this way—

I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. (Ruth 1:21)

She, her husband and two sons flee the famine in their homeland in hope of a better life. But Naomi loses her husband and two sons with no hope of a family legacy. And, she’s saddled with the responsibility for two Moabite widowed-daughter-in-laws.

When the story is completed, Naomi is full again not empty. In fact, the women of Bethlehem say she is better of than before. God sent a kinsman-redeemer to preserve the family legacy of property, she has a grandson, and is assured of her family caring for in old age.

Think the Old Testament isn’t relevant for today? Think again! The women encourage Naomi about Ruth, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons.

This is just one of many stories in the Old Testament highlighting the importance and significance of women. In a way, it is somewhat of a redemption for the first woman on earth who ate from the forbidden tree.

The child born to Ruth and Boaz becomes the father of Jesse and grandfather of Israel’s most loved king, David. Consider how inclusive and far reaching this is. This short genealogy of ten generations is repeated almost word for word in the first gospel of the New Testament (Matt 1:3-6).

This genealogy is part of the line of Judah—the family line of David through whom the Messiah would come, as the ultimate Kinsman-Redeemer. Judah has incestual relations with his scorned daughter-in-law Tamar, which results in the birth of Perez.

A few generations later, Boaz is born from the union of Salmon and Rahab—the same Rahab who sheltered the two men sent to spy out Jericho for Joshua. The three women mentioned in Matthew’s account of these same generations should not be included according to Mosaic Law but they are. They are a reminder of God’s inclusive grace.

The story of Ruth begins with an interrupted generation (Elimelech and sons), and concludes with a completed generation within ten historically important generations of Israel. This is a reminder how our life stories are not complete yet, and we need to be mindful of God’s redemptive grace in our life and the greater story arc of humanity.

How is your life a reflection of God’s inclusive grace?

Reflection—

Our life stories are not complete yet, and we need to be mindful of God’s redemptive grace in our life and the greater story arc of humanity. Remember, God’s grace is inclusive not exclusive.

Prayer Focus—

Ask the Lord to give you fresh perspective in your life. Ask Him to help you see how He has shown you His inclusive grace, so you may show it to others.


Devo Scripture Text

So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.

The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”

Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.

This, then, is the family line of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon, Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed, Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David. (Ruth 4:13-22 NIV 84)


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Redemption of a Family Legacy

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“Then Boaz said to the leaders and to all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon.” Ruth 4:9 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Words require context to be understood. Many words have different meanings according to their context. Redemption is one of those words. Various words are used to define the meaning of redemption—to buy back or repurchase; to free from, release, or extricate; atone, reform, or restore.

How a word is used is what gives it meaning within its context—other words it’s associated with, when it’s spoken and by who, and how it’s expressed.

The word large can describe the size of a shirt, a generalized amount, such as, a large segment of the population, and even the idea of excess or extravagance—they were living large on borrowed money.

When a word can be defined in different ways and with various words, context is very important. And context isn’t just about words. Historical time or time sequence and culture with its various customs also help shape our understanding of a word. This is especially true in the Scriptures.

The mercy and grace of God

The concept of redemption by a kinsman-redeemer requires insight into ancient history and culture, along with the Jewish Law of Moses. This concept is spoken of in two places in the Old Testament—Lev 25:23-28 and Deut 25:5-10—and is related to the Year of Jubilee (Lev 25:8-13).

The Year of Jubilee was a sacred or holy year where no work was to be done in the fields and took place every 50 years. In that year, all property reverted back to the original family owners. It’s a picture of God’s mercy and grace.

Mercy and grace are the basis for all of God’s redemptive work.

In the case of the kinsman-redeemer (go-el in Hebrew), the property is restored to the original family line and the widow of the deceased husband is taken in as a wife.

The family legacy is restored and the widow is restored. She is included in the family’s legacy and returned to the status of marriage—no longer alone or dependent on others.

Consider how this works for Ruth the Moabite, a Gentile (non-Jew). Though she is not Jewish, she is included as if she were because of Boaz’s commitment to marry her. Unlike her sister-in-law Orpah, she trusted in the God of Israel, which brought great blessing to her life.

God’s redemption brings restoration

The commitment and role of a kinsman-redeemer is important and significant. Boaz makes sure it is witnessed so it complies with the Law of Moses and the customs of that time [see NIV text below].

The witnesses at the city gate included elders from the community. They acknowledge the commitment of Boaz and pronounce a blessing on Ruth, Boaz, and their offspring. As will be seen in the last segment of the story of Ruth, their blessing reaches beyond the morning of this transaction.

Although it may seem from the words used in the text that Ruth is “bought” with the property, this is not the case. Redemption isn’t a mere legal transaction or purchase or repurchase—it is a process of restoration.

Restoration is always the intent of the Lord in redemption.

This is why Jesus is the great Kinsman-Redeemer. He repurchased all humanity back from our indebtedness and judgment because of sin. He did this with His atoning sacrifice on the cross.

Why? To restore those who trust in God back into fellowship in the family of God, even as Ruth trusted in the God of Israel. We see this illustrated in the three parables of Luke 15, especially the parable of the lost son (Luke 15:11-32).

Redemption and restoration is what King David—a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14)—knew after he repented from his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah (Psalm 51:12). David expressed this with assurance in Psalm 23—He restores my soul (Ps 23:3).

What about you?

Have you experienced God’s redemption and restoration?

Reflection—

Mercy and grace are the basis for all of God’s redemptive work. Restoration is always the intent of the Lord in redemption.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself struggling in your faith, remember to reach out to God in prayer and ask Him to restore you by His mercy and grace.


Devo Scripture Text

Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “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, 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!”

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.” (Ruth 4:9-12 NIV 84)


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Jumping to Conclusions and Too Quick to Commit

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“If you wish to buy back the property, you can buy back the property. But if you do not wish to buy back the property, tell me. Then I will know that I am next in line because there is no other relative except me.” Ruth 4:4 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

“You’ll know a good thing when you see it,” goes a common saying. But it’s also true that things are not always as they seem. As far as good things, another common saying is—If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

I often hear people repeat cliches and platitudes like these as if they carry great significance. They don’t. When something is spoken over and over again, it begins to lose its original meaning and value.

The same goes for wanting or wishing for something better or more than what we already have. Winning the lottery loses its luster real quick with all the unintended consequences winning brings—high taxes, expectations of family and friends, difficulties of managing wealth, and so on.

I’ve known pastors of small churches who want bigger ones because they think it would be better. Or, small business owners who want to grow their business bigger for greater income. But bigger is not always better. It brings new challenges and demands many people are not equipped to handle.

I remember observing this as our church body and the other ministries we oversaw grew from start to small to bigger. The changes are dynamic and exponential. These changes impact relationships and the responsibilities and roles new growth and expansion requires.

It can be good but the responsibilities that come with growth and new opportunities are always challenging.

Opportunity brings responsibility

As chapter four begins, we see Boaz seeking out the man who was a closer relative to Elimelech’s family than him (see text below). Boaz understood the responsibility of being a kinsman-redeemer. It wasn’t just about marriage or property.

The role of a kinsman-redeemer was about legacy—the continuation of a family line that could be traced back to the patriarchs of Israel. It was greater than him or Ruth or Naomi. There was a sacred trust to be respected and valued.

Boaz understood the gravity of the situation, so he makes sure there are trustworthy men to be present and witness what he will share with the other kinsman-redeemer. It was an opportunity that carried a great responsibility with it.

This scene takes place at the city gate. This would be somewhat similar to the public squares common in older towns and cities. It would be a public hearing that carried legal and binding commitments.

It might seem that Boaz is setting up some kind of trap for the nearer relative. But it isn’t manipulation in an unethical sense. He set the stage to reveal the true intentions of the other man and himself before the witnesses at the gate.

When presented with the opportunity to acquire property, this man is quick to commit. But there’s more responsibility attached to this property than merely purchasing it. There’s also more to the story but we’ll look at that next time.

Consider before you commit

Here’s the problem with quick decisions and commitments—there’s often more to consider than what we see, hear, or know at first. Most anything of real value requires more attention or responsibility than things of lesser value.

Before making a commitment, we need discernment to assess what we are committing ourselves to with the understanding of the need to be faithful to our commitment once we make it.

Are there times when you’ve been too quick to commit to something or someone?

Reflection—

Opportunities always bring certain responsibilities and require commitment to gain whatever the opportunity holds. Before you commit, ask questions to understand what your responsibilities will be and whether or not you can fulfill it.

Prayer Focus—

When faced with challenges or opportunities, be quick to ask God for wisdom and discernment, and the grace needed to make wise commitments.


Devo Scripture Text

Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down. Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, “Sit here,” and they did so.

Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, “Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people.

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.” “I will redeem it,” he said.

(Ruth 4:1-4 NIV 84)


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A Reversal of Fortune or God's Providence?

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Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May the Lord bless him. The Lord hasn’t stopped being kind to people—living or dead.” Then Naomi told her, “That man is a relative of ours. He is a close relative, one of those responsible for taking care of us.” Ruth 2:20 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

When we’ve lost hope—the darkness and isolation seem overwhelming. When faced with failure—it can bring a sense of hopelessness. But when hope returns and blessing is in our grasp—the foreboding sense of hopelessness becomes a distant memory.

This segment of the story of Ruth brings a reversal of attitude on the part of Naomi. She sees it as a reversal of fortune but at God’s hand. But it’s far more than that for two reasons.

God’s providence

First off, fortune or luck and God’s providence are not the same. Naomi and her family left their home to escape a great famine but things didn’t go well. She returns to her homeland “empty” but blames God for her troubles (Ruth 1:21)—even though she returned at a time of harvest and provision in Bethlehem.

God’s providence is simply God’s provision with His guidance and care. It is neither destiny or fate nor is it luck. The Lord—as a shepherd—leads and provides for those who trust in Him.

A second reason for Naomi’s change of heart is her realization of who owns the field Ruth gleans in and how much favor is shown to her.

On her return from Moab to Bethlehem, Naomi tells her friends the Lord afflicted her and brought her misfortune. In other words—her bad luck was God’s fault.

But now she says—”He [The Lord] has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” (Ruth 2:20–see text below). Notice she says—to the living and the dead. This is in reference to her husband and two sons who passed away.

Gleanings from Ruth’s gleaning

What prompts Naomi’s new found hope in the Lord? A quick review of this segment of the story will help us see why.

At the end of the day—a long day from sunup to sundown—Ruth threshes the barley she gleaned and brings it home to Naomi, along with her leftovers from lunch. When she shows it all to Naomi, her mother-in-law realizes someone has shown her great favor.

When asked where she gleaned, Ruth tells Naomi the man she worked with was named Boaz. Ruth is unaware of who this man is but not Naomi!

“That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers [kinsman-redeemers].” (Ruth 2:20)

Ruth has no understanding of why this is significant but this renews Naomi’s faith in God and her hope for the future.

The idea of a kinsman-redeemer is foreign to Ruth and perhaps for many of us. It’s a provision in the Law of Moses to protect a family’s legacy in property. We’ll look at this more closely in chapter 3. If you want a reference point of understanding, read Leviticus 25:25.

Naomi affirms Boaz’ encouragement and invitation to Ruth to continue working with his young women harvesters. Not just for her safety and the provision of food but for the potential of a much greater blessing. This greater blessing will be revealed in the final two chapters.

So, Ruth continues to glean in Boaz's field with the other young women through the barley and wheat harvests. This would include at least two months of time, approximately our April and May, possibly into early June.

Redemptive review

The end of chapter two is an important milestone in the story of Ruth. Consider how things have turned around for Naomi from the beginning of the story.

  • Naomi leaves her home because of a famine but returns after ten years as the barley harvest is beginning (chapter 1).

  • She goes out “full” (in her words) and comes back “empty” until Ruth begins to glean in the field of her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, which renews her hope for the future and seems to restore her trust in God.

  • She loses her husband and two sons but gains a loyal and industrious daugher-in-law who becomes a catalyst for a much greater provision to come.

There are several redemptive points in the first two chapters of Ruth but even more are to be revealed in the final two chapters. The author of Ruth uses a telescoping timeframe to help us focus on the most important point of redemption in the book.

Chapter one covers about ten years from the family going out from Bethlehem to Naomi’s return with Ruth the Moabitess. Chapter two covers one harvest time—a period of about two or more months towards the beginning of the Jewish calendar year. Stay tuned for the next episode in the redemptive stories of Ruth.

How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life?

Reflection—

God’s providence is simply God’s provision with His guidance and care. It is neither destiny or fate nor is it luck. The Lord—as a shepherd—leads and provides for those who trust in Him—especially those who genuinely rely on Him as a first option.

Prayer Focus—

As you begin each day, lay it before the Lord—whatever you might have planned or are concerned about. Ask God for His guidance throughout the day. Ask Him for discernment and wisdom and trust Him for His provision. And thank Him through it all!


Devo Scripture Text

So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”

Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’ ” Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (Ruth 2:17-23 NIV)


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Why are you paying attention to me?

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“Why are you so helpful? Why are you paying attention to me? I’m only a foreigner.” Ruth 2:10 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

One of the existential questions of life is—Does my life have significance? Does my life matter to anyone but me? It’s a reasonable question, especially since we are one person among 7.7 billion people in the world.

Every human life has significance—even those unborn in the womb—because each person is created in the image of God. This makes each of us significant to God. But we are all significant to our families, also.

It’s easy to see this in healthy families with a good sense of well-being. But even in dysfunctional families or those torn apart by divorce, mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction, poverty, war, or any other detrimental situation including death.

My wife and I witnessed this while raising our own children, as foster parents, and as surrogate parents for the children and abused girls we cared for in the Philippines for nearly a quarter of a century. Every child—every one of us—has significance and worth, yet we all wonder what our purpose in life is at some point.

God’s favor—His unmerited goodness towards us

As the story of Ruth the Moabitess unfolds, we see her surprised at God’s favor in her life. Many people find it difficult to grasp the truth of God’s favor. Two simple reasons come to mind—we don’t deserve it and we can’t earn or receive it based on good deeds.

God’s favor is given by God for His purposes. He doesn’t extend His favor based on a person’s goodness but He does grant it to us for our benefit. It’s God’s blessing—His grace—given to someone for His purposes.

But how is it possible for someone to receive His favor?

The simplest, most direct way to receive God’s favor is to trust in Him. Here is what we’re told in the book of Hebrews—

No one can please God without faith. Whoever goes to God must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb 11:6 GW)

Faith in God is an implicit trust in God. And this is what we see about Ruth and why she receives God’s favor. It started when she chose to trust in the God of Naomi—the God of Israel—the One, True, and Living God.

We see her confession of faith when she said— Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God (Ruth 1:16c).

We see God’s favor shown to her through Boaz. Why? He knows of her faith in God and her faithfulness in character (Ruth 2:11).

Ruth is unaware of why God’s favor rests upon her but she knows she neither deserved or earned the favor Boaz bestowed upon her. She sees it when he tells her to stay in his field, to stay with the young women, and to drink the water drawn by his young men (verses 8-9).

In response to Ruth’s wonder at the favor Boaz shows her, Boaz tells her three things about her that reflect her trust in God and how it’s worked through her life (verse 11).

Then Boaz pronounces a blessing on her. His blessing reveals how and why the Lord’s favor is upon her—

May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge. (verse 12)

The provisional and protective care Boaz shows to Ruth is extraordinary. It’s hard for us to see this without understanding the culture of their time. Women, especially widows, had little status in ancient culture. Foreign—non-Jewish or Gentile—women had even less respect in Jewish culture.

Even when we receive God’s favor, we should not take it for granted. Ruth’s reply to Boaz in verse 13 shows us the appropriate and wise attitude we need to have—

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

Ruth’s gratitude seems to prompt Boaz to extend his favor to her further, as seen in verses 14-16 (see text below). Boaz includes Ruth with the rest of his harvesters when he invites her to eat the midday meal with them and gives special instructions about her to his young men.

Gleanings from Ruth

We’ll look at the rest of the story next time but consider what we’ve learned about God’s favor in this segment of the story.

When we walk by faith with a childlike trust in God, His favor will be upon us and go before us, as He opens doors of opportunity we can’t open on our own. Ruth gains a sense of significance and value because of God’s favor upon her life.

When Ruth realizes the great favor she’s received, she doesn’t take it for granted. She’s grateful for it and acknowledges this. Her gratitude seems to open further blessing and favor by Boaz.

God’s favor—His grace—flows like a stream to carry us along as we learn to rely upon Him with the abandon and commitment we see in Ruth as she trusts in the God of Israel. We need to choose to trust in the Lord but we will never earn or gain God’s favor because of our choice.

What have you learned about God’s favor for your life?

Reflection—

When you walk by faith with a childlike trust in God, His favor will be upon you and go before you, as He opens doors of opportunity you can’t open on your own. When you realize God’s favor in your life—acknowledge it, be grateful for it, and rest in it and in Him.

Prayer Focus—

While in prayer, learn to wait upon God—listen for Him to speak to your heart. Trust Him for His grace to fill you and carry you as you rest in His faithfulness and goodness.


Devo Scripture Text

So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.

May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.

As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:8-16 NIV)


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