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Ruth: Loved and Redeemed

by Mark Yarbrough

Ruth 3

It was the bottom of the ninth inning, two outs, and the bases were loaded.  The team I was on in the fourth grade YMCA league had made it to the Y World Series.  I was playing for the Yellowjackets and we were up against our arch-enemy, the Hornets.  It was a three game series and we had won the first, but we were behind three runs in the ninth inning of the second game.  If we could just get a hit the game would continue, a double might drive in three runs, and a home run would win us the series.  I was sitting in the dugout watching all of this and counting the batters before it would be my turn at bat.  Then my worst moment arrived when the coach shouted, “Yarbrough, you’re up.”  I was not the best fielder on the team, nor was I a very good hitter, so the pressure was on. Everybody was there, my schoolmates, the local newspaper, all the parents, and specifically my parents, – everybody was watching as I stepped up to the plate.  It was my moment.  I stood there swinging furiously in the air and tapping the home plate (to this day I still don’t know why you tap the plate).  On the mound was their ace pitcher, the biggest guy on their team with the best fastball. He was twice the size of everyone else, muscles bulging, and he had been shaving for two years. He was staring me down so I just kept tapping the plate.

Finally, the first pitch came, and it whizzed by me so fast I didn’t even see it.  I just stood there and the umpire shouted, “Strike one!”  Next came another fastball and I didn’t see it either, and the umpire yelled, “Strike two!”  It was faster than the first pitch, and all I did was stand there.  My moment in the sun was not looking so hot.  Then a little prompting from the stands occurred when my dad cried out, “Mark, swing!”  I thought that was a pretty good idea myself, so I decided I would swing regardless of what came down the pike.  When the pitch came, I just closed my eyes and swung, and it connected in the sweet spot of the bat.  I dropped the bat and stood there stunned and watched as the ball went into deep right field.  Then I heard more prompting from my dad, “Mark, run!”  I took off like a bolt of lightening rounding first and then second.  I looked at my third base coach and he was waving his arms like a giant buzz fan; so I rounded third and headed for home.  The ball had now reached the cut-off man and I was peddling as fast as I could.  Then the ball, the umpire, the catcher, me, and a big cloud of dust arrived at home plate at the same time.  Everybody in the stands was on their feet trying to see what happened.  All at once the umpire yelled, “Safe!” and a roar went up from everywhere – everywhere, that is, except from the Hornets dugout.  That was my moment.  My team ran out of our dugout and picked me up on their shoulders.  It was every fourth grade boy’s dream.  More of the story later

We move from the mundane to ask about other moments, serious moments.  What do we do when opportunity knocks and we are provided with a moment of decision.  Ruth 3 will help provide answers because it is a chapter of opportunity.  There are moments when the Lord speaks, those moments when the Holy Spirit nudges us toward something specific.   Scripture teaches that God “has anointed us, and has put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 1:22).  The very presence of God desires to communicate with us.  When your cell phone is on “vibrate” and you receive a call, only you know someone is calling.  How do you respond when God “dials” your number, when He nudges you by his Spirit, and no one else but you knows that He is calling?  There are times when God wants us to intervene in the lives of others just as parents know that there are moments when they need to intervene in the lives of their children.  What about times in the business world when God wants you to act in the moment, even if it costs you greatly, or at school when the moment comes?  What about your moment that will never come again to represent God in a very specific way?  That is the issue addressed by Ruth 3.

Be reminded that God was working behind the scene as revealed in the first two lessons.  God had put all the pieces together so that when the moment came, the characters in the story would be ready to act.  In this lesson we see the results, and it was Naomi herself, the one who was bitter, who saw the hand of God, and who initiated a scheme that would ultimately result in the door of opportunity for blessings for the whole world.  Note four responses to the door of opportunity from the text in Chapter 3.

(Read 3:1-4).  How should we respond when we are certain God has opened the door?

The answer is the same for us as it was for Naomi and Ruth. First we need to be prepared to act in faith. Our story is very exciting at this juncture.  Romance had taken on a whole new level of interest.  Naomi’s perspective of hope was now open, and she wanted Ruth to take advantage of the situation to make the best impression possible.  She wanted Ruth to challenge Boaz to meet a specific responsibility that was within his jurisdiction of authority.  The role of a kinsman redeemer was to provide for those in his genealogical line so they would not live in poverty.  All of Naomi’s instructions to Ruth made perfect sense – all except the last step to go and uncover the feet of Boaz.  While we do not fully understand the culture of the day in that seemingly bazaar action, Boaz did.  He fully understood the proposal implications of the action.  It was natural for Boaz to be in the location of the harvest.  It was 24-hour-a-day on-site business until the harvest was over.  But Ruth was willing to act in faith, even when the action seemed a little bazaar.  That is what faith is – trusting even when you do not understand.  Her symbolic act made complete sense because it was an issue of removing the cover so that when Boaz awoke, Ruth would be there.  The questions then would be:  Will you lay the corner of your garment over me as a symbolic act in the courting relationship?  Will you protect and cover me?  Will you be my kinsman redeemer? It is a beautiful story because Ruth and Naomi  took the opportunity that God gave them and acted in faith.

In Billy Graham’s autobiography he relates a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy after his election to the presidency in 1960:

“On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president ordered the car stopped then turned to me.  ‘Do you believe in the second coming of Jesus Christ?’ he asked.   ‘I most certainly do’, I said.  ‘Well does my church believe it?  They have it in their creeds, but they don’t preach it.  They don’t tell us much about it, so I would like to know what you think.’  I explained what the Bible said about Christ’s coming the first time – dying on the cross, rising from the dead, then promising that He would come back again, and only then would we have world peace.  ‘Very interesting,’ he said, looking away.  ‘We will have to talk more about that someday.’  Then they drove on.  Two years later the couple met again at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast.  ‘I had the flu,’ Graham remembers.  ‘After I gave my short talk and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car.  At the curbside he hesitated, then asked, ‘Billy, could you ride back with me?  I’d like to see you for a minute.’  ‘Mr. President, I have a fever,’ I protested.  ‘Not only am I weak, I don’t want to give you what I’ve got.  Couldn’t we wait and talk some time later.’  It was a cold, snowy day and I was freezing as I stood there without my overcoat.  ‘Of course,’ he said graciously.  But the two would never meet again.  Later that year Kennedy was shot dead.  Dr. Graham commented, ‘His hesitation at the car door and his request haunt me still.  What was on his mind?  I should have gone with him.  It was an irrecoverable moment.’

Naomi and Ruth were fully convinced that God was at work and they were prepared to act in faith.  Dr. Graham’s confession in his story was that he missed God’s opportunity.  We all have missed many moments haven’t we?  This story reminds us not to miss our moment.  We are challenged from the text to be prepared to act in faith and that is what these women did.  Remember the Latin expression carpe diem – seize the day!

Notice Ruth’s reply, “I will do whatever you say” (3:5).  She did everything Naomi told her to do.  How should we respond when God opens the door?  The second answer is to be prepared to respond in obedience.  It’s that simple.  Ruth simply said I will do it – an admirable trait in Ruth’s life.  We don’t just acknowledge the opportunity, we act upon it.  Biblically, to know and not do is to not know at all.  When we hear God’s call, the right response is always obedience.  Biblical faith is always active.  When my kids were little I would put them on top of the refrigerator and tell them to jump to me.  After a few moments of hesitation, they would jump to me head first, and I would catch them every time.  Dad said it and they did it.  They learned to trust me every time.  Remember, when God, our Father, speaks, we should do it.  This trait is found in all people of faith.

(Read 3:6-15).  Something startled Boaz in the middle of the night (3:8).  Maybe it was nothing other than cold feet.  After all, his blanket was removed from off his feet by Ruth.  It makes sense that his feet were cold.  As he turned, Boaz discovered a woman lying at his feet.  Can you imagine the scene?  It was probably another “Hot diggity dog” moment for Boaz.  Upon learning it was Ruth, she said, “Spread your wings over me, for you are a redeemer” (3:9).  In this statement Ruth basically proposed to Boaz – secretly so as not to corner him publicly, or embarrass him.  In faith and in obedience Ruth asked Boaz to serve as the kinsman redeemer.  His reply is significant to an acknowledgment of Ruth’s character.  He called her a “worthy woman” (3:11).  Remember the book’s placement in the Hebrew Bible – it follows the worthy woman chapter of Proverbs 31.  Her reputation and character was already known to the townspeople.  However, the plot thickens when Boaz reminded Ruth that there was another relative who had first claim as kinsman-redeemer.

There is another answer to the question of response in this portion of the text.  When God opens the door of opportunity, how should we respond?  A third response:  be prepared to claim the Lord’s promises and provisions. Remember how God had provided in the law for the poor and the outcast?  Boaz had abundantly cared for Ruth by willingly agreeing to serve as redeemer, and Ruth was not going home empty handed as Boaz gave her generously of the barley harvest. There are promises in God’s word which we must claim.  While we dare not claim what is not ours to claim, we can claim the promises that God has give to us.  For example, He said he would never leave you or forsake you.  He said we are saved by grace through faith.  He said He would come back one day.  These, and many others, are ours to claim.  Ruth and Boaz claimed the Lord’s provision and they reveled in that.  The lesson for us is that we are called to do the same with the specific promises He has given us.

(Read 3:16-18). Can you imagine the anxiety and anticipation of Naomi as she awaited Ruth’s return?  When Ruth returned she recounted all of the preceding events then presented the gift of grain Boaz had given her.  Naomi observed that Boaz would not rest until the matter was settled.  The final lesson to learn concerning the response to God’s door of opportunity is to be attentive to what God is doing.  The wording of this text is that they were aware that God was at work.  These are lessons for us – Living Lessons:

  1. When God opens the door, go through it by faith.
  2. We need to display a heart of obedience.  Just do it.
  3. We need to believe the promises God has given to us.
  4. We need to listen to God and be attentive to what He is doing.

The challenge for us as believers is how to respond when God opens a door.  He wants us to listen to his Holy Spirit within us because He has work for us to do.

The Rest of the Story. As I was on the shoulders of my teammates having a great fourth grade victory moment, the first base umpire walked over to the big huddle.  He said the words which I will never forget: “You’re out; you did not touch first base!”  It was a horrible moment.   To this day I will not understand what he saw.  I know I did touch the base because I shoved off of it while running around first.  He was wrong – flat wrong!  He said the game was over and there would be a third game.  At that point I had another moment, a spiritual moment.  How was I going to respond when I was right and he was wrong?  I reflected upon the YMCA rules of the game:  If a player challenges the call of the umpire, he is ejected from the game and also from the series.  As the umpire walked away, I hopped off the pile and started walking after him because he needed to hear a piece of my fourth grade mind.  Just then my dad stood up in the stands and I saw him.  My earthly father spoke volumes without saying a word.  The first words I heard in my mind were the infamous words of Bill Cosby, “I brought you into this world, I can take you out!”  The second words were far more important, words that have marked me for life.  “Mark, this is your moment.  Don’t lose this opportunity.  Do what is right and take advantage of this episode to be like Jesus.  I bowed my head, and I walked back into the dugout without saying a word to the umpire.

We went to game three and the score went back and fourth throughout the game.  It was now the bottom of the ninth, but this time it was just the reverse of game two.  We were in the outfield and leading by one run.  The Hornets had two men on base and two outs.  A hit would tie or even win the game.  An out and we would win the game and the series.  On the first pitch the batter connected with a long fly ball to right field.  Our right fielder ran and ran and ran, but then he tripped and fell extending his glove as he crashed into the fence.  But he caught the ball, and we won the game and the series.  The guy that caught the ball was me!  I don’t say that to applaud me.  I tell this story because it was a moment to seize the day, to do what was right to represent the Lord.  Had I blasted the umpire in game two, I would have had no part in the third game, nor would I have had the joyous opportunity to be in the moment.  Instead, I had the opportunity to respond and be a part of the moment that counted for our whole team.  What will you do with the opportunities that God has given you?

Mark Yarbrough lives in Forney, TX and is a Vice-President of DallasTheological Seminary

 




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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10