Seeking Rest

December 8, 2002 / No. 3127

Dear radio friends,

     God had indeed worked all things together for good for Naomi and Ruth.  God had chastened Naomi for forsaking Canaan in a time of famine and had brought her back home again to the church where she belonged.  God brought back with her a spiritual daughter-in-law who loved the things of God and displayed a beautiful trust in God and love to His church.  And God’s grace had broken through the dark clouds of gloom and hopelessness that hung above Naomi’s heart.  He was about to make her loss gain and change her sorrow into joy and her hopelessness into rejoicing.

     But there was so much more!  God’s purposes are vast and great and glorious.  God was working something no one knew.  It was beautiful and faithful.  He was preparing the coming of the Lord.

     Ruth would be grafted into the line of Jesus Christ.  She would become the great-grandmother of David.  Thus, from her womb was to come forth the Christ.  God was preparing the way of the coming of the great Son of David, our Lord Jesus Christ who would rule at God’s right hand and be the Savior.

     God’s ways always involve more than just the individual.  God’s ways are always centered in one grand object:  the salvation of His church in Christ.  Remember that.  In your trials and testings there is more than just you.  The apostle Paul says in Philippians 1:12 that the things that had happened to him had fallen out for the furtherance of the gospel.  Hard and difficult things had happened to Paul.  But he was confident, and it comforted him to know that also those things were used of God in some way for the good of the church.  All that happens in the life of a child of God, God fits together for eternal good.  That is what He is showing to us in this beautiful book of Ruth.  And that is the truth that you as a mother, father, parent, young man or woman, child are called to lay hold of by faith.

     Recall from last week’s program that we saw God’s providence leading Ruth to the field of Boaz.  Ruth had placed her trust in God and had gone out to do the next thing.  She had to supply her needs and the needs of her mother-in-law.  So she picked a field to glean.  God directed her steps to the field of Boaz.  Now, we will see in chapter 3, the events that follow.

     Before we turn to that event in chapter 3, let us look first, for a moment, at the law of the redeemer, so that we will be able to understand the thrust and the importance of this chapter.

     According to Deuteronomy 25:5-10, in the old dispensation a man’s name and his inheritance passed on through his son.  That would symbolize that he had a place in the covenant and inheritance of God.  Now, if this man died without a son, the man’s brother was, according to the law, to marry his widow.  And the first son of that marriage was to continue the name and inheritance of the dead husband.  If there were no brother, then this responsibility would pass on to the next, or closest, relative.  This was the law of the redeemer.  Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, had died.  And so had her two sons.  Therefore, if Elimelech’s name and the name of his sons are to be preserved among the people of God, a kinsman, a near relative, must perform the  task of redeemer, must marry Ruth to raise up a son in order that the name of Elimelech might be preserved.

     Returning now to our narrative, we find Ruth and Naomi together on that evening when Ruth had returned from gleaning in the fields of Boaz.  We saw that when Naomi heard that Ruth had been in Boaz’s field, her heart was lifted, for she knew that Boaz was a near relative, she believed the nearest relative, and therefore the man required by the law to serve as the redeemer, to marry Ruth and raise up a son in order that the name of her husband and his inheritance might be preserved in the land of Israel.

     So she says to her daughter-in-law, “Shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee?  And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast?” (Ruth 3:1, 2).   She is suggesting, directing, that Ruth seek marriage with Boaz.  She is doing that not simply because Boaz was a wealthy bachelor and eligible.  She is not doing it simply for personal reasons.  She is doing it because she wants the name of her husband, Elimelech, continued.

     She was motivated, also, by love for her daughter-in-law, Ruth.  She believes that marriage will be good for her spiritually.  She says, “Shall I not seek rest for thee, Ruth, that it may be well with thee?”  She has pegged Boaz as a man in whom is the truth of a redeemer, a man who loved God unashamedly, a man who loved his place in the church and loved God’s people and God’s cause.  Maybe Boaz was not what we would call a “heart-throb,” a muscle-bulging, steel-chinned, on-the-magazine-cover man.  That did not matter to her.  She judged from his spiritual qualities that Boaz was a man who could act in total selflessness and in love.

     Naomi is an example of a Christian mother and a Christian parent.  Parents must have an eye for what is best for their child’s soul.  They must guide their children and counsel them and speak to them about marriage.  They must do that not just in generalities.  They must point out those traits that are necessary in a good husband and that character that is necessary in a Christian woman.  Young people are to seek their parents’ counsel.  Ruth does not respond to her mother-in-law by saying, “Mother, please don’t interfere.”  No, we sense that they were of one heart and one soul.  “Shall I not seek rest for thee, my daughter-in-law?”

     Among all the words in the Bible for marriage, there is none so expressive as “rest.”  Marriage is rest, that is, settlement.  It is a state that God wants you to be in in this life.  It is not simply a human contrivance.  It is not simply that you hop into marriage and hop out of marriage.  It is a place of rest.  It is a gift, a gift from God expressing how we are now to spend our earthly days.  It should be a state of rest so that your affections do not wander all over, to one woman after another, or to one man after another.  Your heart is at rest.  Therefore, it is a state of spiritual good for a believer, so that two, in the Lord, may journey together in the love of God, practicing the love of God, forgiving one another, and hoping together for that eternal rest.  Marriage, then, is not to be a battlefield, a place of hatred.  But marriage is designed of God to be a place of rest, a settlement for our spiritual good.  Naomi is simply seeking a believing marriage for Ruth.

     Do you rest in your marriage?  As a wife, do you rest in the affection of your husband?  Do you look nowhere else?  Are you satisfied?  As a husband, do you safely rest in your wife?  Are you satisfied with her, not lusting and coveting after another and not complaining, saying,  “Well, if only she would…” or, as a woman, “If only he was ….”  No, do you rest in what God has given to you, in the love of God, which is self-emptying, which is humble?  Marriage is a state of rest.

     Young people, you must know spiritually the person you marry as best you can if you are to enter into a state of rest with him or her.  And you do not get to know each other by tempting your passions.  You do that by talking about spiritual things.

     We see in this chapter that Boaz had done his investigating.  He knew about Ruth, as we saw last week.  And he was attracted to Ruth’s faith.  Too often marriages are made without knowledge of each other’s spiritual character, without settling the question of church membership and commitment to the church.  Infatuation can cloud our souls.  We must understand that we must honor God first whenever we enter into marriage.

     I am old-fashioned enough to believe that unity of faith, unity of spiritual life, unity in the truth is the single most important thing when you begin your marriage.  You should not look into marriage and expect marriage in terms of sex, in terms simply of all that you are going to get out of it.  I am old-fashioned enough to believe that Christians cannot be happy in a marriage unless they begin that marriage where Christ and the truth of the Scripture are supreme to them.

     Naomi, as she counsels her daughter-in-law to seek marriage with Boaz, proposes a rather unique way for Ruth to propose.  Unusual for that day, too, but one that was suited well for the purpose.  The following was her counsel to Ruth.  She suggested an opportune time.  She says, “Behold, Boaz winnoweth barley tonight in the threshing floor.”  Winnowing barley was something like the old-time threshing bee, when the wheat, the kernel, was separated from the chaff.  It would be trampled upon the ground first and then pitchforked into the air.  The chaff would be blown away and the kernel would fall to the ground.  It would be done at night, perhaps to make use of moderate evening breezes.  But it was a time when the owner and the laborers would stay until the work was done.  So Boaz would provide food and drink.  It would be a time of camaraderie and of legitimate joy.  Naomi says, “Clean yourself.  Put off your drab clothing.  Put on your best clothes.  Dress in your very best.  And go to the man.  But do not make yourself known to him.  When at last the work is done and he lies down, mark the place and go in and uncover his feet and lay thee down and he will tell thee what to do.”  Uncover his feet — that is, not take his shoes off, but lie down at his feet (at the foot of where he was sleeping).

     And Ruth responds, “All that thou sayest unto me, I will do.”

     Now how do we understand that?  We should see that as a discreet and straightforward proposal of marriage.  By this Ruth was saying to Boaz, “Will you marry me?”  Deuter-onomy 25, to which I have referred, gave the right to the widow to request the nearest kinsman to play the part of the redeemer.  She had the right to ask him to marry her, to raise up a family in the name of her dead.  That is what Ruth is going to do.  And she does it in a discreet way.  It was not immodest.  She was not playing the role of a flirt.  She was not trying to put Boaz in a compromising position.  Naomi, in her counsel, was not trying to arrange for fornication, for something to happen, so that Ruth would catch her man by seduction.  No.  Naomi is a god-fearing mother.  And Boaz does not respond to it that way, either.  In verse 10, he refers to the virtue that he sees in Ruth.  It was discreet, that is, it was arranged at night when no one else could witness it — just between Boaz and Ruth.  And it was arranged in such a way that they could discuss this privately.  And it was straightforward.  It was made very plain to Boaz that Ruth was proposing marriage.

     We read that, at midnight, Boaz was startled awake with a woman lying at his feet and he says, “Who art thou?”  She answered and said, “I am Ruth, thy handmaid.  Spread, therefore, thy skirt over thy handmaid, for thou art a near kinsman.”  She was saying, “Boaz, will you marry me?”  “Spread thy skirt.”  She was not saying, “Cover me with your blanket.”  Very interestingly, she uses the very words that Boaz had used in chapter 2 when speaking about Ruth.  There Boaz had said, “You have come under the wings of God to trust.”  She was asking him to shadow her, to take responsibility for her, to be her protector, her head, her guide, her shield, and her provider, to raise up with her a family in Israel.  She was saying, “Boaz, I seek the things of God.  I am deeply concerned with the covenant of God.  You are the near kinsman, I believe.  Therefore, the Lord hath given you to me.  Join with me in marriage before God.”

     And Boaz accepted.  “Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter:  for thou hast shewed more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch as thou followest not young men, whether poor or rich.  And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest” (vv. 10, 11).  Boaz, we see, is drawn to Ruth because of her faith.  He is attracted to her not simply on the basis of his flesh, but on the basis of her faith.

     Certainly there is every reason to believe, as we said last week, that Ruth was attractive.  David, king David, is known in the Scriptures as a handsome man.  And he got his looks the same way we do, from his ancestors.  And Boaz — no doubt a fine man, a commanding presence about him, and all the rest.  There was no doubt a spark that had been kindled between them.  But the tie that would bind them, the attraction that was iron-strong, the love that would endure, was the love centered in their faith.  That was unashamedly present.

     But there was a problem, a problem that was not known to Ruth and to Naomi, but known to Boaz.  He explains to Ruth that although it is true that he is a near kinsman, a near relative of Elimelech, there was, nevertheless, a kinsman, a relative, who was closer in position than he.  He was aware of someone closer in the bloodline to Elimelech than he was.

     He does not tell her this to get out of marrying.  No, he promises that in the morning he is going to contact this nearest relative and get a decision from him that very day whether that man will perform the duty of a redeemer, yes or no.

The tie that would bind them,

the attraction that was iron-strong,

the love that would endure,

was the love centered in their faith.

     Again we see that spiritual motives are dominating.  Boaz does not say, “Well, Ruth, even though there is someone closer than I, that doesn’t matter because we love each other and God’s ordinances can just be forgotten.”  It is very obvious that he wants Ruth for his wife.  It is very obvious that he loves her and that he wants to take her to be his wife.  But Boaz does not use that desire as an excuse to set aside the ordinances of God.  He says, “Ruth, let us observe and do what God has revealed in His Word.  That’s everlasting life.  Let’s first of all be sure that we obey and we follow the way and the will of the Lord.  Ruth, don’t be afraid.  In the morning light, I’m going to contact this nearer relative.  If he will not perform the part of a kinsman, I certainly will.”

     And Ruth returns home and tells Naomi all the events that transpired in that night.  Naomi must have sensed certain anxiety and fear in Ruth.  So she responds, “Sit still , my daughter, until thou know how the matter will fall:  for the man will not be in rest, until he have finished the thing this day.”  The counsel was, “Ruth, sit still.  Wait.  Yes, you are anxious.  You had hoped that after that evening all would be settled and decided.  Now you have learned that, as far as we are concerned, there is a glitch, an obstacle to our plans.  Leave it to God, Ruth.  Trust in the Lord and do good.  Delight thyself in the Lord and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart.  Commit thy way to the Lord.  Trust also in Him and He will bring it to pass.”  We could well hear Naomi reciting those words from Psalm 37 to her daughter-in-law that night.

     Take all your bereavements, all your hardships, all those obstacles that you think are in the way of your desires; take them all and bring them to the Lord.  Wait and see what God has in store for you.  Is there anything more important than that?  Ruth had sought to follow God.  Ruth had sought to set the things of God first and to live by the virtue of Jesus Christ — to do God’s will.  And as she seeks to do that, her future now, in a certain sense to her, is uncertain.  Maybe her hopes will be realized, maybe not.  She does not know.  What must she do?  Must she rush about?  Must she work herself up into anxiety?  Must she, perhaps, try to take matters into her own hands?  No.

     The counsel is:  sit still.  For God has good in store for her.  And God has good in store for all of His people.  God was working at what He loves the best:  His promise in Jesus Christ.  God was arranging all things in order that the Word of His promise — to send a Savior — would indeed be fulfilled.  God was leading everything in order that that promise of Christ would be fulfilled.  God will do that.  Therefore you may rest; you may sit still; you may confide in God; you may believe His promises; you may place all your cares upon Him, for He careth for you.  For this is absolutely certain:  God, through Jesus Christ, will accomplish the salvation of His church.  God will do more for you than you can think or ask.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for Thy Word.  Give us that faith to wait upon the Lord.  Guide and direct us as we enter into marriage that we may do so with the Lord before us always.  Pardon graciously all of our sins, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.