Dear radio friends,
At one time or another in your life, you will participate in a wedding. Maybe you will be the groom or the bride. Or maybe you will be the best man or the maid of honor. Maybe you will get to stand up as groomsman or bridesmaid. Or maybe you will be invited as a guest. Or perhaps you will even officiate at the wedding. A wedding is usually a very joyful occasion. There is an air of celebration, and there are many well-wishers and congratulations.
Today we are going to look at Ruth 4:11, 12. It is one of the closest things that you will find in the Bible to a description of a wedding ceremony.
There are other marriages and wedding celebrations mentioned in the Bible, but this one, perhaps more than any of the others, gives us instruction on what marriage is, on how marriage should be celebrated, and on what we should pray for for the new couple as we give them our congratulations.
These verses follow on the interaction between Boaz and the nearer kinsman of Ruth concerning the redemption of some of Naomi’s land and the obligation he had to marry Ruth. The man whose responsibility this was as the nearest relative refused to do it. So Boaz has expressed his commitment to buy the land and to marry Ruth and to raise up the family of the deceased Elimelech.
Now, after Boaz expresses his commitment, we read this in Ruth 4:11, 12: “And all the people that were in the gate, and the elders, said, We are witnesses. The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel: and do thou worthily in Ephratah, and be famous in Bethlehem: and let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah, of the seed which the Lord shall give thee of this young woman.”
The first thing that we take note of in these verses is the witnesses. Who were they and what function did they have in this wedding? They were, first of all, the elders of the town of Bethlehem, then also other friends and family that had gathered. Boaz was a well-known man. So, if you knew him and were passing by the gate of the city during this interaction, you would stop and participate. Similarly if we were to have a wedding, that is who we would invite. There would be friends and family, people that you know, and officials—a minister—to perform the wedding.
What role did these witnesses play? They were there in part to rejoice on this joyful occasion, to wish the new couple well, and to support them with their prayers and encouragement. But this was not the main reason for their presence. Primarily they were there to confirm the marriage. They were witnesses to the establishing of the bond of marriage between Boaz and Ruth. They heard the vow that Boaz took towards his wife. And they would hold him responsible for that vow. That is what they mean when they say, “We are witnesses.”
You see, this was not simply a private affair between Boaz and Ruth or a family affair in the family of Naomi. It was a public, official matter, something transacted before the elders of the city, who were not simply church elders but also magistrates. Their authority was civil. This tells us something very important about marriage. The institution of marriage is an official union, established under law, with the approval of the civil authority. Marriage is not simply a private matter between a man and a woman who decide that they are meant for each other, and so they say that they are married. Nor is marriage simply a family matter. Neither is marriage even simply a church matter. No, marriage is civil. So, still today, in our society, to be officially married you must have a license from the civil authority.
Why do I make a point of this? It is because when we marry, there is another who is a witness to our marriages. And that is God. God has given the law of marriage and the administration of it to the civil authorities. So He works and He witnesses our marriages through the civil authority.
Understand, marriage is a creation ordinance. In the beginning God ordained marriage. He brought Adam and Eve together. He spoke the first wedding sermon. And that creation-act defines for us and for all of human history what marriage is. That is the point that Jesus makes in Matthew 19 when He is discussing whether divorce is permissible. He tells His disciples that the law of their day may permit it, but that does not make it permissible before God. For He says, “From the beginning it was not so,” and He quotes Genesis 2: “What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.”
When a man and woman are officially joined together in marriage before the magistrate, God is operating through that magistrate to join them in marriage. And this means, too, that even though the civil authorities have the right to join two in marriage, they do not have the right to define marriage any other way than God in the beginning defined it. Biblical marriage is the union of one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship before God. Nothing else may be considered marriage. Anything else breaks the law of God and is adultery.
In this passage, the marriage union of Boaz and Ruth is carefully and legally established. It is a solemn occasion. But though it is solemn, we should also see it as joyful. You see that in the joy of those who witness this marriage. And that moves our focus from the elders of Bethlehem to the other guests who were present.
What was their joy? Interestingly, it was not the beauty of the bride or the party-spirit of the moment. There was no fanfare in this wedding. In fact, it was quite different from how we would celebrate the wedding. Even the bride was absent. But the absence of the bride and the absence of the party-spirit help us to realize where the focus ought to be in a marriage. I am not saying the bride should not be there or that we may not celebrate. But simply this: as we do those things at a wedding, we should not lose focus on the real reason that we have joy in marriage. What was the joy of these witnesses? There are three things.
First, they rejoiced in the work of God in bringing Boaz and Ruth together. Notice in these two verses that the Lord Jehovah is mentioned twice in connection with this wedding. When we have a wedding, we must celebrate the Lord’s work. Just as He brought Adam and Eve together in the beginning, so today He brings to every man his wife and to every woman her husband. This is God’s work. And if we celebrate it that way, we will take seriously marriage as well. We marry before the Lord.
Second, the joy of these witnesses was that a godly marriage was established here. The two people who were being married were both believers and they desired to serve the Lord together. When you have a wedding like that, then you have real reason for joy. Then you really have a relationship to be happy about. And, unless you have that, there really can be no joy in marriage. There is only one kind of person that you, as a believer, should marry and consider for marriage, and that is another believer. In I Corinthians 6 believers are told not to be unequally yoked or joined together with unbelievers. And that applies to marriage. In I Corinthians 7:39, where permission is given to the widow to marry again, it says, “She is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” That is the qualification for every believer who seeks a marriage partner. You must marry in the Lord, only in the Lord.
Now this does not mean that you just marry anyone who says he is a Christian. The Bible makes plain that there are many people who call themselves Christian who are not. So, as you date and look for a marriage partner, you will want to know the genuineness, the sincerity, of the confession of the other. You will want to determine that her confession is the same as yours. Young people, when you date you must talk about these things: where you will go to church; your desire for a family; how you will raise your children; what place spiritual things will have in your day-to-day life and in your relationship. You should pray together and work towards a unity in your faith before you are married. These are the things that must take priority in your relationship.
Too often people wait to talk about such things until after they are married. Rather than viewing love and a relationship between a man and a woman as a deliberate decision with someone who is of like mind to yourself, relationships and love are viewed as something you just fall into. And so, falling into love, you fall into marriage, and then you figure out all the details later. Well, in that kind of a marriage, there can be no real joy.
So, if you are not married, this is something you should pray about and wait on the Lord for. We should not get the idea that we could marry just anyone who might be willing. No, God brings a husband and a wife together. And we must pray, obey, and wait.
Then, third, these witnesses rejoice in the public demonstration of Boaz’s love for and commitment to Ruth. That is his wedding vow. How do they know about Boaz’s love for and commitment to Ruth? It is because it was something that he had declared openly. And that also should be true of our love for the spouse that God has given to us. It should be clear to others, from your conversation, from the way that you talk about your spouse, that your best friend and the love of your life is the man or the woman that God has put at your side in marriage.
This is how God loves His bride, the church. He demonstrates His love towards her publicly in giving His Son. And His Son, who is the groom, shows His love by laying down His life for His bride. And that is a message that is put on display for the whole world to see. Jesus loves His bride.
Now, coming back to the text, we see that these people are not only witnesses at this wedding, but also well-wishers. These verses are their prayer for Boaz and Ruth. They tell us what we should pray with regard to marriage—our own marriages and the marriages of others. There are four things in their prayer in verses 11 and 12.
First, they pray for a fruitful marriage. They say, “The Lord make the woman that is come into thine house like Rachel and like Leah, which two did build the house of Israel.” One of God’s purposes for marriage is children. By bearing children, a couple, and a woman especially, builds the house, the family of her husband. That is what the wives of Jacob did in giving him twelve sons who became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. So, first, they pray for a fruitful marriage.
Then they pray for a prosperous marriage. In the King James translation we read this: “And do thou worthily,” that is, they are saying to Boaz, “May you gain strength and riches.” During the Old Testament, wealth was a sign of blessing on God’s people. Now we know that Boaz was already a wealthy man. So their prayer is that God will continue to give to Boaz and Ruth a blessed life in the promised land of Canaan.
Then, third, they pray for fame for the family of Boaz and Ruth in Ephratah and in Bethlehem. There is something very loving and selfless about that prayer. They were not jealous of Boaz and Ruth. Instead, they want people to talk about them. They want their family to leave a spiritual legacy in Israel. They want somebody to come in the family of Boaz and Ruth who will do something remarkable in the name of the Lord and for the Lord and be remembered for great spiritual achievement. This prayer was certainly answered. Think of the fame of the name of David and Solomon, and later, of the name of Jesus the Messiah, who is preached throughout all the earth.
Then, fourth, they pray for covenant blessing on the family of Boaz and Ruth. That is in verse 12. In this verse there is mention made of a man named Pharez, who was the son of Judah born from Tamar. Their prayer is that God will make the house of Boaz and Ruth like to the house of Pharez. Now, at first this reference is a bit confusing, especially if you know the story of the birth of Pharez. You can read about it in Genesis 38.
Basically, what happens there is this. There was a situation similar to the one here in the book of Ruth. Judah had three sons, and Tamar had married the oldest one who, for his sin, died. And she had no children. So she married his brother, the second oldest of Judah’s sons, who deliberately refused to raise up a family in his older brother’s name. So the Lord killed him as well. Then Judah says to Tamar, “I have a younger son. Why don’t you wait till he is grown up and then he will marry you.” So she waits. Well, this young man grew up and he was not given to Tamar. After a while, Judah’s own wife died. So Tamar played the role of a prostitute along the road where Judah passed. And Judah went in unto her. She keeps a couple of his personal items. Soon after this, when Judah hears that she is pregnant, he wants her to be stoned to death. And she says, “But I am pregnant by the man who owns these belongings, this pot and this ring.” And that was Judah. So her life is spared. As it turned out, she was pregnant with twins, and the oldest of the two was Pharez.
Now, as I say, at first that is a bit confusing. Why this reference to Pharez? It is because Pharez becomes a father in the line of Jesus Christ. Everywhere in the Bible where you read the genealogies of Christ, you will find his name there. That shows us two things. First, I believe it shows the godliness of Pharez in contrast to his brothers. Though his mother played the prostitute, her concern was that the law of God be observed and that the family name of Judah be preserved. That tells us that she was a godly woman and she must have raised her sons to be godly men. And Pharez was one whose family was distinguished from the rest of Judah’s descendants. But also this shows us the covenant blessing of the Lord to this family, the family of Judah. Despite the mess that Judah had created, God remained faithful to His promise to bring Jesus, the promised Messiah. And when these people pray that Boaz’s house will be like that of Pharez, they are saying, “May God be faithful to you in your marriage and give you godly children in your generations,” and even this, “May God raise up from your seed the promised Savior.”
So, this is their prayer for Boaz and Ruth on their wedding day. “May God bless your marriage with fruitfulness, with prosperity, with fame, and may He be faithful to you in your generations.”
When we take it all together and put it in New Testament terms, we would say this to the couple getting married: “May God give you a name and a place among His people and may He be faithful to you so that your children after you are also godly.” That is what we should seek for our marriages and for the marriages of other believers and for the marriage of our children.
That prayer God answered for Boaz and Ruth, as we will see in the remainder of the chapter. He is faithful to His promises. He gives them a godly son. He gives them prosperity and fame in Israel. And when God gives to us godly children and a name and a place among His people, He is blessing our homes and marriages. We have much reason in that for which to give Him thanks.
As we finish today, I want to turn your attention to the bride, Ruth, and the blessing that came to her through this marriage. As you do that, think of the blessing that comes to the bride of Jesus Christ, to us His redeemed people.
For Ruth, there is first the blessing of receiving an identity. Before this, she is called the widow of Mahlon, and Ruth the Moabitess. Now she becomes the wife of Boaz, Mrs. Boaz, Boaz being a man of stature, of godliness, and of renown in Bethlehem.
Second, she gains a new standing. She is not anymore a stranger from Moab and a poor beggar who has to glean for food. She comes into the home of Boaz as his wife, where she is loved and cared for and provided for. And she becomes a partaker of all his wealth.
Third, think of the bright future that she has now as the wife of Boaz. What hope there is for her as she looks ahead. What a joy must have filled her heart on this happy wedding day.
And in those blessings that come to Ruth we have a glimpse into the change and the privilege that is ours in Jesus Christ. In Him we receive a new name. Through Him we receive a new standing with God. There are great riches and blessings in Christ Jesus that become ours. And there is a great hope for the people of God for the future.
What a wonderful Redeemer we have in Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.
Father, bless our marriages and bless us in the joy of our salvation as the bride of Jesus Christ. Bless this Word to us that we have considered, that it may be a means of grace to us to strengthen us in our faith and to sanctify us in our walk. We pray this for Jesus’ sake, Amen.