Dear radio friends,
Christ’s birth stands at the center of history. This means that, not only will we be able to find the teaching of the birth of Christ in the New Testament, but there are many Old Testament passages as well that herald the birth of Christ. There are many Old Testament prophecies and ceremonies that pointed to Christ’s coming, although not necessarily to His birth. There are also a number of historical passages that speak of that birth of Christ.
The verses we consider in today’s broadcast are of a historical nature. They are the words of blessing that the elders of Bethlehem spoke to a man named Boaz, when Boaz redeemed Ruth to be his wife. We read in Ruth 4:11, 12: “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.”
These words must, of course, be taken in their historical context. The historical setting is really what lends to these words of the elders their meaning. What we intend to uncover in these words is the blessed truth of God’s preservation of His church, and the truth that, against seemingly insurmountable human odds, Christ was indeed born to be our Savior. This, in turn, points to the truth that Christ was born at the very heart and center of the covenant line, the line of the church. Christ was born out of the covenant line of David, who in turn traces his roots back to Boaz and Ruth, who in turn trace their roots back to Pharez, the son of Judah.
The events of our text today take place during the time of the judges. The nation of Israel had just inherited the land of Canaan. They had no earthly king yet that ruled over them. It was a time in the history of the Old Testament church when the men of Israel did that which was right in their own eyes. It was a time when, from a human point of view, the church seemed to have lost her interest in the things of the kingdom. But the story of Ruth speaks of a faithful remnant of God’s people that yet existed in Israel. It is a heartwarming story, but a story that, above all, teaches us of the preserving grace of God.
Ruth was a Moabite woman. She was born into the heathen nation of Moab, which lay east of the Dead Sea. Moab was a heathen nation whose people worshiped the pagan god Chemosh. How Ruth the Moabite came to dwell in Bethlehem, a little village south of Jerusalem in Judah, is a simple story.
There was in Judah a landholder who lived in the region called Ephratah. In this region was located the village of Bethlehem. The landholder’s name was Elimelech. And he was married to a woman named Naomi. The Lord had given them two sons, named Mahlon and Chilion. When God sent a famine on Judah, Elimelech, in sin, left his inheritance and moved his entire family to Moab. While in the land of Moab, the two sons took to themselves two unbelieving wives. The one was named Orpah, and the other, Ruth. It was not long after this that not only did Elimelech himself die, but also these two sons. Naomi was left in Moab by herself, with her two daughters-in-law. This meant, of course, that there was nothing left in Moab for Naomi. For that reason, she decided to move back to Bethlehem.
The one daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided after some persuasion from Naomi to remain in Moab. She was an unbeliever who had nothing in common with the Israelites. But God must have worked in the heart of Ruth by His grace so that Ruth was made to see the sin in the unbelief of Moab. For this reason, when Naomi attempted to convince Ruth to stay in Moab too, Ruth refused. “Thy people will be my people,” she said, “and thy God, my God.” Ruth had decided to cast in her lot with God’s people and knew she would feel more closely attached to them in their land.
So it was that Ruth and Naomi came to be living in Bethlehem, with not a penny to their name. Now these two women had to eke out a living for the two of them. Naomi was too old. But Ruth was young. And she became a gleaner in the fields of the farmers in Ephratah. A gleaner was a poor person who followed the harvesters and picked up what they left behind. It was in this way that, providentially, she met Boaz, a relative of Naomi.
Boaz was a just man. He became aware of the inheritance that Naomi had lost. And, in this connection, he also came to love Ruth. We are not able to go into all the details today of the biblical account recorded for us in Ruth. Read it for yourselves. But Boaz decided to redeem the inheritance of Naomi by buying and by taking Ruth to be his wife in order to raise up children to Naomi and to restore to Naomi’s family Elimelech’s inheritance.
But Boaz was not able to redeem Elimelech’s inheritance or marry Ruth unless one who was a closer relative than he would allow him to do so. This closer relative was the first in line to redeem, if he so chose, Elimelech’s inheritance. But this closer relative of Naomi did not do that. He found out that, in order to redeem the inheritance of Elimelech, he was also responsible for marrying Ruth. And he told Boaz that he could not do this, lest he mar his own inheritance. So he acceded to Boaz.
There, in the gate of the city of Bethlehem, before the elders and others who were present, Boaz and his relative confirmed that Boaz would take the inheritance and marry Ruth. That is the historical context, then, of the words of the elders that we consider today.
The word spoken by these elders constitute the blessing of the rulers of Bethlehem upon Boaz and upon Ruth, whom he would now take to be his wife. “Jehovah make the woman like Rachel and Leah, which did build the house of Israel.” Rachel and Leah were the two wives of Jacob who, with their mid-wives, bore to Jacob twelve sons. These twelve sons became the heads of twelve tribes of Israel, which would make up the nation itself. The blessing was a good one: May your wife be one who brings forth children who will build up the nation of Israel.
They added this additional blessing in verse 12: “And let thy house be like the house of Pharez, whom Tamar bare unto Judah.” Pharez was a son of Judah who, in turn, was a son of Jacob. To Judah, Jacob had spoken this blessing in Genesis 49:10: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.” This blessing upon Judah was passed along to Pharez, and now also to Boaz, because Boaz was of the lineage of Pharez.
So, again, if what the elders said of Boaz would come true, then truly he and his wife Ruth would be blessed. Out of his line Shiloh, that is, Christ, would come. If all of this were true of this couple, then they would do worthily in Ephratah and would be famous in Bethlehem.
And from the rest of Scripture, we learn that this blessing upon Boaz did indeed come true after he married Ruth.
We want, now, to take a closer look at what transpired in this period of history to see how God, already then, was guiding every event in the Old Testament unto the birth of Jesus Christ.
We go back to that blessing of Jacob on his son Judah: “The scepter shall not depart from Judah.” The rule over his brothers, that is, the line of the kings, would never depart from Judah until Shiloh, thatis, Christ, would come. That blessing upon Judah speaks of the fact that the royal line of Christ would come out of that tribe of Judah, and would remain intact unto the very birth of Jesus Christ. All that held true. But how that held true can be ascribed only to God’s faithfulness to His people and church. Allow me to explain that.
It is true that Pharez was a son of Judah. But the birth of Pharez came about in the way of a terrible sin that Judah committed. Tamar was actually Judah’s daughter-in-law. She had married Judah’s oldest son, Er. But Er was wicked, and God slew him before he and Tamar could bear children. The duty now fell to Judah’s second son, Onan, to marry Tamar and raise up seed unto his brother. Onan married Tamar, but refused to bring forth that covenant seed. So God slew him, too. At that time Judah promised to Tamar his youngest son, Shelah, when he would become old enough. But the time came and went and Judah did not give Shelah to Tamar, and she remained childless. So Tamar took matters into her own hands. She played the part of a harlot, and Judah went in unto her and she bare twins. Pharez was the oldest of these twins. He was the son of adultery. Yet it was through him that God chose to keep the covenant seed, that is the seed of Judah, alive. Pharez was blessed with many sons. So when the name of Pharez is brought to mind by the elders of Israel, they referred to God’s faithfulness.
Then, too, we must consider the very account of Ruth and Boaz. Ruth was a Moabitess. She came out of a heathen nation. And to all intents and purposes, from a human point of view, she would have remained in Moab. Elimelech had sinned. He left his inheritance in Israel to live among unbelievers and raise his children among unbelievers. Mahlon and Chilion sinned. They married to themselves unbelieving wives of the nations round about them—something expressly forbidden by God. And they died in their sin. That Ruth came to live in Israel and to marry Boaz was by means of a work of God’s grace alone.
The lineage of Christ, therefore, was born out of sin. And yet, here it is. Boaz became the great-grandfather of David. And out of David, Shiloh was born. Out of the royal line of David was born the Messiah. Bethlehem Ephratah may have been small among the cities of Israel, but out of that little village would come the Lawgiver, the Ruler, the King of the church. All of that is implied in this blessing of the elders upon Boaz and Ruth. They did worthily in Ephratah. And the line that they produced became famous in Israel.
Not only was that fulfilled in David and the royal line, but that was ultimately fulfilled in the very birth of Jesus Christ.
Let us not overlook the truth that stands on the foreground in these words of the elders: the preservation of God’s church in the line of the covenant. Let us not overlook God’s faithfulness to His promises.
This blessing of the elders was not meant by them, of course, to bring to mind the sin of Judah. But we cannot overlook that sin when the name of Pharez is mentioned. The elders do not bring up the sin of Elimelech and Naomi, but these sins of God’s people stand out in this passage nevertheless. The church, the line where God establishes His covenant, does not deserve to be saved. None deserve the friendship and fellowship of the ever-blessed God.
Judah was told that the Messiah would come from his lineage. What a promise of God! What wonderful news was given to Judah and his wife. Yet Judah himself was so, so undeserving of that promise being fulfilled in him. Look at his sin. Look at the sin of Tamar. Yet out of that sin Pharez comes forth, and in his line God fulfills His promise to Abraham and to Judah.
Look how God, through the very sin of Elimelech and Naomi, actually brings about the covenant seed. “Let thy house be filled with children by means of the seed God gives to you.” What a wonder! Certainly Naomi did not merit or deserve the birth of Christ out of the generations of her children. And more. Look at Ruth. She was a Moabitess. She was of a heathen nation. She did not even belong to the covenant line, the line of God’s church. And yet God, in order to bring about the birth of our Savior, incorporated and engrafted this woman by His grace into the very line of the covenant.
In no way did this line of the covenant out of which Christ was to be born deserve the privilege of being that line. Neither does the church of Christ today. We sin, too. Constantly we stray from God’s ways. How unfaithful we are to God. God’s people today do not deserve the blessed fellowship and favor of our God. But we receive it, do we not? Ruth and Boaz received it too. The reason for this? God’s faithfulness. God made a promise to Judah: Out of your seed Shiloh will come. And, despite the sins of His people, God always fulfills His promises. What is amazing is that God actually fulfills His promise even in the way of sin. Because God is faithful.
That is what we celebrate in the birth of Christ. Christ was born of Mary, the seed of David, in the appointed time and in the appointed place. Bethlehem Ephratah. He was born in God’s great love for His people. He was born in that covenant line in order to redeem God’s covenant people from sin. It is this that we are made to see in the account before us. Christ’s birth took place according to God’s sovereign will and grace.
Neither may we isolate all of this from God’s grand scheme of things. Christ had to be born. Salvation had to take place through Christ. But we ought not to forget that Satan uses every attempt to destroy the church of Christ in this world. He raged in the Old Testament in an attempt to keep the Christ-child from being born. Judah’s sin, Naomi’s sin, the sins of the kings who departed from Jehovah. Trace the line of the covenant in the church and you will find that it speaks of the countless times that Satan attempted to destroy that line of Judah. Satan heard the blessing of Jacob upon Judah. Satan knew where to work the hardest to turn that line from Jehovah. But he failed. In fact, the reason he failed was exactly because God was using his attempts to accomplish His own sovereign will and good pleasure. God even uses Satan to fulfill His will.
That truth comes to God’s people as a word of genuine comfort. God has established His truth with His church in this world. The church is called to guard it well. God has given her the promises of His covenant. He dwells with her and her children, gathering them into His church. You do not think that Satan knows this? Satan full-well knows where God’s church is faithful in this world. And that is exactly where Satan works the hardest to turn God’s people from the truth.
That would be frightening to us, too, because we know our sins and weaknesses. We know, oh how well we know, that Satan is seeking to turn us from God’s ways. We know how weak we are, and how sinful. Satan tries, by false doctrine, to turn God’s people slowly from the truth and into error. If that does not work, he tempts the preachers of the gospel to fall, in order to destroy the homes of the church. Such always is the threat upon the church of Jesus Christ in the world. But God is faithful. Christ has been born. He has won the victory over Satan in this world. For Christ’s sake, God will never forsake His church and His people. That baby in Bethlehem is the Lord of glory. It is for His sake that God will indeed remain faithful unto us. We fall on our knees before that child of Bethlehem Ephratah, that child that was born of the line of David. And we worship Him. We do so because He builds the house of Leah and Rachel. He makes His church to grow and flourish. He builds Zion. When we celebrate the birth of Christ, we celebrate God’s preserving grace.
Striking, is it not? Boaz and Ruth’s children did bring fame to Bethlehem. This was the city where the great king David was born. This is where the royal line of Israel came from. This little, lowly village, which was of no import in Israel, was made famous because of David. No, it was made famous for us today because this is where Christ our Savior was born. It could be no other way. Christ could be born in no other place—not in Nazareth, the hometown of Joseph and Mary, not in Jerusalem, the capital city, where the kings lived—but right here in Bethlehem, the city of David. And it all started with Ruth and Boaz and the inheritance of Naomi.
Naomi was blessed. No, better, Ruth was blessed. She was, by God’s grace, grafted into the line of the church and the covenant and became a mother of Christ. God’s blessing now rests upon His church. With that blessing of God comes the fame for which Bethlehem is known. Christ was born in Bethlehem.
Let us pray.
Father in heaven, we are thankful for the birth of Thy Son, Jesus Christ, and the salvation that He brings to us. And we are thankful for Thy great faithfulness, which Thou hast shown to us in Him. Bless us, Father, as we commemorate together that birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Forgive us of our sins in Him, for it is in His name that we pray, Amen.