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God Blesses The Ordinary

Who wants to be ordinary? In a day when “radical,” “life-changing,” “amazing,” “epic,” and “awesome” are words that people use over and over, who wants to be ordinary? Anyone want a bumper sticker that says “My child is an ordinary student at such and such school?”

When we read the Bible we can sometimes be struck by how impressive it all is. God talks to certain people. People have great faith and do amazing things. Abraham and Sarah and their faith in waiting for a child for years. Moses delivering the people of Israel from slavery. Mary and her virgin birth of Jesus. The signs and wonders of the early church. People are doing great things for God. But our lives are so ordinary.

We tell ourselves that we aren’t religious enough to be like that. We aren’t significant enough. It’s nice to read about what God has done but I’m an outsider looking in.

But there is a small book in the Old Testament that tells us otherwise. It is named after a woman named Ruth. It is easy to overlook and maybe you have never heard this story. Ruth was a widow. She was poor. She was a foreigner in the place she ended up. She was outside of the faith. She was a woman. Yet, her life became essential in the story God was working. She was quite ordinary but her story tells us that God blesses the ordinary.[1]

Here is how the story goes. It starts with a woman named Naomi and her two daughter’s-in-law, Orpah and Ruth. All three of their husbands die. In that world at that time a woman has got to have a man for any kind of livelihood. And there are no children to care for them. Naomi tells the young Orpah and Ruth to go back to their homes and find new husbands for themselves. They are still young and have lots of life ahead of them.

After some back and forth, Orpah decides to go back, but Ruth refuses and is determined to stay with her mother-in-law.

In some of the most beautiful words in the Bible, Ruth shows her fierce dedication to Naomi by saying,

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”[2]

Sometimes those words are read at weddings.

Ruth will not leave Naomi. They travel to Bethlehem, where Naomi is from. Naomi is bitter and tells people how God has made her bitter with the loss of her husband and sons. She feels abandoned by God, and that God is even working against her. She is in a bad place.

It was the time of the grain harvest and Ruth tells Naomi that she is going to go glean the leftovers from the harvest in hopes of getting a little food for them. Understand the courage that this took. First, those who went out to glean were the poorest. Ruth is in essence saying she is a beggar. It is humiliating, and it is dangerous being a single woman, unprotected, in the midst of all the male laborers. An underlying part of all of this in the book of Ruth is that women were prey for men in a time when morality was very low

But there is a man named Boaz, who happened to be of the clan of Naomi’s late husband. Boaz sees Ruth working in the fields and thinks, “Yousa!” and asks some of his workers who that is and they tell her that it is a woman from Moab named Ruth. They also tell Boaz how hard she has been working.

Boaz, impressed with the report, tells Ruth to not go to another field but stay and work with the other women who work for him in his field. He will make sure she is protected and she is to help herself to the water that is provided when she is thirsty.

Ruth asks why he would be so good to her, and Boaz says, that he has heard all that she has done for her mother-in-law since the death of Ruth’s own husband. Ruth was from Moab, so she had left Moab to come with Naomi and live in a place that was foreign to her. What she did showed tremendous commitment and gained a reputation for herself, unbeknownst to her.

Boaz says,

“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.”[3]

Boaz sees what kind of person Ruth is. He sees her character. He sees her physical attractiveness but he also sees her on the inside.

That evening Ruth is invited to eat with Boaz and his crew. Then he tells his men to help her get some grain from the fields. Ruth then returns home. When Naomi sees all the wonderful grain she has brought back she asks how she got all this. Ruth tells her it was from a man named Boaz.

Naomi says, “The Lord bless him! He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead. That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” That term “guardian-redeemer” sometimes reads “kinsman-redeemer.” It is a legal term for someone who has the obligation to come to the help of a relative who is in serious difficulty.[4]

Naomi tells Ruth to keep working with the women in Boaz’ field because in another field she might be harmed. Ruth continues to do this through the days of the grain harvest while living with her mother-in-law.

But Naomi realizes Ruth is young and can’t live with her forever. Knowing that Boaz will be working at the threshing floor that night, Naomi schemes to arrange for Boaz to perhaps consider Ruth for marriage. She tells Ruth to wash, get all dressed up and go down to the threshing floor that night. She wants Ruth to flirt a little bit. When Boaz is done eating and drinking and lies down for the night Ruth is to uncover his feet and lie down near him.

Now, what exactly this means has been debated by Bible interpreters. Let me just say I won’t go into all the interpretations because its hot enough in here already… But Boaz does notice Ruth. She wants Boaz to claim his right as the guardian-redeemer of her and Naomi. That would include him marrying Ruth and having a son. He says there is actually a relative in position before him, but if that man doesn’t want to take up the responsibility, he will

Ruth ends up sleeping near him that night. There is no suggestion of inappropriateness but it is all rather vague. After all that transpires Boaz makes sure Ruth leaves before anyone sees because no woman should be at the threshing floor.

I’m telling you, some of you need to turn off Netflix and read the Bible. There is some stuff in here.

When Ruth returns Naomi asks how it went. Ruth says great. Indeed, the person in line before Boaz declines to take up Naomi and Ruth as the guardian-redeemer, and Boaz buys the property of Naomi’s late husband, and her two late sons. With that Ruth becomes his wife.

They have a son. Naomi and Ruth are now provided for. They have a wonderful home. And the women of Bethlehem praise the Lord and say to Naomi that Ruth, this daughter-in-law who loves her, stood with her, and is so committed to her, is better to Naomi than seven sons.

And here’s the punchline to this whole story. Ruth and Boaz name their son Obed. Obed becomes the father of Jesse, and Jesse becomes the father of David, who will become king of Israel. And of course, the Messiah had to come from David’s line. And we know that will be Jesus.

Ruth becomes the great-grandmother of King David, and a foremother of the Lord Jesus Christ. We find her name in Matthew 1 which is the genealogy of Christ.

Go home and read the book of Ruth. It will take you about 15 minutes if you read it well.

God blessed this ordinary woman and the very ordinary actions that take place in this story. And it will eventually lead to Jesus.

Ruth is a story about redemption. God redeems Naomi and Ruth when it looked like their lives were at a dead end. God sends them Boaz. And it isn’t just about some man insensitively treating them like property. No, Boaz is a man of honor, integrity, and can ably provide for this family. And he truly loves Ruth.

Naomi, who came back to Bethlehem bitter and angry at God and the world, is now being nurtured and has a grandson. Ruth was not only a widow but was from Moab. Moab was on Israel’s hit list. Moab and Israel had fought wars for years. There are places where the Lord instructs Israel to wipe out the Moabites. Ruth was ethnically, racially and religiously an outsider. Six times in the book she is referred to as “the Moabitess.” The story teller emphasizes this, wanting the hearers to think “Oh! She’s a Moabitess.” But this Moabitess becomes a foremother of Christ. God redeems Naomi’s and Ruth’s stories.

God can take us from what seems like a dead end and open up a future of blessing that we never could have imagined. How many of us after we lost someone, after a marriage failed, after a health scare, after some set back or defeat found healing, found someone else, or came to a place of peace and joy? We were redeemed. Maybe you have never thought of it, but it was the Lord.

Ruth is a story about people doing the right things. Ruth, Boaz and Naomi all choose to live in ways that is for the well-being of others. Naomi gives her daughter’s-in-law freedom to go secure a good life for themselves after their husbands die. Ruth chooses to stay with an older woman rather than do what would be best for her and stay in her own homeland. Ruth chooses to live in a hostile environment and in inconvenient circumstances. Boaz makes sure Ruth is able to glean the fields, and then gives her extra grain. Whatever the whole threshing floor thing was about Boaz sees it as Ruth showing her commitment.

Everyone is watching out for the other. And things go from grief to joy, from emptiness to fullness, from despair to hope because of this unselfishness, kindness and loyalty.

We need, as Jesus said, ears to hear the story of Ruth in our times when disrespect, and narcissism, and selfish living are tearing apart communities.

And because people in this story live rightly, with concern and faithfulness to all, the whole community is at peace. The elderly – Naomi – are cared for. What begins with death ends with birth. Those who could be shunned – Ruth – are included. There is respect for those who are in a lesser position – Ruth – from the greater – Boaz. There is consideration for those without. And people treat one another well.

And this is even more important when all of this takes place. The book of Ruth begins, “In the days when the judges ruled…” Ruth is right after the book of Judges in the Bible. Back then everyone knew what “the days of the judges” meant. The time of judges was full of chaos, meanness, violence, bloodshed, and ruthlessness. The book of Judges ends with this verse to sum it all up: “In those day…everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”[5]

Hello! You know where that is going to end up. And it did.

And then we get this little story of people living differently than the culture. They are acting well toward one another, caring for one another, showing faithfulness and loyalty. Then it’s no surprise that God brings the Christ from this circle.

Ruth is a story about God blessing the ordinary. All the stuff of common life is here: death, widowhood, grief, the need for food, trying to make it, farming, work, romance, Jewish law, marriage, childbirth. In fact, take what happens just in the first chapter of Ruth and you would never think it could become a gospel story. There is famine, three deaths, three widows, and anarchy from the book of Judges. And it is through all this ordinary stuff that God works. Ruth is part of God’s story.

I don’t know about you but about 99.9% of my life is ordinary. And you may not think your life is significant. You may not think you are smart enough, good enough, or religious enough. I doubt Ruth did. But look what God did for her and with her.

You know, it’s interesting, God does not speak in the story of Ruth. He is mentioned by the characters in the story but he doesn’t say anything, nor does he show up supernaturally through an angel or some other heavenly power. He is in the background. He is like yeast in bread, hidden and mysterious, working until everything is transformed. In the book of Ruth, God works through the everyday actions of faithful people.[6]

God blesses ordinary people, ordinary churches, ordinary sermons, ordinary acts of love, ordinary prayers, ordinary stuff.

“…the Book of Ruth makes it possible for each of us to understand ourselves, however ordinary or ‘out of it’ [we may think we are], as irreplaceable in the full telling of God’s story. We count – every last one of us – and what we do counts.”[7]

Who knows where our lives are contributing to what God is doing? We can’t always see it.

And God is working in your life. We may not know the meaning of every experience, every feeling, every event. We just need to trust that the Lord is making something of our lives. I believe he is doing that with every one of us. I think it becomes even clearer as we open our lives to him and say, “God, I don’t know what you are doing, nor can I necessarily see it, but I will trust that you can move through all the good and bad of my life. So I open myself to let you lead my life.”

The story of Ruth shows us that the blessings of God come to us through simple humans means. It was the everyday kindness of ordinary people that moves this story. The daily good we do for others – whether family, friends, co-workers – is the kindness of the Lord himself.[8]

And while the book is named after Ruth, others are just as important to the story. And maybe none more so than God. “The implication throughout is that God is watching over His people, and that He brings to pass what is good. The book is a book about God” (Cundall and Morris, 242).

And again, most importantly, Ruth’s life led to the birth of the Redeemer of us all, God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Who would have thought? To his name be all the praise, glory and honor.

[1] See introduction to Ruth in The Message [2] 1:16-17 [3] 2:11-12 [4] Leviticus 25:25-55 [5] Judges 21:25 [6] Katharine Doob Sakenfeld, Interpretation Commentary on Ruth, Introduction, pp.9-16 [7] Peterson intro to Ruth [8] Fleming Rutledge, Help My Unbelief, “Ruth’s Redeemer,” p. 237.

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