(A) Introduction.

This is a fascinating chapter. The original Hebrew is not everywhere easy to translate. I feel that the translators would have done well to pay more attention to human nature as they tried to make sense of the Hebrew. It is also an interesting chapter because we need to understand the motives of the three main participants: Naomi, Ruth and Boaz.

(B) Naomi wanted the best for Ruth.

The barley and wheat harvest were over. During that time Ruth had been scrapping about, gleaning for all she was worth, to provide food for her mother-in-law and herself. Naomi wants Ruth to have an easier life - one where she will be well provided for. Ch3v1. She has a provider in mind - her relative, Boaz. She knows where Boaz will be now that the harvest is over. He spends the evenings after dark down on the threshing floor. This is a fascinating detail. I suspect that winnowing took place in the valleys after the sun set with the onset of the steady down valley wind. This is a common phenomenon in upland areas. Naomi tells Ruth to bath, put on her best perfume and glad rags to go and lie down in the dark, on a dusty threshing floor, by the feet of Boaz. I don't think so. What would be the point of going to all that trouble to lay down in the dark at a man's feet.

The expression, 'his feet' in the Hebrew means literally, 'below the pillow'. Naomi told Ruth to lie down by his side. I think it very unlikely that a countryman who had had been working hard all evening and had had plenty to drink would have been awoken by someone lying at his feet. If the hardy farmer had been aroused by a mysterious lump at his feet I cannot believe that this would have badly frightened him. It would have been a bit difficult for Boaz to spread his cloak to cover Ruth if she had been lying at his feet; nor is it very agreeable for any women to lie at a man's feet through a cold night until morning! No! Ruth lies at his side and it is only the prudishness of the translators that would have us think otherwise. They lay close together under Boaz's cloak enjoying the shared warmth and intimacy of the occasion.

I expect Naomi gave Ruth this advice because it was the custom for a single woman who desired a certain man for a husband to go and lie at his side. Perhaps the custom dated back to the years of wandering in the desert and sleeping in tents when such a procedure would have been easier. If the man spread his garment over the women this was a sign that he accepted her. I expect the man usually had intercourse with the women and this would constitute marriage to her. It was very simple - and cheap! Naomi decided to take the initiative because Boaz was elderly and inhibited by his age from making advances. Boaz commends Ruth because she had not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. Ch3v16. This seems to suggest that he is very conscious of his age relative to Ruth's.

It is very important to take the initiative. This is something that I am very poor at doing. I am like my father and grandfather who had an almost pathological dread of taking the initiative. However the expression, 'everything comes to he who waits', is untrue. Very often nothing comes to he who waits: neither job, husband, wife, church growth or salvation.

I sometimes complain because I am unmarried. My friends say, "It is your own fault - you have never really tried." There is some truth in this. There would be times at school when a girl would approach me and ask, "Don't you think Carl is cool, Mr Reed?" I might reply, "So you fancy him do you, Emma? Do you want me to tell him." To my surprise I discovered that many girls thought this might be a good thing. There is a lot of truth in the expression, 'nothing venture nothing win.' I knew an elderly man who sadly lost his wife. He phoned up all the widows, divorcees and spinsters in the village and, one by one, asked them out for a meal. He met with many refusals and there was much ribald comment about his intentions - but he found himself a wife. As I have admitted, I am not good at taking the initiative, but I did start applying for jobs the day after my father died. I needed to get back to work and I set about it straight away. I didn't take a holiday but got back into teaching with a school desperate for a Geography teacher for a term. This was a wise move.

The dying thief would never have been saved if he had not taken the initiative. He could never have been saved without Jesus dying on the cross but he would never have been saved if he hadn't asked, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Lk23v42. Jesus urges us to take the initiative, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Lk11v9and10. A lady I know asked me to take her to the airport, fifty miles away. Some people might say, "She had a nerve." I'm glad she asked. God wants us to 'have a nerve'. He is glad when we ask him for the best gifts.

Those of us who attend small, declining, rural, churches long for some church growth. Now I have every sympathy with those who are dispirited and exhausted and feel that they can't try anything else. I think a church may get so small and weak that it cannot take the initiative without outside help. My own church has not seen many conversions during the last twenty-five years. However, some did occur as a result of the Holiday Clubs for children we held under the leadership of our last pastor. It is significant that on these occasions several of the church members worked together as a team. I can remember how reluctant I was to organise games for a morning session. I had to overcome Satan and force myself to participate. The Holiday Clubs were an initiative blessed of God. If we do nothing, sadly, nothing very much happens.

(C) Ruth wanted to please her mother-in-law.

Ruth is willing to do what Naomi advises to get an husband - up to a point. She says, "I will do whatever you say." v5. Not many girls speak those words on receiving advice from their parents about their prospective husbands.

Ruth did not follow Naomi's advice to the letter. Naomi's advice is disinterested - she wanted Ruth to have a good husband. She doubtless realised that there was mutual attraction between Boaz and Ruth and that the mature farmer would make an exellent husband for her daughter-in-law. Ruth, however, wanted to do something for Naomi. She asks Boaz to play the part of kinsman-redeemer to Naomi. The law of Moses specifies that if a man marries and dies before a child is conceived it is the duty of the man's brother to marry his widow so that the first son she bears shall carry on the name of the dead brother so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel. Dt25v5and6. It seems that this duty came to rest with the closest male relative of the deceased, childless, man. Such a man was called a kinsman redeemer. Ruth was asking Boaz to raise up a son to carry on the line of Mahlon and to provide a grandson for Naomi. This was certainly Ruth's intention. When a little boy was born to Ruth and Boaz: Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." Ruth4v16and17.

Boaz realised that Ruth was making a sacrifice on behalf of Naomi. He says to Ruth, "This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier." I expect that Naomi, Ruth and Boaz were all aware of the man who was most closely related to Mahlon. That man had first claim to be kinsman redeemer and marry Ruth. Naomi knows this and does not send Ruth to him but to Boaz. She is hoping to find Ruth the best of husbands. Ruth knows this but still indicates she wishes her future husband to play the part of kinsman redeemer. She runs the risk of losing Boaz. Boaz knows this and appreciates that Ruth is putting the interests of Naomi before even marriage to himself and her own personal happiness.

Do we give good advice? I cannot say that I have received a great deal in my life. I have gleaned three pieces of advice on getting a wife - not that they have done me much good but I will pass them on nonetheless. My father told me to pay particular attention to the prospective mother-in-law as this is how a wife would look after 25 years of marriage. I think I came across the second bit in one of Dick Francis' thrillers. He advised a man to marry a woman who had a good relationship with her father. She was likely to be well predisposed towards men. Finally I think the guidance given by PG Wodehouse's famous character Uncle Fred to one of his youthful proteges - not to marry a woman you couldn't tickle - is very sound. I don't think I would be happy with a wife I couldn't tickle!

Do we accept advice? Perhaps I have received little because my family, friends and acquaintances do not think I am especially receptive to it. My father tried to give me some advice on preaching. He often said, "Be as wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove." See Mt10v16. If I had done as he said I might have been a more popular preacher but I am glad, on the whole, that I didn't. Jesus wasn't harmless as a dove when denouncing political correctness root and branch. My sister-in-law, Ruth, gave me better guidance when she said I should always look at my congregation when I preach. I think she was right and I did this subsequent to her remark for several years. However, I find looking at people as I preach distracting and lately have slipped back into bad old ways. I always looked at my pupils when I taught them! My advice to preachers is: stick to the allotted time for the service. Do not think you can go on for an extra ten minutes and get away with it. My pupils at school might enjoy my lesson but if I kept them behind for an extra ten minutes their enjoyment would dissipate. Indeed they would start to feel resentful and get very restless. We need to remember the wealth of truth Jesus packed into the briefest of statements and the shortest of elegant stories.

We can save ourselves a lot of trouble by acting on good advice. I used to conduct Geography Fieldtrips for my A level students to the different National Parks of England and Wales in the Easter holidays. They were given sound advice on what was appropriate footwear for mountainous conditions and the necessity of having good waterproofs and warm clothing at that time of year. Some of the young people from flat and friendly East Anglia had never been to the uplands of Britain and took their teacher's advice with a pinch of salt. I can see one girl now picking her way over the Lake District boulders in high-heeled shoes and a boy crouching in a fierce cold wind on Ingleborough suffering from incipient exposure because he had deliberately left his sweater at the Youth Hostel.

Rehoboam suffered because he did not act on the advice given to him by the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. 1Ki12v6. Jeroboam and representatives from the 12 tribes complained to Rehoboam of the heavy yoke his father, Solomon, had put upon them. The elders advised him: "If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favourable answer, they will always be your servants." But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him. Their advice was more to his taste. The young men who had grown up with him replied, "Tell these people....... my father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions." 1Ki12v14. Such is the arrogance of youth! The result was disastrous for Rehoboam. Only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin remained loyal to him. The other tribes made Jeroboam king. The kingdom was divided by the folly of a young man who rejected good advice.

It is wonderfully uplifting when we are given more than we ask or expect - as Naomi was. This hasn't happened to me very often. I recently went to Japan with my friend Tommy Bamber. We stopped for a few days with Mr and Mrs Sagawa at their English school in Ebetsu. Their hospitality was more than I ever expected. One morning two of their teachers, Shiho and Kiku, got up at 4.30am to take us bird watching in Shinrin Koen - a great wood. They knew we would be interested but they little knew the pleasure it gave us. I especially enjoyed the woodland flowers some of which occur in England like sweet woodruff and moschatel. We returned to Mrs Sagawa's dining room for an excellent breakfast of pea soup, pasta and an apple and celery salad. In the evening Mr and Mrs Sagawa took us for a fine meal at the Sapporo brewery. We cooked it at the table - slices of mutton, scallops, prawns, salmon, onion and cabbage. This was followed by ice cream and strawberries. Then we walked around Sapporo CBD - all lit up like an American city. Mr and Mrs Sagawa bought us presents in one of the fine Department stores. Finally we went to an expensive Italian restaurant for another light meal and a glass of red wine. I had never experienced anything like it before in my life. Nobody has ever made such a fuss of me. And these people were Buddhists who had never met me in their lives before. The only equivalent experience is when I have received an unexpectedly generous compliment from one of my pupils.

I have just finished reading again, 'Great Expectations', by Charles Dickens. At the end of the book young Pip is in a wretched state. He is in danger of imprisonment for debt and very ill in his lodgings in London. Dear old Joe Gargery the blacksmith, who had been like a father to him, finds him there. Pip had not treated Joe well on coming into his great expectations - all but ignoring the father who had given him 'what larks' as a boy. Joe nurses Pip back to health but when Pip recovers Joe quietly leaves. A letter is left on the breakfast table. I will let Dickens take up the story:

These were its brief contents.

"Not wishful to intrude I have departured fur you are well again dear Pip and will do better without"


"P.S. Ever the best of friend."

Enclosed in the letter was receipt for the debt and costs on which I had been arrested. Down to that moment I had vainly supposed my creditor had withdrawn or suspended proceedings until I should be quite recovered. I had never dreamed of Joe's having paid the money; but Joe had paid it, and the receipt was in his name.

I especially like that phrase at the end: but Joe had paid it, and the receipt was in his name. It reminds me of one who has given me far more than I could ever ask or expect; the one who has given me so much more than I deserve. My debt has been paid. Jesus has paid it and the receipt is in his name.

I know that my Redeemer lives,-
What comfort this sweet sentence gives!
He lives, He lives, Who once was dead,
And reigns, my ever-living Head!

(D) Boaz was eager to fulfil his responsibilities v11. I will do for you all you ask.

Boaz acted:

    (a) Promptly. v18. Then Naomi said,".....For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today."
    Boaz set about discovering who should be kinsman-redeemer to Ruth straight away. He did not procrastinate. There was no more pressing matter for him to deal with. His number one priority was to do for Ruth all she asked.

    There is great merit in prompt action. I can remember asking a friend with whom I play cricket and who is a first class electrician to replace a wall socket in my house. He was very willing to do this little job. It wouldn't be a problem. Five years and several reminders later the little job still wasn't done. I knew that he would never come because he had spoiled the small favour he had agreed to do me by delaying for too long. About 8 or 9 years ago I wrote to my MP, Sir Eldon Griffiths, about the Ministry of Agriculture's unwillingness to grant me a permit to obtain strychnine to kill the moles ruining our cricket pitch. Sir Eldon didn't have much time for bureaucrats and within a very short period I had my permit. This year I have met with the same response from DEFRA (Dpt of Food and Rural Affairs). My present MP has let the matter remain unresolved for months - it is not one of his priorities. I feel that he doesn't really care. Even if he does manage to do something for me it will not count for much after such a long time of waiting.

    If you promise to do someone a favour do it promptly - don't put it off. If you act promptly the person will feel that you really do have their interest at heart. Similarly don't put God's work off. Young people put Christian service off to concentrate on exams and academic success. Older people delay getting involved in church work until they retire. I used to know a couple who devoted all their energies to their business until they sold up in their seventies. Only then did they look to serve the Lord. He gave them very little time. Jesus said,"As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming when no-one can work." John9v4.

    (b) Disinterestedly v12. "Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. ....if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem.
    It is very, very, hard to act disinterestedly towards someone that you love romantically. It means acting solely for their benefit without looking to gain any personal advantage. Boaz was willing to forego marriage to Ruth in order to provide for her a kinsman-redeemer. That would have been a very great sacrifice.

    I gave a good illustration of one of the few occasions I acted disinterestedly in my exposition on God's Word when I proposed Dave to be President of the Geographical Society.

    It is far from easy to act disinterestedly on behalf of a fellow Christian for Christ sake. This might involve standing up for another Christian at the expense our own reputation. Relatively few Christians are enthusiastic about doing this. However the great apostle reminds us: Each of you should look not only to your own interests but also for the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:

    Who, being in the very nature of God,
    did not consider equality with God
    something to be grasped,
    but made himself nothing,
    taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.

    To become of no reputation for the sake of a fellow Christian is one of the most Christ-like things we can ever do.

    Very few ministers are able to share the pulpit with a member of their own church with a gift for preaching. They find it hard to encourage someone else at the expense of their own status. Yet they proclaim the blessedness of humility!

    (c) Wholeheartedly."But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it." v13.
    Boaz leaves Ruth in no doubt that he will be more than willing to be her kinsman-redeemer if he is given the opportunity. This must have raised her spirits. A wholehearted response to an appeal for help is always uplifting. Hard as it is to believe I did have one period in my teaching career when I was quite popular. It was in the first six years when I taught at a boy's grammar school. Heinz had a scheme whereby if you collected their labels they would donate money to charity. I appealed to the boys in the school for Heinz, canned food, labels. I got them by the sack full. Their response was remarkably enthusiastic.

    King David rejoiced greatly because the leaders of his people gave freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord for the building of the temple. David said, "I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I have given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you." 1Chron29v17.

    It is a great shame that we get down in the mouth about Christian service. It should not be irksome or a chore to us. I am amazed because there are churches where it is hard to find volunteers for preparing the emblems for the communion service. Here is an opportunity to serve ones fellow Christians as Christ served us - with humility. Yet it is not an opportunity always accepted wholeheartedly. We miss much blessing because our service is frequently half-hearted.

Boaz acted the way he did because he:

    (1) Loved Ruth.
    He asks her to lie by his side until morning. He would never have asked her to do this if he had not loved her. It was a great pleasure for Boaz just to have her lying close beside him.

    (2) Respected Ruth.
    He did not want her reputation to suffer by being discovered on the threshing floor in the morning. So Boaz sent her home just as the dawn broke and before she could be recognised. He wanted no scandal attached to her name.

    (3) Admired Ruth.
    He says to her,"All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character." v11. This is a wonderful tribute to her sterling worth. There is no better basis for marriage than mutual admiration. Love born of admiration is sure to pass the test of time. It is a great delight to see an husband's eyes shining with admiration for the sterling worth of his wife.

If we truly love, respect and admire Jesus we will serve him promptly, disinterestedly and wholeheartedly. We shall be like those women who came to the grave where they laid him very early in the morning to anoint his body with spices. They came as soon as they could. It was there first priority. No one could have kept them from coming. They came with hearts full of love for him. They it was to whom the risen Lord first appeared.

Let us put his interests first.