A Great Love Story And The Greatest Story Of Love
I read to you the concluding verses of the Book of Ruth. This is the Word of God.
“So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the Lord who has not left you this day without next of kin, and may his name be renowned in Israel. He shall be to you a restorer of life, a nourisher of your old age. For your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom and became his nurse. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name saying a son has been born to Naomi. They named him Obed. He became the father of Jesse, and Jesse became the father of David.”
Soli Deo Gloria. To God alone be the Glory. Let us pray.
Lord, nothing in my hand I bring. Simply to thy cross, I cling. Amen.
It may be the most beautiful love letter ever written. You be the judge. Just days before the Battle of Bull Run in 1861, Major Sullivan Ballou of the Union forces sat down and wrote a letter to his wife. Here is that letter:
My very dear Sarah,
The indications are very strong that we shall move in a few days, perhaps even tomorrow. Lest I should not be able to write again, I feel impelled to write a few lines which may fall under your eye when I shall be no more. Sarah, my love for you is deathless, and yet my love for my country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly toward the battlefield.
The memories of all the blissful moments I have spent with you come creeping over me now, and I feel most grateful to God and to you that I have enjoyed them for so long. How hard it is for me to give them up and burn to ashes the hopes of future years when, God willing, we might still have lived and loved together and seen our sons grow up to honorable manhood around us. If I do not return, my dear Sarah, never forget how much I love you. When my last breath escapes me on the battlefield, it will whisper your name.
When my last breath escapes me, it will whisper your name.
Major Ballou did lose his life in the Battle of Bull Run. His wife did receive his letter. And today, more than a century later, we brush away a tear at the thought of such exquisite tenderness. Dear friends, that letter reflects a true and genuine love, a love which dares to defy the bonds of death. And in a time like this, in a time when the word love is used to describe all kinds of erotic and kinky behavior, in a time when the word love is used to describe one’s feeling toward a hamburger or a basketball game, for heaven’s sake, it might do us good to pause and reflect a bit on what love really is. What better time to do that than on Mother’s Day, the day when we celebrate both mothers and love? And what better way to do that than to look at one of the great love stories of the Bible, the story of Ruth and Boaz.
The story actually has four characters. The first character is a woman of the streets, a prostitute. You will not find her name printed on the pages of the story, but to fail to tell her story as a part of this story is to miss the whole reason that the Book of Ruth is in the Bible. That’s all I’m going to say about this prostitute for now. I will tell you who she is at the end of the sermon.
The second character is an older widow. The third character, a younger widow. These two women are related by marriage but, much more importantly, they are inseparably united by love. The fourth character is a bachelor. We can assume that he was an older bachelor. At least he had been around long enough to acquire some property, some power, some wealth, and some wisdom. From these four threads, the master storyteller weaves a fascinating tale. And from that tale, we draw three great truths. See if you can find them as I tell you this great love story.
Chapter 1: The Risk of Love.
Once upon a time, when the judges were in control of the nation of Israel, the Book of Judges says that all of the people did what was right in their own eyes. In this ruler-less, chaotic society, anything was perfectly acceptable. And as a result, the whole fabric of their national life began to unravel. The nation was plunged into political and economic crisis. It was then that one of the citizens of Israel, a native of Bethlehem – a man named Elimelech – for the welfare and safety of his family took his wife Naomi, his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, and journeyed out of Israel to the neighboring land of Moab. There, it was his intent to build a new life for his family.
All was well until tragedy struck. Elimelech died, and Naomi was then left to fend for herself and for her two sons, no easy task. Ultimately, the two young men married Moabite women, one named Orpah, the other named Ruth. And then the Bible says that the five of them, Naomi, Orpah, Ruth, Mahlon, and Chilion lived and worked together for about 10 years. Once again, the sting of tragedy: Naomi’s two sons died. Naomi had buried her husband, now she had to bury her sons. It was then that Naomi made the decision to return to her hometown of Bethlehem.
At that point, she did a most remarkable thing. She said to her two daughters in law, “Why don’t you go home to your families and try to build a new life for yourselves?” It was not the normal thing to do. You see, custom in those days dictated otherwise. Naomi would have been perfectly justified in saying to these two young women, “You married into this family. Now you have full responsibility for me. Pack your bags. We’re going back to Bethlehem, and you will look after me in my old age.” She could easily have made that overt demand or she could have used subtle manipulation to get the love she wanted, but she did neither. She said to the two, “You are free. Go home to your families and build a new life.”
It was an incredible thing to do, a very risky thing to do. When my daughter Meg was young, she had a poster on the wall of her bedroom, and on that poster were written these words, “Love is a butterfly. Set it free. If it doesn’t return, it was never yours. If it does, it is and always will be.” Love does not bind. Love sets free. Naomi loved Ruth and Orpah enough to set them free. And Orpah took Naomi up on her offer, but Ruth, no. Ruth loved Naomi so much that she chose to stay.
We see the same principle of love at work in the relationship, I think, between Jesus and His mother, Mary. There is a wonderful painting by Holman Hunt which portrays Jesus as a teenage boy working in the carpentry shop, working very hard. His mother, Mary, is there in the shop as well. And, suddenly, Jesus, in a moment of relaxation, straightens up from His work and He stretches His arms wide. As Mary looks, the sunlight streaming through the door of the carpentry shop casts the shadow of the young Jesus on the wall, and stacked against that wall are pieces of lumber. And as Mary beholds, suddenly, she sees the shadow of Jesus on the lumber forms a figure on a cross.
I wonder if there were moments like that for Mary during Jesus’ growing up years. I don’t know. I do know this. I know that Mary grew up her son in order to give Him away. When the time for parting came, she bid farewell to her son without a whimper. She loved Him enough to let Him go. And Jesus loved her enough so that then, in the very last breaths He took on the Cross, He took care of His mother. Here is the lesson to be learned. A love which has no leash receives a loyalty which has no bounds. Naomi loved Ruth enough to let her go, and Ruth loved Naomi enough to stay. Naomi ran the risk of giving to Ruth a love which had no leash, and in return, she received from Ruth a loyalty which had no bounds.
Chapter 2: The Recognition of Love.
As the story unfolds, we discover some wonderful truths about how to find the right person to love in life. Ruth was single. S-I-N-G-L-E. And in those days, she was in desperate need of a husband. In those days, her survival depended upon it. So what did she do? Did she put on some alluring clothing and go down to the singles’ bar? No. Did she hang out at the country club looking for some guy with deep pockets? No. Ruth went and got a job. Not the sort of a thing that a woman did in those days. And not only that, she got a tough job, a rough job. She got a job picking grain in the fields.
You see, Ruth decided to do her duty. She knew that she and Naomi needed money to live and Naomi was dependent upon her completely. And so, because she loved Naomi, Ruth did her duty and did it lovingly and willingly. It was tough, hard, hot, sweaty, dirty work. And Ruth did it, lovingly and willingly. There is something very powerful about doing one’s duty willingly, lovingly. There is an unusual painting of the crucifixion. It portrays the cross lying on the ground. Nearby, a big burly Roman soldier holding a hammer and a fistful of nails. Two other Roman soldiers are holding Jesus as He struggles. And as you gaze at the painting, suddenly, it begins to dawn on you that Jesus is not struggling to escape from them, to run away from them. Jesus is struggling to get on the cross. So anxious is He to do what God has called Him to do, to do it willingly and lovingly.
There is something quite remarkable about those who do their duty lovingly, willingly. Mothers know all about that, don’t you? The diapers you’ve changed. The floors you’ve vacuumed. The meals you’ve prepared. No one stands up and applauds you for that, do they? How many times did you get up in the night when the baby was crying and your husband slept all the way through to the morning? They don’t give you a medal for that, do they? Some of you mothers now are putting in a full day at work on the job and then coming home to another full-time job at night with the family. And the pay in that second job is not very good, is it?
There’s something, I tell you, there’s something incredibly beautiful about people willingly and lovingly doing their duty in life. It certainly made Ruth attractive and beautiful. Ruth? Hot, sweaty, dirty Ruth? Yes. The Bible says Ruth caught the eye of Boaz. Boaz, obviously, was wise enough to understand that beauty, true beauty, is much more than skin deep. And so Boaz looked not at Ruth’s outward appearance but at what was in her heart. He saw what she was doing in her life, and he found it terribly attractive.
A good person always attracts a good person. And Boaz, obviously, was a good person. We see that from the story. He was a gentleman. The story notes that he spoke to Ruth with an endearing term and he provided her with food. And he protected her from the eyes and the hands of the other men who were out there working the fields with her. Affection, provision, protection, the three gestures of a true gentleman. And we men need to be wise enough to remember that women never tire of receiving those three things from the men in their lives: affection, provision, and protection. Here’s the lesson to be learned. A noble soul attracts a noble soul. Ruth was a good person, a noble soul. And, as a result, she attracted a noble soul. His name was Boaz.
Chapter 3: The Reward of Love.
When Naomi discovered how much attention Boaz was paying to Ruth, she was thrilled. Because, you see, Boaz was a distant relative of hers, and she was quite excited about all of this. And, in fact, she sat Ruth down and she gave her a cram course in the courtship customs of that day and time. When you read about them in Scripture today, they seem rather strange and archaic. But they were, in fact, designed to create a romantic atmosphere and it must have worked. Ruth must have followed Naomi’s advice to the tee, and, as a result, Boaz asked her to marry him. And she did.
And here are the rewards of love. God rewarded Boaz’s faithfulness with a wife, and God rewarded Ruth’s loyalty with a husband, and God rewarded Naomi’s love with a grandson. That’s right. You see the story goes on to tell us that, later on, Ruth and Boaz had a child – a son – and Naomi became the primary caregiver for that little one. In fact, the neighbors loved to say that boy was born for Naomi. Isn’t that great? Naomi – who at the beginning of the story had nothing and then wound up getting less before she got more – winds up with a whole new family to love simply because she so loved, herself. She loved Ruth.
Here’s the lesson to be learned. God honors people who honor people. Boaz was a good man who honored people in his life and God ultimately blessed him with a wonderful wife in Ruth. Ruth was a good person, one who honored people in her life, and she wound up with a new husband and a new hope. Naomi was a good woman who honored people in her life, and she wound up with a whole new lease on life. God honors people who honor people. And the Bible says they all lived happily ever after.
Epilogue: The Legacy of a Woman of the Streets Continues.
Who is this lady? You find out at the end of the Book of Ruth, for there we read these words. Salmon was the father of Boaz, Boaz of Obed, Obed of Jesse, and Jesse of David. Notice please, Ruth and Boaz were the great-grandparents of great King David. And that means that they were also the ancestors of whom? Jesus of Nazareth. And the story says Salmon was the father of Boaz.
When you read the Book of Joshua, you discover that Salmon was married to a woman whom the Bible calls Rahab the Harlot. You remember that name. Rahab was the one who helped Joshua and his people, when they first entered the Promised Land, to take the city of Jericho. And when Jericho was destroyed, the Bible says because of Rahab’s efforts, God spared Rahab. And then later on, Rahab married Salmon. And Salmon and Rahab had a son whose name was Boaz, and he married a woman named Ruth. And one of their descendants was King David, and one of his descendants was Jesus of Nazareth.
Isn’t that an enchanting story? Out of the love of Ruth and Boaz, there came the Son of God. But the story points to an even deeper truth. You see, there is a sense in which Ruth’s story is our story, yours and mine. And there is a sense in which the story of Boaz is the story of Jesus Christ. Ruth, you see, was an exile living in a distant land with nothing to offer, nothing to give, no power, nothing to commend herself. All she could do was work. You and I, exiles from the Kingdom of Heaven, are living here in this distant land with nothing to offer, nothing to give, no power, nothing to commend ourselves. All we can do is work.
And Ruth, one day, was saved by a kinsman who came to her in her point of difficulty. And not because of who she was or what she could do or couldn’t do, but simply because he loved her. He gave her a place of glory in his home. And you and I have been found by a Kinsman, the only son of our Heavenly Father, Who comes to us in our point of need in life. And not because of who we are or what we can do or cannot do, but simply because He loves us. He offers us a place of glory in His eternal home.
You see, I think that’s the reason that the Book of Ruth is in the Bible. It’s a great love story, yes. Oh, yes, it is. But more than that, it points to the greatest story of love of them all. The love God has for you and the love God has for me through Jesus, His only son. Pray with me, please.
Mighty, mighty God, mark our lives not with the cheap love we see so prevalent around us, but with the costly love we see in the Cross of Jesus, our Boaz. Amen.