In the Bible not only do places matter, but more importantly in some instances what occurs in a certain place ends up foreshadowing some bigger ideal. For example… Abraham offering his only son Isaac specifically on Mount Moriah intended to foreshadow the moment God would offer His only Son Jesus on the exact same mountain range.
The very place where God parted the Jordan River so that His people might cross into the Land of Promise proved to be the same location where John baptized Jesus initiating His ministry to provide our passage across the river of death into the Promised Land of heaven.
We understand the identical spot where Jesus ascended to heaven some 2000 years ago — the Mount of Olives — will be the same place He’ll one day return in order to crush the armies of evil and usher in His Kingdom of peace for all the world to enjoy. Places matter!
What this means is that anytime you find something significant happening in the Scriptures in a particular place taking a moment to look back in time to see if anything else happened in that location can prove to be helpful in unpacking the deeper implications, lessons, and ramifications of what you’re actually studying.
This idea will make more sense after we read a familiar portion of the Christmas story… Luke 2:1-7, “And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child.
So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
One aspect of this story that doesn’t garner enough attention is this strange detail that — because Caesar Augustus issued a decree requiring everyone in the Roman Empire to travel back to their city of origin to be registered — Joseph had to lug a very pregnant Mary from their home in Nazareth all the way down to Bethlehem, a suburb south of Jerusalem.
On the surface it would be easy to chalk up this development to really back luck on the part of Mary and Joseph. A Roman Emperor sitting on a throne 2500 miles away whimsically decides he wants an updated census. So without any care for how this might effect anyone else he issues a decree leaving you with no choice but to make this trip to Bethlehem! All things considered for Mary and Joseph the timing couldn’t have been worse!
This evening — instead of seeing this development as purely coincidental — I want you to understand the place Jesus was to be born was of such importance God was behind the scenes using a clueless Augustus to do His bidding. You see it was not enough for God to send His only Son Jesus into the world… God specifically wanted His Son to be born in a stable located in a field just outside the “city of David, which is called Bethlehem.”
So why Bethlehem? Again, there are times when what HAS happened in a certain space can be incredibly helpful at providing important insights into what IS presently taking place! While the ancient city of Bethlehem is mentioned in passing throughout the Old Testament — in fact its first mention takes us back to Genesis 35 when Jacob buried his beloved wife Rachel in Bethlehem, the interesting reality is only two stories of any notable consequence play out with the city of Bethlehem as its backdrop.
Working backwards in time it’s amazing to consider that according to 1 Samuel 16 it would be in these same fields of Bethlehem that the Prophet Samuel would call out a young shepherd boy as God’s choice to be king over Israel. Not only was it prophetically important Jesus be a descendant of David, but the anointing of God’s pick to be king in these fields of Bethlehem foreshadowed the coming of the King of Kings in the same place.
While it’s true we could spend our entire time this evening camping out on this idea alone, I want to instead take us back to something else that occurred in these fields approximately 100 years before the anointing of King David. Hopefully you will see by the end of our study tonight how the fascinating love story of Ruth and Boaz adds an entire new and important wrinkle to how we see the birth of Jesus.
Ruth 1:1-2, “Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. (As was typical during the period of the judges this famine was likely God’s judgment on account of Israel’s rebellion.) And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, (the word “Bethlehem” means “House of Bread”) went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. (Sadly, instead of enduring the famine, this “certain man” furthered his rebellion by leaving the Land of Promise for the neighboring country of Moab — such an act was the equivalent of abandoning your people and your God.)
The name of the man was Elimelech (his name means “God is my King” implying he did have some type of a spiritual heritage), the name of his wife was Naomi (“my delight”), and the names of his two sons were Mahlon (“sickly”) and Chilion (“weak”) — Ephrathites of Bethlehem. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there.”
Well, it doesn’t take long for this story to spiral from bad to much worse… Ruth 1:3-4, “Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died (he was executed); and she was left, and her two sons (Sickly and Weakling were no doubt winners). Now they took wives of the women of Moab (forbidden by God): the name of the one was Orpah (“gazelle”), and the name of the other Ruth (“friendship”). And they dwelt there about ten years.”
Ruth 1:5-9, “Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died (this is the same word we found earlier implying they were also killed like their father); so the woman survived her two sons and her husband. Then Naomi arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread (God’s judgment had been lifted).
Therefore she went out from the place where she was to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to Orpah and Ruth, ‘Go, return each to your mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead (their husbands) and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband…’”
Naomi has had enough of life in Moab! Her husband and both sons have been killed. In fact, according to verse 13 Naomi viewed her loss as being the judgment of God for leaving Judah in the first place. She says, “The hand of the Lord has gone out against me!” Since there was nothing to keep her in Moab, she wisely decides to return to Bethlehem.
While these two Moabites, Orpah and Ruth, are bound to Naomi in marriage, because neither had children and the prospects of Naomi having new sons for them to wed at this point in her life was impossible, she graciously chooses to release them from their marital commitments encouraging them to return home, remarry, and move on with their lives.
It should also be noted going with Naomi to Bethlehem would produce a bleak future for either of these two woman. Not only was it dangerous for a Moabite to live in Judah, but a Moabite widow remarrying would be highly unlikely from a cultural perspective. In the end Orpah bails; and yet, we end up seeing a very interesting reaction from Ruth.
Ruth 1:14-19, “Ruth clung to Naomi. And Naomi said, ‘Look, Orpah has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after her.’ But Ruth said: ‘Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me.’ So when Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go, she stopped speaking to her. (Basically, Naomi accepts Ruth’s wishes.) And the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem.”
There are a few things I need to point out concerning Ruth. First, there is no doubt from the text we just read she had developed a real bond with Naomi. Secondly, it’s also evident that through Naomi’s witness Ruth had come to a genuine faith in the God of Israel!
Not only does she want to go with Naomi because she loved her mother-in-law, but Ruth was making a decision to reject the gods of the Moabite and place her life into the hands of the true God of Israel. She says, “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God!”
As a Gentile living in Bethlehem Ruth was not disillusioned. She knew life would be hard. As a widow she would always occupy the lowest rung of society. And yet, she made a decision that no matter what her future might be it was better to be apart of the people of God than remain in Moab. Undoubtedly, Ruth had experienced a true and lasting conversion!
Ruth 1:22, “So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest (early Fall).” Ruth 2:1 opens, “In Bethlehem there was a relative of Naomi’s husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz.”
Before we progress any further into our story, we need to discuss this man Boaz because he’s about to become a central part of our story. In verse 1 we’re told Boaz was “a man of great wealth” who also happened to be a “relative of Naomi’s husband Elimelech.”
Aside from the fact Boaz was rich, this word translated “relative” or in other places as “kinsman” is the Hebrew word GOEL. What makes this word important is that it implies Boaz was more than just related to Elimelech. According to the Law (Leviticus 25 and Deuteronomy 25) the Goel was in actuality an official designation giving Boaz a very significant role and responsibility in his family. Boaz was their Kinsman-Redeemer.
Let me explain what this meant… In Hebrew society the Goel had the legal authority to redeem a family member who’d fallen into slavery for economic reasons. The Goel had the right to satisfy a person’s debt without interest. Additionally, the Goel could redeem family land that had been taken in repossession. And if the situation warranted he could redeem a childless widow by providing her an heir in order to maintain a families name and legacy.
Ruth 2:2-3, “So Ruth said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.’ And Naomi said, ‘Go, my daughter.’ (The welfare system in Israel allowed the poor to go into a field, follow behind the reapers, and collect scapes to make bread. Realizing their situation this is Ruth’s intention.) Then she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And Ruth happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.”
Ruth 2:5-9, “(Upon arriving to his field in order to inspect what all was going on…) Boaz said to his servant in charge of the reapers, ‘Whose young woman is this?’ (Boaz immediately notices Ruth and asks his boys, “Who’s that? Is she available?”) So the servant who was in charge answered and said, ‘It is the young Moabite woman who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ So she came and has continued from morning until now, though she rested a little in the house.’
Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘You will listen, my daughter, will you not? Do not go to glean in another field, nor go from here, but stay close by my young women. Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. I have commanded the young men not to touch you. And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ (There is no question Boaz is showing some interest in Ruth.)
For most of the men in Israel because Ruth was a Gentile and a widow she would have been untouchable. And yet, what’s interesting is that Boaz was not like the other men. According to Matthew 1:5 Boaz possessed a unique spiritual legacy and likely had a soft spot for a young Gentile woman trying to adapt to a new life in Israel. Why? Because his mother was none other than Rahab the harlot who’s life had been spared in Jericho!
Ruth 2:14, “Now Boaz said to Ruth at mealtime, ‘Come here, and eat of the bread, and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.’ So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed parched grain to her; and she ate and was satisfied, and kept some back.” (This was basically a lunch date! And notice Ruth didn’t gorge herself, but took home leftovers!)
Ruth 2:15-18, “And when Ruth rose up to glean (following lunch), Boaz commanded his young men, saying, ‘Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. Also let grain from the bundles fall purposely for her; leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.’ So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening, and beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. Then she took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned.”
Understand, Boaz is going way beyond the requirements of the Law in regards to “gleaning” and in doing so is communicating his affection for Ruth. In fact, Boaz even enlist the help of qualified wingmen to help him woo Ruth. According to the next several verses, his advances are not only noticed by Ruth, but also have caught the attention of Naomi.
Ruth 2 closes with a general summary of what happens over the course of the next several weeks… “So Ruth stayed close by the young women of Boaz, to glean until the end of barley harvest and wheat harvest; and she dwelt with Naomi her mother-in-law.”
There is one aspect to the role of the Goel I should mention at this juncture in our story. Though Boaz — as Ruth’s Kinsman-Redeemer — had every right to marry her, the Goel could only assume this responsibility if asked. Boaz is doing everything to woo Ruth, but when it was all said and done Ruth was the one who had to make the move.
Again, chapter 2 closes with both the “barley and wheat harvests” coming to an end meaning the natural interactions between Boaz and Ruth were about to become less frequent. As you turn from one chapter to the next we’re left to consider… Will Ruth seal the deal? What is she waiting for? It appears its now time for Naomi to intervene.
Ruth 3:1-4, “Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? (“Ruth, Boaz is your Goel so what are you waiting for?”)
In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.’”
Naomi is playing match-maker by not only giving Ruth a push, but some tactical advice as well. Because that night would mark the conclusion of another harvest, there would be a celebration — a perfect opportunity to make a move! Naomi tells Ruth to clean up, apply a little perfume, put on her best dress, wait for Boaz to finish his meal, before moving in!
When the time was right Naomi instructs Ruth to “go in, uncover his feet, and lie down” adding that “he will tell you what you should do.” Please note Naomi is not telling Ruth to make a sexual advance. Laying at someone’s feet was a cultural sign of respect and submissiveness. Instead, Naomi is telling Ruth to formally call on Boaz to be her redeemer.
Ruth 3:8-10, “Now it happened at midnight that Boaz was startled” by “a woman was lying at his feet. And he said, ‘Who are you?’ So she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative (“my Goel”).’ Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter!’”
Let me translate Boaz’s response, “HECK YES!” Ruth makes the move and to no ones surprise Boaz was more than willing to accept! Though we don’t have time this evening to dig any deeper into what follows, chapter 4:13 lets us how this love story ultimately ends… “Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son.” As her Goel Boaz has redeemed Ruth!
My friend I do not find it to be a coincidence that in the same fields of Bethlehem in which the baby Jesus lay on this peaceful night some 1100 years beforehand the love story of Ruth and Boaz played itself out! And here’s why… Christmas is actually a love story!
John 3:16 specifically says, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Can you think of any greater demonstration of love than God giving His only Son to be — and don’t miss this… Our Goel! Indeed, Jesus came as our Kinsman-Redeemer!
Your see Boaz presents for us a type of Christ. He’s a picture of Jesus and what He’s done for us! Because Jesus came to earth as a man becoming part of the human family, He possess the legal authority to redeem you and I to Himself. While like Ruth the world may have left us as beggars, just like Boaz Jesus looked upon us in love, was moved to act in compassion, wooing us to Himself, desiring to make us His bride! Indeed, upon that still night in Bethlehem there lay a man of “great wealth” — our Goel!
As incredible as it is to consider the picture of Jesus we find in Boaz, just like those motley shepherds who sought out the holy Child that silent night, Ruth also presents for us a picture of anyone willing to venture into that field in Bethlehem seeking a Redeemer.
Please consider how her journey began… Oh, how the story would have been brief if Ruth had chosen the same destiny as Orpah, but she didn’t. Ruth saw a light in Naomi she wanted for herself. She rejected her present life. Ruth counted the cost and determined being a beggar in Israel was better than any life she’d ever have in Moab! She rejected the false gods of her youth in order to pursue the true and living God!
Understand, it is no accident Ruth’s incredible journey led her to a field in Bethlehem where she found a man who could be her Kinsman-Redeemer! And yet, like that time in Moab this would also require a decision on the part of Ruth. Boaz could redeem and provide a life she could never have imagined, but she’d have to come and call upon His name!
One detail I love about this story is that Ruth came to Boaz at midnight! In fact, things were so dark that upon realizing someone was at his feet Boaz couldn’t tell it was Ruth. He asks, “Who’s there?” and most gloriously Ruth answers his call, expresses her intention, and Boaz can’t wait to accept! “Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter!”
Think about that for a minute… Naomi wanted Ruth to call upon Boaz as her Redeemer. No question Naomi wants to be sure Boaz will accept. So what’s her advice… “Ruth, you need to clean yourself up, put on your best perfume, and wear your nicest dress. Ruth, you need to make sure to impress him so he’ll accept you!” The irony is none of these things ended up mattering because by the time Ruth approaches Boaz it’s to dark to see!
Consider… At what point in our story did Boaz fall in love with Ruth? It was the very moment he saw her! Nothing had been said, no promises given, no demands made… Instead, Boaz fell for a sweaty Ruth in the field covered in dirk hardly looking her best!
Carrying out the type, please know there is nothing you can do to cause Jesus (your Redeemer) to love you any more than He already does! You don’t have to clean yourself up to come to him or dress yourself up to be accepted. The Bible couldn’t be more clear that “God so loved the world” that was lost, dirty, grimy, filthy, and sinful so much “that He gave His only begotten Son!” Never forget God’s Gift was not predicated upon the receiver!
Amazingly, Ruth’s decision to reject her world, venture into a field of Bethlehem, and petition her Redeemer doesn’t just end with her becoming a bride and discovering a new life in Him… In chapter 4:22 we’re told her son with Boaz “Obed” would have a son named “Jesse.” And that her grandson Jesse would have another son and name him “David!”
Not only does this mean this Moabite widow would ultimately become the great-grandmother of King David, but it means Ruth would have a direct family link to Jesus! Ruth chose something better than what her world offered. And most incredibly, it was this decision that led her to a Redeemer who would make her part of the family of God!
Places matter in the Bible and this field in Bethlehem is no different. Not only does it tell us this baby wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a humble manger would one day become the King of Kings, but the location also tells us Christmas is really a love story!
This evening, like Ruth, will you reject the world you know in order to come, fall at the feet of Jesus, and call upon Him to be your Redeemer? The moment Jesus saw you His heart was filled with love. And since then He’s been wooing you hoping for you’d come. Friend, if like Ruth you take this bold step, not only will you discover a life that transcends anything you could ever imagine, but you’ll also find yourself included in the family of God!
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