May 22nd 2022: James Sibley

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Ruth chapter 3: Finding Rest

We are going to consider what it means to find true rest. What does it mean to rest in your everyday life? Is it to do nothing? I can only have restful rest if I can fully switch off. For rest to be restful, you have to know that things are being taken care of. True rest comes from a settled security, knowing that things are ok, things are taken care of.

As we look at rest in this chapter, let’s recap what has taken place. The book of Ruth opens with Naomi and Elimelech, her husband and their two sons in Bethlehem. There’s a famine in that land. Whether rightly or wrongly, they go to the land of Moab to look for food. While they are there, their two sons get married to women from Moab. In time, Elimelech and both of their sons pass away. So, we are left with Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, her two daughters-in-law. In time, Naomi hears that the famine has stopped in Bethlehem, her homeland. She makes the decision to return. She sets out on her journey with her two daughters-in-law following after her. She then decides to send them back, telling them that there is no point in them coming with her. Orpah returns back to her homeland in Moab. Ruth, after whom the book is named, decides that she wants to leave her homeland, wanting to commit her future to her mother-in-law, as well as to Naomi’s God. She says in chapter 1, “You God shall be my God.”

In chapter 2, these two widows are in a very vulnerable position, with no-one to help them, no-one to look after them. In that time and culture, it was a difficult position to be in. We see that Ruth seeks to go out to find food and sustenance for Naomi and herself. God’s sovereignty leads her into the fields of Boaz. As the harvest goes on, she is able to collect lots of food. This leads to where we are now, in chapter 3.

Chapter 3 opens with Naomi now turning to Ruth saying, My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you?” (Ruth 3:1). Naomi wants to find rest for Ruth. The harvest is drawing to an end. Whilst their most immediate need for food has been met, there is still a question mark over their situation that Ruth and Naomi find themselves in. What are they going to do when the food runs out? Where would their long-term security come from? What if another famine came? What would they do?

Previously in the book it was Ruth who had taken the initiative but now Naomi steps in, looking to find rest for her daughter-in-law. Now that the harvest is drawing to a close, they are able to direct their energies elsewhere, to this deeper need, the need of rest, the need of long-term security for themselves.

Before, when Ruth was working in Boaz’s fields, they had a brief interaction. But it seems that no further meetings had taken place between Ruth and Boaz. We often like to romanticise the book of Ruth, of their eyes meeting across the field as they progressively fall in love. But that doesn’t seem to actually happen in reality; it seems they haven’t communicated since that first interaction. Boaz gives no indication of realising what is about to unfold. He doesn’t seem to realise that he was able to offer Ruth and Naomi long-term security. It might be that Ruth was still in mourning. The text does not make this clear.

Naomi makes this proposal, “Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.”  And she replied, “All that you say I will do.” (Ruth 3:2-5).

Naomi’s proposal is to get Boaz to resolve their situation by providing for Ruth a home and a family. The way that Naomi has planned for this to happen is for Ruth to sneak into the threshing floor, to uncover Boaz’s feet and then for her to wait and see what Boaz would say. Ruth readily agrees to this plan, which might be a little bit surprising because this is a bold plan. It’s a potentially dangerous plan. It’s a reputationally risky plan.

The threshing floors in those days were places where all the people who had land would go and thresh out their crops. They were owned by the whole community and the times of threshing were community affairs. We see Boaz there, eating and drinking with the other people. With eating and drinking, no doubt lots of dodgy activities took place. Remember, this was the time of the Judges, when so many people were far away from the Lord. They were doing what was right in their own eyes. It is safe to assume that these things took place at the threshing floor as well. It would have been easy for a man like Boaz to take advantage of a woman like Ruth, putting herself in such a vulnerable position.

Is what Naomi was doing foolish? No. Naomi has seen enough of Boaz, of his kindness and generosity that he showed to Ruth and herself to know that she can trust him, to know that Ruth can trust him. Naomi has come to recognise that God is at work in that situation, that God has been leading them to where they are. So, in reality, this is a bold act of faith, trusting that God is in control and trusting that Boaz will seek to do the right thing.

Ruth follows Naomi’s proposal; she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do, So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:6-9).

Ruth follows Naomi’s’ proposal almost exactly. But instead of just identifying herself as Naomi told her to, and then waiting for Boaz to tell her what to do, Ruth, through her actions and words, makes a proposal of her own. When asked who she was, Ruth says, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” (Ruth 3:9). She uncovers his feet and asks him to spread a corner, or the wing, of his garment over her. No doubt, Boaz would have understood this for what it was – a request for Boaz to redeem her, to marry her. This also refers back to chapter 2:12, where Boaz says to Ruth, “The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” Boaz said that to Ruth in chapter 2, now Ruth says to Boz, in chapter 3, ‘You cover me with your wings, with the wings of your garment.’ Ruth is asking Boaz to be the answer to his own prayer, to provide safety and security for her and her family.

As Naomi knew, these guardian redeemers had a moral and a legal obligation to step in and help family members who were in trouble, through buying their land, through marrying them and raising up a family through them. Ruth waits, no doubt with baited breath, for Boaz’s response. How would he respond to such a brave proposal, from one coming from a foreigner, from a widow, from someone who had nothing, in a vulnerable position? Well, he responds, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter. You have made this last kindness greater than the first in that you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich.11 And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask, for all my fellow townsmen know that you are a worthy woman.” (Ruth 3:10)

Boaz responds, as he so often has, with words of blessing, talking about her kindness and her character. He responds with a promise, “do not fear. I will do for you all that you ask.”  The message from Boaz is that the rest which Ruth and Naomi are looking for is coming.

But there’s a problem here, “And now it is true that I am a redeemer. Yet there is a redeemer nearer than I.” (Ruth 3:12). But Boaz reiterates the promise, “Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” (Ruth 3:13).

This matter will be taken care of. Boaz promises that it will be taken care of. Ruth knows that this matter will be resolved. She can trust Boaz. She lays down to rest for the night, knowing that when morning came, this would be taken care of. When morning came, Boaz even made sure that Ruth’s reputation was protected, making sure she left before it got light, making sure that no-one knew she has been there in case they thought anything untoward had taken place. So, Ruth leaves in the morning, returning to Naomi.

Ruth could have returned battered, bruised, abused and with nothing but instead Boaz sends her home with a promise and a pledge to that promise, “Bring the garment you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley and put it on her. Then she went into the city. 16 And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, 17 saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.’” (Ruth 3:15-17). Ruth tells Naomi how it went, showing that Boaz had promised that he would resolve the situation, showing her that he had sent her back with a gift to share with her mother-in-law. What is this gift? A pledge, a promise, a tangible reminder of the promise that Boaz has made that he will resolve their situation.

Seeing all this, Naomi knows that her plan has worked, that God has been faithful. And so she says, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.” (Ruth 3:18). At this point, the chapter comes full circle. The chapter starts with Naomi saying to Ruth that she must find rest for her, and it finishes with her telling Ruth that Boaz will not rest until the matter is resolved. Rest is coming because Boaz will not rest until it is sorted.

Now, to us. I’m sure that some of us here this morning are in verse 1, seeking rest. We are aware of our need for rest. Not just the kind of rest that a good night’s sleep will provide, or even a nice holiday. We are longing for the kind of rest that comes only from being settled, being secure, having a firm foundation on which to live our lives. Some of us are feeling like life, that satisfaction, are slipping through our fingers. Here is a message that Ruth points us to – apart from Jesus, no true and lasting rest can be found. Rest is only found in Him. He says, “Come to Me, all who are weary, all who are heavy laden and I will give you rest.”

How does Jesus give rest? He is gentle and humble of heart. His heart for His people, His welcome, in the way He deals with our sins and our guilt, providing acceptance and forgiveness and love, give rest. It is in the hope that he gives us of life eternal. Only this, which only he can give, can give us true rest. Only knowing, that no matter what happens, even if we die, we will go to heaven and be with Him. Only that can give us this kind of rest in this life. The curse of sin is toil, but the blessing of Jesus is true rest. This is rest – to know we are loved, we are forgiven and accepted, to know that it is not about our performance, trying to win His love, rather it’s about Him, His love for us, what He’s done for us.

Another thing that gives us rest is knowing that Jesus does not change as we change. In our sufferings and in our struggles, He is always the same. He is constant in His love for us, constant in His presence with us, constant in both His power and His goodness. He is working in us, working for us. Apart from Christ, there is no rest. Apart from Jesus, we are all in judgement, stuck in sin. Apart from Jesus we have no solid foundation to live this life and no hope in death.

How can we find rest in Jesus? How do we get the rest that Jesus offers? We just come to Him. He invites us through His word to come to Him. Here’s the great difference between Jesus and Boaz – did you note the elaborate preparation that Ruth underwent before she went to see Boaz? She washed, she put on perfume, put on her best clothes and then she went. We don’t need any elaborate preparation to come to Jesus. We don’t need to sit and work at making ourselves beautiful before we come to Jesus. All that He requires is for you to feel your need for Him. He gives it all. We just go to Him, come to Him with our needs, with our thirst, with our hunger, with our sickness, with our sin, with our burdens, with our weariness. All of this we bring to Him, for Him to deal with, for Him to give us rest.

We find more than rest in Him, we find that He makes us lovely, pleasing to Him. One day we’ll be glorified in heaven, with Him. Do you desire rest? Do you feel the weight of weariness? Come to Him. Trust in His life, in His death, in His Resurrection. All of these He did for us so that we can know true rest, rest that comes from forgiveness, acceptance and hope of life eternal.

Ruth didn’t know exactly how rest was going to come to her. This passage ends with still not knowing whether Boaz or this unnamed man will redeem her. Even though rest is coming, there are still so many things that remain uncertain before her, whereas for us it is clear. This rest is only found in trusting Jesus Christ. This life on earth has many uncertainties but in all of this we can be certain of one thing – that Jesus Christ never changes. A firm foundation never changes.

We have rest in Christ – not the full rest of heaven – that is still to come. One day we will know true and full eternal rest, free from sin, free from suffering. But until then we know the rest that comes from His gentleness with us, and the love and acceptance that he gives to us. So, we need not fear. This has all been dealt with. As sure as the Lord lives, He will bring this to completion. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Our forerunner Jesus is in heaven, so we will go there to be with Him.’

In Jesus we have rest from trying to do things in our own strength. We can turn to Him. Some of us can find ourselves feeling exhausted in our Christian life because we forget our justification. We forget that our standing before God comes from Jesus Christ. Rest only in Him. God declares us righteous because of what Jesus did in His righteous life and in His death on the cross. That alone is our standing before God. Jesus has already died for our sins. That should bring rest to us.

Life will not be easy but in Christ we can find rest. Rest is a conscious part of your walk with God, coming to Him for rest. We can do that as we come to God in prayer. Unload yourself to Him. Pray, and in your heart, cast your cares onto Him, as Peter says. Ask Him to spread His wings over you and to give you rest and security in the midst of life’s storms. In all of this, remember that just as Boaz sent Ruth back to Naomi, full, so Jesus has not left us empty on earth alone. He has left us with the Spirit, with the Comforter, with the one who reminds us of our adoption as God’s children, as a deposit and a pledge of the life to come. The Spirit is within us to prepare us for eternity, to remind us that’s where we are heading, and to bring our progress in the Christian life to completion.

So, we can rest in Jesus because He did not rest until the work of dealing with sin and death was done. The good work that he has started within us, He will bring to completion. So, rest. Stop striving. Stop struggling. Rest in Him.

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