January 6 & 7, 2018 Epiphany
Ruth 4: 13-17
Dear friends in Christ Jesus:
Abraham pleaded with the Lord to spare the cities where his nephew Lot lived and thrived, getting him to promise to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if ten believers could be found. But, sadly, there weren’t even ten believers in those cities. So God rained burning sulfur on the cities to destroy them.
But God did spare Lot and his daughters and would have spared Lot’s wife too had she trusted in him and not turned back to see her home destroyed. Lot, now a widower, got drunk with his daughters’ help and, by their plot to get sons, he slept with each of his daughters on two consecutive nights. The oldest daughter gave birth to a son and gave him the name Moab. Moab, by the way, means “From Dad.” And the Moabites, the nation founded by Moab, always carried the reminder of their incestuous origins in their name.
And though Moab was a cousin to Jacob, renamed Israel, the two nations were constantly at odds with one another. Fast forward roughly 600 years from the birth of Moab. Moses had led the people out of Egypt and was moving in toward the Promised Land. But Moab refused to help her cousin nation against the Canaanites. Instead, Balak, the king of Moab, hired a prophet named Balaam to curse Israel, which God prevented.
Fast forward another century and Moab finally had the upper hand. Fat King Eglon attacked Israel and took control of God’s chosen people subjecting them to his rule for 18 years until a hero named Ehud assassinated him in his palace. But the Israelites weren’t done with the Moabites just yet.
It was shortly after Eglon’s rule that a famine sent God’s people to look for food wherever they could find it. And some had to go to the last place they would ever want to go: to Moab. That’s where a Jewish couple found Moabite women to marry their sons. But in a tragic loss, all three men, father and both sons passed away. Naomi, the mother, now childless, went back home Israel. But she didn’t go alone. One of her Moabite daughter-in-law went with her. And her name was Ruth.
Now, I give you all this background to remind you what the Israelites thought of the Moabites. The two cousin nations, who should have served God together, were enemies constantly at war with one another, subjecting each other to forced labor, or enticing each other away from God and into sin.
But it was a Moabite, not an Israelite, whom God chose to be the great grandmother of King David, and the ancestress of a greater King—Jesus. A Moabite was chosen to be in the ancestral line of the Savior. Our text for this Epiphany celebration is from Ruth 4:13-17:
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.” Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The Moabites were Gentile enemies of the Israelites. They were pagans who worshiped false gods and tried to lead Israel to do the same. And God gave the Israelites a serious warning urging them to never marry a pagan Moabite, for if they did, they would surely be drawn into such pagan worship. A good Israelite would spit on the ground at the mention of a Moabite. And yet, two Jewish men did marry Moabite women. Then another Jewish man, Boaz, a respected businessman and leader in his community went out of his way to marry, Ruth, a Moabite woman. And he did so at great personal cost, risking his reputation, his wealth, his land, which would stay in the family of Ruth’s deceased husband.
But God approved of the match. God demonstrated his approval in the last chapter of this short book of the Bible that many consider to be a wonderful love story. We’re told that God blessed Ruth who may have been barren before. “The Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.” Ruth (and Naomi) finally had the happy family they had always dreamed of.
But of course, the book of Ruth is more than a romance novel set in the middle of the Bible for a little lighter read. It’s the story of how God took an outsider, a Moabite woman, and brought her into God’s family. It’s the story of how God kept his promise to send a Savior for the Jews and for the Gentiles, for the Israelites and for the Moabites.
And what’s more, God made Ruth an ancestor of that Savior. The verses following our text list the genealogy of Jesus ending in David. And it was probably written during the monarchy so there were no other names to add at the time. But Matthew keeps going in his genealogy in chapter 1 of his Gospel.
And Matthew records the names of 5 women in his inspired genealogy of Jesus: Including 1) another case of incest with Tamar who had Perez by her father-in-law, 2) a prostitute with Rahab who hid the spies and who, by the way, was the mother of Boaz, 3) a Moabite woman, named Ruth, the mother of Obed, 4) a mistress turned widow then wife with Bathsheba, the mother of Solomon, and finally, 5) an unwed mother, the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. (Okay, so this last one is unique, I know, but what would her neighbors have thought of her?)
Why does Matthew highlight these women in a culture where women were almost second class citizens? Why would he remind his Jewish audience of all of these scandals of their ancestors? Why would the Holy Spirit inspire him to air all this dirty laundry for all to read throughout the years to follow? Because the Holy Spirit, speaking through Matthew, wants to show who the Savior is: The Son of God who became man to save outcasts, to save Gentiles, to save scandalous sinners from their sin, from death, from hell.
What comfort that brings to us. Most of us are Gentiles. Like the Moabites, we would be outcasts to the Jews. But worse still, we are sinners. And like the Moabites and the Israelites that would make us outcasts to God. And that’s what we once were, separated from him because of our sin, because of our selfishness, cut off from a relationship with him and from his heaven.
But that’s the case no more. The Savior was born from the line of Abraham and from a Moabite woman to be the Kinsman Redeemer. Let’s talk about that term. A kinsman redeemer was a family member who would buy you out of the trouble you found yourself in. For a widow, he would buy the property of her deceased husband to ensure that the land would stay in that family. He would buy a relative out of slavery. His job was to be the hero to rescue a family member in need. Of course, he had to be related, had to have the means to help a relative out, had to have the desire to help his relative out and had to be free himself.
This is what Jesus has done for us as our Kinsman Redeemer. Even though he wasn’t our kinsman and we weren’t a part of his family, though we were worse enemies to God than Moabites were to Israelites, yet, he still chose to be our Redeemer. He chose to become one of us so that we could be related. He was himself free from the curse of sin and death because he was sinless and perfect in keeping every one of God’s commands. He was the only one able to pay our debt as the God-man. And thank God that he was willing to suffer and die for us.
It means that he redeemed us no matter what our past sins. Just look at the list of names in Matthew 1 again: an incestuous woman, a prostitute, a Moabite, a mistress. God brought them all into his family. He forgave them all of their sin. He can do the same for you. He has done the same for you.
God’s grace isn’t just for Jews. It’s for Gentiles too. It isn’t just for “good people” like the Magi from the East who went to great lengths to learn more about their Savior. It it’s for sinners too, who have neglected the Word, who have lived selfish lives, who have great and shameful sins in their past. God’s grace isn’t just for a few. It’s for all. That means it’s for me. It’s for you.
And the proof of all of this, the proof of his grace, of your sins forgiven, of your peace with God, is in his resurrection. This word for “Kinsman Redeemer,” by the way is the same word that Job uses in Job 19 when he says, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
Jesus our Kinsman Redeemer truly is better than having seven sons to take care of us. He is the one Son who has taken care of our eternity. He is the one Son who always promises to give his perfect care in every way until he takes us to heaven. So we join with the women who encouraged Naomi by praising our Savior: “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer.” We join with them in sharing what he’s done with others, echoing their prayer: “May he become famous throughout Israel!” For we know that he didn’t come just to save the Israelites, but also the Moabites. He didn’t come just to save the Jews, but also the Gentiles. He came to save you and me. He came to save all. Amen.