Where Does Real Courage Come From?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Royal Excellence

                                                  Reflections on Ruth 3:10-4:6

Now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.
                                                                        Ruth 3:11

She’s here at his feet. In the middle of the night. At the threshing floor. Why didn’t he think of this first? But it’s harvest time – he’s been busy. Or maybe it’s because he knows the legal responsibility for Naomi belongs to another member of the family – not him. Either way, tonight, Ruth has surprised him.


Shouldn’t it be Naomi? It’s her husband who died. It’s his property she’ll have to sell to make ends meet. And yet, this too seems right. Naomi’s sons would’ve inherited their father’s land. They died too. One of them being Ruth’s husband.

Which means, she has legal right to ask what she’s asked tonight.

“My daughter,” he says quietly.

And then, of course, there is this Law. Given by God. When a man dies without an heir, the closest relative takes the widow and, through her, raises up an heir so the name of the dead is not cut off from Israel. Nor is their inheritance given to another. 1 If this were Naomi? There’d be no children. Not at her age.

Ruth is the perfect choice. She’s young. But why do it? Why sacrifice her own happiness? Why not find a husband her own age – rich or poor. Fall in love. Have a life of her own. This is what people do and they have every right to do it. But here she is. Once again. Choosing what’s best for Naomi and her family more.

“Your kindness tonight,” Boaz marvels, “is greater than all you’ve done.”

So what now?

Does he redeem her? Does he buy back the land? Take Naomi and Ruth to himself? Make Ruth his wife so, together, they raise up an heir for her dead husband? The financial cost is huge. The heir born to them will cut deeply into his own personal resources. How is he supposed to decide all this tonight?

But he does. Emphatically.

“Yes,” he tells her. And, at that moment, all he can do is praise her. He calls her “hayil.” 2 By doing so, he confers upon her the highest social status possible. Hayil describes the most noble, wealthy, powerful people in society. It’s reserved for war-heroes and royalty. Not for a poor, Moabite nobody. And it’s not just him.

Everybody in town knows. Her kindness has made her a woman of excellence.

So, before morning’s light, he fills her arms with as much food as she can carry. He will not have her go home to Naomi empty-handed. But he tells her news: There is another family member who has first rights to act as her redeemer.

“If he will,” Boaz assures her, “good. But if he won’t,” he promises, “I will.”

Off he goes to the city gate where all legal transactions happen. It’s now his job to persuade this family member to do his duty. Buy back the land from Naomi. And with the land, make the promise to care for Naomi for the rest of her life.

“Yes,” the man vows, in generosity and kindness.

But Boaz isn’t done. He has got to make sure this man is worthy of Ruth. She has sacrificed herself to the full. Will he? Will his kindness match hers? Will he go the distance, pay the cost, be the redeemer, and sacrifice his own inheritance for the sake of his relative? If so, he must also take Ruth as his wife and produce an heir.

“I will not,” the man suddenly refuses. “That would ruin me. You do it.”

Every eye turns to Boaz. This is his moment. He gets to do what Ruth has done. To be kind as God is kind – sacrificially kind. And let excellence lead the way.
*       *       *

“Really?” I said to Pastor Adams over the phone. “You’d let me come to a Wednesday night meeting of The Naomi Project?”

“If you behave,” he jabbed, and, at once, I accepted.

I got there a few minutes early. Place was already packed. Louis and Charlotte had called and invited me to sit with them. “Third row, right side,” he’d said, and that’s exactly where I found them.

“You’re gonna love this!” Louis beamed. And he was right. We spent a good deal of time in worship and Bible teaching. One of the other pastors spoke that night on 1 Timothy 3:5. I wrote some of his words in my journal as he spoke.

                        If you can’t take care of your family
                        Your spouse, your children, your elderly, your blood
                        What makes you think God will let you care for His family?
                        Or let you care for the people in our community?
                        Do it at home first. There is order in the kingdom of Jesus
                        Give it out? Then give it in. Don’t give it out? You stay home
It was a sobering message. “Order,” he thundered, “is God’s way. Faithful in first things,” he paused as the people responded back, “Faithful in all things.”

When he finished, Pastor Adams came to the microphone and introduced a man named, “Hammer.” The place erupted in applause.

Louis leaned over and said to me, “He’s the best there is. He works with the teenagers on the street -- afternoons, weekends. He’s rescued more kids for Christ than anyone I know.”

“Hey everybody,” Hammer said in a deep, low voice.

He looked mid-thirtyish. A body-builder with a shaved head and a large tattoo on the inside of his right forearm.  “A week ago tonight,” he starts, “guess who shows up at my house? You want to see scary? I saw scary.”

He waits for a second, lets us think about it, and then points at Pastor Adams.

“I was gonna call the police…” he said, as people laughed. “I invite him in but he just stands there, on my front porch. He’s got that serious look on his face. Like something had gone wrong. So, I ask him, ‘what’s going on?’

“He says, ‘It’s over, Hammer.’

“’What’s over?’ I ask.

“’You know what I’m talking about,’ he tells me.

“’No, I don’t,’

“Next thing I know, my wife is standing next to me. She brings him inside, sits him in my chair, and gets him something to drink. She’s got that look in her eye like she knew he was coming. Kids too. One minute, they’re all over him, happy as can be. ‘Pastor has come to the house!’ Next minute, they’re gone. My wife is gone. It’s just him and me. And he’s staring at me.

“’Say what you gotta say,’ I tell him.

“Already have,’ he says.

“’All you’ve said is something’s over? What’s over? You talking ‘bout my work with the kids?’

“He nods his head.

“I sit there, like somebody whacked me across the face. Now I’m not stupid. My wife’s told me a thousand times, ‘You work all day. Then you give everything you’ve got to the street kids. When are you gonna give yourself to your own kids?’ And it’s not just her. Some of you here have told me the same thing.’

“So I look at Pastor and start bargaining, ‘I’ll do Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. Smitty can have the rest. He’s ready. But not this week. Too much going on this week. As soon as I can,’ I say.

“Pastor Adams just sits there. Then he says, ‘You think that’s what, “It’s over,” means? ‘Cause I’m thinking ‘It’s over,’ means it’s over.’

“’How long?’ I ask.

“’Three months,’ he says. ‘Then we talk. See how you’re doing.’

“I felt the anger building up inside me. I tell him, ‘These kids need me.’

“He says, ‘You got that right. Now you got time to spend with them.’

“’No, not my kids. I mean, the kids on the street.’

“Pastor stands up like he’s getting ready to leave. He tells me, ‘You know how it works, Hammer. If you’re faithful in first things…’

Suddenly everybody in church stood up and shouted back, “You’re faithful in all things!” Hammer played right into the moment, “And if you’re not faithful in first things…” The people responded, “You’re not faithful in all things.”

“I stand here tonight,” Hammer went on, “to thank you, and to thank the Lord, for letting me pour my life into the kids on our streets. But the time has come to confess. I’ve not been faithful in first things.  You all are gonna need to rise up and care for these kids. ‘Cause I can’t. Not till I learn how to give all I’ve got to my own kids. My wife. My family.”

And with that, the place thundered with applause.

“See, I told you,” Louis said, poking me in the side. “He’s the best there is.”

1 The storyteller assumes the reader knows about this Law (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The New Testament reader will remember the Sadducees raised a question about this Law with Jesus (see Matthew 22:23-33).
2 In the Book of Ruth, we first see this word, “hayil”, describing Boaz in 2:1. It distinguishes him as a powerful, influential man in both wealth and noble character. For Ruth, “hayil” reveals her godly character as a “woman of strength” and excellence (see Hubbard, p. 133; 216; and Proverbs 31:10).

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John 15:1-11, the Vine and the branches. "Is He everything to you?