top of page
  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

He is Willing


A week ago I went on a fairly long walk (disclaimer: from front door to front door, as per Government guidelines!) The early signs of spring were starting to break out. Generally, the ground underfoot was much firmer than two weeks previously. I was very pleased by this, as it heralded the promise of spring and then summer, and the prospect of time spent outdoors amongst the beauty of God’s creation. But the ground wasn’t firm everywhere. As I approached the magnificent, mature woodland at Birkby Brow, the ground became quite boggy. I had chosen to wear my lightweight trail shoes. These have a level of waterproofness such that, if you gently sneeze, your feet become quite wet! One of my memories from this walk is of jumping from side to side to avoid the worst of the mud. Actually, as I look back, it is a fond memory of that particular journey. If I had been able to choose, I would have chosen for all the ground to be firmer. But I might have missed out on something. And, I may have missed out on learning something – namely, that lightweight trail shoes and February don’t really go together.

Life is like a journey. There will be sticky patches that we cannot avoid. This is where life gets messy. We get dirty. We stop moving so fast. During such times, we may feel that we aren’t going forward at all. Even as Christians, if we could choose, we would choose to remove these sticky patches from the journey of our lives. But, we would miss out. We would miss out on learning something. The bible tells us this, ‘we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8 28). All things. Even the boggy patches? Especially the boggy patches!

The book of Ruth presents life as a journey. We have previously looked at Naomi. In chapter one we are told about a sticky patch in her life. She was living in a foreign country. Previously, her and her husband had been landowners. Through the effects of famine, that land had been sold and they had moved to Moab. Now, her husband and sons had all died and her money was gone. In the journey of Naomi’s life, she didn’t feel that just her shoes were getting muddy. Naomi believed that she was chest deep in quicksand.

Then, at the end of chapter one, we read this (v.22), ‘So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.’ I love this sentence. This is the point that the journey of their lives has reached and it is as if the bible is saying to us, ‘come to Bethlehem as the barley harvest is beginning, and see what the Lord can do!’ The Lord has visibly entered the narrative. Ruth has begun a spiritual journey. She said to Naomi, the Israelite, ‘your God (will be) my God’ (Ruth 1:16). She is now trusting in the God of Israel.

In a previous message, we focussed particularly on Naomi, and I mentioned ‘shelter’ as one of the four things that humans need to survive, naturally speaking. We also briefly considered that the same is true spiritually speaking. I quoted Psalm 91 and verses 1 & 2. The psalm begins with, ‘Whoever’. What does this word mean? It means anyone. Anyone who is willing. Whoever. Ruth was now one of the ‘whoever’. ‘Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”’

Psalm 91:4 reads, ‘He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge...’ This is what Boaz has observed about Ruth, in Ruth 2:12. He says to her, ‘May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.’

Boaz commends Ruth’s previous actions. It is evident that Boaz believes that Ruth was pleasing to God and deserved reward. The narrative of the Bible stands in agreement with Boaz. This tells us something really important – Ruth had faith. Hebrews 11:6 tells us this, ‘without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.’

Ruth’s behaviour was faithful. It was full of faith. Boaz comments on what he had heard about Ruth, ‘what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband – how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.’ Ruth had done all this because of something within her called ‘faith’. With this five letter word, we can please the Almighty. Without it, pleasing God is impossible.

There is something really, really striking about the understanding that Boaz had. We know from Matthew’s record, in the New Testament (Matthew 1:5), that one of Boaz’s female ancestors was Rahab from Jericho. She was not an Israelite. But she was adopted into the Lord’s true family. This came about by faith. She evens gets into that ‘great cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1). Hebrews 11:31 says this, ‘By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient’. Perhaps Boaz’s family history served to instruct Boaz’s thinking. Boaz knew that ‘whoever’, whether an Israelite or a Moabite, whoever truly, by faith, took refuge in the God of Israel, would find shelter.

Boaz’s understanding contrasts with the early New Testament church. Look at those Jews who first converted to faith in the risen Jesus, following Pentecost. In Acts 2 we have the record of the first sermon of a new era. An Israelite follower of Jesus, called Peter, stands up and preaches the gospel message. The recorded conclusion of that message is this, ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:38-39). Peter talks about ‘all’. Peter talks about ‘those who are far off’. Peter is talking about the ‘whoever’ of Psalm 91. But Peter is just like us. His mind is dull. It takes him a while to catch up with the mind of the Lord.

In Acts chapter 10, the Lord has to intervene in a supernatural way to convince Peter of the truth. He shows Peter a vision of certain animals that Peter, with his Jewish heritage, would consider to be unclean. The Lord tells Peter to eat them, which shocks Peter. The Lord convinces Peter that nothing is unclean anymore. The truth in Jesus Christ is not just made available for the Israelites, but for ‘all’. In Acts 11, Peter then has to, likewise, convince other Jewish converts of the full extent of the reach of the gospel net.

There is another contrast presented in this book of Ruth. Ruth’s faith contrasts with the unbelief of many Israelites. She had taken refuge under the wings of the God of Israel. But many Israelites could not, and would not. We have identical verses in Matthew 23 37 and Luke 13 34, which both record the words of Jesus Christ. He speaks to the people of Israel, addressing them by the name of their chief city, Jerusalem. ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.’

Israel was not willing. Ruth was. Ruth, the Moabite, was.

Actually, in the picture presented, of Boaz, and Ruth and Naomi, we have lessons that the New Testament church still needs. Boaz welcomes the outsider. Ruth says, ‘why ... (do you) notice me, a foreigner?’ Is the church as inclusive as Boaz? Do we make every effort to make those, who feel to be outsiders, welcome and included and valued? Is baptism and the Lord’s Table for all who have put their faith in Jesus, however short and simple their testimony may be? Or does that testimony have to reach a certain standard, or conform to a pattern that we have invented?

Naomi also illustrates something for us. Here is an older lady. She had more life experience and, because of her upbringing, understood what the Old Testament scriptures taught. She was able to instruct her younger relative, Ruth, who knew less about God’s recorded truth. And Ruth provides a helpful illustration to us of one who listens and benefits from the instruction that she is given.

At the end of chapter 2, and as we move into chapter 3, Naomi is delighted as she realises the kind providence of God in her life, and Ruth’s life. Naomi is amazed at the amount of grain that Ruth brings home. Who wouldn’t want a first day at work like this? It is as though she has gone to this farm business, under some ‘work experience’ scheme, but returned home with the managing director’s wage packet!

Naomi grasps the significance of Boaz’s close family relationship to Naomi and her late husband. It is only significant because of what the word of God says about this concept of ‘redeeming’. To ‘redeem’ something is to buy it back. My good friend, Mr Google, tells me that it is ‘to regain possession of something in exchange for payment.’ Naomi knows about the Old Testament books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. These inform the Israelites what to do when misfortune strikes a family. When a member of the family has to sell land because their life has hit a downturn, a close family member has the right to buy back that land from the person who has bought it. Also, when a man dies, without a child to carry on his family name, a close family member should marry the widow, and the first son born is to carry on the first husband’s name and continue his line (Leviticus 25:25 & Deuteronomy 25:5-6). Both these things are played out in this small book of Ruth.

Naomi instructs Ruth to behave in a certain way. When Ruth pays a visit to the threshing floor, there are things that take place that belong to that time and culture. This scene would play out differently now. But let’s not miss what really happens, partially hidden in that ancient practice and language. It starts with Boaz working hard, and then eating and drinking, and retiring to bed ‘in good spirits’ and alone. Then he awakes and finds a young lady at the foot of his bed. His reaction would be the same in every age and every culture. He is ‘startled’. But when Ruth says, in Ruth 3:9, ‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family’, it is really important that we understand that what Ruth really means is, ‘Boaz, will you marry me?’ We may miss this. Boaz did not, and it is his reaction, and his words, that help us to comprehend. In Ruth 3:13, Boaz tells Ruth that he is ‘willing’ to be joined to her.

Boaz, like Naomi, realised what the Old Testament scriptures commanded. In his reply to Ruth, we are given the impression that he had been reluctant to act in this matter. He is considerably older than Ruth and had believed that she, herself, would prefer to marry a younger man, so had not made a move. But Ruth was ready. Ruth was ready to follow the instruction of God’s word, and Boaz’s praises her for this.

What a wonderful lesson is here. There is an over-riding reason why Boaz and Ruth end up married. They simply follow what the word of God tells them to do. They could have weighed up the pros and cons. Ruth could have chosen not to want Boaz as a husband because of his age. In chapter 4 (v.5-6), we have the record of a closer relative than Boaz, who will not marry Ruth, because marrying a ‘dead man’s widow’, ‘might endanger my own estate’. Boaz could have thought like that. Boaz could have considered her poverty and her foreignness as well. Boaz could have been put off by thinking ‘what will Mr Isaacs, next door, think when I take a lady so much younger than me?’ But he didn’t. But they didn’t. With Naomi’s help in the matter, they just followed the commands of God.

How much agonizing thought could the Lord’s people save themselves, if they just did what the word of the Lord instructed them to do? I spoke to a fellow believer this week. He reminded me of something in his life in recent years where he had agonised about an important decision regarding his future. He had weighed up the pros and cons of making a choice one way or the other. Now, as he looks back, he realises that the word of God was clear on the matter. He didn’t need to agonize over a choice. The choice was already made for him. I can identify with this behaviour myself. I suspect that we all can.

Psalm 119:97, says this, ‘Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.’ That is some bible reading program! Psalm 119:105 continues with this, ‘Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.’ We live in a world of sin. There is darkness around us, there is darkness within us. We are in need of the illuminating power of the Lord. Our lives are a journey.

Let’s say that I go on a journey in my car? The route is a winding, country road at midnight. What would happen if I decided to turn off my lights? I would crash. I would drive into a ditch, or hit a tree, or collide with someone else. I would bring harm to myself and those around me.

But that is exactly what we do, as Christians, when we ‘turn off’ our reading of God’s word, or neglect fellowship, or refuse instruction that comes from biblical truth. We need God’s light to shine on everything that lies in front of us.

Our thinking probably wouldn’t put Boaz and Ruth together. It would seem like an unlikely union. But, under the shining light of God’s word, they are joined together.

There is another union that the bible deals with. Actually, it is the fundamental message of God’s word. It is the most unlikely union. It is the message of a pure and holy God, joined with sinful people. Perfection married to failure.

When Boaz married Ruth, her poverty was gone. The message of the gospel is the same. Jesus came to buy us back. He came to pay off our huge debt that we owed.

Perhaps, today, we may be seeking God ourselves. We look at the mismatch between our own lives and what we see in the life of Jesus. ‘Me and Jesus just don’t go together’, we may think. This has held back many from reaching out for salvation, and others from gaining ‘the full assurance that faith brings’ (Hebrews 10:22). But the truth is that, if we do reach out, like Boaz with Ruth, Jesus is willing to be joined to us.

When you first come to join the church of Jesus Christ, by faith, believing that he was willing to die for your sin, you’ll be like Ruth on her first day on the farm. You may feel that you are like someone on ‘work experience’, knowing so much less than others and with so much still to learn. But you will take something home. Jesus is the Head of the church. You will take home his salary, in effect. All the rewards that you will receive will be those that he has earned. Now, as Philippians 4:19 tells us, ‘...God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.’

I’ll finish with some words from Titus 2:13-14, ‘... the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.'


bottom of page