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  • Writer's picturePaul Cottington

What's in a Name?


I intend to finish this short series on the book of Ruth today. This book is a record from a different age, written over three thousand years ago, and the story is set in a different culture to ours. But it is so relevant to us. Why? Well, in my first message, I said this, ‘Human life is fundamentally about relationship and the fundamentals of human relationships have not changed over the years.’ This beautiful, lively account is able to transport us right into its pages. It’s as though we can see the chaff blowing in the wind, and smell the harvested barley. We have some language which is not far removed from the way that we might speak, in chapter 4, and verse 1. We could easily miss this, though, and I think that there is a lesson for us here, in the benefit of being prepared to read and consider various Bible translations. Boaz has gone to meet this relative of Naomi’s former husband, Elimelek, who he had mentioned to Ruth that previous night. This man is more closely related to Naomi than Boaz is. This is important, due to the way that this concept of ‘redeeming’ worked under Israelite law. Boaz wants to marry Ruth. Ruth wants to marry Boaz. But under the Law of God, given to Israel by his servant, Moses, there are obligations in place. Ruth, as the childless widow of Elimelek’s son, Mahlon, should be taken in marriage by a close relative, and the firstborn son should carry the name of her previous husband, so that his name is not removed from the line of Israelite descendants. But whoever takes Ruth must also redeem some land which used to belong to Elimelek. To truly obey God’s word, a close relative must buy the land and marry Ruth. They are both part of the same bundle. So, what is this close relative called? We might say, ‘we just don’t know’. But that isn’t the full story. We don’t know his name, but there seems something deliberate here, rather than merely incidental.

Verse 1 in the NIV reads, ‘Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian-redeemer he had mentioned came along. Boaz said, “Come over here, my friend, and sit down.” So he went over and sat down.’ Often, the modern bible translations can be really good in uncovering meaning and allowing us to ‘glean’ understanding from God’s word. But here, it is helpful to consider the precise language used. In the AV, it is more literal. Boaz says, ‘Ho, such a one! turn aside’. In Young’s Literal Translation, it is even more striking. Boaz says, ‘Turn aside, sit down here, such a one, such a one.’ Now, you may be thinking that this language is not similar to how we might speak. But have you ever used, or heard, the expression, ‘Mr So and So’. We might say, in conversation, ‘you know Mr So and So, who lives at number 42, and walks the black Labrador every morning...?’ Why do we say that? Often, it isn’t because we don’t know the person’s name. It may be just that it doesn’t immediately spring to mind, and it isn’t important in the detail of what we are saying. Boaz is recorded as, almost literally, calling this character, ‘Mr Such a One, Such a One’. In our language that is, ‘Mr So and So’. Do we think that Boaz did not know this man’s name? Do we think that Boaz would not have called out this man’s name to get his attention? I believe he did know it and I strongly suspect that he did use it. But the author of this book of Ruth, quite deliberately chooses not to record it. It is as if the author wants this man’s name removed. So, Mr No-Name sits down and listens to what Boaz has to say. He really likes the idea of buying the land, that he has a right to buy under God’s law. If it was just a question of land, then he would have made the purchase. We might then be reading this book and concluding that this man had a heart for the God of Israel, because he did what the word of God commanded in that situation. We can make that mistake about ourselves. It is easy to follow God’s word when it aligns with our personal interests, or will lead to personal benefit and gain. It is much, much harder when hardship and loss are the expected consequences of obedience to him. Mr No-Name is interested in Naomi’s land, and the profit that the farming of that land may bring to him. But he does not want to take on Ruth as his wife, and raise up a son who would take the name of another man, because this ‘might endanger my own estate’ (v.6). It wasn’t in his own interests, and so he chooses not to do what the Law of God required. This part of the Law was designed to preserve a family line within the nation of Israel. Mr No-Name could have acted differently and so preserved the family name of Elimelek and

Mahlon. But Mr No-Name said ‘No!’ He was prepared to see their names disappear. As a consequence of this man’s lack of faithful obedience, the bible removes his name instead! Another thing that we could miss, is the extent of the situation that Ruth was in at that moment. At first glance, Ruth appears to be nervously waiting to find out whether she is going to be married or not. But she isn’t. Boaz and Ruth have already agreed that God’s word must be followed. It has already been decided that Ruth will certainly be married. As Ruth waits for the outcome of this conversation, she is waiting to find out, not whether she will be married, but who she will be married to. How hard must that have been? Actually, as these things are unfolded we are shown that there is a fundamental difference between these two men. One of them is willing to marry her. Boaz is more interested in the person than in the land. He already respected Ruth, even before he met her, due to the things that he had heard about her, particularly her love and faithfulness to her mother-in-law, and her willingness to seek shelter from the true and living God (see Ruth 2:11-12). Mr No-Name was not interested in Ruth, or certainly not interested enough. Ruth is waiting to find out which of these men will become her husband. How wise is the advice that Naomi gives her, in Ruth 3:18, ‘Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens...’ In the AV this is translated as ‘Sit still, my daughter...’ The Hebrew word that is translated ‘wait’ or ‘sit still’ is a common one, with over 1000 appearances in the Old Testament. Over 40% of the time it is translated as ‘dwell’ in the AV. What wonderful advice this was for Ruth. What wonderful advice this is for us. When we are in situations where we have done all we can, and matters are out of our control, when we feel anxious as to how things will turn out, but cannot affect that outcome by our own hand, what should we do? As believers, we should ‘dwell’. We should ‘wait’. We should ‘sit still’. Where? Under the wings of the Lord, where our true rest and refuge is. Psalm 46 is a very well-known Psalm. It starts with the words, ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’ Towards the end of that short poem, in verse 10, we read ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. In Psalm 46, these words seem particularly directed to ‘the nations’ of ‘the earth’, who were fighting in opposition to the Lord and his people, Israel. But they are words that should also speak to us. The purposes of the Lord will prosper. When we are found in situations where our hand is useless, and will serve no purpose in the matter, let us ‘be still, and know that’ our God is God, and he will work for his people, regardless of the opposition that they face.

So Ruth waits, and this delightful scene unfolds. Ruth and Boaz are married. Love wins the day. Actually, God’s love wins the day - his providence shines! We have a further display of something ‘heaven-sent’ in Ruth 4 :13. We read, ‘So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.’ His providence had left her childless during those years married to Mahlon. His providence now allows conception, and a child named Obed is born. Boaz was willing to take Ruth as his wife and to raise a son named after another man. He says this when he speaks to Mr No-Name in Ruth 4 :5. This was being done, ‘in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property’. With regard to Obed, Boaz was prepared to lose his own name, because God’s law designed it to be so. So, whose son was Obed? This also is important. Actually, Boaz and Mahlon both have a claim on this young boy. Under the Law, Obed is to be considered a true descendant of Elimelek and Naomi and Mahlon. He will eventually inherit the land, that had previously belonged to Elimelek, which Boaz had redeemed. But he will also inherit Boaz’s existing land and property. Boaz is his biological father. That fact cannot be changed. In effect, Obed can be considered to have two fathers. So, there is a choice to be made. Mahlon’s ‘claim’ upon Obed as his son, is a really strong one under the Law of Moses. Boaz’s ‘claim’, if anything, is weaker. But, again, the actions of the author of this book seem deliberate. There is a calculation behind what is written. The second to last verse of this whole book is part of a list of names. It details the descendants of one man after another. We read, in verse 21, that ‘Boaz (was) the father of Obed.’ Boaz had been prepared to lose his name by being faithful to the commands of his God. And, in the reckoning of God’s word, Boaz keeps his name. Why this calculation? Why this reckoning? I believe it is all down to the currency that the Bible deals in. The Bible can be viewed like an accounts book. It is the Lord’s set of accounts. The principal currency that it deals in is not coins and notes, but faith. Boaz had faith, and in God’s accounts that is worth something. In fact, in God’s accounting, that is worth everything. Mr No-Name didn’t have faith. He lost his name. Boaz had faith. Boaz keeps his name, and is kept within this remarkable line of descendants. The bible records the continuation of this line. In the last verse of this book we find that Obed was the grandfather of David, King of Israel. In the book of Matthew, this line is extended through many following generations. Then Matthew brings it to a conclusion. This line ends with a man who never took a wife, and who remained childless when he died. The bible tells us that this

man died in a particular way under the providence of God - ‘...wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to (a) cross’ (Acts 2 :23). This man had a name. His name was Jesus. His name is Jesus. Because, ‘God raised him from the dead’ (Acts 2 :24) - ‘him who is, and who was, and who is to come’ (Revelation 1 :4). The bible tells us that this Jesus was ‘the Son of God’ who had been promised (Mark 1 :1). It tells us that he had a supremely important position. He had massive status. He was ‘equal with God’ (Philippians 2 :6 (AV)). Yet he chose to do something extra-ordinary. He ‘made himself of no reputation’ (Philippians 2 :7 (AV)). He gave up his status. He gave up what was due to his name. When Jesus stood in the dock, during the mock trial that he faced, he could have decried the complete injustice of that situation. He could have rightly claimed to be ‘without blemish or defect’ (1 Peter 1 :19) in every aspect of his life. He was ‘sinless’ and ‘spotless’ (1 Peter 1 :19 (NLT)). He didn’t deserve the punishment that he was facing. He could have called for it to stop. But Jesus did not. The will of God was important to him. It was not easy for Jesus to follow the will of God in that moment. In the Garden of Gethsemane, shortly before Jesus was arrested, he prayed a most revealing prayer. He knew that what lay before him was truly, unimaginably awful. God’s will called on him to drink the bitterest cup. It was a cup made up of the poison of my sin and yours. Jesus cried in anguish. Such was the immense strain upon him that he sweated droplets of blood. He felt that he could not endure. He said, ’Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me’. And then, not with his own peace and comfort at the forefront of his mind, but with the interests of his believing people pushing him on, and with the will of God taking precedence over everything, Jesus added these words to his prayer, ‘yet not my will, but yours be done’ (Luke 22 :39-44). According to God’s rules, detailed in his word, our names were mud and our reputations ruined. But Jesus gave up his name and reputation, when he died the death of a common criminal. This restored ours. It gave us a hope, where there was none before. It bought us an eternal future. It was the greatest act of love and faithfulness that has ever taken place. And in the Bible’s accounting it is of enormous value. Because Jesus was ‘obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2: 8-11).

The New Testament has much to say about the name of Jesus Christ. In the early days of the church, two believers called Peter and John went up to the temple at the time of afternoon prayer. They met a man begging there. This man was lame. He had not been able to walk from the day he was born. He relied was on the charity of others. He wanted these two believers to spare him some cash. But Peter was full of the bible’s accounting that day. He said this, ‘Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.’ And, for the first time in his life, the man did just that. In fact he did more than that. He walked and jumped and praised the Lord! People were astonished at this and wanted to know how it had happened. Peter told them, ‘By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him’ (see Acts 3) At the end of John’s Gospel account, he explains why he had put pen to paper. ‘These (things) are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ The bible instructs those that believe to be baptised. And how are we to be baptised? Acts 10 :48 records believers being ‘baptised in the name of Jesus Christ’. There are several other texts that speak of baptism in the same way. But it isn’t just baptism, it’s everything. Colossians 3 :17 says this, ‘whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ So, what’s in a name? Well, in the name of Jesus there is so much. In his name lies everlasting salvation. I’ll finish with some words of Peter again, from Acts 4 :12, where he was speaking to the Israelite’s religious leaders about Jesus Christ - ‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’


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