Sermon Manuscript – 1 April 2007

When my wife and I found out that she was pregnant, we were faced with a big decision. Having a child makes you face many decisions, actually – what car seat to buy, what furniture to buy used and what to buy new, whether to find out if it’s a boy or girl, and so on. But perhaps the most enduring decision that parents make is what to name their little boy or girl.

I say the name, because practically every other decision we make will undergo a change over the course of a baby’s life. You’ll get more than one car seat – we did – and eventually he’ll not need it anymore. The baby furniture eventually gets replaced with a twin-size bed and the change table with a real dresser. I know that in our twisted age parents can make a so-called “choice” not to have the child at all, but ours is a God who knows all things and raises the dead, and judges sins like that; and so even that decision doesn’t endure past the frontier of this life.

And while people can get a legal name change and so on, the person never fully leaves their birth name behind – it still exists in government documents, on vital statistics, and so forth.

What’s more, the Bible shows God interacting with people using the names that their parents gave them, with only a few exceptions.

How significant that decision becomes when you look at it that way! My wife and I agonized over the decision. We eventually settled on Caden, which is a Celtic name that means “fighter,” at least partly because we nearly lost him in the third month of pregnancy. Names often represent the hopes and dreams of the parents, reflecting the qualities that they value and hope the child will have.

In the Bible, names have deep significance – far more than we attach to them today. For example, the name “Jesus” is actually, in Greek and in Hebrew, the same name as “Joshua,” which means “he who saves.” Jesus’ very name described His mission on this earth, a mission of salvation – to live a perfect life that we could not do ourselves and to give His own life as a substitute for those of His people as punishment for their sins.

Other names are also meaningful. Peter means “rock.” Abraham “father of a multitude,” Isaac means “he laughs” – because his mother laughed at God’s promise that she would be pregnant.

So when the Bible gives a name, one of the first things a Bible student does is to check what the meaning of that name is – if, in fact, it is known to us. Some we don’t – Ruth is a good example, because we’re not sure what it means. It seems, though, that the name Boaz means “strength,” “man of strength” or something similar. It’s an apt description of the man we read about in these pages.

Names are important in the Bible, because they were important to the ancient people whose lives are recorded in it. So when someone’s name is conspicuously absent, left out, we should notice. When the Bible fails to name someone when everyone else’s names are given, it means something.

Every significant character in the book of Ruth is named. We have Boaz, Ruth, Naomi. We even have Naomi’s husband Elimilech and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, who die in the first five verses. There’s a genealogy at the end of the book full of names. Every important character in Ruth has a name recorded by the author.

With one very glaring exception.

Who is it that Boaz is negotiating with at the gate? What is his name? The author doesn’t tell us.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, he doesn’t name the foreman in Boaz’s field, either, or the elders at the gate, or the other townspeople.” No, he doesn’t. But they didn’t play important roles in the story.

And this isn’t a simple matter of forgetting or overlooking the name. The author deliberately leaves it out. Our English Bibles have Boaz address the other man in verse 1 like this: “Turn aside, friend.” The English doesn’t translate the Hebrew well here. Boaz doesn’t say “friend.” The author literally records it like this in Hebrew: “Boaz said, Turn aside, Mr. So-and-so.”

The author of Ruth deliberately and conspicuously and obviously addresses this man not by his real name, but by a vague, indefinite word. Boaz knew the man’s name, obviously. No doubt he actually said the real name during this transaction. But the author, and the Holy Spirit who inspired him, chose to leave out this name.

Why?

Mr. So-and-so was a redeemer. That’s a person with the responsibility to help out a family member in financial or legal trouble. A kinsman-redeemer had a legal and moral duty to buy relatives out of slavery – with his own money, to buy back family land that was sold outside the clan in times of financial trouble, to defend a relative in court, and to see that justice was done on behalf of relatives. Mr. So-and-so had a big responsibility.

And in our passage, Boaz confronts him and reminds him that his relative, Naomi, was in trouble and was disposing of family land because she needed money. Boaz reminds Mr. So-and-so that he was first in line to take on the responsibility of getting the land back for the family.

At this point, Mr. So-and-so thinks, “Well, okay. Elimilech, the original owner, is gone now. Both his sons are dead. He has no descendants. If I buy the land, there aren’t any heirs to it. I can add this land to my own estate. It will pay for itself over the next few years. Not a bad deal at all – spend a little now, but get a great investment property! I’ll take it!”

And so he says, “I will redeem it.”

Poor Ruth. If she was standing there, her heart must have just sunk. Boaz had already said that he would respect Mr. So-and-so’s decision. The hope of marrying this caring, gentle, generous man was gone.

But Boaz wasn’t done. He brings another matter into the picture. “If you redeem the land, you also take the responsibility of Ruth.”

She’s the widow of the dead man’s son. She’s young enough to have children. And now Mr. So-and-so realizes what he’s getting into. Jewish custom demanded that a widow be provided with an heir – that she be married in order to have a child who would legally count as the dead man’s heir.

But if that happens, the investment becomes a liability. Not only is Mr. So-and-so buying land, but he’ll be paying to support two new family members – Ruth and Naomi. He’ll be required to take Ruth as his wife. He’ll be expected to have a kid with her. And that child will inherit the land he bought – the land he redeemed.

In short, he’ll pay out of his own pocket to buy land and support two, eventually three, people who will inherit that land without ever paying him back for it. His inheritance – his estate – will be badly hurt. This is a potentially huge financial loss.

What should he do? The Law required that these women be redeemed, and the property of Mr. So-and-so’s dead relative with it. Why was this so important? Because without an heir for Naomi, the NAME of her husband Elimilech will disappear forever. He will have no descendants. He will have no posterity. He will have no grandchildren and great-grandchildren to live on his land and keep his memory alive. His family will be blotted out of history.

For an ancient Jew, there could be no greater loss, no greater catastrophe than the loss of one’s name from history. That was the whole point of the law of redemption – to save a family and its name, its history, its memories, its accomplishments from extinction.

The fate of his relative’s family name rested in Mr. So-and-so’s hands. His moral and legal duty was to keep it alive, even though it would cost him dearly.

But Boaz had already said he was willing. That’s a load off Mr. So-and-so’s shoulders! Let Boaz deal with it! Let Boaz take on the financial burden – he’s got money. He can handle it.

And that’s what he does. The community accepts the decision. Ruth and Naomi are redeemed and taken care of. Boaz gets a wife of noble character. And Mr. So-and-so’s inheritance is intact. Everyone’s happy, right?

This was all God’s plan from the beginning. God raised up Ruth and Boaz in order to put them together. Their descendants would include David and Jesus Christ himself. And yet the Holy Spirit, who inspired the writing of this book, still chose to call this other man Mr. So-and-so, rather than use his real name.

How ironic. The man who had the responsibility to rescue his brother’s family name, who was so concerned with guarding his own inheritance and keeping his own name intact, is now known to all generations as Mr. So-and-so. A man with no name.

He may have had the legal right to hand his responsibility off to Boaz. But that doesn’t change his moral obligation to Ruth and Naomi. It was his responsibility. His duty. And by leaving this man’s name out of the book, God expresses his displeasure at a man who put worldly concerns about inheritance and wealth above his spiritual responsibility to look after his relatives.

In verse 6, Mr. So-and-so refuses to redeem because his concern is with his own inheritance. In verse 10, Boaz tells us he’s redeeming because his concern is with the inheritance of his relatives. Mr. So-and-so was selfish. Boaz was selfless. Mr. So-and-so’s action cost him nothing in worldly terms, but earned him an eternal rebuke. Boaz’s action cost him a great deal in worldly wealth. But it gave him a place in the family line of Jesus Christ, and a role in the salvation of the world.

Boaz gave up a lot to redeem his bride. It must have cost a great deal. A thousand years later, his descendant, Jesus, was faced with a very similar choice. It would cost Jesus his very life, the suffering of an agonizing death, three days in a cold grave, to redeem His bride. Christ did not have to go to the Cross. Jesus never sinned. He didn’t deserve to die. Only sinners do. Jesus may have had the legal right to pass on this responsibility. Yet He did not. He told His disciples, “No one takes my life from me. I lay it down of my own accord.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, even as He prayed that God might provide another way, He humbly submitted to His call of redemption: “Your will be done.”

Out of love – love for God, love for God’s law, love for his family, love for Ruth – Boaz cheerfully paid the price and bought his bride out of poverty. Boaz did God’s will. And out of love of His Father, love for His holiness, love for His Creation, and especially love for His people – His Church – Jesus Christ cheerfully paid the price and bought us, His bride, out of the poverty and slavery of sin and death.

We don’t know Mr. So-and-so’s name today, because he wasn’t concerned about his relatives and their name. We know the name of Boaz, because he put saving his relatives’ family name ahead of his own wealth and comfort.

And through that act of faithfulness, God raised up Him whose name is above all other names, Jesus Christ, who made Himself nothing in order to save us all.

What will you be remembered for? Will you be like Mr. So-and-so, putting worldly concerns and worries about money and security and wealth ahead of your duties to God?

There’s nothing down that road. Jesus warns everyone who would be called by His name, saying this: Many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your NAME, and cast out demons in your NAME, and do many mighty works in your NAME?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me.” You have no name!

Or will you be like Boaz, remembered for giving so much for others expecting nothing in return? Who understood that God gave him so much so that he could be a blessing to others? Who realized that the only reason God gave him money and fields and servants and influence and wealth in the first place was so that he might give it away to rescue two helpless women?

Jesus Christ is calling us to deny ourselves. To take up our crosses. The Gospel is NOT a promise of easy living. It is not an offer of worldly comfort. No! The Gospel is a promise of suffering and pain and self-denial! We are not saved from hell for our own sake – we are saved for Christ’s sake! To be a people zealous for good works! TO be sold out for God and for others!

Boaz was the type of person that Jesus later would be in His life, an Old Testament picture of selflessness and sacrifice and love. Here we stand – here on the other side of the Cross, called to be the type of person that Jesus already was and still is. Called to be pictures in this world of selflessness and sacrifice and love. If it cost Jesus everything to save us, how can we do any less but give it all for him?

– Jeff Jones