Women have been a big part of the story, from Eve on. Women have not always been the focus of sermons, and I confess, that includes sermons by me. The majority of sermons in our Baptist circles are preached by men and when we do preach on women it is often either a sermon about a heroine of the faith, which all women should be like, or what the Bible says about the place of women in families and churches, which all women should pay attention to. So usually a sermon about women, to women is focused on how they should be better. Shall we follow the usual path as we focus in on the Book of Ruth?
Interestingly, the Book of Ruth is placed right after the Book of Judges which itself ends with women being a big part of the story. True, it is mostly about men being at war, but women become the focus when the tribes of Israel recognise that since the tribe of Benjamin was down to 600 men following a war against them, they would need wives so that the tribe would not be completely wiped out. Let’s pause and consider what happened to all the women of Benjamin.
You know how if you don’t show up to a meeting, the people at the meeting nominate you for a job you don’t want? The men of Jabesh-Gilead did not send soldiers to the battle so the other tribes destroyed that town, women and children included, all except for 400 marriage worthy women who were taken and given to the men of Benjamin. That leaves 200 men without wives. They were each told to abduct a wife from a festival at Shiloh. Problem solved. For the men.
If you think the Bible always teaches you how to live, you will run into trouble here. The Bible often records how horrible things were (and are), and how not to live, how not to do things. It also records here what attitudes toward women men are not to have.
In the Book Judges men treated women like property. Men often treated each other badly, but generally it was safer to be a man than a woman. It still is.
The Book of Ruth offers a great contrast to the Book of Judges. In the Book of Ruth, Naomi and Ruth matter. Women matter.
While the book is about Ruth and Naomi, it is also about Boaz. Boaz is an example of a better attitude toward women than what we find in the Book of Judges. Fir example,
Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”….When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”Ruth 2:8,9,15,16 (NLT)
While Boaz recognised the kindness of Ruth toward Naomi, he responded with kindness of his own. Some may want to turn the story of Ruth and Boaz into a romance novel, but it really is more about how in marrying Ruth, Boaz ensured that Ruth and Naomi were provided for, fulfilling his responsibility as a kinsman-redeemer. Boaz did what he was supposed to do, but in doing that he stood in contrast to many men we find in the Bible who did not. May we who are men be more like Boaz, and less like the men we find in Judges.
The Book of Ruth also contrasts with another book of the Bible; Ezra:
Then Ezra the priest stood and said to them: “You have committed a terrible sin. By marrying pagan women, you have increased Israel’s guilt. So now confess your sin to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and do what he demands. Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from these pagan women.”Ezra 10:10-15 (NLT)
Then the whole assembly raised their voices and answered, “Yes, you are right; we must do as you say!” Then they added, “This isn’t something that can be done in a day or two, for many of us are involved in this extremely sinful affair. And this is the rainy season, so we cannot stay out here much longer. Let our leaders act on behalf of us all. Let everyone who has a pagan wife come at a scheduled time, accompanied by the leaders and judges of his city, so that the fierce anger of our God concerning this affair may be turned away from us.”
Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah opposed this course of action, and they were supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite.
In the Book of Ezra the people recommitted their lives to God. That might be the gist of a sermon I would preach on this passage of Scripture. Look at how great these men were and the strength of their commitment to God! In the Book of Ezra the men recommitted their lives to God by sending away their foreign wives, plus children. Where did these women and children go? What happened to them?
Many Bible scholars think that the Book of Ruth, while set in the days of Judges, was recorded at the time of Ezra. We could sum up the moral of the story as; “Before we send our foreign wives away, let us remember Ruth, a foreign woman, a good woman, and the great-grandmother of king David. Foreign women matter.” Yes, commitment to God is commendable, but the path taken to show that in Ezra may not have been wise. Perhaps we sometimes make unwise decisions even in our attempts to be committed to God. The Bible doesn’t always tell us how to live, but records for us different voices as people wrestled with how to live well. May we who are men be more like Boaz, and less like the men we find in Judges, and Ezra.
Perhaps this is typical. I set out to write sermon about women, for women, and it ends up being about men, for men; Men, we need to be better.
If there is a message to women here, it could be; if the men in your life are like the men of Judges, who were not known for their commitment to God, or like the men of Ezra, who were…you deserve better.