Last week we talked about the first and greatest commandment which is to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. We talked about why we first loved God and how that love can be cultivated and can mature, for mature love isn’t just reciprocated; It is initiated.
Today I want to talk about God’s incredible love for us as is pictured in the demonstration of love found in the life of an amazing woman named Ruth. Her life was so exemplary that an entire book of the Bible is dedicated to her. Four short chapters tell the story of tragedy and triumph of commitment, devotion and great romance. Everything you need to know about love and specifically about God’s love, can be found in the story of Ruth.
Let me give you a Hebrew word that is used throughout the book. It is the word, “Hesed.” Say that word with me, “Hesed.” That’s it. If you spit when you say it, you are pronouncing it correctly!
It can be translated to mean “loyal love.” It is rich in meaning and reflects the kind of love God has for us. Hesed is power-packed with commitment and devotion. It is fierce. It is action-oriented. It goes the distance and spans the challenges of time. It has little to do with feelings and everything to do with an act of someone’s will. It involves a covenant. It is a “no matter” kind of love. Probably the closest we get to “Hesed” in our culture is in the traditional marriage vows, “For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others until we are parted by death.” “Hesed” love seeks to live for the good of the other person.
This Hebrew word, “Hesed,” shows up three times in the book of Ruth. You can find it in I:8, 2:20 and 3:10. Maybe writing those references down would make for a good review later.
As the story of Ruth opens, we are given a look into the life of three women who are grieving the loss of their husbands. Here’s the backstory: A man, his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, left the town of Bethlehem during a famine and went to live in the country of Moab. That is the modern day country of Jordan. Well, while they were in Moab, the man died, leaving Naomi as a widow. Still, she was surrounded by her two sons and the women they had married while in Moab. Those women were Orpah and Ruth. However, tragically, sometime after that, both of her sons died, leaving Orpah and Ruth also as widows.
When Naomi heard the famine had ended in Bethlehem, she decided to pack up and go home to Bethlehem. And here is where we see the first use of the word, “Hesed” in chapter 1:8: Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness (Hesed) to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.
Naomi was saying, “You were good to my sons, and you have been good daughters-in-law to me, but you are now free to go and choose a different life, a life disconnected from mine. You are free to pursue your own happiness, your own dreams.”
And Naomi continued in verse 9: May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them and they wept aloud.
And both ladies said they would go back to Bethlehem with their mother-in-law, however, Naomi insisted they should go back to their homes. She basically told them they were still young enough to remarry, and Orpah then decided to do as Naomi encouraged and go back to her home. However, Ruth clung to her mother-in-law (Vs. 14). (“Hesed” love is a clingy kind of love.) “Hesed” is an I’m not letting go of you kind of love.
Naomi told her again that she should go with her sister-in-law and Ruth made this bold and determined declaration: “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (1:16-17)
These verses bring me to the first point of today’s message which is this:
Loyal Love is sacrificial. What was best for Ruth was to go home and find another husband. It wouldn’t be easy for Ruth to live in Bethlehem. She had no roots there. She was leaving the familiarity of her country and access to her family to adopt a family she had never met. She wasn’t Jewish. She would be perceived as an outsider. She was sacrificing what was best for her to support her mother-in-law.
In addition to all that she would give up, she would willingly take on a new level of relationship with Naomi who wasn’t exactly the life of the party by this point. Naomi called herself “bitter” in verse 13 and in verse 20. She wasn’t going to be easy to live with. Naomi was only focused on herself, her pain, her grief, on what she had lost. She couldn’t even acknowledge that Ruth was also grieving. Ruth’s life had also drastically changed. Naomi had at least had a chance at being a mother. She had raised her family. But all Naomi could express was bitterness and anger towards God for her situation.
Those kind of people, people who get stuck in grief and anger, aren’t the most cheerful folks to be around. It takes extra effort and energy to hang with those folks. You don’t go into a relationship with that kind of person thinking there will be a return on your investment. Often, they aren’t in the right mindset to be appreciative of much or to care much for you. Much of your time will be spent talking them up, encouraging them, helping them re-frame their situation. Pumping people up can be exhausting. It would be a big sacrifice, and it was going to be 24/7 because they were going to live together!
Naomi didn’t even want Ruth to call her “Naomi.” She told her to call her “Mara” which means “bitter.” Can you imagine? Every time Ruth would talk to her mother-in-law, she would be reinforcing her bitter, unhappy state. “Bitter, It’s time for dinner.” “Bitter, Are you ready to go?” “Bitter, can I get you anything?” Every day was going to be tough.
Loyal Love is provisional.
Not only was Ruth going to sacrifice her old way of life, but she was going to take on new responsibilities which included going to work to provide for herself and for Naomi. It wasn’t going to be a glamorous position. Her plan was to go to a field and walk behind the harvesters. Whatever they would drop or miss, she would bend down and pick up so that she and Naomi would have food to eat. There were actually OT laws that allowed for the poor to make use of this practice. People who love with loyal love are willing to roll up their sleeves in order to make life possible for those whom they love.
Sometimes it means a second job. Sometimes it means care-giving which requires sacrificing time you would have spent on hobbies and enjoying life. Sometimes it means doing jobs you don’t want to do, aren’t suited for or that require lots of emotional stamina. You do them because of loyal love. You do them because “Hesed” is about meeting the need.
Loyal Love is attractive.
The story of Ruth gets pretty interesting in chapters two and three as romance enters the picture. Boaz, the owner of the field where Ruth is gleaning, takes notice of her. He sees the devotion she has for her mother-in-law and the extra effort she willingly gives to provide for her. He assures her that she will be safe in his field. He has given his male servants orders where she is concerned. When she heard about it, verse 10 says, She bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?” 11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about 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.
He could see the “Hesed,” the Loyal Love she had been expressing. He liked it. It caught his eye. It was unusual. It made her stand out. He noticed her. When it was time for a work break, time for some food, Boaz asked her to sit near him. We’ll call that a date. (Girls, when a boy asks you to sit by him, it’s a signal that he is into you.) He offered her bread, and she ate all she wanted. That’s my kind of girl. She wasn’t trying to go light to impress the man by appearing dainty. She was hungry, and she went for it!
I guess the “date” went well because he told his workers to make things easier on her, to pull some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to easily pick up. You can already see her loyal love being rewarded.
When Ruth went home with all of the grain she had collected, Naomi was shocked. She asked whose field she had been working in and when she told her his name was Boaz, we see the second reference to “Hesed.” It is chapter 2:20: “The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness (Hesed) to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”
Kinsman-redeemers were important. These were male relatives who, according to various OT laws had the privilege or responsibility to act on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger or need, or in this case, deceased. It is someone who would cover and protect and care for the members of the deceased family member, who in that culture, couldn’t adequately care themselves. It was a way to preserve family names and lineage.
Well, in chapter 3, the romance heats up as Naomi instructs Ruth to make her move on Boaz. The plan is for Ruth to get all dolled up and to strategically place herself where she knows Boaz will be. Any ladies in the house know what I’m talking about or ever tried this particular approach? I suppose that strategy isn’t so strange, but what went down after that got a little weird. OK, it got totally weird.
I guess she just kind of hung out until he finished work, had supper and laid down to relax. At some point, she tip-toed into the room, uncovered his feet and laid down beside him. Now, I don’t get it, at all, but this was some kind of ancient marriage proposal. It was an acceptable way for a woman to ask a man to take her as his bride. Now, all the single ladies in the house today, listen to me. Not a good idea! I know it is Bible and all, but I don’t recommend trying to replicate this one. You’re welcome. It sounds like the world’s worst proposal ever to me, but I guess you could say “She knocked his socks off.” (I had to. It was right there! It was just too easy.)
Somehow, the feet move lit Boaz’s fire and he basically said, “Yes, I will accept the proposal.” We see the last reference to “Hesed” in chapter 3:10. Ruth 3:10-11 10 “The LORD bless you, my daughter,” he replied. “This kindness (Hesed) is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor.
Apparently, there was a decent age difference between the two, and Boaz was quite flattered that Ruth would consider him. She reached out to him and initiated a love contract with him when she could have been with someone maybe more youthul or suitable for her, but she understood that love doesn’t have those kind of stipulations and boundaries and she pursued someone society might have said wasn’t the best fit.
Boaz promised to take care of her and to reciprocate her love. He talked about her impeccable character which obviously flowed from her “Hesed,” from her loving-kindness, her steadfast commitment to others when she could have made a different choice. They had a few legal things to work out in chapter four, but I will let you investigate that. It was nothing that loyal love couldn’t overcome.
Loyal Love is transforming.
Ruth’s commitment to “Hesed” changed her life. She could have lived bitter herself. She had many reasons to be bitter. She had been a young widow and gave up her country to live in a foreign land. She could have gotten to Bethlehem and thought, “This wasn’t what I thought it would be or hoped it would be, and I can’t do it anymore,” but she didn’t. She could have chased her own dreams instead of taking responsibility for someone else. But she chose “Hesed” for Naomi’s sake. She elevated Naomi’s needs and desires over her own, and as a result, Ruth’s whole life was transformed. Look at Ruth 4:13-17 13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.
From widowed to marriage to motherhood intertwined with a beautiful love story and crazy marriage proposal. Her life went from distressed to blessed. Even greater, perhaps was the transformation seen in Naomi’s life:14 The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
Maybe that’s when it hit her. Maybe that’s when Naomi realized the incredible “Hesed” her daughter-in-law had shown her. Even though her husband and sons had died, God had still made a way for her to be “Hesed.” The women of the town could see it. They said that Ruth had been better to Naomi than seven sons. Naomi didn’t deserve all Ruth did for her. Her life had gone from bitter to blessed. God had loved her with an everlasting love through Ruth’s incredible commitment. Naomi’s whole life had changed because of Ruth’s loyal love because that’s what “Hesed” does. It changes people from the inside out.
16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, “Naomi has a son.” And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
God’s loyal, faithful love is all over this story. Boaz redeemed the family inheritance of Naomi and preserved the family line. The son he and Ruth had was named Obed. Obed wound up being the grandpa to David. Do we remember who descended from the house and lineage of David? Jesus, the epitome of “Hesed.”
Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice for us when He willingly left where He was, to leave Heaven to come and be with us in our bitter and broken state. In loyal love God comes to us daily to provide for our needs. All I have needed Thy hand hath provided! Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord unto me.
Lamentations 3:21-23 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the LORD’s great love (Hesed) we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Oh, how God’s Hesed love has attracted us to Him. Jeremiah 31:3-The LORD appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness (Hesed).”
God is still wooing and drawing people to Himself. Even some of you in this room who haven’t surrendered your hearts to God, you are here because of the attractional quality of God’s love for you. You keep coming around. You have to admit something powerful is drawing you. Someone’s powerful love keeps you coming back time and time again.
And for those of you who have said “Yes” to God’s love, who have accepted the salvation He so freely offers, you have been changed by it. Can you “amen” that? Your life has been changed by it. You have been blessed to belong to God and to benefit from that relationship every day. I wouldn’t want to go a day without the “Hesed,” without the loving-kindness and favor of God on my life.
Naomi added nothing to Ruth’s life when Ruth committed to her. Ruth was the one who took it on the chin, who bore the responsibility on her shoulders, who hung in there with Naomi when others walked away. Listen, we add nothing to God. He receives no benefit from being in a relationship with us other than it is the desire of His heart because He created us for fellowship with Him. “Hesed” love isn’t an equal relationship. It’s one party making the decision to covenant to care for, protect, help and transform the life of someone else who can’t return the favor. Jesus took all of the responsibility for us on His shoulders and He promises to hang around and come around and stay around when nobody else might want anything to do with us. Have you experienced the tenacious, committed, devoted, relentless, kind, patient “Hesed” of God?