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RUTH THE RISK TAKER
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Based on Ruth 3:1-13
Fort Lee, which is now Charleston, West Virginia was under attack in 1791. Colonel George Clendenin assembled his men to ask for a volunteer to ride to Lewisberg over 100 miles away to get powder. They were almost out, and their survival depended upon a renewed supply. No one volunteered, for it was a suicide mission. Then a high pitched voice cried out, "I will go!" It was the voice of Anne Bailey. She was no ordinary lady. The Indians called her mad Anne because she took so many risks. She fought the British and the Indians, and would roam the countryside alone to learn the ways of the Indians. She got so good at being a scout that she was often able to outwit the Indians. This is she did it again. She got through and brought back the powder, and Fort Lee was saved.
If you go to Charleston, you will find a museum and a main thoroughfare named after this brave woman who took risks that no man was willing to take. Women have been risk takers all through history, and there are volumes filled with their exploits. Quite often their risks are related to their romance. Isabella of Castille defied her half brother King Henry IV of Spain. He wanted to marry her off to an old reprobate for his advantage. She threatened to kill herself before she would do it. She was only 18, but she out witted the king. She smuggled 17 year old Ferdinand into Castille disguised as a mule driver. They were married Dec. 19, 1469. Henry did all he could to make them miserable. He cut off all funds so they had to live in poverty. But their romance so captured the minds of the people that when Henry died the nobles united in declaring Isabella the Queen. She went from poverty to riding a white steed to receive her crown. The risk she took for romance changed the course of history.
Pocahontas took the risk of being the first Indian to marry a white man. Her husband John Rolfe took her back to England. Their wedding brought peace to the settlers and Indians in America, and she became the belle of London, as people were fascinated with her uniqueness and charm. She contracted pneumonia, and she died, but her risk for romance gave her a place in history. Women have been daring, brave, and courageous in all the battles and conflicts of history. It was a woman by the name of Emily Bronte who wrote the famous lines No coward soul is mine; No trembler in the world's storm troubled sphere. I see heaven's glories shine, And faith shines equal, arming me from fear.
Females who have had an impact on history usually have to take some sort of risk, and such is the case with Ruth. She also took a risk for romance. If you look at the radical differences between Ruth and Boaz, you will be better able to see the risks involved. 1. Boaz is a Jew, and Ruth is a Gentile. This is a radical form of intermarriage. 2. Boaz is an Israelite, and Ruth is a Moabitess. These two nations were bitter enemies. 3. Boaz is middle aged, and Ruth is quite young. 4. Boaz is rich, and Ruth is poor. 5. Boaz has deep roots, and Ruth is a stranger and an outsider.
The potential for problems is great. Any marriage counselor today would look at these elements and rate this relationship as high risk. What we need to see, however, is that the encourager of this risky romance is a risk taker. Naomi risked leaving Bethlehem to go to Moab with her husband, and it was a costly gamble. She took the chance of letting her two sons marry Moabite girls. That too was a high risk, but it did pay off as Ruth became a committed believer in the God of Israel. She took the risk of going back to her hometown in emptiness and defeat. She faced the risk of ridicule and rejection. Naomi is one of the most courageous women of the Bible. Her courage and risk taking is what motivated Ruth to be a risk taker. The lives of these two women teach us some valuable truths about risk. First let's look at-
I. THE REALITY OF RISK.
It is a part of every life, and there is no escape from risk. If you think you can just do nothing, and, thereby, escape it, that can be the greatest risk of all. This epitaph illustrates the point-Here lies the body of Lester Lee Underground. He couldn't decide which side of the tree To ski around. Any decision can be risky, but no decision can be the highest risk of all.
Naomi could see the risks of indecision. The harvest was over, and Ruth would no longer be going to the field daily to glean. She would no longer be taking her break with Boaz. Boaz could get so involved in his work that the romance between him and Ruth could fade. There was always the risk of someone else coming into the picture, and there was the risk of another relative deciding he would take over, and Ruth then would miss the chance to be with the one she really cared about.
There is always the risk of procrastination, which is not only the thief of time, but of all potential values from the trivial to the treasured. Richard Armour has put into poetry what we have all experienced in some way. "One day a button's slightly loose, The next its somewhat more so. It loosens just a little bit Each time I move my torso. It hangs now by a single thread; Its perilous, let's face it. This button is a special kind; I doubt I could replace it. I ought to pull it off, I guess. My wife should sew it on. I wear it slightly longer, thoughThat is, until its gone."
Waiting until it is too late is not wise, and so we are often forced to take risks to make things happen, and that is where Naomi is coming from. This was the day of the Judges, and life was a risk because you never knew when someone could come and invade the land and enslave you. Even the everyday life of ordinary people was surrounded by risks. The reality of risk is especially evident in relationships. Love is always a high risk, for you invest a lot of yourself in a relationship of love, and that investment can pay off with great dividends, but it can also cost you a broken heart. It is just part of the reality of risk in life.
Naomi and Ruth both risked loving and getting married, and both lost their mates, and had to go through the agony of grief. Naomi had children, and saw both of her boys die fairly young. It is risky to become parents, for it is costly, and children, like everything else you love, can be lost. Every time you choose to love, or to develop any relationship, you are taking a risk. Chuck Swindoll said he has a woman in his church who was married for 48 years. She was planning their golden wedding anniversary already. She came home one day and found a note telling her that her husband had gone off with another woman. This may be rare at that age, but it is the risk of the real world we live in.
There is much we can do to minimize the risks of shattered relationships, but the fact remains that you always stick your neck out to some degree when you open your heart to anyone. That is the vulnerability of love. Mental health and stability can only be achieved by recognizing the risks of reality, and being able to pay the cost. In Journey Out Of Nowhere, Nancy Covert Smith describes how she, as a Christian and good church member, ended up in a mental hospital. While there she came to realize that the doors are locked, not primarily to keep the patients in, but to keep the world out. She says that 50 to 60 percent of the healing process, which takes place, was due to the fact that the world was locked out. The mentally ill need protection from the reality of a risky world. They need to feel safe and free from risks.
Only when they are ready to face up to the reality of risk again are they ready for the real world. Naomi and Ruth are amazing examples of strong healthy women, for with all of their sorrow, grief, and loss, they have not crawled into a cave to hibernate, and let the world pass them by. They are in there planning how to go out onto another limb, and risk getting hurt again. Healthy people recognize that the only way you can be happy in the kind of world we live in is to keep on risking, and sticking your neck out for the sake of love. The most realistic thing we can do in life is to face the fact that risk is a part of reality, and so we must go on loving and developing relationships. Ruth is no glutton for punishment, but she does relish the thought of being loved again, and so she is willing to face the reality of risk. Next let's look at-
II. THE RELATIVITY OF RISK.
Not even all reasonable risks are equal. Ruth took a risk going out to be a gleaner in the fields. She could have been rebuked, and run off as a stranger, or told to go elsewhere, and this would be demeaning. But the risk she took in boldly coming to Boaz requesting the role of the wife in his life was a radical risk. She could have been rejected, and had her heart broken. Boaz liked her, and he respected her, but he had not approached her with an offer of marriage. Her assertive behavior could have the effect of turning him off, and the whole thing could backfire, and leave her crushed.
Ruth had a high capacity for risk. She risked her whole future to stick with Naomi. She risked her all to go into the unknown rather than take the low risk of going back to Moab. Now we see her ready to put all of her eggs in one basket again, and go out on a limb to win the man she loved. I have seen Christian women lose the man they love because they were not willing to take the risk of being bold like Ruth, and letting him know how she felt.
What we need to see is that risk is relative to the value that is to be gained. The higher the value the greater the risk we should be willing to take to gain that value. Love and marriage, and family were the highest values there were to Naomi and Ruth. This means the risk was one that was reasonable to them. A risk is an exposure to loss or injury. Nobody wants to suffer loss or injury, but if there is a reasonable chance the risk will lead to gain, then it can be wise to take that risk.
This means that the reasonableness of risk is relative to the values of the individual taking the risk. Like the man who was arrested for speeding. He was asked by the judge if he had an excuse. "Yes your honor," he said. "My wife's church was having a rummage sale, and I was hurrying home to save my other pair of pants." That was a reasonable risk for him, and if we only had one other pair of pants, we might consider it reasonable for us as well. Ruth considered her risk very reasonable for her. She had faith in Naomi's mature wisdom, and her insight into human nature, and her grasp of the situation.
This was not a haphazard hair-brained scheme of a couple of emotional women. Emotions were, no doubt, at a high pitch, but the whole thing was well thought out. The close she was to wear for this encounter, the perfume, the timing of it, every detail was rehearsed to minimize the risk of blowing it, and to maximize the chance for success. When we look at this account with our Western eyes we see the risk as being somewhat risqué, and hazardous from the point of view of being inappropriate. To slip under the covers of a man asleep in the middle of the night all alone is not the kind of risk any mother, or mother-in-law, would encourage a girl to do in our culture.
Preachers and Bible commentators spend a lot of time trying to justify this whole female scheme. All we need to recognize is that you cannot justify what is a custom in one culture by trying to make it acceptable in another culture where it is not the practice. There is no point in trying to make this an acceptable way for a young woman to approach a man in our day. In the first place, it is not a custom in our culture for farmers to sleep out by their harvest, nor is it a part of our culture that a relative has any obligation to marry a widow to produce seed in order to keep the name of his deceased relative alive.
There is no comparing of apples with oranges, and so all we need to do is recognize that what was happening was perfectly consistent with the godly people involved. Naomi would do nothing that would risk Ruth's reputation, or bring disgrace on the family name. Boaz was shocked to be awakened in the night, and to find a woman at his feet. This was not a routine occurrence, but he was pleased with the gesture, and the whole method of their approach.
It was risky, for there was affection between them, and this approach could have led to premature intimacy. That, of course, is the risk in developing any relationship. Naomi had confidence, however, that Boaz would treat Ruth with respect, because he did love her. His very love for her was the reason he would not lose the chance to be a gentleman, and be worthy of her love. He was deeply impressed by the need to get the legal questions settled so as to be free to have Ruth as his own. He would not violate the laws of the land. He had to respect the right of his near relative to redeem Ruth if that was his will. Ruth did not have the freedom to be his until he worked out an arrangement with the nearest relative.
Knowing Boaz as a gentleman, and a man in love, and a man who would not break the law and injure his relatives, make this far less risky than it appears to us. Naomi knew what she was doing, and Ruth took the risk of faith in her guidance. It was a reasonable risk. Ruth was not going after a raise or better working conditions. She was going for a partnership in the whole estate by marriage.
When she said to Boaz as he woke up, "Spread the corner of your garment over me," she was using familiar language of that day. It was, in fact, the same that God used to take Israel as his wife. In Ezek. 16:8 we read God saying, "I spread the corner of my garment over you.....and you become mine." At a Bedouin wedding, even today, the groom will say, "From now on nobody but me will cover you." To cover one with your garment is to possess that person intimately. It is the equivalent of a marriage proposal to ask one to cover you with their garment. Ruth was asking Boaz, "Will you marry me?" This was bold action based on confidence that he loved her.
It was a relatively safe risk, for she had plenty of reason to believe that Boaz loved her, and would be happy to have her for a wife. There were the complications with the nearer relative, however, and because he had the first chance to claim her, there was some risk involved. Ruth is putting all her cards on the table so Boaz can see and know where she is coming from. This gives him the motivation to fight for her with the assurance it is what she wants. The greater risk would have been to let him operate in the dark not knowing her true feelings. You are almost always on the right path when you risk letting people know that you like them or love them. Next let's look at-
III. THE RESPONSIBILITY OF RISK.
Since risk is inevitable, and the greatest risk may be in trying to avoid all risk, we have a responsibility to be risk takers. That is, we are obligated to have values and goals worth taking risks for, just as did Ruth and Naomi. Had they not been risk takers their story would not exist, and God's plan would not have been what it was. God's plan, and their place in that plan depended on their being risk takers.
They were risk takers for what was right, wise, and reasonable, and they were richly rewarded for their risks. Their very success, however, can lead us to a very wrong conclusion about risks. We can jump to the false conclusion that risks that are right will always pay off. If we mean by this, we will always have a happy ending like Ruth if we take risks, we can be very disappointed. Risks are just that, they are risky. If risks never led to loss, they would not be risks. Many times we can risk doing what is right and lose by it. In the play Gloria II by the Refreshment Committee we see her take a risk and refuse to compromise her loyalty to Christ, and it all turned out to her advantage, and she had a happy ending.
The fact is, however, that there is a good chance that your loyalty may cost you a heavy price. It is a risk many have taken around the world that has led to persecution. The more you apply the truth of God's Word to everyday life, the more you risk the offence of the world. Jesus did not avoid rejection and hostility by His uncompromising stand against the legalism of the Pharisees. It cost Him his life. Many have risked their life to obey Jesus.
We are responsible to take risks for God's Will in life, and not just when it is going to pay off. We are not called to a risk free life, but to a risk full life. We are called to love, and love is loaded with risk. If it doesn't work, you are facing the risk of rejection, and this can hurt. If it does work, you face the risk of disappointment and loss of that love, and that hurts too. There is no escape of being hurt in this life. If you don't care, you suffer the hurt of not being loved. If you do love, you suffer the hurt of loving, and the hurt of loss of love. You will hurt one way or the other, but the Christian is called to take up the cross, and this means to take on the responsibility of risking the hurts of love.
Ruth and Naomi aided each other in being responsible for love. They took the risks necessary to see each other have fulfilled lives. The story has a happy ending because they took this responsibility of risks on themselves. In every story with a happy ending somebody has to take risks. God honors the risk taker. Look at Peter. He was the only disciple that denied Christ outright. He was the disciple who sank into the water, and needed to be rescued by Jesus. He was the only disciple who had to be rebuked by Jesus, and told to put away his sword. Peter made more mistakes, and suffered more rebukes than any other disciple. Why in the world would Jesus make him the leader?
The answer is simple. Peter was the only one who would risk his neck to follow Jesus into the place of His captivity, and then have to face the risk of denial. Peter was the only one who would take the risk of leaping out of the boat to come to Jesus on the water. Peter was the only one who would take the risk of drawing his sword to fight for the protection of Jesus. Peter was a risk taker, and though it is true that they reveal the reality of Murphy's law, his mistakes, because he was willing to take risks, make him the kind of person Jesus needed, and so it was with Ruth. She pushed open the door into the life of Boaz, and by her assertive risk taking pushed herself into the blood line of the Messiah. Ruth is only famous, and was only used of God, because she was a risk taker.
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