May 5, 2019

The Providence of God

Passage: Ruth 2:1-23

Good morning! If you have a Bible, I invite you to turn to the book of Ruth. And if you don’t have a Bible, there should be a Bible under the row of chairs in front of you. If you can grab a Bible, we’re going to be in Ruth 2, this morning.

Last week, we started a sermon series on the gospel love story of Ruth. This is the love story to beat all love stories, because, as we saw last week, it’s not just the love story between a man and a woman, although it is that, it’s also the love story between God and His people.

And so, the men in here don’t have the privilege of checking out for the next few weeks, as though this is a sermon series just for the women and they are being dragged along to some kind of chick flick, because each one of us, men included, find ourselves in this story.

But before we dive into the next chapter, because what we’re doing is we’re breaking down the book of Ruth, chapter by chapter, I just want to recap for us what we looked at in Ruth 1: The story of Ruth begins with a Jewish couple, Elimelech and Naomi, who lived in Bethlehem with their two sons. Bethlehem is called the “house of bread,” but there was a time in Bethlehem when there was a famine, and there was no bread in the house of bread.

So, Elimelech leads his family out of the Promised Land, turning their backs on the house of bread, in search of bread in the land of Moab. And Moab is not a good place for the people of God.

The Moabites descended from the incestuous relationship between Lot and his daughter. That’s not a very good beginning. But then, the Moabites were the ones who didn’t offer food and water to the Israelites when the Israelites were coming out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt. And the Moabite women were also the ones who seduced Israelite men into all kinds of sexual immorality and idolatry, leading to the judgment of God upon them, where 24,000 people died.

Needless to say, the relationship between the Israelites and the Moabites is not good. And yet, Moab is where this Jewish man is leading his family.

But when they get there, all of a sudden, Elimelech dies. So, Naomi is now left with her two sons. But her two sons end up marrying Moabite women, which can’t be what Naomi had envisioned for her sons, since the Moabite women were known for their sexual immorality and idolatry. But then, her two sons also die, all of a sudden.

And after 10 years of one tragedy after another, Naomi finds herself a widow, childless, and in a foreign land with two Moabite daughters-in-law, who were also widows and childless. This can’t be how Naomi planned her life.

But then, Naomi hears that bread has returned to Bethlehem. So, she begins a journey back to Bethlehem, because there is nothing for her in Moab. And on the way, she tries to dissuade Orpah and Ruth, her daughters-in-law, from going with her, because Naomi knows that these two young women would be able to find a husband and start a family, if they stayed in Moab, but if they came with her, they would be committing themselves to a life of widowhood and childlessness.

And Orpah goes back to her people, but Ruth clings to Naomi. Ruth says to Naomi, “I am going with you. Where you go, I will go. Where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. Where you are buried, I will be buried.”

And so, at the end of chapter 1, Ruth and Naomi have entered into Bethlehem, and there is this awkwardness and tension, because Naomi has returned, but she has returned with only a Moabite daughter-in-law; and she has changed her name from Naomi, which means, “pleasant,” to Mara, which means, “bitter;” and she is blaming God for bringing all of this misfortune upon her.

Naomi is dealing with this honest hurt that we see all throughout Scripture. And standing beside her, through all of this, is loyal Ruth, who shows us what it looks like to leave behind worldly pleasure and security and gain, in order to commit deeply and fully to the God who is loyal to His children.

But we aren’t left without hope. Chapter 1 ended with the words, “And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” And God still has something big in store for these women, which sets the stage for Ruth 2.

So, if you have your Bibles opened to Ruth 2, we are going to do the same thing that we did last week. We are going to break down the text, verse by verse, so that we can get the sense of what is taking place.

And as we do that, I want us to keep in our minds what the author is saying about the character of God. Last week, we looked at the loyalty of God, and how God did not leave His people in famine, but visited His people and gave them food. And this week, I want us to see the providence of God, and how God ordains all things for the good of His people and the praise of His glory.

Look at Ruth 2:1. “Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.”

We’re going to pause here. Ruth 1 ended with two main characters: Ruth and Naomi. They are both widowed and childless. They’re in need of food and family. And already in verse 1, we start to see how these needs are going to be met.

We are introduced to a man by the name of Boaz, and Boaz is from the clan of Elimelech. Now, how Israelite society worked is that you, as an individual, were part of a family, and your family was part of a clan, and that clan was part of one of the 12 tribes of Israel. So, within your clan were many other Jewish families.

And why this was so important is because if you were part of clan, then you had a responsibility to care for the other families within that clan. And this is significant because Boaz, it says, was from the same clan as Elimelech, which just so happens to be Naomi’s husband. So, we need to keep that in the back of our minds as we read on.

Verse 2: “And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.’ And she said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’”

A little background into what Ruth is requesting: God had set up a means, whereby the poor and the destitute would be cared for, during the harvest. In Leviticus 19:9, God says, “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest.”

And what that’s saying is that, during the harvest, Israelite landowners were commanded to leave the corners of the fields behind, so that those who had little could come behind them and be provided for.

So, Ruth is going out, during the harvest, to find an Israelite landowner who was following God’s command, so that she could be granted favour to glean in their fields. But she had to be granted favour.

This wasn’t something that was just assumed; it was a privilege that could either be granted or refused. And with her being a Moabite woman, she is just hoping that someone will have the decency to let her get a little bit of food for a couple of days for her and Naomi.

But this is where the story gets really good. Look at verse 3. “So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.”

I love the language here. Ruth starts out by gleaning in a field after the reapers, but then, she just so happens to come to Boaz’s field. As luck would have it, she finds herself in the field belonging to Boaz, who, in case you forgot, was of the same clan that Elimelech was part of.

It seems like an accident, right? But I just want to point out: There are no accidents in the economy of God. Everything happens according to the sovereign plan of God. Nothing happens that takes God by surprise. He is on His throne, ruling and reigning over everything.

When I think about the fact that I was on the track to a life spent far from God, but how God brought me back to Himself, it just blows me away.

I was dating a girl who was not a Christian and was not the best influence in my life. And she said to me that she was thinking of moving to Vancouver. I was living near Olds, working at Walmart, at the time, but I liked this girl. So, I suggested to her that I could go with her, and that I would find a job at a Walmart in Vancouver, and we wouldn’t need to do the long-distance thing.

But it was at that point when she told me that she had cheated on me, and that she didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to move to Vancouver with her. And I was obviously crushed. I went from being willing to go with her to Vancouver to breaking up with her, in a few short minutes. That was not my plan.

But it just so happens, the next day, I was sitting at Tim Hortons, drinking a coffee, contemplating life, and Helena walks over to me. And her and I had dated a few months back, but it didn’t work out, so we were just friends now, who saw each other, periodically, at places like Tim Hortons.

So, she comes over to my table and asks how things are going, and I tell her that my girlfriend and I had just broken up, and that I wasn’t doing too well. And her response was very consoling, because she just so happened to be wanting to get back together with me, but I was in this relationship with this other girl, so that made it kind of difficult. And it was shortly after this that we did get back together, and here we are, today.

I don’t know exactly where my life would have gone, if my girlfriend and I had not broken up, and if I had gone to Vancouver with her. But I can tell you one thing, it was not headed in the direction of God. It was heading far from God. And only God can redirect our path back to Him, in a way like this.

That’s the providence of God. There is nothing in your life or in my life that has happened this past week, or this past month, or this past year, that is accidental. God is working together all things for our good and His glory.

And we this in our text. Look at verse 4: “And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you!’ And they answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’ 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, ‘Whose young woman is this?’”

As luck would have it, though we know it’s not luck but the providence of God, Boaz comes to the exact field that Ruth is gleaning in, and Boaz notices her. I mean, she would have been a very beautiful, foreign woman, given her Moabite heritage, so that makes sense.

But notice that Boaz asks the young man in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” Boaz wants to know what family she is from and what clan she belongs to. And the reality for Ruth is that she is a Moabite daughter-in-law who has no family, but is in need of family. And that’s what this guy tells him.

Verse 6: “And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, ‘She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.” So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.’”

Boaz gets all the information he needs about this Ruth the Moabite, and he walks right up to her, which is surprising, since he is a wealthy, Jewish landowner, who has no reason to come down to the level of a foreigner to talk to her.

But here is what he says in verse 8: “Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.’”

Boaz really doesn’t want Ruth gleaning in another guy’s field. He repeats his desire for her to stay in his field. In fact, the word used for, “keep close,” is the same word that we saw in chapter 1, when it said that Ruth “clung” to Naomi.

In other words, Boaz is asking for that same level of commitment that Ruth showed to Naomi to be shown to him. He doesn’t want her going anywhere else, because, with her being a foreigner, the chances of her being abused or mistreated or insulted were high.

What Boaz is offering Ruth is protection and the opportunity to have plenty of food—two things that she is in need of, right now. But if we are the original readers, we are shocked. Boaz has crossed all kinds of social lines doing what he just did. This was more than just your typical kindness and generosity. This kind of special favour wasn’t just handed out as freely as he just handed it out.

And it brings about this response from Ruth, in verse 10: “Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?’”

At the beginning of the chapter, Ruth is in need of someone who will show favour to her. But as soon as someone does, she can’t believe it. She thinks she’s undeserving of such favour. She’s questioning why it has even come upon her.

Verse 11: “But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 The Lord repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!’ 13 Then she said, ‘I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, though I am not one of your servants.’”

Boaz hears of the commitment that Ruth has shown to Naomi, and it draws Boaz in. It’s attractive to him. But then, Boaz points Ruth to the God under whose wings she has come to take refuge.

And this sets the stage for verse 14: “And at mealtime Boaz said to her, ‘Come here and eat some bread and dip your morsel in the wine.’ So she sat beside the reapers, and he passed to her roasted grain. And she ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over.”

This is more than just a first-date dinner and a movie. This is more than just all-you-can-eat bread and salad from East Side Mario’s. This is a picture of rich fellowship at the table.

Let me explain what I mean by that: When it says that Boaz “passed to her roasted grain,” that is the only time in the Old Testament that that expression is used, and it’s used to refer to Boaz serving Ruth the Moabite. It should easily be the other way around, but instead, Boaz is serving rather than being served.

Does that not sound like another place in Scripture? How about when Jesus and His disciples were gathered at the table for a meal, but then, Jesus takes the bread, says that it’s a sign of His body, and passes it around to everyone?

There is plenty of imagery going on in this passage. This is more than just a meal, it’s rich fellowship at the table, under the provision of the Lord of the harvest. And Ruth is not only invited to the table, she is being served at it.

Verse 15: “When she rose to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, saying, ‘Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 And also pull out some from the bundles for her and leave it for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.’ 17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.”

Now, according to one commentator, an ephah has been estimated to be about 2/3 of a bushel, which would weigh somewhere between 30 to 50 pounds. Ruth would have gleaned enough barley for two weeks of food for her and Naomi. And to show how tough she is, after a hard day of work, verse 18 says that “she took it up and went into the city.”

And when she gets home, verse 18 continues: “Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had left over after being satisfied. 19 And her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.’”

Picture Naomi at home all day long, wondering how Ruth is making out on her first day. Did she find somebody who would show her kindness? Did something bad happen to her? Will they have any food for tomorrow? And not only was Ruth shown favour, but her mother-in-law, in turn, was shown favour, as Naomi experiences the kindness of the man who showed favour to her daughter-in-law.

Verse 19 continues: “So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, ‘The man's name with whom I worked today is Boaz.’ 20 And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘May he be blessed by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!’ Naomi also said to her, ‘The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.’ 21 And Ruth the Moabite said, ‘Besides, he said to me, “You shall keep close by my young men until they have finished all my harvest.”’ 22 And Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, ‘It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, lest in another field you be assaulted.’ 23 So she kept close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”

This is a very different tune than at the end of chapter 1, right? There is a little bit more hope here. Naomi goes from bitterness to blessedness, from blaming God for the calamity that had come upon her to blessing God for Boaz their redeemer.

But don’t miss this. This is more than just food and provision for the rest of the barley harvest. There is still one need that hasn’t yet been fulfilled, and that is, family. And the good news, which we will look at more closely, next week, is how Boaz is presented as the answer to this need.

And that’s where chapter 2 ends. Now, last week, we looked at Naomi, a woman with honest hurt, and Ruth, a woman with loyal devotion. This morning, I want us to look at Boaz, because Boaz reveals to us the character of God.

Deuteronomy 10:18 says that God “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.”

And we this with Boaz. He went to the exact field that Ruth was working in, and rather than leaving her to do her thing, he went over to her and showed her extraordinary favour. He provides Ruth and Naomi with enough food for about two weeks. He brings Ruth to the table, where she is able to find rest, shelter, and food.

And Ruth’s response to the favour that was shown to her is that she considered herself unworthy. And the reality is that she’s right. She didn’t deserve any of the favour that came her way. She was completely unworthy. And likewise, we are completely unworthy of the favour of God that has been shown to us.

You see, we are Ruth in this story. God, in His great mercy and grace, sent His Son to the exact field that we were working in, so to speak. He sought us out. He showed His love for us, in that, while we were completely unworthy, dead in our sins, He died for us. He gave Himself up for our sake, serving us rather than being served Himself, so that we could come to the table.

It’s what we partake in, every Sunday morning, in our Remembrance Service. We celebrate the Lord’s Super, as it reminds of the sacrifice of Jesus on that cross that made a way for us, in all of our unworthiness, to be counted worthy. But it’s only through Christ that this is possible.

There is a lot of garbage out there that will say to us that we are worthy, and the reality is that we are not worthy. We are far from the worthiness that God requires. But the good news of the gospel, according to Ephesians 1:4, is that God “chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.”

We must never take the favour of God for granted. We can’t. It’s not about us. It’s not about anything we’ve done. It’s all about Jesus. It’s all about His goodness and His riches, which He chose to lavish upon us before anything was created.

This is the gospel and it is attractive to us. It draws us in, because there is a longing deep within each one of us, to seek refuge under the wings of God. And God is the One seeking us out and drawing us in to a relationship with Him.

Charles Spurgeon shares this story: A woman went into a place where they were manufacturing a carpet. She said, “There is no beauty there.” The man said, “It is one of the most beautiful carpets you ever saw.”

The woman said, “Why, here is a piece hanging out, and it is all in disorder.”

“Do you know why, ma’am? You are looking at the wrong side of the carpet!”

How often are we looking at the wrong side of the carpet? As I think about how our text applies to Boyle Gospel Chapel, I think about how God, in His providence, saw fit to build this church, and how God has brought together people from various walks of life, and how God has brought in a pastor, who was on his way far from God, but how God brought him back, sent him to Bible College, and placed him in Boyle, Alberta, where, as ‘Tricia reminded me this past week, they had been praying for a pastor for 15 years.

I was 10 years old when they started praying for a pastor. It might not be pretty how we all got her, but if that’s not providence, I don’t know what is. It sure isn’t luck and it sure isn’t chance. It’s the providence of God, where God is on His throne, ordaining all things for the good of His people and the praise of His glory.

But God has not brought us together for no reason. He has not given us the assurance that He will be our God and we will be His people, so that we can just sit back and revel in the favour that has been bestowed upon us.

When we look at this passage, we find that we are the ones whom God has called to be Boaz’s in this world. We are the ones whom God has called to execute justice for the fatherless and the widow, and love the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. We are the ones, not because it is earning us favour from God, because we already have that, but because it’s the favour of God working itself through us, His people.

God has placed each of us here, providentially, with these abilities and these connections and this money and this food, and we have the opportunity in the community of Boyle to make an impact in the world.

Next Sunday, we will be starting the Pregnancy Care Centre Baby Bottle Campaign. And what that is, is there will be a box of baby bottles sitting on the back table, next Sunday, and we are to fill those bottles with cash or coins or a cheque to the Pregnancy Care Centre, and it’s just something that will potentially help the Ruth’s in this world to experience the favour of our God.

That’s just one thing that we are doing here. But if Ruth 2 is saying anything to us, today, it’s that God has not put us in this place at this time to live for ourselves, but to show the favour of God to the spiritually and physically poor and needy around us. That’s the challenge for us coming out of Ruth 2. What are we doing to meet the needs of the spiritually and physically poor and needy?

But then, if you are here this morning, and you are wandering in other fields, chasing after all these other things, I urge you to repent and to turn to God. Jesus died and was raised, so that you could find eternal rest for your weary soul under the wings of God.

By His grace, He has brought you to this place to hear this story about the God who has called you by name and is drawing you to Himself. The question is: How will you respond? Is today the day you put your trust in Jesus alone? Let’s pray…

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