The Providence of God
Topic: Default Scripture: Ruth 2:1–2:23
We are on the second week of our walk through Ruth and today we look at chapter 2. By way of reminder or if you weren’t here last week, Naomi is an Israelite who fled with her family from Bethlehem to Moab during a time of famine. This was a bad decision on a lot of levels. Naomi had two sons who were then married to Moabite women (a big no no) and then tragedy strikes. Naomi’s husband and both of her sons die.
Naomi then hears that food has returned to Bethlehem so she decides to return, but not before trying to talk her two daughters-in-law into going back home to Moab. Orpah agrees to go back home, but Ruth declines and commits herself fully to Naomi and Naomi’s God. And that’s where we pick this story up in chapter two.
Now we get to see the providence of God work in the midst of unimaginable suffering. One pastor said there are nothing but dark clouds over these women’s’ heads, but in chapter two a hole opens up, light breaks through and that hole just gets wider and wider.
I was asking my kids at dinner what the providence of God was. They all agreed that it was a piece of land. No, not ‘province,’ providence. As we read earlier from the catechism, “God’s works of providence are the holy, wise, and powerful acts by which he preserves and governs all his creatures, and their actions.”
Do you know what a game changer it is to really know and believe that there is a good God who knows about, cares about, and is engaged in every area of your life? I don’t in any way want to minimize the complexity of anxiety, but how much anxiety do you think we experience on a weekly basis because of a deep awareness of our inability to control our lives?
How much unnecessary turmoil do we put ourselves through by worrying about stuff that doesn’t happen? God gives us grace for the scenarios we are actually in, but He doesn’t give us grace for all the worst possible scenarios we can dream up for our life.
All of us are likely familiar with televangelists who say that God’s will for our lives is that we would be happy, healthy, and wealthy. Well, what does that mean for Elizabeth Elliot who lost her husband to the tribes he was trying to reach with the gospel? What does that mean for people like Dietrich Bonhoffer who are killed because of their willingness to stand up against governmental persecution for the gospel? What does it mean for the many of us who will never be known and suffer quietly laboring at seemingly menial tasks?.
And maybe nowhere in Scripture is God’s providence through hardship more evident than the book of Ruth. Ruth chapter two is God’s providence on display in the bleakest of stories. In this chapter we are going to see 1) the display of God’s providence, 2) the effects of embracing God’s providence, and 3) the basis fo God’s providence.
- The display of God’s providence 2:1-9, 14-20
We see God’s providence on display in five was in this chapter. First, we see it through suffering. Not quite what you hoped the first point on God’s providence would be. I’m reaching back a chapter here, but we see suffering in chapter one on a level I don’t even know how to fully emotionally engage with. And if we are going to take Scripture seriously about how far the providence of God really extends, we have to accept that He is behind our trials as well as our successes.
But, we see in this story is God bringing about this suffering to call Naomi out of her sin and back to her people in Bethlehem and Ruth out of paganism and into God’s covenant people. Sometimes it is through the greatest suffering that God brings the greatest blessing. There are times where God ordains tragedy to set the stage for triumph. David Platt says that “sometimes it is when God seems farthest from us that
He is laying the foundations for the greatest displays of faithfulness to us.”
Second, we see God’s providence through nature. The famine was lifted! Bethlehem, the house of bread, had bread again. God’s providence isn’t just limited to human interaction. Literally anything that happens happens because God caused it to happen and that includes growing food from the earth. Psalm 104 says You cause ithe grass to grow for the livestock and jplants for man to cultivate, that he may bring forth kfood from the earth. - Psalm 104:14
Third, we can see God’s providence on display through what we might perceive as chance. Look at the first three verses: Now Naomi had ta relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was uBoaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and v glean among the ears of grain after him win whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 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 ( just in case you forgot) was of the clan of Elimelech. - Ruth 2:1-3
Did you see that? ‘Happened’ to come to the BEST FIELD EVER!! The Hebrew word is literally ‘chance chanced.’ It would be our way of sarcastically saying ‘as luck would have it.’ The author obviously doesn’t believe in blind luck, he’s acknowledging God’s providence in all the things beyond the control of Ruth. There is no such thing as a chance or coincidence in the economy of God.
This is the kind of providence that saved my wife’s life. We lived in Italy in our 20’s and Angela was pregnant with our first child and the ministry we were working for was making major changes and we were going to have to move. ‘By chance,’ we were forced to relocate. “By chance,’ we ended up in Mississippi where, ‘by chance,’ her dad is a doctor. So, when ‘by chance,’ she doubled over in pain we were ‘by chance’ in the only place in the world where we could find the cancer in less than two months. All the doctors saw her as a favor to her dad and she was in surgery within 48 hours. This all becomes especially relevant when the surgeon tells us her cancer was two weeks away from spreading everywhere. Chance chanced. As luck would have it.
Fourth, we see God’s providence on display through the law. And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, x“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?” (That’s ancient Hebrew for “Check her out!”) 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, ywho 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.”1 - Ruth 2:4-7
Ruth is taking advantage of a law in Deuteronomy 24 “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, zthat theLORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. - Deut. 24:19
God providentially provided through the laws He gave Israel. Basically, almost everyone in that day had to grow what they ate. If you couldn’t grow food, you were in a very precarious place. So, God made provision by commanding that once you go over a field, you can’t go back and get the grain that falls to the ground. You had to leave the edges of the field unharvested so someone like Ruth could come and maybe find enough to eat that night. It wouldn’t have provided a ton of food, but it would provide enough.
God provided for the poor in many ways like this. Deuteronomy 15 commands that every three years, a 10% offering was taken for the poor. Also in Deuteronomy 15, all debts were cancelled every seven years. In Leviticus 25 there was a sabbath for the land when they couldn’t be planted, but whatever happened to grow was free game for the poor. Then, the biggie, the year of jubilee where every fifty years the land returned to their original owners. So, if a family got in trouble and had to sell their land, they got it back on the year of jubilee.
I think it’s important for us to see God’s providence in the law of Moses both for them and for us. The laws we are looking at are the Israeli national laws given by God. Now, I know the US is not Israel and I don’t believe we are to directly import Jewish law into the US. I wouldn’t even know how to begin to take the laws of an agrarian society like this and apply them to in our urbanized global market today. But the whole law is ordered for human flourishing so, there are principles that can and should inform our law today that we see clearly in Ruth.
We have left leaning people who want the government to bear the majority of the responsibility when it comes to providing for the poor and we have right leaning people who look at the benevolence of Boaz and emphasize our own personal responsibility to the poor over that of the government. Here though, we very much have both.
Fifth, we see God’s providence through God’s people. Cue Ruth’s knight in shining armor. 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.” 8,9
This would have been mind blowing to the original audience. In those days Moabites served Israelites and women served men. But here, the Israelite men are serving the Moabite woman. Now we get to see the first date.
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 eshe was satisfied, and she had some left over. 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 ephah2 of barley. 14-17
We see Boaz going so much further than the law required. He is giving her roasted grain, she gets to dip her bread in the good stuff (I’m picturing Olive Garden here), he lets her eat until she is full, he lets her take grain even before it is harvested (so we aren’t talking about leftovers anymore), and he gives her an ephah of barley. Imagine the largest back of dog food at Walmart filled with barley and that is about what she is walking out with. Between 30 and 50 pounds of barley. Do you know what the average take home for a man employed in that field would have been? About two pounds.
Remember when we started this chapter, Ruth and Naomi had two major, life threatening issues. They lacked food and family. Food is solved through God’s providence of His law, nature, and people, but we have inclings here that something could be happening on the family front as well.
And she took it up and went into the city. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also brought out and gave her what food she had leftover fafter 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 gwho took notice of you.” 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, h“May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken ithe living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of jour redeemers.” - Ruth 2:18-20
Whoa! Not only does she ‘happen’ into the field of an incredibly generous man who would solve the food issue, he’s kin to them as well! He is someone Ruth could marry and save what’s left of the family. Just imagine Naomi here. Ruth plops all this barley down, then pulls the EXTRA food out from dinner, the tells her whose field she was in!
It may be helpful to remember that in Israel, the smallest unit was the household. The nuclear family. The idea of an individual was almost non-existent. Next you had a handful of related households that made up a clan. Then, you had all the related clans that made up a tribe. For Ruth to ever marry and keep her vow to Naomi, she had to marry within Elimelech’s clan. And Boaz is in the clan.
That would have surely been enough, but the author doesn’t stop there. We learn that Boaz was ‘a man of good standing’ which means godly, wealthy, or both. Not only is he generous to the poor, he cares about the outcast, and reaches across cultural barriers. Boaz is starting to make a knight in shining armor look kind of average.
These are the five ways we see God’s providence breaking through to work for the good of Ruth and Naomi. Now, I want to look at the way this providence affects Ruth and Naomi.
- The effects of embracing God’s providence (2:20)
There is this idea out there that if we believe in a big God who is providentially working in every facet of our lives to bring about our good and His glory, that we will stop trying. That God’s providence and our motivation are somehow at odds with each other. We won’t pray, we work hard at things like our personal holiness, that we won’t share our faith. Basically, the argument is that the bigger God is, the less we will do, but nothing about that view is supported in Scripture.
First, look at Ruth. God’s providence only increases her initiative. Remember she comes into this chapter fully committed to God’s providence in her life and in verse two we saw that she ‘goes.’ She goes with Noami to Bethlehem and she goes to the field to glean. In verses seven and seventeen we see Ruth is an incredibly hard worker. Her belief that God would provide didn’t hinder her work, it increasted it. And you actually have the feeling that as she realizes some of the ways God is providing, she works even harder.
And doesn’t this make sense? If you believe you are on a winning team, your motivation grows. It doesn’t mean the journey is going to be easy, but it means that it is going to finish well and to the extent we believe this, we will always see an increase in the initiative we show in this life. When Paul was in Corinth he was scared for some reason and God told him in a vision “Do not be afraid, `but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 nfor I am with you, and ono one will attack you to harm you, for pI have many in this city who are my people.” - Acts 18:9b,10
And that is exactly what Paul did! So, incidentally, we also see that a proper understanding of God’s providence increases all areas of initiation, including evangelism. God said in no uncertain terms that he had people in that city who had yet to hear the gospel and Paul didn’t say, “Well, I guess I have not role here then.” It motivated Paul to share the gospel!
We also see that a proper understanding of God’s providence humbles Ruth. In verse seven, she asks politely to glean. She knew it was the law, but she doesn't demand. She doesn’t presume. She humbly requests. A proper understanding of God’s providence and human pride cannot co-exist.
But Ruth isn’t the only one in this story being affected by God’s providence. Look what it does for Naomi. Did you notice that Naomi didn’t go glean? It could simply be that she was too old or poor in health, but many speculate that she was just so downcast and depressed that she shut down. But, look at what happens to Naomi’s spirits once she begins to realize what ‘happens’ to be happening. We are picking up at the moment
Naomi realizes they have food and it is from the field of Baoz, the kinsman redeemer.
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..." - Ruth 2:20
Can you see Noami’s heart softening? Can you see the wheels of belief and hope begin to spin? Unlike Ruth, she had to see it to believe it, but she is embracing the providence of God and it is producing initiative.
There is still one huge question in Ruth’s mind though and, if we are honest, we have the same question in all of our minds as well when it comes to God’s providence. Then zshe fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should atake notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” - Ruth 2:10
Ruth is asking this of Boaz, but it’s a question we all have to ask when it comes to the providence of God. Why would He care about a foreigner like me?
III. The basis for the providence of God (2:11-13)
To understand the basis for God’s kind providence toward us, we have to first understand the basis for Boaz’ kindness toward Ruth. She can’t believe the favor she is being shown, so she asks, “why are you doing this?”
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 cThe 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!”- Ruth 2:11-12
On the surface, it could seem like taking care of your mother-in-law is the key to it all. And I wouldn’t blame any mothers-in-law for using that verse out of context. But the whole statement hinges on this last line: under whose… Everything she has done is a result of, maybe proof of her taking refuge under the wings of the Lord. That is what Boaz likes so much!
Ruth’s taking refuge in the wings of the Lord triggered this unconditional devotion from Boaz. And if there was any doubt, it’s eliminated in Ruth’s response. 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.” - Ruth 2:13
This word for kindness here is ‘hesed.’ It means a loving commitment that is based on the giver of that love and not the merits of the receiver of that love. Do you see here that in this one interaction, we have the whole story of the Bible? We are the Moabitess born outside the covenant people of God worshipping pagan gods. But, God through His providence breaks into our pagan life and brings us under the care of His wings.
And less there ever be any doubt about His faithfulness to us, we look at Jesus Christ who secured God’s hesed toward us on the cross. So, the basis for any favor we receive is not based on our merits, but on the merits of Christ and the love of God the Father.
We have just embarked on my wife’s favorite time of the year: Hallmark Christmas movies. The most predictable movies ever. There is potential for good in the beginning, but crazy things happen and the good you are made to want in the beginning seems impossible, but in the last 8-10 minutes, it all works out somehow.
It hit me this week that this is a picture of God’s providence. We want something deep down. It isn’t the worldly kind of things in a Hallmark movie. We want purpose, we want to be made into the image we were designed to bear, and we want the world as it was supposed to be enjoying a relationship with God uninhibited by sin.
No matter what the trial, how dark the skies seem to be, if you hold fast to Jesus, you will always get those things in the end. The only question is this: are you taking refuge under His wings. As irresistible as the offer seems in front of Ruth, the offer in front of all of us is even more so.