Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Faithfulness of Ruth: God's Sovereign direction in the Little things of Life

We’ve just gone through the book of judges with all these vast, brutal wars, and chaos and destruction and now we turn to the next book, right after Judges, the book of Ruth. We saw how God is very concerned with huge world events, like the nation of Israel and it’s enemies, and Israel’s sins and their leaders. But in the book of Ruth we get a whole new angle on who God is and how he interacts with us.

In the book of Ruth we learn about how God is providentially at work in the seemingly small, everyday events of our lives. God cares about the little things in our lives. Even in the life of just one person, or a small group of people. God’s hand is at work, in providence. And if you aren’t clear of the meaning of providence, providence refers to how God guides events behind the scenes. He’s at work, even in the smallest decisions we make.

So the book of Ruth, the first line of the book of Ruth tells us these events take place during the time of the judges. Scholars are uncertain as to the exact time frame in which ruth was written, but the probably author of Ruth seems to be Samuel. It’s probably written well after the actual historical events took place, as a retelling of these events.

So at this time in Israel’s history, there is a famine taking place in the land. People are starving to death left and right.

You can turn to Ruth chapter one in your Bibles. So it says in Ruth 1:1-2:

“So a man from Bethlehem in Judah left his home and went to live in the country of Moab, taking his wife and two sons with him. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. And when they reached Moab, they settled there.”

Notice where they’re from: Bethlehem. Very interesting. So Eli and Naomi. They’ve got two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. And they’re fleeing a famine. Very common in antiquity. There were all sorts of famines in the middle east at this time in history. Usually these famines were caused by lack of rains, or hail storms, sometimes also related to sieges from foreign nations as well.

So they head to a foreign nation, to hopefully escape the famine. They’re making decisions, to protect themselves.

Things don’t work out too well in Moab unfortunately. It says, “3 Then Elimelech died, and Naomi was left with her two sons. 4 The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion died. This left Naomi alone, without her two sons or her husband.” Ruth 1:3-5

This must’ve been extremely devastating for Naomi. She’s essentially lost everything. Her husband has died, it doesn’t say how. But it may have been that the famine spread to Moab as well. Imagine how painful that must’ve been! I saw how my grandma struggled after losing my grandpa when he died. I imagine it must feel like losing your other half.

But at least she has her two sons, and they both get married. That’s very good. But then we jump ten years into the future. And it says that both her sons died as well. Once again we don’t know how they died. But it’s possible that it was due to famine.

So now Naomi is left alone, miserable, with only two foreign women, who are both widows now as well.

Naomi hears word that back in Israel the famine has passed and there is food available. So she sets out with Orpah and Ruth. But on the way she asks Orpah and Ruth to turn back and go to Moab. She told them they should look for husbands there among their own people the Moabites.

In the ancient world, women basically had to be married to have their needs met. An unmarried woman was basically at the mercy of the world and would have nothing. So it was very important in ancient times for a woman to have a husband to work to provide for her needs. So understand that cultural context here.

Both of them refuse to leave Naomi’s side. But eventually Orpah agrees to leave and goes back to her people.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”

And here we find our first principle today. The absolute and complete faithful devotion of Ruth. She loves Naomi as herself. The biblical standard of love. If only we had this kind of love amongst us. But we don’t. We’re too busy selfishly seeking our own desires. And that really needs to change amongst us. We need to learn to love each other the way Ruth loved Naomi. She was not willing to leave Naomi alone in her misery. Often times we’re too focused on getting everything we want, arguing over stupid things, and ignoring each other, to actually take time to love each other. That’s my first challenge to you today. We must learn to love each other more deeply. Loyalty. Devotion. A willingness to sacrifice for others. Guess who models that best in this room? Scott does. Always he is willing to help.

So they journeyed back to Bethlehem. So the setting is historic Bethlehem. Very interesting. As they enter the city, everyone is astonished. This was a small town kind of thing. Much smaller than even little Owosso. Everybody knows everybody in Owosso. But in Bethlehem, everybody really knows everybody, tight knit community. They’re all amazed, Naomi is back!

But she replies, “20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty. Why call me Naomi when the Lord has caused me to suffer and the Almighty has sent such tragedy upon me?”

Can anyone here relate to how Naomi felt at this moment in her life? She’s lost her husband. She’s lost her two sons. She’s really lost everything. Everything aside from Ruth. She has suffered terribly. Can anyone relate here? Have you suffered? Has it felt at times in your life that the Lord has left you empty? Has it felt at times like the Lord caused you to suffer and sent tragedy upon you?

I believe the Bible mentions this incident particularly because we all face situations as Christians, and just as human beings, where we face struggle. If so, this saga of Naomi and Ruth proves one thing: God really cares about our sufferings. He deeply cares about our pain. That’s my second point for you today.

We’ll see how the changes in Naomi’s story prove to us that God cares about even the sorrows of one seemingly insignificant person. God is at work in nations, the United States, the world, but also, he is at work in your little life, and cares about you.

So Naomi and Ruth are in Bethlehem. And Ruth offers to go collect grain in the fields, because it’s harvest season. Naomi gives her permission to do so. This is a practice called gleaning. Gleaning is a concept found in the Old Testament law. Foreigners and the needy were allowed to follow after in the fields after those gathering barley. And they could collect what was left on the ground for themselves.

So Ruth goes out into the fields and begins gleaning. And it just so happens, that she ends up gleaning in the field of a man named Boaz, a relative of her deceased father in law Elimilech.

Then we see in Ruth chapter 2:8-16 “8 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. 9 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.”

10 Ruth fell at his feet and thanked him warmly. “What have I done to deserve such kindness?” she asked. “I am only a foreigner.”

11 “Yes, I know,” Boaz replied. “But I also know about everything you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband. I have heard how you left your father and mother and your own land to live here among complete strangers. 12 May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully for what you have done.”

13 “I hope I continue to please you, sir,” she replied. “You have comforted me by speaking so kindly to me, even though I am not one of your workers.”

14 At mealtime Boaz called to her, “Come over here, and help yourself to some food. You can dip your bread in the sour wine.” So she sat with his harvesters, and Boaz gave her some roasted grain to eat. She ate all she wanted and still had some left over.

15 When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. 16 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!””

Often times, you don’t see what God is doing. Seemingly random events are taking place in your life. You get this job. You become friends with this person. You go out to eat on this day. You visit the park over the weekend. And it all seems kinda random. But quietly, beneath the surface, God is weaving strands of your life together to form a tapestry, a plan, in which your destiny, God’s will, is being unfolded.

That is my third point to you today: God’s will is being unfolded in the “random” events of your life.

So Ruth continues to glean in Boaz’s fields, and Boaz is obviously helping her and blessing her, and impressed by her faithfulness. Ladies, if you’re hoping for a Boaz to come into your life. Follow God’s will for your life. And be a faithful woman, when no one is looking. Be faithful. Be loyal to those you love. Honor God. And people will take note.

Ruth continues to glean through Spring and into early Summer. One day Naomi says to her, from Ruth chapter 3, ““My daughter, it’s time that I found a permanent home for you, so that you will be provided for. 2 Boaz is a close relative of ours, and he’s been very kind by letting you gather grain with his young women. Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. 3 Now do as I tell you—take a bath and put on perfume and dress in your nicest clothes. Then go to the threshing floor, but don’t let Boaz see you until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 Be sure to notice where he lies down; then go and uncover his feet and lie down there. He will tell you what to do.”

So God has brought together seemingly random events in the life of Naomi and Ruth. He’s guided events. There’s an opportunity here. So Ruth receives excellent advice and guidance from this motherly figure to her Naomi. And we should always seek the Lord when making a big decision like this.

But my fourth point to you is this: When God orchestrates His will in our lives, we must recognize the opportunity in front of us and take it. God isn’t going to force Ruth to approach Boaz. He isn’t going to force Boaz to marry Ruth. They both have free will. And Ruth wisely gets godly counsel from Naomi, and then listens and takes the advice.

Now, just a caution, sometimes we can get very bad advice from family and friends as well. So watch out for that. Always check God’s word and pray to make sure.

So Ruth does just as Naomi says. She goes to Boaz at night, uncovers his feet, and he wakes up and sees her there. Everybody please remember this is a Jewish cultural practice. This was a way of the woman to propose marriage to someone who is called a “kingsman redeemer.” For a woman that had suffered great loss, and her husband had died, a redeemer from the same family could redeem the situation by taking the widow as his wife. And that’s what Boaz does.

He realizes that there is another relative that is closer in relation to Ruth’s father in law Elimilech. So Boaz goes to talk to this person. He’s probably very worried, because he wants this honorable woman Ruth to become his wife. But he honors God by obeying the laws of that time. He goes and talks with the man, but he doesn’t want to redeem the family, because he’d have to marry Ruth. So Boaz agrees to redeem the dead man’s family name. He declares this in front of the whole crowd in the marketplace, and they’re very excited about this beautiful situation. Remember it’s a small town, and everybody knows about Boaz and Naomi and Ruth.

Ruth 4:11-12: “Then the elders and all the people standing in the gate replied, “We are witnesses! May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, from whom all the nation of Israel descended! May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 And may the Lord give you descendants by this young woman who will be like those of our ancestor Perez, the son of Tamar and Judah.”

Ruth 4:13-17 "So Boaz took Ruth into his home, and she became his wife. When he slept with her, the Lord enabled her to become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. 14 Then the women of the town said to Naomi, “Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family! May this child be famous in Israel. 15 May he restore your youth and care for you in your old age. For he is the son of your daughter-in-law who loves you and has been better to you than seven sons!”

16 Naomi took the baby and cuddled him to her breast. And she cared for him as if he were her own. 17 The neighbor women said, “Now at last Naomi has a son again!” And they named him Obed.”

My fifth point today is, When we respond to God’s opportunity, He blesses us and makes it wonderful.

Ruth and Boaz get married. She gives birth to a son. And Naomi is blessed. It’s a moment of rebirth in her family line, that looked like it was coming to an end. Naomi was completely hopeless. She was totally bitter and depressed and miserable. And God completely changed her story.

So the whole city rejoices with Naomi. And her bitterness is turned to comfort and healing. Ruth is married to an amazing man who loves her dearly. Boaz after being single for so long, he’s a middle-aged guy, is married to a wonderful godly woman.

Point number six, if you’ve been waiting on God for a long time, keep waiting, because God is faithful. He will turn your bitterness to rejoicing.

And they have this child named Obed. Does that name sound familiar? Yes. Obed was the father of Jesse. Making Obed the grandfather of David, who would become king of Israel. Not only that, guess what? Ruth and Boaz’s son Obed is part of the line of David, meaning Obed, this miracle child, is great great great great (28 greats) grandfather to Jesus of Nazareth, who would one day be born in that little backwater town of Bethlehem.

And my final point today is this: Not only will God turn our bitterness to rejoicing. Not only is Jesus Christ our ultimate kingsman redeemer, who redeems us from the grave, and redeems us from sin and death, not only is all that true, but when we obey God and become part of His plan for the universe, He gives us an honored place in his very own family. Just like Ruth and Boaz were part of the family line that would eventually give birth to Jesus the son of God. Amen!