Date: Sunday June 18, 2023
I. General Introduction Today, we come to one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It is a rather simple story, and yet within the narrative is held some of the core values and ideas that shape the people of God. It is the story of Ruth. My oldest daughter is named Ruth after this story. The Hebrew Bible, upon which our English translations of the Old Testament is translated, has this book placed immediately after the book of Proverbs. And the very last chapter of Proverbs is Proverbs 31 which describes a godly wife. Ruth is the very next story, and the idea is that Proverbs 31 is exemplifed in the woman Ruth.
II. Providence While the story of Ruth is a true story of a woman that would become a vital part of the lineage of Jesus. The story is bigger than her. Behind every word of this book is the mystery and the majesty of God’s invisible guiding hand. The term that is often use to describe this is ‘Providence,’ it is the invisible way that God guides every action towards his ultimate goal. Today, as we look at this story, I want to note of three observations about Providence.
I. GOD CAN AND DOES WORK THROUGH BROKEN PASTS TO ACCOMPLISH HIS GLORY
A. Demonstrated From the Text
Our story begins in the city of Bethlehem during a time period of Israel’s history called the Period of the Judges. There are many low points in the history of Israel but this time period is certainly among the top of the list. This was a time when everyone did as they pleased and very few people stopped to honor the Lord. The stories in the bible from this time period are of civil war, murder, rape, deceit. It was an awful period, and this is one of the few bright lights we know about.
Elhimilec and the Famine: It begins with a man named Elimelech which means (My God is my King), but as we’ll see God was not his king. and his wife Naomi. Elimelech was a Jew from Bethlehem just outside of Jerusalem, the very same Bethlehem where one day Jesus Christ would be born from. Bethlehem literally means, “House of Bread.” But in a twist of irony a famine comes over the city and Elimelech moves his family up out of the Promised land of Israel where God’s glory dwelt into the very unfriendly and idolatrous neighbor on the other side of the lake, Moab.
Founding of Moab: Now as if Israel were not in bad enough shape, Moab is even worse. Moab was founded by a man named Moab who was the son of an incestuous relationship with Lot (Abraham’s nephew). Moab was a pagan city, that worshiped a god name Chemosh, they were even known for child sacrifice, they were in many ways direct enemies of Israel that scripture repeatedly condemns. This would be like moving your family up out of Chicago into Green Bay, bad decision.
Moabites Were Forbidden: As time passed Elimelech’s family settles in and their two sons each take a Moabite woman as a wife. Chilion married Orpah (stiff necked), and Mahlon married Ruth (Beautiful companion). Now this again is a bad decision, they weren’t supposed to do this, God had forbidden Israelites to marry Moabites. And yet this family was already in a habit of sin. It’s not long before tragedy strikes. Elimelech had moved to Moab to preserve their life but what happens next is that one by one all the men of the family start to die. First Elimelech, the patriarch of the family passes away. Then she get’s that word that no mother ever wants to hear. First one son also dies, and then not long after the other son.
Naomi Determines to Go Home:Naomi’s life spins out of control. She is broken, alone, and in a foreign land with only her two widowed daughters in law. He knows that the legacy of her family is over, no children. She is hopeless. And then one day Naomi hears that there is food again in Bethlehem. She takes the two widowed daughters in law aside and tells them, “Look I’m done, I’m an old lady. I’m going back home to Bethlehem. You two stay here, live your life, remarry. I have nothing left to offer you.”
Ruth Determines to Stay: Orpah returns to her hometown, but Ruth does something unimaginable. She turns to Naomi and says,
Ruth 1:16–17 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
What sacrifice! I don’t even know if we can begin to imagine what kind of a sacrifice this was for Ruth. She is laying down her entire life to serve Naomi. As far as Ruth knows any chance she has of any kind of future is gone. And this isn’t just a one-month commitment to help her through a rough patch. This is a pledge to a broken woman saying, “I’m going to be there for you.” To put this in perspective, for Ruth to return to Bethlehem meant she would be a second-class citizen at best. Look what the law says about Moabites:
Deuteronomy 23:3 “No Ammonite or Moabite may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of them may enter the assembly of the Lord forever,
But do you notice the specifics of what Ruth says. She first pledges herself to Naomi. And then she pledges herself to Naomi’s God. She was willing to forsake father and mother in order to cleave to Naomi and the God of her people. Ruth was steadfastly determined to accompany Naomi and live in Bethlehem with God’s covenant people. I’m convinced that Ruth pledged herself Naomi because she had begun to taste of the glory of the God of Israel. God had found her in those years and when given the option of staying in Moab a country apart from God’s glory, or to return with Naomi into Israel where God dwelt, she choose Israel. And so these two women make the trek back to Bethlehem.
B. Develop the Principles
No amount of a broken past is a limitation on how God will use you for His glory. Naomi had lost a husband and two sons due to direct sinful behavior. Ruth had lost a husband and was from a family from the wrong side of the tracks. Yet, God works through all of the mess to bring about the beginnings of a plan for redemption.
The Message is Not: Notice, Elhimilek and Chillion and Mahlon, the men, died, as direct results of their sin. The message here is not that you can do whatever you want without any consequences. Rather, the message is that no matter how broken your background, God is able to use it for His glory, as he does with Naomi and as He does with Ruth.In 1 Corinthians there is a long list of sins including: theft, adultery, greed, drunkenness, etc. And then Paul says1 Corinthians 6:11 ESVAnd such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Other Examples from Scripture: Jesus Christ takes our broken backgrounds, and he is able to paint the most remarkable images with them. Consider the examples of Scripture. Abraham doubted God and had a child with another woman besides Sarah. Rahab, as best as we can tell was a prostitute at a military outpost. David was a murderer and adulterer. Jonah fled the call of God. Matthew was a corrupt tax collector. The Disciple named Simon was a political zealout—a group known for violence in seeking political change. The Apostle Paul oversaw the death of the first Christian martyr.
Sinful Past Skeptical Now: This ought to do a handful of things to different people in the room. Perhaps you are in here today, and you’re thinking about the mistakes and sins you’ve committed in your life and your skeptical about what your place could be in here. To you, I want you to feel the freedom and joy that every authentic Christian has felt. Christianity is not a religion of people who got their life together. Christianity is a religion of people who had broken backgrounds, but God by his mercy forgave them and offered them new life. That invitation is for you today.
1 Timothy 1:15–16 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.
Forgotten Where You Came From: Others in the room are confident in their Christian faith today. But today you need to be reminded where you came from so as to fuel your worship. Your story is not unlike Ruth’s. Let God stir to mind your former life, your mistakes. And then, in your heart say, “Thank you God for mercy.”
D. Christ as the Greater Ruth Lastly, before we move on, I want you to see that in Ruth, and her commitment to Naomi, we get a taster of Christ and his commitment to you. Christ has sworn that he will never leave you nor forsake you. He paid the ultimate cost, giving up his life, that he might bond himself to you in protection. Ruth points us towards Christ.
II. GOD PROVIDENTIALLY PROVIDES FOR THE VULNERABLE THROUGH THE CHARITY OF HIS PEOPLE
A. Demonstrated From The Text
Gleaning Laws: They’ve hit low point! These are two broke, poor, widowed women living on what was functionally a welfare system. But what we are about to see is God’s providence through their seeming brokenness. They had arrived in Bethlehem at the Barley Harvest. Ruth, being young, wanted to serve and be helpful. She requests to go to into the fields to pluck and collect food for her and Naomi to eat, she wanted to ‘Glean.’ Le me explain gleaning, it’s a very important concept when we think about God’s heart for serving others. God in the OT told his people that if you own a piece of land, you actually don’t’ own it, I own it, the land belongs to me. So when you work the land leave a little bit of your harvest on the edges so that the poor, the immigrant, the needy can come by and find something to eat. Wow! This wasn’t just a handout, they had to come and work, but it was the Hebrew welfare system. You see in God’s kingdom nobody goes hungry, everybody is provided for. The law itself was built around serving each other.
Ruth 2:3 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.
Introduction to Boaz: Look at God’s providence. Of all the fields she could have stumbled into, stumbled into the field of Boaz. This is God’s providence, providing for and guiding Ruth. The name Boaz literally means “strength”. The text says he is a “worthy man,” and he is running his farming business in an honorable.
Boaz Spots Ruth: Boaz arrives at the field late in the day and sees Ruth working hard in the fields collecting leftovers that had dropped off the carts of the reapers. And as he looks out on Ruth, he spots her of all the poor who are gleaning in his field and he asks his workers about her. They explain that she is the young Moabite who has returned with Naomi. And he begins to have compassion on her for he had heard of the compassion and service she had shown Naomi, Bethlehem is not that big of a town after all. Later in the day, he approaches her and says, Boaz shows compassion to Ruth. Boaz sees this poor girl struggling on welfare trying to do her best and he lavishes her with gifts. He gives her a rest in the middle of the day literally serves her bread and wine. When she goes home with everything she has collected, Boaz graciously gives her even more as a free gift. This is extravagent care for the vulnerable.
Ruth 2:8 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.
Boaz tells Ruth to glean only in his fields. Then he looks at the men in his fields and demands that they protect her. This is a worthy man, who sees the plight of young Ruth, and wants to step in and serve. Boaz is not thinking of anything romantic here at this point. He is simply a man of the Word. He’s compassionate. And he’s a protector. So long as Ruth stays near Boaz, she’s taken care of. She and Naomi will have more than enough. What is remarkable is that, this is the same kind of love that Ruth has already shown to Naomi. Now God is using Boaz to show this kind of love to Ruth. God’s people taking care of each other with the means they have available to them.
B. Doctrinal Support
In the Old Testament, God had all kinds of laws that were designed to care for the vulnerable, the poor, and the needy among the people of God. The idea was not that poverty would completely eradicated, but in a town like Bethlehem, where godly men and women were adhering to God’s laws, even the poor would be provided for. No one would go without.
Jesus Teaching: It has been a historic mark of the people of God that we are a sacrificial and charitable people. Jesus taught on this topic more than anyone.
Luke 14:12–14 He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.”
Over and over again, Jesus admonishes his followers to prioritize care for the vulnerable. When the Apostle Paul visited Peter and James in Jerusalem, they gave Paul instructions and Paul writes,
Galatians 2:10 Only, they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do.
Assets & Wealth (Gleanings): For some, you may be like Boaz who has access to considerable assets. Do you practice the gleanings law by leaving the edges of your fields available for the poor? In other words, are your assets entirely for you, or do you see them as an opportunity to poor extravagant love and charity out on those in need?
Time: For others you may not have the assets and wealth like Boaz, but you do have time? Do you have margin in your schedule to linger with people. Boaz took time in his busy day to eat bread and wine with Ruth. Ruth spent her day working in a field to make sure Naomi was cared for. Are you willing to linger with others who need help? Are you extravagantly charitable with your time?
D. Christ is the Greater BoazHere again we see that Christ is the greater Boaz. God the Father sent Christ the Son to rescue us when we were held in a spiritual slavery. We were stuck, unable to free ourselves from sin and the consequences of sin, but Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave to defeat sin. He gave us a new life. Christ is so compassionate and kind to us. He gives us rest in the midst of our weariness. He serves us bread and wine as as symbol of his undying love for us.
III. GOD PROVIDENTIALLY BLESSES RIGHTEOUS LIVING
Levirate Marriage and Kinsman Redemption Laws: Ruth gets home and tells Naomi all that had happened. Now, Naomi once again begins to realize what God has done. She begins to get excited, for she actually knows of Boaz for he is a relative of Elimelech, and she knows of the laws of redeeming land and wives. Let me explain. In Jewish Law it is written that if a man dies and leaves a wife with no children, the man’s closest living relative should marry the widow in order to keep the original husband’s lineage alive. It’s God’s way of serving us by providing heirs to men that die young, so that their family name would not die with them. It’s God’s way of restoring life and longevity even in the midst of death.
Naomi’s Instructions: Naomi instructs Ruth what to do. She tells Ruth to bathe up and to anoint herself, to put on her cloak. This is what a woman would have done when entering into her betrothal. She tells her to sneak into the threshing floor where Boaz would have been sleeping with his harvest to protect it from thieves. She says sneak into that room late at night and lay at his feet, and he will tell you what to do.
What Was Naomi’s Plan: What Naomi’s strategy was, we don’t know. Did she send Ruth in there to sleep with Boaz? Or did she know Boaz well enough that he wouldn’t do such a thing? Ruth, having committed her life to honoring and serving Naomi, takes the advice. She sneaks under cover of darkness, enters Boaz’s threshing floor, uncovers the blanket from on top of his body. Boaz wakes up startled, “Who are you?” he says.
Ruth 3:9 He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
The Tempting Moment: Ruth tells Boaz exactly why she is there and what her intentions are. “You are a redeemer, and I would like you to marry me. the ball is in your court Boaz.” Now men, I want you to look at Boaz in this moment. This is pure temptation. Now Boaz’s heart is going pitter patter. The young beautiful Ruth is sitting at the foot of his bed in the middle of the night. She’s dressed up for her betrothal. And she’s clean, this didn’t happen all that much! What will he do in this provocative situation. Boaz is a man of God, and he behaves in this situation as a man of God ought to behave.
Boaz’s Response: Boaz filters his impulses and his emotions through the Word of God, and says, “Ruth, the fact that you would come to me, an older man, and would desire me is more than I could have ever dreamed. I would be honored to redeem you and marry you. But the Word of God is clear, and I am not the closest redeemer, there is another who is a closer relative than me. According to the Word we must go to him first and offer him the first right of redemption.”The very next day, Boaz heads to the city gate to take care of this business. He finds the closer relative and lays out the options. He offers him to redeem Elimelech’s property at which the closer relative excitedly says yes. He then says, “By redeeming the property you also acquire the young Ruth as your wife, and you will play the role of Kinsman Redeemer.” At this, the closer relative backs away because he knows that by acquiring another wife he will have to share his inheritance with her. And at the great turning point of our story this man turns down the offer, providing the way for Boaz to marry Ruth.
The Conclusion: And so, Boaz married Ruth and they have a child. And this common girl from Moab, a great sinner in the eyes of Jews, a woman of a different race, from the most unlikely background gives birth to the man who would be the grandfather of King David. But even greater, through the lineage of this unlikely woman would one day be born Jesus Christ.
B. Doctrinal SupportGod honors righteous living. Righteousness means following God’s law. Means living according to his rules and his ways. Boaz took no shortcuts here, even when presented the opportunity. He demonstrated a desire to honor God above a desire to take what he could. He wanted to follow God’s law. He was a righteous man. And God honored his righteousness. Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount
Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
The Gospel: As Christians we know that no amount of righteous living could earn right standing with God. Every person has fallen far short. But God has shown his love to us in that while we were unrighteous in heart, in motivation, in actions, in affections, God sent Christ. Christ lived a perfectly righteous life. He never faltered, never sinned, never had a false affection of the heart. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, God the Father applies Jesus righteousness to your account. So now when God looks on you, sinner though you are, work in progress though you are, He sees Christ’s righteousness over you. And you are accepted into God’s family based on what Christ has done for you.
Our Righteousness: But then something else happens. God causes you to be born again. And a born again person has a heart that begins to beat after the things of God. It begins to think righteously. And then out of a heart, our life flows and we begin to act righteously. Remember, it is not our righteous acts that justify us before God, it’s Christ’s righteous acts that justify us. But God honors righteous living once we’ve been born again. This is not the prosperity gospel. And yet in a general sense, when you live a life that is joyfully submitted to God’s law, he pours abundant blessing into your life.
C. ApplicationGod delights in honoring those who follow his law, who live righteously. His laws are not always convenient or simple to follow in our day and age. But Ruth and Boaz determined to do things the right way. They didn’t want to shortcut God’s way of doings. This is a daily battle of confronting areas in our life where unrightousness dwells. Boaz and Ruth experienced the blessing of God’s covering over their marriage as a fruit of their righteous living. Is there anywhere in your life out of step with God’s Word? God delights in blessing righteous living. Turn, and submit your life to God by obeying His law.
Many of us believe that the world is a series of uncontrolled accidents. We see life through the lens of chaos. But the Bible paints a different picture. Look at Ruth and Boaz. This is such a simple story. There is nothing overly remarkable about this. There are no miracles or supernatural events. What there is, is an overwhelming sense of the providence of God guiding Ruth and Naomi and Boaz. God, our Father, orchestrates our lives. Behind every moment He is there. You can look back on both the most difficult challenges you have faced, and the most wonderful experiences you have been blessed to encounter, and as Christians we understand that God orchestrated them all. And if we can get that in our minds it will change everything.