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God in my Waiting: The Human Side of Divine Providence (Ruth 3:1-18)

Intro

Have you ever heard the story/joke about the man who was trapped in his house during a flood? Well, he was praying for God to save him. When the flood waters flooded his basement, he went to the second story. A rescue boat came by to save him, but he said, “No, I’m praying God would save me!” Then the flood waters got up the second story and so he went to the roof and another rescue boat came by, but he said, “No, I’m praying. God will save me!” Then finally his house starts to sink and he is struggling in the water, when a helicopter comes by. He still refuses by saying, “No, I have faith! God will save me!” Well, finally he drowns. He gets to Heaven and in front of God he says, “Why didn’t you save me? I was praying the whole time!” God replies, “I answered your prayer 3 times! I sent two boats and a helicopter!”

This is a popular story out there and it is really asking a question of God’s providence. I know God is sovereign and He is good and He is working all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes (Rom. 8:28), but what am I supposed to do in light of the fact that God is a God of Providence? Should I sit around and wait for a sign of some sort? Should I open the Bible and play Bible roulette and look for a verse? What does the human side of divine providence look like? What are our responsibilities in light of the fact of God’s goodness and sovereignty? Ruth 3 will shed some light on this for us today. We saw God’s hidden hand of providence brining Ruth and Naomi back to Bethlehem in Ruth 1 and guiding Ruth on to Boaz’s field in Ruth 2. Here is our first thought. The human side of divine providence means we are:

I.   Seizing opportunities regardless of previous disappointments (Ruth 3:1-5).

As we left off last time at the end of chapter 2, we were left waiting. Ruth was diligently and faithfully working in the fields for several weeks, but we are not told if Boaz made any moves. The two widows had shown up at Bethlehem with two major worries: food and family. The food problem seemed to be solved with Ruth gleaning enough food for the rest of the year. However, what about her widowhood? The temp job is over for Ruth, what’s next?

This chapter is the turning point of the entire story. Yet it is a very tricky passage with everything happening between sunset and sunrise of a single day. Most of the events of this chapter happen in the dark. There is an element of secrecy and lots of whispering going on. Yet we see that behind it all and in the darkness, God is incognito, acting and working behind the scenes.

I do need to preface this message by saying that when we interpret narratives, we need to make sure we see the stories as descriptive not prescriptive. Narratives explain what happens, but they are not necessarily to be imitated exactly. Judas hung himself when he felt guilty. Obviously from that story we are not encouraged to do the same thing when we feel the same way. We need to go to the New Testament epistles to find prescriptive texts. So keep that in mind as we go into Ruth 3.

Naomi finally shows some life here in Ruth 3:1. She too has been wondering about the future. Is Ruth going to keep gleaning like this forever? Is she going to try to provide for her, a poor old mother-in-law for the rest of her life? Knowing Ruth, she would work until her back was bent and her womb was dry. But was it fair that Naomi sit by and watch Ruth slave away rather than running a household and raising children of her own? Who else is going to care for Ruth’s future? Since Ruth had no one else to help, Naomi feels like it is her responsibility to perhaps jumpstart something.

Typically it was normal for parents to arrange marriages for their children. Now in Ruth’s case, it would have been her father who would go to find the next relative in line according to the kinsman redeemer law, and approach him about the possibility of redeeming the land and marrying the daughter. There was no obligation to do this however. If the man refused, he would go down to the next in line of single men in the extended family and see if any would do such a thing. If not, the widow is left in poverty to survive.

Over the past several weeks, Naomi had seen Yahweh’s kindness to them through Boaz. For the first time, probably since Naomi and Elimelech decided to take leave for Moab, hope had filled her heart again.  Bitterness has been replaced with blessing.

Then one day Naomi says to Ruth, “I think it’s time we think about a permanent home for you.” She calls it “rest” so that it would “go well” for Ruth. Both of those terms means the security found in having a husband, the basic necessities of life (food, shelter, clothing) and children.

Then we see her plan. First of all, Boaz is a “relative” meaning he is qualified to be a potential redeemer. His earlier kindness toward Ruth sounded the knock of golden opportunity at the widows’ door; Naomi intended to answer it without hesitation. Secondly, he will be winnowing barley that night. Naomi’s point was that Boaz would be in a secluded spot where he and Ruth could have some time to speak freely without any gossipers around.

Winnowing was the festive, joyous climax of the harvest season.  Harvested grain was first bundled in the field, then carried manually or by cart to the threshing floor, which was an open space of either exposed bedrock or hard, stamped earth (see slide). There the grain was threshed, which meant beaten with a hammer or trampled under by animals or crushed under cart wheels. The purpose was to remove the husks from the kernels.Winnowing then separated the kernels from the husks, chaff and stalks. With a fork or shovel, the winnower repeatedly tossed the mixture into the prevailing breeze (see slide). The wind scattered the lighter chaff a distance away and the heavier grain fell near the winnower.

 

After being sifted with a sieve, the kernels were collected in piles, the straw fed to the animals and the chaff used for fuel. To winnow well, one needs a steady breeze; not too strong or gusty. This is why Naomi said to go at night, partly because most people would be winnowing then, trying to take advantage of the evening breeze. After this, the grain was then removed from the threshing floor and placed in heaps, either to be sold in the morning or carried manually on carts for storage in the granary.

But Ruth is not to rush off to the threshing floor without making some preparations for herself first. So Naomi says take a bath and put on some sort of perfume. Remember deodorant was not invented yet; so with the hot climate, certain oils were used to combat body odors.  She was to then put on an outer coat, probably to keep herself anonymous.

Now remember that Ruth is a widow. When a widow is mourning, she wears certain clothes, even when working out in the fields. This may be the reason why Boaz was not making any moves toward Ruth at this point. As a noble believer, he would never want to impose on Ruth if she needed more time to grieve. So in effect, when Naomi is giving her these instructions, she is telling Ruth that it is time to move on with life, letting Boaz know that she is ready to resume with normal life, including marriage, if that was possible. So really these instructions were more than just getting all dressed up to make Ruth seem attractive.

Naomi has this whole plan all mapped out with all possible scenarios thought through. She tells Ruth to hide out and try not to be noticed. She advises Ruth to wait until Boaz had eaten and drank and is lying down. This is a free tip to all women here. If you want to establish good communication with us men, feed us first! They would be celebrating because of the harvest. It was a long harvest season, the famine was over, and Boaz would be enjoying the fruit of his labors. They would sing, dance, laugh and eat. So Ruth, make sure he is in good spirits first; you know, the contentment over having had a good meal.

Keep your eye on him, Ruth, because it would be really bad to go and lay next to the wrong man! Besides, it would be dark and no lanterns would be lit; the risk of fire would be too great. Boaz would be sleeping on the threshing floor that night to guard the heap of grain from thieves and robbers. According to Naomi, if everything worked according to plan, both Ruth and Boaz can talk privately, away from people. Well, there is more to the plan. Ruth needs to make sure Boaz is asleep. Everyone else (or those who did not go home for the night) would probably be asleep as well, because there is another long day ahead the next day. Once he sleeps, she was to go and uncover his blanket and lie down at his feet.

What is the purpose of “uncovering his feet” and lying down? First of all, as mentioned earlier, this would allow the two parties to freely talk alone, as they were the only ones awake. Naomi is also thinking, “How can we get Boaz to wake up without totally startling him?” Why? Well, how many of you hate it when your spouse steals the blanket during the night? My wife’s argument is always that her feet are cold! So Naomi cleverly figures that if Boaz’s feet were exposed to the increasing chill of the night air, he would soon awaken due to discomfort, try to pull the blanket back and then see Ruth at his feet! She assures Ruth that Boaz will then tell her what to do.

Once again, Ruth shows herself committed to Naomi. She has follow-through. That speech of commitment (Ruth 1:16-17) was not just words, she is keeping to her word to show “hesed” to Naomi. We don’t know anything regarding Ruth’s motives, fears, or expectations; or her faith in God to prosper her. But nevertheless, she says she will do everything as Naomi has asked. We already know she is a risk taker!

This idea raises some questions. What should we make of Naomi’s plan? Was this a normal custom? I don’t think so by the secret nature of the whole thing. Why didn’t Naomi just go to Boaz or the town elders during the day and ask him/them about this? Why ask Ruth to enter an uncertain, compromising situation with a great deal hanging in the balance?

Naomi is gambling that Boaz will not take unfair sexual advantage of Ruth. Normally prostitutes, knowing that men would be sleeping on the threshing floor, would come to ask men for favors (Hos. 9:1). What is one to think of a woman, who bathes, puts on perfume and then in the dark of night, goes to a field where a man is sleeping and is uncovering his blanket?

We cannot judge her motives. I do not think this was the best idea and there may have been other options, but there is one thing that encourages me about Naomi. Yahweh’s kindness has awakened hope in her heart again. Remember in the beginning of Ruth 2, she does not go out and glean and still seems bitter. But now hope has made her alive again! She truly felt that Yahweh was attacking her at one point, but she slowly started to see that He, in His providence, was in fact blessing her.

Some take the providence of God and become fatalistic; whatever happens happens! I’m just going to sit here and not do anything. Everything is always the same. Every year is the same. It will always be as it has always been. It’s kind of like Eeyore, the pessimistic donkey character in Winnie the Pooh. There are some Eeyoore Christians out there.

There is hopelessness in their heart. Sometimes this is because things have not gone in the past as we thought. Prayers were not answered. The same issues creep up year after year. The same people still have the same flaws and do not seem to change. Perhaps the timing of things was off than we expected.  We feel disappointed and sometimes in despair.

 

But the human side of divine providence believes that God is good and He is always working in situations and wants my best for His glory. It was Yahweh’s kindness through Boaz that propelled Naomi again. Believers, we need to look around again in our lives and see that God has been working! Therefore, I must look for opportunities in life and seize them, considering them to be possibly gifts of God, even if I have been disappointed in the past. Remember the enemy would want you in despair and not do anything. God would want to put hope in your soul.

The whole book of Ruth is about the providence of God, but notice that it is also full of risk. Ruth leaves her homeland and culture and tags along with a bitter old woman. A risky life change! She then goes out to glean with the risk of a lot of work with little pay as well as the possibility of verbal and physical abuse. Now she goes out at night, getting all dressed up to talk to Boaz while he is sleeping.

 

But for Naomi, she had risked with Elimelech didn’t she? But she risked outside the will of God. God will never bless risky sin. Here the situation in Ruth 3 is kind of gray. She obviously did not go and tell Ruth to commit fornication. Our responsibility in light of God’s providence is to seize opportunities regardless of past disappointments.

 

Think about it for a moment. Do you feel paralyzed by past disappointments? Has despair gripped your soul? If we are going to believe in the providence of God, we go to the Lord with that hurt and ask Him to help you believe that your best years with the Lord are still ahead of you! I have been cast down, but not destroyed. I am down but not out. By faith and by grace, I am going to make progress, but sometimes the progress comes only by rocking the boat a little.

 

Illus: Two friends Derek and Mike went out for an afternoon on the lake, mostly to talk and try out their new fishing poles. After several hours fishing and getting no luck (they should have invited Jerry Brewer), they decided to head back before it got dark. After about half an hour, Derek heard the outboard motor sputter, then die. Mike went to check out the problem and determined that they were almost out of gas. There was a little, but it was too low to reach the fuel line.

 

Mike came up with an idea. If Derek stood in the middle of the boat, with one foot against both sides and rock back and forth, they might be able to get enough gas to slosh in the line to get the motor started. It worked!

 

Once started, Mike figured if Derek kept rocking and he ran the engine slowly, they could get back to the ramp. Sure enough, after 15 minutes of my rocking the boat and Mike working the throttle, they returned safe and sound. Derek says, “That event taught me a valuable lesson: Sometimes you have to rock the boat if you want to make any progress.”[1]

 

My problem is that I am a boat potato. I like my comfort and ease and am overly cautious about everything, but our faith will always have the risk factor, put there so that we can grow. As John Ortberg says, “If you want to walk on water, you have to step out of the boat.”

One of the things we all will need to be unified in is in faith and hope for EFCC. Do we have faith to believe that the best years of this ministry is still ahead of us? I am challenged here by Naomi. She could have kept on being bitter, sleep all day and assume things will never change or  she can start to dream, to hope and believe again. I’m glad she chose the latter, as her idea was instrumental in bringing Ruth and Boaz together, two ancestors in the lineage of Christ!!

 

Some areas we can grow to take risks in:

 

1.     EVANGELISM. It is risky to share your faith. There is fear of rejection and failure.

2.    COMMUNITY. It is risky to open up and share more about yourself than before. I think we can all grow in that aspect.

3.    GIVING. Maybe we are all about a budget on giving for the Lord’s work. What if you increased it in increments?

4.    BEING DIFFERENT. What if we stood up the next time someone used our Lord’s name as a curse word?

 

Perhaps with all of these you have had previous disappointments, but let’s remember that God’s goodness is a motivator to awaken hope in our heart and to seize opportunities to get them.

 

Secondly, the human side of divine providence means:

 

II.  Maintaining moral integrity regardless of any situation (Ruth 3:6-11).

 

Let’s look at Ruth 3:6-7. Ruth arrives at the threshing floor. From a distance, she watches Boaz laughing, eating and drinking with the servants. Finally, he gets up and calls it a night. Some servants leave, but some spread out and find places to rest for the night. They had an early and long day of work the next day. Boaz finds a good spot near the pile of grain, grabs a blanket or a mantle and lays down. This pile was likely at the floor’s edge and thus it might be away from the locale of any other workers present and thereby guarantees Ruth and Boaz privacy. Ruth had “happened” to come to Boaz’s field (Ruth 2:3) and now it is Boaz who “happened” to lay down at the end of the pile!

 

She continues to wait, perhaps behind some rocks. She wants to make sure everyone is sleeping before she came out. If she was seen, gossip would spread through Bethlehem like fire, burning up her reputation. She can be shipped off to Moab in a matter of days. Boaz’s reputation would be ruined as well. The town would talk about this for years! So her heart is racing as she moves cautiously and slowly to where Boaz slept. I imagine Boaz sleeping with one arm flung over his head (if you see him on his stomach, that’s fine too).

 

Trembling, she kneels at his feet and slowly without making a sound, draws his mantle back carefully as not to wake him. I can see Boaz shifting his weight slightly. Her pulse jumps, she bites her lip, takes a deep breath and lays down next to him. I wonder at this point if she was like, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?” But she is following Naomi’s instructions to the letter so far.

 

She tries to calm down and slow down the wild erratic pace of her heart. There was no way she was going to sleep through this. So she lies there waiting. Hopefully no one will awaken and walk by. Ruth 3:8. It is now the darkest of night, midnight, and the air is getting chillier. The breeze picks up slightly and Boaz feels that his feet are cold. To alleviate the discomfort, he, though still groggy, rolls over to get the blanket over his feet again brushes against something…or someone! Lo and behold, a woman was lying at his feet!

 

The upright, honorable Israelite suddenly found himself face-to-face with an unknown woman in a secluded corner of the threshing floor. Was this a prostitute? How will Boaz react to this compromising situation? Will he be angry, delighted or embarrassed? With a rough whisper as not to wake anyone he asks, “Who are you?” And she replies, but notice that her words are different than usual.

 

She doesn’t call herself the Moabitess. She says, “servant,” but this word is a different word than in Ruth 2:13. There it meant a “laborer,” but here it means more like a woman is who is eligible and ready for marriage, a little bit higher up the ladder. Then she deviates from Naomi’s script. What did Naomi say would happen at this point? Boaz would instruct her on what to do (Ruth 3:4). However, she takes another risk and asks him to do something very daring.

 

She says, “Spread your wings over your servant for you are a redeemer.” This can also be translated as, “Put the blanket over me.” In the ancient Near East and still practiced today, was the custom where if a man wanted to propose to a woman, he would take a blanket and throw it over her. This meant that she would come under his protection and it also meant that, “I want you to be under my blanket with me as my wife.” This was a picture of close fellowship and intimacy. So what Ruth is proposing here is that Boaz propose to her!

 

She is so bold! She even uses his imagery that he used in Ruth 2:12, when Boaz said that Ruth was like a little bird who found refuge under the wings of Yahweh. In effect, she is saying, “Answer your own prayer Boaz!” Boaz, you asked that Yahweh would protect me under His wings, but you are the means to which Yahweh will do so. Notice at the end of her answer: “You are a redeemer.”

 

When she says that, she is doing more than asking him to propose. She is thinking about Naomi. She is thinking about Boaz redeeming the land that Naomi could no longer afford and she is thinking about a family and the family name to be carried on. Even now, she is thinking about her loyalty to Naomi.

 

What in the world has possessed Ruth? One commentator writes, “Here is a servant demanding that the boss marry her, a Moabite making the demand of an Israelite, a woman making the demand of a man, a poor person making the demand of a rich man. Was this an act of foreigner naïveté, or a daughter-in-law’s devotion to her mother-in-law,41 or another sign of the hidden hand of God? From a natural perspective the scheme was doomed from the beginning as a hopeless gamble, and the responsibility Naomi placed on Ruth was quite unreasonable. But it worked!”[2]

 

Ruth 3:10. This is how we know there was no sexual activity going on here. Boaz is praying a blessing over Ruth. If there is sexual sin, the last thing you think about is prayer and blessing! Boaz seems flattered and inwardly pleased by this request. He declared her praiseworthy and blessed by Yahweh. When he says “this last kind act,” he is referring to her willingness to provide Naomi an heir by marrying a redeemer like Boaz. This exceeded “the first,” which is her abandoning her homeland and family out of devotion to Naomi. So he is says, literally, “Your act ofesed [display of family loyalty and devotion] is better than the first.” [3]

 

What is noteworthy here is that Ruth is so selfless and said this out of her own free will. Boaz was also amazed that Ruth passed up other attractive options. She did not hook up with more eligible younger bachelors, perhaps some who even worked with her in Boaz’s field. What Boaz is implying here is that he did not think he was even in her league with all the options out there. She sacrificially set aside personal preferences and chose a marriage of benefit to her family. This is why he truly calls it “hesed.” Ruth reckoned her own happiness as secondary to provision of an heir for her late husband and Naomi.

 

Warmly and tenderly, he reassures her in Ruth 3:11 with a “do not fear.” We also see Boaz’s exemplary character, telling her he will do as she has asked, which means to address the town elders about this situation and work out what needs to be done; for everything to be done correctly. He then adds that this should not be a problem to bring up, for everyone knows her as a “worthy woman.” Notice in Ruth 2:1, Boaz is called a “worthy man.” They are a good match!

 

This word is also found in Prov. 31:10, where it is used of an ideal wife. So Boaz is saying, “Ruth, your self-sacrifice and commitment (Ruth 1), hard work (Ruth 2) and loyalty to your family (Ruth 3) has demonstrated to all of Bethlehem that you are a woman of high honor.”  You are a Proverbs 31 kind o gal. By the way, in the Jewish Scriptures, Ruth follows immediately after Proverbs, of which 31 is the last chapter. For the Jews, Ruth is the embodiment of that ideal.

 

What has transpired here so far is remarkable. Boaz and Ruth were thrown into the furnace of temptation with the temperature raised and all the variables set up for disaster and moral failure. They are at a threshing floor, known for prostitution (Hos. 9:1). It is the time of the judges, where everyone does what is right in their own eyes (Judges 25:21) and sexual sin was right at the top of the list. Ruth is from Moab, whose beginnings was a drunken man sleeping and seduced by his own daughter! That’s how her people started and usually with these idol worshipers, sexual sin goes hand in hand with bowing down to their idols. He’s rich and she’s poor and we know rich people always get what they want. It was dark, no one would have known. Everything is in place for disaster, but they stood the course!

 

Granted Naomi put them in this situation, but they maintained their moral integrity regardless. One of our responsibilities as we wait for God’s providence is that we maintain moral integrity. If you are waiting for the hand of God to bring you into marriage, maintain moral integrity. God will honor and bless that union in more ways than you can imagine as a result. The right thing at the wrong time is the wrong thing.

Are you waiting for your business to pick up? Resolve in your heart that you will maintain integrity without trying to manipulate or cheat or steal anyone.

 

Illus: Recently Jenny and I watched “Flywheel,” which is the first movie made by the producers of “Facing the Giants” and “Fireproof.” It is not a Hollywood blockbuster by any stretch, but a great movie about how God honors those who honor him. “Flywheel” is a story about a used car salesman, Jay Austin, who will go to any length to sell a car regardless of the quality or state of the car he is selling. Jay is a typical businessman who has very little time for his family or his son. He lives for himself and for making another sale. Jay’s lack of character begins to affect his family. At one point he overhears his son telling a friend that he does not want to be like his father who will even lie in order to make a deal.

Jay is forced to face his dishonesty after selling an overpriced car to a minister. The minister, unaware of the car’s real value, prays that the Lord will bless Jay in the same way Jay has blessed others. Jay, like many people in business, feel the pressure to make money at any cost, rather than living life ethically.

But when the Lord gets a hold of him, he decides that he will never lie to any more customers again. Two men under him leave and all of this happens around the time when he needs to make a certain amount of money to give the bank who is leasing their lot to him. He is in big trouble! He finds this college student who will work for him for minimum wage. The college student asks him why he does not pull the strings a little and try to get more from people. Jay tells him that he wanted no longer to live for himself, but to honor the Lord by maintaining integrity.

Well the day the bank was going to come was just a few days away. Jay and his family prayed. Then the next day he is watching television, when he sees a special undercover investigation done by news station on car dealers. They found corrupt dealers all over the place, except one. They sent an undercover news reporter, posed as a college student, to see if there is stealing going on at Jay’s dealership and found out he was a man of integrity! Many see this report and flood his dealership and he sells most of his cars in a single day, knowing that they can trust him to sell them a reliable car at a reliable price. There is more to the story, but if you still want to watch it, go rent it!

The providence of God says that God is working for you in advance. If so, we do not need to fall at the altar of instant gratification to get there. Do you realize most crimes take place in the dark? In the dark of the night a thief breaks into a home to steal. It is in the dimly lit parking garages where assailants lurk about for their next victims. In the blackness of alleys gang members hatch their plans. Character is what you are in the dark, when no one is looking. Boaz and Ruth maintained their integrity in the dark. What they were in the dark, revealed what they truly were: a man and woman of true hesed. The darkness is not a time to take a chance, but to show our character. Let us pray to the Lord to give us consistency of character that is unaffected by our circumstances!

So our responsibilities regarding the human side of divine providence include seizing opportunities regardless of past disappointments, maintaining moral integrity regardless of any situation and lastly,

III.  Trusting God regardless of the obstacles (Ruth 3:12-18).

 

Let’s get back to the story. Everything is going as planned. When you seize opportunities and maintain integrity throughout, does that mean that it will be smooth sailing? Nope! Look at Ruth 3:12. Remember the redeemer was the nearest relative of a deceased person who would be willing to marry his wife, buy his land and have children to carry on the family name.

 

Just when the wedding bells seemed to sound, Boaz reveals a disconcerting fact. First he agrees with Ruth’s petition, that he fits the qualifications for a kinsman redeemer.

 

But Boaz wants Ruth to be properly redeemed. Boaz says that there was another, a person yet unnamed, who had a closer kinship relationship to Elimelech than Boaz did. As a result, he had a prior right to serve as a kinsman redeemer. So he is saying that he is kinsman redeemer, not the kinsman redeemer.

 

Oh no! Will Boaz lose Ruth after all? What a twist! Naomi, who complained there were no helpers (Ruth 1:1121), had one too many! The question then arises, did Naomi not know of this relative? Or did she think that since Boaz was a guaranteed good man and treated Ruth with so much abundant generosity despite her background, that it was a better shot for Ruth and Boaz to be together than this relative? We do not know for sure.

 

Look at Ruth 3:13. What he is doing by telling her to stay there was that he was protecting her. There were lurking thieves out there and probably drunk harvesters around in a celebratory mood. Besides, she is all dolled up!  It was not right to send her back home like this. So he tells her to remain there and in the morning, he will sort this out.

He will do things the right way or let Yahweh punish him! As a man of God, Boaz wanted to do things the way of God than try to go around it. He lays his personal preference aside. Selflessness seems to characterize both of them right?

 

Under the Mosaic law, if the kinsman redeemer did not want to take the responsibility, he can waive the right and the offer goes to the next one on the list, who in this case, was Boaz. Boaz will have to take this matter to him first thing in the morning. Will he want to waive his right? We will have to wait and see.

 

I do not think that both of them could sleep that night. A million thoughts must have been racing through their minds. Boaz is thinking about the meeting in the morning. Ruth is also wondering what will happen and how she can leave as quickly and anonymously as possible.

 

Now before the sun even rose, Ruth jumps up. One can imagine what people will say if they see her with Boaz that morning. She gets ready to leave and Boaz gets up and feels the same way. He wants to protect both of their reputations. Even though nothing happened that night, he does not want to even appear as if something did. But good old Boaz cannot leave her without a parting gift. Look at Ruth 3:15. We are not sure how much exactly “six measures of barley” is, but the fact that he had to put it on her, either on her head or sling it around, on her shoulder, means that it was a generous amount of food.

 

Why this gesture? Probably a couple of purposes lie behind it. First of all, if anyone saw Ruth coming home so early, they will assume she was working overtime and bringing home food. This will explain any questions from the townspeople. Secondly, look at Ruth 3:16.

 

Ruth comes home and we can imagine Naomi as another person who probably had not slept all night. She must have been praying, pacing, looking out the window, worrying and hoping.  The first thing she says is, “So what happened?! Tell me everything!” Ruth tells Naomi that Boaz did not want her to go home empty-handed and that was the reason for the large amount of food. In other words, Boaz is saying, “Here is a sign that I am going to do what I have said.”

 

But Naomi also learned of the obstacle from Ruth. She ends Ruth 3:18 with a statement of hope, though mingled at the same time with suspense and fear. Just when Naomi thought everything was just according to plan, she is left once again having to trust in the providence of God.

 

There will always be obstacles in our faith journey. We are not sent to lay down on a bed of roses, but to walk on a path of thorns. But when we do, we can be sure God will give us the good shoes of faith. In the beginning, it is blue skies. Perhaps it is a new job, a new semester, a new year, a new spouse, or a new relationship. But then setbacks, opposition, unexpected obstacles all come in like a hurricane. Such is the problem of life. David never said there would not be valleys, but that “even though I walk through the valley…you are with me” (Ps. 23: 4). Jesus never said there will be no tribulation, but “take heart I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

 

A preacher said this: “A setback is just a set-up for a comeback.” We are going to get stones thrown on our path, but they can either be stumbling blocks or stepping stones. We have to decide. I will not stumble over this, but use this to step a little bit closer to the Lord. A bend in the road is not the end of the road.

 

Naomi did all she could, but it is the Lord who will get the final say. Many are the plans of man, but it is the Lord who guides our steps, the Scriptures say. In other words, write your plans in pencil, but give God the eraser. Notice the last scene here. Where else have seen the words empty before? This was particularly moving to me. Remember in Ruth 1:21, Naomi said she was empty. The two worries she had as she came to Bethlehem: food and family. Look at Ruth’s hands. Food! Then look at Ruth: family! God had restored her…well, almost.  Naomi, you were never empty. Your cup was just turned over.

 

Conclusion

 

When we talk about God’s providence, it does not negate the fact that God expects us to know and act on our responsibilities. When the boats and helicopters come, we must take them. For some strange reason, God works things together using our choices and risks that we take. If we want to see Him work, we need to take some calculated risks despite previous disappointments. But no matter what we do, we must maintain our moral integrity and after we do all that we can, we will still face obstacles and must trust God regardless.

—-

[1] Lewis, Derek from http://preachingtoday.com/illustrations/weekly/05-05-02/15899.html

41 Thus Hubbard, Ruth, 213.

[2]Block, D. I. (2001, c1999). Vol. 6Judges, Ruth (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (692). Nashville:  Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3]Block, D. I. 693

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