One Living Hope

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God in my Working: The Hidden Hand of Providence Part 2 (Ruth 2:14-23)

Intro

Hey did you know that Jenny and I first met online? It’s true! Back in February/March 2003, I went online—ok, no one believes this is what I was doing, but it’s true!—I went online doing some research on Indian Christians. I “happened” to get on this website called, “Indianmatches.com.” I laughed thinking, “I can’t believe they have this for Indians too! Hmm, I wonder how it works?” What was interesting about this website (and no, I am not one to go on these kinds of websites regularly) is that in the search criteria, they had “religion” and “degree of religion” as options. I figured that usually when you would click “Christians,” even people who worship Satan call themselves Christians and that was never a good enough filter. However, this time, the “degree of religion” appealed to me. So the site had “Christian” and “very religious” as options.

I figured this would filter out all the so-called Christians. When I clicked “enter,” there were about two or three results. One said nothing or something generic about the Lord. Another said she was looking for a man after God’s own heart and was interested in ministry. But there was no picture or location! Well, they way they get you on this website is that if you are interested in someone, you have to buy their subscription to get contact information. Otherwise, the person you’re interested in will get a generic email saying, “So and so is interested in you!” That option was free, however.

I was in seminary at Moody Grad School, so I did not have a lot of money lying around. The only job I had was a catering job, but that was really to get free food in the dining hall. I decided to put my profile up and send her the free generic email option. But I added a picture so she wouldn’t freak out. This was the best picture I had that showed my heart. Doesn’t it just say, “I am a servant of God”? The smile definitely will win over anyone’s heart. I should have cropped out that smiley old man in the background though.

Well, Jenny bought the subscription. To make a long story short, she sent me an email and told me she was from Chicagoland and working at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, just a few blocks from Moody! What coincidence?!  No, what providence! Later I found out that she was on that website about a week or two before I was. About two weeks later, we were both off that website. It seemed like God in His providence, brought us both on, we met, and took us off. We met in person a few weeks later and the rest is history, or shall I say, His Story.

We have been talking about the providence of God. Isn’t it wonderful to know that our lives are not by chance, some random string of events that have no meaning at all? We have a Master Weaver, who takes tangled threads to make a tapestry out of it. We don’t always understand it and often the hand of providence seen only in the rear view mirror. One of my favorite images is God sitting on the throne. It is a picture of His Sovereignty. It is all over Revelation. So while there is war and calamity and all kinds of destruction taking place, God is shown as one settled and secure. He is not wringing His hands or biting His nails or pacing back and forth. He rules with His feet up! He is Sovereign, but He is good. This means He is actively working in the lives of His people for our good and His glory.

We are in Ruth 2. In reading this chapter and the beginning of a blossoming relationship with Boaz and Ruth made me think about relationships. Let me share a few words of encouragement to those of you who are not married yet. Ruth 2 is not about dating methods, but we can glean some truths regardless. If it is God does not give you the gift of singleness, let me encourage you to remember that the most important thing you need to look for in someone and to build in yourself as you prepare for marriage is character. Let me give you five ways the world will challenge you in this regard:

1. Cosmetics over character. Yes, being attracted to your spouse is important (and your spouse will appreciate that), but that is not everything. Look at Boaz and Ruth. Scripture writers highlight both of their character than their looks. In Ruth 3, she’s going to get dressed up a little (it’s not wrong to do that), but that is not the most important thing.

2. Chemistry over character. It is good to have good chemistry with one another. You want to be able to have fun with the person, but remember this: personality changes within context. When we first met, Jenny was really extroverted and I was pretty much introverted. However, just four years later, she has become more introverted and I have become more extroverted. We are changing!

3. Culture over character. Sometimes the pressure will be on you to marry someone from your own race, usually this pressure is from your own family. But that is not the number one essential. If someone says that the Bible says don’t marry outside your race, first ask them where it says that and then ask them about Boaz and Ruth.

4. College education over character. Yes, it is good to marry someone who can read and maybe speak to you in a mature manner and I would put that near the top of my list, but not all the way. I know people who will not allow their children to consider anyone but a doctor. There are a lot of smart idiots out there!

5. Circumstances of the past over character. Man, if Boaz looked at Ruth with that criteria, she would have no hope. A foreigner, a widow and a former idol worshipper! It is important that the person you are considering for marriage knows your past before moving forward, but as long as the person is not deep in sin of some sort, that should not be a deterrent for marriage. There will be consequences of poor past choices that you will bring into the relationship that you will need to work through together.

You might wonder, “What’s the big deal with character?” Pastor Mark Driscoll out in Seattle says that we need to look not for a good time when we are dating/courting, but someone to build a legacy with.  Look at Boaz: he’s a believer, has a job (see, he didn’t have to ask his dad for money for a first date), is good to his employees, man of prayer, man of generosity, servant-hearted, runs a good business, knows how to handle his money and honors women. Look at Ruth: hard working/great work ethic, devoted, sacrificial, loving, servant-hearted, humble, grateful, woman of faith and love. When they are brought together, and boy, did they build a legacy! It’s character folks!

Back to Ruth 2. We have been following two widows who have come from a lot of tragedy in their lives. God was in their wandering and their weeping as they came back from Moab. Ruth decides to take advantage of the Mosaic law which allowed the poor to pick up the leftovers from the harvest field. This was risky and she was putting herself at the mercy of the landowners and workers. Amazingly, she ends up in the field of a man named Boaz, who shows her amazing generosity. The same God who was in her weeping was in her working too. The two lessons we learned so far was that:

I.   We must depend on God’s providence for our guidance (Ruth 2:1-3)

II.  We must respond to God’s overwhelming providence with humble gratitude (Ruth 2:4-17)

His hidden hand of providence guided her and she responded with such humble gratitude as God provided much more than she ever expected through Boaz. Wait, it gets better!  In Ruth 2:14, lunchtime arrives and Boaz calls Ruth over. Sharing a meal was an intimate act in Israel. Bread is a staple food and the wine was a vinegar-tasting sauce to moisten and add some flavor to the dry bread. She is seating beside the reapers!  Boaz treats Ruth not like a servant, but as one equal to his entourage. She was now in his inner circle! He even serves her! This is probably the best meal she has had in a long time. This was a buffet! She even had some left over. She had a doggie bag to take home! But a distance still separated her from Boaz for she did not sit beside him. The narrator hereby shows how Boaz took an ordinary occasion and transformed it into a glorious demonstration of compassion, generosity, and acceptance—that my friends, is the biblical understanding of esed.

Wait, it gets even better! Look at Ruth 2:15-17. Ruth gets up from lunch, eager to take full advantage of Boaz’s permission. Boaz then grants Ruth something unusual. She is to have access to the area between the sheaves. i.e., she can glean between the large piles of harvested grain. Gleaners were prohibited to this area because the owners desired to keep any dropped grain for themselves. Boaz also warns the young men not to stop her or yell at her if they see her among the sheaves. Boaz has one last extraordinary gesture that exceeded all generosity. Boaz commands his men to be deliberately careless in their harvesting. He has gone beyond the law into grace!

So she works hard until evening. She threshed out what she had collected in the field. The total measure was about an ephah of barley, which is approximately thirty pounds! What extraordinary providence and provision! Ruth 2:17 summarizes the results of Boaz’s generosity. This is a few thousand dollars in one day! This is 20x the amount a normal gleaner would get! This is about 2 weeks of salary in one day! She beat out the collected grain with a curved stick or wooden hammer. Normally, such threshing took place on a threshing floor near the field, but she probably remained beside it. The beating separated the husks from the kernels and thereby reduced the load to be carried home. Presumably, when she was done, she collected the kernels in her shawl for transport.

Ruth put her trust in God’s providence and found that when God fills her cup, He fills it to overflowing. But running throughout is her attitude: humble gratitude!  How can we grow in humble gratitude? Let me suggest a couple of ways:

1.     Learn to say thanks. Proud people do not say thanks. Next time you’re at a restaurant, try to pay attention the waiter’s name and thank them for serving you that night. Learn the name of that guy or girl who is bagging your groceries. My wife is so good in writing thank you cards.  Hopefully you are saying thank you so much you start to see that the person who deserves the most thanks is the Lord, from whom every good and perfect gift comes.

2.    Let your first waking moments be a prayer of dependence. How many of you are morning people? How many of you press the snooze button more than once? What are your first thoughts when you wake up? I’m usually thinking about all I have to do that day. Say a prayer of dependence as you get up. Lord, I’m going to need you today.

3.    Reflect on the wonder of the cross. This should not just be a Good Friday thing. In your prayer times, quiet times and at least once a day, reflect on the cross. What a humbling place! John Stott says, “Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to be saying to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’ Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.”[1]

4.    Cast your cares upon Him. 1 Pet. 5:6-7 God tells us how to humble ourselves: “Casting all your anxieties on him, because He cares for you.” C.J. Mahaney in his book HumilityTrue Greatness says, “I’ve discovered how true that is about myself and my soul. Where there’s worry, where there’s anxiousness, pride is at the root of it. When I am experiencing anxiety, the root issue is that I’m trying to be self-sufficient. I’m acting independent of God.”[2] What we need is grace, which is the power and motivation to do God’s will. The grace will be given as we surrender our worries to the Lord. We will experience His joy and peace in humility.

May God nurture us to be people of humble gratitude! So we said we must depend on God’s providence for guidance and to respond to it with humble gratitude. Lastly,

III.  We must wait for God’s providence with hope (Ruth 2:18-23).

Daylight has given way to evening. Ruth gathers all she gleaned and was probably was slinging the grain bundled in her head shawl over her shoulder. Naomi may have been fidgeting all day wondering what happened to Ruth. But as she looks out down the road as day gives way to night, Naomi was in shock. Her eyes are wide and mouth is open.  Here comes Ruth hauling all the grain! I can just picture her running towards her and holding her head in her hands, asking a bunch of questions. The providence of God leaves us in shock!

Ruth then opens a pocket and reveals something hidden…food leftover from lunch! Look at Ruth’s continual affectionate care for Naomi. Naomi’s head was probably swimming. First the astounding amount of grain, then cooked meal on top of that? Naomi is excited and thankful. Bitter Naomi is praying a blessing. The providence of God turns our bitterness into blessing! In Ruth’s response to Naomi’s question she seems to be just as excited as her mother-in-law. Boaz is mentioned at the end of the sentence to build suspense.

I can just imagine her excitement here. “And I was working so hard and then the landowner came and he told me I can glean with the hired women and then I had lunch with them and…” She probably can’t even explain it all. But at the end of it, she says “..and his name was Boaz.” “Oh that’s wonderful! May Yahweh bless him! He has honored our entire family by his hesed!”  Then the wheels in Naomi’s head start turning. “Bo…Boaz?! I know him! He’s related to us!”

She then says, “and he is one of our redeemers.”

Now what she is talking about was the “kinsman redeemer” law (Lev. 25:48-49). If a family member of your clan got into a crisis that he could not get out of, a near relative can take responsibility for the economic well-being of that relative. So if someone in your family could not pay off the mortgage and if you had the needed resources, you can pay it off for them. Wow, that would have been interesting in our day with all the foreclosures huh?

So if people got into serious debt back then, they can sell their land and themselves into slavery. Now your identity is tied to the land. By staying in the same place, it preserved the family name for generations. Now the kinsman redeemer can step in and buy the land and keep the land in the clan’s name (Lev. 25:25-30). He can also come in and redeem relatives who, because of poverty, forced themselves into slavery (Lev. 25:47-55). If a relative was killed and as a result, the family goes into poverty, the kinsman redeemer can go and track down and execute the killer (Num. 35:1219-27Deut. 19:6). He sees that justice is done.

Something else was connected with this. The wife of the deceased went with the property. Therefore, the kinsman redeemer had to marry her and bring up children bearing the name of the deceased. They would then inherit the property, and the family name and family possessions would continue to be theirs. This is known as “levirate marriage” (Deut. 25:5–10). The word levir is Latin for “a husband’s brother.” Naomi mentioned this in her appeal in chapter 1 (Ruth 1:11-13) and now in Ruth 2:20, she sees that the redeemer does not necessarily have to come out of her own womb.

Naomi sees Boaz as a potential candidate to fulfill the duties of the Kinsman Redeemer. It was a huge responsibility and it comes with a lot of baggage and carry-ons! Will Boaz exercise these duties? Naomi has real hope!

Ruth does not respond to Naomi’s mention of Boaz as a redeemer. Perhaps she never heard of it or she just wants to think about the present situation of economic provision. So Ruth says that Boaz’s kindness so far is not just for a day…it is for the entire harvest season! After the barley harvest, there was the wheat harvest, so we are looking at work for the next couple of months. But at the rate Ruth is going, she may bring home enough food for the rest of the year, long after the harvests are over. Here we find out more information about what Boaz had told her that day. He must have told her that she can stay for that long during the day at some point. Notice the author again mentioning Ruth’s background. He does not want us to forget who is receiving all of these blessings! A flat broke, foreign, formerly-pagan widow from Moab! Again the word “cling” is used where Ruth says Boaz told her to “keep close” (Ruth 2:21). There is a lot of “clinging” in Ruth. I think it highlights the commitment behind a hesed love. “

Going back to work also meant seeing Boaz regularly.

Hmm, what’s going to happen? Naomi says, “That’s right. Stay in Boaz’s field. God knows how people may be somewhere else. Stay where it’s safe.” Look at Ruth 2:23. Ruth was faithful to work hard every day for the next few weeks.

But look what is not mentioned. Did she and Boaz speak again? What’s going on with their relationship? Did they have meals again? We don’t know! Ruth must have been out in the fields for six to seven weeks, from late April till early June by our designations of the months. The narrator does not indicate whether there were any further contacts between her and Boaz. There is a long period where nothing is happening. Why isn’t anything happening? Well, the reason is that we must wait for God’s providence with hope. They had to wait. God does not wear a watch. He has His own time and plan. This is the last lesson for us today. We have to learn to wait for God’s providence with hope.

Hope does not mean “hope so.” It’s not like, “I hope it does not rain today.” Hope is more than wishful thinking. It is an absolute, confident, deep-seeded assurance of what God has promised. Some other verses:

Ps 33:22 Let your steadfast (hesed) love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.
Ps 39:7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.
Ps 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation

 

Titus 2:13 says that the return of Jesus Christ is our “blessed hope.” There are tons of verses on hope. Let me share some quick truths from them. Here are some truths about biblical hope:

1.     The focus of our hope is God. Ps. 71:5: “For you O Lord are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth.” God is our hope. You cannot look at the waves around you. You have to look at the Lord.

2.    Perseverance is the product of hope (Rom. 5:3-5). Despair is from the Enemy. If you find yourself in despair, know that the Enemy is working on you. However, if you find yourself with some kind of hope in your soul to keep going, know the Holy Spirit is working on you.

3.    Hope is based on God’s Word. Ps. 119:114 says that “You are my hiding place and shield; I hope in your word.” Naomi’s hope was based on God’s Word. God’s promises are like the stars, the darker the night, the brighter they shine.

We hate waiting. We don’t like to wait at traffic lights, traffic jams, grocery stores, internet connections, doctor’s offices, and in life! In a normal delivery, it takes nine months for a baby to arrive. God takes His time to grow that baby! What was Jesus doing for 30 years of His life? Waiting. Waiting for God’s timing! Waiting for God’s provision.

Conclusion

Turn to 1 Kings 17. The first thing we read of the prophet Elijah was his ministry to Ahab in 1 Kings 17:1. Then God tells him to go sit by the Cherith Brook. What? No explanations. Just go sit there and I’ll take care of the meals. Then after that time at what we will call, “Brooklyn College,” God then commands him to continue ministering again. I wonder if Elijah is like, “Wait, what was that sitting by the brook and ravens feeding me thing all about?” He was alone and had to wait, depending on God’s timing and provision.

Now look at 1 Kings 19:17-22. Elijah now confronts Ahab about his worship of idols. Then Elijah gets up on Mt. Carmel and has a contest between Yahweh and the prophets of Baal. In verse 22, Elijah is the only one standing up for God and God shows Himself strong! Sometimes we are waiting at the Cherith Brook and wondering what God is doing. God taught him to wait for Him. God taught him that He needs to depend on God for His timing and provision. When he did that, God showed him that because he learned to sit alone and wait for God, God was going to use Him to stand alone for Him and show His power later.

Beloved, in the present, ask the Lord to nurture hope in your soul. You hope in the Lord. You grab a hold of His promises and do not let go. His providence is in His timing. You can trust Him.

—-

[1] Stott, John. The Cross of Christ (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1986), 12.

[2] Mahaney, C.J. Humility: True Greatness (Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books, 2005), 75.

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