"Faith In Uncertain Circumstances": Ruth 2:1-7
“Faith In Uncertain Circumstances”: Ruth 2:1-7 Sunday, May 24, 2020 Last week, as we began to look at the book of Ruth, we saw how God’s hand had fallen hard on Naomi and her family. When God punished the sins of the Israelites by striking the Promised land with famine, Elimilech and his wife, Naomi did not respond by humbling themselves and praying and seeking God’s face and turning from their wicked ways, asking God to forgive their sin and heal their land. Instead, they packed up and moved to themselves and their two sons to Moab, a pagan nation that had pulled the Israelites into sin and idolatry before. And so God had told his people in Deuteronomy 2 & 23 not to get involved with the Moabites. But that’s what Naomi & Elimilech did. Fast-forward a few years, and their plan is an abject failure. Naomi loses her husband, her sons marry Moabite women, and after about 10 years of marriage neither son’s marriage produces any grandchildren, and then unexpectedly, her two sons die. By the time we get to chapter 2 all Naomi has left is her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, and she really wasn’t sure she wanted her around. Naomi goes back home to Judah in search of food, and by the time she returns to her hometown of Bethlehem, she says, “I left here full, I’ve come back empty. My name, Noami, means pleasant, but from now on you can just call me Mara, because God has dealt bitterly with me.” Naomi had every expectation that what remained of her life would be spent in misery. That’s one reason she had tried to dissuade Ruth from returning with her. Besides being one more body to clothe & feed, Ruth’s presence was a reminder of Naomi’s foolish decision to abandon that promises of God for the greener pastures of Moab. Despite the grim prospects that lay ahead of her, Ruth for her part had pledged her loyalty to Naomi and to Naomi’s God. While we saw last week that Naomi had given up hope that God could turn the bitter hand she had been dealt around for good, Ruth decided that she was going to follow God no matter what. And so the odd couple, an aging Jewish widow and her thoroughly non-kosher daughter-in-law return to Bethlehem, facing a bleak future in which they would have to depend upon charity to survive. But in the midst of all darkness, at the very end of Ruth 1 there’s a glimmer of hope. It was the beginning of barley harvest. The writer here is showing us that maybe things aren’t as bad as Naomi thinks. While Naomi’s life had moved from fullness to emptiness, for the Israelite people it was the opposite. They had gone from years of famine to reaping a harvest again in the Promised land. God’s judgment had been lifted. If it God could restore his favor to Israel, perhaps he could restore Naomi, too. Naomi’s problem is a struggle that many of us face. In times of trials and darkness, it’s easy to imagine all the worst case scenarios that could happen. While it is wise to plan and prepare for the future, it’s easy to put ourselves through the unnecessary turmoil of thinking through so many worst case scenarios that couldn’t possibly all happen at once. Iain Duguid says, “God doesn’t promise to give us the grace to survive all the scenarios we can dream up, but only to give us the grace to enable us to make it through whatever he actually brings into our lives. So much of what we worry about turns out not to be God’s plan for us after all, our worry was wasted work!” And so Jesus said, “Which of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” As we begin chapter 2, the pressing worry for Ruth & Naomi was what to eat. And this is where we see God’s providence begin to unfold. If we only saw hints that God hadn’t abandoned Ruth & Naomi in chapter 1, it’s about to become crystal clear that He’s got a plan to provide for their needs. 1. He Brings Them to Bethlehem at the Right Time (1:22) It’s the beginning of barley harvest. They need food, and they arrive at just the right time that there is food available. The harvest is coming in. 2. God Brings Them to the Right Person In 2:1, we’re introduced to Boaz. “Now Naomi had a relative of her husband's, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.” This is the first time we read about Boaz, and it’s only to foreshadow the importance of what’s about to happen. But he’s a good man, who is a relative of Elimilech’s, Ruth’s father-in-law. And that’s going to become very important. It’s clear Ruth doesn’t know anything about Boaz yet. Because in verse 2, Ruth said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” When Ruth said “after him in whose sight I find favor”, she wasn’t referring to Boaz specifically, but to land-owner who would let her glean in their fields. She doesn’t know who. She just plans to show up and hope that someone allows her to glean. Now, there was a provision in the law of Moses to take care of the poor through a kind of “welfare to work” program. There were no handouts from the state. In fact, there wasn’t even really a “state” at this point in Israel’s history, politically-speaking. Instead, farmers were instructed to leave the edges of their fields unharvested, so that the poor could come behind them and gather the scraps and eek out a subsistence living. But these were the days of the Judges, “when everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Some land-owners likely ignored this instruction to care for the poor, choosing instead to keep as much as they could for themselves. Ruth trusted there would be “a worthy man” out there who obeyed God. And there was. So when Ruth was given permission to go and glean… 3. God brought her to the Right Place Verse 3 says, “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.” The phrase “she happened” literally means “her chance chanced”. We might say, “as luck would have it”, or “by coincidence”. But of course Christians know that there is no luck or coincidence in our universe, but the sovereign hand of God working all things together by the counsel of His will. As the story unfolds, this all seems like a series of chance happenings, except that it’s not. It is God leading Ruth to right person at the right place, at the right time. Of all the dozens, maybe hundreds, of fields she could have gone to that day, Ruth ended up in Boaz’s field. And of all days to show up and glean, verse 4 tells us that she happened to come on the day that Boaz comes from Bethlehem to check on the progress of the harvest. And so the stage is set for their divinely orchestrated encounter. Before we move on, let us stop & see the difference in how Ruth & Naomi responded to their plight. They needed food. Ruth took the initiative to go out and look for food, while Naomi stayed home. It’s unclear why Naomi did not go out and glean. Though she was older than Ruth, it’s unlikely she was too old to work at this point, and there’s nothing in the text that indicates she had a disability that would have prevented her from doing something. It seems that perhaps she had spent so much energy worrying about her problems that she had nothing left to actually do something to help solve them. Whether or not that’s the case, it’s certainly a problem many of us are prone to. When life gets overwhelming or when we feel God hasn’t come through for us, it’s easy to give in to despair and inactivity. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve encountered over the years who feel like God has left them, and so they quit attending church, quit reading their Bible, quit serving God they way they once had. That may feel like the solution, but is it really? Should we expect to find God by withdrawing further from him? Of course not. If we would stop and remember the height and width and depth of God’s love evidenced at the cross for us through Jesus, we would be reminded that Jesus did not spill us blood for us, only to abandon us. As Romans 8:32 says, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” And as we remember that nothing—not our circumstances and not our sin—can separate us from the love of Christ, we might have the courage to step out in faith and trust that He will reveal His plan to us in His time. That view of God’s mercy & faithfulness is what led Ruth to get off the couch and head out into the fields. Gleaning was hot work. It was hard work. It could be dangerous work, especially for a foreign woman, a Moabitess working by herself who had no tribal connections to protect her or call on in distress. So when Ruth volunteers to go and glean for food, she was making herself vulnerable, not just for her sake, but for Naomi’s too. Ruth said in verse 2, ““Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” As a foreigner from a despised people, Ruth had little reason to think anyone would show her favor. But she trusted God’s character, and she took the initiative to step out in faith and go and find food. And then she worked hard. After Boaz arrived on the scene he noticed Ruth. He hadn’t seen her out there before. And so he asked his foreman about her, and in verse 7 the foreman replied, “She’s worked from early morning until now, except for a short rest.” Folks, God had divinely orchestrated a series of events that would not only save Naomi & Ruth by providing bread for them, but would also provide salvation for us all by providing the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ, through their family line. But if Ruth had said, “Ok, God I know you have a plan and I’m just going to sit here with Naomi today and watch it unfold,” she would have missed it. Yes, sometimes God just shows up and moves in incredible ways regardless of our obedience, but more often than not He has divinely decreed that His plan for us unfolds as we have the faith to step out in obedience to him. As James would go on to write, “faith without works is dead” It’s no real faith at all. Instead, true faith works. True faith in God keeps seeking after God, keeps serving God, and keeps showing up for God in good times and bad, trusting that God will honor our obedience and come through for us in His time. Is it hard? Yes. Are there times you want to quit? Yes. Are there times where you feel like you did everything you were supposed to and you feel like God didn’t work it together how you wanted or expected. Yes. But it if were things were always easy or turned out just how we wanted then it wouldn’t require faith at all. And so one bad days especially, that’s when faith calls us to put on the armor of God and go back out into the harvest fields trusting that maybe this is the day God will do something great. Centuries later, God would do another unexpected work in Bethlehem. He’d bless a virgin mother with a pregnancy that looked like a curse to everyone who knew her. And at just the right time, God would orchestrate a census that would call Mary and her husband-to-be, one of Ruth’s descendants, Joseph, back to his hometown of Bethlehem. And while they were in Bethlehem, Mary gave birth to her baby boy. And that night, out in the fields of Bethlehem (Were they the same fields Ruth once gleaned in? We don’t know.), an angel appeared to some shepherds out on the night watch and said, “Go back to David’s town, Boaz’s town, Ruth’s town, and you’ll find a Savior has been born.” And just in case they didn’t believe, the angel said, “This is how you’ll know it’s true. You’ll find the baby lying in a stable, lying in the feeding trough for the livestock. Who puts a baby in a manger? God does. And through a series of unlikely, divinely orchestrated events, the Son of God entered our world. A few years later, the baby Jesus would grow up to be a man. And in another unusual series of circumstances, the innocent, sinless Son of God would be betrayed and sentenced to a death he did not deserve, the shameful and excruciating torment of the cross. And as his disciples laid his body in the tomb, they felt kind of like Naomi did when she returned to Bethlehem. Hopeless. Despairing. Abandoned by God. Peter, who had denied Jesus in the midst of the chaos, felt he’d messed up so bad he might as well quit and go back to being a fisherman. But God had other plans. Romans 5:6 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Jesus rose victoriously from the dead and called Peter and the rest of the disciples to go and share the good news of forgiveness and salvation everywhere they could. And those men, who had been cowering in fear and doubt just days before, would a few weeks later become some of the boldest, most courageous witnesses for Jesus the world has ever seen. Why? Because Jesus Christ is the right person, the sinless Son of God, who came to the right place, a broken world desperately in need of a Savior, at the right time. He has brought salvation to us, and by His divine power He’s given us everything we need for life and for godliness. The question is will we reach out and take hold of it by faith? Will we trust that in spite of how me may have failed God in the past, that we, too, can find favor in God’s sight if we will draw near to Him by faith? Philippians 4:19 says, ““And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Our greatest need is forgiveness from sin and salvation that leads to eternal life. Jesus Christ has made that possible. And if He has the power to work all things together to accomplish our greatest need, He can supply all the others too. Whatever trials, whatever darkness, whatever sin, whatever circumstances are causing you to give up on God today, don’t. Don’t wallow in self-pity. Don’t quit on God. Don’t go looking for happiness in the fields of Moab. Turn to Jesus. Seek Him. Pursue Him. Live for Him. And watch how He will begin to supply your every need. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow. But in His time and for His glory.