Kept By The Power of God
Over the past few weeks, we have come to learn the beautiful truth that all things are working together for our good (Rom. 8:28) and God's glory (Rom. 11:36). Yet, even with this blessed end in sight, the truth is we often become troubled by the fact that bad things do indeed happen to us.
If we have learned anything from Abraham, from Joseph, and from Moses, we have learned not to despair in the midst of these difficult times. No matter how intense your agony, no matter how complex your problem, God's children should never despair because we have a promise: God is causing all things to work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28).
The book of Ruth is no exception to this promise. The book of Ruth begins with one tragedy after another. And in my view, this book provides an answer to the age-old question, 'Where is God when it hurts?'.
The very first thing we are told in the book of Ruth is that we are reading about a time when "the judges governed". If you want a summary of what those days were like, we need only to look back to the final verse of the previous book. In Judges 21:25 we read that, "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." This was a particularly sinful period in the history of the Israelite people.
The next thing we read is that there was a serious famine in the land. Now our mindset probably prevents us from making a connection between these to things, but listen to what the Word of God says in Leviticus 26:3, 4, "If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments . . . then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit."
In light of this statement, we should not be surprised to read that in the midst of a particularly sinful period for Israel, they were struck by a famine. And on account of the famine, Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, are forced to leave Judah and to live in the land of Moab.
From there the news gets worse. Naomi's husband dies (1:3). Naomi's two sons marry Moabite women and for ten years these couples remain childless (1:4). The news continues to get worse as we read that Naomi's sons died, leaving her "bereft of her two children and her husband"(1:5).
We will soon see how Naomi interpreted the providence of God, but first I would like you to note how the author of the book of Ruth understands the providence of God. In verse 6 we read that, "the Lord had considered His people and given them food." The author might have just as easily said that, 'the rains finally came', or that 'the economy improved'. But no, the author traces the availability of food back to the providential hand of God.
Now that the famine was over, Naomi resolved to return to the land of Judah. And on the way home, Naomi urged her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, to return to Moab. Naomi reasoned that she had nothing to offer the girls and that "the hand of the Lord has turned against me"(1:13).
Naomi had a partial understanding of the providence of God. She rightly understood that nothing could come to pass unless the Lord allowed it. What Naomi failed to understand, however, was that God was working everything for Naomi's good and His glory.
So even though Orpah did as Naomi requested, and returned home, we read that "Ruth clung to (Naomi)"(1:14). And in verse 16, we have these amazing words from Ruth, "Do not urge me to leave 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."
It is important that we consider the sacrifices involved with Ruth's loyalty to Naomi. For Ruth to remain with Naomi would mean leaving her homeland. It would involve leaving her family and her heritage.
Ruth was not only prepared to live in an unknown land, with new people, new customs and a new language, but she was also prepared to worship the God of Israel, "Your God will be my God", she tells Naomi. And it is not as if Naomi's God had provided her with a pain-free life. The Lord had allowed famine to drive Naomi from her homeland. Living in a foreign land, Naomi had to cope with the death of her husband and both of her sons. When she returned to Bethlehem, she insisted that no one call her 'Naomi', and that she be called "Mara", meaning 'bitter', instead. Naomi insisted on the name change, she said, "because the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me"(1:20). Even still, Ruth declares, "Your God will be my God".
Ruth is determined to remain with Naomi at all costs. In addition to moving to Naomi's homeland, lodging with her, taking on her customs and her religion, Ruth also states, "Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried"(1:17). In that statement, Ruth is vowing to remain a member of Naomi's family. This means that if Ruth remarries it must be a relative of Naomi.
Interestingly, chapter two begins by telling us the name of one of these relatives, "Naomi had a kinsman on her husband's side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz"(2:1).
The next thing we read is that Ruth is gleaning among the ears of grain in the field and "it just so happened" that she ended up in a field belonging to Boaz. And what do you know, "as luck would have it", Boaz appeared in the field. And after meeting Ruth, Boaz insisted that she glean only in his field and that she join him for dinner.
Allow me to 'cut to the chase' and direct you to chapter 4, verse 13, "So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son."
So what does this mean? Is this just a 'feel good' ending to a story about hardship and loyalty? No, this son was a critical piece of God's special plan for Israel. Have a look at verse 17, "They named (the boy) Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David" . . . that's King David.
Now let's think about this in terms of God's providence. What was going on in the life of Ruth? She was widow--a widow who remained loyal to her mother-in-law. She was gleaning in a field, fell in love, got married, and had a baby. From a human standpoint, what we have, at best, is 2 hour "made for TV movie" on NBC. But from a Divine perspective, we have much more. God was preserving His people through Ruth.
Through all of the variables--the famine, the death of Naomi's husband, the death of Ruth and Orpah's husbands, Ruth gleaning in the field, the meeting with Boaz, the wedding, the baby--God was working all things for Israel's good and His glory.
What if Ruth had gleaned in a different field? Then no meeting with Boaz. No meeting with Boaz, no marriage of Ruth and Boaz. No marriage, no baby named Obed. No Obed, no Jesse. No Jesse, no David. No David, no Jesus. No Jesus, no cross, no salvation.
The book of Ruth reminds us that, in the most difficult of times, we are kept by the power of God. We are reminded in this book that there is no such thing as an ordinary event in the lives of God's children. Everything we do, or don't do, is significant. We learn from Abraham, from Joseph, from Moses, and from Ruth, that everything we do "is a part of a cosmic mosaic which God is painting"(John Piper). For the Christian, what many would call "ordinary events" are really events that are connected to a perfect eternal plan.
As I studied the book of Ruth, I kept thinking of the hymn we sung a few weeks back, "God Moves In A Mysterious Way". The words of this hymn should bring us great comfort while we struggle to comprehend the Providence of God.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.
Friends, I cannot think of a more blessed doctrine than this doctrine of the Providence of God. To know that my salvation is sustained by God and is secure in His Hand, to know that God has an unshakable plan for my earthly life, and to know that the Lord intends to cause everything to work together for my good is a most comforting truth.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break in blessings on your head.