God Will Take Care of You
God Will Take Care of You
Last Sunday we met a small Israelite family living during the period of the Judges. It was a truly terrible time of sin, judgment, repentance, restoration, and a return to sin. The “sin cycle” repeated itself over and over again. “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.”
Elimelech and Naomi were no different from their compatriots. When famine struck the land of Judah, instead of examining their lives and trusting the LORD to provide for their needs, they forsook the Promised Land and sojourned with the Moabites, Israel’s sworn enemies.
Elimelek died in Moab, and his sons intermarried with the Moabites, contrary to God’s revealed will for Israel. After ten years, Mahlon and Chilion, Naomi’s sons, died too, leaving her bereft.
Naomi had no choice but to return to the Promised Land, but she had a problem. What would she do with her two Gentile daughters-in-law? Naomi succeeded in convincing Orpah to return to her mother’s house, but Ruth bound herself to Naomi with an oath, and so the two journeyed together to Bethlehem.
When they arrived in Bethlehem, Naomi changed her name from “Pleasant” to “Bitter,” observing that the LORD had dealt harshly with her and had brought calamity upon her. Naomi was back where she belonged, but she felt utterly empty. She was completely despondent and defeated. The only hopeful sign was that Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Ruth, in contrast, still had some gumption. She said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor” (vs. 2). Gleaning was commanded in the law of Moses. Leviticus 19:9-10 is a good example. “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.” Gleaning was ancient Israel’s welfare system, but it was a “work for food” program, not simply a handout. Interestingly, the law was egalitarian in its generosity. The remnants of the harvest were not only for poor Israelites but also for the alien living in the land.
It is also worth noting that Naomi did not accompany Ruth in her gleaning expedition. They would have been safer together. Naomi acknowledged the inherent danger of Ruth’s solitary labor later in the chapter. Naomi said, “It is better, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, otherwise you might be bothered in another field” (vs. 22). Naomi did not go to glean because she was utterly defeated by the losses she had endured.
However, Naomi’s heart was softening towards Ruth. She did not simply say, “Go,” but, “Go, my daughter.” Naomi was finally starting to see Ruth as family again, not as a source of shame, reminding her of the bad choices she had made in forsaking the Promised Land and allowing her sons to intermarry with the Moabites.
Ruth set out to put in a full day’s work, but this was not an example of “God helps those who help themselves.” No! Ruth was acting in faith. She was trusting that she would find favor in someone’s sight. I liked what one commentator wrote, “Faith doesn’t simply sit around waiting for provision to drop down from heaven; we are called to do what we can, and as we do, to trust that God will provide for our needs.”
Ruth’s faith was rewarded. She did find favor in the sight of a man named Boaz. She was allowed to glean in his field. She was given protection. She was invited to eat lunch with his workers. She ate bread dipped in sour wine and parched grain. She ate until she was sated, and she even had food left over. At the end of the day, she had gleaned an ephah of barley. An ephah is the equivalent of a bushel, which is about thirty pounds of grain.
When Ruth returned to Naomi with her gleanings and leftovers, Naomi was amazed and exclaimed, “Blessed be he by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead” (vs. 19). Faith started to come alive again in Naomi. The tide was turning. Her emptiness was being filled. Hope was being born again in her. Perhaps the words of Lamentations 3:22-24 were true after all. “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore, I will hope in him.’”
A kind providence was watching over them. Verse three records, “As it happened, she came to the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech” (vs. 3). This was no “as luck would have it.” As the old adage goes, “A coincidence is a miracle in which God prefers to remain anonymous.” This was no, “as chance chanced.” It was a divine appointment. God does not speak from a burning bush in this book; God does not divide the sea. Instead, God acts through circumstances, but it is no less the hand of God at work.
God not only works through circumstances but also through human agency. In due course, the divine appointment-maker also brought Boaz to his field to see how the harvest was progressing (vs. 3).
Boaz epitomizes the person who is blameless and upright, one who fears God and turns away from evil. Boaz embodied the hesed of Yahweh, the steadfast love of the LORD. We can see it in the way Boaz greeted his laborers. “He said to the reapers, ‘The LORD be with you.’ They answered, ‘The LORD bless you’” (vs. 4). These were more than customary greetings. They were expressions of genuine piety in ancient Israel. Boaz was a godly man who employed godly workers.
We can also see the hesed of Yahweh on display in the way Boaz dealt with Ruth. Verses 8-13 are a particularly beautiful exchange between Boaz and Ruth. “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. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’ But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ Then she said, ‘May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.’" Even though Ruth was a Moabite, Boaz spoke to her as a person, not as a hated heathen.
God’s hesed was embodied, not only in Boaz’s words but also in his deeds. He enacted through his generosity the very blessings of God that he called down upon Ruth. Boaz said, “May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Then he began to supply the very blessing he had invoked. Boaz was a man whose words and deeds embodied the hesed of Yahweh.
The story of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz is a beautiful tale, but it is more than that. It is an evocative and powerful story that calls us to follow their example, even as they followed God’s example.
When you feel utterly empty, don’t be like Naomi, who was paralyzed by her losses. Emulate Ruth, who put her little bit of faith into action. She did what she could. She worked hard as she hoped in the steadfast love of the LORD. Also be sure to share the blessing you glean with someone else because your generosity can awaken hope and faith in others. Like Naomi, they may exclaim, “Blessed be the LORD whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead.”
Boaz is also worthy of our emulation. Boaz was a person who was blameless and upright, a person who feared God and avoided evil. He embodied the hesed of Yahweh. You can see it in the way he spoke to his workers and in the way he spoke to Ruth. You can see it in his generosity to a person who was an alien to him and his people. This is how God would have us to be in this darkened world.
Above all, never forget that God is at work in your life for good. You can see God’s invisible hand at work even in the hardest circumstances. You can see the hand of the Lord in the people God brings into your life. In the end, there is no coincidence, no “as luck would have it.” There is a great unseen power at work in this world. Indeed, God’s kindness does not forsake the living or the dead. Truly, the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. God’s mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is they faithfulness, O LORD!
Thanks be to God who takes care of us. Alleluia! Amen.