Resting in God's Providence: Ruth 3

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Turn with me to Ruth chapter 3… Over the past several weeks, we have placed our hearts and minds on this amazing story found in God’s Word. Ruth is a story of rather mundane real-life events that occurred in the darkest days of Israel’s history, when the judges ruled the land, when everyone simply did whatever, they felt was right. It was a season when mankind consistently ignored God’s law and simply followed the desires of their own corrupted hearts. The last several chapters of the book of judges, where such a lifestyle is most vividly detailed, are perhaps the scariest and most disturbing chapters you will ever read in the Bible. That’s the timeframe of this profound love story recorded in Ruth, and it reminds us that even in the darkest of days, our God is always sovereignly and providentially present. You see as God’s children, we know that He never leaves nor forsakes us, but rather, He is indeed behind the veil of our darkest moments working all things toward a glorious end that will bring Him the highest praise.
Church family, we too are living in troubled times. The days seem so dark and disturbing, but even now, we can rest our hearts and souls in knowing that our great God is in complete control of every event that occurs in our seemingly out of control world, and we can trust that He is working it all together for the good of those who love the Lord. But let’s be honest, it easier to say we need to rest in God, than to actually rest in His will. This morning, as we turn our attention to Ruth chapter 3, I want us to learn how to rest in God’s providence. How we are to rest in His purposeful sovereignty, as He patiently works behind the veil of our busy lives. That’s what chapter 3 of Ruth is all about, so lead it together and learn from God’s Word…. READ RUTH 3.
There are three points from our text that I want you to grasp this morning:
1) Resting in God’s providence compels us to take both initiative and risk (vs. 1-4).
Look back to verse 1 with me, “Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, ‘My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you.’” The word security” in Hebrew literally means “resting place.” This is what Naomi prayed for both her daughters-in-law back in Ruth 1:9, where she prayed, May the LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Notice that Naomi’s great desire, that is becoming evident not just in her words but in her actions, is for Ruth to discover rest. This highly significant, because what we are seeing is more and more evidence that Naomi has repented from her sin and is being transformed by grace. In the previous chapters, this widow seemed to be at her lowest point. She could barely form a sentence and vividly portrayed as a woman who is completely overwhelmed by the self-centered nature of her depression and grief. But, here in chapter 3, hope is beginning to bloom. Her miserable self-obsessed heart is beginning to think of others. She is no longer paralyzed by her seemingly hopeless situation, but instead ready to seek God’s will and blessing.
Naomi was beginning to perceive the LORD’s goodness and kindness at work within her family and she decides now is the time to take a giant step of faith. Oh, what an important principle we must note here! A strong belief in God’s providence and sovereignty should never lead us to become passive. We should never get to the point, where we simply decide to sit back and just watch what God will do. Believing He’s sovereign, and that He’s going to work it all out for our good, so let’s just wait and see. No!, quite the contrary, God’s providence and sovereignty should grant us hope and confidence to move forward in our faith, and this exactly the effect it has on Naomi here in chapter 3.
Now, we know some time has passed between Ruth and Boaz’s first encounter recorded in chapter 2, and the events that unfold within this chapter. We know that because here in chapter 3, the reaping gives way to the winnowing. Thus the stage shifts, if you will, from the harvest fields to the threshing floor. Where Naomi knows Boaz will certainly be until the hard work of winnowing is completely done. You see it was common for the owners of the fields to stay with the harvest overnight to protect it and see the job brought to final completion. Furthermore, the winnowing process was also often done at night with the aid of the evening wind. And knowing these things to be true, Naomi puts a plan together, trusting that Ruth will find Boaz that evening at the threshing floor.
Now, you must admit, this seems to be a rather poor plan from our vantage point. I mean it sounds more like something my two teenage boys would come up with, rather than an act of faith. Just look at what Naomi tells Ruth to do in verse 3, she essentially gives Ruth step-by-step instructions… She first tells her to take a bath (never a bad idea when your trying to impress someone, right?), put on perfume, and some nice clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but whatever you do, don’t make yourself known to Boaz, don’t talk to him, don’t let him see you, just kinda spy on him, until after he’s done eating and drinking… But that’s not all, notice verse 4… And when he lies down, this very important, you shall take notice the place where he lies (in other words, make sure you got the right Boaz here!), then get this… uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you shall do!” Again, from our perspective through the modern Christian lens this sounds ridiculous. It’s like telling a young lady whose interested in a young man, that if you want to know if he likes you… get clean, put on some make up, perfume, and break into his home and get in the bed with him, and whatever, he tells you do, do it! Now that’s a risky plan in that you have no idea what he may ask of you in such a situation.
But we shouldn’t read such sexual foolishness into this story. We must realize that there are surely acts of symbolism in this story, that are beyond our understanding. But what we shouldn’t miss in these verses, is that indeed this plan is risky. It involved sending Ruth out at night, unprotected, during the days when everyone did what was right in their own eyes. In the previous chapter, remember how Boaz had to repeatedly tell his workers to leave her alone. This was dangerous and risky to go out in such a place, all dressed up as she would be. That should have been a clue to how dangerous the times were. Also, its worth nothing that threshing floors were notorious for prostitution in the ancient world. We see this in Hosea 1:9 which reads… “Do not rejoice, O Israel, with exultation like the nations! For you have played the harlot, forsaking your God. You have loved harlots’ earnings on every threshing floor.”Listen, there is nothing safe about Naomi’s plan. And even if everything goes accordingly, just getting Ruth into her position. We must wonder, can we trust Boaz, to right thing in the middle of the night, when his feet get cold, and he wakes up and when no one else is around? Can we trust him in such a situation?
Naomi is willing to bet it all on the fact that Boaz and Ruth could be trusted to do the right thing. So much so, that she tells Ruth to do whatever he says to her. And so, if we are reading in sexual temptation in this scene, we are probably misreading it all together. Naomi was simply asking Ruth to lay down by his feet, in the place of a servant, not beside Boaz in the place of a wife. And the uncovering of his feet, from what we know, may have been some sort of a proposal in the ancient world, or it may have been simply a creative way to wake him up early in the coolness of the morning, so that they could have a moment to talk. Again, obviously there are culturally things that make us shake our heads, and maybe one day in glory, we can ask Naomi or Ruth what all this meant. But for right now, let’s just marvel over the fact that Naomi, who clearly according to chapter 1 has a sound understanding of God’s providence and sovereignty, doesn’t just tell Ruth to sit back and just wait and see what our good God might do. But Instead, she says, in His sovereignty we must take a risk and act in faith.
Oh how the hopeless one in our story, has become a shinning example of hope. You see hope helps us to dream big. Hope helps us think up ways to do good. Hope helps us walk in faith with virtue and integrity. Hopelessness, on the other hand, makes us either think that we must lie, steal, and cheat our way throughout life, or it paralyzes our faith all together. But hope energizes us to walk with God take initiatives and risks for His glory.
In the late century the Baptist churches in England grew hyper-Calvinistic in their theology. Meaning they saw little need for evangelism and missions, for they believed that if God was going to save the heathen, He would do it without or without their help. In other words, the church had embraced a warped view on God’s sovereignty. To challenge this erroneous and sinful theology, God raised up a man of God, a missionary named William Carey, who became known as the father of the modern missionary movement. Carrey made a bold and powerful statement in one of his sermons that has been quoted for many years… He simply concluded, Expect great things from God, attempt great things for God.” Now that simple two-part statement may not rock your world as it did when it was first spoken, but just meditate on it with me for a second… Because here is what Carrey believed… He concluded that our expectations are directly connected to what we attempt for God. In other words, our actions are directly related to our expectations, which are naturally connected to our theology. Therefore, if we are not attempting great things for God, it must be that we don’t expect great things from God, who is good, loving, wise, and sovereign. Sadly, I believe we are living in in similar days, where because we are not expecting much from God, we rarely attempt great things for Him. But listen church, if we embrace, that there is a God, a good God, a loving God, who is faithful to us, wise and sovereign over all things, then we must not stand idly by, but instead, we are free, free to risk much for His glory, knowing that He will certainly honor our faith and our action and ultimately work it all together for our good and His renown. You see, when we truly rest in His providence and sovereignty we are most willing to risk everything for His glory. Oh that God would awake us spiritually to His goodness and power and move us to a place of expectation, where we anticipate Him to transform broken lives, mend broken relationships, grow His church, bless our marriages, and work within our schools and workplaces…you see its only when we believe, really believe He longs to do such things, its only then that will we attempt do great and risky things for Him. Naomi has been transformed in this story, and because she has hope in a great God, she is attempting great things for her God! Oh, that a little of that would rub off on us this morning!!!! And may we risk much for Him this week in our homes and in our workplace!
2) Resting in God’s providence demands both submission and obedience (vs. 5-7).
After Naomi lays out the risky plan, the spotlight once again shifts to Ruth. How will she respond to it? Thankfully, we don’t have to wait long to discover the answer to that question. Look at verse 5 again, “She said to her, “All that you say I will do.” The Hebrew and original language emphasize that Ruth pledges to do everything exactly as Naomi had instructed. Now just settle your mind on that for a moment, because its rather profound. If you’ve been following this study for the last several weeks, you have seen that Ruth has been portrayed as the more mature believer and God-fearer. Naomi, on the other hand, has been the poorer example of the two. She’s the one that had been paralyzed with grief and depression and is just now starting to experience hope. Yet, Ruth has consistently honored her mother-in-law, and naturally seeks to obey her. You see Ruth models Ephesians 6:1…which reads, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this right.” She consistently honors Naomi as her parental figure. We saw this even at the beginning of chapter 2, where Ruth asked Naomi’s permission to go out and work in the fields. You see, Ruth may have been acting more consistent in her faith, but she respected Naomi as her God-ordained spiritual leader. And so she honors her and obeys her mother-in-law.
Verses 6 and 7 testify that Ruth stuck to Naomi’s risky plan. It reads, “So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to ALL that her mother-in-law had commanded her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; and she came secretly, and uncovered his feet and lay down.” Step-by-step, these verses show that Ruth faithfully obeys Naomi. What a great example to follow. You see Ruth took Naomi’s words to be a command to obey, and not a suggestion to weigh. As a parent, as a pastor, and as a counselor I love how Ruth displays great trust and courage in following the counsel of the one whom God had placed in the leadership role over her. Notice, Ruth doesn’t stop to over think the plan. She doesn’t allow herself the bandwidth to talk herself out of obeying or alter the plan in any way. She doesn’t say, give me a few nights to sleep on it. Nor does she go to a friend and say, my mother-in-law, you know the one who is all depressed and stuff, she thinks this is what I should do, what do you think?
No, instead she immediately responds in faith through submission and obedience. This again stresses Ruth’s unquestionable loyalty and faithfulness to her mother-in-law. This is that humble hesed love and grace that we discussed last week at its very best. You see, Ruth was willing to lay aside her own wisdom, her own emotion, her own fear, her own will and volition, and she simply trusts and obeys Naomi’s risky and dangerous plan.
What a faith, Ruth models for us this morning. A Christlike faith indeed. For Christ Jesus emptied Himself and took on the form of a bond-servant. He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason, Philippians 2 tells us, that God highly exalts Him, and bestowed on Him the name which above every name. Listen church family, it’s so important that you understand this… greatness in God’s kingdom is measured in terms of submission and obedience, and not just obedience to God, but obedience towards those whom God calls us to submit to in His Word. This includes our parents, elders, and even the government, as long as they are not asking us to sin, we should submit to their lead. Listen, such obedience is always an act of faith, and therefore, our disobedience and lack of submission in such instances is always a troubling sign of unbelief. I love how the philosopher and poet Fredrich Schiller said it… “Obedience is the Christian’s crown.” In other words, our obedience is what identifies us as belonging to the King and kings and Lord of lords. It’s our glory and our greatness, because it points the world around us that we live for Him and not ourselves.
Obviously, in our hyper self-focused world such submission and obedience are extremely rare. We hate people telling us what to do. We’d much rather live as we desire. Yet, Christ, Himself models such humility and grace and calls us to do the same. Our providential God is a God of order, and by His flawless wise design, He has placed every one of us under the care and authority of another. Therefore, we can rest in His sovereign design by simply trusting and obeying those whom God has placed over us. Listen, this implies something important, that you can’t afford to miss… when your life is confusing and hard, you need to go and seek counsel from those God has placed over you, listen to them, learn from them, trust them, and follow their guidance. You see we can rest in knowing that God will use our submission and obedience to glorify His name and make us more and more like His Son, who modeled such humility and grace.
3) Resting in God’s providence requires poise, patience, and faith (vs. 8-18).
We see this point most clearly revealed in Boaz. And in verse 7, we know that Boaz has had a full day. He has worked hard winnowing the harvest. He’s taken some time to eat and drink so that his heart is merry. Now, this picture of Boaz is an important one , because some people believe that to pursue a life of holiness implies that we must abandon all pleasure. But that is not the case at all, for delight in God and gratitude towards God is the heart condition of a person striving to grow in holiness. Such was Boaz. You see verse 7 is not implying that he was drunk, instead its testifying that Boaz’s heart was full as he gave ongoing praise and thanksgiving for all the blessings God had bestowed upon him. And so, Boaz goes to sleep that evening with a full heart as he reflected on the goodness of God.
But around midnight, apparently, he gets a little cold with his feet uncovered. Look at verse 8, “It happened in the middle of the night that the man was startled and bent forwards; and behold, a woman lying at his feet.” Pay attention to the details here… it was the middle of the night, the atmosphere is full of danger, it is completely dark in a setting known for promiscuous activity. And how will Boaz respond to this situation when we wakes up startled?
Now, let me ask you before we look to Boaz’s response: What are you like when you are woken up in the middle of the night? Let’s be honest, some of us are better than others, right? Some people, like me, should never be bothered until they have had a couple of cups of coffee…. And then there are those very strange people who wake up chatty. Talkative people from the second their eyes open. I can’t comprehend such people, and by God’s grace I didn’t marry one, but occasionally God likes to test me, and so I go to a conference or something and get roomed with one of these individuals and sure enough they start talking and I’ve got this problem, because as a pastor I’m supposed to be all nice and stuff, but with me… no coffee… no nice!
But notice how Boaz responded when he wakes up in the middle of the night with an unknown lady lying close by? Look at verse 9-10aHe said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth your maid. So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.’ Then he said, ‘May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter’.” Wow, before he has any time to wake up and think carefully about what is going on, notice that God is still at the center of all his thoughts. For God had so worked His grace into Boaz’s life that even in this surprising moment, he remains calm. He proves to be a man of great poise as he thinks biblically even when he was started awake in the middle of the night.
Notice how Boaz proves to be gentle and compassionate he as prays God’s blessing over her. In verses 10-11, we read, “May you be blessed of the LORD, my daughter. You have shown your last kindness to be better than the first by not going after young men, whether poor or rich. Now my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you whatever you ask, for all my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.”
Isn’t it intriguing that Boaz treats this young believer with such gentle grace. He didn’t run her off and ask, what are you thinking? He doesn’t command her to leave or get away. Instead, he proves to be tenderhearted and kind. Why? Here’s the point…. We cannot hide what we really believe God is like. Our personal disposition is an unending expression of our understanding of and our trust in His character. You see how we live, and how we respond to situations undeniably reveals what we really believe about God.
Boaz teaches us this. It is because he trusts in his God, that Boaz is content to apply biblical principles to his situation, to do his duty, and to leave the consequences to the wise and good providence of His sovereign God. Oh, what poise he models. But notice also he’s patient. Ruth had just asked him to marry her and be her redeemer. That’s what we saw in verse 9, When she said, “So spread your covering over your maid, for you are a close relative.” Again, that phrase, close relative as we saw last week means redeemer. She’s asking Boaz to be her kinsman redeemer. The wording of verse 9 may sound familiar, because in chapter 2, Boaz prayed for Ruth, with similar words… He prayed in verse 12,May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.” Ruth is now asking Boaz, to be God’s wings over her. She’s asking him to fulfill his God inspired duty as a close relative to her late husband, to come and care for her and give her children so that the family line may continue. But notice, even though, he’s willing, and humbled that Ruth, who has become well known for her excellent character would want to marry him, he doesn’t run off with high emotions to get quickly married, but instead he acknowledges that there is actually another redeemer, who is actually a closer relative than he. And so Boaz says to Ruth, we have to slow down, for if he wants to redeem you, to take you into his family as a wife, it is his right, and it would be good for you. But if he doesn’t wish to redeem you, then he pledges to her, that he certainly will, as the LORD lives. And so, Boaz then asks her to lie down at his feet and go back to sleep. And there, he watched over her and protected her until early in the morning.
You can only imagine what was running through Ruth’s head at this moment. The news of another redeemer must have been a bitter blow to Ruth. She had risked so much in trusting Naomi’s plan. Perhaps, she worried about what else she might have to do it all over again. Something tells me that she didn’t sleep much that night, that she restlessly wrestled with countless “what if” scenarios as she laid at the feet of Boaz. What if this other redeemer wants me? What if he’s not like Boaz at all? What if Naomi isn’t cared for? What if… What if… What if… We’ve all been there, haven’t we, when we’ve robbed ourselves of rest, worrying about things in which we have zero control, instead of resting in God’s sovereign care.
Well, early in the morning, with little sleep and before it was light enough for Ruth’s reputation to unfairly judged. Boaz sent Ruth away, but not before blessing her with her another valuable gift. Notice verse 15 again, “Again he said, ‘Give me the cloak that is on you and hold it., So she held it, and he measured six measures of barley and laid it on her. Then she went into the city.” Now six measures of barley may mean little to us, but that would have weighted about 80 pounds. And so, Boaz picks up this heavy cloak and packs her down with weight of costly blessing. But this immense gift was not just a very generous financial blessing to meet Ruth and Naomi’s physical needs. I believe there is something more her being said.
Let me explain, in biblical symbolism, the number six often stands for incompleteness, whereas seven makes a completion. Thus, the world was created in six days, yet it wasn’t complete without a Sabbath, a day of rest. Perhaps, given the focus on rest in this chapter, the narrator is suggesting that rest is close by, but is not yet complete. Ruth is still looking, and Boaz is still working things out, she is still longing to be redeemed and have a child so that the family line will survive.
As we come to the end of chapter 3, you can’t help but notice that it ends almost identically to chapter 2, with Ruth returning home to Naomi with an extravagant gift and news of her adventures with Boaz. Now, verse 16 is intriguing because as Ruth comes home to Naomi, her mother-in-law asks, “how did it go?” But in the Hebrew, it literally reads, “Who are you?, my daughter.” It’s almost word for word the same question that Boaz asked Ruth when woke up startled in the middle of the night. But in some ways, that’s been the great question of this entire story, has it not. Who is this Ruth? Is she just an outsider, a Moabite, an enemy of God’s people? Who is this woman who forsakes everything she knew to embrace Naomi’s God and Naomi’s people. Who is this woman who continually models faith in God and repentance? Who is this woman whom the entire town is buzzing about? Even the elders at the city gates have come to know her as woman of excellence? Who is she? Someone worth modeling our faith after for sure.
But keep your eyes on the text, for as Ruth is telling Naomi everything that occurred, in verse 17, she says, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said, ‘Do not go to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” If you remember in chapter 1, Naomi mentioned that she came back to Bethlehem from Moab“empty,” and now Boaz seems to be assuring Naomi and Ruth, that their lives will never be empty again. The chapter then ends with Naomi concluding, “wait my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man won’t rest until he has settled it today.”
Notice how the first and last verse of the chapter focuses on the topic of rest, and now ultimately both Ruth and Naomi must rest their hearts in the work of Another. There is nothing else for them to do. They’ve risk much for God’s glory, and Ruth has submitted an obeyed, and now they must wait. Indeed, all they can do at this point is be patient and have faith that Boaz is a man who will complete the task. This too is a picture of saving faith is it not? That we put our faith and trust not in what we do, or what we can do, but ultimately in what God must lovingly do for us. You see we are completely unable to save ourselves. For if we were able, God certainly would never have sent His only Son, to live and die on the cross for our sin. Surely, He would have just called on us to get our lives in order and do more good than bad. But that’s not what happened. Is it? Instead, we like Ruth and Naomi must trust in the completed work of a Redeemer.
The book of Ruth is an amazing love story. But I pray, you are beginning to see, that the real love story presented in these four short chapters of scripture is not the love story between Boaz and Ruth. The real love story is behind the scenes. It’s the love of God for His straying sheep. It’s the love of God that prevented Him from ending the world when Adam and Eve first sinned. It’s the love that God has for His people who continue to wander away from His will. It’s the love of God that graciously brought Naomi back to the land of promise, after her family ran to a world of compromise.
And this love of God took its fullest and greatest shape in the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Who abandoned glory and came to earth, where he was born in Bethlehem. But unlike, Ruth, there was place for Him to find rest in that ancient city. Instead, Jesus would live His entire life as our servant. He was a man of no reputation, He was despised and rejected by man. But in love for His own, Jesus would offer His own life as a sacrifice on the cross for our sin. There on Calvary, God turned His face from His Son, as Jesus became our sin, and He endured the wrath of God on our behalf, so that we might be redeemed, forgiven, and made right with God. You see the Bible tells us, that God so loved the world, that He gave His one and only Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. That’s the depths of God’s covenantal faithfulness and love towards us. It has no limit.
Do you know this love of God? Have you responded in faith? Have you turned from your sinful and selfish ways and seek to live for Him? Because, here is the good news I have for you today… He will gladly be your Redeemer and receive you into His family if you humbly come to Him in faith. He will cover you with His wings and be your refuge in this dark world. He will spread the robe of Christ’s righteousness over your nakedness and shame. No matter what you’ve done, no matter where you have been, no matter how horrible of a person you may think you are, or how undeserving you view your life, God invites you into His family, He invites you to be redeemed. You simply must trust Him and rest in His completed work on the cross for your sin. He died, so that you may live! The price has been paid, you simply must rest your heart in what He has done for you and live for Him. The early church father, Saint Augustine once wisely wrote, “Lord, thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” Oh how exhausted some of you are this morning… you have put your trust in countless things that have failed to grant you rest. And now today, perhaps Jesus is calling you to rest… .will you respond?
Church family, I know it’s hard to rest in our world. Because of sin we are rather impatient people who are irritated so easily. It’s so easy to get all worked up, stress out, freak out, and panic. But Jesus invites us to come to Him, take up His yoke, walk with Him, and discover true rest. Listen, our God is sovereign, He’s working all things together for His good. All the seemingly chaotic things in your life, are never out of His control. He simply calls on us to trust Him and risk much for His glory, He calls on us to submit and obey His perfect will for our lives as revealed in the Scriptures, and He calls us to be poised and patient as works all things together for His glory and our good. Will you rest in Him this week, for He is good, able, and eager to glorify His name through you.
Pray with me!
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