Putting Our Lives in the Pathway of Providence
Topic: Providence Passage: Ruth 1:22–2:13, Ruth 2:17
Ruth: Woman of Extraordinary Faith
Grace Community Church
July 29, 2018
Putting Our Lives in the Pathway of Providence
Ruth 1:22 -2:17
Good morning! For our visitors, we are continuing a bible study of the Old Testament book of Ruth. If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to Ruth chapter one. We will also have the verses up on the screen so you can read along.
Just to recap: When a famine hit Israel, a Jewish man named Elimelech took his wife Naomi and two sons and settled in the land of Moab. The Moabites were a sworn enemy of the Jews and a degenerate people so God had forbidden the Jews from mingling with them, but in the face of famine Elimelech disobeyed God’s command. Elimelech then died and their sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Then Naomi’s sons died and Naomi is left alone with no husband, children, or grandchildren to carry on their name. Naomi decides to go back to her people urging Orpah and Ruth to leave her and go back to their people and Orpah does just that but Ruth is devoted to Naomi and chooses to make Naomi’s people her people and Naomi’s God her God.
We’re going to pick the story up just as they arrive in Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem.
22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
There’s a great word that Christians don’t use as much today as they used to, it’s the word “providence”. Merriam Webster defines providence as God’s power sustaining and providing and guiding human destiny.
Belief in Providence means we don’t believe that anything happens by accident but God’s invisible hand is guiding everything that happens in our lives with love and care
Famous British biologist and atheist Richard Dawkins has made it his life’s ambition to uproot faith in God from society. He has written that if there is a Watchmaker who designed and put the universe together, it is a blind watchmaker. He writes: In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.
Dawkins believes there is no design, no purpose, no evil and no good in the universe. No providence, just blind, uncaring chance. Oddly though, more and more people are rejecting his view of the universe. In response to Dawkins’ claim that modern science has solved everything, British author Douglas Murray, answers “…[M]ost of us still do not feel solved. We do not live our lives and experience our existence as solved beings.” 1 Left with science and without God, the universe becomes a brutally cold and impersonal place where our lives mean nothing and our death means nothing. Something inside of us reject that bleak and cold view of life and the universe.
The Bible assures us that the universe isn’t blind, uncaring, and purposeless. It’s loving Providence, rather than blind chance, that guides our destinies. Nothing happens in our lives by accident. God’s providence is always at work in your life and mine. And that brings great peace and hope and assurance to our souls when we really believe that.
We begin to see this invisible hand of providence at work in Ruth and Naomi’s life at the end of chapter 1. They happened to arrive in Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest and that is crucial. There is nothing random or accidental about the timing. Like the first domino falling that knocks down a long series of dominoes, this is the first event in a sequence of events that are going to bring good things to Naomi and Ruth.
Remember, as Naomi enters Bethlehem she has lost all hope. She has lost everyone she loves. She has no living heirs to carry on her family name. She and Ruth are poor and destitute and as widows have no way of supporting themselves. Naomi is in what we could call a “winter of the soul”, everything looks bleak and lifeless. But it’s the beginning of barley harvest. The barley harvest happens at the very beginning of spring. Naomi is experiencing a winter in her soul, but spring is coming! New life and new hope are just around the corner even though she can’t see it.
If you find yourself in a winter of the soul, let that be an encouragement to you. Things may look bleak, cold, lifeless now, but spring is coming. Providence is guiding your life with love and care. Let that bring deep assurance to your soul. But this is important: keep moving in the right direction. Belief in God’s loving providence doesn’t remove our responsibility for how we live our lives. We can’t just say, “it doesn’t matter what I do, providence will make it all work out in the end.” God has given us a part to play – a big part – in how our lives go and where our lives end up. Providence shouldn’t lead us to a que sera sera, whatever will be will be attitude. Our choices and actions have real effects on how Providence guides our lives!
Naomi and Ruth are beginning to experience the goodness of God’s providence in their lives but they had an important part in putting themselves in the pathway of providence. Naomi decided to go back to her people and God timed it so that it was at just the right time. In chapter 2 I want to point out two things that Ruth does that will align their lives in the pathway of God’s good providence and how we can learn from her and imitate her example.
Read Ruth 2:1-3
Faith helps place our lives in the pathway of God’s good providence
Verse 2 gives us a window into Ruth’s courage and faith: And Ruth the Moabite 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.” Gleaning was a safety net set up by God to help the poor in Israel. Farmers would take care not to harvest every bit of the crop and in fact were to not harvest the edges of their fields so that the poor could come and glean the leftovers. It was hard work, it wasn’t going to make anyone rich, but it provided a living for the poor.
But think about it. Ruth’s just arrived at a strange land – everything is new to her. On top of that, she is a foreigner from a people that the Jews despised. Adding to the danger she is an attractive young woman who has no family connections or social status to protect her, so she is incredibly vulnerable to being abused by unscrupulous men. She has every reason to be afraid, to close the drapes and lock the doors and refuse to go out.
But Ruth is eager to go – and she totally expects for things to work out! She states as a fact that God will lead her to someone who will be kind to her. This Moabite woman has an amazing faith and that faith moves her out of the safety of her home and puts her in the pathway of God’s good providence. And that’s exactly what happens in verse 3:
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. (vs 3)
Ruth has no idea who owns what field. She’s just working along and it says “she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” Literally it means "as chance chanced she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz". She happened to come…as chance chanced…but it was no accident. She was being guided by God’s invisible hand. Her faith helped put her in the pathway of God’s providence.
Faith looks up at God and knows He will be good and knowing He will be good, it gives us confidence to put one foot in front of the other. Ruth looked at God and knew He’d be good, He’d be kind, He’d lead her where she needed to go. And so in faith Ruth opened her door to walk out into the unknown, when fear or despair would have kept her shut up behind locked doors…like Naomi. Notice that Naomi didn’t go out into the fields to work with Ruth. Why? She wasn’t that old - probably in her mid 50’s, and we know of no physical reason she couldn’t have gone into the fields. Naomi was paralyzed by a bitter hopelessness that didn’t expect good things from God anymore. So she stayed home.
If we stop believing in God’s goodness and faithfulness, we can be tempted to stay home and lock the doors rather than step out in faith and believe God to lead and guide us by His good providence. And what can happen is a downward spiral: we stop believing God will be good, which paralyzes us into inactivity which makes our situation worse which then makes us feel less able to believe God will be good which paralyzes us into even more inactivity. It’s a downward spiral! If Ruth hadn’t been there, that’s probably what would have happened to Naomi. She was spiraling downward.
If you’re struggling with Naomi-itis the key to breaking this downward cycle isn’t to look deep within – it’s to look up and believe that God is good! Yeah, things might look really bad, yeah you might be in a winter of the soul, but believe that spring is coming and with it God is bringing new life and new hope! Remember Romans 8:32: 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? If God was good enough and loved us enough to give His best, His Son, how can we not believe that He will be good to us in all everything else?
Believe in God’s goodness and love for you and step out! Even if it’s just a small step, open the door and launch out! Don’t hide behind the curtains, step out like Ruth and believe that God will guide you with favor. Ruth’s faith placed her in the pathway of God’s good providence and faith places our lives in the pathway of God’s providence.
There is another quality that Ruth had that helped position her in the pathway of God’s good providence. It might not be what you expect, but it’s this: Ruth had an amazing work ethic. Let’s read verses 4-13.
Jump down to verse 17 (we’ll double back next week): 17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
Working hard helps place us in the pathway of God’s good providence
Next week we’ll look more at Boaz’ response to Ruth, but what immediately caught the attention of Boaz’ co-workers is that Ruth was a hard worker. She began working early in the morning and worked hard only stopping for a short rest. After breaking for a meal, she worked until evening and then did the hard work of beating out what she had gleaned.
God in His providence is beginning to fill Boaz’ heart with kindness and favor towards Ruth. Part of it is that Boaz has heard about Ruth’s devotion to her mother in law, part of it is that he is impressed by her faith to leave her people and bind her life to Israel and the God of Israel. But part of it is that he sees that Ruth has an excellent work ethic and that work ethic put her in the right place at the right time. Working hard helped place Ruth in the pathway of God’s providence.
I’m not talking about working to earn our salvation – we can never do that. We are saved by grace through faith – not of works so that no one can boast (Eph. 2) I’m just talking about being a hard worker. Having a good work ethic. The same Bible that teaches us that we are saved by grace through faith, not of works, also teaches us that we should be good workers. God’s providence in our lives will unfold differently if we work hard than if we don’t.
God’s providence will more often provide a promotion or success to those who work hard than those who are slackers. It’s the way God has built this universe to run.
God’s providence will more often open doors to the hard working person than to the lazy person.
God’s providence will be able to use the person with a good work ethic to make a difference in other people’s lives more powerfully than someone who doesn’t have a good work ethic.
Consider Joseph. He was an incredibly hard worker and God gave him success in everything he put his hand to. Because of his excellent work, God promoted him up and up. God working and Joseph working. We see the same dynamic with Daniel – he rose to the top because he could be trusted to do his work with excellence. Let me read just a few Bible passages that tell of the importance of hard work:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters… Col. 3:23
May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. Prov. 90:17
Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense. Prov. 12:11
All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. Prov. 14:23
And an example of the reverse path is given in Prov. 6:10:
A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man. Prov. 6:10-11
Providence isn’t an excuse for us to kick back and leave it all up to God. Faith isn’t an excuse to be lazy and expect God to do what He’s called us to do. Ruth believed God would lead and guide her and then she rolled up her sleeves and worked her tail off.
God created us to be happiest when we’re being productive and working hard (it helps when we love our work!). But my point here is that working hard can play a big part in positioning us to be in the pathway for God’s good providence in ways that not working hard can derail us from.
I’m not talking about getting rich or moving up the ladder of success at work. God may have that for some of you but that’s not how God measures success. There are people who are tremendous successes at work, but failures at the more important work God has entrusted to them: their families, their friends, their church, the unsaved in their lives. Yeah, they make a lot of money but God wants so much more for their lives.
Spoiler alert: This story isn’t just about barley and love. Where this story is heading is that Ruth will be used by God to bring the Savior, Jesus Christ into the world. Like Ruth, God’s providence wants to take our lives and use them to help others know and love God. He wants your life to make an eternal difference by helping people see and know Jesus. And that takes work. It takes work to be a good husband or wife. It takes work to be an engaged parent. It takes work to be a good friend. It takes work to be a part of building a healthy church. It takes work to be a good witness at your job. Jesus highlights the importance of hard work for the kingdom when he says he will greet those who work hard with the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!”
Work hard and trust God to use it for His glory. Don’t be discouraged thinking, “my labor isn’t accomplishing anything worthwhile.” Our part is to be faithful and have a good work ethic, God’s part is to bless what we do for His good purposes. We won’t always see how God in His providence is using our efforts, and we don’t need to. As we are faithful with what God has given us to do, He will guide us to be in the right place at the right time. Providence.
We all go through Naomi seasons where the faith tank feels empty. If we see God’s hand at all, it seems to be against us. You might be in a winter of the soul right now and spiraling downward. Let me remind you that spring is coming. God is good. Retighten your grip on how committed God is to you. How much He loves you and desires good for you – a hope and a future. And let that new faith – even if it’s just a little bud breaking through the frozen ground – stir you to action. Pull back the drapes, unlock the door, and get out into the fields, trusting that God’s good providence will lead you and guide you and care for you every step of the way. Ruth and Naomi began to see things begin spiral upward in ways they never expected. Trust that God will do the same in your life.
1 Douglas Murray, The Strange Death of Europe, pg. 267