God Works Through People
The Book of Ruth
Ruth 3, God Works through People
There are many theological debates that have existed in the church that will never go away. There are several of them. They existed 1000 years ago. They exist today.
One of those debates is on the topic of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. The debate can be summarized with the question, “If God is sovereign, if God is in control of all things, how is that man is responsible for his actions?” A difficult yet important question to answer.
I dare not say that I will answer this question this morning. Such an act would be hubris. I don’t believe we will ever answer that question this side of eternity. Mystery faces us on every side of this question.
This concession to mystery, though, is not a concession that we can’t say anything with reference to this topic. We do know some small answers to this large question. God has revealed to us some truths about this question. And these truths we must hold onto, believe, and proclaim.
Ruth 3 provides us with some answers to this question—some amazing answers that should have great impact in your life. What it is that Ruth 3 shows us is that God works in this world through people. God executes his sovereign will through people’s wills. That’s going to be the main idea this morning: God works through people. That’s the title of this morning’s sermon.
Four points for you this morning. The first three points will serve as an episode where we see God working through people. These points will be established based on some literary link found in Ruth. Each point I have will be have a title that is based upon the literary link. In order to find these links, we will investigate the first part of the link that start outside of chapter 3 and then investigate the second part of the link that is in chapter 3. The fourth point of my sermon will be application.
Our first point this morning is entitled, “Rest.” Turn to Ruth 1:8. Look at what she says here to Ruth and Orpah. The passage reads,
But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
In this passage, Naomi asks God that he would grant to her two daughters-in-law find rest by means of finding a husband. Naomi says, “The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” Naomi wants Ruth to leave her in order to find rest by means of a husband. Notice and remember that word “rest” from Ruth 1:9.
Now turn to Ruth 3:1. We will read through v. 5. The passage reads,
Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you? Is not Boaz our relative, with whose young women you were? See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash therefore and anoint yourself, and put on your cloak and go down to the threshing floor, but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. But when he lies down, observe the place where he lies. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down, and he will tell you what to do.” And she replied, “All that you say I will do.”
After hearing Naomi hears from Ruth at the end of Ruth 2 that Ruth had met Boaz, Naomi constructs a plan for her daughter-in-law. This plan entails several steps. The goal that Naomi has in mind is for Ruth and Boaz to get married. That’s what she wants. Naomi is functioning like something like a matchmaker for Ruth and Boaz.
I want you to take special notice of v. 1. Notice what Naomi says to Ruth in this verse. She says, “My daughter, should I not seek rest for you, that it may be well with you.” Naomi wants to find “rest” for her daughter-in-law. The way she is going to do this is by helping find a husband—specifically Boaz—for Ruth. Naomi wants to provide “rest” for Ruth by helping her find a husband. Remember what Naomi in Ruth 1:8–9. Naomi asked God to provide “rest” for Ruth by means of a husband. In Ruth 3:1, Naomi begins the process of providing for Ruth “rest” by means of a husband.
What Naomi prays for in Ruth 1 is what Naomi fulfills in Ruth 3. Naomi in Ruth 3:1 is the answer to her own prayer in Ruth 1:9. This is really a crazy idea. Naomi had no idea what would transpire in her life. She had no idea Ruth would stick with her, that Ruth would meet Boaz, and that her pray for Ruth’s rest would be accomplished through her own actions. Theologically, what this shows us is that God works through peoples. Specifically, God answered Naomi’s prayer through Naomi herself. She was the answer to her own prayer. God didn’t do a miracle. He worked very ordinarily. He worked in the most mundane and yet spectacular ways of all—he worked through people. Specifically, God works through Naomi by leading Naomi to be the
answer to her own prayer.
For the second point, turn to Ruth 2:11. For those taking notes, this is my second point. Write “Wings.” We will read through v. 12. The passage states,
But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. The LORD repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge!”
In this passage, Boaz asks God to bless Ruth. He asks the LORD to “repay you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the LORD.” Notice how he ends this request. He ends it with a theological statement about God. In this passage, God is depicted as a mother bird who protects her young by spreading her wings over them. God has sheltered Ruth from danger, and it’s by means of his “wings.”
Now go to Ruth 3:6. We will read through v. 9. The passage reads,
So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had commanded her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came softly and uncovered his feet and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and behold, a woman lay at his feet! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”
Take specific notice of what Ruth says to Boaz in v. 9. She asks him to “spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.” She is essentially asking him to marry her. This is a marriage proposal. She is asking him to be her rest, her comfort, her security. However, Ruth also brings up, whether intentionally or unintentionally I’m not sure, the word “wings.” The narrator is using this intentionally. Boaz mentioned in Ruth 2 that God has sheltered Ruth under his wings. Now, in Ruth 3, Ruth is requesting that Boaz “spread his wings” over her.
Theologically, what this means is that Ruth requests from Boaz that Boaz be the way that God spreads his wings over Ruth. Through the spreading of Boaz’s wings through marriage, God spreads his wings over Ruth. God’s plan of protection for Ruth is mediated to Ruth by means of Boaz’s actions. And as the story plays out, this is what happens. It is through the means of Boaz’s marriage to Ruth that God provides for Ruth protection, security, and offspring. God works through people. Specifically, he works through Boaz.
For our third point, turn to Ruth 1:19. This third point is entitled “Empty.” We will read through v. 21. The passage states,
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
In this passage, Naomi has returned from Moab to Bethlehem, and some of Naomi’s old friends recognize her upon her return. And they speak, I image rhetorically, “Is this Naomi?” She responds, “Don’t call me Naomi. Instead, call me Mara.” “Mara” in Hebrew means “bitter.” Why is Naomi bitter? Because God has “brought me back empty.” She laments to God that he has brought her back empty—she has no food, no husband, and no children. Focus in on that word “empty.” That word is the first part of the literary and theological link.
Now, turn to Ruth 3:16. We will read through v. 18. The passage states,
And when she came to her mother-in-law, she said, “How did you fare, my daughter?” Then she told her all that the man had done for her, saying, “These six measures of barley he gave to me, for he said to me, ‘You must not go back emptyhanded to your mother-in-law.’” She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest but will settle the matter today.”
The incident that is portrayed here is when Ruth returns to Naomi after Ruth has spent the night at Boaz’s feet. As every woman wants to know, Naomi wants to know how their date went. This date went so well that Boaz even had concern for Ruth’s mother-in-law. Boaz gave Ruth some grain to take back to Naomi. And look what Boaz said to Ruth about her mother-in-law: “You must not go back empty-handed to your mother-in-law.” That word “empty-handed” is the same word that shows up in Ruth 1:19 when Ruth said that the LORD had brought her back “empty.” We have Naomi express emptiness in Ruth 1; and in Ruth 3 Boaz’s, whether he knows it or not I don’t know, seeks to address Naomi’s emptiness.
Bringing these two forms of empty together, what’s this all mean? As with our previous points, this literary link establishes the theological point that in God’s providence he works through people. Particularly in this situation, the way God addresses Naomi’s “emptiness” is by means of Boaz. In chapter 3, God’s kind hand of provision takes the form of God’s providing food for Naomi through Boaz. In chapter 4, God’s kind hand of provision takes the form of God providing a male heir for Naomi through Boaz. God accomplishes his will through people. God uses people. God uses Boaz to address Naomi’s “emptiness.”
I have two points of application for you this morning. One is theological; the other is practical. For my theological application, turn to Phil 2:12. We will read through v. 13. The passage reads, Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
This is an amazing verse and very much summarizes the theological principle that we see in Ruth 3. This verse illumines for us how to answer the question of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility—that perennial issue that has been with the church since its inception.
This verse calls Christians towards action. Christians are not supposed to be inactive, passive. While God is sovereign, Christians are also called to act. Specifically, as specified in v. 12, Christians are to “work out their salvation with fear and trembling.” But look in v. 13. Where does the desire to work out “your salvation with fear and trembling” come from? It comes from God. God has a will. This will is expressed at the end of v. 13 with the words “good pleasure.” How does he accomplish his will in this passage? He accomplishes his will (which in this passage is that Christians work out their salvation with fear and trembling) by producing in
Christians the desire to fulfill his will.
This is exactly the idea that we saw at play in Ruth 3. God had a will for Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. That will was to provide rest and safety for Ruth, and to address Naomi’s “emptiness.” How did he fulfill his will? He fulfilled his will through people. He addressed these needs by means of the wills of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. He accomplishes his will through working in their wills the desire to fulfill his will. WOW!
One more point of application. This is more “practical.” Turn to 2 Cor 1:3. This point is more relevant to the topic of suffering—a topic we’ve discussed in previous sermons. We will read through v. 4.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
This verse calls Christians who have suffered and have experienced God the Father’s comfort to share that comfort with other people who are suffering. In this passage, how is God the Father’s comfort expressed? The passage mentions that the way it is expressed is through people. Those Christians who suffer and who are comforted share that comfort with other Christians. That comfort, this passage describes, is the Father’s comfort. When you are comforted by a Christian who has suffered similarly, that comfort is not from that person. Rather, that comfort is from God the Father. God the Father uses people who have suffered to dispense his comfort to the suffering.
For those who are suffering, God wants to use you. God wants you to share comfort with others who are suffering. Don’t become selfish in your suffering. Share God’s comfort with others. When you do, that is God the Father working through you. When you comfort others, the Bible says that is God the Father comforting them. God, in a mysterious yet biblical way, accomplishes his will of comforting Christians by means of the comfort you give. Wow. If you’re suffering or if you have suffered, God wants to use you. He wants to comfort Christians through the comfort you have received.