How God Works
September 1, 2019
The Book of Ruth
Ruth 2, How God Works
Good morning to you all. This morning we continue our series in Ruth. This morning we will cover Ruth 2. Last week we delve heavily into suffering—specifically, how we are to respond to suffering. I argued last week that we are to lament, to believe in God’s sovereignty, and to have
hope in Christ.
This week’s sermon will not about suffering like last week’s sermon was. Nevertheless, suffering will form the backdrop of our sermon this week. Just like Ruth 2 cannot be understood without reference to Ruth 1, so also this week’s sermon cannot be understood without reference to last
The relationship between last week’s sermon and this week’s sermon is this: When we suffer, when we are in trial, when we toil and are in misery, it’s very easy to become solely focused upon the pain. In suffering, we often get tunnel vision. Our perspective can become myopic. We
might fail to see anything but Despair, hopelessness, and fear.
God calls us to fight this tendency. We must fight the fight of faith. We must fight to have faith in our darkest moments. God wants us to keep going. Keep stepping. Keep walking. The way we do so is by means of faith. Our faith must be strong.
This morning I want to strengthen your faith for the fight. I want to strengthen your faith in your period of suffering. The way I want to do that is by showing you how God works in Ruth 2. Even in our suffering, God is at work in the lives of Christians. He is not distant but is with you
through every step. God is at work in your life and in this world. We will see that this morning in Ruth 2. I’ve titled this morning’s sermon “How God Works.”
If you have your Bibles, please open to Ruth 2. This morning I will have three points for you. In a recent conversation with a mother who attends CBC, she told me that her child really likes my three-point sermons because they know that that my sermon is almost over when I get to my
third point. At least they listen, right?
God Works behind the Scenes
My first point for you this morning: “God works behind the scenes.”
In order to understand what happens in Ruth 2, we must first understand what “gleaning” is. Look at Ruth 2:2. The passage reads,
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.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers.
All of chapter 2 surrounds these events of gleaning. It is because Ruth goes out to glean that she meets Boaz. This story of Ruth hinges on this agricultural activity. And even in this agricultural activity God’s hand can be seen.
To better understanding what “gleaning” is, turn to Lev 19:9. We will read through verse 10. The passage reads,
When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.
Here we have the act of gleaning described.
During a barley harvest, like the one that occurs in Ruth 2, harvesters would go into the field to gather their crop. The harvesting process in Israel was governed by God’s law. Just as God’s law dictates how Christian farming practices, so also God’s law dictated how Jews farming practices. For the harvesting of grain, Jews were forbidden from two activities. Both activities are mentioned in v. 9.
The first activity Jews were prohibited from doing was overharvesting their crop. The law was “you shall not reap your field up to its edge.” God prohibited Jews from harvesting all the crop they had grown. The second prohibited activity was to go back into the field after the initial
harvest to gather crop that had been dropped in the harvesting process. As Jewish harvesters gathered their crop, they would sometimes make the mistake of dropping harvest grain. God prohibited this dropped grain from being gathered up. God said, “Neither shall you gather the
gleanings after your harvest.”
And look at God’s reason for he prohibited these two activities. He says, “You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner.” Ruth fits both qualifications. First, she’s poor. She has no money, no husband to care for her, no inheritance. And, moreover, she has vowed unto the point
of death to care for her deceased husband’s mother. She’s the definition of someone poor. And, second, she is also a foreigner in the land of Israel. She is a “sojourner.” Turn back to Ruth 2:2. Look at how the verse begins: “And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi.” How is Ruth spoken of in
this passage? She’s a Moabite. Ethnically, she is not Jewish. She is a sojourner in the land of Israel. She has come to the land of Israel to find refuge and to take care of her deceased husband’s mother.
What occurs in Ruth 2 is an example of what God has in mind in Lev 19. Lev 19 specifies that God cares for the poor and the sojourner. Out of his concern for these types of persons, God commanded his people to harvest their crops in a way that shows compassion to the marginalized
of society. Broadly understood, God’s hand can be seen in his provision for the poor and sojourner in Israel through laws like the one mentioned in Lev 19:9. More specifically, though, for our purposes in Ruth, the whole backdrop of the story must be understood in light of Lev 19:9. God was at work in caring for Ruth and in accomplishing his plan of redemption through Ruth hundreds of years prior to Ruth’s birth. This law prescribed in Lev 19:9 is so important for the story of Ruth that without it the story of Ruth could not have been fulfilled. God’s work in Ruth is predicated upon God’s work in Lev 19:9. God, hundreds of years before, was working behind the scenes.
This isn’t just true of Ruth’s life. This is true of every Christian. God has done this in all of our lives. And, currently is doing it. Let me give an example of this from my life.
One of the more difficult periods in my life was my freshman year of college. It was my first time away from home. I went to play soccer, and that went horribly. It was my first year as a Christian. No one on the soccer team was a Christian. I chose not to part of the pervasive
partying and immorality. That decision left me without friends. When Spring came around, things started looking up for me. Yet, I ended up breaking my collar bone during one practice. I told my coach that I was going to be leaving his program. He didn’t have the nicest things to say.
It was a really hard year. Lots of loneliness.
Little did I know, though, that God was at work in a mighty way beyond what I could see. God was at work behind the scenes. That same Spring, when I was having such a difficult time, something that would end up being very important for my life was transpiring, and I didn’t even
know about it. In Marchish, about the same month I broke my collar bone, a little red-headed high School junior from right outside of Detroit went to visit a small Christian school in South Florida. That school would be the school that I would end up graduating from. That girl was Kathryn Tietjen, my wife. Little did I know that during one of the most difficult periods of my life God was preparing me to meet one of my life’s greatest blessings.
When we suffer, we must remember, like Ruth’s and my own life demonstrate, that God is at work behind the scenes. When you suffer, God is working in ways that you cannot currently see. God is not distant. He is at work. You might not be able to see it now, but he is at work.
God Works Ordinarily
The second point for you this morning is “God Works Ordinarily.” Often when we think of God working in our lives, we think of big, extraordinary events. Like maybe some extraordinary, miraculous, dramatic answer to some prayer request. Something like that. And God does work
like that. He does work in extra-ordinary ways. I know of incidents in my life when this has happened. And I imagine that you are aware of incidents in your life when this happened.
Many Christians long for these types of signs from God. An example of this comes from a popular contemporary worship song. The name of the song is “Light up the Sky” by the Afters. This song is a bit of an older one. It came out in 2010. I haven’t heard it on the radio in a while.
But a year or so ago I used to always hear it in Dallas. These are the lyrics
When I'm feeling all alone / There's so far to go / The signs are nowhere on this road Guiding me home / When the night is closing in / It's falling on my skin / Oh God will you come close? / Light light light up the sky / You light up up the sky to show me / That you are with me.
Notice these statements: “Oh God will you come close? / Light light light up the sky / You light up up the sky to show me / That you are with me.” God feels distant. God seems far away. What is it that we need from God when he is distant? We need him to “Light up the sky to show me
that you are with me.” God needs to give us a sign when we are in pain. That’s the idea here. Is such sign-seeking bad? It can be. To the Jews who remained in unbelief and who asked him for a sign, Jesus says this in Matt 16:4:
An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.
Jesus rebukes this type of sign-seeking mentality. We need to be careful that in our grief, in our suffering that we do not demand God to “light up the sky to show us that he is with us.” This sign-seeking mentality can be overemphasized. And when it is overemphasized, it is sin.
The reason why it can be sin is because it neglects God’s ordinary working. It says, “I need to see something spectacular to believe that God is at work.” That’s bad theology. That’s unbelief. That is a failure to see God in the everyday, the mundane, the ordinary. While God does work in extraordinary ways, he, more often than not, works strikingly ordinary ways.
God’s ordinary working is shows up a number of times in Ruth 2. In Ruth 2, there are a number of events that occur in a very ordinary way that are crucial to how the story plays out.
First, notice the timing at which Ruth and Naomi arrive back in Bethlehem. As Ruth 1:22 says, they arrived during the beginning of the barley harvest. Barley harvests in Israel did not last long—just a few weeks. The timing matters here because it’s through Ruth’s gleaning during the barley harvest that she meets Boaz. If they would have returned during a different time of the year, she would not have “randomly” wandered into Boaz’s field and began harvesting. We don’t
know what she would have done during a different time. What we do know, though, is that the timing of them returning to Bethlehem is consequential for the story. God was the one who brought them back during this time. God did this in an unremarkable and ordinary way.
Second, notice what it says in 2:3. We went over this verse in my “Introduction” sermon. It reads,
Ruth went and gathered grain in the fields behind the harvesters. Now she just happened to end up in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.
As I explained in that sermon, while the text says that Ruth “just happened to end up” in Boaz’s field, God is the one who stands behind this “coincidence.” The book of Ruth gives a perspective on God’s providence from the perspective of Ruth. This passage presents the situation as it appears, not as it truly is. It seems that Ruth just happened to find herself in Boaz’s field. But we know there is no such thing as chance in God’s economy. God doesn’t run the universe in that
manner. God is in control of these events. But notice how God brings Ruth and Boaz together—in an extremely ordinary way. Verse 2 specifies that Ruth had the desire to go and glean. Desires are very normal experience. We all have desires. Then, Ruth makes the decision
to go out and find a field. Pretty ordinary. She walks. Very ordinary. Then, all of a sudden, she finds herself in the one field that belongs to her future husband.
Third, notice in v. 4 that Boaz, too, came to his field. For the story to be fulfilled in the way it was, Ruth not only needed to come to Boaz’s field; more importantly, she needed to meet Boaz.
It wouldn’t be enough for her to just come to his field. This was an very ordinary occurrence—one, though, that fit into an overall plan.
Fourth, notice the question Naomi asks Ruth in v. 19: “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked?” At this point in the story, Ruth doesn’t know that Boaz could be her redeemer. It does seem like Baoz’s knew who Ruth was, but at this point Ruth does not know
who Boaz is. It’s through Naomi’s question in 2:19 that the story shifts. It’s because of this question that chapter 3 turns out the way that it does. For his purposes, God guided Naomi to ask this question. This working, though, was very ordinary. Acquiring information through questionasking is one of the most ordinary actions people do. And, yet, even through the ordinary, God is at work.
In your life, God is working. However, he is often working through very ordinary means. While his care and concern can be seen in the spectacular, he can also been seen in the ordinary. Don’t crave the supernatural, the incredible, the extraordinary. While it is okay to pray for God to show up mightily, we also need to pray for eyes to see his work through the ordinary.
God Works Surprisingly
The last point for you this morning is this: “God works surprisingly.” For this point, we will look at Naomi’s actions in this chapter. Look at the beginning of the chapter, Ruth 2:1 through 2.
Now Naomi had ta relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him win whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”
What’s important to notice here is Naomi shows no awareness of Boaz’s presence in Bethlehem. While the narrator tells us that in v. 1, Naomi is either ignorant of this fact or has forgotten it. Ruth goes to Boaz’s field by “coincidence,” not because Naomi told Ruth to go to that specific
Now look at what transpires at the end of the chapter, in Ruth 2:19 through 20. Ruth 2:20. It reads,
And her mother-in-law said to her, “Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The man’s name with whom I worked today is Boaz.” And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi also said to her, “The
man is a close relative of ours, one of yur redeemers.”
Naomi’s question in v. 19 was genuine—she really didn’t know whose field Ruth had gleaned in. She’s not acting in this question. After Ruth tells Naomi about Boaz, Naomi’s response, in v. 20, is one of surprise. She hadn’t been hiding this information from Ruth. She didn’t reveal this
information yet because she didn’t know or didn’t remember that Boaz living in Bethlehem. Based upon the narrative, she didn’t expect what transpired between Ruth and Boaz to occur. God’s work in Naomi’s life surprised Naomi.
Often when we suffer, we think we know how things are going to turn out. We chart out our future based upon a current difficulty. We interpret the future in terms of the present. “The future is going to be this way because that is how the present is.” Such thinking is foolishness. Such
thinking is unbelief. You have no idea how the future will turn out. You have no idea what will happen to you when you leave this church building. You doubt the power of God. You doubt his plan. You doubt his goodness.
And even if you don’t doubt God, even if you believe in God in the suffering, God is still going to surprise you with his work. He is still going to do far beyond all that you think or imagine. Turn to Eph 3:20. I will close with this passage. We will read through the end of the chapter.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Paul is bringing his argument to an end that he began in Eph 1:1. Eph 3:20–21 is the conclusion to all of what he has said in the first part of Ephesians. What he is saying is that with this closing is this: “What I’ve said in chapters 1 through 3 is wonderful. However, the reality of which God is working in this you, in the church, and in this world far exceeds anything that you can think of or pray. God is that great. His purposes are that grand. What God can do with your life, with your prayers, with your suffering is beyond imagination. Like how God surprised Naomi, God, too, will surprise you.
For the suffering Christian, God is at work in your life. He is working behind the scenes, he works through ordinary circumstances, and his work is surprising. Persevere in your difficult. Preserve in the trouble. God’s hand is all around you. Open your eyes to see it.