Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ruth's story - no coincidences

Ready to resume our study in the book of Ruth? Great! Let's dig in!
When we paused on Monday, we had just reminded ourselves of the fact that there are no coincidences in our lives -- there are "God moments" when He reveals His providence, and shows that He is Sovereign Lord.  We can see His hand at work everywhere. He weaves His purposes through events and circumstances.

Elimelech shook the dust of Bethlehem off his clothing and headed for the greener pastures of Moab. Why? He was escaping the famine that was a tangible consequence of the people's sins. His sons marry Moabite women, and one of them will return with his mom to Bethlehem in the years to come. Coincidence? Nope.

The picture at the top of this post shows an artist's vision of Ruth, gleaning in the field.
I said "gleaning."
Not "gleaming."
What's gleaning?
Well, God has always made provision for the poor and for the ones who have no one to care for them, like those who are "widows indeed." Let's look at one of the first rules He gave to the Israelites:
"When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen.Leave them for the poor and the foreigner. I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:9-10)
So, the people who needed food, could follow behind the reapers and pick up what was left at the edges of the fields, whether it was barley harvest or wheat or corn. They could gather up the fallen grapes in the vineyards. In this way, they were able to survive until better times.
Boaz, who appears in chapter two, was a man who followed the Law and cared about the poor, for he was careful to leave the edges of the fields un-harvested.

Now, here is Ruth, gleaning in the field, doing her best to take care of the mother-in-law that she loves and looks up to. And whose field was it? It "just happened" to be one of Boaz' fields. Not! It was not by chance!
God orchestrated the events of her day, in order to accomplish His purposes! God's invisible hand steered her to that particular field, and on that particular day, too, when Boaz was there supervising things and noticed her. We have read that Ruth went through some truly difficult times, but every question, every broken heart, and her clinging to the new faith that Naomi showed her, worked into God's plans. It became His way of doing something better than could have happened otherwise. It's said that we find the beginning of His grace when we come to the end of our own strength . . . even when we are completely unaware of what is happening, or why something is happening, God is guiding us. He works through our decisions and actions to pull everything together for our good -- and for His glory. He can do this because He is Yahweh, the almighty God. He wants to do this because He is our faithful Father.

The story of Ruth forces us to look at ourselves . . . have we surrendered to His sovereignty? Have we stopped looking at what seem to be coincidences, and instead look for "God moments?"

We are also forced to focus on our own character. Think about the folks in our story.

Naomi showed faithfulness and patience. First, faith.
She goes to Moab with her hubby and her two sons; we don't really get a sense from the Bible of whether or not she wanted to go, but we do know that while she was there, she was true to her faith. She continued to walk with God, and worship Him, in the midst of an entire culture that worshiped Baal. She taught Ruth about God, and then had the courage to return to Bethlehem.
Patient? Yep. She launched her matchmaking plan for Ruth, but she knew how to wait on the Lord, too. She told Ruth in chapter 3, "Be patient, my daughter, until we see what happens." She was patiently waiting for God to work.

Ruth shows us a woman who was very loyal -- she stayed with her mother-in-law when she didn't have to. She also helped Naomi to trust in God when the older woman felt like giving up. Hard work didn't scare her -- she worked hard to gather grain.

Boaz was a man of integrity. He was respected by everyone, and was known for his kindness. He followed the Law by making sure the poor were cared for, and it appears he took good care and treated his employees well, too. He showed he was a man of purity as well as integrity, when he urged a relative to do what was right -- even though he wanted to marry Ruth himself.

All three of these are good examples for our lives. Tomorrow we will learn about the concept of a kinsman redeemer, and see how these pieces fit together in God's plan.

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