The Providence of Hope

Steve Viars September 6, 2009 Ruth 2:1-13

 

- This past weekend I had several maintenance projects to take care of around our house…

- I’m getting ready to travel quite a bit in the upcoming weeks so I try to be sure that I’ve at least attempted to prevent any problems that could up around the house while I’m on gone…

- One of them has to do with our sump pit…

- we have a basement in our house…and the washing machine, and our kitchen, and some foundation drains all go to this sump pit that has a pump that lifts the water up to the level of the main floor of the house and then sends it out to our septic system…

- the challenge is, you ready need to take the lid off and clean that area out about once a year…

- that way nothing is going to get in the way of the float mechanism or clog the pump…and it’s just a lot better to do it in advance than to receive a call from your wife when you’re out speaking somewhere reporting that the pump has backed up…

- how I know that’s better is beyond the scope of this story, but trust me, it’s better…

- so last Saturday one of the things I wanted to get done was to clean out the sump pit…

- when I started looking at it…I realized that the metal cover had rusted through and really needed to be replaced…

- so I started calling around to the suppliers where you might normally buy things like that and they were all closed because it was Saturday…

- so I measured the lid and headed out to Lowes…

- I walked into the plumbing supply area and couldn’t find anyone working there…so I walked through all the plumbing aisles…and couldn’t find what I wanted…

- then on a long-shot I went into the outdoor area and actually found some sump pits…

- in that same general area there were actually some covers in these cardboard containers that had been repeatedly rained on and were falling apart…

- so I picked one up, had it measured…and sure enough it was the exact right size for our sump pit…

- so I paid for it, brought it home, and that sump pit is in better shape than it’s been in for years…

- here’s my question for you this morning – does the providence of God have anything to do with that story?...

- does the Lord care about whether I can find the right size cover for my sump pit or not?...and would that principle be true whether I actually found it at that particular store on that particular day?...

- what I’m really asking is – does your theology include the place for a God who is involved in the seemingly small details of your existence?...

- and please keep in mind --- some of our members were going through significant trials last Saturday and many of us were praying for them, and I was a whole lot more concerned about that than I was a project in the basement…

- so is God capable of answering our prayers about the big things in the lives of those we love, while simultaneously directing the issues as small as sump pit covers?...

- the way you answer that question will have a dramatic impact on whether you’re a person whose heart is filled with bitterness, or a person whose heart is filled with hope…let’s see how that’s true.

- with that in mind, please open your Bible to Ruth chapter 2…page 199 of the back section of the Bible under the chair in front of me…

 

- this fall we’re doing a series entitled Finding Hope in a God who Provides…this is a verse by verse study of the book of Ruth…

- I realize that each Sunday we have persons who are new and we’re very glad for that…

- everyone also travels from time to time so keeping up with the story line can be difficult, but in some cases [and this book is certainly one of them], not knowing the basic story line makes it very difficult to understand whatever specific verses we’re studying at the time…

- here’s what we’ve learned so far from chapter 1…

- all of this transpires in the days when the judges governed…which immediately takes you back to the previous book, which summarizes that period in the history of God’s chosen people, in the very last verse, with the sad words… Judges 21:25 - In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

- in that historical setting, we read about a woman named Naomi and her husband Elimelech, and their two sons who lived in Bethlehem in the land of Judah…

- they decided, because of a famine that was occurring in Bethlehem, to move to the country of Moab…

- and while they were there, Naomi’s husband Elimelech dies…

- her two sons marry Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth…and then the two sons pass away…and neither of their wives had conceived children…

- so there’s this profound sense of emptiness…

- and the controlling questions are – will God provide for them?...will he be faithful to them?...

- and secondly, will these three ladies who are suffering unspeakable loss…will they, and should they try to find their hope in a God who provides?...and what are the implications of making the right/wrong choice?...

-  the second question is actually answered first in the story…

- because they hear that the famine has subsided back in Bethlehem and choose to head back to where Naomi is from…

- but then at some point in the journey Naomi sits down with her daughters in law and says…you should go back to Moab, to be with your people, and your gods…

- your best hope, according to verse 9, is to find a man, a new husband, and at this point it doesn’t matter what he believes…any old man will do…that’s where you should focus your hope…because the Lord has afflicted me, He’s deserted me…you’re on your own…

- so one of the daughters in law takes her up on her suggestion…and heads back to Moab…

- but the remaining daughter in law, a young Moabite named Ruth, makes a commitment to Naomi…verse 14 says that she was clinging to her mother in law, and says…Ruth 1:16 - But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.

- think about the contrast in the lack of faithfulness between many of the so-called people of God who were doing what was right in their own eyes…as if God could not provide for them so they were not obligated to trust in/follow Him…compared to the faith of this young woman from Moab…a foreigner…who would not have had near the training or spiritual background…yet she was a wonderful picture of faithfulness to a loyal God…seeking to find her hope in a God who provides…

- regrettably, that’s the polar opposite of the position Naomi the mother in law took – when they got to Bethlehem the women of the city were astounded at how badly she looked…[because there isn’t enough Mary Kay in all the world to cover over bitterness]…and when the woman ask..isn’t this Naomi…she replies… Ruth 1:20-21 - She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.“I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

- that’s the difference between a person choosing to find her hope in a God who provides, and one who doesn’t…

- of course the question now is, who’s right?...

- maybe Ruth is just a gullible young woman who doesn’t know how things really work…maybe Naomi is the realist here whose world view has seasoned and matured in the school of hard knocks…

- the writer teases us at the end of chapter one when he says…Ruth 1:22 - So Naomi returned, and with her Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, who returned from the land of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

- let’s see who’s right – Read Ruth 2:1-13…

 

- this morning we’re talking about The Providence of Hope

- and with the time we have remaining, let’s look for 3 lessons from the life of a woman willing to find her hope in God alone.

 

I. God is Often Working Providentially Behind the Scenes Long Before You Would Ever Know.

- part of Naomi’s’ problem was confusing – not being able to see what God was doing with…therefore God must not be doing anything…

- does it surprise any of us to learn that sometimes God does things without checking in with us first?...and sometimes they may be a few things going on, the advance knowledge of which is above our pay grade?...

- apparently Ruth believed that God was worthy of her trust and therefore she was going to find her hope in Him even when she didn’t know everything he was doing in her life and on her behalf….[so…repeat Roman]…how?

A. Lining up people who could be a blessing to you long before you ever know their name or their identity.

- verse 1 of chapter 2 is a summary verse to help us understand what is transpiring…

- Ruth knew nothing about Boaz in advance, and if Naomi ever knew him back when she and Elimelech lived in Bethlehem before, there is no indication that she ever thought of him as a possible solution to their problem…

- God could be bringing someone into your office---or He could be bringing someone into your classroom—He could be bringing someone into this church—that will have a dramatic impact on you and be a tremendous blessing to you and as far as you know right now, he/she is just another face in the crowd…

- what does this passage tell us about Boaz?...

1. A kinsman of her (Naomi’s) husband, of the family of Elimelech – v. 1.

- Now, if you are not familiar with OT customs, that might not mean a lot…

- for a Jewish reader, their ears would have immediately been pricked when they heard that…we’ll study those ideas in a subsequent message…

2. A man of great wealth – v. 1

- that’s one of the possible interpretations of that phrase---that’s the way it is translated in the New American Standard Bible…

- it could also be a “man of great character”…both ideas will certainly prove to be true in this case…

- but there’s another clear example of what we saw last week…just because it appears empty doesn’t mean it is…

- “The Lord has dealt bitterly with me…I went out full and the Lord has brought me back empty”…therefore my bitterness is justified in light of my meager circumstances…and God is going to try to show Naomi as gently yet powerfully as possible…your interpretation of your circumstances is not even close to being correct…your husband has a close relative….he is a man of great wealth…your future is anything but empty…

- now, here’s another idea we need to put on the table about the way God often works providentially…

B. Using your faithful obedience in ways you would have never guessed.

- please don’t say – well, thank you PV for telling me that God is often at work behind the scenes, and as soon as I see some evidence of that, then I’ll get busy doing my part…

- no, no, no – that’s not the way it works…if we are truly finding our hope in a God we believe can/will provide for us…then we’re busy doing our part, first…for example…

1. Ruth continued her respectful treatment of Naomi.

- though Ruth had married into the family and was an adult in her own right at this time, she certainly gives evidence of understanding the fifth command…

- Exodus 20:12 - Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be prolonged in the land which the Lord your God gives you.

- and again, she was an adult woman who had married into the family – I’m not saying she was bound by this in the most technical sense…but she definitely followed the spirit of the command even with her mother in law…

- Ruth 2:2 - And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor.”…

- what’s so significant about that?...

- for one thing, being around a bitter person can get old…

- you would think by now Ruth might be developing a bit of a ‘tude…

- Naomi, why aren’t you trying to solve this problem?...we’re back with your people, we’re back in your city…on your home turf…

- why aren’t you going on to glean?...to gather the remnants after the workers have harvested the fields?...

- and you could argue that Naomi was too old – that’s not likely in that culture for a person who was poor…the better explanation is that bitterness often breeds inactivity…but Ruth doesn’t even go there…she respectfully asks permission to go glean…

- and it wasn’t – “I’ll do that when I see evidence of God doing His part”…or “I’ll do that if Naomi will go first”…that is not the way hopeful people think…

2. Ruth knew she would have to trust the Lord.

- v. 2 – after one in whose sight I may find favor.

- now, we need to talk about that one for a minute…

- the Old Testament law had a provision for people who were poor…in places like…

- Leviticus 23:22 - When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.

- that reflects that God is willing and able to show faithfulness not only to his own people, but even to foreigners…someone like Ruth the Moabitess…

- it was also a test of God’s people, to see if they would be faithful to Him and trust Him to provide for their needs as they were the instruments of His provision for the poor…

- Deuteronomy 24:19 - When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

- well, we already know how faithful and obedient many of the people of God were at that time – they were doing that which was right in their own eyes…so not surprisingly, many Jewish landowners were ignoring this provision of the law…and they would not allow poor persons to glean in their fields…they were as faithless and bitter with their crops as Naomi was with her trials…

- that’s why Ruth had to say – I’ll do my part, but it will depend on God leading some landowner to show me favor…and that piece of the puzzle is out of my hands…

- now, we need to pause there for a moment because that is a very important piece of the finding hope puzzle…what we’re reading here is that…

3. Ruth was willing to do her part to demonstrate that she believed that God was working providentially behind the scenes -- people like you and me are expected to do the same.

- John 13:17 - If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

- Philippians 2:12 - So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;

- James 1:25 - But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.

- here’s how that fits into the subject of hope – some people think – I’ll have hope when I see God doing something, or I see the other person changing…but until then, my inactivity and my bitterness is completely justified…that is not true…

- that is part of what distinguishes Ruth from Naomi…she got busy doing what she knew she needed to do and put the timing and execution of everything else in the hands of her God…

- I wonder I’m talking to some people who have adopted the position…I’ll have when my friend starts treating me with the respect I deserve…how about --- I’ll find my hope in following what God’s Word says about the kind of friend I’m supposed to be and I’ll leave the time and execution of the rest of the plan to my faithful God…

- or the spouse who says – I’ll stop being bitter when my wife starts doing things my way, or my husband starts this or that…you are trying to find you hope in the wrong place…

- Ruth got that – I have a job to do, God has a job to do – and I’m really confident He’s on top of His tasks…

- Don’t be looking over at God’s computer screen (develop – being on an airplane trying to work on your laptop and everybody and their brother trying to read the screen….)

 

- now let’s get back to Ruth…because the writer is teasing us in verse 3…the point is that God works providentially by…

C. Orchestrating seemingly minor details of your life.

- Ruth 2:3 - So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.

- surprise, surprise, surprise…it just so happened…

- well, the writer is pointing out the obvious hand of God in each one of these details…

- Ruth had no idea what was transpiring, neither did Boaz…

- that’s the point – God even cares about the lid on your sump pit…and if he wants one to be available from Lowes, it will fall off the shelf and hit you in the noggin if necessary…

- Proverbs 16:33 - The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord.

 

- now, let’s take it one step further…

II. When God Supplies, He Often Does So in Ways that are Surprisingly Abundant.

- the Israelites had judged God incapable of being faithful to them…He was not a God of hesed, or covenant loyalty, He could not provide for His people therefore they had no obligation to be faithful to Him…

- everybody does that which is right in their own eyes and the bitterness of people like Naomi is justified…

- not any longer…look at Boaz…

A. Boaz graciously honored the Lord with his employees.

- Ruth 2:4 - Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem and said to the reapers, “May the Lord be with you.” And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”

- Compare that to Naomi’s’ advice back in verse 9 of chapter 1 – just go find a man from your own people who worship their foreign gods…any old man will do…

- Ruth waited to see how God would provide…and a man whose love for the Lord sounded like this was the payback…

B. Boaz obeyed God’s Word regarding the poor.

- Proverbs 14:31 - He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker, But he who is gracious to the needy honors Him.

- Proverbs 19:17 - One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, And He will repay him for his good deed.

- God didn’t just bring Ruth any old man…He brought her a man who was good…who was really good…

- and by the way, I need to say several places along here that there is no promise stated or implied that what God eventually did for Ruth, He will do for all single people who trust Him…that would be a gross misapplication of this book…

- but however God does supply, for those who choose to wait for Him and trust Him to work in His time and in His way, whatever He provides will prove to be worthy, and more than worthy of your hope…

C. Boaz insured her physical provision.

- v. 8 – Do not go to glean in another field

- v. 8 – Stay here with me maids (those who are harvesting for me)

- v. 9 – Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them.

- are you picturing this…she and Naomi have just experienced a terrible famine…she is hoping to find someone who will let her glean…God has provided someone asking her to glean…

- don’t go to those other guys fields and take their grain…please stay here and take mine…

 

D. Boaz insured her physical protection.

- v. 9 – I have commanded the servants not to touch you

- the first workplace harassment policy in history…I knew a few of my men look a bit rough around the edges…I already read them the riot act about touching you…

 

E. The implications to people like you and me?

1. Ephesians 3:20 - Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us…

- do you believe that this morning?...that what God did for Ruth, He can also do for you?

- you might say – well, I want to see it?...[on the one hand, He’s not going to show you the specific “it” in advance…on the other hand, He already demonstrated it most supremely when He sent His Son – develop the gospel…]…

 

2. Naomi’s bitterness was misguided.

- [develop – Naomi was absolutely convinced that her bitterness was valid – and she was absolutely wrong…and as a result, she missed an opportunity to truth her God and joyfully serve Him, in the meantime…]

 

3. Ruth’s trust was vindicated.

- some people might have heard Ruth’s words so far in this book and thought, there’s a naïve one…there’s someone who hasn’t been around much…that enthusiasm will wane after she goes through some hard times…

- the fact of the matter is – right about now, Ruth’s looking pretty smart…

- her chosen God was worthy of her trust…Don’t you love it when a plan comes together, especially if the plan is the one you trusted God to work out…

 

- Develop as time allows:

1. How God provided Al Poll at a critical time in your ministry development.

 

2. How God provided Kris to be willing to joyfully care for Andrew in spite of his challenges.

 

- there’s one more principle we need to see this am…

III. God Will Recognize and Reward Your Willingness to Faithfully Follow Him.

A. Your faithfulness, if that is the way you are choosing to live, is probably being witnessed by far more people than you realize.

- Ruth 2:11 - Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me, and how you left your father and your mother and the land of your birth, and came to a people that you did not previously know.

 

B. God always rewards the faithfulness of His children.

- Ruth 2:12a – May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel…

 

- Hebrews 6:10 - For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.

 

C. The shadow of God’s wings is an ideal place to find hope.

- Ruth 2:12b -- …under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”

 

- Psalm 63:7 - For You have been my help, and in the shadow of Your wings I sing for joy.

 

D. Being an instrument of God’s wings is a noble calling.

Steve Viars

B.S. - Bible, Baptist Bible College
M.Div. - Grace Theological Seminary
D.Min. - Westminster Theological Seminary

Pastor Steve Viars has served at Faith Church since 1987.  He and his wife Kris were married in 1982 and they have three children. Pastor Viars’ gifted teaching ministry, enthusiasm for the Word of God, and organizational skills are instrumental in equipping Faith Church.  He oversees the staff, deacons, and all Faith ministries and serves on the boards of Vision of Hope and the Faith Community Development Corporation.

Read Steve Viars’ Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Viars to Faith Church.

View Pastor Viars' Salvation Testimony Video