As It Happened
by Jack Wald | October 17th, 2010

Ruth 1:22-2:13

Your friend Bill has been an alcoholic for most of his adult life. He has lost job after job. He has lost his driver’s license. He has destroyed relationship after relationship. And then someone tells you he went to an AA meeting, Alcoholics Anonymous. That news is a glimmer of hope in a tragic story.

The economy of a country has been struggling and then there is a news report that a gold mine has been discovered. That news is a glimmer of hope to a struggling economy.

In March David Beckham tore his Achilles’ tendon and the doctor said there was a glimmer of hope he would be able to play with his team in the World Cup in June.

Chilean miners were trapped underground and then communication was made finding them alive. A lifeline was established and there was a glimmer of hope for the families and friends of these men.

In each of these examples, at the time of the event, there was no certainty that things would work out. Bill could leave the meeting and head to a bar and resume his drinking. The economy of the country could continue to struggle and the mine could turn out to be a bust. As it ended up, David Beckham did not play at the World Cup but the Chilean miners have been rescued.

Without knowing what would happen in the future, in each of these difficult situation there was, at that moment, a glimmer of hope. No certainty but a bit of hope.

This is how the story of Ruth develops in today’s text.

The story of Ruth begins with a tragedy. There is a famine in Bethlehem. Elimelech and Naomi and their two sons leave to escape the famine and head to Moab. In the ten years they live in Moab their situation steadily deteriorates. Elimelech dies. Naomi’s two sons marry Moabite women and then they both die before producing any children. Naomi decides that if she is going to be a poor widow it is better to be a poor widow in Bethlehem than in Moab and heads home. Orpah bids a sorrowful goodbye but Ruth clings to Naomi and makes a commitment to be with her for the rest of her life.

There has not yet been in this story any good news – except for the extraordinary commitment Ruth makes to Naomi and that should not be taken for granted. But Ruth’s commitment does not promise to make Naomi’s situation any better except that someone will be with her to share in her misery. Thus far in this story, there has not been any glimmer of hope – until the last verse of chapter 1.
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.

Tracy referred to this glimmer of hope last week. Naomi and Ruth came to Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest. This meant they came at a time when they could get some food for themselves. And they came not just at the time of the barley harvest but they came at the beginning of the barley harvest. The barley harvest began in April and lasted about a month so coming at the beginning of the harvest meant they would be able to gather food for the entire month. This is the first sign that the story might not end as sorrowfully as it began.

Did Naomi decide to return because she knew the barley harvest was beginning? I don’t think so. In the Hebrew it says “Now as it happened, they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” As it happened indicates there was an element of chance involved in their return. Naomi’s sons died and she decided to leave Moab to go back home to Bethlehem and as it happened, it was at the beginning of the barley harvest when they arrived.

This is the first glimpse of God’s providence in this story. There is a glimmer of hope because of the barley harvest but there is a stronger hope because it is implied that God is directing this story. This is his production, he is directing the events of this story, and because of that there is hope. The beginning of barley harvest is a glimmer of hope but as it happened reveals a more certain hope.

Act 1 of this story began with a famine and a departure and it ends with a harvest and a return. Now we enter Act 2. Let’s see what God does next.

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 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.” 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.

I have watched movies in which the female lead moves through the scenes, interacting with people I do not recognize. But then a gas attendant or a hitchhiker or a man in a store is an actor I recognize and it is time to pay attention. This man will not fade in and out of a scene. This man is a movie star and I know he is playing a major role.

The introduction of Boaz into the story has that feel to it. This is not a random man. The way the story is being told we know this man will have a significant role to play and we read on to find out what happens with Boaz and Ruth and Naomi.

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.”

The way this pops into the story indicates that Ruth did not sit around waiting to see who would come to take care of them. She was a woman of action and knew that it was up to her to go out and get food for them to eat.

Why did Naomi not ask her to do this? Why don’t we read that Naomi told Ruth, “We will starve if you don’t go out and get some food for us”? It might be that Ruth had a more active nature than Naomi but I think it might also be that Naomi knew the risk Ruth would take in going out into the field to glean barley and could not ask her to take that risk.

Before we get to the risks, let me explain what gleaning is. During harvest, land owners were encouraged to leave grain for the poor by not going through the fields a second time and by leaving an unharvested edge. This was part of the Law of Moses that provided for the poor. (Leviticus 19:9–10)
“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. 10 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.

Not all farmers obeyed this part of the Law of Moses and so Ruth set out hoping to find someone who respected this part of the law and would allow her to glean.

This principle of gleaning is still used today. Gateway Medical, with which Ken and Margret Morrow work, takes the leftover surgical kits from hospitals in the Seattle, Washington area of the US and puts them together to make complete kits. They glean the things hospitals throw away. These and other medical supplies and equipment are shipped over to Morocco and then distributed to hospitals and clinics around the country. It is a great service to the poor people of Morocco.

So now back to Ruth who went out to glean. What were the risks for her in doing that? Remember that Ruth was a young widow, in her young 20s and she was a foreigner. Who was there to protect her? Nobody. She had no husband to protect her. She had no father or brothers to protect her. She had no uncles our cousins to protect her. She did not even have any of her countrymen to protect her. She was completely vulnerable and the dangers for such an unprotected young woman were great. Going out to glean meant that she would expose herself to the danger of being sexually molested.

Naomi could not ask Ruth to take this risk but Ruth could do this on her own. So, Ruth, a woman of action and a woman of great courage, went out to find a field where she would be permitted to glean.

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.

Here we come again to a phrase that tells us that God is at work providing for Ruth and Naomi, she happened to come. The barley harvest was going on in many fields but she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who just happened to be a relative of Naomi. “What a coincidence?” we might say. But by faith we believe that this was part of God’s providential plan.

God’s providence was not finished for the day. Ruth not only arrived at the field of Boaz, a relative of Naomi, but on that day, Boaz himself arrived at the field.
And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem. And he said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you!” And they answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his young man who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?” 6 And the servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the young Moabite woman, who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves after the reapers.’ So she came, and she has continued from early morning until now, except for a short rest.”

Ruth was not only a woman of action and a woman of courage, she was also a hard worker. She was there early in the morning and worked hard all day.

Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you? And when you are thirsty, go to the vessels and drink what the young men have drawn.”

Ruth set out that morning to find a field where she would be allowed to glean some of the barley. She set out not knowing if anyone would allow her to do this. She set out with no protection, not knowing if she would be taken advantage of by someone in the field while she worked. And how is the day turning out? She has found a protector who is looking out for her. Boaz has not only given her permission to glean in his field but gives her permission to keep on gleaning in his fields. He has told her to drink the water his men draw from the well and he has given his men instructions that they are not to touch her. The men know that Ruth is now under the protection of Boaz and so not only will they not touch her, they will also help her and make gleaning of the barley easier for her.

She set out being vulnerable and unprotected and by the middle of the day she is now protected and safe, assured of going home in the evening with an abundant supply of barley.

Why does Boaz do this for her? Did he look at this woman in her young twenties and see her as a potential sexual partner? I don’t think so. Boaz was the son of Rahab, born after Joshua conquered Jericho, so he was of the generation of Naomi and Elimelech. Boaz could have been Ruth’s father and while she may have been an attractive young woman, I don’t think the story indicates he was interested in her as a wife.

So why did Boaz show so much kindness to Ruth? After Boaz demonstrated that she was under his protection, Ruth
fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?” 11 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.

Ruth loved Naomi with hesed love, the self-sacrificing love I talked about a couple weeks ago and Boaz saw this selfless love in her actions. He was in awe of the love she had shown to Naomi.

Tracy talked about this last week. Nobody in the Bible loves like Ruth until we get to Jesus. Her love was outstanding – it stands out above the love others showed. Mother Teresa who founded the Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta, India, had a world-wide reputation because of her selfless care of the poor. When she visited the US she spoke at secular universities and to meetings of politicians and the media and they gave her standing ovation after standing ovation. Why? Because they agreed with her theology? Because they agreed with her view of abortion? Not at all. They were in awe of the love she demonstrated by caring so selflessly for the poor.

In the same way, Boaz was in awe as he looked at this young woman who had so selflessly loved Naomi. She left her family, her country and came to an uncertain future, determined to stand by Naomi and care for her. She set out to the fields to glean barley despite the personal risks and Boaz gives her a standing ovation and prays over her a blessing.
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!”

Tracy will pick up the story next week and an exciting story it is. But what are we to take from this story today?

The theme in this part of the story that jumps out at me is the providence of God. So many things just happened and as they just happened Naomi and Ruth were led out of a desperate situation into a place of peace. God’s providence was at work in their lives.

We read this and like this wonderful story, but is this just a Bible story where such things happen or is God’s providence also active in your life? In other words, do things just happen in your life or is your life, like that of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, orchestrated by God, leading you into his plan for you?

Nicky Gumbel in his teaching in the Alpha Course tells this story of God’s orchestration.

Michael Bourdeaux is head of Keston College, a research unit devoted to helping believers in what were communist countries. Years ago his Russian teacher sent him a letter which he had received. It detailed how Christians in the USSR were being beaten by the KGB and subjected to inhuman medical experiments. The letter was signed Varavva and Pronina.

In August 1964, Michael Bourdeaux went on a trip to Moscow, and on his first evening met up with friends who explained that the persecutions were getting worse; in particular they mentioned an old church that had been demolished. They suggested he go and see for himself.

So he took a taxi. When he came to the square he saw two women. They asked him, “Who are you”? He replied, “I am a foreigner. I have come to find out what is happening here in the Soviet Union.”

They took him back to the house of another woman who asked him why he had come. He explained he had received a letter from the Ukraine via Paris. When she asked who it was from he replied, “Varavva and Pronina.” There was silence. He wondered if he had said something wrong. There followed a flood of uncontrolled sobbing. The woman pointed and said, “This is Varavva, and this is Pronina.”

The population of Russia at the time was over 140 million. The Ukraine, from where the letter was written, is 1,300 km from Moscow. Michael Bourdeaux had flown from England six months after the letter had been written. They would not have met had either party arrived at the demolished church an hour earlier or an hour later. That meeting was one of the ways God called Michael Bourdeaux to set up his life work.

That is an amazing story of God’s orchestration, God’s providence.

Do you have stories of God’s orchestration in your life? I would bet that many of you do. The stories may not all be as dramatic as this, but I think we could speak of events in our lives that God orchestrated. I often read something in the Bible that relates very specifically to a situation that arises later in the day.

Annie and I first met each other when she was 12 years old and I was 17. It was my first year of university and I was helping teach a Sunday School class of which Annie was a student. I was not a follower of Jesus at the time but two years later both Annie and I made a commitment to Christ. It was another four years before we talked at a birthday party and went out on a date.

In April 1999 our church in Princeton had a missions conference. I had stopped working in February and was wondering what would come next and it just happened that the couple staying in our home for the conference knew that a church in Rabat had just lost its pastor because of illness and were looking for a new pastor. We talked about my future now that I was not working and the husband said to me, “I think you would be a good fit with this church.”

Was all of this a coincidence or did God orchestrate our romance and our coming to Rabat?

There are no coincidences in our lives. If there was no god and all we are is the byproduct of chance chemical reactions, then maybe I would agree that there are coincidences. But I believe there is a god who created the world and he has revealed himself to us as the lord. God who made himself known to me has a purpose and his purpose is being worked out in generation after generation. God uses us, not as dispensable pawns, but as loved daughters and sons to work with him as he seeks to build his kingdom. And because he loves us, he orchestrates events to bring good into out lives.

You need to know that God is at work in your life, whether or not you realize it. You are just as special to God as Ruth was. God’s love that worked so dramatically in the lives of Ruth and Naomi is the same love that is caring for you. God is working to lead you into still waters and green pastures. God loves you and he will never leave you or forsake you. He will never abandon you when you are in the midst of difficulties. He is at work so be at peace.

God is at work orchestrating the events of your life, but this does not mean you can sit back and wait for his providence to happen.

Ruth and Naomi were in a difficult situation but notice what Ruth did not do. Ruth did not sit at home whining and complaining about how hard her life was. Ruth did not sit at home getting depressed about how difficult things were. Ruth did not walk around with a stiff upper lip letting everyone know she was suffering silently. Ruth analyzed the situation and took action.

There are some people who pray and then sit back and wait for God to act. It is as if they pray and then tell God, “Well, the ball’s in your court now. It is up to you to make the next move.” I don’t think this is the proper model for us.

Ruth was pro-active. She and Naomi needed food. There was a barley harvest. Some of the field owners allowed those in need to glean after the harvesters had done their work. So she thought, “This is what I will do. I will get up early and try to find a field where I am allowed to glean and then I will have at least a little food for Naomi and myself. Yes there are dangers but sometimes risks have to be taken. I will go.” And then she asked Naomi if she could do what she had decided needed to be done.

God’s providence is wonderful but we are not to be passive recipients of his providence. We need to use the minds God has given us to see what it is we can do to get out of a difficult situation. We need to be active in doing all we can do and then we can be at peace knowing God can work in us as we make our best effort.

What is happening in your life? Are you discouraged or depressed because of your circumstances? We had a great time celebrating the wedding of Elizabeth and Elliot yesterday and maybe some of you are wondering if God will ever bring you that special person who will stand in front of the church and promise to love you as long as he or she will live. It might be that you are coming to a decision point in your studies or career and wondering how you can make the right choice. It might be you are wondering how you will be able to earn a living as you finish up your studies. It might be you are trying to figure out how and where to retire.

God is orchestrating the details of your life to lead you into green pastures and still waters. Follow him, trust him and you will be led into what is best for you. You may feel that the events of your life are random but that is not true. You are just as important to God as the Bible characters or Michael Bourdeaux or anyone else. It is important that you know this and believe it to be true. You matter to God and so God will lead you. He is the great orchestrator and you are one of his valued instruments.

God is at work but you need to take action to help yourself. God gave you a mind. Use it. God gave you talents. Use them. Take steps to get yourself out of a difficult situation. Take steps to explore options for your future. Ruth analyzed her situation, took risks and worked hard. Use Ruth as an example for yourself.

As you do this, God will guide you and lead you into his blessings and his peace.