God’s Grace and Providence in Little Things and Little Towns Like Bethlehem (Ruth 2)
It is my great joy to be a pastor (shepherd) and to be a preacher and a herald of the message that was given to shepherds in the fields: good news of great joy for all people—a Savior born in Bethlehem. This afternoon and early evening I will have the joy of officiating the wedding of Emily Price and Mauricio Iracheta (are they here)? It is a special day for them we want to acknowledge and pray for them and God’s glorious blessing on their union of covenant love.
One of the beautiful things about marriage is it’s a picture of the covenant love Jesus has for His people, that Scripture calls His bride. And one of the beautiful things about Scripture is it gives us so many beautiful pictures of the love of our Redeemer, and maybe the most beautiful ones is in a passage I want you to turn to in the book of Ruth (8th book of Bible, before Samuel/Kings/Chronicles).
On Sunday evenings we have been studying through the book of Ruth, which has been one of the most moving and impactful series of messages to me personally that I’ve ever preached, and since I won’t be here this evening because of the wedding, I want to give the next message in that verse-by-verse series this AM, which in God’s providence happens to fit nicely with the cantata theme “After darkness, light.” A little over 3,000 years ago, this story tells us about a Jewish couple, Elimelech and Naomi, who moved away from Israel in the dark times of the Judges, when everyone did what was right in their own eyes. The times were even darker for Naomi in Moab: her husband died, and their 2 sons married pagan idol-worshipping Moabite women and for perhaps 10 years neither marriage produced a grandson to carry on the family name. And to add darkness upon darkness, both of Naomi’s sons died …
In Ruth 1:6, Naomi is in the fields of Moab and “just happens” to hear from someone who had travelled from Israel that the Lord had visited his people again and blessed them by providing them food. A little glimmer of light is now seen on the horizon of a darkening sky in the twilight of this widow’s life, the dark clouds move and reveal a star shining and she follows this light from the East in Moab back to the town of Bethlehem. And along the way, another light that lights the path is Ruth, widowed daughter-in-law, has come to worship the Lord of Israel and v. 16 expresses Ruth’s conversion from darkness to light, from idols to Naomi’s God.
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.
In Jewish calendar and culture, the beginning of barley harvest was the springtime season kicked off by the Passover Meal (14th of Nissan celebrating their redemption from Egypt under Moses) and then followed over the next 7 days by the Feast of Unleavened Bread and then First-fruits (the first grain of which was barley). Leviticus 23 describes how Israel’s priests were to take the first sheaf gathered and wave it before the Lord, signifying the Lord was the provider of our daily bread and grain and all things, and also indicating faith in God’s providence (providing and guiding and governing involvement of God) that there was more to come.
This is the very exact historical time that God’s providence, not coincidence, brings Naomi and Ruth into town, and it would prove to be a time of great significance in redemptive history, not only in the past redemption of Israel as a nation under their deliverer Moses, but in this story it will be the time of redemption for a non-Israelite individual gal named Ruth under another redeemer, and in the future it would be a time where the ultimate Redeemer and Deliverer would redeem and deliver all God’s children eternally.
Jesus Christ is called in the NT “Lord of the harvest” and Passover and Passover Lamb. It was with unleavened bread that He spoke of His death at the Last Supper, and Paul calls His resurrection the first-fruits (1 Cor. 15:20-22). It was not by mere happenstance or chance that Jesus died in this season, dying precisely on Passover Friday, and rose on the 16th day of Nissan, the day after the Sabbath that the OT calls the Feast of First Fruits. Just as the first fruits of barley was a promise of the remaining harvest, so also Christ’s resurrection signifies to all believers of more to come in the future – all who trust Christ will be raised with Him in the end. Later readers of the Bible pick up on God’s orchestrating all these little details leading to Christ. Coincidence? No. Providence? Yes.
What is God’s Providence? ‘God's providence is His almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with His hand, He still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures, and so governs them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed, all things, come not by chance but by His fatherly hand.
 Jer. 23:23, 24; Acts 17:24-28.  Heb. 1:3.  Jer. 5:24; Acts 14:15-17; John 9:3; Prov. 22:2.  Prov. 16:33.  Matt. 10:29.’ (source: Heidelberg Catechism, Question #27)
This sets the context for our study in Ruth 2, “God’s Grace and Providence in Little Things and Little Towns Like Bethlehem.” It’s in the little things of everyday life that God is working, not just in the rare miracles in biblical history, but in the moment-by-moment step-by-step day-by-day events of life, in dark times of suffering and loss and in the mundane daily routine of work, as we’ll see.
2:1 Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.
Chapter 1 was written mostly from the human perspective of Naomi, which has been mostly darkness, but now the narrator shines the light on the perspective of God and His providence, and the potential provision seems totally unknown to Ruth and it seems to have been forgotten to Naomi as well, who 2 verses earlier said she had nothing (1:21a), i.e., she thought she was empty of family.
Naomi was bankrupt, emotionally and financially, but behind the curtain of this drama the audience gets a peak of a kinsman (close relative) of Elimelech God has, Naomi’s close relative, a man of strength and noble character and kindness named Boaz. And oh, yeah, he happens to be rich, and oh, yes, he happens to be single.
Ruth knows nothing of this, but the readers get this split-screen.
We usually can’t see what God’s doing behind the scenes, but He is the God behind the seen. His invisible hand of providence has its fingerprints in every verse of the book of Ruth and in our lives, too
2And 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.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3So 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.
God provided for the poor in OT law by giving them opportunity to work in the fields to gather what was dropped by the harvesters as they made their rounds. In business today, cutting corners isn’t usually viewed positively, but in the fields of Israel God called on God’s people to leave the corners to the poor, widows, foreigners.
It was more of a “work-fare” system than a welfare system, and it was a God-ordained opportunity for landowners to be gracious and trust God by leaving some of their fortune to the less fortunate, and it was an opportunity for the poor (not a handout or entitlement mentality) to work hard to provide food for them and their family.
It wasn’t more spiritual for Ruth to pray “give us this day our daily bread” and then do nothing. She did what she could in faith yet knew her need to receive grace from God and others as she went. It was hard work in the hot sun all day trying to get a handful of food, but maybe she might find mercy from someone who would drop enough scraps of food behind that Ruth so greatly needed.
In Matthew 15, a Gentile woman came before our Redeemer, and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord…” … she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” [unclean Gentiles] But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” (v. 22-28)
See if you don’t detect a similar attitude in this Gentile woman as we keep reading. v. 2 calls Ruth “the Moabitess,” reminding us she was a foreigner as well as poor, a woman, and a widow at that. Some Jewish men in history thanked God daily they were not a Gentile or a woman, and Ruth was both, but even worse she was of the esp. hated Moabites. So you can understand why the end of v. 2 has her hope that she might find favor / grace in someone’s eyes.
Verse 3 is written with drama and a theological smile: … and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz …
The Hebrew root behind “happen” appears 2x in v. 3, as a play on words, like “it happened that she happened upon a field of Boaz.” Or “Ruth turned into a field, and as it turned out, the field was owned by Boaz.” A couple versions use the phrase “it just so happened” (NCV, ICB), and from a human perspective, Ruth was simply seeking to be a hard-worker and provide for herself and her mother-in-law. But from God’s perspective, this was not “as luck would have it,” it was as God’s love would have it. And in v. 20 even Naomi’s eyes that were previously blinded in dark suffering are able to see the Lord’s kindness behind the events of this chap.
We also see this perspective behind the expressions of v. 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.” 5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”
The word “behold” in v. 4 draws attention, and in the book of Ruth is used for the dramatic effect on the audience of what the actor may not see, but what God’s providence is orchestrating and directing behind the scene (ex: Ruth 3:8, 4:1). It was no "accident" that Boaz had come out from Bethlehem at the same time Ruth was gleaning in his fields near town, it was an appointment by God.
Luke 2 (NKJV) 8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.
“Behold” often draws attention to a work of the Lord and in Boaz’s greeting to his workers and their response there is a recognition that it’s only by the Lord’s presence and blessing any of us succeed
Behold (look) to God’s work in this story and in yours …
6 The servant in charge of the reapers replied, “She is the young Moabite woman who returned with Naomi from the land of Moab. 7“And she said, ‘Please let me glean and gather after the reapers among the sheaves.’ Thus she came and has remained from the morning until now; she has been sitting in the house for a little while.” 8Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen carefully, my daughter. Do not go to glean in another field; furthermore, do not go on from this one, but stay here with my maids. 9“Let your eyes be on the field which they reap, and go after them. Indeed, I have commanded the servants not to touch you. When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw.”
There are any things about the character of both Ruth and Boaz that we could study, and will Lord-willing on a future Sunday evening, but for this study today I want you to notice the gracious words of Boaz (and to think beyond him of the Lord he loved and was like). In Luke 4:22 it says people from the hometown of Jesus marvelled at the gracious words coming out of the mouth of Jesus:
- Personal grace: “My daughter” (v. 8) is a term of tender-hearted kindness, not the usual way a Jewish man would address a Gentile woman stranger, but a personal term, treating her even like family!
- Providing grace (v. 8b “Do not go to glean in another field”) – in other words, your needs will be provided here in these fields
- Protective grace (v. 8c “… stay here with my maids”) – and he in v. 9 has already commanded the male workers not to bother or harass her or worse; his authority would guarantee her security
- Particular grace (v. 9b “When you are thirsty, go to the water jars and drink from what the servants draw”) – even permission to draw his water like a servant would have been grace for a Gentile.
This is extraordinary in a cultural context in which normally foreigners would draw for Israelites, and women would draw for men (Gen 24:10–20), Boaz’s authorization of Ruth to drink from water his men had drawn is indeed extraordinary.
But this isn’t a “usual” Jewish man or “usual” Gentile woman …
Boaz has noticed this
10Then she fell on her face, bowing to the ground and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight that you should take notice of me, since I am a foreigner?”
Luke 8:43–48 (NASB95) 43 And a woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years [NKJV “and had spent all her livelihood on physicians”], and could not be healed by anyone, 44 came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak, and immediately her hemorrhage stopped … 47 When the woman saw that she had not escaped notice, she came trembling and fell down before Him, and declared in the presence of all the people the reason why she had touched Him, and how she had been immediately healed. 48 And He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well [literally, “has saved you / delivered you”]; go in peace.”
11Boaz 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. 12“May the Lord reward your work, and your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to seek refuge.”
13Then she said, “I have found favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and indeed have spoken kindly to your maidservant, though I am not like one of your maidservants.”
14At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, that you may eat of the bread and dip your piece of bread in the vinegar.” So she sat beside the reapers; and he served her roasted grain, and she ate and was satisfied and had some left.
15When she rose to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. 16“Also you shall purposely pull out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.”
F B Meyer has the following notes on ...
Boaz (strength) the near kinsman, is a glimpse of Him who, centuries later, was born in this same Bethlehem, and who appeals to each who does the will of His Father, as brother, sister, or mother. He takes knowledge of strangers; He is quick to see every trait of natural grace, and all kindly actions done to the least that belong to Him; He provides bread and wine; He causes handfuls to be dropped on purpose; He screens from annoyance and harm; He comforts and speaks to the heart; He blesses, and the humble, stooping spirit is blessed forever.
17So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley.
18She took it up and went into the city, and her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She also took it out and gave Naomi what she had left after she was satisfied. 19Her mother-in-law then said to her, “Where did you glean today and where did you work? May he who took notice of you be blessed.” So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked and said, “The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.”
20Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May he be blessed of the Lord who has not withdrawn his kindness to the living and to the dead.” Again Naomi said to her, “The man is our relative, he is one of our closest relatives.” 21Then Ruth the Moabitess said, “Furthermore, he said to me, ‘You should stay close to my servants until they have finished all my harvest.’ ”
22Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It is good, my daughter, that you go out with his maids, so that others do not fall upon you in another field.” 23So she stayed close by the maids of Boaz in order to glean until the end of the barley harvest and the wheat harvest. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
God’s love for people like Ruth and Naomi
Ruth saw only a field she came upon by chance -- God saw a romance He planned. Ruth was just praying she might find a handful of grain that day, God had her find a husband that day (though she didn’t know it at the time)!
Ruth had gone forth with her mother’s blessing, under the care of her mother’s God, to humble but honourable toil, and the providence of God was guiding her every step. Little did she know that amid the sheaves she would find a husband, that he should make her the joint owner of all those broad acres, and that she a poor foreigner should become one of the progenitors of the great Messiah.
God is very good to those who trust in Him, and often surprises them with unlooked for blessings. Little do we know what may happen to us tomorrow, but this sweet fact may cheer us, that no good thing shall be withheld.
Chance is banished from the faith of Christians, for they see the hand of God in everything. The trivial events of today or tomorrow may involve consequences of the highest importance.
O Lord, deal as graciously with thy servants as thou didst with Ruth. How blessed would it be, if, in wandering in the field of meditation tonight, our hap should be to light upon the place where our next Kinsman will reveal Himself to us!
O Spirit of God, guide us to Him. We would sooner glean in His field than bear away the whole harvest from any other.
O for the footsteps of His flock, which may conduct us to the green pastures where He dwells!
This is a weary world when Jesus is away—we could better do without sun and moon that without Him—but how divinely fair all things become in the glory of His presence! Our souls know the virtue which dwells in Jesus, and can never be content without Him. We will wait in prayer this night until our hap shall be to light on a part of the field belonging to Jesus wherein He will manifest Himself to us." (Spurgeon Morning and evening October 25 PM)
This was planned by God chance or happenstance, but was
It was no chance or coincidence when Miriam and her mom put baby Moses in a floating basket down the Nile that the winds blew the floating fellow over to a place where a Pharaoh’s daughter just happened to be taking a bath and it just happened that she was one daughter in Egyptian history with non-traditional aspirations who would adopt and raise that future redeemer and deliverer of Israel from slavery in Egypt, a man who pictures the ultimate Redeemer who delivers us from slavery to sin and who we celebrate this Christmas and who also had an unusual bed as a baby boy.
Amazingly God has His way of getting His purpose done even when seemingly free sinful choices of seemingly free sinful men or women go against God’s Word. So if Jonah is in a boat on the way to Tarshish when God wanted him to go to Nineveh instead, God has His ways of getting him back (even if it involves a storm and a very large fish at just the right time and place, if necessary)!
If a pagan prostitute is living in Jericho but God’s sovereign grace wants to rescue her before the walls come tumbling down and everyone else in the city dies, God has His ways of making sure a couple spies will “just so happen” to show up at just her place at just the right time so that she will experience the grace of the Lord and convert to faith in the true God, and so that she will join the Israelite community and marry a Jew and then give birth to a son, who oh by the way, “just so happened” to be named Boaz, the guy we read about in Ruth chapter 2!
And if God has chosen another Gentile pagan woman in a faraway land to marry Rahab’s son, an idol-worshipping young lady named Ruth way over in Moab far away from the promised land, God has his ways of getting her to Bethlehem through Elimelech’s family that moved there through one of Elimelech’s sons finding Ruth attractive (even if his motive was nothing more than that, God had another motive, and though Mahlon dies, God’s plan doesn’t)!
And if God wants this Moabitess Ruth and her mother-in-law to show up in Bethlehem at just the right time, at the right season, and for her to be in the right field at the right time with just the right circumstances, so that she will meet just the right guy because God wants both of their names to be on the first page of the NT along with Rahab, … well, then God has His ways of doing that, too!
And if God 1,000+ years later wants to get another young woman to Bethlehem just at the right time, even though she’s so pregnant she’s about to pop and in fact she’s already having contractions on the way and might not have made it if their arrival into town had been a few hours later, and would never have made such a long journey at full term if it weren’t for a census declared by the free will of a pagan Caesar requiring everyone to go to their birth-towns … well, God has His ways of getting that done as well!!
And if God wants to get some Magi (astrologers / astronomers) from hundreds of miles away in the East to Bethlehem by a sign in the stars and perhaps by some Hebrew Scriptures that were left there hundreds of years earlier by the Israelites in captivity, and one of the wise men just happens to have the scroll and know how to read Hebrew and puts the prophecies together and if this all needs to happen because God wants these men to show up also at the right time…God’s providence has its ways of making it happen
And if God wants His son born in Bethlehem that night to one day to be thirsty and come to a well and another woman with both Jewish and Gentile parents (a Samaritan) just so happens to show up at the right well at the right place at the right time, to be the recipient of Christ’s self-revelation as the Living Water, because God has again chosen to bring an outsider into His fold and into true faith in the Messiah … then, God has His ways of making sure that woman shows up to draw water that day not a minute too late!
And if God wants His Son to be betrayed by the free sinful acts of sinful men and God wants the crucifixion to occur at Passover, the very time that Ruth and Naomi came to Bethlehem in this story, and more importantly the very day when Israel celebrated their redemption from Egypt, and if God wants to time it so that a full solar eclipse occurs at precisely the time His wrath is poured out on Jesus, which I’m told modern star software has confirmed an eclipse did take place that very day and very year and that time in the afternoon, and if God so chose to offer His Son as a sacrifice for us even at the very hour that lambs were being slaughtered in the temple, if God wants it to be that very moment of the finale of the priestly sacrifices in Jerusalem that Jesus would die as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world for all who trust in Him … God has His ways of making that happen as well!
And if you have not turned from your life of sin and trusted in this Jesus as your Lord and Master and Messiah and Savior, and what He did on the cross as your only hope to get to heaven, and if God wants you to hear this message on this day so that you hear the good news and have the gates of paradise swung open to you if you will surrender your life to this Supreme and Sovereign and Satisfying Savior … God has His way of making salvation happen for sinners like you and me, for whatever reason you’re here, God has His reasons for you being here. It didn’t just so happen that you are here, it’s not by chance, it’s not by coincidence; it’s by providence. It’s not by accident, it’s by appointment.
The foreman further told of Ruth's courteous request for permission to glean after the reapers had completed their work. Note that Ruth does not demand a handout, nor does she presume upon her right to glean. All Ruth was asking was to gather leftovers behind the reapers and she asks permission even to do that. Ruth is a woman of excellence, not unlike another foreign woman who came to Jesus saying
"Lord...even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table" to which Jesus responded "O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish." (Mt 15:27, 28)
Tie in theme of “After Darkness, Light”??
Azurdia illustration of Barbara Hughes (or use in Eph. 1:11 sermon in the future?)
Providence – Anne of Green Gables quote
J-Mac sermon on God’s providence in Luke 2 (source??)
Split-screen motif: view of players and higher perspective
No chance or happenstance, no fate or luck, no accidents from God’s perspective, only appointments. From human perspective there are accidents (things we don’t do on purpose, cars crash into each other on the freeway, milk spills, etc.) but none of those things catch God by surprise or are outside His providential plan and sovereign will that is working all things (not just some things), all things for His glory and for the good of those who love Him.
No accidence, only providence
The Feast of Unleavened Bread in late March or early April inaugurated the barley harvest. The Feast of Firstfruits seven weeks later in late May or early June terminated the wheat harvest.
USE THIS SCRIPTURE FOR CONCLUSION?
Ephesians 1:7-14 (NASB95) 7In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8which He lavished on us … 13In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
Ephesians 2:4-3:21 (NASB95) 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
…12remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity. 17And He came and preached peace to you who were far away, and peace to those who were near; 18for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household …
3:8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ
… 19and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness of God. 20Now 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, 21to Him be the glory !!!
 Daniel Isaac Block, vol. 6, Judges, Ruth, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2001), 659–660.
 Tom Constable, Tom Constable's Expository Notes on the Bible (Galaxie Software, 2003; 2003).