Providence Through Faithfulness
Over the past two weeks, we have been looking at the story of one woman named Ruth, and how God used her in a mighty, mighty way. In the first week of our study, we looked at Ruth chapter one, and how Ruth and Naomi’s relationship gives us several principles for how a godly family should operate. And then last week, we looked at different qualities in the life of Boaz that God used to show His favor to Ruth and Naomi. But more important than that, we looked at how Jesus Christ used these same qualities in His redemption of the human race.
Today, we are going to look at a theme that runs throughout the Bible. It is the theme of Providence. Providence is a word that isn’t used as much in today’s churches, but throughout church history it has been one of the favorite themes of historians, preachers, and laymen alike. Tyndale’s Bible Dictionary defines Providence as “God’s activity throughout history in providing for the needs of human beings, especially those who believe in Him.” And Providence is a major theme throughout the book of Ruth. And I’m sure that you would all agree with me that God’s Providence is an amazing thing. To know that the God of the universe has a master plan, and He is working everything out in our best interests. I know that sometimes, the storms of life can seem so powerful that it is almost impossible to see how God is guiding our lives, but by faith we know that He is always in control. But one of the mysteries of Christianity is how God guides His creation. I mean, we know that God is not some puppeteer who is cleverly pulling the strings, while we are merely puppets that are doing His bidding. And yet, we also know that God is in complete control, and nothing in the world will stop His master plan. So that leaves us with a theological dilemma. How can we say that God is in ultimate control, while we know that He allows us to make decisions for ourselves? This is a humongous question, but Ruth chapter three sheds some excellent light that is helpful for all of us to remember. So with that in mind, I ask you to turn to Ruth chapter three, and we will be reading verses one through eleven. Again, Ruth 3:1-11.
“Then Naomi her mother-in-law said unto her, ‘My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee.’ And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley tonight at the threshing floor. Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking. And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.’ And she said unto her, ‘All that thou sayest unto me I will do.’ And she went down unto the floor, and did according to all that her mother-in-law bade her. And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down. And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet. And he said, ‘Who art thou?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.’ And he said, ‘Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shone more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch that thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.”
The title of this morning’s sermon is “Providence through Faithfulness.” We have already determined that God had huge plans for Ruth’s life, and we are exploring what exactly God did to bring everything about. And in the course of today’s passage, we are going to see three ways that God’s Providence was at work in Ruth’s life. The first way is through the strategy of Naomi. The second way is through the obedience of Ruth. And the third way is through the redemption by Boaz. So let’s begin with point number one.
Point #1: God’s Providence through Strategy
Let’s read verse number one of our text again. “Then Naomi her mother-in-law said unto her, ‘My daughter, shall I not seek rest for thee, that it may be well with thee.’” In this verse, Naomi approaches Ruth with a proposition. Naomi tells Ruth that she has been looking for a way for her to have peace and security in her life. On Mother’s Day, we talked about how Naomi always has Ruth’s best interest at heart, and we see this anew in verse one. Naomi does not want Ruth to spend the rest of her life as a widow. We’ve already talked about what a difficult life they had in Israel. And it’s no coincidence that Naomi approached Ruth when she did. You see, the barley harvest was about to end, and winter was about to set in. Now remember from last week that Ruth had gathered two weeks’ worth of barley in one day, but the simple fact is that time was not on their side. Presumably they did not have any money. And no matter how good of a picker Ruth was, if there was no more grain in the fields they couldn’t pick anymore. And while they had gathered a lot in one day, there is no way that that amount would last them all winter. Knowing that they were still in desperate need of help, Naomi approaches Ruth with a very wise plan.
Look at what Naomi says in verse two. “And now is not Boaz of our kindred, with whose maidens thou wast? Behold, he winnoweth barley tonight at the threshing floor.” Naomi reminds Ruth that Boaz is one of their kindred. No doubt Ruth would have immediately realized what Naomi was getting at. Remember, if a woman’s husband died, a member of his family was obligated to marry that woman and provide offspring for the dead man’s household. And in the Old Testament law, the nearest relatives got first choice on claiming the woman, and then it went down the line from there. And because Naomi had no living sons, she had begun to look around Bethlehem for a suitable kinsman, and her heart had settled on Boaz. So Naomi told Ruth that Boaz was going to be at the threshing floor that night.
And in these days, a threshing floor was not exactly a great piece of infrastructure. It was essentially a spot in the field where all of the grass had been beaten down, and they often would mark off the boundaries of the threshing floor with a circle of rocks. So you’ve got this large circle of rocks, and a bunch of bare dirt in the middle. That was a threshing floor. The reason farmers had threshing floors is that when the men would cut down the fields, inevitably there would be many weeds in the field. Instead of trying to destroy the weeds when they little like we do today, they allowed the weeds to grow to full height, and just harvested them with the grain. Then, they would pile up all of these harvested plants and throw them into the threshing floor. Then they would take what looked like a giant pair of numb chucks, and they would beat the pile of plants. Sounds productive, right? And they would beat, and beat, and beat, and beat, and beat all day long. And while that sounds absolutely pointless , what would happen is the head of grain would separate from the barley and would fall to the floor. And in Israel, there is normally a wind that begins blowing as the sun sets, and continues to blow throughout the night. And what would happen is that this wind would blow away all of the weeds, and would blow away the stems of the barley; and all that would be left was the heads of grain that were too heavy to be blown away by the wind.
And the reason that Naomi knew that Boaz would be sleeping there that night is that farmers would always try to sleep at the threshing floors during harvest, to protect their crop from thieves in the middle of the night. I say all of that to try to give you a mental picture of where Boaz was this night. Growing up, I always imagined Boaz in a large house or something, but he was basically out in a circle of dirt, surrounded by the grain he had worked so hard to secure.
Look at what Naomi says to Ruth in verse three of our text. “Wash thyself therefore, and anoint thee, and put thy raiment upon thee, and get thee down to the floor: but make not thyself known unto the man, until he shall have done eating and drinking.” The question that arises in my mind is why on earth Naomi picked this specific night for Ruth to make her move on Boaz. I mean, there aren’t many romance novels that begin with a man threshing a pile of grain all day. But Naomi knew that they would be celebrating this night, because the harvest was brought in, and they would be having a feast in honor of all of the blessings God had given them. But Naomi did not want Ruth to go in and crash their party. Instead, she told her to be very sneaky and not let anyone notice her presence. While it’s impossible to say for sure, I imagine her hiding behind a big pile of weeds waiting for the party to end.
Then, notice what the next stage of the plan is in verse four. “And it shall be, when he lieth down, that thou shalt mark the place where he shall lie, and thou shalt go in, and uncover his feet, and lay thee down; and he will tell thee what thou shalt do.” What on earth! Naomi had the audacity to tell Ruth to sneak up to where he was lying down and to cover herself up with part of the blanket at his feet. But in reality, this was a genius plan on the part of Naomi. And something that I probably need to make sure you understand is that this is absolutely in no way, shape, or form a sexual advance on Boaz. Ruth was not some sort of prostitute that was trying to seduce Boaz. She quietly went in, and laid crossways at his feet and covered herself up with the corner of his blanket. And I’m sure if you asked Lydia she would tell you, there is nothing romantic about a man’s feet! So remember, there is absolutely nothing inappropriate going on here in this verse.
Instead, what we have here is an ancient Middle East practice of physically covering people who were under your protection. You know the phrase, “Take somebody under your wing?” That phrase has ancient roots in this very practice! Naomi’s entire plan revolved around Ruth elaborately asking Boaz to protect her by making her his wife.
And so you might be wondering, “What does all of this have to do with Providence?” Well, what we as Christians need to realize is that God very often uses our strategies and our wisdom to bring about His master plan in the world. And I’m afraid that I will not be able to fully answer this mystery, because I am simply not smart enough to understand it. But somehow, God uses our thinking, and our strategies to accomplish what He devised before the world began. It is absolutely a mystery, but it is absolutely true. So in verses one through four, God used Naomi’s strategizing to accomplish His will in their lives. Naomi was very strategic in who she picked. Naomi was very strategic in her timing, because she knew that the harvesters were celebrating, and Boaz would be a good mood. And she was very strategic in what she asked Ruth to do, knowing that Ruth covering herself with the foot of the blanket was an excellent way to ask Boaz to protect her. Naomi devised a very smart, very precise plan for Ruth and Boaz. And in some way that I cannot understand, that plan was straight from the heart of God.
And today, more than 3,000 years later, God is still using the strategies of His people to accomplish His will. Obviously, we know that God desires to grow His kingdom on earth. And I am fully convinced that a part of that growth is designed to happen right here in this church. I believe that it is God’s will for us to fill this building up to capacity. And yet, God desires to use our planning and our wisdom to accomplish His plans for our church. In other words, God does not just want me as your pastor to hope for growth. God does not want you as members to just hope for growth. No, He wants us to plan for growth. He wants us to think, and pray, and devise ways to bring more people into His house. God is not looking to accomplish His plan on earth through people who are basically sleep-walking through life. No, He wants to use people who care enough about His kingdom to plan for its growth, and that is what He wants of you in your life, and out of First Free Will Baptist Church. So point number one, God uses the strategizing of His people to bring about His will.
Point #2: God’s Providence through Obedience
The key to point number two is found in verse five of Ruth chapter three. Verse five reads, “And she said unto her, ‘All that thou sayest unto me I will do.” I am not sure if Ruth realized the wisdom of Naomi’s plan, or if she trusted Naomi enough to do it anyways; but either way, the Bible says that Ruth obeyed the voice of Naomi and decided to follow her plan. Verse six accounts how she went to the threshing floor and waited just as Naomi had instructed her. There’s something important I want to point out about verse seven. Verse seven reads, “And when Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was merry, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of corn: and she came softly, and uncovered his feet, and laid her down.” This verse tells us that Boaz had eaten and drunk, and then the Bible says that his heart was merry. Now, let me explain what this does not mean. This verse is not saying that Boaz got drunk. The Bible is extremely clear that drunkenness is a sin, and Boaz was a man that obeyed the laws of the Lord. So what does the text mean when it says that he was merry? Well, a similar thing has happened to the word “merry” as had happened with the word “gay.” The word “gay” has become so associated with homosexuality that it is almost never used in its original context, in which the word just means “happy.” Well, “merry” is the same way. “Merry” has been so overused by some to mean drunkenness that we have forgotten that it too means “happy.” So was Boaz drunk? No! Was he happy? Yes, he was very happy; because he had just finished bringing in his harvest. I believe any farmer would be “merry” in his shoes.
So Boaz was in a very good mood, which is exactly what Naomi was counting on. And after he fell asleep, Ruth snuck up next to him and got under the edge of his covers. I love verse eight. Look at what verse eight says. “And it came to pass at midnight, that the man was afraid, and turned himself: and, behold, a woman lay at his feet.” In the middle of the night, something woke Boaz, and he was understandably afraid. He may have feared bandits had come to steal his crop. The Bible doesn’t say what woke him up, but I think that any married man can probably figure this one out. What do you bet Ruth rolled over in her sleep and stole his covers? Lydia, I mean Ruth, probably denied it later, but you know that she did it!
All of that to say that God used Ruth’s obedience to fulfill His Providence in her life. God knew before He laid the foundations of the world that Ruth would obey Naomi’s instruction, and He used her obedience to do exactly what He had planned. And God will do the same thing in this church, and in your lives, as well. This is a concept so basic that a child can grasp it, and yet so complex that a theologian cannot fully understand it. If I told you that God wanted you to do something, and I told you that He was going to use your doing it as His way of getting it done, you would say, “Uh duh!” But my head starts spinning when I think about how God designed a master plan around your obedience that He knew you would have, yet you could freely choose to disobey if you wished. All I know is, God uses our obedience to bring out His Providence in our lives. And as a church, God will use our obedience to His word as a tool to bring out the growth that He wills for our church to have. I don’t understand it, but I absolutely love it! Let’s look at our final point.
Point #3: God’s Providence through Redemption
Look at what verse nine of chapter three says. “And he said, ‘Who art thou?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth thine handmaid: spread therefore thy skirt over thine handmaid; for thou art a near kinsman.’” Boaz is understandably pretty confused when he sees a woman lying at his feet. But then Ruth identified herself, and she asked for Boaz to spread his skirt over her. Now, Ruth had already covered herself with his sheet, so we know that this is symbolic. Ruth was essentially asking Boaz to protect her by marrying her. So while I would never recommend a girlfriend proposing to her boyfriend, we have it right here in the book of Ruth! Ruth proposed to Boaz when she asked him to spread his sheet over her. In fact, in orthodox Jewish weddings, it is still common practice for the groom to spread a silk sheet around his bride, to signify his protection over her.
And what do you think Boaz says to this surprise proposal? Look at verse ten. “And he said, ‘Blessed be thou of the LORD, my daughter: for thou hast shone more kindness in the latter end than at the beginning, inasmuch that thou followedst not young men, whether poor or rich.” He said yes! If the book of Ruth were made into a television sitcom, this is where all of the ladies in the audience would start screaming at the tops of their lungs. In fact, Boaz does more than simply say yes, he says that Ruth has shown him a great kindness in asking him, because she could have gone after somebody younger than him if she wanted. In fact, Boaz says that Ruth’s kindness to him was even greater than her first kindness, which is where she decided to come back to Israel with Naomi. While many marriages in Bible times were based on convenience or family agreements, there can be no doubt in our minds that Boaz was in love with Ruth. It sounds as if he had secretly been hoping she would be interested in him, but he just figured that she would go after some younger man. So you can almost hear the excitement in his voice when Ruth asked Boaz to cover her with his skirt.
Look at what Boaz says next in verse eleven. “And now, my daughter, fear not; I will do to thee all that thou requirest: for all the city of my people doth know that thou art a virtuous woman.” Boaz told Ruth that he was going to do everything in his power to marry Ruth. And while it seems that two people in love would have had no hurdles in getting married, we will see next week that Boaz had a very large hurdle standing between him and his love. But we will hold off on that until next week.
But the point for today is that Boaz made the decision to redeem Ruth, which is exactly what God had planned. For Ruth, redemption meant a safe home, plenty to eat, higher standing in the town, and the potential to raise the family that she had missed out on with her first husband. But church, did you know that God’s Providence wishes for redemption in our lives, as well? In fact, the entire Bible is the story of how God is redeeming the world back to Himself after Adam and Eve sinned. What started in the Garden of Eden came to a peak at the cross of Calvary, and it will come to a grand finale when Christ returns and establishes Heaven on earth. Our God is about redemption. But He is not only about redemption on the grand scale. He is about redemption in each of our lives. And while God’s master plan calls for the ultimate redemption of the world, the specifics of who will be a part of that redemption falls upon our laps. You’ve heard me say many times that the Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. And yet, His divine Providence allows for each of us to make up our minds on first off, whether we will accept Christ in our own lives; and second off, whether or not we will share that gift with others.
So in understanding God’s Providence through redemption, there are three simple facts we need to understand. Fact number one is that God wishes for all people to choose Him. Fact number two is that God knew who would say yes and who would say no before He ever said, “Let there be light.” And fact number three is that God will not make the decision for you. While He knows what each person will decide, He has made it our free choice. And that counts for salvation, and that counts for every decision we make in our daily lives.
So this morning, as we are thinking about this divine subject of Providence, remember that God works out His will through what His servants do. He uses our strategizing. He loves it when we make plans for how we are going to serve God better. He loves it when we sit down and schedule a time for when we will turn off the T.V. and study His word. He loves it when a church plans how they are going to grow their Sunday school program. God also uses our obedience. While He could snap His fingers and turn the sky green and the grass blue, He works out His will through the obedience of His people. And God also has plans to redeem each and every one of us. He has plans to redeem us from hell and the devil. But He also has plans to redeem us from the pet sins that we still cling onto. He has plans to redeem broken marriages that seem as if there is no hope for success. And He also has plans to redeem other people, and sometimes He uses our obedience to bring that about.
So if you are here, and you have never accepted Jesus Christ, allow me to tell you that God desires for you to accept Him. He will not force you, but He is calling you. He is calling you to forsake the parts of your life that are in rebellion against Him, and He desires for you to put every part of your being in submission to Him. And for those of us here who have accepted Christ, He desires for us to daily take up our cross and follow Him. God has absolutely amazing plans for your future, and for the future of this church; and He chooses to bring about His plans through our strategizing and through our obedience. And maybe, just maybe, our faithfulness to God will assist Him in His redemption of the world.
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