You’ve heard the one, I‘m sure, about the lonely frog who goes to see a fortune-teller. He’s told not to worry. She says, “You’re going to meet a beautiful young girl, and she will want to know everything about you.” “That’s great!” the excited frog says. “When will I meet her?” And the psychic says, “Next term … in biology class.”
Life has some rough patches, doesn’t it? And we wonder sometimes: “Are we merely the victims of fate? Is there any point to the unfolding events of our lives?” The book of Ruth addresses this question, and what it tells us is: There is a heart at the centre of the universe. It’s not just a cold, empty expanse, indifferent to us or to our lives. Nor is it a machine driven by some cruel, malevolent force such as chance. No — What’s behind everything – this is Ruth’s story tells us – is a gracious Providence that is purposeful and loving. We are journeying through the short Old Testament book of Ruth, and have lingered a while in chapter two. First, we looked at the FAITH of Ruth, and then we considered the SERVICE of Ruth to her mother in law, Naomi. Today we shift the focus a little, onto Naomi, who was profoundly changed because of what she observed and experienced through the faith and the service of her daughter-in-law, Ruth.
17 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough. 19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. 20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.”
These verses tell us about the diligence of Ruth, who is gleaning in the field from early morning to evening (from sun-up to sun-down). She is a hard worker, focused on the opportunity to gather food when she has no money. She worked hard — God sees this and blesses her labour. To gain the best idea of what it must have been like, we need to use our imagination to think about a young woman, perhaps late 20s or early 30s, spending hours and hours, bent over, and gathering every single bit of grain she can find. She is needing to keep an eye on the harvesters, for she must not come too close to them, and she is eagle-eyed in looking for every bit that the harvesters have left or dropped or missed. For hours and hours. Yet, she could only pick up one grain at a time and each one was considered valuable. Workers had to exert great effort and energy to harvest the grains for there was no mechanical tool to speed up the harvest, everything was done by hand. But it was an opportunity for food. When she had gathered up as much as she could, in the hours of daylight that made it possible, the work was not yet finished, for the grains needed to be threshed and winnowed before they could be used for cooking, and grinding into flour meant even more work.
We read in the text that Ruth had gathered about an ephah of barley. Which means nothing to us today, until we learn that this was about five and a half gallons or 22 liters. That’s a good quantity of grain to have gathered, for nothing other than your own physical sweat. Now wonder Naomi was pleased. She was even more pleased when she saw that Ruth had also brought to Naomi the food left over from the meal she had been invited to have with Boaz. In fact, this was a much-needed blessing for Naomi who reacted with praise to God for His goodness to her and to Ruth. It is interesting to see how Naomi’s attitude has changed. It was just a short while ago, perhaps a day or two, when she was bitter, and angry, and was feeling very disenfranchised by God. What has changed? Well it is simple, she is starting to put two and two together, starting to realise that the providential work of God is at work, and she begins to take heart and smile again.
The word ‘Providence’ is made up of two words: “Pro” means “Before” and “Video” means “to see”; The word ‘Providence’ simply means “to see before”. So when we talk about the providence of God, we mean that God ‘sees before’ and plans accordingly. She can now see the plan of God unfolding right before her very eyes — and it was amazing. Before, she could only see her pain, her loss, and her misery. No wonder, she just wanted to stay at home, having a daily one person pity party, whilst Ruth went out to work all day long in the fields.
But now, things are getting clearer. It is a wonderful world after all. She wakes up to the idea that all things will work out for good if you just remain in His fold. Some things were changing for the better: her hope and faith in God were being strengthened — how? — because of the life and character of Ruth, her daughter-in-law. Ruth’s actions and example had made a great impact on Naomi’s own spiritual faith, and we can learn some things here too. Many times, we do not see the hand of God working in our midst because our eyes have been blinded by bitterness and resentment of sin. But when our eyes are opened to the goodness of God, when our faith is brightened, then we are able to clearly see God’s plan being unfolded. We can be inspired towards faith by people who are close to us, and we can be the inspiration for faith to those who are close to us. When people around us start to demonstrate their faith in God, it rubs off on us, and we do the same, it rubs off on others. Faith is infectious. I think God made it so.
If you are strong in faith, it strengthens mine, and your faith can encourage me to aspire to the same. And vice versa. If we lack faith, that will contaminate other people who are close to us — do you remember why? — because they are always watching us. That is what Naomi experienced when Ruth came back from the fields with joy. She had a big bucket of barley grain, she had some cooked leftovers from a fancy luncheon, and she had enjoyed that wonderful meeting with Boaz. She is happy about the barley, excited about the doggy bag of food, but she is simply ecstatic when she hears the name of Boaz. She says out loud: “The Lord bless him!” She can see something in the hand of God, immediately.
She was able to dream again. She was able to regain her faith and her hope back. Then she told Ruth a secret, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” What? Don’t kid me know my mother in law! True? Oh wow, Oh praise the Lord, life is exciting after all. There is a great future in store for them because their redemption is near. Which brings us to a great life lesson:
HOPE WILL PRODUCE JOY.
(NIV) **13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”**
I believe this is true, that hope will fill you. That God will fill your cup with joy and peace because it has been made empty due to resentment and bitterness. The question is, do you believe it too? Such filling happens as you trust God, every new day until you overflow with hope. This word “overflow” means **super abundance**, a deluge of goodness, an inundation of overflowing blessings. All just given to us by the power of the Holy Spirit who loves to live inside the heart of every believer in Christ. Here’s a law to live by: Hope in God will always produce joy in us. I have one more life lesson for today:
HOPE WILL OVERCOME FEARS.
(NIV) **2 Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” 3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high. 4 I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain. 5 I lie down and sleep; I wake again because the Lord sustains me. 6 I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.”**
What do you think happens when God fills your heart and your mind with a super-abundance of hope? You will overcome all your fears and all your worries for the future. It works like a shield all around us. Helping us to lift our heads high. In the last verse of Ruth chapter 2, we find terrific words of assurance — for both Ruth and Naomi:
**vs. 23 “So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”**
Their fears for their future were rapidly fading. The fields were open to them to glean food from them. Boaz will soon become their kinsman redeemer. This story teaches you and me to trust the Lord. He provides when we work hard and trust Him. He promised a redeemer in Jesus Christ, who has come already, offers us redemption. Always our choice. Always God is a gentleman. The conclusion is pretty straightforward. Open your hearts and minds to Christ’s Lordship. Repent and turn away from your sins. Let Christ transform your character. He will give you peace, joy, and hope. And most of all, He will help you overcome your fears forever.