The theme we thought about this week was that of Divine Providence. This morning we take a look at how that theme has been woven throughout the book thus far.
Started with Ruth 1:1-5. We talked about the stark matter of fact way in which the events were related by the narrator. God is not mentioned at all in these verses. We have a mere record of a man and his family relocating to Moab and the tragedy that strikes them.
It seems as if God is absent. It’s as if he doesn’t have a clue as to what’s happening to this family. We do not clearly see God’s providence at work in these verses.
I’m sure you all have faced times like this in your life. Dark times when God seemed completely absent.
I want to tell you about such a time in my life. It was the early 90’s and Michael and I were in seminary in MA. A professor who Michael respected approached him and asked him to help him with a church plant. A large core group had gathered and were already meeting in a school. It was a great opportunity.
We moved out to be closer to the church and Michael went on staff. There was even talk of Michael doing a PhD part-time and then eventually planting a church in Boston. These were exciting times. The culmination of what we had been working and praying for.
We graduated from seminary and our life seemed all planned out. But then things changed. All of a sudden the professor was no longer pleased with Michael’s work at the church. He was never able to clearly state why he was displeased despite many hours spent in meetings.
After a few months of fruitless discussions, Michael felt that it was time for him to leave the church. The path for him to do a PhD evaporated. All of his ministry contacts came through this professor and his friends. So another ministry opportunity didn’t seem likely any time soon.
On top of all this, Michael thought it was best for us to take our newborn son and move out of the area as soon as possible so we didn’t disrupt the work of this young church plant. Moving near family wasn’t a good idea. Both our fathers weren’t Christians and would encourage us to get over our “religious phase” and get into the real world.
While my situation was not as extreme as Naomi’s I felt alone and friendless with nowhere to go. We were grieving a dream we thought God had given us and he was silent. We prayed fervently but received no direction and no open doors.
Before I tell you the end of my story, let’s look again at Ruth and Naomi’s story.
A few weeks ago we looked at the end of Chapter 1. We began to see the fingerprints of God providentially directing Naomi’s story, even though she was not yet aware of it. You’ll remember we first saw this when she heard about the provision of food in Bethlehem. This happened when she was at her lowest, having just lost not one but both sons. Further provision came when Ruth refused to go back to Moab. Ruth made a bold declaration of faith and commitment to Naomi.
We saw God’s providence even more strongly in our study this week. The value of Ruth as a daughter-in-law was confirmed as Ruth showed her willingness to humbly work at the lowly job of gleaning with a servant heart. And work she did – from sun-up to sun-down.
Then, the author has a bit of fun with the story – letting us know that Ruth just happened to glean in the field of Boaz.
And it’s in the person of Boaz that God shows his providential care most lavishly. As we saw in our study, God used Boaz to care for Ruth not just physically but socially and sexually as well.
And in providing for Ruth, God provided for Naomi as well. Not only did Naomi have food, but she no longer had to worry about her daughter-in-law when she was gone during the day. These women no longer had to live moment by moment, wondering when disaster would strike next.
Did you notice that even through all this provision, Ruth still had to glean? Boaz didn’t say – you head home and put your feet up. I’ll have my men send food over. He easily could have done this but he doesn’t. And the next day, Ruth is back gleaning in the field. She is protected and provided for, but she’s still gleaning. This reminded me that so often God doesn’t change our circumstances when he providentially cares for us.
Boaz is not just a means of immediate care for Ruth. He’s a picture of God’s providential care for us in Christ. Boaz will go on to become Ruth’s redeemer just as Christ is our redeemer. Where as, Boaz redeems Ruth and Naomi from their desperate circumstances, Christ redeems us from death. An eternal death that is our sure and certain judgment for sin. Christ also knows every temptation we will face and is right now before his father interceding for us.
At the end of Chapter 1 Naomi doesn’t yet see the providence of God at work in her life. Next week we’ll see that Naomi starts to see God’s hand at work and that will be fun to see. I’m sure she looked back years later and was able to trace the hand of God’s providence even more clearly. She may have even recounted instances of God’s providence to her grandson, Obed.
In time, She was probably even able to look back at those dark days in Moab and see God’s hand at work. What would have happened if her husband or even her sons had not died? Would they have stayed in Moab, never having the opportunity to have the line of Christ come through their family? Well as I tell my kids – God doesn’t play the “what if” game so we shouldn’t either. What we do know is that God used some very dark circumstances to bring great blessing to Ruth and Naomi and great glory to himself.
I told you I would tell you the rest of my story. God’s providence showed itself in our lives through a seemingly ordinary circumstance. We had previously planned to visit a friend of Michael’s who had taken a church just a few years earlier in a different city. On the long drive to that friend’s house, Michael told me that he was going to leave the church and that we needed to move. What an awkward time for a visit, I thought.
But God had planned the visit to be providential and not be awkward. During the visit that friend offered us an opportunity to come and heal at his church. Soon a job and housing were secured. God used that year to heal us and to provide a plan for Michael to pursue a PhD. But God’s provision was not over, for it was that same church that called Michael to be their associate pastor when he was done with his PhD.
And years later when we looked back at our time at the church plant, God’s providence in our dark days was even clearer. For we realized in looking back, that although that church loved the truth they were moving away from the gospel. God took us away from that church and planted us in a church that was fully committed to the gospel. God also used that dark time to confirm Michael’s call to ministry.
God was gracious in giving us such a clear picture of his providential care in that circumstance. But that doesn’t always happen does it? I’ve been through dark times and I’m still asking “why Lord”? I’m sure you’ve had those experiences as well. Even years later, God doesn’t always let us see the fingerprints of his providence. What do we do then?
This is when we rest on passages such as Romans 8:28
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[i have been called according to his purpose.
In faith, we must trust that God is working for our good and his glory, even when it doesn’t seem like it. In faith, we keep going obediently forward. We faithfully continue even when it seems like foolishness because we have the promise of Romans 8:28 – that he’s working for the good of those who love him.
In faith we continue to follow the Lord, to meet with him, to love those who are unlovely (even when they are our family and friends), and sometimes faith looks like just getting out of bed in the morning to live another day.
And what is that good he’s working for in our lives? Verse 29 tells us.
29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
The “good” that God is working toward in our dark providences is to make us more like his Son.
I could endure a lot and persevere through a lot if God would just reveal to me how my dark times would result in my good and his glory. If he would let me see some good that would come through my faithful obedience in times of trial. Maybe it would be that people were going to be converted or the faith of believers would be strengthened.
But that’s not often the way the Lord works, is it. In fact, sometimes it can be distracting or even harmful to our faith if we spend too much time trying to read his providence into particular circumstances. Sometimes he let’s us see how he’s at work and that’s a blessing but often he doesn’t and that’s where faith comes in.
In heaven, we will see clearly and together we will praise him for what he was doing. But now we see as in a mirror dimly. We faithfully obey even when we don’t see clearly because we trust on his promise. He is providentially at work even if we never know how in this life.