July 22, 2010 David Balzer

Ruth 2: The God of Coincidences

In the movie, “The Truman Show”, Jim Carrey plays Truman Burbank. He’s the subject of a television show that’s like Big Brother on steroids. Rather than the set being a house, it’s a whole island.

The major difference though, is that Truman DOESN’T KNOW he’s part of a show. He doesn’t KNOW his whole life from birth has been choreographed by a director, and recorded on dozens of hidden cameras.

The people he lives with are all actors playing a part. His neighbours, his workmates, even his wife. All follow the instructions of the director. But this is his REAL LIFE! He doesn’t know anything different! Millions of people watch the show – HIS LIFE.

EVERYONE EXCEPT TRUMAN knows what’s going on. EVERYONE EXCEPT TRUMAN sees the guiding hand of the director as he brings circumstances and people across his path. But Truman just lives life as it comes to him.

The movie is about what happens when Truman finds out what’s going on. His behaviour CHANGES as he starts to see the big picture. As he starts to see the controlling hand of the director.

IT MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE KNOWING THAT SOMEONE’S IN CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.

And the same thing’s true for us, too. It makes a huge difference knowing that someone’s in control of your life.

Is your life more like Truman, or the actors around him? Are you aware of the director’s cues as you go about the pattern of your life?

Is life different because you know someone’s in control of it? That God’s in control. Are you CONSCIOUS that God’s controlling things? Does it make a difference to how you approach decisions? Or are you oblivious to it, and just live life the way YOU want to?

We say with our heads that God is in control, but often our lives and our attitudes reflect something different, don’t they?

You’re late for that appointment, and stuck in a traffic jam. Do you find yourself getting more and more agitated, and trying harder to fix the situation yourself? Or do you relax in the knowledge that God has everything in control?

Or the kids are going out to a party. Do you trust them to God’s care, or do you WORRY about whether they’ll be alright?

Or you’re waiting for the specialist’s report on your medical condition. Do you LOSE SLEEP worrying about the diagnosis, or are you confident that God’s got things in control?

It seems to me we’re good at SAYING God’s in control, but not too good at PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE.

God’s control of life is a bit like a safety net for a tight-rope walker. As we walk through life, we try to keep our balance and walk a straight line without any wobbles. Overbalance one way or the other, and we fall in a heap.

A tight-rope walker hardly ever needs the safety net, but it doesn’t just work when he falls. The knowledge that the safety net is there, INFLUENCES HIS ACTIONS ON THE ROPE. He walks more confidently and steadily because he knows that there is a bigger picture. His life is more than just this thin, tight wire that he’s concentrating on so hard.

God’s control is our safety net. Our lives should be lived CONSCIOUSLY AWARE, and confident, of the safety net of God’s providence and his controlling hand.

And that’s what Ruth 2 teaches us about. It’s about God’s control, or PROVIDENCE. It’s seen in the everyday events of life. Sometimes we have to look harder, but God’s providence CAN be seen. We just need to have the eyes to see. It’s not always in huge cataclismic events, like the Red Sea parting, or the walls of Jericho falling down. God’s work is often much more SUBTLE. And so the story of Ruth is a subtle one.

We don’t read in this story, “And then God did this, and then He made such-and-such do such-and-such” God is rarely mentioned, except in PRAYERS, and to see His hand we need to look carefully. But that’s the point, because IN OUR LIVES it’s often hard to see God’s hand. It’s nearly always SUBTLE.

We need to look with the eyes of faith to see his hand of providence. In life’s little COINCIDENCES, God is alive, God is acting, and God is in control.

1. Boaz (v1)

Let’s start at the beginning of the chapter. Normally a good story keeps the secret until the end, but here in v1 of ch 2 we get let in on the secret early.

(Ruth 2:1 NIV)  “Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.”

Ruth’s never heard of him yet, but WE know to look out for this guy because he’s going to be important. We get to step back from the situation, and in a sense, we get to view it as God does. To see the big picture.

What Ruth and Naomi see as everyday circumstance, we see as planned from the beginning. When Ruth and Naomi make decisions without knowing what life’s got in store, we already know what’s around the next corner. So verse 1 lets us see “the director’s cut”.

And here’s what we get to find out. This guy Baoz is a RELATIVE. It’s good to have family around when there’s trouble. And pretty difficult when you DON’T.

More than just FAMILY though. Boaz is A GOOD CATCH. A man of STANDING. It’s a word used in other places for mighty warriors or noblemen. This guy is ONE OF THE GOODIES. Boaz. His name means something like “In him is STRENGTH”. Boaz! He needs a TRENDY name. A Bold And The Beautiful name – like Beau!

Before long we find out he’s rich, he loves God, and he treats his employees well. Oh, by the way, IT JUST SO HAPPENS he’s also SINGLE.

A man of STANDING alright. You don’t find them like THAT too often!

2. Barley (v2)

That’s v1. Keep your eye out for Beau.

V2. Back to Naomi and Ruth. Remember how Ch 1 finished? What are they going to do for food? There’s no family or money. No welfare system.

What’ll they do? It JUST SO HAPPENS there’s plenty of barley. It’s the barley harvest. But none of it’s their’s!

In Israel, the closest thing to a welfare system is found in Deuteronomy 24. Harvesters are to leave whatever they DROP for the POOR. For the orphan and the widow and the foreigner. And they can come along and GLEAN. Pick up whatever’s been left behind.

So with a bit of LUCK, there might be some hope. Well, as LUCK WOULD HAVE IT they’ve arrived at just the right time. Just in time for the barley harvest. Not one month too early, or they’d be hungry for a month. Not a month too late, or they’d starve for 11 months.

What a coincidence! How lucky was that!? So Ruth could glean!

But she’d ALSO need to be lucky enough for the reapers to leave something behind. And what’s more, JUST SUPPOSING there was enough grain dropped, she’d ALSO need to be lucky enough that there wouldn’t be TOO MANY OTHER gleaners to share it with.

Well… as luck would have it, this was the way things worked out!

3. Boaz’s barley (v3)

It’s a bit tongue in cheek, but it’s just what the writer does. He’s already told us about Boaz in v 1. Now in verse 3, he tells us about Boaz’s BARLEY. He says

(Ruth 2:3 NIV)  “So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.”

It’s more like, “It just so happened by chance…”. The KJV puts it beautifully.

(Ruth 2:3 KJV)  “… and her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging to Boaz…”

There’s nowhere else in the Old Testament that puts things like this. From RUTH and NAOMI’S point of view, it looks like LUCK. A random event that falls their way. But we know better. We know God’s behind it all!

4. Boaz the Boss (v4-7):

After all, we already know that Boaz is about. And that he’s a good catch. A man of standing. And then as if to remind us, the author continues in verse 4. Because Boaz the BOSS arrives.

(Ruth 2:4 NIV)  “Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The LORD be with you!” “The LORD bless you!” they called back.”

When was the last time YOUR boss said something like that to YOU? He’s RICH, he loves GOD, and he’s a good bloke who looks after his servants. And they like HIM.

“The LORD be WITH you and BLESS you!”

It might just be a simple “G’day!”, but I reckon there’s more to it than that. Technically, it’s a PRAYER. A request that God would be WITH someone and BLESS THEM. It’s a subtle way of saying that God DOES involve himself in everyday events.

And what they say are things we ALREADY KNOW ARE HAPPENING! God IS with his people, and he IS blessing them! The famine has ended. The harvest is here. And Ruth’s got lucky! It just so happened!

God’s only mentioned three times in this chapter. And each time it’s a PRAYER for God’s blessing. Each time, we can see God ALREADY doing what the prayer asks! Working in the COINCIDENCES of life.

A bit more on prayer in a moment.

And the God of coincidences continues to work for Ruth. Because the harvest wasn’t necessarily a SAFE TIME for a woman to be out alone. It was a time for high spirits and enjoyment. There was work to be done, but there were celebrations to be had for a good harvest. Things went on behind the haystacks, so to speak!

To top it all off, gleaners like Ruth weren’t always welcomed with open arms. A bit like the swaggies during the depression, or perhaps like the gypsies in Europe. Suspicious glances were cast their way when anything went missing. And so Ruth needed protection.

So Ruth’s been LUCKY enough to find a field where she wasn’t shooed away, or harmed by the men. And when Boaz the boss arrives, verse 6, he spots the new girl. His foreman fills him in. And Boaz goes over to talk to her.

It’s a meeting we’ve known was going to happen sooner or later. Like in “Sleepless in Seattle”. You just knew sooner or later, even though they lived on opposite sides of America, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan would get together.

5. Boaz the Beneficent (v8-9)

So here we come to the first meeting! What’ll they say? How will the story unfold? Will Ruth’s luck continue to hold out? Of course it does! This isn’t just ANY Boss. It’s Boaz. Boaz the Beneficent. He’s looking after her at every turn. Verse 8.

(Ruth 2:8-9 NIV)  “So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. {9} Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls. I have told the men not to touch you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.””

He’s got her PHYSICAL needs covered. Stick in my fields. HE’s got her SAFETY covered. I’ve told the men “hands off”. He’s got her SOCIAL needs covered. Hang with the women. Get to know some friends. People who’ll help you stick with God.

How lucky could she be?! Out of all the fields she could have arrived at, she’d really found the best one, and with the kindest owner, too! Verse 10.

(Ruth 2:10-12 NIV)  “At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She exclaimed, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me–a foreigner?”

We already know the answer to THAT question. Because God’s behind it. Boaz says, I know all about you. How you’ve been widowed, how you’ve stuck by your mother-in-law.v12.

{12} May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.””

Once again Boaz makes a request of God that he’ll do something we know he’s already been doing! God IS rewarding Ruth for her faithfulness! He’s looking after her, and providing her with refuge. FROM THE HAND OF THE VERY PERSON WHO’S PRAYING THE PRAYER.

Boaz not only PRAYS for God’s blessing, but he GIVES IT HANDS AND FEET. He prays for God’s blessing, and he PROVIDES THE MEANS by which God blesses Ruth. He provides lunch, and even tells his reapers to drop a few extra heads of grain.

Which is often the way God WORKS in prayer. Certainly not the ONLY way. But He’ll move you to PRAY for something. And then, as you pray, God moves you to do what you can to BRING THAT ABOUT.

It’s a great thought process to go through as you pray. As you pray for that missionaries will be financially and emotionally supported. Think “How can I do that?”

As you pray that a sick person will be well-supported and know God’s comfort. Ask “How can I support and comfort them?”

As you pray for school Scripture, or for the financial needs of our church, or for FUSION, or for Glenwood church. God will work in YOU, get YOU thinking about ways you can help, and answer your OWN PRAYERS.

ALL SORTS of ways this can work itself out.

And it works this way with Boaz. He prays that God would reward Ruth for her loyalty. And then helps to DO that.

He offers her LUNCH. He even SERVES her. It’s like the boss cooking lunch for the new work experience kid.

There’s even some left over for Ruth to take home to Naomi.

It’s fascinating to think about where Boaz got that sort of compassion and personal decency from.

Remember this is the time of the Judges. When there was no… KING. And when… everyone did what was right in their own eyes. The law of the jungle. The law of anarchy. Wickedness and selfishness rule.

Except for Boaz. Who rewards the kindness of Ruth by being kind TO HER.

We get a hint of how Boaz might have turned out this way. In ch 4, we find out that Ruth is the great-grandma of King David. It’s the same family tree when we turn to the New Testament – to Mt 1. But we also find out ANOTHER fascinating bit of info. Boaz’s father was a guy called Sal-mon. But his MOTHER was RAHAB.

And to find out about Rahab, you’ve got to go back to Joshua ch 2. Joshua, the leader of Israel, has sent spies into the city of Jericho. They went into the house of a Canaanite woman, called … Rahab.

When the king’s guards come looking for the spies, she HIDES them. When they’re about to escape, She says, “I know God’s given the city to you. When you conquer it, promise that you’ll show KINDNESS to my family, because I’ve shown KINDNESS to you.

Do you know what the word for KINDNESS is? HESED. Covenant faithfulness, loving-kindness, commitment. The word God uses to describe how HE deals with HIS PEOPLE. And it’s exactly what Naomi prays God would show RUTH because she’d shown HESED to Naomi.

And Joshua and his army DO spare Rahab and her family. The walls of Jericho come down, but Rahab and her family are saved. And they come under the wings of God. And become part of God’s people.

A foreign woman, shown kindness by God’s people in response to HER kindness, and who becomes PART of God’s people. Perhaps Boaz was even THERE as a child as Rahab makes her request to the spies.

It’s a life lesson that seems to have bored itself deeply into his soul. Shaped his character, and the way he treats people, the way he honours God. Perhaps it explains why he’s got a soft spot for this foreigner called Ruth. That’s what his MUM was. A foreign woman.

What lessons are YOU sending to your kids? About what REALLY matters. About being godly, and kind, and generous. Not just by your words. But in the way your TREAT people. What do they see as they WATCH YOU? How are your priorities and actions and ways of treating people/ shaping YOUR KIDS?

That’s Boaz. And the end result of it all is that Ruth ends up with a huge amount of grain from her day’s work. Buckets of Barley. Buckets of barley from the bundles of Boaz.

She goes home, gives Naomi the grain, and tells her mother in law excitedly about the wonderful day that she’s had! And when she tells her that it was Boaz’s field, Naomi responds, Verse 20, with another prayer.

(Ruth 2:20 NIV)  “”The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his KINDNESS (there’s that HESED word again) to the living and the dead.”

Once again God is mentioned in the form of a blessing. ONCE AGAIN we notice it’s a request for something God’s already done. He obviously HAS blessed Boaz. He’s wealthy, generous, and well-respected by his workers. Beau is a good catch. A man of standing.

Then Naomi adds ONE FINAL DETAIL. It’s really the CRITICAL detail, because it links all the separate strands in this story. She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.””

You can almost hear the cogs in Naomi’s brain ticking over! “Boaz, eh! He’s a close relative – AND one of your kinsmen-redeemers into the bargain!

Now that’s something interesting! Fancy that! What a coincidence!”

Another of the Jewish laws to help with social welfare was that of the KINSMAN-REDEEMER. The kinsman-redeemer was male close relative. Normally mature, older, financially secure, who’s job was to help out FAMILY. To pay off debts, to fix things up.

And in the case of widows, he could even MARRY the widows. It served three purposes. First, the widow was protected and provided for by her new husband. Second, if there was a child produced, it provided an heir for the widow. And third, it enabled the family land to stay in the family. For the widow, it provided a secure life, children, and a guaranteed future. In some ways, a much richer experience than social security.

So Naomi’s mind is working overtime. She almost doesn’t hear Ruth continue happily, (Verse 21)

(Ruth 2:21 NIV)  “…He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.'””

“Excellent!” thought Naomi. “Just what I was thinking!”.

“It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with his girls, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” {23} So Ruth stayed close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.”

And so the chapter finishes! If you want to find out how the story continues, you’ll need to come back next week! But for the moment, Ruth’s faithfulness HAS been rewarded. God HAS shown his kindness, answering Naomi’s prayer.

She hasn’t been AWARE of God’s hand in the events of her life, but she’s EXPERIENCED God’s provision none-the-less. God’s direction hasn’t been obvious, but there’s no doubting that it’s there!

As we eavesdrop on the various prayers for God’s blessing, we work out who the real mover and shaker is! – who the real Director is. All that’s happened to Ruth ISN’T coincidence! It’s not chance or luck! God’s purposes ARE being worked out!

And God’s purposes are still being worked out TODAY!

But it’d be a mistake to say that since good things were happening to Ruth in this chapter, good things will happen to US if we’re faithful. Because don’t forget Ruth’s story starts at Ch. 1. Ruth’s husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law have died. Ruth’s been through famine, and a long journey. Things have NOT gone well! She hasn’t been faithful IN RESPONSE to God’s goodness! It’s more accurate to say she’s remained faithful DESPITE not seeing God’s goodness.

Perhaps that’s the way WE’RE tempted to respond to God. It’s EASY trusting God as long as things go WELL. But when things start to fall apart, that’s when we wonder where he is. And our strong faith is seen as not so strong after all.

Good things will NOT always happen to good people! God’s purposes are NOT always that things will go well.

Romans 8:28 on the surface, it appears to say that things WILL go well for Christians. But as we read on, we find out what “working for good” means.

(Rom 8:28-30 NIV)  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. {29} For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

“Things working for good” is DEFINED for us from God’s point of view. It involves things that conform me to the likeness of Jesus. Which MAKE ME LIKE JESUS. That’s God’s Number one priority.

Perhaps being late for that appointment will produce in me things that make me more like Jesus. Perhaps more bills than money will cause me to trust Jesus more. Perhaps my kids getting sick or hurt will teach me what the love of my Heavenly Father is like. What it felt like for him to sacrifice his only son.

Perhaps an illness may make me recognise that God’s grace is sufficient for me, and that it’s in my weakness that God’s strength can be seen.

The big picture – the director’s cut – of God’s purposes doesn’t involve every little thing working out right. It doesn’t necessarily involve me being victorious in every area of life. It doesn’t mean I’ll always find out WHY things happen. And it doesn’t necessarily involve financial abundance, emotional stability, relational security, spiritual maturity, or even automotive reliability(!)

The big picture involves seeing all things as part of God’s perfect plan. All things as being one step towards that momentous final scene. – the climax of the movie – when you and I will be one of many brothers together with Jesus before God’s throne in heaven. Each of us having been called, justified and glorified.

Each scene of our own life-movie, our own Truman show- needs to be lived with one eye on that FINAL SCENE. Each step along life’s tight-rope needs to be taken confidently in the knowledge that God’s providential safety net enables us to walk where and how he wants us, and that He will catch us when we fall.

If we ever doubt God’s purposes in the events of our life. If things ever seem too big for us to handle. If God’s wings don’t seem big enough to keep out the bitter winter wind,

Listen to God’s wonderful, powerful argument.

(Rom 8:31-32 NIV)  “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?{32} He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”

Despite what life might seem like sometimes, God’s concern for us was so great that he DIDN’T EVEN SPARE HIS ONLY SON! His love for us is seen in Jesus. Seen in his desire to provide for us a safe refuge under the shadow of his wings.

As we get our minds around that wonderful fact, we can say with the confidence of Paul,

(Rom 8:38-39 NIV)  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, {39} neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

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