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It Just So Happened... (Ruth 1 & 2)

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    Good morning and Happy Mother’s Day! I have to admit that as we’re leaving the book of Judges, I’m actually really glad to be moving out of the book of Judges. Now, because it’s part of the Bible, I see how God has used the book of Judges to help us work through some of what has been going on in our world right now, and it was certainly God’s timing that put us in Judges at this moment. But, most of Judges is so doom and gloom that it’s hard to stay camped out there and not start to feel the hopelessness of what God’s people were going through at the time. So, I’m glad to be moving out of the book of Judges, at least in name.
    Today, we’re starting Ruth, which actually takes place during the time of the judges, but it’s a much brighter and hope-filled story that shows how God was working to bring good things even when His people had, for the most part, turned their hearts against Him.
    I love the story of Ruth. And here’s why: I grew up on fairy tales. I was a kid during the golden age of Disney, so I grew up watching the Little Mermaid, which is still my favorite Disney princess movie, and Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast; as well as the classics like Snow White, and Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella, and Robin Hood, which was another favorite. I had a two-volume book of fairy tales that I think I’ve read in its entirety at least a dozen times, which even had some fairy tales you’ve never even heard of! Those stories of fantasy captured me as a kid, not for the adventures or daring rescues or evil villains, but because of the love stories. I’m a romantic at heart.
    Even now, I can’t turn down a really good romance movie.
    The book of Ruth contains the second greatest love story in the whole Bible. It’s an absolutely beautiful tale that has absolutely captured my heart, but only partly because of Ruth and Boaz’s story. Mostly, I love the book of Ruth because it’s full of the greatest love story in the Bible: God’s love, His goodness, His kindness, His compassion and mercy…for us.
    Let’s dive in.
    Ruth 1:1 gives us our “Once Upon a Time” statement that sets everything up for us. “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.”
    So, we’re sometime in the period of the judges, though we never get a sense of who the judge was at the time, but we’re told there was a famine in the land. I get the sense that it’s possible that this famine happened between two judges, when the people had turned away from God after a judge died and began doing evil again. Mentioning the famine would be a way for the writer of Ruth to show us that this was happening in a time when God’s blessing had been removed from the people because of their actions.
    The famine affected Bethlehem, where this man, Elimelech lives with his family. Now, we know that Bethlehem becomes an important city in the Bible. It’s the city of David. It’s the city of Jesus’ birth.
    So, I really like names. I like to know what peoples names mean, and my husband and I even made sure that when we were naming our children, that we chose strong names that meant something good, names that we hoped they would grow into. The Hebrew culture was much the same way. They named their children names that highlighted a characteristic they hope their children would grow into. Like Jeremiah, our oldest, his name means “God will uplift”. And we hope and pray that as he grows, he will develop and cultivate a relationship with the Lord and God will uplift him.
    The city of Bethlehem means “house of bread”, so here in the opening verse of Ruth, there’s a famine in the house of bread that’s so bad, Elimelech feels like he must take his family out of Bethlehem to a foreign country, Moab, to keep them fed. The famine must have been very severe too, because Moab is not the kind of place that a Jewish person would want to go to. It’s full of idolatry, pagan worship, and moral corruption. So things must have been very bad in Bethlehem. Either that…or Elimelech, whose name means “God is King” doesn’t really believe that God is King, and doesn’t trust Him enough to care for his family in times of need.
    His family consists of his wife, Naomi, whose name means “sweet and pleasant”; and two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, whose names literally mean “sick” and “dying”. I don’t think that’s something any parent would hope their kids grow into. The sad fact is though, that even though Elimelech takes his family to Moab to keep them from death by starvation, they end up dying in Moab anyway, all but Naomi, and the wives of Mr. Sick and Mr. Dying, named Orpah and Ruth.
    Now, in Ruth 1:6-9, this is what Naomi says after her husband and sons have died, “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the land of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited His people in giving them food. So she departed from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt with the dead and with me. May the Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.”
    Naomi decides to return home because there’s food in Israel again, which tells me that it’s likely that a new judge has been appointed over Israel. Maybe even one of the good judges because of the character of the people at the time. Naomi releases her two daughters-in-law and tells them to go back to their mother’s houses. She didn’t see any reason for them to still be bound to her, and was hoping that in releasing them to go back home, they would perhaps be able to remarry and start families with new husbands. That was the best that she could wish for them.
    Naomi spoke a blessing over them, and asked that the Lord would deal kindly with them, that He would show them His kindness. When she did this, what she was hoping the Lord would do is to cover them with all the blessings of His character. She was asking that God give her two daughters-in-law the absolute best that He could give them, which in any situation, is better than what we might be able to give. In other words, she was saying, “Look, I have nothing left for you, no family, no home, no land, I can’t give you anything, but I pray and hope God will give you all that He wants for you in abundance!”
    Now, this would have been contrary to what Jewish custom was. Jewish custom was that if a son died and he was married, then the widow was supposed to marry another man in the family so the property they owned would stay in the family. But Naomi tells them to go back home. Orpah did go back to her mother’s home, but Ruth, whose name means “friendly” and “companion”, decided to stay with Naomi.
    In fact, Ruth gives this speech to Naomi that is touching and very telling of the type of woman Ruth was. Ruth 1:16-17 says, “But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me.”
    Not only does this tell us that Ruth is an incredibly loyal woman, but it means that as much was possible in the days before Christ came to offer salvation and inheritance of God’s Kingdom to all, this was as close as Ruth could come to making a personal commitment to God without actually being Jewish. In her loyalty to Naomi, she has chosen to leave behind her home, but more importantly, she has chosen to leave behind her false gods, the gods of Moab, and serve the One True God, the God of Israel, the God of the Covenant. That’s a huge commitment!
    They both go to Bethlehem, and we’re told at the end of Ruth 1 that they arrive in Bethlehem just in time for harvest season, which affirms for us that the Lord was blessing the nation of Israel once again because of their obedience to him during the time of a judge.
    We don’t know what sort of financial situation Naomi and Ruth are in, but it seems to have desperate enough that they couldn’t buy some necessities, like grain for bread. Ruth is a strong woman, okay, she goes out and finds a way to get grain so she and Naomi can survive.
    I want us to point our attention just for a moment to Leviticus 19:9-10, which was one of the laws that God gave to His people about how they should take care of their land and their people. “Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.” The same law is repeated in Leviticus 23:22.
    God is a God who is concerned for the welfare of His people, but not just those who live in the boundaries of “normal” society. From early on, God has shown His concern for the least of society as well, for the poor, for the foreigners in a foreign land. This law He gave was to tell His people that if they owned land and had a harvest, or a vineyard with a harvest, they were supposed to leave certain yields of the harvest for those who had no other way of providing for themselves. God was concerned that all people should have a way to eat.
    Unfortunately, God’s people didn’t always listen to this and follow through with it. In fact, even by the time we get to the period of the judges, most of God’s people were largely ignoring laws like this. But, perhaps because they were in a period of a good judge, or perhaps because of his strong character, there was at least one man who followed through with this law: Boaz. Boaz, whose name means “strength”, a worthy man, in fact, so worthy that one of the pillars in Solomon’s temple bore the same name: Boaz.
    Naomi, knowing that there was this law that the people were supposed to adhere to, has Ruth go and find a field to pick wheat from. Now, this is where it gets good. Ruth 2:3 says, “So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.”
    This is where it gets really good. I want us to zero in on a phrase here in verse 3, “As it turned out”. If we were Hebrew and we were reading this in Hebrew, we would all laugh hysterically at this phrase, because we would know that what the writer of Ruth is saying here is sarcasm. This was no coincidence. This didn’t just happen that Ruth just happened to go to the field of a man who actually adhered to God’s laws so she and Naomi would be taken care of. This didn’t just happen that Boaz was a member of Elimelech’s family and so if Ruth just happened to marry him, all of Naomi’s land and belongings would actually get to stay in the family. This didn’t just happen that Boaz took notice of Ruth and told his servants to make sure to leave enough grain in the field for her and to make sure she had water to drink and to make sure that his servants treated her kindly.
    So the writer of Ruth is saying this phrase, “It just so happened…” but we’re to understand that though this might have seemed like a coincidence to Ruth or to Naomi or to Boaz, that really, what is happening is God working in the situation to bless Naomi and Ruth and Boaz, too!
    Remember that blessing that Naomi gave to Ruth, that she prayed and hoped for God to richly give her all of His kindness, all of the goodness of His character? “It just so happened…” means that God is answering Naomi’s prayer for Ruth.
    It also tells us something really important about God’s character that I don’t want us to miss this morning. It tells us that God is concerned for the daily lives of His people, those who have chosen Him and call Him their Lord. He cares for us. He cared enough for Ruth that He made sure that she ended up in the right field at the right time so she would be taken care of. He cared enough for Naomi to provide a way for her to keep all of her belongings, whatever they might have been. He cared enough for Boaz to provide him with a wife that would work hard and had treated all those around her with compassion.
    God is concerned for what happens in our daily lives! Why? Because He is good, and His goodness is abundant. Because His lovingkindness is never-ending. Because He is compassionate toward those who are in distress.
    There are some who have come to believe that God, if He even exists, they say, created the world and then just left it alone. There are some that say that God simply doesn’t care what happens to people in their day to day lives. Nothing could be further from the truth.
    What we see in Ruth is that God, because He is good and loving and kind, does care about the little things, even things like Ruth finding grain for bread. If He cares about something like that, what do you think He cares about in your life? The answer is everything! 1 Peter 5:7 tells us to cast all our anxiety on Him because He cares for us! Even the little things.
    So, like I said at the beginning, Ruth is not just about the sweet love story between Ruth and Boaz that starts off with the cutest little meeting in the Bible that makes my romantic heart go “aww”…it’s more about the love that God has for His people, that He would care for us and provide for us in ways we often aren’t even aware of!
    Next week, the rest of Ruth will prove this point even more. But to close, we have our questions for this week to think about and meditate on:

1. Look at Ruth’s promise to Naomi in Ruth 1:16-17. What all does Ruth give up to follow Naomi to Israel?

2. What would it look like for you to be like Ruth in your friendships, marriage, work relationships, and at church? What might you have to sacrifice to selflessly serve others as Ruth served Naomi?

3. How might you be encouraged this week by God’s never changing character, particularly His goodness and kindness for you?

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