Poverty, Promise, and Provision
Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz.
And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after one in whose sight I may find favor." And she said to her, "Go, my daughter."
So she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1-3).
This the story of provision. I donít say "providence," even though the words sound identical, they really are not. Providence has to do with Godís governing the world and preserving the world. Provision has to do with Godís supplying or God providing for His people.
This is an episode in the lives of certain of Godís people and how God provided for them. Last week we saw just a hint. Nothing felt any different to Naomi and Ruth, it was just a foreshadowing which we can see as we look back with hindsight. They didnít know that anything was about to dawn upon them in the way of restoration, but there was just a foreshadowing of that healing supply.
Today, as the prophet Malachi put it, "Today we see the dawning and the rising of the Son of righteousness who rises with healing in His wings" sending healing rays of restoration right over the horizon.
You have perhaps seen the time before the sunrise, where an almost imperceptible change happens - a foreshadowing of the sunrise. Today weíre past that - today the sun is actually coming over the horizon and beginning to send out healing rays to illumine the dark disappointment in the hearts of our two broken sisters.
In the opening verses of chapter 2.1-3, you might say, "I donít really get it. Where do you find these Ďhealing raysí that youíre speaking of? I mean, itís a nice thought, a nice analogy -the sun rising over people and sending out healing beams of light to them, but I donít really see it right here in verses 1-3. Where do you find the healing and encouragement when this poor poverty stricken girl is forced to go and scavenge in a field to find grain for her and her mother-in-law?"
I want to point out two quickening rays - two key ideas in this book, ideas about hope and healing, two ideas which are first introduced right here, in the beginning of chapter 2. Both of these ideas have to do with Godís providing for His people. Look at verse 1: "Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband." Here it is, itís a hint, not a hint of hope, but an actual beam of hope, of healing light. Itís the first time weíve encountered this term which is so central to the understanding of the whole book, "the kinsman." Many places in the Old Testament it is translated not "kinsman" but "redeemer."
God, Himself, is called by this same Hebrew word, "Go-el." God says, "I am the Lord, your Go-el, (kinsman or redeemer)." Naomi had a kinsman and thatís the hint of healing that we find - an actual beam of light now going to shine and fall upon her dark and disappointed heart.
We learn about a distant relative of her husbandís and the relative is wealthy. Now, that can be good or it could be not too good. Iím sure I have distant relatives who are so far distant that they donít even know me - wouldnít even give me the time of day. In fact, several years ago, when Penny was the secretary, I was studying and Penny called me on the intercom, "T.J., would you come here? I think you need to see this." I came out and there was a young man standing there. I said, "Yes?" She said, "This is our Pitney-Bowes (our stamp machine) representative." He had come to service our equipment.
I said, "OK" thinking, "Why do I have to meet him?"
"I think you should see his card."
"OK, Iíll keep his card." I looked at his card and on his card was the name of my brother, James Campo. How could that be? "Thatís my own brotherís name," I said.
"Well, I donít have any relatives down here in Florida. The only relatives I have are from New Jersey and from Long Island, New York."
I said, "Weíre from Long Island. Do you have a grandfather who has four brothers?" "Yes, I do."
"My grandfather and your grandfather are brothers." And so it was. But, I havenít seen that person ever since that time. Havenít followed up with him. We were just far-removed, distant relatives who did not know each other, and that was the end of it. You know how it is, blood is thicker than water, but sometimes there is some awfully thin blood .But we were distant relatives, this man and I.
These are distant relatives here in the Book of Ruth. This was probably a distant cousin of Naomiís deceased husband. Granted, though family ties were stronger in that culture, and God intends for them to be stronger in this culture, still who wants a long-forgotten, very distant third cousinís wife to come looking for a handout?
"Isnít that the family," he remembers, "who ran away during the time of famine to escape hardship - and went to Moab?"
But, as we mentioned, there is something that is thicker than water and thicker than blood, and that something, the Law of God, is at work here. The Law of God is as thick as stone, and unbreakable, and according to the Law of God, Naomi had a leg to stand on.
We read in Deuteronomy 25.5, that if there was a male relative, that relative would have certain obligations toward any of the widows in his family whose husbandís left such widows, childless.
God, our Father, our Provider, would rule and would teach His people the value of family, and to carefully pass on from generation to generation, the blessings of a covenant relationship with God. If a man died childless, in a sense, that covenant succession would be broken, so God, not wanting that to happen, provides for this situation in His law. He provides a system of redemption in the law. A near relative would not only be appointed by Godís law to take the childless bereaved widow to care for her, but he must also raise up children for the name of his dead relative. In verse 1 we learn that there was such a redeemer for Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. There was hope in the Law.
Then we meet a second ray of healing and hope. Naomi and Ruth are poor and they are widows. They could literally in that culture starve to death or become homeless. Remember, they lived in the time of the judges and that was a cruel time. It was a time when everyone did his own thing and no one cared for anyone else. The weak and the poor and the infirmed could get overlooked in such a time, in fact, they could get crushed in that atmosphere.
But God, who loves the poor, and says "Blessed are the poor" provides for the poor. And, again in His Law He commands land owners not to harvest to the corner of their fields. If you look at Deuteronomy 19, 23, and passages in the Book of Leviticus you will find that they are not to be neat in the harvest, but they are commanded to be sloppy in harvest. In fact, if you leave the harvest field and remember, "Oh-oh, I forgot to take the wheat that I cut and bundled into a sheath," you can not go back and get it. The Law commands that you have to leave it there for the poor to come and take. Itís as if God commands sloppy harvesting.
I remember when Missy and I were planning to go to France to work for a summer with North African Muslims and try to evangelize them. We were in seminary and we had to go there for internship. We were trying to raise money every way that we could to go there for the whole summer. My beloved friend, Brian Kelso, got his whole family together and for one year Brian and Barbara and their four sons took all their change, all the scraps - the corners of their fields - the change left in their pockets, and every day dropped that change into a five gallon water container. At the end of the year, the Kelsoís were able to give Missy and I a check for close to $700.00 - just from the scraps "the corners of the fields." Maybe there is a good lesson for us as we seek to provide money for Godís world global mission.
But they were not to be neat in the harvest. Whatever grain fell to the ground would stay there - it would be an anti-selfishness measure in Godís Law. The poor are allowed, then, to come in and to take what grain remains in the corners of the fields, and the fallen grains so that they would have food. The same thing pertained to the grape harvest and to the olive harvest.
God knows the makeup of fallen men. God knows our tendency to take every last grain and put it in the warehouse so that we might become wealthy and the poor might remain unprovided for. God knows that human beings can act like animals - but human beings are not animals. They are made in the image of God. Therefore, to protect His own image God provides for the poor that human beings not be animal-like toward one another. So the Church was equipped, both in the Old Testament, and if you read the early chapters of Acts, you learn that it was certainly provided for in the New Testament, to care for the poor and the weak, for the widows and for the foreigners in our midst.
Now, one final ray of hope and healing. This comes not from the Law but from God providing from another source that shines for us in the first three verses of chapter 3. The first two rays were from the Law but the third ray is Godís providing from His sovereign hand when governs all of human affairs.
Did you notice where Ruth happened to go to pick up stray grain? Look at it in verse 3: "And so she departed and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers and..." this is only the second time in all of Scripture this phrase occurs, "...she happened to come to the portion of the field belonging to Boaz who was of the family of Elimelech."
Now, the word "happened" denotes "chance" and there was no chance in the divine scheme of things, but there was what we would call "accidental" on Ruthís part. She was uninformed, it was unintentional and without forethought. It was what we might call "coincidence" that she winds up in the field of Boaz. But, here again we meet the invisible hand that even unbeknownst to Ruth, this encounter. This is one way that God provides for His children: He orchestrates all the events of their lives. Even when you are completely unaware, He is guiding your decisions, He is guiding your actions. In fact, it says in our catechism that God is governing and preserving all of His creatures and all of their actions. Our Dutch cousins, (you will find this printed on the back of the bulletin today)put it this way: "I trust Him so much," says the Heidelberg Catechism, "that I do not doubt He will provide whatever I need for body and soul and He will turn to my good whatever adversity He sends me in this sad world. He is able to do this because He is almighty God; He desires to do this because He is a faithful Father."
Heís turning every event to the good of His beloved children. This is really what weíve been saying all through our study of Ruth, that God provides for all living things. If He provides "for the rock badger" - do you even know what a rock badger is? God does. And if God provides for the sparrow, which today is alive and tomorrow falls to the ground, and if God so raised the lilies of the field which are here today and tomorrow are burned up by the sun, then how much more will God provide for you, His own beloved child?
How then, are we to respond to Godís active providing in our lives? I want to lay down several guiding truths.
We are to remember that God provides with both His word and with His hand. God provides for us in what is written and we ought to see what is written as a source of supply to us. God has given us the map by which we might navigate our path through this life. God provides not only by moving circumstances to our benefit, but God provides for us in this map before us. Often we look for the magical move of circumstances and we think thatís the way that God is going to provide for us. I am without money so I ask God to provide for me. Then I go and look in my mailbox and see that some check from some unimagined source will arrive. But, we fail to consult Godís word as a source of His supply. This frequently is the case when people are seeking guidance. Many people want some sort of providential sign, "Should I take this job?" "Should I buy this car?" "Should I go on vacation here or there?" "Should I marry this person?" And, looking for some providential sign they fail to be saturated with the Word of God and so miss Godís supply for them.
Let me just bring out a couple of examples of how God provides, not only by providence, by also by precept. There is a person who is lonely and discouraged. Have you ever noticed that loneliness and discouragement are twin obstacles? They almost always come together, loneliness and discouragement. You feel isolated and therefore, discouraged.
Here is a person who is lonely and discouraged and he begins to pray that God will bring some special friend along into his life. But, in Godís Law and in Godís Gospel such a friend is already provided! Hebrews 10 says, "Do not forsake the assembling of yourselves." If this person would direct his attention to this passage of Scripture he would learn that, "I have a whole family of friends, right here, before me. God has provided for me right in His holy law!"
Perhaps he might be directed to Ephesians 4 where it says about Christians within the church: "Speak truth to one another." Now, if that person were hard-hearted he could look at that passage, all the while heís praying, "Oh, God, send a friend into my life." He might say, "íSpeak truth to one another?í I donít lie to anyone at St. Andrews, I guess I have fulfilled that commandment."
But thatís not what the commandment says. It doesnít say do not lie to one another, it says, "Speak the truth to one another." And if he would soften his heart before the Lord he might realize, "You know, I canít say that I do fulfill that commandment. I donít speak lies to people at St. Andrews and I donít speak truth to people at St. Andrews. Truth is, I donít speak to people at all at St. Andrews!" And maybe he might break his heart under Godís providential law and then say, "You know, I need to start speaking to people at St. Andrews and watch how the loneliness and discouragement lifts."
Another example: A person feels cold towards, or hurt by, another person. Heís waiting for that person to apologize. Heís prayed - heís even asked other people to pray for that person who has hurt him. You know how that goes, right? "He hurt me. Would you pray for him?" He has prayed, "I wish that person would come and apologize. Oh, God, provide healing for this relationship."
But, Godís Law provided healing for that relationship. In Matthew 18 it says, "Go to your brother who has offended you." So, healing is provided right there.
A man feels cold towards God. He has been seeking to have quiet times, seeking to pray, but he feels as if his prayers just bounce off the roof. If he were soft-hearted he might read in 1 Peter 5.7: "Likewise you husbands live with your wives in an understanding way as with a weaker vessel because she is a woman and honor her as a fellow heir of the grace of life so that your prayers will not be hindered."
It might dawn on such a person, "Perhaps my prayers, my quiet time, my spiritual disciplines are being hindered. Iím praying to God, ĎGod, break through, I canít feel that Iím in touch with you as I pray.í" But God is already providing. Look to the Word that He has provided for you and understand that the coldness, the distance, the tension that has settled in your relationship with your wife is hindering your prayers.
An emotional coldness in marriage: "God provide. Our marriage is becoming estranged." And perhaps the person reads in 1Corinthians 7.5, "Stop depriving one another physically." Sexual coldness has settled into a marriage and therefore emotional coldness has followed.
Or the Christian who is working, working, working. "Man, Iím working all the time, working seven days a week." Heís tired and just canít seem to catch up on his sleep. What about the 4th Commandment and what it provides for you? "Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy." How many people are so tired they just canít seem to be rested because they fail to use the Sabbath Day in the way God has prescribed.
Or Psalm 127: "Unless the Lord builds the houseÖ" Theyíre beating themselves up and theyíre beating their heads against the wall. They are thinking that everything depends on them, "Itís all about me." Psalm 127 provides a way of rest, "Unless the Lord buildsÖ" God provides not only in His governing your life but also in His Law.
Secondly, provision is not always the way we want it or have imagined it. You probably know someone who has prayed for a job and then a perfectly fine job has presented itself. But, since that person is not so crazy about doing that particular work, he thinks that God has not provided for him.
Remember how God provided for Ruth and Naomi? They prayed for food and God provided food for them in the Law. They could go out to the fields and they could glean what was left in the fields and they would have enough to feed themselves. Godís law was governing their lives and providing for their lives.
Maybe we wouldnít be so happy with that arrangement. "What, I have to go scrounge around in a field for my money? This is no way for God to provide!" But this is exactly the way that God provided and it was a wonderful arrangement. And then when theyíre faithful in that little bit, by going and scavenging in the fields, in a way of speaking, and are faithful to do what God has provided, then God rewards them. They are faithful in little and God gives them much.
We ought to take what God gives us. Be joyful in what God provides. Our ladies are studying through 1 Timothy. They know the verse because itís in this monthís study, "In godliness, with contentment there is great gain."
So we can work and we can hope to improve our situations but we must rejoice in whatever God provides along the way and to know that He does provide.
Thirdly, we have to have an eye to what spiritual provisions are ours in Christ. I donít know everyone here, perhaps you are poor by modern American standards. I doubt very much that anyone here would be considered poor by world standards and I feel absolutely confident in saying that there is not a single poor person here as we look at the standards of poverty in the entire world. But perhaps you are the lower or lowest rung of the American economic ladder. You may be facing some great personal difficulty or trial at present. Maybe you have a health need, in fact, you might even be at deathís door.
Yet, as weíve been seeing, Christ can take away all the bitterness of it and leave us sweet and content even in affliction. If we just take stock of all that is ours in Christ no person who is in Christ can think of himself as a poverty-stricken person. If weíll just stop every day, and just as youíre brushing your teeth in the morning, look in the mirror at the sinner who looks back at you in the reflection there, and if you would just consider the tremendous poverty of soul that was yours as a fallen and condemned sinner, to clearly see that even the best person in this sanctuary is justly deserving Godís eternal displeasure and punishment for his or her own sin.
But, a kinsman-redeemer has been provided, a man of great wealth who shared in our humanity and was thus related to us as our kinsman, who, for our sakes became poor that being in Him we might become rich.
Every Christian is a rich man. That is the truth. He is infinitely wealthy in the blessings that are his in Christ. Even if he lives in the streets of Calcutta or in a slum in Haiti, every person who truly has Christ is infinitely wealthy.
Only be certain that you have Christ or else even though you be very wealthy in the stuff of this world, youíll be rejected in the last days and find yourself to be of all people, most miserable.
We should think more of the great provision that is ours in Christ, our spiritual need provided for, and discover the all-surpassing work of Jesus. Make it your prayer every day, "Lord, help me discover something about Jesus today that I didnít know yesterday, to see a little bit more of the beauty of my Redeemer and to know a little bit more, another facet in the jewel that is mine in Christ."
Lastly, we should be careful in the way we receive Godís provision and supply. I have just some very small but practical things in mind.
We should be looking for Godís provision. Every Christian, I have never seen the righteous begging for bread or the children of God gone hungry, ought to look for provision from God and ought to be expecting it, ought to be believing God for it. Weíre called to live by faith and we are to be looking for our paychecks in faith that these are the provision of God and we ought to be grateful when we receive Godís provision.
Any little pleasure that God gives you should be turned to the enjoyment of God. You see your children or grandchildren rolling around and wrestling and you ought to look at them and just say, "Thank You, Lord!" Not just, "Wow, what fantastic kids these are!" but, "What fantastic kids these are. Thank God for providing them! Praise the Lord! I enjoy my heavenly Father for His provision toward me!"
Lastly, we should enjoy Godís provision as stewards would enjoy them. We hold all that God has give to us lightly, unselfishly, because ultimately we realize it is all of God. Our talents, our marriages, our singleness, our children, our resources, our homes, and our salvation are all from Him, through Him, and to Him.
To Him, to our Father, to our Provider, to our God, to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen
à à à
Father, we pray that You would fill this day with blessing from God, that we would find ourselves at rest on this Sabbath Day taking stock of the many blessings that God has provided and that at every turn we would find ourselves saying, "The Lord will provide - the Lord has indeed, provided."
In Jesusí Name we pray. Amen.