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How Good God Is

Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. (Ruth 2:1-3 ESV)

Faithfulness is underrated. Just yesterday we celebrated two teams winning the big game to make it into the Super Bowl. No one talked about their workouts. No one saw the hours spent in the gym, the grueling practices, the ice baths to soothe aching muscles. Everyone watched as Russell Wilson threw the touchdown pass that could not have been more precise. Seahawks fans celebrated the touchdown–not the workouts. Faithfulness is underrated.

Ruth was faithful. She did what she knew to do. She was a Moabite on Hebrew soil. Her family heritage was nothing to write home about. Her family roots twist and turn their way back to an opportunistic man named Lot whose daughters got him drunk and had sex with them. She had no claim to fame.

She was hungry. Her hunger drove her to the fields. Faithfulness kept her there. I love the way the writer says it: she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz. No one happens to do anything–God is completely in control of the course of events of human history. We call that the sovereignty of God. Your faithfulness (doing what you know to do now) and God’s sovereignty form a crossroads to the future God intends for you.

Ruth did not go into the field that day knowing anything would come of it but some leftover grain. She faithfully went so that she could feed her (bitter) mother-in-law. That’s faithfulness: doing what she knew to do then. God sovereignly intervened and gave her favor in Boaz’s sight…a point that will become critical later in Ruth’s (and Naomi’s) story.

J. I. Packer says this:

“Guidance, like all God’s acts of blessing under the covenant of grace, is a sovereign act. Not merely does God will to guide us in the sense of showing us his way, that we may tread it; he wills also to guide us in the more fundamental sense of ensuring that, whatever happens, whatever mistakes we may make, we shall come safely home. Slippings and strayings there will be, no doubt, but the everlasting arms are beneath us; we shall be caught, rescued, restored. This is God’s promise; this is how good he is.”

Ruth, the meandering Moabitess, is about to find out just how good God is.

A Prayer Naomi Could Have Prayed

This prayer is from The Valley of Vision, a book of Puritan Prayers and is called by that same name. Read it (and pray it) slowly and deliberately. Quiet yourself before the Lord.

The Valley of Vision

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly,

Thou has brought me to the valley of vision,

where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights;

hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory.

Let me learn by paradox

that the way down is the way up,

that to be low is to be high,

that the broken heart is the healed heart,

that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,

that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,

that to have nothing is to possess all,

that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,

that to give is to receive,

that the valley is the place of vision.

Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from

deepest wells,

and the deeper the wells the brighter

thy stars shine;

Let me find thy light in my darkness,

thy life in my death,

thy joy in my sorrow,

thy grace in my sin,

thy riches in my poverty

thy glory in my valley.

The God Who Connects the Dots

Steve Jobs said…

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

Tucked in Steve Job’s convoluted idea of whom to trust are some kernels of truth: you can’t connect the dots looking forward. Ruth looked back at Moab and saw a comfortable past–she looked ahead to Bethlehem and saw an uncertain future. God did not allow her to connect the dots. He seldom does.

Steve Jobs’ second kernel of truth: You have to trust in something. He’s right. Everyone trusts in something. Even if you don’t believe God exists, unbelief in God is a belief system. You are trusting that your lack of faith in God will have no dire consequences. The assertion that there is no God reduces life to the here and now and eliminates the possibility of heaven and hell. You are still trusting something: unbelief.

So here’s a question: as you look back over your life, where do you see dots connected now that seemed nothing more than fuzzy lines at the time? This is the story of Ruth.

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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 will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17 ESV)

Ruth moved forward trusting that God (whom she had not known before now) would somehow make crooked lines straight. After all God promised Israel this is what He would do:

And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. (Isaiah 42:16 ESV)

God kept good on His promise to Israel and little did Ruth know that God would keep good on that same promise to her–and she was a foreigner! John the Baptist preached about this characteristic of God:

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’” (Luke 3:4-6 ESV)

It is likely that many of you reading this are dizzy from trekking down the crooked road of the last 24 hours of your life. You don’t know why things are happening the way they are. You don’t understand decisions being made around you. God seems strangely silent. Life isn’t fair. In those moments trusting God is paramount. You cannot connect the dots looking forward. One day you will. I remind you of John Oxenham’s poem:

He writes in characters too grand
For our short sight to understand;
We catch but broken strokes, and try
To fathom all the mystery
Of withered hopes, of death, of life,
The endless war, the useless strife,–
But there, with larger, clearer sight,
We shall see this–His way was right.

I Will

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the LORD had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But 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. The LORD grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” (Ruth 1:6-15 ESV)

Naomi was determined to dissuade Ruth from coming to Bethlehem. Four times in this soliloquy she demands that Ruth return. Her words are forceful: return, turn back, turn back, return. She’s angry at God. She’s mad at the world. Life has dealt her an ugly blow and she’s looking for someone to blame. She feels she has already put Ruth and Orpah through enough. You can hear it in her language: No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me. In other words, “It’s my fault you’re where you are–widowed and following a bitter old woman to her homeland.  Turn back!”

One must wonder why Ruth would ever want to continue the long trek from Moab to Bethlehem with a woman compelling her to go home. Ruth has no intentions of caving to Naomi’s pressure. Notice her answer:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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 will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17 ESV)

Her language is anything but that of a quitter. She answers Naomi’s repeated commands to turn back with her own mantra: I will.

  • For where you go, I will go.
  • And where you lodge, I will lodge.
  • Where you die, I will die.
  • And there will I be buried.

Ruth’s language is the language of determination.

Some of you are staring down a road you’ve never traveled down before. You have no idea where it will lead, what you will find or even who you will be at the end of the road. In those times, focusing on what you don’t know will stop you dead in your tracks. Yours must be the language of “I will.”

I will trust God…no matter what.

I will pray….no matter what.

I will worship…no matter what.

I will.

I will.

The Irony of Running From God

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. (Ruth 1:1-5 ESV)

Bethlehem. We know the town well today because it was the birthplace of Jesus. In Naomi’s day it was a little-known spot on the landscape of southern Israel. However everyone knew what the name meant–the house of bread. Ironically enough Elimelech and Naomi were from the aristocratic Ephrathite clan living in the House of Bread and they couldn’t find anything to eat. There was a famine in the land. When God decides He’s going to send a famine, the house of bread isn’t exempt from his disciplining hand.

Elimelech and Naomi ran–to Moab. Moab was a stretch of land east of the Dead Sea. It wasn’t part of Israel–as a matter of fact it was settled by the descendants of a tragic incestuous relationship between Lot (Abraham’s nephew) and his daughter. The Moabites’ heritage wasn’t anything to write home about. However, it isn’t the Moabites’ family tree that is most surprising in light of Naomi’s plight–it is the meaning of the word “Moab” itself. Moab means “seed of father.”

Think about it. Naomi left the House of Bread because she couldn’t find bread. She went to the “Seed of Father” and lost both her sons. You can run but you can’t hide. Bethlehem starved Naomi and Moab robbed her of her sons. The House of Bread and the Seed of Father came up empty.

Corrie Ten Boom said, “There are no ‘if’s’ in God’s world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety – let us pray that we may always know it!”