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And Behold!

Now Boaz had gone up to the gate and sat down there. And behold, the redeemer, of whom Boaz had spoken, came by. So Boaz said, “Turn aside, friend; sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. (Ruth 4:1 ESV)

And behold. Boaz went up to the gate to look for the closest of kin so that he could seek a redeemer for Ruth and Naomi. The climactic scene of the night before where Ruth proposed to him had succumbed to anxious anticipation. Would he find the redeemer? What would the redeemer say? Boaz promised Ruth he would step in if the closest redeemer didn’t step up. So he went to the gate and sat down there. His efforts seem so nondescript, so low-key.

What we soon discover is that nothing with God is nondescript. God is completely in control. And behold. What is a “and behold” moment to us is a planned event from God’s point of view. What catches us by surprise is no surprise to God. R.C. Sproul said,

“If there is one single molecule in this universe running around loose, totally free of God’s sovereignty, then we have no guarantee that a single promise of God will ever be fulfilled.”

Boaz knew he had no control of this situation. There were too many variables, too many unknowns. Our sense of control is an illusion. On days where we think we are in control, we are only fooling ourselves. Every day of our lives is riddled with the unknown, showered with uncertain circumstances. The God who controls the universe sent the redeemer through the city gate that day.

Do you really believe He is in control?

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.

When God Changes Your Name

Throughout all of Scripture God has changed people’s names. Abram became Abraham. Sarai became Sarah. Abram means “noble father.” Abraham is the “father of many. Sarai is a princess; Sarah is the mother of nations.

Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. (Genesis 17:3-5 ESV)

Jacob became Israel. His name change was dramatic. Jacob means “supplanter.” Israel is “one who strives with God” because Jacob refused to let go of God until God had blessed him. God specializes in changing you for the good. Speaking to his people through the prophet Ezekiel, God says:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 ESV)

God delights in making you (and all things) new. Naomi didn’t get that. She blamed God for doing exactly the opposite.

So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:19-21 ESV)

God didn’t change Naomi’s name–she did. God longed for her to be the “pleasant one.” She chose to become bitter. The question in the mind of the readers of Ruth has to be this: will God change her name back. Will the God of Abraham and Israel prevail as the God of Naomi? Time will tell.

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.

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!”

His Way Is Right

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 2:1-7 ESV)

Any respectable person watching CNN in Jesus’ day would have known who Caesar Augustus was. He followed the famous Julius Caesar and became emperor of Rome in 27 BC. For the next 41 years he led the massive Roman empire and established a peaceful kingdom. Though all self-respecting Israelites hated Roman oppression, they appreciated the peace Caesar Augustus brought.

Quirinius was a well-respected war hero. He worked his way up through the ranks becoming a mentor for Casear Augustus’ grandson. He excelled at every position he held eventually landing the position as governor of Syria, the province in northern Israel where Nazareth is located. He would have been a regular contributor to Fox News–an expert in Palestinian affairs.

The leading news story of Luke’s day was the census. Reporters would have camped along the dirt roads leading into Bethlehem and interviewed the travelers. Caesar Augustus and Quirinius ruled the day. No one would have known a young woman named Mary and her fiancé, Joseph. They were lost in the sea of weary travelers making the trek to their hometown to be counted.

However, 740 years earlier a prophet named Micah called this:

But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. (Micah 5:2 ESV)

Every news outlet in Jesus’ day missed the story. Caesar and Quirinius ruled the world and the day…or so they thought. But out of Bethlehem, too little to be among the clans of Judah, came the Ruler of all rulers. I am reminded again 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.

His way is right when no one notices. His way is right when no one cares. His way is right when no one understands.

His way is right.

Waiting: God’s University

Years have passed. Joseph is almost 40 years old. His dream that got him in such trouble has taken him from the pit, to Potiphar’s house, and to the prison. Now he is Prime Minister of Egypt. Perhaps he reflected on that dream so many years ago:

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. (Genesis 37:5-8 ESV)

Now, years later, they show up. He never realized his dream would come to fruition like this. He was no longer a smug teenager; he had become a responsible adult. His ego had long ago been checked by suffering and the harsh reality of responsibility. His brothers and father got hungry–so hungry that Jacob sent Joseph’s brothers to Egypt to get some food. When Joseph saw them he wept. As a matter of fact he sent them out of his presence so they couldn’t see him crying and his weeping could be heard throughout the palace.

As a teenager Joseph never saw the dream playing out like this. As a grown man he had a dilemma. Would he accept the ones who sold him into slavery? No doubt he had already forgiven them. Now he had the upper hand. Now he could make them serve him. Would all those years in Potiphar’s house resisting the advances of Potiphar’s wife now be avenged? He could make them pay for his forgotten years in the prison.

It’s funny how waiting on God often has more to do with preparing us for His plan for our lives than the actual plan itself. God will accomplish His purposes. We call that the sovereignty of God–His ultimate control over the course of human (and your personal) history. We spend much of our lives in training. There are some things God has for you that you simply cannot handle right now.

Waiting is God’s opportunity to refine you, to mold you into the man or woman He intends you to be. Your experiencing God in the waiting years enables you to handle the responsibility of the fulfillment of His plans. In case you feel alone, consider this list of “Who’s Who” in God’s story:

  • Abraham was 100 and Sarah 90 when Isaac was born.
  • Moses spent 40 years on the backside of the desert…and returned to Egypt at the young age of 80!
  • David was God’s anointed king–and ran from Saul for at least 7 years.
  • Paul the Apostle met Jesus on the Damascus Road and went into training for most likely 10 years before he ever preached!
  • And most profoundly, Jesus, the Son of God, was born to Mary and lived in obscurity for 30 years before performing his first miracle or preaching his first sermon. God in human flesh was the Christmas gift that wasn’t fully unwrapped for 30 years!

Waiting is the norm in God’s economy.

You may feel that you are in a holding pattern…that nothing significant is happening. You’re in good company. And God isn’t finished with you yet.

A Good Night’s Sleep

Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” which means, God with us). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.  Matthew 1:18-25 (ESV)

Joseph went to sleep with a plan: a quiet divorce. Mary was out of her mind to blame her pregnancy on God. He loved her but couldn’t buy her story. Then God showed up in a dream. Mary was pregnant and God had done it. It was no ordinary baby. Jesus would be his name. Joseph, as the dad, normally had the right and privilege of naming his child, especially a firstborn son. But this wasn’t Joseph’s boy. God was Jesus’ Father, Joseph an earthly surrogate! Joseph was an integral part in Isaiah’s prophecy: God was visiting earth through the birth of a baby boy called Immanuel.

Joseph woke up and did what God told him to do. He obeyed immediately by marrying Mary. He obeyed later by naming their boy Jesus.

What is God asking (no telling) you to do today? Don’t hesitate. Obey him.