Book of Ruth

When We Try to Help God

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Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law, said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I try to look for a home that would be good for you? Ruth 3:1 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

“God loves you and people have a wonderful plan for your life!” This is what a good friend of mine would say when people made suggestions to the pastor or other people. It was a rephrasing of one of the Four Spiritual Laws by Bill Bright of Cru and had a ring of truth to it.

My friend and I, along with countless other pastors, have heard well-intentioned suggestions from people in the church many, many times. It goes something like this—”Pastor, I think you should…” or “Pastor, it would be good if you….” You get the idea.

It is human nature to do this. We all have thoughts about what others should or should not do, or how we might do something better or differently. Even if we don’t verbalize these thoughts out loud to others, we still have them.

This is the byproduct of our self-centered nature. It’s our attempt at helping God or even acting like Him in other people’s lives. It’s something we inherited from our ancestors Adam and Eve.

Our plans or God’s way?

In chapter three of Ruth, the story takes an important turn. It zeroes in on one relationship within one day. Although God has His plan and His way for bringing Boaz and Ruth together, Naomi sees the need to step in to help. She spots a way to secure a better future for herself and her daughter in law.

When we view things from Naomi’s point of view, as best we can, we get an idea of why she sets this plan in motion for Ruth to encounter Boaz in a closer way. Here’s a glimpse into what motivates Naomi—

  • Bethlehem is Naomi’s homeland not Ruth’s

  • Naomi feels responsible for Ruth the Moabitess whom she brought to Bethlehem

  • Naomi understands the customs and traditions of her people in a way Ruth would not

  • Naomi sees an opportunity to help Boaz and Ruth come together in marriage

  • Naomi understands the role of a kinsman-redeemer (Lev 25:25) and how it benefits her

  • Naomi knows Ruth will submit to her and whatever advances Boaz makes toward Ruth

This is putting the best construction on things as far as Naomi’s motives. But the reality is this—Naomi is trying to manipulate a situation—as well as Boaz and Ruth—for her own purposes.

Naomi sees an opportunity and sets her plan in motion (see text below). She explains the timing and describes how Ruth should make herself available to Boaz. Naomi also instructs Ruth how to look and smell her best for the occasion. Naomi adds her final advice to let Boaz take the lead when the time comes.

This is manipulation, nothing less. When we try to do similar things in the lives of others, we’re being manipulative. When we do such things, we are interfering with God and His ways. In a sense, we see ourselves—like Naomi—helping God in some way.

Some things to consider

Was Naomi just trying to help move things along with the relationship between Boaz and Ruth? Yes!

Do you think Naomi expected Boaz to take advantage of Ruth in this situation to force something to happen between the two of them? I’ll let you decide but it should be obvious.

What isn’t obvious, or perhaps expected, is how both Ruth and Boaz handle themselves in this manipulated situation. We’ll see this in the next episode of our stories of redemption in the Book of Ruth.

Are there ways you have or are currently trying to help God in some way?

Reflection—

When we try to do similar things in the lives of others as we see Naomi do, we’re being manipulative. When we do such things, we interfere with God and His ways. As has been said before—we don’t need to be the Holy Spirit in other people’s lives.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself trying to suggest how others ought to be or what they ought to do, stop and repent. Ask the Lord to help you see how you might be doing this with others, and ask Him for the grace to let go and for His forgiveness.


Devo Scripture Text

One day Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, I must find a home for you, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose women you have worked, is a relative of ours. Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor.

Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking.

When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do.”

“I will do whatever you say,” Ruth answered. (Ruth 3:1-5 NIV)


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When Happenstance Is No Accident

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So Ruth went. She entered a field and gathered the grain left behind by the reapers. Now it happened that she ended up in the part of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family. Ruth 2:3 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Does anything just happen? When something unexpected happens it’s often seen as chance or happenstance. This is more or less the oversimplified view of evolution.

But many people throughout the world are convinced everything takes place according to a grand choreographed cosmic plan. Whatever happens was meant to be or destiny or fate.

But I wonder, why do we have to categorize the events of life as either one or the other?

Could both be true without being in conflict? Yes, I believe so. God is sovereign but He created us with a free will. The history of Israel as recorded in Scripture confirms and reveals this. It’s a paradox but the one is not mutually exclusive of the other.

An agrarian life

The short story at the beginning of chapter two sets the stage for the central theme of redemption in Ruth. We’re told Naomi had a relative in Bethlehem named Boaz who was a man of integrity and status. As chapter two unfolds, he becomes a central character in this redemption story.

The ancient world was based on an agrarian economy. Their calendar revolved around planting and harvests, and of course, the weather. Laborers were needed to plant and reap and manage the fields. This was the world Ruth knew.

Built into the Mosaic Law was a provision for the poor as well as foreigners to gather or glean what was left behind by the paid harvesters (Lev 19:9-10). Ruth, knowing their economic plight as widows without a source of income, sought Naomi’s permission to glean in someone’s field. She hoped to find favor in the eyes of a landowner or foreman who might hire her as a laborer.

This was Ruth’s plan but God had a much greater plan.

Now it happened that [Ruth] ended up in the part of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family.

Did Ruth just happen to find the field of Boaz or is there more to the story? Ruth chose to go out to glean and her choice led her to glean in the field of Boaz. But God had a greater plan and it included Ruth with her initiative and choices.

A pastoral scene

Ruth goes out to follow the paid harvesters and glean behind them. After their mid-morning break, Boaz—the owner of the field—came out to check on his workers and the harvest. And he notices Ruth.

The way Boaz greets his workers and takes note of Ruth’s presence begins to reveal the character of Boaz. He greets all of them with a blessing and they respond to him with a blessing. It shows how Boaz treated those reaping the harvest with respect and appreciation.

Boaz knows them and they know him, and he realizes there’s a new face among them he doesn’t know. When Boaz asks the foreman about her, he speaks well of her and identifies her as the young Moabite woman who came with Naomi from Moab.

The foreman testifies to Ruth’s hard work, as well as asking for permission to glean. Everyone seems to be aware of the goodness of Ruth’s character and her commitment to Naomi and the God of Israel. This is significant since she’s a foreigner, a Gentile by birth.

This short introduction of the story of Ruth and Boaz begins with further insight into Ruth’s character and some insight into the integrity of Boaz, which will continue to be revealed and later be tested.

We will also see how human free will is woven together with God’s sovereign will in the tapestry of God’s story of redemption.

This is how the story happens but it’s not an accident, nor by chance, and it isn’t fate.

Reflection—

We tend to categorize events in life as either chance or fate. God is sovereign but He created us with a free will. The history of Israel, and of humanity, confirms and reveals this. It’s a paradox but the one is not mutually exclusive of the other.

Prayer Focus—

When faced with decisions and opportunities in life, choose to trust in the Lord. Ask Him for wisdom and guidance. Step out in faith. God honors our free will and guides us according to His will.


Devo Scripture Text

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.”

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 Elimelek.

Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they answered. Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”

The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” (Ruth 2:1-7 NIV)


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It's All a Matter of Perspective

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They happened to enter Bethlehem just when the barley harvest began. Ruth 1:22 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

Basically, there are three ways to see things in life—our own outlook, the viewpoint of others, and the way things are in an objective sense. Only one person sees all three perspectives—the Lord.

When we or others view people, life events, or whatever else, we see things subjectively. Each of us have our own biases. How we see the world and all that’s in it—including ourselves and others—is viewed through our beliefs, emotions, experiences, and values.

We can claim a sense of objectivity but that’s all it is—a sense. Only the Lord sees things in the truest objective way because He is eternal. When God reveals His perspective, as in the Scriptures, we still tend to see it through our own biased lens.

3 Perspectives

This final vignette of this first chapter of Ruth gives us a glimpse of all three perspectives—Naomi’s, the viewpoint of other people, and the actual situation.

The arrival

After Ruth’s declaration of commitment to stay with Naomi, they traveled from Moab to Bethlehem in Judah—a journey of at least 2-3 days by foot.

As they enter Naomi’s hometown, everyone is excited to see her and the women wonder at Naomi’s presence with a young Moabite widow and no husband—Can this be Naomi?

Naomi’s response is telling. It reveals how she sees her situation and why it happened. Not only is it subjective, it’s somewhat typical for most of us.

Naomi’s outlook

Let’s consider each of Naomi’s three statements.

  1. Don’t call me Naomi…Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.— Naomi’s name can mean both pleasant or sweet and Mara means bitter. It’s a play on words to describe both her inner state and her outlook on life. And she holds the God responsible for her situation.

  2. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.— Do you see how she puts the blame for her situation on the Lord? Naomi sees her life’s misfortunes as God’s hand against her and uses a play on words to make her point. Her statement about going out full but coming back empty is her view now but it will change by the end of the whole story of Ruth.

  3. The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.— It’s pretty clear Naomi is playing on the sympathy of others as a victim of circumstances though it was her husband and her choice to leave Judah ten years before. She only returns because things have reversed—they left because of a famine and she returns because of God’s provision for Israel. Her answer may be posed as a question but it’s rhetorical—the answer is clear—the Lord is the cause of her problems.

When things go wrong, most if not all of us are quick to find some reason it happened and someone else to blame. Many people blame God for all the problems in the world. Somehow He’s responsible for everyone’s choices and all the bad and evil things that happen.

Here’s our conundrum—we want God to intervene when and where we think He should but don’t want Him to interfere with our own choices and pursuits. It’s as if we want to be in control of God. This is one of the many consequences of eating the fruit of the forbidden tree.

A full circle

Ancient writings followed the common literary structures of their time. Some of the literary devices are more obvious than others. The use of contrasting words and concepts is one of the most common.

Chapter one of Ruth begins with a famine but ends …as the barley harvest was beginning. The scope of the book starts out with a timeframe of ten years but telescopes down to one day and a pivotal meeting in the last chapter.

The heart of the story begins in the next chapter where Ruth becomes the main character in this story of redemption. Even this first chapter ends with a redemptive focus—going from famine to harvest and coming from a far country to home.

Naomi can’t see this for now but she will in the end.

It’s all a matter of perspective.

Reflection—

When things go wrong, we tend to blame something or someone else rather than ourselves. We’ll even blame God because of our own expectations in life. We don’t see things from a clear and objective perspective.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself shifting blame to someone other than yourself and not facing your own responsibilities, ask the Lord to show you His perspective of your situation. Ask Him to help you learn a better way to handle things.


devo Scripture Text

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. (Ruth 1:19-22 NIV)


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A Flawed and Failed Attempt to Escape

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In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. Ruth 1:1 NIV [see full devo text in NIV below]

The people of Israel were ruled by judges—rescuers sent by God—for about 340 years. The nation was in a time of moral and spiritual darkness brought on by idolatry, oppression, and slavery.

God would send these judges—leaders who would deliver the people from their oppressors—to restore freedom and stability. But this freedom only lasted for a season. On and on this cycle of slavery and freedom continued for more than 300 years.

Typically, other nations or tribal groups would subdue the people of Israel into servitude to plunder their crops and livestock. This was one way God dealt with Israel’s rebellion towards Him since it created economic hardship and oppression.

When a severe famine came, one family chose to escape the hardship by moving to a neighboring country—Moab (now part of present-day Jordan).

The escape

A father and mother—Elimelek and Naomi—set out from the region of Judah with their two sons—Mahlon and Kilion—to establish a home in this foreign land.

But things did not go well for them in Moab. Naomi’s husband died leaving her widowed with two sons. The sons married Moabite women but they both died as well.

Now, Naomi was stuck in a foreign land as a widow saddled with responsibility for her son’s widows. In those days, women had little to no status or resources for support on their own—especially a widow with two dependent women in a country far from her homeland.

And then, things began to change for the better. After ten years away, Naomi heard of the Lord’s plentiful provision in her homeland of Judah and decided to return home with her two daughters-in-law.

A problem with trust

At the beginning of the story of the Book of Ruth, we can see their move to Moab as a flawed and failed attempt to escape God’s judgment on Israel.

Why would Elimelek leave his homeland during the famine? He feared what might happen to his family if they stayed—hunger and possible death from starvation or worse.

But Israel’s real problem was one of trust.

They chose not to trust the Lord who had made them to be a people different from other nations. A people who trusted in a living God (Deut 7:6) rather than many gods.

As a nation, Israel chose not to trust the Lord and the Covenant Law between He and them. Instead, they looked to other gods. Lesser gods formed into images they could see and touch. The gods of a foreign people who didn’t know or trust in the Lord—the Living God, Yahweh.

This is our problem too.

We all struggle to trust in God who is invisible and spirit (John 4:24), even though He made Himself known in human form through His Son, Jesus.

It’s easier to trust in what we can see, feel, and relate to as individual humans. Our gods or idols—though we don’t see them as such—are in the form of people, possessions, wealth, status, and whatever else we might put confidence in and value.

But our trust in such things or in our own efforts to please God are futile. It’s a misplaced trust. This simple illustration and life application can be drawn from this introduction to the Book of Ruth.

The family set out to Moab to escape the famine and its consequences but the man and his two sons died. Their escape was short lived. And this left the man’s widow and extended family in a worse situation than when they left their homeland.

A choice

Naomi’s options were to stay where she was with little to no hope for the future or return to her homeland, her people, and her God. The home she left ten years before was where the promised provision was now.

In a sense, she went back to square one as we say now but without the husband and sons she went out with. Even in this we can see God’s mercy.

She went out from her home and her people to seek better provision for a better life instead of trusting in God. Although she and her husband made their choice, God remembered her and had a much greater plan to unfold in her life.

There’s far more to this story in the Book of Ruth, as we shall see later. But for now, ask yourself—

Who or what do you trust in?

Reflection—

If whatever or whoever you put trust in aren’t as reliable and trustworthy as the One True and Living God—why would you place your trust in it or them? Faith in God requires trust—a personal and childlike trust in God’s faithfulness and goodness.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself trusting in other things or someone else, including yourself, remember there is One who is ever-faithful and trustworthy. Even when you can’t see how it will help—seek the Lord’s guidance and wisdom and trust in His grace—His goodness.


devo Scripture Text

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. (Ruth 1:1-6 NIV)


Click this link if you’d like more background on the Book of RuthRuth Background

Here are some Study Questions for a more in-depth study of RuthRuth Study Q’s