blessing

A Reversal of Fortune or God's Providence?

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Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, “May the Lord bless him. The Lord hasn’t stopped being kind to people—living or dead.” Then Naomi told her, “That man is a relative of ours. He is a close relative, one of those responsible for taking care of us.” Ruth 2:20 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

When we’ve lost hope—the darkness and isolation seem overwhelming. When faced with failure—it can bring a sense of hopelessness. But when hope returns and blessing is in our grasp—the foreboding sense of hopelessness becomes a distant memory.

This segment of the story of Ruth brings a reversal of attitude on the part of Naomi. She sees it as a reversal of fortune but at God’s hand. But it’s far more than that for two reasons.

God’s providence

First off, fortune or luck and God’s providence are not the same. Naomi and her family left their home to escape a great famine but things didn’t go well. She returns to her homeland “empty” but blames God for her troubles (Ruth 1:21)—even though she returned at a time of harvest and provision in Bethlehem.

God’s providence is simply God’s provision with His guidance and care. It is neither destiny or fate nor is it luck. The Lord—as a shepherd—leads and provides for those who trust in Him.

A second reason for Naomi’s change of heart is her realization of who owns the field Ruth gleans in and how much favor is shown to her.

On her return from Moab to Bethlehem, Naomi tells her friends the Lord afflicted her and brought her misfortune. In other words—her bad luck was God’s fault.

But now she says—”He [The Lord] has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” (Ruth 2:20–see text below). Notice she says—to the living and the dead. This is in reference to her husband and two sons who passed away.

Gleanings from Ruth’s gleaning

What prompts Naomi’s new found hope in the Lord? A quick review of this segment of the story will help us see why.

At the end of the day—a long day from sunup to sundown—Ruth threshes the barley she gleaned and brings it home to Naomi, along with her leftovers from lunch. When she shows it all to Naomi, her mother-in-law realizes someone has shown her great favor.

When asked where she gleaned, Ruth tells Naomi the man she worked with was named Boaz. Ruth is unaware of who this man is but not Naomi!

“That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers [kinsman-redeemers].” (Ruth 2:20)

Ruth has no understanding of why this is significant but this renews Naomi’s faith in God and her hope for the future.

The idea of a kinsman-redeemer is foreign to Ruth and perhaps for many of us. It’s a provision in the Law of Moses to protect a family’s legacy in property. We’ll look at this more closely in chapter 3. If you want a reference point of understanding, read Leviticus 25:25.

Naomi affirms Boaz’ encouragement and invitation to Ruth to continue working with his young women harvesters. Not just for her safety and the provision of food but for the potential of a much greater blessing. This greater blessing will be revealed in the final two chapters.

So, Ruth continues to glean in Boaz's field with the other young women through the barley and wheat harvests. This would include at least two months of time, approximately our April and May, possibly into early June.

Redemptive review

The end of chapter two is an important milestone in the story of Ruth. Consider how things have turned around for Naomi from the beginning of the story.

  • Naomi leaves her home because of a famine but returns after ten years as the barley harvest is beginning (chapter 1).

  • She goes out “full” (in her words) and comes back “empty” until Ruth begins to glean in the field of her kinsman-redeemer, Boaz, which renews her hope for the future and seems to restore her trust in God.

  • She loses her husband and two sons but gains a loyal and industrious daugher-in-law who becomes a catalyst for a much greater provision to come.

There are several redemptive points in the first two chapters of Ruth but even more are to be revealed in the final two chapters. The author of Ruth uses a telescoping timeframe to help us focus on the most important point of redemption in the book.

Chapter one covers about ten years from the family going out from Bethlehem to Naomi’s return with Ruth the Moabitess. Chapter two covers one harvest time—a period of about two or more months towards the beginning of the Jewish calendar year. Stay tuned for the next episode in the redemptive stories of Ruth.

How have you seen God’s providence at work in your life?

Reflection—

God’s providence is simply God’s provision with His guidance and care. It is neither destiny or fate nor is it luck. The Lord—as a shepherd—leads and provides for those who trust in Him—especially those who genuinely rely on Him as a first option.

Prayer Focus—

As you begin each day, lay it before the Lord—whatever you might have planned or are concerned about. Ask God for His guidance throughout the day. Ask Him for discernment and wisdom and trust Him for His provision. And thank Him through it all!


Devo Scripture Text

So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.

Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said. “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.”

Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’ ” Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law. (Ruth 2:17-23 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

Why are you paying attention to me?

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“Why are you so helpful? Why are you paying attention to me? I’m only a foreigner.” Ruth 2:10 GW [see full devo text in NIV below]

One of the existential questions of life is—Does my life have significance? Does my life matter to anyone but me? It’s a reasonable question, especially since we are one person among 7.7 billion people in the world.

Every human life has significance—even those unborn in the womb—because each person is created in the image of God. This makes each of us significant to God. But we are all significant to our families, also.

It’s easy to see this in healthy families with a good sense of well-being. But even in dysfunctional families or those torn apart by divorce, mental illness, alcoholism or drug addiction, poverty, war, or any other detrimental situation including death.

My wife and I witnessed this while raising our own children, as foster parents, and as surrogate parents for the children and abused girls we cared for in the Philippines for nearly a quarter of a century. Every child—every one of us—has significance and worth, yet we all wonder what our purpose in life is at some point.

God’s favor—His unmerited goodness towards us

As the story of Ruth the Moabitess unfolds, we see her surprised at God’s favor in her life. Many people find it difficult to grasp the truth of God’s favor. Two simple reasons come to mind—we don’t deserve it and we can’t earn or receive it based on good deeds.

God’s favor is given by God for His purposes. He doesn’t extend His favor based on a person’s goodness but He does grant it to us for our benefit. It’s God’s blessing—His grace—given to someone for His purposes.

But how is it possible for someone to receive His favor?

The simplest, most direct way to receive God’s favor is to trust in Him. Here is what we’re told in the book of Hebrews—

No one can please God without faith. Whoever goes to God must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Heb 11:6 GW)

Faith in God is an implicit trust in God. And this is what we see about Ruth and why she receives God’s favor. It started when she chose to trust in the God of Naomi—the God of Israel—the One, True, and Living God.

We see her confession of faith when she said— Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God (Ruth 1:16c).

We see God’s favor shown to her through Boaz. Why? He knows of her faith in God and her faithfulness in character (Ruth 2:11).

Ruth is unaware of why God’s favor rests upon her but she knows she neither deserved or earned the favor Boaz bestowed upon her. She sees it when he tells her to stay in his field, to stay with the young women, and to drink the water drawn by his young men (verses 8-9).

In response to Ruth’s wonder at the favor Boaz shows her, Boaz tells her three things about her that reflect her trust in God and how it’s worked through her life (verse 11).

Then Boaz pronounces a blessing on her. His blessing reveals how and why the Lord’s favor is upon her—

May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge. (verse 12)

The provisional and protective care Boaz shows to Ruth is extraordinary. It’s hard for us to see this without understanding the culture of their time. Women, especially widows, had little status in ancient culture. Foreign—non-Jewish or Gentile—women had even less respect in Jewish culture.

Even when we receive God’s favor, we should not take it for granted. Ruth’s reply to Boaz in verse 13 shows us the appropriate and wise attitude we need to have—

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

Ruth’s gratitude seems to prompt Boaz to extend his favor to her further, as seen in verses 14-16 (see text below). Boaz includes Ruth with the rest of his harvesters when he invites her to eat the midday meal with them and gives special instructions about her to his young men.

Gleanings from Ruth

We’ll look at the rest of the story next time but consider what we’ve learned about God’s favor in this segment of the story.

When we walk by faith with a childlike trust in God, His favor will be upon us and go before us, as He opens doors of opportunity we can’t open on our own. Ruth gains a sense of significance and value because of God’s favor upon her life.

When Ruth realizes the great favor she’s received, she doesn’t take it for granted. She’s grateful for it and acknowledges this. Her gratitude seems to open further blessing and favor by Boaz.

God’s favor—His grace—flows like a stream to carry us along as we learn to rely upon Him with the abandon and commitment we see in Ruth as she trusts in the God of Israel. We need to choose to trust in the Lord but we will never earn or gain God’s favor because of our choice.

What have you learned about God’s favor for your life?

Reflection—

When you walk by faith with a childlike trust in God, His favor will be upon you and go before you, as He opens doors of opportunity you can’t open on your own. When you realize God’s favor in your life—acknowledge it, be grateful for it, and rest in it and in Him.

Prayer Focus—

While in prayer, learn to wait upon God—listen for Him to speak to your heart. Trust Him for His grace to fill you and carry you as you rest in His faithfulness and goodness.


Devo Scripture Text

So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”

At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”

Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.

May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”

At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.” When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.

As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” (Ruth 2:8-16 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

Pleasant Words

A wise person’s heart controls his speech,

and what he says helps others learn.

Pleasant words are ⌊like⌋ honey from a honeycomb—

sweet to the spirit and healthy for the body.

 (Proverbs 16:23-24 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 16:16-24 GW)


An old children’s refrain goes, “Sticks and stones can hurt my bones but words can never hurt me.” The truth is—words can and do hurt. It’s not just about insults and taunts—those are certainly not pleasant words—but many other words can hurt us.

It can be as simple as words unspoken. Many a child, even spouses, never or rarely hear the words, “I love you,” or “I forgive you,” or any apology or admission of wrong.

How about unfair or false accusations? This happens a lot in homes and in workplaces, even classrooms, let alone in politics and social media.

One tactic interrogators and lawyers use is to sow doubt. This was commonly used in prison camps to break the spirit of POW’s. They would say things like, “Your family and country have forgotten you, “ and “No one is going to rescue you.”

Years ago, an assistant pastor told me I didn’t have a “shepherd’s heart.” It stunned me when I heard this and the wound went deep. It wasn’t true for me but it ended up being true of him. Through prayer and encouragement from others—especially my wife and close friends—the Lord gave me an accurate perspective.

The words we echo to ourselves—self-talk—can also be hurtful and damaging. So, yes, words from various sources and in different forms can and do hurt.

The surprising antidote is to hear and utter pleasant and truthful words—”sweet to the spirit and healthy for the body.” It may sound too simplistic but it’s true.

Certainly, the truth can be spoken harshly and be destructive when spoken with the intent to hurt. This is why understanding needs to be applied when speaking the truth.

As said in another place in the Bible, we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). It’s not enough to just use nice words, as pleasant as they might be. The pleasant words spoken of here in Proverbs come from a wise person and are helpful not harmful (verse 23).

The foundation for pleasant words spoken with wisdom is the truth of God. The primary source of His truth for us is found in the Scriptures and is revealed to us by His Spirit to our mind and heart.

Whoever gives attention to the Lord’s word prospers, and blessed is the person who trusts the Lord. (Prov 16:20 GW)

This leads to understanding that is useful and beneficial—not only for those who hear pleasant words wisely spoken—but this divinely based understanding becomes a fountain of life for those who speak them (vss 21-22).

Let us be careful with our words—not speaking carelessly but wisely. When we choose to speak pleasant words in a wise way, it will bless and help others and bless us, as well.

Reflection—

The foundation for pleasant words spoken with wisdom is the truth of God, which leads to understanding that is useful and beneficial. Let us be careful with our words—not speaking carelessly but wisely— so we may bless and help others and be a blessing.

Prayer Focus—

In your prayer times, ask the Lord to help you be mindful throughout the day in all your interactions with others, that you would speak wise and pleasant words.

©Word-Strong_2018


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The Joy of Integrity

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When righteous people prosper, a city is glad.

When wicked people die, there are songs of joy.

With the blessing of decent people a city is raised up,

but by the words of wicked people, it is torn down.

A person who despises a neighbor has no sense,

but a person who has understanding keeps quiet.

Whoever gossips gives away secrets,

but whoever is trustworthy in spirit can keep a secret.

A nation will fall when there is no direction,

but with many advisers there is victory. (Proverbs 11:10-14 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 11:1-19 GW)


When I hear people complain about the government, I think of the many places I've traveled to and when we lived overseas for 15 years. I know from experience these complaints are short-sighted with a narrow focus.

It doesn't matter where a person's convictions fall on the political spectrum—we all tend to judge things based on our personal view of things, through the lens of our biases and opinions.

No government is perfect because they're made of people and none of us are perfect. But some governments provide more safety and stability than others. A few afford freedoms and opportunities not commonly found elsewhere.

Living and traveling overseas will likely give a person a clearer perspective on all of this unless their eyes are shut—blinded by arrogance, indifference, and prejudice.

As an observer of history and people, I've gained some perspective over the years. Things aren't nearly as dire as some would have you believe nor as wonderful as others might say. I've learned to be thankful and prayerful.

I'm thankful for the Lord's kindness and provision, for the place and time in history I was born into and live, and thankful for the truth and wisdom God gave me that brings clarity and perspective.

I'm prayerful for my nation and for leaders to have integrity. When people of integrity lead a nation it opens the door for prosperity beyond economics—a prosperity not defined by wealth but more of a sense of favor and well-being.

That's what I think of when I read these verses in Proverbs. I know that people of integrity—people of character—who lead in various levels of government—local, regional, or national—are a blessing to their communities and spheres of influence.

I know there's a great need for people of integrity to be raised up in civic, business, and spiritual arenas. When people of integrity lead—that is, people of "understanding" who are "trustworthy in spirit"— there is joy, gladness, and a prosperity of well-being.

The next time you find yourself complaining about the government or leaders in any other sector of life, take some time to be thankful and pray for integrity instead. It will help adjust your perspective and help you to see God's blessings and help you to become a blessing.

I believe this is why the prophet Daniel had such great favor with the emperors he served under (Daniel 2:46-49; 6:28) and why the apostles Paul and Peter exhort us to pray for those in positions of authority (Rom 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17).

These men knew what it was like to live under tyranny and oppression. They had an eternal perspective and were thankful, prayerful men of God.

Reflection—

We're told that when the righteous—people of integrity—are leaders, it's a blessing to everyone and brings honor to a city, even a nation.

Prayer Focus—

Pray for leaders with integrity to be raised up in all spheres of government and influence—including local and national, civic, business, and spiritual leaders. And as you pray, be thankful!

©Word-Strong_2018


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Good Intentions and No Ambition

An old English proverb says the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Intentions are like ambitions without action. Unless there is follow-through, intentions become rash commitments or poorly conceived plans.

A common example is the New Year's resolution that sounds good and useful but isn't carried out or sustained. Intentions can be rash—not thought through carefully or without consideration of possible consequences.