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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

How to Find a Life Partner

Who can find a wife with a strong character? She is worth far more than jewels.

Her husband trusts her with ⌊all⌋ his heart, and he does not lack anything good.

She helps him and never harms him all the days of her life. (Proverbs 31:10-12 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 31:10-31 GW)


The search for a life partner is a universal and enduring one through the ages. It began, I suppose, when God saw Adam’s need for a companion who would complement and fit him for life—

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to live alone. I will make a suitable companion to help him.” (2:18 GNTD)

Based on this verse you could say, it’s God’s plan and His will for everyone to have a marriage partner in life. You could say this and many people have but it’s not always the case.

Some people are better off or choose to be single—the Bible speaks to this also (1 Cor 7:8-38). You could also be a man looking for a wife in China where there’s about 33 million more men than women.

Not everyone is looking for a life partner, just someone to be with for a while. As they say, “there’s an app—or two or three—for that.” Several online resources exist solely for help to find a companion to share life with—whether for the first time or another hoped for go at it.

Arranged marriages are another option still in play for much of the world though not so much in America. Stories abound of arranged relationships and marriage—some good, some horrible, and some just ok.

What’s a person to do?

What’s the key to seeking the right or best soul mate or life partner for you? What criteria should you go by? Is it just a matter of chance, fate, kismet, or is it a matter of prayer and the right timing?

It’s no secret people choose partners for the wrong reasons or don’t know how to develop a healthy marriage once a choice is made. Too often, what attracts people at first later repels them.

So, what should you look for when seeking a life partner?

The answer isn’t a simple method or process or checklist, but the majority of this last chapter in Proverbs is intended to be a guide. Not just for a man to find a wife but also what a woman should desire and expect for a husband.

Some helpful things to note

Before diving into an answer for the previous question, here are some helpful things to know about Proverbs 31:10-31—

  • There are 22 verses written as an acrostic—each verse begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Sort of an ABC’s for what to look for in a life partner.

  • This portion of text has many subtitles given to it—The Virtuous Wife, The Ideal Wife, The Woman Who Fears the Lord, The Wife of Noble Character, and so on.

  • This is not a checklist of expectations a man should look for or require of a woman as his wife—many a marriage has been rocked or ruined by seeing it as such.

  • This was advice given to a king (Lemuel) by his mother for this reason—

Charm is deceptive, and beauty evaporates, ⌊but⌋ a woman who has the fear of the Lord should be praised. (Prov 31:30 GW)

A simple key

A simple key to finding a marriage partner for life is to know a person’s character. Notice I didn’t make this a one-way focus. A person’s character is essential to consider for a man and a woman when seeking a life partner.

There’s bound to be difficulty and unmet expectations when anyone chooses a partner based on personality or appearance. In fact, idealistic expectations undermine any relationship but especially a lifetime commitment in marriage.

A word to women. If a man doesn’t respect and value you for who you are as a person—you should wait for a better man.

Who would qualify as a better man? A man with similar qualities of character as noted in these verses and a man who wants to be a partner in life with you for life.

God’s design for marriage was always intended to be a partnership. A mutual, beneficial, and fulfilling relationship where each person values the other as their equal, their partner in life.

When other things like appearance or personality—external qualities—become priority over character—a person’s internal nature—unmet expectations and unnecessary problems are bound to come.

An enduring and healthy marriage has its own difficulties because it’s a merger of two persons into one relationship—a unified identity as life partners (Gen 2:24). It requires valuing internal qualities in a person over externals.

Signs of a healthy partnership in marriage are—

Her husband trusts her with ⌊all⌋ his heart… She helps him and never harms him all the days of her life

If you’re seeking to find a life partner, be wise in doing so. These 22 verses can be a helpful guide but make sure it’s a guide for knowing a person’s character rather than a checklist of unrealistic expectations.

Reflection—

God designed marriage as a partnership—a mutual, beneficial, and fulfilling relationship where each person values the other as their equal—their partner in life.

Prayer Focus—

If you’re seeking to find a life partner, ask God for guidance, discernment, and wisdom in doing so. Ask the Lord’s help to guard your heart from making emotional and foolish commitments and for help to see and make a person’s internal qualities your priority.

©Word-Strong_2019

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Next week, I plan to start a new series of devotionals in the Book of Ruth.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading!

A Simple Prayer—Just 2 Things

I’ve asked you for two things.

Don’t keep them from me before I die:

Keep vanity and lies far away from me.

Don’t give me either poverty or riches.

Feed me ⌊only⌋ the food I need,

or I may feel satisfied and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

or I may become poor and steal

and give the name of my God a bad reputation. (Proverbs 30:7-9 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 30:1-9 GW)


A futile pursuit

We want everything. But we can’t have it all. It’s not humanly possible. It also leads to self-destruction and emptiness.

Scores and scores of people in every generation find this out the hard way. Either they lose everyone of real value in their life or lose what they pursued, or both.

This is the primary message of King Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. He literally had it all—wealth, women (way too many), wisdom, and worldwide fame. But the theme throughout Ecclesiastes is—

Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. (Eccl 1:2)

Other Bible versions use a different word for vanitymeaningless, futile, absolutely pointless—to describe the pursuit of everything this world has to offer.

The book of Proverbs, as with other books in the Bible, is written in a memorable way—so people can memorize and retain general truths. This was vital for people who didn’t have the privilege to read and write. They were oral learners.

This is why numbering and lists are prominent along with repetitive phrases. Contrasts and comparisons are used to make helpful distinctions. And, of course, lots of figurative language is used to describe conceptual and spiritual truths in more familiar images and pictures.

[For more insight on this, download my free Study Guide for Proverbs]

Just 2 things

These three verses are expressed as a prayer requesting two things—the first request is related to character and the second concerns day to day life.

Integrity of character is at the heart of the first request–the removal of what’s not true.

When the writer says keep vanity…far away from me, it speaks of self-deception—the fertile soil where arrogance and foolishness grow.

The request isn’t restricted to the lies we believe or tell ourselves, it’s an appeal for protection from the lies and deception of others. If we want integrity of character, we need to guard our hearts from what is not true—whatever its source.

The second request of this prayer focuses on contentment in daily life—something most everyone longs for but is so often elusive.

The author asks for God’s provision somewhere between two extremes—poverty or riches—then explains why.

The concern is that having too much in the way of riches may lead to ignoring the Lord—I may feel satisfied and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’

Another way to put it is, “I’ve got all I need and more. Who needs the Lord?”

Keep in mind—the intended audience for these proverbs were people whose identity was tied to their relationship with God.

The concern with being poor and not having enough is it may lead to stealing, which would dishonor God.

The author realizes how our life example—how we act and what we do in daily life—reflects on the Lord, too.

It’s a simple prayer, just two things are requested. The question is—Is it your and my prayer?

Reflection—

Integrity of character—inside our heart and mind, as well as how we live in the real world—will always honor the Lord.

Prayer Focus—

If you believe the world needs more truth and less lying, and a sense of contentment that honors God—make this your daily prayer.

©Word-Strong_2019


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The Fickle Factor

Showing partiality is not good,

because some people will turn on you even for a piece of bread.

Whoever trusts his own heart is a fool.

Whoever walks in wisdom will survive.

Whoever gives to the poor lacks nothing.

Whoever ignores the poor receives many curses. (Proverbs 28:21, 26-27 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 28:17-28 GW)


People are fickle. This includes you and me. Driven by emotion or in reaction to changing situations, we change our minds. We make commitments and decisions but don’t follow through with them. We change because life changes around us.

We set ourselves up with unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others. When we’re let down—even when we fail to keep our own expectations—we tend to blame others. We’re fickle but there’s often good reason for it. Of course, we can also be capricious and unreliable—just like everyone else.

How can we avoid or overcome this fickle factor in life? Great question but there’s no easy answer—only a difficult one.

A prevailing thought is to focus on what you can control not what is beyond your control. This can be a good starting point but it leaves us with another question—what is really in our control? Our self? Self-control alone is a big challenge.

Every day is full of variables way beyond any person’s control—the weather, world events, the progression of time, people—those involved in our life and billions of others in the world, the universe, and so many other things.

So, the only possible domain of control is our own life. But we are impacted by the people and events surrounding our life every day. If we try to escape all of it, we isolate ourselves and whatever flaws and challenges within us are heightened by our isolation.

Isolation is not a viable option. We need others. None of us are self-sufficient enough to live on our own, independent of others. Self-sufficiency is a fantasy. We are far more dependent on others than we like to admit.

Can you imagine what it would be like if all 7.7 billion people on earth tried to live independent of each other? It would be chaos. No, it would be worse than chaos.

Self-sufficiency is a fantasy

What is in our control?

So, what’s the point of all this? We’re back to the question—what is in our control? The answer is difficult only because we are more prone to being self-absorbed than self-controlled. Delving into our selected verses from Proverbs 28 will give us some insights.

Looking at verse 21 first—Why is showing partiality not so good? It speaks to the inconsistent and unreliable impact of moral relativism—fickleness when determining what’s right or wrong.

Moral relativism is fickleness about what is right or wrong

What happens to other people and how they respond to their life situations is beyond our control. Whatever we hope to gain or avoid when showing favoritism or partiality sets us up for unrealistic expectations of others.

As made clear throughout Proverbs, trusting in anyone other than the Lord is unwise, or as it says here in verse 26—Whoever trusts his own heart is a fool. Wisdom is gained by trusting in the Lord.

When we trust in the Lord and live according to the wisdom He gives us, we can be confident of a more consistent and reliable outcome with others. Why? Because we choose to trust the Lord and His direction rather than the fickle whims of people and the world around us.

When life is more stable than when we trust in our own limited judgments and perceptions, we can be confident of God’s provision for our everyday life. This leads to contentment and frees us to be generous with others.

Generosity and contentment enable us to give freely without expectations. When I give to others without expecting anything of them, I’m less likely to be judgmental of them.

I have no expectations of them—why they’re in need, what they will do with what I give them, or how they will make it further without my help. All of that is beyond my control.

Contentment frees us to be generous with others

My trust in the Lord frees me from the fickle factor of my expectations of others and their expectations of me.

Reflection—

Trusting in the Lord frees us from the fickle factor of our expectations of others and their expectations of us. It also frees us from the fickleness of moral relativism and frees us to be generous with others.

Prayer Focus—

If you struggle with what seems to be fickleness in life with people, the world around you, or within yourself—seek to grow in trusting the Lord in all things and all ways in your life. He alone is not fickle!

©Word-Strong_2019


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Self-Development and Self-Expression

⌊As⌋ iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens the wits of another.

As a face is reflected in water,

so a person is reflected by his heart.

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold,

but a person ⌊is tested⌋ by the praise given to him. (Proverbs 27:17, 19, 21 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:17-27 GW)


The self—our individual sense of identity and personhood—is a favorite topic in American culture. There are books and courses on self-development, self-improvement, and self-expression among many other self oriented focuses.

This fits well with our ingrained sense of individualism. The term expressive individualism captures the obsessive yet elusive search for the true self.

This is nothing new. It’s just a new spin on it all. It may appear new the past couple of centuries but Solomon reminds us there’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

The classic figurative language used in these three verses describe what defines and shapes us. Each verse flies in the face of what our surrounding culture says about self. Perhaps these few thoughts are keys to discovering the elusive but genuine self.

Benefits of honesty in relationships

Iron sharpens iron…that sounds harsh. What happens when iron strikes iron? Sparks fly with the clanging thud of metal against metal! And don’t get your fingers caught in between because that would hurt! Makes me cringe to think about it.

Who wants to be on the wrong side of conflict or confrontation? No one! Most all of us tend to avoid or resist such experiences—unless we’re searching for punishment or derive some strange satisfaction from it.

But the focus of iron sharpening iron is a beneficial and positive one. It is when we value honesty in our relationships. The benefit of honest conflict, correction, and counsel from someone we know and trust brings accountability, balance, and perspective in our life.

If we want real self-improvement in a way that benefits others and ourselves, we need people in our life whom we trust and appreciate because they’ll be honest with us—even when it makes us uncomfortable.

As our personhood develops in the way God intended—through healthy and honest relationships—our true identity will be evident to those who know us. When a person experiences inner transformation others will see it in their attitude and actions.

Who we are on the inside is seen by others on the outside—whether it’s good or bad. Other people notice whether or not our words and actions agree. They notice if the attitude of our heart doesn’t match the expression on our face and the words of our mouth.

The real test of a person is not how we handle criticism but praise from others. A person can ignore criticism and avoid conflict. But no one is indifferent to praise from others. How we handle it reveals our true self.

If we, as the saying goes, believe our own press releases—thinking everyone else says the same about us when we think well of ourselves—we set our self up for a fall.

Do we allow the praise of others to over inflate us with pride or resist and reject compliments and praise? Neither reaction is healthy for us. Both produce a false sense of identity.

If we are able to accept and appreciate the compliments of others, then set them aside to keep a good sense of perspective, we’ll be a healthier version of our self.

I need people in my life who care enough about me to be honest with me. People who will tell me how things are not how I want them to be.

I have had and now have people who keep me grounded in reality and I’m better for it. When I was pastoring on the west coast, I met regularly with two other friends. We knew each other well and called one another out when needed. We helped keep each other grounded in reality.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who sharpen you and help you see yourself in perspective with things as they really are?

Reflection—

Our personhood will develop the way God intended through healthy and honest relationships and our true identity will be evident to those who know us. We all need people in our life who care enough about us to be honest and keep us grounded.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself avoiding honesty in relationships, ask the Lord to show you why and how to benefit from those who care about you in a healthy way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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