“Working In The Fields”               Ruth 2:1-18                   August 31, 2008

 

SI:  We’re studying the book of Ruth.

It’s a story of how God takes his people from tears to rejoicing.

 

When we started this study, I gave you a simple outline of Ruth

   that corresponds to the four chapters.

 

Chapter one is the weeping chapter.

Chapter two is the working chapter.

Chapter three the waiting chapter.

Chapter four the wedding chapter.

 

The Christian life, in biggest sense is a journey from weeping to wedding.

   From this sad world, all it’s sin and brokenness—

   to Christ’s eternal kingdom, resurrection life and wedding supper of Lamb.

 

And, on a smaller scale, we experience this weeping to wedding journey

   many times throughout our lives as we go through troubles and hardship,

   and Jesus is faithful to restore our joy in time.

He does so as we put our faith in him.

   See in Ruth, faith in Christ expressed in two ways—working and waiting.

 

Today we start the working chapter.

 

 


 

INTRO:  We have a family friend who was born on a farm in South Dakota.

Her parents had six girls, no boys—but they had a farm to run.

 

So they divided the girls into two groups of three—

   and they were called the inside girls and the outside girls.

The inside girls helped their mother with all the work in the house.

The outside girls helped their dad with all the work in the fields.

 

Our friend was one of the outside girls.

   And she told us about how she was brought up as a way of explaining

   why she never learned to cook.

The inside girls became fantastic cooks because they cooked three huge meals

   a day for the family and all the farm hands. 

 

But the outside girls were never in the kitchen—

   they learned how drive tractors and bale hay and all those things.

Our friend said she wished she had learned to cook—

   but she was always glad she had been one of the outside girls.

 

Ruth was an outside girl.

And you have to appreciate her work ethic.

   Gleaning was hard work.  It was picking up what harvesters left behind.

   And it was humbling work, maybe even humiliating work.

Because gleaning was for the poorest of the poor.

 

Law of Moses required Israelite farmers not to go over fields a second time,

   not to cut the corners of field, not pick grape vines a second time and so on, 

   so that the poor could come and gather food to eat.

Human nature being what it is, gleaners were looked down upon.

   You see that in Boaz’ instruction to his farm hands not to reproach or rebuke her.

This was the time of the Judges, a lawless time, and poor women,

   marginalized women in danger of being harassed and molested.

   You see a hint of that when Boaz tells his men not to touch her.

 

In spite of all of this, Ruth was hard at it from dawn to dusk—

   to feed herself and Naomi.  As I’ve said, you have to admire her work.

But this is not an inspirational story about hard work.

   This is not a Horatio Alger story.

 

The Bible is a book about redemption and grace.

   God is the hero of every story, not men.

   And God is the hero, even of Ruth’s work.

Because for Ruth, her work in the fields was an expression of her faith in God.

   It was an act of total dependence on God.

 

This is hugely important.

   What’s the difference between a Christian getting up and going to work

   and a non-Christian doing the same?

Is there any difference between your work, and the work of a pagan?

 

There is a tremendous difference.  For the Christian, his work, her work—

   is an expression of his faith in Jesus Christ.

It’s a way of saying—I trust you, Lord.

   Also, a Christian’s work, whatever it is, is not just a job—it’s a calling.

 

Understanding this transforms the way you look at your work.

   Your work is not the secular thing you do—

   It’s not the necessary but unspiritual part of your life.

It is one of the biggest ways in which you live out the Lordship of Christ.

   When you get that, and it sinks in, it gives you joy, and determination,

   and strength—even when your work is hard, even when, like Ruth,

   you are coming out of weeping times.

 

But it’s even deeper than that.  God is the hero of this chapter because

   before and behind and underneath Ruth’s work is God’s work.

In ways she could not even see, the Lord was at work in the fields—

   guiding things for Ruth’s good and the greater good of his covenant people.

We serve a working God.  He rested from his work of creation,

   and he began his work of providence.  He’s at work even now in your life.

 

Because God works, he can use your work as one of the ways

   to move you from tears to joy.

For a Christian, your work can be for you, in a sense, a means of grace—

   a channel through which God pours out his blessings during weeping times,

   so that your joy is slowly restored.

 

So let’s look at this passage and this topic under two headings: 

   Your work and God’s work. 


 

MP#1  Your work

Chapter 2 of Ruth illustrates two great things about your work.

 

First, as a Christian, your work is a calling from God.

God calls you to salvation,

   and then he calls you to serve him in your work. 

 

In Exodus 19, when the nation of Israel was standing before Mount Sinai,

   Lord spoke, described how he had called them out of slavery, saved, and said:

   “Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests.”

 

What did the Lord mean when he called Israel a kingdom of priests?

   God wasn’t saying, I’m getting rid of the office of priest. 

   Because right after that he gives instructions for priests,

   how they were to carry out worship services and sacrifices.

This didn’t have anything to do with the office of priest—

   Lord was making a statement about salvation.

 

He was saying:  Salvation means that every believer is priest.

   A priest is a person who is called and set apart for holy work.

   So as a believer, every part of your life is devoted to me.

   All your work is priestly work that I have called you to do for me.

If you are a shepherd, or a farmer or a solider or merchant—

   that is work that I have called you to as my priest.

 

Theologians call this the doctrine of vocation—doctrine of calling.

   This teaching was lost by the Christian church for over 1,000 years.

   It was rediscovered during the Protestant Reformation.

   We’ve studied this before.

 

Martin Luther and others rediscovered this teaching in the Bible that all

   believers are priests and all our work is a calling from God and they got excited.

It’s not just priests and monks and nuns who are called by God—

   but if you belong to Christ then carpenters and farmers and housewives

   are called by God and do priestly work for him.

This is the way Luther put it:

   “the works of monks and priests do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of

   the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but all works are

   measured before God by faith alone.”

William Tyndale—translated Bible into English, burned at stake for faith said:

   “There is a difference betwixt washing of dishes and preaching the Word of God,

   but as touching to please God, none at all.”

 

When Ruth said to Naomi:  “Your people will be my people, your God my God,”

   she was making a profession of faith, becoming a part of the kingdom of priests. 

And what was the first work the Lord called her to do as a new believer?

   He called her to glean. 

   Get up early, go into the field, heat, sweat, dust of the day, gather grain.

 

How did he call her? 

   He called her through her relationship with Naomi.

   He called her through the circumstances and responsibilities of life.

 

What you have to see is that Ruth was not just coping. 

   She wasn’t just doing a job to get by, to get her mind of her troubles.

   This was work that the Lord had called her to do.

 

As a Christian, you’ve been called by God to salvation—put faith in Christ.

   And you’ve also been called to serve him in your work, whatever that is,

   in your home, in the workplace, in your church, school, community.

John Calvin wrote that our callings are posts assigned to us by the Lord.

   The Lord wants you to stand at your post. 

 

Important to cultivate this view of your work at all times,

   but especially in weeping times like Ruth experienced.

Are you sad?  Are you worried or depressed?  Listen.  God is calling you.

   He’s saying:  Fold that load of clothes, make those sales calls,

   grade those math papers—you are my priest.  Your work is a calling from God.

 

Second, your work is an expression of your faith in God.

 

Chapter 1 ends with Naomi and Ruth arriving in Bethlehem.

   And you remember that Naomi was full of bitterness.

   Don’t call me Naomi (Sweet) call me Mara (Bitter).

   The Lord has emptied me.  The Lord is against me.

Chapter 2 begins:  Ruth says—It’s the barley harvest, I’m going out to glean.    

   Naomi is despondent over her circumstances and stays home.

 

When Boaz meets Ruth in the field, he praises her for taking care of Naomi.

   But then he says something very insightful in verse 12.

   “A full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel,

   under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

 

Do you see what he’s doing?  He’s describing her faith.

   “Taking refuge under the Lord’s wings” is a phrase used several times

   in the Bible to describe faith.  The image is a chick coming under it’s mother’s

   wings for protection and provision. 

 

This shows us something very important about Ruth that Boaz recognized.

   She was working very hard but she was not trusting in her work.

   She was trusting that through her work, the Lord would provide.

Her work was an expression of her faith in the Lord.

 

Allison has a book “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend.”  Gee’s Bend is south of Selma. 

   It’s a bend on the Alabama River where there was once plantation.

   After Civil War, descendants of slaves lived in extreme poverty and isolation.

There was a quilt-making tradition—discovered, became famous, book written.

   But the quilts aren’t nearly as interesting as the stories of the quiltmakers.

 

One, tells how as a little girl in 1933, the dry goods store owner across river died—

   his creditors came to collect, took everything of value from family—

   livestock, farm implements, even their stores of corn, sweet potatoes, and peanuts. 

She said, “It was a sad procession.” 

   And she remembers that her father sat on the ground and wept.

But her mother put hand on him and said,

   “Everything be all right.”  “Everything be all right.”

   They came under the Lord’s wings, and then the worked, worked hard all winter.

   Gathered nuts, fished—and Lord provided.

 

When Christians go through weeping times, two dangers. 

   One danger is that like Naomi think God against you, and become despondent. 

The other is to trust your work to give you security, comfort, sense of worth.

   You can make work an idol and trust it instead of God.

 

Ruth avoided both of those—she didn’t sink down like Naomi—she worked.

   But she didn’t trust her work, she trusted the Lord to bless her through her work.

 

And that motivated her to work hard, as an expression of her faith in him.

   She came under his wings and knew he would provide.

How do you cultivate this kind of faith?

 

Of all places, I think a clue in Lord’s Prayer. 

   Jesus says, pray this way:  “Give us this day our daily bread.”

   Very hard for us to pray because we don’t live hand to mouth like Ruth,

   we don’t live in Gee’s Bend in the 1930s. 

 

And yet this is what Lord wants from you.  Consciously come under his wings.

   I’m going to work today, Lord.  Feed me though my work.

   Lord, I’m raising my children today.  Save them through my work.

 

 


 

MP#2  God’s work

So the reason your work can be a blessing, something God uses to move

   you from tears to rejoicing doesn’t have anything to do with work itself,

   or even your efforts.

It’s because God has made your work a way for you to serve him

   as part of your priestly calling.  And your work is a way to express

   your faith that Lord will give you your daily bread through work.

 

But it goes even deeper.  Because when you read this story,

   you can’t help but notice that before and underneath and all around

   Ruth’s work is God’s work.

Let’s consider now, God’s work.  How does God work?

 

Naomi was convinced that God’s blessings had passed her by.

   Her husband was dead.  Her sons were dead and they had no children.

She was facing more than lonely widowhood.

   She was facing the death of her husband’s family line.

   In that culture, that was a fate worse than death—to watch the family die out.

It was a sign of God’s judgment.

 

The reason Naomi pushed Ruth to go back to Moab,

   was that as far as Naomi could see, Ruth was truly walking into a terrible life.

No Israelite man would marry a Moabite widow.  And after Naomi died,

   Ruth would face and even more lonely and destitute widowhood.

   That’s why Naomi tried so hard to get Ruth to go back to Moab.

 

But how does Chapter 2 start? 

   “Now Naomi had a relative of her husband’s, a worthy man of the clan of Elimelech,

   whose name was Boaz.”

We aren’t told any more about him in this passage,

   but later we learn that Boaz is what is called a kinsman redeemer.

Boaz had the ability to completely restore the fortunes of Naomi and Ruth

   and the family line of Elimelech.

   So things were not completely hopeless as Naomi thought.

 

Then Ruth says:  I’m going to glean.

   “And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.”

   The Hebrew expression is that she chanced to chance on the field of Boaz.

 

From a human standpoint, a chance event—but this is not blind chance, is it?

   It’s God working behind the scenes. 

We know it’s God because we know the rest of the story.

   We know they will meet. 

   We know Boaz will marry Ruth, have a child, and line of Elimelech restored.

And we know that child will be the grandfather of King David—

   and out of David’s line will come Savior of world, Jesus Christ.

   But Ruth doesn’t know any of this because she’s in the story—happening to her.

 

There’s a name for this behind the scenes work of God—it’s his providence.

   God’s providence is his guiding and directing all things

   for his glory and for the good of his chosen people.

God’s providence includes the bad things, the good things,

   and the seemingly insignificant things in your life.

 

1.  God’s providence includes the bad things in your life.

What brought Ruth to this point where she had to glean with poorest of the poor?

   Three deaths and childlessness.  Bad things piled one on top of another.

This is the most perplexing thing about God’s providence.

   How can it be that a good God works through bad things to accomplish his

   purposes?  You can get tied in all kinds of knots trying to answer that question,

   trying to find ways to get God off the hook, so to speak.

 

Let me give you the Bible’s answer in a nutshell.

   God is all good, he hates evil, human misery.  One day he will set all things right. 

God also uses bad things, even evil things, sinful things to accomplish his good

   purposes and he is completely unstained by his use of those things.

 

The Bible’s answer doesn’t explain—just says—this is how it is.

   Job:  “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be name of Lord.”

   Jeremiah:  “Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and

   good things come?”

This is one of the great mysteries of God’s providence.

   God is working, even in the bad things.

 

2.  God’s providence includes the good things in your life.

Christians don’t ever question this. 

   When bad things happen, Christians will always say, “Why, God?”

  When good things happen, rarely ask, “why?”  Just take it in stride.

When good things happen, know God working.

   But the good, just like the bad is part of God’s providence.

There are lots of good providences in this part of Ruth’s story.

   Boaz coming by at just the right time and noticing her. 

   Their lunch together and his obvious interest in her.

You know that as these two grew old together, often talked about that first meeting,

   how God arranged the details.

 

One of the delights of believing in God’s providence is that when good things

   do happen, you get to enjoy the way God chose to give them to you.

Nothing happens by chance, everything is guided by God’s providence,

   so even particular way he brings good things into your life is part of his plan.

 

My last month in seminary, looking for a church, nothing was opening up.

   Then one day I happened to run into a girl I had gone to college with—

   I hadn’t seen her in five years.  She happened to be passing though St. Louis.

We were catching up and I told her where I was, looking for call as assistant pastor.

   She said, I was just talking to my dad this week—her father is a pastor—

   and he’s looking for an assistant—call him. 

I did, and for four and a half great years I got to work under Dr. Bruce Fiol.

 

No good things happen by chance or luck.  Not even a good parking spot.

   God saved that spot for you.

How that little gift fits into his grand plan for your life and his glory—

   that is one of the infinite details you may never knew.  But you can know this—

   he did it, he worked it out, and for that you can be grateful.

 

3.  God’s providence includes the insignificant things in your life.

This brings us back to Ruth just happening to pick that field, the field of Boaz.

   When she picked it, she had no idea that God was working for her good.

This reminds me so much of a detail in Joseph’s life.

   When he couldn’t find his brothers, about to go home.

   A man saw him wandering around in field.  Told him where to find his brothers.

Brothers saw him, conspired, sold into slavery.

   And the whole terrible and wonderful story of Joseph’s life unfolded.

 

But it wasn’t just chance—it was God’s providence.  God was at work.

The reason the Bible is full of stories like this is not to get you to try to figure

   out what God is doing in every little detail of your life—you can’t.

It’s just to assure you—this is the same God, and he’s at work in your life too.

One minister explained Ruth 2 this way: 

   “This is why we can be quietly confident—not because we know exactly what God is doing in

   this unpredictable world, but because we know that what is unpredictable to us is already

   predicted by him.  He has written his purposes for us in his own book and numbered our days

   before one of them was given birth or saw the light of day.”

 

Another minister put it this way:

   “God is working behind the scenes, hidden from eye.  He is working behind the scenes for the

   good of His people.  God is at work in the tapestry of your life even though the bottom has

   fallen out and dreams have shattered.  God is involved in the day to day events of your life to

   accomplish his purposes.  When loved ones die or when relationships end and it seems that

   maybe we have been abandoned by God, rest assured that God is still working in our lives.”

 

I love that image of the tapestry.  You look at the back and it’s a jumble of threads.

   That’s what your sometimes life seems—jumble of bad, good, and insignificant.

   But then you turn it over, and see that the master weaver has been at work.

 

Christian life is a journey from tears to rejoicing, from weeping to wedding.

   As you work this week, work by faith.  Believing that Christ himself

   is at work all around you, working all things for the good of those who love him.