Saturday, July 20, 2019

The Tapestry of Ruth and God's Providence

The Old Testament is the story of heroes. Its characters are bigger than life, from the opulent reign of Solomon to the fantastic visions of Daniel. It covers the rulers of Israel as our political histories recount the rule of caesars and presidents. The prophetic books recall God’s messengers as our church history chronicles the deeds of popes and Reformers. The book of Ruth, however, tells the story of God moving not just through the institutions of church and state but with and through His most humble servants.

The book of Ruth exhibits a high standard of literary excellence. The descriptions are clear and concise. Perhaps its greatest quality, however, is its use of dramatic suspense. The uninitiated reader skips lightly over key phrases which are shown later to be significant. Chapter 2, verse 23 suggests a seemingly random event. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” In 3:8 we are told that something startled Boaz so that he woke and discovered Ruth there. We are accustomed to thinking of such events as but random occurrences. Later we discover the hand of God actively guiding the events.

The guiding, providential hand of God is easy to accept as Ruth finds first a means to support herself and, ultimately, a loving husband. We rejoice to learn that this union continued a line which wrought David and Jesus of Nazareth. We are comforted as God brings blessing to Ruth and later to Israel and finally to all the peoples of the world.

The living God, however, is not one whose hands only bring blessing. God created the drought which set the context for Naomi and Elimelech’s migration to Moab. God exercised providential control over the deaths of Elimelech and his sons, the husbands of Orphah and Ruth. God was even sovereign over the hostilities between Moab and nascent Israel, hostilities which made Ruth’s immigration all the more difficult. Naomi spoke accurately when she said, “The Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full but the LORD has brought me back empty” (1:20–21). Viewed only from the human and temporal perspective, the tapestry of God’s providence brought her to despair.

Not surprisingly, God’s work in history tends to follow these patterns—out of tragedy He weaves blessing. From the agony of the Cross He wrought salvation for His own. From a stable in Bethlehem He brought forth the ruler of the universe.