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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:God's fatherly hand leads his child to the exact place she needs to be
Text:Ruth 2:1-3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Unclassified
 
Preached:2013
Added:2013-12-26
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 29

Psalm 6:1-3 (after the law)

Psalm 124

Hymn 65

Psalm 126

Scripture reading:  Leviticus 19:1-18

Text:  Ruth 2:1-3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

The man said that the Lord had spoken to him.  The Lord had told him to get rid of his wife and begin living with the twenty-something girl.  He claimed to be a prophet and he insisted that the Lord told him the things he had to do.  I encountered this man when I was a missionary in northern BC.  He came to our little village to have a week of revival meetings.  He came two years in a row.  The first year he had his wife with him, a woman about his age, probably in her sixties.  But the next year he had this twenty-something girl with him.  Somehow he had to explain it, and his explanation was that God told him to do it. 

You’ll sometimes encounter people who claim such things.  They claim that God speaks to them and tells them what they need to do.  God told me to start a church.  God told me to become a missionary.  God told me to get a new job.  God told me to divorce my wife.  In all these instances, people are claiming that God is revealing his will to them in a direct way, talking right into their ears.  Even when what God supposedly says contradicts what’s said in the Bible, they still insist that it is God speaking.

But wouldn’t it be nice for God to give us direction like that?  Wouldn’t it be helpful if God would tell us directly what we need to do, the job we need to have, the girl we should ask out, and so on?  What is God’s will for your life?  How can you know?  Those are important questions.  We want to know where our lives are going and what we should do.  Sometimes there are difficult decisions to make in life and we wish that Someone wiser would make the decisions for us, or at least give us a clue.  We wish that Someone who knows the future from the beginning to the end would fill us in with what he knows.

So, how can we know God’s will for our lives?  Depending on how you look at it, this is both a hard and an easy question to answer.  You see, there are two different ways that the Bible speaks about God’s will.  God’s will can be his secret will.  In theology we also call that God’s decretive will.  It’s decretive because it relates to his decrees.  God secretly decrees that certain things are going to happen.  However, it’s only after the fact that we understand that this was what God had decreed would happen.  So, there is God’s secret or decretive will.  But there is also his revealed will.  We also call that his preceptive will.  It’s preceptive because it relates to his precepts, to his commandments.  We find God’s revealed will in the Bible.  In the Scriptures, God commands his creatures to think, act, and speak in certain ways and not in others.  God clearly tells us what to do and what not to do in his law. 

If we look in the Bible, we see that God’s will is made up of both his secret and his revealed will.  In both, we can see God’s fatherly hand at work in the lives of his children.  In both we can see the love of God and his care for those who are his.  We’re going to see how that works out this morning in the ongoing story of Ruth the Moabitess.  I preach to you God’s Word:

God’s fatherly hand leads his child to the exact place she needs to be

In this leading we see God’s:

  1. Secret will being carried out
  2. Revealed will being carried out

You may remember that Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi moved from the land of Moab back to Bethlehem.  In Moab, they had been surrounded by death.  Their husbands had died there.  Moreover, there were no kids or grandkids.  The family was at a dead end.  There appeared to be no future for them.  Without male family members to protect them, they were vulnerable.  Without male offspring, the family was going to end with them.  They were true widows and therefore in a serious predicament.  Naomi and Ruth hoped to find a new life back in Bethlehem, back in Naomi’s hometown.  The first chapter ended by saying that the barley harvest was beginning just as they arrived there.  This is a sign of things to come, a sign of life. 

Now the second chapter begins by telling us about a certain relative of Naomi.  He was related to her through her husband Elimelech.  Now Jewish people hearing this story for the first time would right away clue in.  Here we have two vulnerable widows and now a male relative appears on the scene.  Jewish people would recall how God provided for widows through male relatives.  We’ll get more into that later as we continue with this series of sermons.  For now, just note that this male relative appears.  Right after we have one sign of life and hope in the barley harvest, we have another sign of life and hope with a male relative. 

Our translation says that this man Boaz was a worthy man.  What this means is that he was a man of standing.  He was wealthy and he had status.  Boaz was a respectable man in Bethlehem, he would have been regarded as one of the leading men of the community.  There’s something else about Boaz that’s not mentioned in our text.  In the New Testament, we learn about the family history of Boaz.  His mother had been a pagan prostitute.  According to the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, the mother of Boaz was Rahab from Jericho.  God added Rahab to his people and she married an Israelite named Salmon.  Together Salmon and Rahab had a son named Boaz.  Despite his mother’s sordid history back in Jericho, the LORD made Boaz into a highly respected man in Bethlehem.  

Ruth asks Naomi to let her go to the fields.  Ruth wanted to glean from the leftovers in the fields, the leftovers from the harvest.  She wants to find a spot where the farmer or landowner will be gracious.  Naomi tells her to go right ahead.  So verse 3 tells us that Ruth did exactly that.  She went out and started gleaning after the reapers, picking up the leftovers, whatever fell to the ground.  And then there’s something crucial at the end of verse 3.  It says, “…and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech.”

It’s especially here, at the end of verse 3, that we see God’s secret will being worked out for the good of his children.  Loved ones, note that God did not tell Ruth to go and work in the field of Boaz.  God didn’t speak to her in an audible way, nor did he give her a dream or a funny feeling in her stomach.  God’s fatherly hand just quietly brought her there.  He lovingly directed her circumstances to bring her exactly where she needed to be.  In heaven, God had decreed, “I will bring Ruth to the field of Boaz.  I know this will be for her good.  It will bring her life because I know about Boaz.  I know that he’s both wealthy and honourable and a relative of Naomi.  I’ve worked in his life and in the life of his parents, and my plan is to continue working through him to bring life and redemption not only for Ruth and Naomi, but for all my people.  This is the way I want it to all work out.”  This is the way it happened.  God’s secret will was done here on earth, just as he sovereignly decreed it would. 

It says in verse 3, “and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz...”  When the writer of Ruth put it this way, he was pointing to God’s work here.  It didn’t just happen this way by chance.  There’s no such thing as chance.  Every believer who reads this book of Ruth knows that God is sovereignly in control of everything that happens.  God’s secret will gets carried out in every single circumstance of life.  God’s secret will and its execution is closely connected with his providence.  As the Catechism defines it in Lord’s Day 10, “God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby, as with his hand he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures…”  He so governs everything so that nothing happens by chance, nothing comes to us by chance, but everything comes by God’s fatherly hand.  God’s decrees about everything that will happen and his providence making all those things happen are both there working good things for his people.

Ruth was one of God’s people in the Old Testament.  We are Christians and therefore part of God’s people today.  Because we have Christ as our Saviour, because he lived, died and rose again for us, we can be confident that God has us in his secret will.  He has good plans for each one of us who have been redeemed by the blood of Jesus.  He didn’t tell Ruth exactly what he had planned for her, and he doesn’t tell us precisely what he has planned for us either.  Remember:  we’re speaking about God’s secret will.  If we knew everything, it wouldn’t be a secret will anymore.  But still there are some things about God’s plans that are not secret or mysterious at all.  We know from Scripture that God’s secret will is always going to bring blessings to us.  He promises that.  Think of Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”   The things revealed include God’s love for us, his gracious plans to do us good because we are his children through Christ. 

No, I realize it’s not always right away evident how God’s providence is doing good for us.  Sometimes there’s misery and pain and we can’t see how this can possibly be good.  Yet he promises that it is.  He says so in Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all thinks work together for good…”  God’s Word says it.  It can be challenging to believe it, but if you’re going to discard Romans 8:28, what will keep you from rejecting or discarding everything else in Scripture, every other promise of God?  You can’t pick and choose what you want to believe from the Bible.  It’s all or nothing.  The way of faith is the best way.  To trust God and take him at his Word, even when it’s hard to do so.  The Bible tells us over and over again that God loves his people and will do good by them.  Because God is God, we know that his secret will can never contradict what he has told us in the Bible.  Loved ones, we can be sure that whatever God has planned for us, it will always be for our good and for his glory.  It was that way in the days of Ruth.  It is still that way today.  God has not changed and he never will change.

We see the same when we look at God’s revealed will being carried out in our text. We read that Ruth wanted to go to the fields to glean the leftover grain.  And that’s exactly what she did too.  It may sound simple.  But let’s take a moment and ask the question:  what gave Ruth the right to go into a stranger’s field and glean the leftover grain lying on the ground?  If you were to do that today, someone could call the police and you could be arrested and charged with theft.  So how could Ruth do this back in Bible times? 

If you were paying attention when we read from Leviticus 19, you probably already know the answer.  In passages like Leviticus 19 and 23, God gave strict commands to his people not to harvest the grain from the corners of their fields.  When they harvested the rest of the fields, sometimes grain would accidentally fall to the ground.  The harvesters were forbidden by God’s law to pick up whatever might accidentally fall.  This was so that the poor could come in the fields and have access to food.  In Deut. 24:19, we find that the leftovers were to be food for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow.  Ruth was both a sojourner and a widow, so she fell under these provisions of God’s law.  According to God’s law, she was legally entitled to go into any field in Israel to glean the leftovers.  But being legally entitled is one thing, being in the midst of people who are respecting the law is another.  There were many Mosaic laws that God’s people were lax about keeping.  For instance, did you know that there’s no evidence in the Old Testament that the year of Jubilee was ever held or the Sabbath years?  But thankfully, the law about reaping was one that was being respected by men such as Boaz. 

They were just coming out of a time of apostasy.  If you remember from the beginning of the book, that’s why there was a famine in the land.  This was the time of the judges, a time known for inconsistent commitment to the LORD, a time in which people often did what was right in their own eyes.  There was no king in Israel and sometimes even the LORD’s kingship was ignored.  But at the beginning of Ruth 2, we’re in a different time.  We’re in a time where God’s people are following his law and that means that the poor were allowed in the fields to glean the leftovers.  There’s a concern, at least among some, for taking care of the poor in the land.   Here in Ruth 2:1-3, we see God’s people carrying out his revealed will. 

Loved ones, I want you to see here that God’s law is what he is using to bring life to Ruth.  Without laws like in Leviticus 19, Ruth and Naomi could have starved to death.  Remember they were widows and therefore some of the most vulnerable people in society at that time.  But God has put something in place to take care of them.  His revealed will, encapsulated in his law, is doing something good for his child.  God’s law was doing good for her!  It was good for both Ruth and Naomi that God’s people were obeying his law.  This was a life-saving obedience to a life-giving law.

But we need to keep in mind that God’s law works in two ways.  As believers, we want to obey God’s law because of the grace that’s been shown us in Christ.  When we have that desire to follow God’s revealed will, and we more and more do so, it’s good for us and the people around us.  There are blessings attached to living in God’s ways.  That’s simply because of the way reality is designed, that’s the way the world was created, that’s the way we were created.  God’s law is good and holy and it was his design from the beginning that his creatures live in it.  God’s law is the way of life.  The problem is that we live after the fall.  We don’t live consistently according to God’s revealed will.  The law reminds us that we are sinners who fall far short of God’s holiness.  The law points us to our need for Jesus Christ.  He is the perfectly obedient Son of God.  He lived perfectly in accordance with God’s revealed will in order to give us the life that lasts forever.  According to Scripture, God’s law by itself is actually incapable of giving us life.  According to Hebrews 7:19, the law has made nothing perfect.  The law is weak and useless for giving us life, but we have a better hope introduced through Jesus Christ.  He is the bread of life.  He feeds us with his own body and blood so that we can have eternal life.  It’s through him that we can draw near to God.  This can happen because Jesus is the perfection and fulfillment of the law in every respect.  Through him and the way he has fulfilled the law, we have the life that will never end.

In our text, God is using his revealed will, his law, to preserve Ruth.  His fatherly hand works through his law to preserve Ruth so that in due time our Saviour Jesus would be born as her great grand-child.  The law of God here providing life for the poor, points to Jesus Christ.   He is the one who truly does give life to those who have nothing to offer from themselves, no way to provide for themselves.  He gives bread to the destitute like no one else can.

Loved ones, here in this text we see the poor and they’re a lot like us if we were without Christ.  Ruth is weak.  She depends on other people to help her and her mother-in-law.  When it comes down to it, ultimately she depends on God and his revealed will in the Bible.  Without that, she and Naomi would be under the threat of death.  Without God’s good law, both could very well die in Bethlehem, the house of bread (Bethlehem means “house of bread”).  However, God provides.  He gives his grace and favour to them, not only with his secret will (bringing Ruth to the field of Boaz), but also with his revealed will, the law providing life-saving food for the poor.

We began by reflecting on how we can know God’s will.  I said that it’s both an easy and a hard question to answer.  God’s revealed will is the easy part of the answer.  We can know God’s will for us by reading the Bible, by listening to preaching from the Bible, and so on.  When we’re faced with a tough decision, we should go to the Scriptures and look for wisdom to help us.  We might not get a direct answer that addresses our particular situation, but you may get the wisdom you need to point you in the right direction.  Moreover, the Holy Spirit will work with us and in us as we read the Scriptures.  He will help us to know what God wants us to do.  When it comes to knowing God’s secret will for our lives, his plans, that’s the hard part of the answer.  You can’t know God’s secret will until after what he has decreed happens.  You can only look back and then all you can say is that it was God’s secret or decretive will.  But even then, you can be confident that it was for your good.  Moreover, we don’t have to worry about what the future holds.  That belongs to our good God.  Our lives are in his good Fatherly hands.  And we know that his love for us is as sure as it was for Ruth and all the people of God who’ve gone before us.  He will never leave us or forsake us.  He is good, all the time.  Loved ones, let’s continue to trust his promises.  AMEN.                                               

Prayer:

Sovereign God in heaven,

We praise you for being our God.  We’re encouraged to know that our lives are in your Fatherly hands, and that this is a good thing for us.  We’re in a good place, because we have you with us always.  You promise never to forsake or leave us, and all your promises are yes and Amen in Christ our Saviour.  Thank you Father, for giving us your revelation in Scripture.  Thank you for giving us life in Jesus Christ, who has perfectly followed your law.  Thank you that we poor destitute sinners have food and drink to life eternal in Jesus.  We pray that you would continue to help us with your Holy Spirit so that we trust your good will for our lives.  When we have tough decisions to make, we pray that you would give us wisdom from your Word and from your Holy Spirit.  Please give us the direction that we need, so that we can live in a way that honours you, our great God and Saviour.                                     




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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