“Ruth is a beautiful story, told with gentle loveliness. It is a fitting response to the exhortation of Philippians 4:8, ‘whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things’.” Christopher Ash
Ruth is a book of providence. That is, a book full of “God’s Ever-Present Hand” (Calvin on Providence (Institutes I.16-18]), with all things at all times in all places under his hand, even down to the tiniest detail. And whilst God is never said to move anything in this book, he is seen to be moving everything in this beautiful story.
Admittedly, God’s ever-present hand (his providence) doesn’t seem especially present at the start of the story:
- Famine has taken the whole of Naomi’s family out of Israel.
- And now Death takes the whole of Naomi’s family away from her; her husband and two sons die within the space of 10 years.
However, God’s providence, his ever-present hand, is always at work, always looking to bless his people, as individuals and as a nation.
Firstly, the LORD provides Ruth for Naomi (ch.1)
- Although Naomi says to stay at home in Moab, Ruth is having none of it. She’s determined to stick with Naomi, loyal to the end. And so they arrive back at Bethlehem together.
→ here and throughout, Ruth shows her “noble character”. She’s loyal, generous, kind, godly. Keep your eyes open for extraordinary godliness in the lives of God’s ordinary people – and as they imitate Him, they should instruct and inspire us.
Secondly, the LORD provides Boaz for Ruth & Naomi (ch. 2-4)
- As Ruth & Naomi start their quest for survival in Bethlehem, it just so happens to be harvest time. And Ruth just so happens to end up working in Boaz' field. And Boaz just so happens to be related to her through Naomi, to be their kinsman-redeemer.
- Ruth finds favour in his eyes, receiving kindness, protection and plentiful provision from Boaz.
→ and here, the kindness of Boaz to Ruth can’t help but lead us to the kindness of Jesus to sinners: Jesus is… related to us (by taking on our humanity); kind to us; loves us; protects us; provides for us, buys us, & marries us, uniting himself to us. Boaz is a stunning shadow of our stunning saviour.
Finally, the LORD provides a future for his people (4:11-22)
- The story seems to focus on three individuals but God’s ever-present hand is working out a much bigger story. While the first verse locates us in the time of the judges, the last verse leads us towards the time of the kings – from the line of Ruth & Boaz would come King David himself. That’s Providence. God’s ever-present hand. Ordinary circumstances resulting in extraordinary outcomes, and a bright future for his people.
The structure of the book tells the story clearly, working through…
- Background story in Moab (ch.1)
- Provision in the fields (ch.2)
- Encounter at the threshing floor (ch.3)
- Redemption at the city gate (ch.4)
But the story also has an amazing symmetry:
- a very ordinary set of interactions in chs.2-3 between Naomi, Ruth & Boaz are the way that God moves us from ch.1 to ch.4, bringing us from the death, mourning, bitterness of Ch.1 to the birth, rejoicing, and hope of Ch.4
And in this we see God’s ever-present hand in the story of Ruth, a book of Providence.