READ – Ruth 2
The story of Ruth continues in chapter 2 with the two grieving widows in Bethlehem. Naomi is immobilized by her brokenness and depression (and who can blame her after all she’s suffered?). But Ruth (true to her character) takes the initiative and asks Naomi if she can go to the fields in hopes of finding favor with a generous and merciful landowner. In a patriarchal world during the very dark and dangerous (especially for women) time of the Judges, we wonder, “How will such a vulnerable woman find a safe place?” “Where will these two women, who have suffered so much, find any security or hope?” Ruth has come under the “wings” of the Lord God to take refuge (2:12). Will she find it? This part of Ruth’s story shows us what it means to find refuge in God.
1. LATCH ON TO GOD’S PROVIDENCE
On the surface, the story of Ruth seems so ordinary compared to other parts of the bible. Ruth is a wonderfully crafted and beautifully written love story but there are no miracles, no prophets speaking, no dramatic signs or any direct interventions by God. Instead, Ruth shows us God at work everywhere behind the scenes. The storyteller gives us a hint of God working behind the scenes in 2:1 by mentioning a prominent and noble relative of Naomi’s. We wonder, “What’s he got to do with anything?” But then in verse 3 we are told Ruth just “happened” to glean in this very man’s field and this very man walks up at just the right moment to see her gleaning. This is the man (Boaz) who will be God’s means of giving refuge to Naomi and Ruth.
What’s the lesson? We are meant to see God’s hidden work everywhere in Ruth. He was at work in the famine (to get his people’s attention), he was at work to end the famine (1:6), he brought the news of the famine’s end to Naomi in faraway Moab, he was at work in the exact timing of their return (at the beginning of the harvest), he was at work in leading Ruth to Boaz’s exact field and he was at work in the timing of Boaz coming to the field. God’s hidden work in history and in our stories is what theologians call God’s providence. When life is hard, when our emotions are all over the place, when life doesn’t make any sense, we can begin to take refuge in God by latching onto his providence. In chapter 2, Naomi, Ruth and Boaz couldn’t see what God was doing but He was at work writing a story of redemption for them beyond what they could see or imagine. The same is true for all who take refuge in Him.
2. LEARN WHAT IT MEANS TO TAKE REFUGE
When life seems like it is falling apart, when we are struggling, scared or losing hope - latching onto God’s providence can help but can also feel somewhat remote and abstract. Ruth shows us that finding refuge in God is something very personal. She models for us of what it looks like to take refuge. Taking refuge in God involves at least two radical things:
1. A Radically Exclusive Faith… Ruth let go of all other sources of identity and security to take refuge under the wings of God – her family, her prospects of marriage, her homeland and her gods (see 1:16-17). She let go of all other refuges and banked everything on finding refuge in the God of Israel. This is what it means to take refuge in God. It means leaving all our other refuges at the door and coming to him empty handed.
2. …in a Radically Inclusive God – Ruth came to God as an outsider and a nobody. In going out to the fields to glean she must have known that the God of Israel was a God for the outsiders and nobodies (see Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22). When Boaz offered her protection and blessing, she showed remarkable humility. She said, “I am a foreigner” and “I am not like one of your female servants” (ie lower than the lowest position in society at that time). She saw everything she received as grace (“finding favor” v10, v13). Ruth shows that we don’t earn our refuge in God because of what we do or who we are but only because of God’s gracious heart for the outsiders and nobodies. The only ones who God excludes are those who come demanding refuge or who think they deserve it. But to all who come to him as outsiders and nobodies, God welcomes in to find refuge in his grace.
3. LOOK AT WHAT KIND OF REFUGE HE IS
Where did Ruth get such radically bold and humble faith? If we read the story and think, “I’ll be like Ruth”. We have it all wrong. Where did Ruth’s faith come from? Her faith came from where she was looking when she was in a place of need and trouble. She didn’t look to her circumstances. She didn’t look within herself. Ruth looked to God and the more she saw of Him, the more bold and the more humble she became. In the story, the strength and kindness of Boaz are a picture of the strength and kindness of God Himself. Naomi recognizes God is showing His own kindness to them through Boaz (2:20). Boaz is a picture of the strong and kind Redeemer God sends for those who take refuge in him. Where can we look to find this kind of strength and kindness? We look to the greater Boaz from Bethlehem – Jesus. When we look to Jesus, we see what kind of refuge he is:
He notices us – Ruth, a destitute Moabite widow, is the last person anyone would notice. But Boaz notices her and calls her “daughter” (2:10, 19)! He shows that he knows her situation - how she must be feeling and what she must be going through. In calling her daughter, he shockingly addresses her as his equal. As a prominent and powerful man, he comes “down low” to her level to say – I see you and I know it’s hard. In the manger at Bethlehem, God came down as low as he possibly could. He was born in way no one noticed. He came and lived in a way that impressed no one (Isa. 53:6-7). Why? So we could know that He notices our pain, suffering and weakness. So that we would trust Him when he says, “I know what it is like to be weak, to suffer, to be afraid and to be tempted. You can be confident that whatever you bring to me, I empathize. I understand exactly what grace and mercy you need, and I am eager to give it to you, my daughter/my son” (Hebrews 4:14-16).
He shields us – Not only does Jesus notices us but, as a refuge, he shields us. Boaz goes out of his way to make sure Ruth knows she is under his protection (2:8-9). She is safe with him. To take refuge under God’s wings is to have His protection. Just as a mother bird shields her chicks with her wings so Jesus announced that his mission was to call and gather us to himself “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings” (Matt. 23:37). In Jesus, God shows us that He himself will shield us against His judgment for all the ways we have taken refuge in other things. He is our shield against everything the curse of sin brings into our lives - condemnation, guilt, shame, loneliness, fear.
To all who take refuge under Jesus’ wings, He says, “I am your shield.” He takes the worst, so we can have God’s best. This is what kind of refuge Jesus is. He says to us, “Nothing can get to you unless it comes through me first. Nothing. Everything that gets through me is for your good, my glory. Take refuge under my wings.”
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What about the sermon most impacted you or left you with questions?
2. In the sermon it was said, “We all need refuge. We all take refuge.” In other words, life is hard, confusing and overwhelming for everyone and everyone takes their difficult emotions and troubles somewhere or to something. The question isn’t whether we take refuge, it’s where we take refuge. Where do you go for refuge when life gets to be too much?
3. How does it encourage you to know God is working even when you can’t see it?
4. If God were to allow Ruth, Naomi and Boaz to write their stories, they each would likely have written a “happily ever after” story for themselves – with no suffering and no God. Ruth shows us God was writing a better story for all three of them – even in their suffering. How does it encourage you to know God is writing a better story for you than you would write for yourself?
5. Which aspect of Naomi’s radical trust is most challenging for you? a) Letting go of all other refuges in radical faith in Him alone OR b) Humbling yourself to believe God will accept you as you are – as a nobody and outsider who deserves nothing yet who is given everything?
6. In times when you really need a refuge, where do you tend to look? Your circumstances? Yourself? How might it change things if you looked to Jesus as a refuge who notices you and empathizes with you (see Hebrews 4:14-16).
7. How does looking to Jesus as our shield give us greater boldness and humility in times of trial and uncertainty? What would change if we believed Him when He says, “Nothing can get to you unless it comes through me first. Nothing. Everything that gets through me is for your good, my glory”?