GOD’S COVENANT OF PROVISION
The story of Ruth is a great book for harvest-time, and a wonderful story of provision. It gives the account of a Bethlehemite, Elimelech, who moved with his wife and family to Moab to find food when famine struck the land of Israel. They lived in Moab for 10 years, during which time Elimelech died, leaving his wife, Naomi with her sons. After a while, the sons married Moabite women, and then the sons also died. (Click on the link above to read the full story.)
Some commentators attribute both the famine, and the family tragedy to the Lord’s judgement—on Israel’s failure to keep the Law, and on Naomi’s family for moving to Moab, and marrying Moabite women. However, the text does not actually state this, (*see my notes below). although it was clear that Naomi attributed her losses to the Lord, and may have had judgement in mind when, devastated by grief, she said:
'Don't call me Naomi (which means ‘My delight’),' she told them.
'Call me Mara (which means 'bitterness'),
because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.
I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.
Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me;
the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.'
Hope for the future is very difficult in these circumstances. And many of us can identify. How can we have faith in God’s provision when we think we are being punished for something, or we are not sure if we have done quite enough to merit His supply, or even that God has brought tragedy upon us for some obscure purpose of His own?
The good news is that Jesus took all our shortfall on Himself on the cross, and we stand, by faith, under a waterfall of His forgiveness. We can never do enough to earn God’s favour and provision, but Jesus has fulfilled every bit of the Law on our behalf, guaranteeing us an even better covenant [Matthew 5:17; Romans 8:3-4; Romans 10:4; Hebrews 7:22]. Moreover, Jesus made it clear that he saw human tragedy as the works of the Evil One, the result of living in a fallen world, and something He came specifically to redeem [1 John 3:8; 1 John 5:19]. Bad stuff happens, but God makes it plain that whatever the Evil One means for our destruction, He is able to work for our ultimate good.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
And more than that, nothing is able to separate us from His passionate love [Romans 8:31-39].
Naomi decided to go back to Bethlehem, the famine was over, and Israel was fruitful again. And with her went Ruth, one of her daughters-in-law. Ruth was a Moabitess, separated according to the Law from the Covenant promises and presence of God. However, she is an Old Testament picture of grace. By faith, she was willing to go to a country where she had little hope of marrying again, and therefore little hope of children (and an uncertain old age), somewhere she would possibly encounter racial hatred. By putting her trust in Naomi’s God, she received His provision for all of her needs (and Naomi’s as well).
Returning to Bethlehem (which means ‘House of Bread’) Naomi needed a reminder of the Lord’s goodness—and found it in the barley harvest. The much-needed grain Ruth gathered, through the intervention of Boaz, the ‘kinsman-redeemer’ was a reminder to her that God is a good God, and His character is of love, mercy and provision. The text note says that ‘the Hebrew word for kinsman-redeemer is a legal term for one who has the obligation to redeem a relative in serious difficulty [see Lev. 25:25-55]’. Boaz was a wonderful symbol of the Christ who would come in his family line—our Redeemer!
After seeing how much grain Ruth had brought home, bitterness and unbelief fell away from Naomi.
‘The Lord bless him! (Boaz)’ Naomi said to her daughter-in-law.
‘He has not stopped showing His kindness to the living and the dead.’
She added, ‘That man is our close relative;
he is one of our guardian (kinsman)-redeemers.’ (Additions in brackets, mine)
This verse uses the lovely Hebrew word, ‘chesed’, which is much more powerful than the English translation, ‘kindness’, suggests. ‘Chesed’ when used of the Lord, speaks of His grace, mercy and faithfulness, in fact, His covenant love. The provision of an abundance of grain, and then a husband for Ruth, the return of financial security and a child to carry on the bloodline, reminded Naomi that although ‘stuff happens’ in a fallen world, she had a covenant-making God who was rich in loving-kindness.
The response of her neighbours applies to us too, whatever our circumstances:
‘Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer.’
God’s provision in the days ahead depends not on our merits, but on what our Redeemer has already done for us.
And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 4:19]
*I think we need to be wary of ascribing judgement in cases when the Bible doesn’t make it clear. If this particular famine was judgement, then there is no record of any repentance, only that the ‘Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them’ in Bethlehem.
Moab was not one of the nations forbidden from inter-marriage with Israel [Deuteronomy 7:1-4], that proscription came much later. It’s worth remembering that Joseph had an Egyptian wife, Moses, a Midianite, Samson, a Philistine, and Boaz’ own ancestor was Rahab, a Canaanite. In addition, Ruth, the Moabitess, was clearly in God’s plan for the genealogy of both King David, and Jesus Himself.
There were also precedents set by the forefathers for moving in times of famine, a man having responsibility to look after his household—something I am sure each of us would do if faced with seeing our children starve.
For these reasons, I would be cautious about suggesting that Naomi’s family were ‘out of the will of God’ by leaving Bethlehem.
THIS WEEK’S GRACE RHYTHM:
NEXT WEEK: ABRAHAM'S REWARD
Abraham’s treasure was God Himself—everything else would flow from that.
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