Summary: A man’s plans may be one thing (Proverbs 16:9), but it is God’s purposes that prevail (Proverbs 19:21).
MAN’S PLANS AND GOD’S PURPOSES
The days of the judges (Ruth 1:1) were turbulent times. ‘There was no king in the land, and everybody did what was right in his own sight’ (Judges 21:25). Anarchy ruled, and God disciplined His people through cycles of invasion, deliverance and restoration. Perhaps it was as a result of the scorched-earth policy of one or another invader that there was a famine in Judah, which even affected Bethlehem: ‘the House of Bread’ (Ruth 1:1).
We are introduced to Elimelech, a man whose name means ‘My God is King’ (Ruth 1:2). This man had two sons, who ironically seem to have old Canaanite names which speak of sickness and pining. Be careful what you call your children, for they might live up to it.
Whilst acknowledging that ‘God is King’, sometimes we take matters into our own hands. We leave ‘the House of Bread’ in fear when faith fails. Whilst others remained in Bethlehem, this family of substance (Ruth 1:21) left their homeland to dwell as strangers in a strange land.
Elimelech’s wife Naomi’s name speaks of pleasantness, loveliness and delight. Naomi’s care for her family reached to her two foreign daughters-in-law, and she sought their comfort when she set out for home after the three women were all bereft of their husbands (Ruth 1:8-9). It may seem strange that Naomi told her daughters-in–law to go back to their own families - but Jesus also discourages people from following Him if their commitment is not wholehearted (Luke 9:57-62).
Naomi thought of changing her name to Mara, ‘bitterness’, in her anger at being left empty of heirs (Ruth 1:20). Be careful what you call yourself, for words are powerful, and bitterness is a thing to be rooted out (Hebrews 12:15). Yet she had not lost her faith.
Ruth was so impressed with Naomi’s faith that she opted to cleave to her mother-in-law (Ruth 1:16-17). We can imagine the two women encouraging one another on the way, as they made the arduous journey back to Bethlehem. Ruth trusted the Almighty: a poor foreign girl who came to join God’s covenant people as a stranger in a strange land.
It ‘just so happened’ that Ruth came to glean in the field of Boaz (Ruth 2:3). I was once told that things don’t ‘just so happen’ – but I beg to differ. The expression is used here not of chance, or of fate, but of God’s providence.
Ruth had showed kindness to Naomi, and it did not go unnoticed (Ruth 2:11-13). In this, as in all things, God was at work: for the man who noticed was able to show her favour in return.
The time for mourning was over (Ruth 3:3), and Ruth was ready to adorn herself as a bride. Yet what took place on the threshing floor was done discreetly, and with appropriate modesty and – I hasten to add – chastity. When Ruth reported back to Naomi, the older woman was able to reassure her protégé that ‘the man will not rest until he has settled the matter this day’ (Ruth 3:18).
This proved to be true. Boaz ran the matter past Naomi’s nearer relation, the city elders, and the people-at-the-gate – and secured Ruth as his wife. The sequel was that Boaz married Ruth, “the LORD gave her conception”, and she bare a son (Ruth 4:13). God is always present, even in the everyday things of life.
The LORD was behind the free decision of the man Elimelech to take his family from Bethlehem to Moab all those years before, where his sons married women from another culture. The LORD was definitely behind Ruth’s decision to follow Naomi back to Bethlehem, and to embrace Naomi’s God (Ruth 1:16-17). The LORD was behind the happenstance that, of all fields, Ruth came to glean in that of Boaz. The LORD was behind the strategy of the women to secure Boaz’ hand in marriage for Ruth.
The city women named the child of this union Obed, which means ‘Servant’ – and this servant of the LORD was the grandfather of King David (Ruth 4:17). Perhaps Obed’s grandmother Naomi told him stories as she dangled him on her knee (Ruth 4:16): stories of how the whole family went abroad in want, only to return to plenty. Perhaps King David himself knew the family tradition behind the gathering into the family of God of his illustrious ancestress, Ruth.
Ruth, the woman of faith from a strange land, is thereafter counted in the regal genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1:1; Matthew 1:5). A man’s plans may be one thing (Proverbs 16:9), but it is God’s purposes that prevail (Proverbs 19:21).