Summary: A message on the comfort of God’s providence.
The Rev’d Quintin Morrow
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Fort Worth, Texas
February 9, 2003
The Text: Ruth 1:1-17
The Definition of Providence: “Providence is the continuous activity of God in His creation by which He guides and governs it for His people’s good and His own ultimate glory.”
The Message Outline:
I. Providence in pain (1:1-5)
A. God’s providence was evident in the famine (vv. 1-2)
B. God’s providence was evident in the funerals (vv. 3-5)
II. Providence in planning (1:6)
III. Providence in partnership (1:7-15)
A. Naomi’s departure (v. 7)
B. Orpah’s decision (v. 14a)
C. Ruth’s determination (v. 14b)
IV. Providence in preparation for the Messiah (1:16-17)
In The Christian Reader, Randy Bishop writes:
For many young people in Fort Worth, Texas, September 15, 1999, started with prayer around their high school’s flagpole. After taking a public stand for their faith, about four hundred youth gathered in the sanctuary of Wedgwood Baptist Church for a See You at the Pole rally that night. Alleluias rang out as a Christian band led the group in singing praises.
Suddenly a lone gunman burst in. Larry Ashbrook killed seven people—Shawn Brown, 23; Sydney Browning, 36; Justin Ray, 17; Cassie Griffin, 14; Joey Ennis, 14; Kristi Beckel, 14; Kim Jones, 23—before committing suicide. Many of the youth, plus 150 adults and children, at Wedgwood that night must have wondered where God was.
Unexpected tragedy causes even the most committed of Christians to wonder if God is asleep at the switch. Consider Columbine High School; consider 9/11; consider the space shuttle Columbia. For agnostics and non-believers, significant, unexpected tragedies beg even that question and ask, Is there even a “switch,” or a God minding it at all? The question, in the end, is really whether or not there is a sovereign God managing the affairs of the cosmos, actively intervening for His people’s good, or is everything we experience and know subject to the chaos of randomness and chance? And I assure you, the answer to that question is extremely important, for how you answer it corresponds to and determines how you will live your life.
The answer to the first part of the question is “yes,” there is a sovereign God managing the affairs of the cosmos—even amidst tragedy—actively intervening for His people’s good. And since omnipotent sovereignty and randomness cannot exist in the same space at the same time, that necessarily means the answer to second part of the question is “no,” we are not slaves to the whims of chance or fate.
All of this relates specifically to a doctrine, much neglected today, which is nevertheless evident everywhere the pages of Holy Scripture from first to last, namely, providence. Providence can be defined as the continuous activity of God in His creation by which He guides and governs it for His people’s good and His ultimate glory.
God’s gracious providence is the theme of the Old Testament Book of Ruth. Only two books of the Bible are named for women—Ruth and Esther—and both are about God’s providence. Esther is about God’s providential rescue of His people from genocide. Ruth, as we shall see, is about God’s providential future rescue of His elect from sin and judgment as He prepares the way for the birth of the sin-bearing Messiah, Jesus Christ. As the renowned Baptist preacher John Piper says of the Book of Ruth:
It’s a story that shows how “God moves in a mysterious way his wonders to perform.” It’s a story for people who wonder where God is when there are no dreams or visions or prophets. It’s for people who wonder where God is when one tragedy after another attacks their faith. It’s a story for people who wonder whether a life of integrity in tough times is worth it. And it’s a story for people who can’t imagine that anything great could ever come of their ordinary lives of faith.
In other words, Ruth is a story for us.
The Book of Ruth follows the Book of Judges and precedes the Book of I Samuel in the Old Testament. It is placed there for chronological reasons. The events in Ruth take place in the history of the people of Israel during the time of the Judges and before the establishment of the monarchy—somewhere between 1500 to 1100 B.C. In fact, the last verse of the last chapter of the Book of Judges, Judges 21:25, rightly sets the context for Ruth:
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
What I want you to see, and desire you to concentrate on, is God’s providential—protecting, providing, governing—hand in the circumstances and decisions of Ruth which bless her and become instrumental in the advent of Jesus Christ. Quite the opposite of the devil being in details, notice how God orchestrates the events and people around Ruth. Slowly but steadily, link by link, through goods times and bad, God builds a chain demonstrating His gracious providence for His people.