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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:God brings light and life into the deadly darkness we made
Text:Ruth 2:17-23 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Living in a sinful world
 
Preached:2023
Added:2023-08-02
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 108:1,2,5

Psalm 38:1,2,7,8 (after the Law)

Psalm 27:1,2

Psalm 56:1,3,5

Hymn 64

Scripture reading and text: Ruth 2:17-23

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

The book of Ruth began with a famine in the land of Israel.  God’s people were starving because they had brought his covenant discipline upon themselves.  They were disobedient.  But God was faithful to what he had promised he would do in such a situation.  He brought a famine to get their attention so they would again turn to him in faith and repentance.  There was suffering and death, all because these people were stubborn and refused to listen.  Elimelech and his wife Naomi took their two sons out of this situation.  They moved to Moab, where absolutely no one worshipped the true God.  They moved to a place of even more spiritual darkness.  There they thought that they would find a better life.  But they didn’t.  First, Naomi’s husband died.  Then Mahlon and Chilion.  Moreover, there were no grandchildren born to her sons.  She was left all alone and the family was at a dead end.  The only person who stayed close by her side was her daughter-in-law Ruth.  When Naomi decided to go back to Israel, Ruth insisted on coming with her.  Ruth went further and insisted that she was also going to serve the true God.  “Your God will be my God,” she said.

When Naomi returned to her hometown of Bethlehem, she was a bitter woman and she wasn’t shy about advertising it.  Remember how she said, “Don’t call me Naomi [which means something like ‘sweetness’], call me Mara, call me bitter.”  She was bitter at God, blaming him for her problems.  But amazingly, God didn’t abandon her.  In his providence, God brought her daughter-in-law Ruth to a certain farm during the barley harvest.  The people working in those fields were employees of a godly man named Boaz.  Boaz took good care of his workers.  We saw last time how he acknowledged the LORD in his business and reflected him in his life.  Boaz was a reflection of the extravagant loving kindness (the chesed) of God.  We saw how this worked out in his dealings with Ruth too.  Boaz saw Ruth working there, he heard about her story and then approached her.  He told her that he was going to go the extra mile and look out for her.  As we work our way towards the end of chapter 2, things are looking good.  Now it definitely appears that life and light are breaking into the story.  Where there was darkness and death, now there’s light and life – and it’s all because of God’s sovereign work in the lives of his children.

With that in mind, I preach to you God’s Word this morning as we see how God brings light and life into the deadly darkness we made

We’ll see that he does it:

  1. Despite human sin
  2. To magnify his own glory

Ruth spent a long day working in the fields of Boaz and it was a fruitful day.  She ended up bringing home an ephah, which works out to about 20 or 30 pounds of grain.  For two women, that’s a lot of food.  When that grain gets ground up into flour, it’s going to make a lot of bread.  And that’s not all that Ruth brought home.  She also had leftovers from her dinner with Boaz and his workers.  Naomi is surprised and happy at the sight of so much food.  She asks where Ruth had been working and Ruth tells her that she had been gleaning in the fields of Boaz.

Then notice what Naomi says in verse 20, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead.”  These are joyful words!  Naomi sounds like a changed woman.  At the end of chapter 1, she was blaming God for her problems.  But now, circumstances have changed for the better, and suddenly Naomi is invoking a blessing with the Name of Yahweh, and also speaking about his kindness.  The word there in the original Hebrew is chesed.  That word is often translated as “steadfast love,” and here it’s kindness in the ESV.  It refers to God’s extravagant goodness and mercy.  In his kindness or steadfast love, the LORD, Yahweh has been faithful to the widows (to the living), and also to her husband and sons (to the dead).  Let’s look at each of those separately for a moment.

First of all, God’s kindness has been faithful to the living.  Because of God’s merciful providence, Ruth and Naomi are not going to live in poverty and starve.  If Ruth continues working in the fields of Boaz for the next while, there’s obviously going to be plenty of food.  This is crucially important for two widows.  They would have been classified amongst the poorest of the poor, and starvation, or at least malnutrition, they were real threats.  People could take advantage of them and their situation could easily worsen.  Seeing Ruth come home with at least 20 or 30 pounds of food changes that.  Naomi could see that God had shown his kindness and steadfast love in making this happen for her and her daughter-in-law.  It was God who had brought an end to the famine.  It was God who had allowed the rain to fall on the soil where the barley had been planted.  God made the barley seeds to sprout in the earth and begin poking up through the soil.   It was God who caused the sun to shine on the growing crops.  When we receive our daily bread, these things are important for us to remember too.  See God’s hand in your daily bread, brothers and sisters.  God is the one who makes it all possible.  In Ruth 2, it was God who brought Ruth to those particular fields on that particular day.  God brought Ruth to the fields of Boaz and God brought Boaz out to talk with Ruth.  In every single way, the sovereign loving hand of God is in this.

Naomi also says that God’s kindness or chesed has been faithful to the dead.  She knows that Boaz represents the possibility of a future for her family.  As was mentioned at the beginning of chapter 2, not just once, but twice:  Boaz was from the clan of Elimelech.  Boaz is not a random stranger in Israel.  There’s a connection between their families and this is going to prove to be important in the story.  Naomi says, “The man is a close relative of ours, one of our redeemers.”  To understand what that means, we need some background. 

In the law given through Moses, God made provisions for widows who died with no children.  Remember what I said earlier about such widows:  they’d be vulnerable.  God knew that, and for that reason, he gave special laws to protect them.  In Deuteronomy 25 we find what is known as the law of levirate marriage.  Deuteronomy 25 said that if a man were to die and leave behind his wife with no children, then it was the man’s brother’s responsibility to marry the widow and have children for his dead brother.  It’s called levirate marriage, from the Latin word levir, which means “husband’s brother.”  As this law of levirate marriage was put into practice in Israel, it was extended beyond the immediate family.  If there was no brother, the responsibility would fall on the closest male relative, usually a cousin.  The main purpose of the arrangement was to protect the property rights of the family line – and this was important for the Jews, because the land was their heritage, it was their gift from God.  Having and maintaining an inheritance in the Promised Land was essential.  That was the main point of this law, but a side benefit was that the widow was also taken under the care of a male relative.  She’d find protection and life with this man.  This male relative had a special title:  he was called the redeemer.  Sometimes you’ll hear him described as the kinsman-redeemer, or sometimes you’ll hear or read the Hebrew word, go’el.

Boaz was a relative who had the potential to be this kinsman-redeemer, this go’el.  The possibility was there that he could help protect and preserve the life of Ruth and, by extension, also the life of Naomi.  If things continued to go well with Boaz, then perhaps Ruth and Naomi would have a way out of their poverty.  With Boaz, they could be safe and no longer liable to be taken advantage of.  So Naomi sees God’s faithfulness in giving them hope with this potential kinsman-redeemer.  When Ruth tells her further what Boaz said about keeping close to his female workers, Naomi encourages her to listen and follow that instruction.  There would be protection under the care of Boaz and the hope of a future. 

Now, let me ask you a question:  do you think that Naomi deserved any of this from God’s hand?  Did God owe anything to Naomi?  Well, what was the last thing Naomi said about God?  The last time she mentioned his name was in chapter 1, verse 20.  When she last spoke about God, it was in terms that were not complimentary, not glorifying to him at all.  One commentator said that the book of Ruth only has characters portrayed with positive traits.  I don’t understand how that commentator could have said that.  When we see Naomi in chapter 1, we see a bitter and angry woman who isn’t living in a believing way.  She was weak and sinful.  What Naomi deserved from God was more of what she received at the beginning of the book.  She deserved more chastisement.  In fact, we could say that she deserved to have God turn away from her completely.  If God had done that, if God had let Naomi go her own way, nobody would have been able to accuse God of doing wrong.  He would have been justified for that course of action.  But that’s not what God does, and it’s remarkable, amazing. 

Instead of giving her over to the deathly darkness that she’s creating for herself, God brings her light and life.  He gives her things she doesn’t deserve, in fact the opposite of what she deserves.  He gives her food, abundant food.  Through the food, he’s giving her life.  And he also gives her hope for the future through a potential kinsman-redeemer.  The LORD didn’t have to do this for Naomi.  Further, note how Naomi didn’t ask it from God either.  God did all this on his own initiative, out of his grace and mercy, out of his steadfast love and kindness.

This has been God’s sovereign way of working from the beginning.  Turn with me for a moment to article 17 of the Belgic Confession and let’s read that (page 507).  When Adam and Eve sinned, they didn’t say, “We should go and speak to God about this, we should confess to him what we’ve done and ask for his forgiveness.”  They didn’t search for God.  No, God came looking for them.  He called out to Adam, “Where are you?”  God knew where they were – God knows all things.  But he called out so that they would know that he was taking the initiative to reconcile them to himself.  When Adam and Eve came into the presence of God in Genesis 3, there were words of judgment, but there were also words of promise, there was good news.  The LORD was going to send a Saviour to crush the head of the serpent.  The sovereign God was the one who did all of this – all on his own initiative.  Just like Ruth and Naomi, Adam and Eve couldn’t save themselves.  They made their own deadly darkness and only made it worse.  Despite human sinfulness, God is the one who comes with light and life.

When we look at our own lives, don’t we see the same picture?  Are we always consistent in our testimony about God?  Perhaps we’d never openly blaspheme his Name with our Words, at least I certainly hope not.  We might never openly curse God or bitterly blame him for our problems.  But we have other, slightly more subtle, ways in which we are inconsistent in our testimony to the God of life and light.  People, whether Christians or unbelievers, hear us speaking about being lucky, when we could and should have said that we have been blessed, blessed by God.  They hear us speaking about being proud of this or that, when we could and should have said that we are thankful, thankful to God.  Or they see us living as if God is not even real.  As if what we believe and confess on Sunday is somehow irrelevant by Tuesday.  As if God is little and insignificant in our lives.  Loved ones, let’s be honest and admit that we’re weak and sinful and our lives are littered with inconsistencies.  This is the sad reality. 

It means that from ourselves, we can never earn the favour of God.  By ourselves we can never measure up for God.  We can’t pull ourselves up, we have no strength or power in ourselves to climb our way up to heaven.  We can’t atone for our own sins to make reconciliation with God.  We can’t pay for ourselves, in fact, as our Catechism rightly says, we daily increase our debt. 

Yet look at our gracious God and his loving kindness.  He gives us our daily bread.  We have our families.  We have our church, the communion of saints.  There are so many blessings and all of them are undeserved.  We make a mess, but God cleans it up.  And nowhere do we see this more clearly than with the gospel.  God’s mercy towards his people in the Old Testament pointed to his mercy in Jesus Christ.  When God gave food for the hungry, that points us to Christ the bread of life.  When God gave laws that mercifully protected widows and others who were weak and helpless, that points us to Christ who saves those who can’t do anything to save themselves.  Through Christ we’re brought out of our self-inflicted darkness and into the marvellous light of God.  Through Christ we’re brought out of our self-imposed death and into eternal life in the loving presence of God.  God gives us Christ so that we can have life, and so we have a hope for the future.  God does all of this for us, even though we don’t deserve anything other than his wrath.  This is the good news for us this morning, brothers and sisters:  God is the one who brings life and light into the deadly darkness we made.  We make the deadly darkness, but God brings the life and light.  That’s what you’re called to believe. 

Now what do you think is the purpose of all that?  Why does God reveal himself like this in his Word?  Where he does want to take us with this?  Simply, he wants to magnify his glory through those who receive this kind of loving-kindness.  He wants us to exalt him, praise his name, acknowledge him in all we do and in all we are.  The LORD wants us to see this, understand it, believe it, and love him for it.  He wants to receive our thank offerings, the sacrifices of us, our lives offered to him out of gratitude.  We love this gracious God and thank him by doing what he tells us in his Word.  We put what we want to the side.  We acknowledge that he and he alone is at the centre.  Our lives are not our own, but belong to God.  Because they belong to God, he has the right to say what will be done and not done in our lives.   Seeing a God who brings light and life for sinners, makes us want to follow him all our days, with all our heart, soul and strength.

Glory is the purpose of our lives.  Not our glory, but God’s.  We were created for his glory, we’ve been redeemed for his glory, we are being restored for his glory.  We are his, so that we would magnify him.  John Piper reminds us that we are to magnify God, but not like a microscope.  There are two kinds of magnification.  There’s the magnification of a telescope and of a microscope.  It’s blasphemy to magnify God like a microscope.  If we magnify God like that, like a microscope, we take something tiny and we make it out to be bigger than it really is.  Doing that to God is blasphemy.  But what do you do with a telescope?  You point it to the vast heavens above, to these great expanses of greatness, just so you can try and see them for what they really are.  We are to magnify God like that!  We want ourselves and everyone around us to see the greatness of this awesome God.  Loved ones, isn’t that what you want to do?  Don’t you want to be a telescope for God’s glory, giving people the opportunity to see God’s sublime majesty for what it really is?  We do it, first of all, by prayerfully putting his Word first and foremost in our lives.

In his Word, we find this story of Ruth and Naomi.  There God was delivering his people from hardships that they had brought on themselves.  God was at work there.  God brought Ruth to Israel, to a place where there were laws allowing widows to reap the fields, where there were laws protecting and providing for widows through levirate marriage.  In his providence, God brought Ruth to the fields of Boaz and there he began to bless her.  And with her, he also blessed Naomi, his wayward child. 

As our text concludes, we find Ruth continuing to work in those fields not only during the barley harvest, but also into the wheat harvest.  She listened to Naomi and Boaz and stayed close to the female workers.  God kept her safe – and Naomi too.  He worked everything so Ruth kept on living with her in harmony.  God’s work is everywhere in this story.  When we see that work, we see God revealed.  We learn how God is good, even when his people are not.  In the end, we are reminded again that God is worthy of our praise and adoration today and every day.  AMEN. 

Prayer:

LORD God in heaven, our Father,

We thank you for your kindness, your steadfast love.  Through it, you didn’t forsake Naomi and Ruth.  Through it, you haven’t forsaken us, despite our sin and rebellion against you.  You have been loyal and faithful to us, even though we’re so often fickle towards you.  Thank you, Father, for bringing us life and light in Christ.  Thank you for your Holy Spirit, who brings us into all the benefits of Christ.  Thank you for all the blessings we enjoy from your hand.  We pray that you would open our eyes more and more to the rich way that you’ve treated us.  As we see it, Father please also work with your Holy Spirit so we would want to live for you.  We want to magnify your glory, we want to make much of your Name, exalt you before our friends and family, before our co-workers and neighbours.  We want everyone to see how great you are and we pray for your help in doing that very thing.  Even in this, we are little children depending on the help of our great and mighty Father.  Please hear us and help us glorify you.      




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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