Themes of Ruth, Part 6: The Providence of God

In this last part of this series of themes of Ruth, I want to explore the theme of the providence of God...

Themes of Ruth, Part 6: The Providence of God
Photo by Akira Hojo / Unsplash

Originally published in Issue #19 on August 6, 2021

In a recent group Bible study, we have been working through the book of Ruth. As we go, I’ve been using Judges, Ruth: Revised Edition (The NIV Application Commentary) | K. Lawson Younger 📚 for extra personal study. I’d like to share some thoughts and reflections with you as I’ve been traveling through Ruth. If you have not read the book recently, these reflections will make more sense if you spend 10 minutes and read the book first.

In this last part of this series of themes of Ruth, I want to explore the theme of the providence of God. It pervades this book.

What is providence? Providence is God’s divine direction of his creation. He may direct it through obvious means (such as miracles) or, more commonly, through apparently natural means that result in God’s desired outcome.

God’s Providence through Famine

In the very first verse, we learn that there was a famine in Bethlehem. How does that relate to God’s providence? First, while it’s not made clear in the text, I think it’s a safe assumption that God caused the famine. This is the period of the Judges when everyone did what was right in his own eyes (Judges 17:6). Given the identification of the period of the judges and the famine, it seems likely that this famine was a punishment on Israel for faithlessness.

The phrase “there was a famine in the land” in Ruth 1:1 only appears in two other places in the Hebrew Bible: Genesis 12:10 and 26:1. The first drove Abram to Egypt, while the second drove Isaac from his home. Despite both men’s faithlessness in these situations, God brought blessing. Drawing on this phrase, the author of Ruth assumes that the reader will hear the echo of Genesis.

And there are links. If God had not caused this famine, Ruth would never have come to Israel, and the genealogical line of David and Jesus wouldn’t have existed. Despite the faithlessness of Elimelech, God brought blessing upon his whole people through the faithfulness of Ruth and Boaz. God knew the choices that Elimelech, Ruth, and Boaz would make and used these vessels to accomplish his purposes.

God’s Providence in Ruth Finding Boaz

In Ruth chapter 2, Ruth asks her mother-in-law, Naomi, for permission to go into the field and find someone who will allow her to glean grain (v2). After receiving permission she goes into the field. Verse 3 says:

So Ruth left and entered the field to gather grain behind the harvesters. She happened to be in the portion of the field belonging to Boaz, who was from Elimelech’s family. 
— Ruth 2:3 (CSB)

God’s providence is seen again in Ruth’s “happening” upon Boaz’s part of the field. In the story of Ruth, bad things happen to faithless people (such as Elimelech), and good things happen to faithful people (like Ruth and Boaz).

The wisdom literature, such as the book of Proverbs, makes it clear that living a faithful and good life leads to good things happening to you. Often, we may see this as the providence of God. And often, God does bless those faithful to him and to others. God has designed his world to bless those who live in line with his good character, and to bring judgment on those who do not.

But other wisdom literature, such as parts of the Psalms, Job, and Ecclesiastes, make it clear that this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the brokenness of this world hurts even those faithful to God. And sometimes God allows that to happen to accomplish greater goods.

That is a difficult truth to believe when we face hardship and pain, but we can trust in God’s goodness. Whether or not we see God’s goodness in this life, eternity is the truest, best good. So we can say with Paul:

For our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory.
— 2 Corinthians 4:17 (CSB)

God’s Providence in Boaz’s Meeting the Other Kinsman

Once Boaz has agreed to marry Ruth, there is an obstacle: another kinsman is closer to Naomi and therefore has first right of redemption. In 4:1, the CSB doesn’t quite translate this correctly. The CSB simply says, “Soon the family redeemer Boaz had spoken about came by.” A more literal translation would say something like “just then, the kinsman-redeemer he had spoken about came along.”

Boaz is not passive in his pursuit of Ruth, and it’s certainly God’s will and providence for this marriage to be. So Boaz is proactive in faithfulness and God provides the rest to complete the situation as he wills.

With Boaz, we need to trust God and do good. Boaz did what he could do in pursuit of the good.