CHRISTMAS: “A TALE OF GOD’S FAVOR” (Ruth 2)
FBC Earlville, N.Y. December 9, 2018 10:30 AM
Rev. Jeremy B. Stopford, Pastor
TODAY’S “SPECIAL”: “Signs that your church fund-raising campaign is in trouble” [from a book on “Bible Humor” found in our own church library!]:
Your consultant’s first name is “Fingers”
Half of the campaign letters were returned, “addressee unknown”
You have been receiving fast-food coupons in the offering plate.
Commitment Sunday falls during Spring Break.
The Chairman of the Board recommends donating soda bottles and cans as a major funding source of the campaign.
Finally, most members think that “Faith Promise” is the name of the pastor’s secretary.
INTRODUCTION We are in the Book of Ruth, often called the “Christmas Story of the OT”. Last week we met what I called the “3 ladies of the Christmas Story”: Naomi, who looked at life through simply seeing all the facts – and jumping on the facts with the understandable “life is impossible, don’t do it” attitude. Then there is her first daughter-in-law, Orpah, who looked at her false gods of Moab with greater hope than any supposed true God in Israel. Finally there is the one who is to be the main character of the story, Ruth, Naomi’s second daughter-in-law, who looks at life through the eyes of faith. Ruth, too, saw the false gods and the seeming security they brought. She also saw Israel – and Israel’s true God – through the stories of Naomi. And she knew, she knew, that He alone was worthy to be trusted.
Today’s lesson takes us to Israel, to a little town called Bethlehem (why is it always called a “little town”?). Here Ruth comes face to face with her faith on display through several displays of amazing kindness – what our text calls “favor” – and those kindnesses will draw Ruth, and eternity, to an active knowledge of the true God.
And in the process, those kindnesses will show us the evidences of the seen hand of the unseen God in our little towns as well! PRAYER
#1 ”We have met the enemy and he is us.” – Pogo
We must remember a very important point in this book: Ruth is a member of the enemies of Israel. She hails from Moab.
Often in the book she is referred in disdain as “Ruth the Moabitess”. Look at the verses within our text of Chapter 2:
Verse 2, “Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi”
Verse 6, “The foreman replied, She is the Moabitess who came back from Moab with Naomi”
Verse 21, “Then Ruth the Moabitess said” – even the author of the text wants his readers to know, to remember forever, her roots. She was first and foremost a citizen of Moab.
But why does Moab bring such a poor taste in the mouths of the Israelites? A look at one text in Deuteronomy 23:3-4 answers that question: “An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the assembly of the Lord; even to the tenth generation none of his descendants shall enter the assembly of the Lord forever, because they did not meet you with bread and water on the road when you came out of Egypt, and because they hired against you Balaam the son of Beor from Pethor of Mesopotamia, to curse you.” Note first of all what the latter part of the passage says: “because they did not meet you with bread and water” when you were getting ready to come out of the wilderness wanderings. The citizens of Moab showed no kindness to the people of the true God. That lack of kindness would label the citizens of Moab as the enemies of Israel. But note even more so the length of that hatred: in the former part of the verse, it says that no citizen of Moab shall enter the assembly of the Lord even to the tenth generation.” Remember that Moses, the human author of Deuteronomy, was addressing those who were the “next generation” of Israelites. These were the children of those who had left Egypt. Of all those who had left Egypt, only Moses and Joshua were left. But Moses knew his days, too, were numbered. So he addresses the next generation with words of remembrance, of eternal advice. And note that he wasn’t trying to put a physical limit on how long the Moabites would not be allowed to become citizens of Israel. “to the tenth generation” didn’t mean somewhere between 300 and 400 years. No, no! It means they were NEVER to be allowed to be a part of the assembly of Egypt. Never. No possibilities. No how. NEVER.
In the old cartoon, Pogo, his most famous quotation is, “we have met the enemy and he is us.” The people of Ruth’s day remembered: their eternal enemy was the people of Moab. And Ruth was part of Moab. She, then, was a natural-born enemy of Israel.
All the proverbial cards were stacked against Ruth. It was both physically and Biblically impossible for her to be considered with any ounce of the favor of God.
And into that scenario enters Ruth Chapter 2.
# 2. “For by grace are you saved through faith” – Paul
There is an interesting word in our NIV text. The word appears 3 times.
Look at verse 2. In a conversation with Naomi, Ruth seeks her permission: “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” In the KJV, the writer uses the word “grace” for “favor”. Theologians cherish the word: “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” “Grace” is an undeserved favor bestowed, often by a superior to a lesser. Ruth was seeking that favor.
She understood her position. She was a stranger. Perhaps she had heard Naomi quote from Leviticus 23:22, “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not wholly reap the corners of your field when you reap, nor shall you gather any gleaning from your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the stranger: I am the Lord your God.’ ”
She was a stranger, and she certainly was poor! She was hoping for that favor, that undeserved kindness, and that hopeful obedience of any Israelite to be shown to her. She in turn was hoping that there would be at least one nearby citizen of Israel who counted God’s word worthy to be obeyed. Through the eyes of Naomi, Ruth was developing what we call faith, faith in the unseen God as seen on display through the people who called themselves the “people of God.” Favor is what she sought – little could she imagine how that favor would be found.
But let us remember that Ruth’s position was once ours as well. Listen to how Paul describes this, first in Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace [“God’s undeserved favor”] you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Where Ruth was dependent on grace, so were we.
But let’s look further! We, too, were strangers as well to God! Ephesians 2:12-13 read, “that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Even at Christmas, the cross is the hope of the lost.
But we are no longer strangers! Look at Ephesians 2:19-20, “ Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone…”. Like Ruth, our faith will change our position before the Lord. Isn’t that amazing?
But the favor shown Ruth can also be found elsewhere. Look at Ruth 2, verse 10, where she asks with amazement, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me – a foreigner?” Isn’t it neat how such undeserved kindness is questioned as being unbelievable? She knows her position – she is born an enemy to God’s people, and, in her thinking, to their God as well. She knows their position, the people of God. Yet they through Boaz and his hired hands are showing her undeserved kindness. What kind of God do they love and serve that would cause them to show undeserved kindness to an enemy and stranger?
And finally in verse 13 she utters her heart of hope, “may I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord…though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.” She realizes everything that she is and that they are. Why, even Boaz’ servant girls had a greater position than she did. And yet she was treated with favor, the kindness of God as on display through Boaz and his men. Wow.
She had told Naomi that she would follow her God. Slowly but surely, she is finding that such a God is the only One worthy to be trusted. Have we?
As we wrap up this message of the “tale of God’s favor”, there is one major point in the story that is often overlooked. Perhaps our NIV words it poorly. Look at verse 3, “So she [Ruth] went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.” Our KJV says, “her hap was to light on a part of the field belonging unto Boaz…”. To those who are without God and yet looking for Him, all things seem to be “by chance”. My life has many of those that the Lord wonderfully laid before me: A good friend who happened to be saved at a revival the previous week. A fellow counselor who happened to have Bibles on his bureau that he purposefully put there to give away. A pastor who happened to be called to be the president of the Bible School to which the Lord one day would call me. And lastly, coming back to college from a ministry weekend only to find that standing at the steps of the college’s front door just happened to be the girl that I would marry – and that marriage just happened to be not in the too distant future!
The favor of God delights in bringing our lives in alignment with His heart. The favor of God delights in bringing our submission to His best plans for our lives. The favor of God delights ultimately to show us that He alone is worthy of both our eternal and our daily trust.
And that favor was foremost on display at that first Christmas, when God sent forth His Son to be born in a manger, that He might one day go to Calvary’s cross for our sins, that we in turn might one day trust the grace – the favor of God for our salvation.
Have you met firsthand the favor of the God of Christmas?
Close in prayer