Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Because She Sought Refuge Under God's Wings

It's mid-week and I'm tired (as I usually am during the last stretch of a college semester). There is much on my mind and heart, but I'm blogging to share something beautiful that the Lord revealed to me today. It's such a simple truth, but O how often I need Him to feed my soul with it!

Every week, I prepare a devotional/teaching of some sort, relating to set-apart womanhood, for an 11 year old girl. The Lord has blessed me with a wonderful opportunity to disciple and pour into a young girl's life with His precious Word. I've only been doing this for a mere two months and, oftentimes, I find myself very inadequate for such a task of caring for a young soul. But no matter how many times I fail in communicating Biblical concepts to her (or over-communicating - I have a tendency to ramble terribly), the Lord is teaching me an abundance of things through these times of prayer, study, and preparation. It's amazing how often the lessons that I prepare for her are the exact words I need to hear. As I've been studying through Ruth with her, I came across this commentary by John Piper (some of the excerpts below are from his sermon on Ruth - Chapter 2) that really struck me. It is the essence of true womanhood. It is the essence of our daughter-hood before our divine Father.

nAnd she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law." But Ruth said, "Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the LORD do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you." ~ Ruth 1:15-17

nThe more you ponder these words the more amazing they become. Ruth's commitment to her destitute mother-in-law is simply astonishing. First, it means leaving her own family and land. Second, it means, as far as she knows, a life of widowhood and childlessness, because Naomi has no man to give, and if she married a non-relative, her commitment to Naomi's family would be lost. Third, it means going to an unknown land with a new people and new customs and new language. Fourth, it was a commitment even more radical than marriage: "Where you die I will die and there be buried" (v. 17). In other words, she will never return home, not even if Naomi dies. But the most amazing commitment of all is this: "Your God will be my God" (v. 16). Naomi has just said in verse 13, "The hand of the Lord has gone forth against me." Naomi's experience of God was bitterness. But in spite of this, Ruth forsakes her religious heritage and makes the God of Israel her God. Perhaps she had made that commitment years before, when her husband told her of the great love of God for Israel and his power at the Red Sea and his glorious purpose of peace and righteousness. Somehow or other Ruth had come to trust in Naomi's God in spite of Naomi's bitter experiences.
nHere we have a picture of God's ideal woman. Faith in God that sees beyond present bitter setbacks. Freedom from the securities and comforts of the world. Courage to venture into the unknown and the strange. Radical commitment in the relationships appointed by God.

nGod’s Mercy in Ruth 2:3:
"So she set forth and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers; and she happened to come to a part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech." She "happened to come"? The answer is God—the merciful providence of God guiding Ruth as she gleans. Ruth happened to come to Boaz's field because God is gracious and sovereign even when he is silent. As the Proverb (16:9) says, "A man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps."

nWhy Has Ruth Found Favor?
nNow in verses 8 and 9 Boaz approaches Ruth and shows her great kindness, even though she is a foreigner. He provides food by telling her to work in his field and stay close behind his maidens. He provides protection by telling the young men not to mistreat her. And he provides for her thirst by telling her to drink from what the men have drawn. So all of Boaz's wealth and godliness begin to turn for Ruth's good and safety.
nNow we come to the most important interchange in the chapter—verses 10–13. Ruth raises a question which turns out to be very profound. It's one that we all need to ask God. Hardly anything in our life is more important than the answer we get.
nThen she fell on her face, bowing to the ground, and said to him, "Why have I found favor in your eyes, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?"
nRuth knows that she is a Moabitess. From a natural viewpoint she has two strikes against her. She does not resent this, but accepts it. As a non-Israelite she does not expect any special treatment. Her response to Boaz's kindness is astonishment.
nShe is very different from most people today. We expect kindness and are astonished and resentful if we don't get our rights. But Ruth expresses her sense of unworthiness by falling on her face and bowing to the ground. Proud people don't say thanks. Humble people are made even more humble by being treated graciously. Grace is not intended to lift us out of lowliness. It's intended to make us happy in God.

nBoaz says in verse 12 that God is really the one who is rewarding Ruth for her love to Naomi. Boaz is only the instrument of God (as we will learn from Naomi in just a moment). But now notice the words, "The Lord recompense you for what you have done, and a full reward be given you by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge." This verse does not encourage us to picture Ruth as an employee of God providing needed labor which he then as employer rewards with a good wage. The picture is of God as a great winged Eagle and Ruth as a threatened little eaglet coming to find safety under the Eagle's wings. The implication of verse 12 is that God will reward Ruth because she has sought refuge under his wings.
nThis is a common teaching in the Old Testament. For example, Psalm 57:1 says,
"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in thee my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of thy wings I will take refuge."
Notice the word "for." Be merciful to me, for in thee my soul takes refuge. Why should God show mercy to Ruth? Because she has sought refuge under his wings. She has counted his protection better than all others. She has set her heart on God for hope and joy. And when a person does that, God's honor is at stake and he will be merciful. If you plead God's value as the source of your hope instead of pleading your value as the source of God's hope, then his unwavering commitment to his own value engages all his heart for your protection and joy.

nBut we must ask how Ruth's love for Naomi and her leaving her own family relate to her seeking refuge under the wings of God. The most likely suggestion is that Ruth was able to leave the refuge of her father and mother in Moab because she had found a refuge under the wings of God which was far superior. And evidently she saw a need in Naomi's life and sensed God calling her to meet that need.
nSo the relation between taking refuge under God's wings on the one hand and leaving home to care for Naomi on the other hand is that being under God's wings enabled Ruth to forsake human refuge and give herself in love to Naomi. Or another way to say it is that leaving home and loving Naomi are the result and evidence of taking refuge in God.
nSo now back to Ruth's question in verse 10, "Why have I found favor?" The answer is that she has taken refuge under the wings of God and that this has given her the freedom and desire to leave home and love Naomi. She has not earned mercy from God or Boaz. She is not their employee. They are not paying her wages for her work. On the contrary, she has honored them by admitting her need for their work and simply taking refuge in their generosity.
nThis is the message of the gospel in the Old Testament and the New Testament. God will have mercy on anyone (Palestinian or Israelite or American) who humbles himself like Ruth and takes refuge under the wings of God. Jesus said, O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate.”
nAll the Pharisees had to do was to take refuge under the wings of Jesus. Stop justifying themselves. Stop relying on themselves. Stop glorifying themselves. But they would not. Ruth was not their model. No falling on their face before Jesus. No bowing down. No astonishment at grace.
Don't be like the Pharisees. Be like Ruth.
~ John Piper

Are we taking refuge in the Lord and, as a result, allowing Him to use us as vessels of grace in the souls around us?
Do we count the Lord's protection better than all others?
Have we set our hope on the Lord alone for hope and joy?

Lastly, I came across these two videos by the wonderful Voddie Baucham. He's so straight and to the point, but he communicates basic truths that are often so simple that we overlook them.

True Womanhood Looks Like Christ & The Incalculable Impact of a Woman

O Christ, live through me! May my whole heart genuinely and continually say:
"...for me it is good to be near God;I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,that I may tell of all your works." ~ Psalm 73:28