One of the things that really stands out in the book of Ruth is that we don’t get to witness God moving in a direct way. In virtually every other part of the narrative in Scripture (except for Esther and Song of Songs), God speaks directly and is moving in a very obvious and direct way. In this book it is not recorded that God gave any commands. It is not recorded that He was bringing about certain circumstances; and it is not recorded that He was directly communicating at all with the characters in the story. God is mentioned in the text, but only as characters talk about Him. Ruth and Naomi were acting on their own thoughts and their own discernment, as was Boaz. There is no doubt in my mind that God is indeed at work, but it seems the figures in the story also had freedom to make their own decisions and pursue their hearts’ desires.
Then, I think about our own lives. We are face-to-face with important decisions every day, and rarely do I remember God making it crystal clear which decision I should make. Not only is it difficult to make some of life’s decisions, but it is so difficult to figure out the right way to accomplish something that I want to do in my life. It’s not that God is absent or that He doesn’t guide us, but as with Ruth, God gives us freedom to pursue the things we desire and the things that might honor Him.
My question is this: how do we make the correct decision or go about doing the things that we do in a good way since God gives us the freedom to discern for ourselves?
Ruth’s mother-in-law Naomi said to her, “My daughter, shouldn’t I find security for you, so that you will be taken care of? Now isn’t Boaz our relative? Haven’t you been working with his female servants? This evening he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash, put on perfumed oil, and wear your best clothes. Go down to the threshing floor, but don’t let the man know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, notice the place where he’s lying, go in and uncover his feet, and lie down. Then he will explain to you what you should do.”
So Ruth said to her, “I will do everything you say.” She went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law had instructed her. After Boaz ate, drank, and was in good spirits, he went to lie down at the end of the pile of barley. Then she went in secretly, uncovered his feet, and lay down.
At midnight, Boaz was startled, turned over, and there lying at his feet was a woman! So he asked, “Who are you?”
“I am Ruth, your slave,” she replied. “Spread your cloak over me, for you are a family redeemer.”
Then he said, “May the Lord bless you, my daughter. You have shown more kindness now than before, because you have not pursued younger men, whether rich or poor. Now don’t be afraid, my daughter. I will do for you whatever you say, since all the people in my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Yes, it is true that I am a family redeemer, but there is a redeemer closer than I am. Stay here tonight, and in the morning, if he wants to redeem you, that’s good. Let him redeem you. But if he doesn’t want to redeem you, as the Lord lives, I will. Now lie down until morning.”
So she lay down at his feet until morning but got up while it was still dark. Then Boaz said, “Don’t let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.” And he told Ruth, “Bring the shawl you’re wearing and hold it out.” When she held it out, he shoveled six measures of barley into her shawl, and she went into the town.
She went to her mother-in-law, Naomi, who asked her, “How did it go, my daughter?”
Then Ruth told her everything the man had done for her. She said, “He gave me these six measures of barley, because he said, ‘Don’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’”
Naomi said, “My daughter, wait until you find out how things go, for he won’t rest unless he resolves this today.”
When we left this story before, we saw that Boaz noticed the beautiful young Ruth. He provided for her and went above and beyond what the law required when providing for the poor. He offered her refuge, and he asked around about who this beautiful young lady was. When Ruth went home, Naomi (her mother-in-law) started to encourage Ruth to pursue Boaz because he was an eligible bachelor and an eligible family redeemer. He could give Ruth a home, a good place in society, and he could provide for her.
As we continue the story here, we witness Naomi giving Ruth specific instructions on how to really get Boaz’s attention. She instructed Ruth to go and lay at his feet after he finished a day’s work and finished his evening meal. Ruth followed Naomi’s advice.
Already, in this story, we’ve seen devastation caused by death. We’ve seen sorrow. We’ve seen two ladies trying to pick up the pieces of their lives. We’ve seen a budding romance begin to develop. We’ve seen desire lead to decision. Boaz decided to be generous to Ruth because he noticed her. There was a desire there. Naomi encouraged this budding romance because there was a desire present. Ruth followed Naomi’s instruction because she also had a desire. Every decision we make comes from some kind of desire that we have.
We may desire nice things, so we decide to earn the money to get those things. We may desire good friendships, so we decide to make friends. We desire to stand for what we think is right, so we decide to confront the things we think are wrong. We may desire to provide for our family, so we make a decision. We may desire to overcome something that is holding us back, so we make a decision to do so. Desire always leads to decision.
Since we are on the subject of desire, we might ask where desire comes from. In Genesis 1 and 2, we read of how God created at least this universe, including time and space as we perceive it. He created all of the animals and vegetation. After all this, he created people in His own image. If we were created in God’s image, then at the baseline, human desire has come directly from God. On this earth, I think there are two types of desires that people have: a primary desire, which is what people yearn for naturally on the most basic level, and a secondary desire, which is a desire we create for ourselves from the primary desires we were born with.
For instance, primary desires might include things like: the desire to eat and drink, the desire to sleep, the desire to rule over creation, the desire to be like God, the desire to stand for what we think is right, the desire to love and to be loved, and the desire to build and create. These desires are pure and holy desires. Secondary desires would stem from these: the desire to have food that tastes good, the desire to take naps, the desire to have a place of authority, the desire to argue with people or make others act a certain way, the desire for sexual intimacy, the desire to grow a church or a business. These desires can either be good or not depending on context and ethics. I use the term ethics to refer specifically to the reason or the rationale behind what is right and wrong. Our ethic is the baseline for our moral compass. The ethic for God’s children must always be God’s nature, God’s order of creation and God’s instruction. In life we will experience a wide range of desire and God gives us the freedom to discern according to those desires: to decide on whether or not a desire is good and then to decide on the actions we will take to fulfill those desires. Sometimes the desire is good, like in the case of Ruth and Boaz, but the way we fulfill that desire can be entirely sinful. This means that once we decide to pursue a desire that we have, we then must decide on a proper course of action. More often than not, it takes some contemplation and some time to think about what to do. When we don’t take time to think about a good course of action, we rush into something with intentions that may be good, while our action does more and more harm. This is true for individuals and for churches, communities, nations and households
This is one reason having a daily prayer time is so important. It is why we should devote time to spend with God. It is why we should always ask for wisdom. It is why we shouldn’t act on impulse. We want to make a good decision and we want to do what is best not only for us, but also for our families, our businesses, our coworkers, our friends, our spouses and our church.
Boaz wakes up and sees Ruth at his feet. I don’t know about anyone else, but if I woke up in the middle of the night and there was a random person sleeping at my feet, I’d probably freak out. Boaz may or may not have been startled, but after finding out that this was Ruth, he decided to pursue the relationship because it was a sure sign that she wanted him to redeem her and become her husband.
Ruth made the first significant move, and Boaz was okay with that! I do believe that a good man ought to pursue a woman, but there seems to be nothing wrong, in Scripture, with a lady making the first move if she wants to. There is also nothing wrong with a lady who wants the man to man-up and make the first move. Scripture is so generous when it comes to the freedoms given to both genders, but for some reason we would rather judge gender-roles according to tradition and to society rather than looking to Scripture. We must resolve not to say something is wrong unless we can prove it to be wrong according to God’s word, and not our own preferences or according to the way we were raised. We must always go back to Scripture!
Boaz looks at Ruth and says something like this: “Don’t tell anyone that you were here and that you did this. I will redeem you and take you as my wife, but there is another more qualified and I need to go to him and be sure that he doesn’t want to redeem you before we move any further in our relationship.”
There is a right way for us to pursue our desires and a wrong way. Boaz could have just married Ruth and dealt with the damage that would follow. It would have been easier in the moment and he would have been with the woman he wanted to be with. It would have been a disaster for the family and the community in the long-run because there was already a way to do things and a law regarding redemption in the family. Boaz decided to take the more difficult path and the right path.
We can apply this principle to the way that we choose to fulfill the desires that we have. There may be several ways to accomplish something. Some of those ways will be beneficial and some will not. Scripture gives us direct insight into some ways to fulfill desire and is silent on others. Ultimately, we must decide on a direction.
When it comes to the desire to love and be loved, there are good ways to pursue this desire. We can gain good, close friends. We can be part of a good local church family. We can join social clubs. When we desire sexual intimacy, there is a right way to pursue this desire. Scripture tells us that two people are married and become one. There is a lifetime commitment involved. A man and a woman were designed to complement each other in the marriage relationship. There are also wrong ways to pursue filling this desire: including sexual action without the marital, lifelong commitment and sexual action outside of God’s natural, complimentary design. To figure out the way in which God created this marriage relationship to work, we have to look no further than Genesis 1 and 2.
When it comes to the desire to eat and drink, there are good and not so good ways of fulfilling our yearnings. We can either enjoy what we consume in moderation for the benefit of our bodies in the long-run, or we can choose to be gluttons and drunks in order to enjoy ourselves in the short-term. What we must remember is that God is our God, and we shouldn’t give ourselves over to anything else: including food or drink.
When it comes to the desire to stand for what we think is right, there are right and wrong ways to pursue this desire. Jesus even gives specific direction in Matthew 18:15-20:
“If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them” (HCSB).
First off we see that the correct way to address any problem is to go to the source privately and address it with the person directly. There is no gossip involved. Criticism is not made publicly or in front of a group at first, but in person. This actually allows for a more genuine conversation. It helps to keep unity. It keeps us from creating divisions and fights within the church or within our community. It also guards us if we are wrong in our criticism because we have not made a fool of ourselves publicly. There are right and wrong ways for us to stand for what we think is right.
One of the most difficult things for us to do is take the time to make these decisions well in this life, to get wise counsel, to search the Scriptures for insight, and to pray about the decisions we will make. If we want to honor God, we must strive to make decisions well.
Honoring God and loving people
Sometimes it is not a clear decision. Sometimes there are more than two options. Sometimes Scripture is not clear on what exactly is right and wrong or good and not good. Who will I spend the rest of my life with? What career path should I take? How can I deal with the loss of a loved one? When is it time for me to retire or let someone more capable take my position? How much time should I spend in prayer each day? How many Bible verses should I read? How do I raise my children well? How can I honor God well if I’m divorced? What is the best way to reach out to people? How do I address this problem at work, school, home or church? How can I use technology in a way that honors God? How should I relate to my boyfriend or girlfriend in a way that honors God?
There are two questions that we can ask when we are faced with the many decisions in life. One: how can I love God in this decision; two: how can I love people in this decision? The decisions that we have to make in this life can be overwhelming for us, especially when we are capable of making wrong choices. We can simplify it a little as we think by asking these two questions no matter what decisions we face. When we make a wrong decision or bad decisions, we can take comfort knowing that all people have sinned against God (Rom. 3:23) but are forgiven and given eternal life freely by God when they trust in Christ (Rom. 6:23,10:9).
Ultimately, being a child of God is not about us always making the right decision. It is about us trusting in Christ to redeem us. There is nothing that we can do to earn redemption. We must lay at Jesus’ feet and trust Him to deliver us from sin and death. We strive to obey as a response to the gift of eternal life and redemption that He has given to us! God is so good!