Not a Chance

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Throughout November we’re taking an in-depth look at Ruth, the little book that helped pave the way for God’s Messiah to come into the world.

According to the principle of Chekov’s Gun, there are no extraneous details in great stories.

The Russian writer Anton Chekov (1860-1904) advised young playwrights, “If you reveal in the first act that there is a loaded rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third act it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”

The second chapter of Ruth begins with a statement that just seems to be hanging there:  “Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.”  After documenting the heartbreak of the widow Naomi and her widowed daughter-in-law Ruth, why does the author take this sudden excursion into Naomi’s genealogy?

Boaz is going to be a difference-maker.  Naomi and Ruth don’t know that yet.  Boaz himself certainly has no idea.   

But God is crafting a story that will change the history of Israel, and thus the world.

The Hebrew translated as “a man of standing” is ish gibbor hayil.  This designates a man endowed with strength of character.  Boaz is one of the good guys.

Ruth, in the meantime, has begun to take the initiative.  Her mother-in-law may be paralyzed by shock and grief, but in verse two she says to Naomi, “’Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.’  Naomi said to her, ‘Go ahead, my daughter.’”

If that doesn’t sound like an overly enthusiastic sendoff, we need to understand that Ruth is about to undertake a task that is both difficult and dangerous.  She is going to go gleaning.  That means she will follow the men who are harvesting the barley fields and pick up what they leave behind.

In Old Testament times, God instructed the Israelites to welcome gleaners to their fields.  He even commanded what we would call harvesting inefficiency.  Crops were not to be gathered from the corners or the edges of a field.  If harvesters accidentally dropped a stalk of grain, the law commanded them to leave it there.  That’s because there would always be widows, orphans, and foreigners wandering the land in search of their next meal. 

This was Israel’s equivalent of a built-in food bank.  Servant girls or women of low social standing most often gleaned this leftover crop.

It was not easy work.  And it wasn’t always safe.  Agriculture was primarily a male domain.  The book of Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges, when (as the Bible book of that name informs us), “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  The male harvesters might target a young widow – to insult her, tease her, or assault her. 

Ruth is helpless in this situation.  She has no personal advocate, no leverage, and no resources to fight back.  Furthermore, as an immigrant, she has no idea whose fields might turn out to be a threatening place to work.

In Ruth 2:3 we read, “So she 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…”  Now we know why the author showed us the “gun” of Boaz’s background two verses earlier. 

As it turned out is a fascinating phrase in the original Hebrew.  It literally reads, “as chance chanced it.” Chance here is both a noun and a verb. 

Now before we jump to the conclusion that the Bible teaches there is some kind of impersonal force called Chance that’s at work in the universe, we need to smile along with the author of Ruth and say, “Hmm, what are the odds that Ruth would end up gleaning at just the right place?” 

Naturalistic scientists and philosophers, who are committed to describing the origin of the cosmos without resorting to divine intelligence, occasionally invoke Chance as if it has some kind of creative power.  “Everything that exists came about through Time and Chance.” 

Such a statement gives the impression that Chance can actually accomplish something.  But there is no force or entity called “Chance.”  Naturalistic thinkers, in the end, always affirm this.  For now – until science finds a materialistic mechanism that can somehow produce a universe – Chance is a kind of placeholder.  It really means, “We don’t know how it all happened.  We just know that it didn’t happen because some sort of cosmic Intelligence supervised all the details.” 

The authors of Scripture beg to differ. 

From Genesis to Revelation we read that nothing happens by chance. 

Is there any chance that anything is going to happen today in London or Beijing or Paris or Washington or Kokomo or in your life that will throw a wrench into God’s plans? 

There’s not a chance

It was not a mistake that you were born into your family of origin.  Or that you got sick before that big interview.  Or that your church had that awful fight that led people to pick sides.  God did not swing and miss when you inherited your unique genetic library.  God didn’t forget what was supposed to happen when you missed that flight or lost your car keys or flunked that final exam. 

Consider the next verse:  “Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem…”  Just then is the author’s assurance that details matter. 

Ruth is in the right place.  Boaz shows up at the right time.  God’s fingerprints are all over this.

His fingerprints are all over your life, too. 

And there’s no chance he’s lost track of what you’ll be facing during the next 24 hours.