Waiting for love can be excruciating! Have you ever been there? You think you know what you want; you think you know what God's will is for your life, but there is nothing more you can do to accomplish it. All you can do is sit and wait! That's where Ruth finds herself in this message, so let's join Stephen now as he teaches us a valuable lesson about patience.
The Longest Day
A news report I read recently delivered the story of how unmet desires escalated into emergency calls.
Evidently a twenty seven year old woman in Fort Pierce, Florida walked into a McDonald’s restaurant and ordered a 10-piece McNuggets meal. After standing in line for some time, she finally made it to the counter and ordered her dinner. The McDonald’s employee took her order and her money, only to return moments later informing the customer that they had just run out of McNuggets – those low sodium, fat free delights (Ok, I added that part).
The employee told the customer that she would need to choose something else from the menu. She refused and demanded, “Just give me my money back.” The employee told her he was really sorry, but that all sales were final. But he did remind her that she could get something else off the menu, even if it cost more – at no extra charge. No way – this woman insisted – it’s McNuggets or my money back. She couldn’t be coaxed into eating a Big Mac, a McRib or even a Quarter Pounder with cheese and jumbo fries.
According to the news report, she became so angry that she stood at the counter and dialed 911 – three times.
I mean, is this an emergency, or what?
She never got her McNuggets . . . but she did get a ticket when the police arrived for misusing the 911 emergency system.
Associated Press, “Florida woman calls 911 over McNuggets,” @news.yahoo.com (3/4/09)
When I read that news report I couldn’t help wondering how many of us treat God like He’s an employee at McDonalds. We want something for ourselves and we’ve even paid a fair price in order to get it.
And God doesn’t deliver.
We’re left at the counter with options we never wanted.
Even worse, we wait at the counter while God seems to disappear with our money; waiting for God to return and offer some guidance, or guarantee . . . some indication of what to do next.
An even more difficult scenario is when God finally appears and demands that we partake in something distasteful . . . something we would never have ordered in the first place.
One of the greatest tests to a Christian’s faith is standing at empty counters, patiently waiting on the sovereign direction of God. An even greater test to our faith is when God reappears to hand us something we would have never ordered.
We can identify with Margaret Thatcher, former prime-minister of England who once said, “I am extremely patient, provided I get my own way in the end.”
Robert J. Morgan, Nelsons Complete Book of Illustrations (Thomas Nelson, 2000), p. 600
That’s not really patience. If it were, we would all be perfectly patient as we stood at empty counters holding guarantees that we’d eventually get whatever it was we wanted.
In that convicting little book of Puritan prayers, The Valley of Vision, one church leader of generations ago admitted in prayer his personal struggle with patient surrender:
When Thou wouldst guide me
I control myself.
When Thou wouldst be sovereign
I rule myself.
When I should depend on Thy provision
I supply myself.
When I should submit to Thy providence,
I follow my own will.
When I should honor and trust Thee,
I serve myself.
Lord, it is my chief desire to bring my heart back to Thee.
The Valley of Vision quoted by Charles Swindoll in, Intimacy with the Almighty (Word Publishing, 1996), p. 70
This is the honest confession of a heart that admits how hard it is to wait; how difficult it is to surrender without any guarantee from God.
Without a doubt, the longest day in the life of Ruth is about to begin. It will be a day that requires patient surrender. And she holds no guarantee from God that Boaz will become her redeemer.
According to Old Testament law, Ruth’s kinsman redeemer would buy up the family estate of Elimelech and take Ruth and Naomi into his care.
There was just that one little catch to the deal.
Another man is more closely related to Naomi’s family and he has first dibs on the land that belonged to Naomi’s late husband. Jewish tradition taught that this man was a brother to the late Elimelech.
He has first dibs on Ruth.
This wasn’t just about love . . . it involved the law.
Both Boaz and Ruth, in a remarkable demonstration of character and honesty, have effectively revealed they are willing to submit to the law of God as revealed through Moses.
Boaz makes a Promise
The one promise Ruth presently clung to were the words of her beloved promising to do everything in his power to settle the matter of her redemption as soon as possible.
He says as much in verse 13; Remain this night, and when morning comes, if he (this other relative) will redeem you, good; let him redeem you. But, if he does not wish to redeem you, then I will redeem you, as the Lord lives.
I love that brief comment that reveals the passion and emotion in the heart of Boaz. I will redeem you, as the Lord lives!
Literally, “by the life of Yahweh”.
He is making an oath, a vow, to Ruth – he will redeem her at all possible costs, and she can believe his promise with the same assurance that she can believe in the existence of Yahweh.
Adapted from Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament: Ruth (Eerdmans, 1988), p. 219
It’s not unusual to add some little addendum to our promises which gives them an even greater sense of importance or gravity.
Kids say things like, “Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye.” That’s about the worst thing a kid can imagine. Actually, I’m still there – getting stuck with a needle anywhere would add gravity to my promise.
People will say, “I swear on the Bible” or “I promise you on my uncle’s grave.” Which I’ve never understood.
Here’s Boaz claiming the ultimate foundation for his oath – “As God is alive, I am making you this promise.”
In other words, “Ruth, if that other relative doesn’t want you – as God is our true and living God – I will redeem you.”
Boaz not only makes a promise, he makes provision for her as he gives her enough grain the next morning to meet her needs and Naomi’s needs for at least 2 more weeks.
Perhaps Boaz was thinking this relative might be away, or at his own threshing site and Boaz doesn’t want Ruth to have to go out and forage for grain – to risk being put in harm’s way.
So he loads her down with grain, once again.
Early the next morning, Ruth heads for home and Boaz heads for the city entrance where a plan he’s begun formulating will soon play out.
As soon as Ruth walks through the front door, Naomi asked, “How did it go, my daughter?” Translated literally, the Hebrew reads, “Who are you?”
Which really seems strange, doesn’t it? Did Naomi not recognize Ruth in the early morning light?
The Hebrew expression carries the idea of, “Who are you now?”
In other words, “Now that you’ve met Boaz at the threshing floor and told him your desire, are you now the future bride of Boaz or what? In what state are you now in?”
Our translators have attempted to translate this question in order to convey the best sense of the Hebrew language; my translation it reads, “How did it go?” Others translate it, “How art thou” or “How did you fare”.
Naomi is basically asking, “Did he say yes?!”
She’s already picked out the wedding dress, the bride’s bouquet and – smell that aroma – the wedding cake is already in the oven.
And Ruth, verse 16, told her all that the man had done for her.
In other words, she explained everything that Boaz had promised and the vow that he had made to her. You can see and hear them excitedly going over every word and every expression on Boaz’s face; every nuance of tone and attitude.
And there was no doubt about it – Boaz wanted to marry her.
Then Naomi said to her, “Wait, my daughter, until you know how the matter turns out; for the man will not rest until he has settled it today.” (verse 18)
“Wait, my daughter.” It can be translated, “Sit still.”
Are you kidding?
This is about to become the longest day in Ruth’s life.
Stanley Collins, Courage and Submission: A Study of Ruth & Esther (Regal Books, 1975), p. 33
And Naomi’s too, by the way. They probably drove each other nuts all day long; peeking out the window . . . jumping up at the sound of every passing cart . . . looking out the door for any sign of a messenger or relative to deliver the news; watching the sun dial on the window sill.
Sit still? Hardly.
There’s rich truth in that command.
The truth is there really isn’t anything Ruth can do.
She is powerless to redeem herself. The law can only reveal to her the condition she is in and the total dependency she must have upon her redeemer.
M.R. DeHaan, The Romance of Redemption (Zondervan, 1958), p. 119
What a wonderful picture of the believer, the Bride of Christ.
Like Ruth, all that we ever do is tell Christ we love Him and want to be taken under His authority and care; we want to rest under His wings. And we discover when we do, that Christ loved us first and He is at work on our behalf.
Christ alone is capable of meeting the conditions of the law that bind us to another family. Christ alone can pay the price of redemption. Christ alone will take upon Himself our debt and settle the legal claims against us and bring us into His family as His chosen Bride.
Wait, beloved . . . sit still.
Am I writing to any patient people? People who naturally, calmly sit still while waiting for something important?
Frankly, I hate missing the elevator. In fact, here at church, I’ve discovered that when I get on the elevator to go up to the second floor, if I push the number and then immediately push the “close door” button, the doors close at least 2 seconds faster.
Of course people trying to get on the elevator get smushed, but that’s their problem . . . besides, they need to learn some patience.
I always dreaded the comment section on my report card in elementary school. You got your grade in one column and then there was that awful section where the teacher could make comments under headings like “Self-control”.
For some odd, tortuous reason, my parents took that section much more seriously than the grades. This was a no-win for me.
The comments were always, “Stevie needs to sit still; Stevie talks too much in class; Stevie disturbs his classmates; Stevie needs to exercise more self-control.”
Listen, how does a kid wait patiently when he knows recess is almost here – or lunch – or gym class – or Christmas morning . . . there’s some exciting stuff ahead and the last thing we want to do is sit still.
The truth is, I really haven’t improved very much over the years. Well, maybe a little, only because it’s just harder to move.
Frankly, this is my ongoing challenge in life – maybe yours as well.
Wait . . . surrender . . . sit, while your Redeemer is at work.
The imperative form of this Hebrew verb – sebi – also conveys the idea, stay put . . . and even, stay calm.
Hubbard, p. 227
Now you’re really pushing it!
The verb is used of a farmer who awaits the growth of his crops. And what good will it do a farmer to pace out in his cornfield. He’s done all he can do and the rest is in hands of God.
The challenge to sitting still boils down to trust . . . surrendering to whatever the hand of God will soon deliver.
And in that surrender we actually find the strength to sit still.
The basis for Ruth staying put us in Naomi’s correct summation, Boaz will not rest until he has settled it today.
Ruth can wait, because Boaz won’t.
Ruth can rest, because Boaz isn’t about to.
Ruth can sit still because Boaz is doing anything but sitting still.
He’s racing off to arrange for the redemption of his bride.
One author provoked my thinking to consider passages in the Bible where the word, still is found.
Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Committed (Victor Books, 1993), p. 49
You have this text here, in Ruth 3:18 which can be translated sit still.
I found not only the expression, sit still, but stand still (Exodus 14:13).
You may remember that fascinating scene where the Israelites have exited from Egypt following the final plague which took the lives of the first born throughout the land of Egypt. The people of Israel rushed out in freedom.
But Pharaoh had a change of heart and in a violent rage he commanded 600 chariots under his own direction and then every available chariot in the land and every soldier and they marched out after Israel.
Israel was camped out on the edge of the Red Sea. Not the Reed Sea, the liberals love to say where you can wade across. This is the Red Sea which feeds off the Indian Ocean and is on average 1,700 feet deep.
That’s why we call this a miracle.
It’s further proven by the sheer panic of the Israelites who knew they were stuck.
And God says to the people of Israel, through Moses, Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord which He will accomplish for you today. (Exodus 14:13)
The phrase stand still appears again in Job 37 where Job is told to stand still and consider the wonders of God.
Deeply discouraged and desperately ill, Job is told to patiently surrender to the sovereign will of God – to stand still and take note of the marvel of God’s creation (Job 37:14).
Sit still . . . stand still . . . be still.
When the people were troubled over their national sin during their revival under the leadership of Nehemiah, the Levites calmed the people with the promise of their forgiveness, Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved ( Nehemiah 8:11).
When tempted to sin, the Psalmist David advised the reader, Be still (Psalm 4:4).
When troubled by the corruption of the world and the long delay of God to do anything on behalf of the believer, David writes, Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways (Psalm 37:7).
Of course, the classic passage you’ve probably already thought of is where David quotes the counsel of God, Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the heathen; I will be exalted in the earth (Psalm 46:10).
The tale of God’s provision and power isn’t over . . . the best is yet to come!
I love the way David ties together our ability to be still to the prayer he crafts, O God, do not remain quiet . . . and, O God, do not be still (Psalm 83:1).
The believer can sit still, stand still and be still because our Redeemer does not stand still; He does not sit still and He will not be still.
Even now, Christ is unceasingly:
- interceding for the believer (Hebrews 8:34)
- at work in the believer (Philippians 2:13)
- arranging all things together for His good purposes on behalf of the believer (Romans 8:28).
Sit still, stand still and be still – because God isn’t.
Ruth, you can wait, rest and trust – your beloved is at work to win you.
I remember reading somewhere in the distant past the words of an author I could easily picture in my mind. He wrote of those early days in his life when as a little boy he would curl up in the back of the family car as his father drove home through the night. He talked of how he felt so safe, tucked back there, with Dad in the driver’s seat. But, he recalled, sometimes my grandmother would be with us and she would sit on the edge of that front seat instructing my father every 5 minutes – “Watch the side of the road there . . . be careful of that driver coming up next to us . . . don’t drive so fast.”
He went on to conclude that his grandmother never enjoyed the ride because she didn’t trust my father. And because she couldn’t trust his driving . . . she couldn’t rest in the journey.
But the author added one more convicting thought. He wrote, “Grandmother and I both reached our destination at the same time. But one of got there with frazzled nerves, while the other arrived happy and rested. The difference was a matter of trust.”
By the way, Naomi didn’t give Ruth this counsel to sit still because it was easy to apply or obey.
Frankly, this advice is never easy . . . but it is possible. It’s a matter of trust when it comes to standing, sitting or remaining still.
Our response to the difficulty of our circumstances is directly related to the depth of our confidence in God’s driving ability.
Nothing under His control can ever be out of control.
Swindoll, p. 72
So, just how are we to stand still and stay put and wait?
How do we wait for that phone call . . . that acceptance letter . . . that doctor’s report . . . that invitation . . . that contract . . . that delivery . . . that surgery . . . that arrival . . . that decision?
I’ve heard that the average person will spend 3 years of his life waiting in line.
So how do we handle a lifetime of waiting?
Let’s begin with a fresh vision of the care and concern of our Beloved Redeemer. And let’s not forget that He can fulfill His promises without our help.
That doesn’t mean we don’t do anything. It means that we understand that worrying over what we can’t do is nothing less than a lack of trust in what only God can do.
And that’s when you stand still . . . sit still . . . be still and get ready to know in a deeper way that He is God.
It occurred to me that every Christian is going to arrive at the creation of the new heaven and the new earth at the same time. Even those of us who drive faster won’t get there quicker.
I wonder how many of us will have gotten any joy out of the journey . . . any sense of peace in His abilities and His timing.
So let’s pull up a chair and sit with Ruth. Perhaps the most poignant verse in this entire book, so far, chapter 3 and verse 18. Wait – sit still – my daughter until you know how the matter will turn out.”
Rest assured – your Redeemer is at work today.
To me the great lesson here, beneath the superficial and the temporary is this truth; we simply need a fresh vision of our Redeemer’s ability.
Be still – is directly related to – knowing that He is God.
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art;
Thou my best thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one.
High King of heaven, my victory won,
May I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun
Heart of my own heart whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all!
Anonymous Irish hymn, c. 8th century
Translated by Mary E. Byrne, 1880-1931
With fresh insight, let’s regain new confidence as we curl up in the back seat and rely on God, in the driver’s seat, to bring us to the chosen places of His desire . . . and our delight.