At Work

The Book of Ruth Reveals God’s Presence in Our Work

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Last October, my wife and I attended the 2018 Faith@Work Summit in Chicago. (You can read my reflections on that event here.) One of my favorite parts was a workshop led by Mark Greene, Executive Director of the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. His topic was “Connecting How We Read the Bible to Faith at Work in Practice.” Mark gave the table groups an exercise to identify what is relevant to being a disciple at work from the story of Ruth.

The book of Ruth is normally taught as pointing to our future “kinsman-redeemer” Jesus, which it is. However, I was amazed at the number of theological insights we were able to pull out of this great story, much of which is set in the context of working in an agricultural business.

Work Is Part of Our Spiritual Journey

As we look at this story about someone who, at first glance appears to be a relatively obscure Moabite woman, we cannot help but see how God uses this one sacred workplace in her life. God was present with Ruth every step of the way. This season of her life built her faith. I imagine that Ruth saw this job as an illustration of God’s faithfulness from this point forward.

We see in Ruth 1:1 that there was a famine in the land. This was a fairly common occurrence in this region of the world. Famines have played an important part of other Old Testament narratives such as Joseph and Moses.

Perpetual dry seasons have had devastating consequences on the economy, causing God’s people to look to him for guidance and provision. God will sometimes get our attention in a time of need to position us for a mission he has yet to disclose.

Ruth’s needs put her in a position of dependence on the Lord and his people, which brought her to an employer who was going to change not only her life but would also impact the lives of generations to come.

As I look back over my own forty-year spiritual journey working as a junior/senior high school math teacher, church youth minister, U.S. Army chemical operations specialist, and federal government worker, I see clearly how God’s hand guided me every step of the way to build my own faith and make me more like Christ. He used my family responsibilities and economic circumstances to lead me to just the right job at the right time and place for his glory.

God Provides for Our Needs Through Work

In chapter 2, we see Ruth’s willingness to work to provide for her mother-in-law and herself. Ruth told Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain, behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor” (Ruth 2:2).

The practice of leaving some of the grain or other crops for the poor to pick up was called gleaning and was regulated in the Mosaic Law. (See Lev. 19:9-10.)  There is genius in this provision, as it recognizes the dignity of the poor in providing an opportunity to work and not just get a handout. Not only did God provide an opportunity for Ruth to work, he also provided workers who assisted in meeting Ruth’s needs.

Godly Employers Treat Their Employees with Dignity

Boaz, as the owner of his own business, cared for his employees well. He exemplified what we read in the New Testament, where Paul told employers in the church in Colossae, “Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven” (Col. 4:1).

Our table group noticed that this was a diverse workplace. There were males and females and foreigners among the Hebrew workers. Boaz ensured his employees were treated with integrity. He gave them a godly greeting, “The Lord be with you!” (v. 4), and they responded in kind.

Boaz also knew there was someone new in his midst (v. 5). He asked Ruth to make herself at home with the other girls (v. 8). In addition, Boaz warned the men that worked for him to leave her alone; he would not put up with any sexual harassment (v. 9). Boaz showed hospitality to Ruth; at mealtime, he invited her to sit with him (v. 14).

I would say that Ruth had a pretty good first day of work! No wonder she decided to come back another day to see what God had in store.

God Places Us in a Job for His Purposes

The last chapter of this narrative indicates the main reason that this story is a critical part of the canon (Ruth 4:17, 22). We discover that this love story between Ruth and Boaz, set in the context of working in a grain field, put Ruth in the lineage of both David and Jesus.

I love the way that this narrative was crafted. The writer indicates that God’s hand was directly involved in bringing Ruth and Boaz together at Boaz’ field. When Ruth decides to go out to the fields to find grain, we read these words: “As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelich” (Ruth 2:3). No one reading this from the lens of faith would miss the obvious nod to the sovereignty of God. It did not merely turn out that way. God designed it to be this way. He orchestrated this divine appointment.

What about us? Does God place us at just the right time and place so that we will meet the people he wants us to meet to perhaps shape future generations? I maintain that he does.

There are a number of narratives throughout the Bible that occur in workplace settings. When we spend time meditating on how God’s people worked, what is being taught about work, and what truths we can apply at our own work, we will find that the God who was present with workers then is still very much present with us in our jobs now.

Editor’s note: Learn more about God’s purpose in your work in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.

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