This article is adapted from an equipping class I recently taught on provision in the Bible. Provision is important work, and God uses His people to provide for His people. You can listen to the audio recording here, or read on to get the written version.
When you hear about someone who does the “work of God,” what is your first thought?
Most of us probably think of a Pastor, priest, monk, Prayer warrior, or people like Mother Teresa.
And don’t get me wrong, all of those jobs are important, but the work of God is not limited to these “spiritual” vocations. Take a look at the following words from Jesus:
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.’
We know from this passage and many others (Luke 12:22-32 is another great example) that we serve a God who loves to provide. For this reason, when we help feed others, when we help clothe people, or when we care for the sick we actually do the work of God. He is our Ultimate Provider, and He invites us to join Him in His work.
The story of Ruth illustrates this concept incredibly well. The story of Ruth reminds us that, more often than not, God does not change the world through Hollywood style miracles, but through acts of extraordinary kindness by his people. In this article, we’ll explore the story of Ruth, 4 examples of provision in the Bible, and the different ways God provides for his people.
1) Ruth provides for Naomi by meeting her emotional and spiritual needs (Ruth 1)
I’m going to walk through the story of Ruth, and summarize some parts taking a closer look at some specific verses.
In Chapter 1: We meet a man named Elimelech who takes his wife and 2 sons away from Israel to the land of Moab so they can escape famine. It may seem like he is the hero of the story at first. There is a major famine and he takes his family on a journey to escape the famine and live healthy lives.
Unfortunately, Elimelech dies pretty quickly, and he leaves Naomi and their two sons Mahlon and Kilion. So, very sad turn of events but we have some hope because the boys get married. Orpah and Ruth join the family as Naomi’s daughters-in-law and everything seems to be great.
Except, before any grandchildren are born, both Mahlon and Kilion also die. We aren’t told how any of these guys die, but this is an incredible tragedy. Most of us don’t want to imagine what it’s like to be Naomi. She has lost her husband and her only two children. Not only that, but she’s miles and miles away from her home. She is alone and broken.
Naomi realizes there is no reason to stay in Moab. The famine in Israel is over, she’s lost everything she had in Moab. She tells her two daughters-in-law that she is returning to Israel, and they should stay in Moab with their family. They are young and they can find new husbands and still have children and live happy lives.
Ruth Decides to Go
At first both of them object, but Naomi persists and so Orpah concedes. She says goodbye, she weeps, and she does the perfectly acceptable, culturally expected thing and returns to her home.
But Ruth handles things differently. Let’s take a look at Ruth 1:15-18
Then she [Naomi] said, “Behold, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not plead with me to leave you or to turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you sleep, I will sleep. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do so to me, and worse, if anything but death separates me from you.” When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.
The two of them make the journey and return to Bethlehem. It’s been a few years and when people see Naomi for the first time, you would hope for a happy reunion. But instead, Naomi says this in verse 20-21 “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”
Even after returning home Naomi is so broken, she wants to change her name to a word that means bitter. She has nothing – she feels like everything has been taken away from her. Even though she doesn’t want it or feel like she deserves it, she needs someone to be with her.
Ruth Provides Her Presence
As Naomi points out, Ruth had every reason to leave Naomi. Her other daughter-in-law has returned to her family. She knows that Naomi has nothing to offer. She knows it will be an enormous sacrifice to leave her home and travel with a widow who really cannot help herself, much less help her daughter-in-laws.
No one would have judged Ruth for staying home. Most of us would have probably followed Orpah. It was the far more logical thing to do and frankly the cultural expectation.
But instead, Ruth demonstrates extraordinary kindness and chooses to stay with Naomi. No matter where Naomi goes or does, Ruth will be there to provide support.
At this point, Ruth doesn’t have much she can provide Naomi physically, but she can provide for her emotionally. If you have ever been deeply saddened or depressed, you know that being alone is really hard. Ruth staying with Naomi provides a level of emotional stability and a life preserver to hold onto despite feeling like she is drowning in sorrow.
Ruth also provides for her spiritually. “Your God will be my God.” She will help Naomi maintain her faith, despite the incredible sorrow Naomi feels.
In a very real sense, Ruth is following guidance that would later come from Paul in Romans 12:15, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
She doesn’t have much to offer, but she can stay with Naomi and weep alongside her. And so she provides Naomi with her presence.
I think this type of provision is important to highlight for several reasons. For one, we can sometimes think that provision starts and ends with meeting physical needs, with “bringing home the bacon”. This is not the case.
We can also sometimes over-elevate the work of a family member who gets paid and under-value the work of family members who do not get paid (stay-at-home spouse, retired person, or a student who helps take care of the home).
Naomi had a deep need for emotional and spiritual support, and Ruth provided it. This work matters – your vocation may not produce money, but God sees the work you do and He cherishes us when we provide for those in need.
It’s also worth highlighting the fact that, just because you do work and provide for the physical needs of your family, you still have a responsibility to provide for the emotional and spiritual needs. We’ve all seen the movie where a parent becomes addicted to their work. They justify it by saying “I have to provide for my family,” but all the while their spouse and children are suffering because they’re never home.
One classic example is the movie, Hook. The story is all about how Peter Pan grew up and became a work-a-holic lawyer. At the start of the movie, he promises to attend his son’s baseball game, but then he stays late at work for an “important” meeting. When he finally shows up, the park is empty. He didn’t just arrive late, he missed the whole game and every other game at the park.
It’s not until his kids are taken by Captain Hook and he returns to Neverland does he start to realize that his kids don’t need his checkbook (he actually tries to rescue his children with a checkbook, and Hook shoots a hole through it), but rather his kids need him.
So regardless of your vocation, whether it is a paying one or not, you have a responsibility to provide for the people in your life both emotionally and spiritually. At times, this may be very inconvenient or illogical, but one of the best ways to do this is by doing what Ruth did – provide your presence, and walk alongside people as they rejoice and as they weep.
Let’s continue the story of Ruth, where we will see the second type of provision I want you to notice:
2) Ruth, Boaz, and countless others work together to provide by meeting the physical needs of their family (Ruth 2-3)
Once they’re settled in Bethlehem Ruth realizes, “we need to eat!” And so in verse 2 she says “Please let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain following one in whose eyes I may find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.”
So Ruth goes out into the fields where, by law, she is permitted to gather grain from the edges of the fields. It’s nothing fancy, in fact it’s pretty humbling work, but Ruth finds a way to provide for the physical needs of her family.
But she doesn’t do it alone, does she?
Provision is a community effort, and everyone has an important part to play.
We start with Ruth and Naomi – Ruth gathers food and together they eat. But Ruth would not have had any grain to gather without Boaz’s field. And Boaz’s field would not have had any grain if it wasn’t for his servants and workers (vs 8-9), the men and women who planted and cared for the field. But of course it goes even beyond that – the seeds and harvest tools had to come from somewhere – the merchants who supplied those things. And of course, overseeing everything, making life possible is the Creator, God our Ultimate provider.
And this is still true today.
Provision is a Community Effort Today
If I want to eat, then either my wife or I need to actually prepare some food. But in order to get food, I need money. Fortunately I have a job in marketing and I get paid for it. But it doesn’t matter how good I am at marketing, if my company doesn’t also have people working on a manufacturing line to create the products we sell. It wouldn’t matter how good the sales team is if we didn’t have developers creating the software that people use.
And the other people in the company rely on the work I do as well. I used to have a manager who would say, “the work we do here is important, Evan – a lot of people’s mortgages are riding on us being successful.” Now it wasn’t all on me and my work, but my work definitely contributed to the success of the company.
And all of those people are necessary just for me to get a paycheck.
But then, I still have to go buy food. The grocery store wouldn’t work without people stocking shelves and taking inventory and selling me food. And those people would be in trouble if there were no delivery drivers to bring the food. And those delivery drivers would be in trouble if there were no farmers or factories making the food. And those food producers would be in trouble if there were no merchants selling them seed and harvesting equipment. And of course, all of us would be in trouble without God overseeing everything as our Creator and Provider.
So it’s important to recognize that everyone in this chain plays an important role – from the merchant who provided the seeds to the person who actually cooks or prepares the food. Providing for others is important work, and as individualistic and independent as we would like to believe we are, provision is a community effort.
When we choose not to do our part, the community suffers. And of course, when we do not do our part, our own household suffers.
It is true that there will be times in your life when you can be the provider, and frankly there will be times when you cannot. You may get injured, you may get sick. You may lose your job for a period of time.
When you are capable, God as our Ultimate provider, calls you to find a way to help provide.
Provision is Essential Work to God
1 Timothy 5:8 puts it this way, “But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
These are very strong words – if someone does not provide for his own when he is capable, then he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. While this may seem extreme, it highlights how important the work of provision is to God. Providing may seem like ordinary work, but it is essential to God.
I want to be clear on something here: If you’ve lost a job and you’re struggling to provide for your family, that does not make you worse than an unbeliever. This is not what Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy 5. Instead, he is talking about people who have the means to provide for their family, but choose not to. Maybe they spend all their money on themselves instead of others, maybe they’ve abandoned their family, maybe they’re lazy and choosing not to work even when work is available to them.
Sometimes finding work can be really hard. I’ve experienced that firsthand, and it’s not fun. But remember, provision is a community effort. And there are times when you will be a primary provider, and there are times when God will use other people in your life to provide.
3) Boaz Provides for the needy and the foreigner (Ruth 2:1-16)
We’ve covered the fact that we’re supposed to provide for our own, for our household. And for the most part, that is pretty instinctual. It’s rare you find someone who really does not want to take care of their own family however they can.
But God also calls us to care for more than just our own. As we saw earlier, Ruth went to pick up grains from the edges of Boaz’s field. This was possible because of a law set forth in Leviticus 23:22 (NASB)
“‘When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the stranger. I am the Lord your God.’”
I want to highlight those words “needy and stranger.” My Greek is pretty rusty, so when I want to get a better understanding of what words mean I check other translations of the Bible and that tends to help paint a more full picture. The above was from the NASB, but the ESV uses the words “the poor and the sojourner” and the NIV uses the words “the poor and the foreigner.”
Some context helps too. The book of Leviticus was written to the people of Israel as they were sojourning through the desert. They had been in Egypt for hundreds of years, and they had been poorly treated. God wanted to make sure that, when Israel had a home, they would treat foreigners, sojourners, and strangers far better than they were treated themselves. And so, this command is one practical way for Israel to care for the needy.
Provision in the Bible: Sharing the Profits with Others
Leaving grain on the ground is an interesting case and can ruffle our capitalist feathers sometimes. Our culture tends to value maximizing profits, but God calls the Israelites to effectively leave money on the ground for others to come and collect it.
But I would argue this is a good thing, and not just because it is charitable but because it is also good for business and the whole community.
From a business perspective, which company would you rather work for? The one where you never get raises, where they ask you to work unpaid overtime, and despite massive profits you don’t get a bonus? Or the company that is profitable, but also gives raises, pays you overtime, and shares profits in the form of a bonus or stock options. I think all of us would prefer the company that shares profits.
The principle here is not to say that profits are bad – they can be great and they are a way that God provides for people. The problem is when we start to hoard everything. We could share profits, but we could keep them ourselves. We could give to the needy, but the number in my bank account could also be bigger.
God is our Creator and provider, and we live on an Earth that has plenty. Problems arise when people begin hoarding resources in such a way that prevents others from meeting their needs.
A great example of this is the great toilet paper rush of 2020. For whatever reason, people got really scared they would run out of toilet paper and so they bought insane amounts. As covid restrictions came down, people ran to the store to buy 6 months worth of toilet paper.
I am not an economist and I’m sure the economic theory here is way more complex. As we saw in 1 Timothy 5, we have a responsibility to provide for our own, but that does not mean we should hoard resources and leave others with nothing.
We don’t have to hoard everything because we can trust in God’s ongoing provision.
Provision in the Bible: Extraordinary Generosity
Boaz followed the law in Leviticus and allowed Ruth to glean his field. He could have left it at that, but he takes things a step further.
First, he sees Ruth:
He literally sees her and shows compassion by asking about her in 2:5, “Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “Whose young woman is this?”
He also sees who she truly is, praising her character and the work she has done already in 2:11-12 “Boaz replied to her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law after the death of your husband has been fully reported to me…May the Lord reward your work, and may your wages be full from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
But Boaz goes even further, seeing Ruth and Naomi’s needs and demonstrating extraordinary kindness to them. 2:15-16 “When she got up to glean, Boaz commanded his servants, saying, “Let her glean even among the sheaves, and do not insult her. Also you are to purposely slip out for her some grain from the bundles and leave it so that she may glean, and do not rebuke her.”
I love this for multiple reasons. Boaz was extremely charitable – he tells his staff to leave some of the good stuff for Ruth. Now, he could have just handed her some grain and sent her home, he could have just made a donation, but he didn’t. He encouraged her to keep working because he knew that there was dignity in her work. Not only does Boaz provide her with food, he also strengthens her dignity.
Different Ways to Provide for the Needy and the Stranger
Providing for the Needy and the Stranger can take many different shapes and sizes. We know that God has a heart for the poor, the widow, the stranger, the least and the lost. He calls us to care for them – we saw this in Matthew 25:35-40.
Most of the time, we think of donating money to charity or to the church. And those are absolutely valid and important ways to care for the poor and needy. But they aren’t the only way.
If you’re an employer, providing jobs for people who need them is an important way to provide for the needy and the stranger. In many cases you’re going to hire the best possible person, but what if you hired someone to do a job because you knew they desperately needed it? It may be a risk to profitability, it may not be possible in your business right now.
Maybe you cannot give someone a job, but maybe you can provide training so that someone can eventually get a better job. For instance, you could teach language classes to immigrants in your country to help them find employment. Tekton Training is a ministry that equips immigrants and refugees to work in skilled jobs with high demand.
You can also help by providing specific physical needs to help people. When we moved to New Zealand in 2012, different members of the local church helped us get on our feet by allowing us to borrow their car, invited us over for dinner, and even let us stay with them for a few weeks rent free until we could find a place of our own. This provision changed our lives and made our move so much easier.
Remember, there is dignity in work, and so whenever possible we want to help those around us and those in need to provide for themselves and eventually, provide for others.
And this brings us to our 4th and final picture of provision in the Bible that is found in the story of Ruth.
4) God Provides for His People (Ruth 4:13-22)
At the beginning of this article I mentioned Luke 12:22-32, which reminds us that God is our ultimate provider and he is always at work.
One way that God loves to work is through the extraordinary acts of kindness of his people. In the book of Ruth we see several examples:
- Ruth chooses to stay with Naomi
- Boaz goes above and beyond to care for a poor, foreign widow
- Ruth marries Boaz so that Naomi can have a kinsman-redeemer
- Boaz puts his own inheritance at risk to provide for Naomi and Ruth
After Ruth and Boaz marry, Ruth gives birth to a son. This helps restores hope and joy to Naomi – she was bitter and empty at the beginning of the story, but in 4:14-15 it says
“Then the women said to Naomi, ‘Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you one who restores life and sustains your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.’”
Throughout the story, we see God meeting the specific needs of the people in Ruth. There are no major miracles, no Hollywood moments. The story is simply filled with God’s people demonstrating extraordinary kindness.
The story of Ruth ends with these words in Ruth 4:22, “and Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.”
Not only does God provide for the specific people in the story, but these acts of kindness ultimately lead to the birth of King David – a man after God’s own heart who would unite Israel like no other king.
And of course, King David would have another descendent, one who would be the greatest provider of all. Through the line of Ruth and Boaz, through the line of David, Jesus would eventually be born.
And through Jesus, God provides a way for us to return to Him. Through Jesus, God provides the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Romans 8:31-32 explains it this way,
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?
God has provided everything we need and more through the work of Christ. If you find it a struggle to provide for others, then remember the ways God has provided for you. Most importantly, remember the way He sent Jesus to die for you, to provide you with a way to be saved, and provided you with forgiveness and eternal life.
The story of provision in the Bible is this: We can show kindness to others because of God’s great kindness to us. While we were still sinners and enemies of God, he died for us and provided a way for us to return to Him.