Redeeming Ruth: Out of Despair
Out of Despair —> Into Hope —> Promised Provision —> Our Redeemer
Steve said last week was a little shorter, so this week I have extra time…it’s like roll over minutes on your cell phone...
Four Part Series in Ruth (4 chapters)
Short Story of the Old Testament
Not Fictitious, Myth, Parable
True Historical Narrative
One of Two Books named after a woman (Esther)
Big surprise w/Ruth, not a Jew, but a Moabite
Points to great significance within her story
Really “a story within a story”...
Love Story of Ruth and Boaz (like a Nicolas Sparks novel)
Story of God’s provision: Ruth’s Present / Our Future
Grand Theme: Redemption
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.
Setting: Out of the gate —> Bad News
Time: In the days when the Judges ruled
Flip back one page in Bible (Judges before Ruth)
Dark times in Israel, continually rebelling against God
Pattern: sin, discipline/judgement, repentance, deliverance
People would sin, God would judge, there was repentance, God would raise up a judge to deliver his people
Summed up in last verse Judges 21:25
“In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes”
In response to sin/rebellion, God would judge through hostile nations, natural disaster....famine
God would discipline by removing His hand of grace/blessing.....to lead to repentance
Place: A Journey from Bethlehem to Moab
Bethlehem in Hebrew “house of bread”
A desirable place to live, fertile land, good harvest, plenty to eat; a good place to raise a family.
FAMINE in Bethlehem
The house of bread had become barren
Most likely b/c of the sins of the nation (in time of judges)
So Elimelech moves his family away from Israel
If Bethlehem was a great place to live, Moab was just the opposite.
A Nation with an Immoral History
Began out of incest between Lot and His two daughters
Genesis 19 God rescues Lot from Sodom
His wife is turned to salt because she longs for the city
Lot hides in the hills and his daughters get him drunk and have sex with him, so he can give them sons.
These sons begin the Ammonites and the Moabites
The Moabites were enemies of the Jewish people
The Book of Numbers gives a glimpse of the tension between these two nations.
Moab King Bilak hired Balaam to curse Israel so he could defeat them in battle.
Balaam can’t curse them, but instead blesses them and Israel keeps winning battles.
Balaam devises a plan to hurt Israel, get the Moabite women to seduce the men and turn their hearts away from God and towards their own god (Chemosh)
When Israel entered the promised land, they were told not to make alliances with the Moabites, keep your distance.
But here, Elimelech moves his family....he takes a risk
We get a feel for what is going on by their names.
Elimelech - “God is King”
Naomi - “Pleasant” or “Sweet”
Their generation had experienced the goodness and blessing of God...
As Blessing was turning to discipline they have two sons...
Mahlon - “Weak” or “Pain”
Chilion - “Sick” or “Fading”
So in a time of God’s judgement/discipline, Elimelech moves his family away from the promised land and into a hostile and corrupt environment.
Notice that they only went to “sojourn”, a short stay…let’s just catch our breath, just regain our strength/composure
But what happens? They remain there, they have essentially “thrown in the towel” on God’s behalf.
We seem to be making Ok on our own, let’s just stick around here where we have some food, comfort/provision
Let me quickly speak to the Husbands/Fathers
I want to encourage your not to be an Elimelech, don’t lead your family to be faithless, but rather lead your family to God’s faithfulness.
Who/What would your wife or your children say is your God?
Do you lead your family with gospel-centered direction?
Do they see you pray or read or worship God?
Do you lead them in prayer, study or worship at home?
Are you teaching them to place their hope and their trust in God or something/someone else?
Statistically speaking, when Dad’s are committed to Christ, when they are faithful in church, in worship, in serving…the whole family follows their lead.
Men, it is time to be men who are serious about our relationships with God and living in light of who God is.
It is time to lead our wives and our children to the feet of Jesus.
No one just drifts into spiritual maturity, into godliness/holiness…there is pursuit, there is effort.
What does your family see you pursuing? Where do they see you place your effort?
We will see an example of a godly man, of a man of respect, of honor, a man worth taking note of, but do not be an Elimelech.
Ladies....do me a favor, on the way home don’t try to be the Holy Spirit…not your job, but do pray for your husband…that God would lead Him in leading you.
So Elimelech moves his family away (from God’s promises)…what’s next.
But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Naomi’s life becomes a downward spiral
Her husband dies
Her sons both marry Moabite women
Again, a people known for their immorality
A people God had specifically said to avoid.
Both of her sons die
She is left with nothing
No land - So no home, no provision
No husband - no companionship, no security
No children - no joy from grandchildren, will end her family lineage and name
You can see it in how the author ends v5, “the woman” was left without....
Naomi is cast into hopelessness
She has lost her identity…just “a woman”…empty
The beginning of this story is really one of tragedy and despair, but in the end,this journey is one out of despair into hope, into provision and into redemption/joy.
And we are about to see our first glimmer of light...
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.
The Lord has visited His people (this is great news)
When God is working, blessing His people, word gets around.
Word has come 30 miles, 1-2 weeks journey to Moab…God has visited His people. He is healing that which was broken.
2. We see in these next verses and in these conversations a great example of faith, of turning towards God and trusting in His provision and His sovereignty.
So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
As they begin their journey, Ruth tells them to turn back.
Return to your “mother’s house”
In essence, she is saying, “I am not your mother” you owe me no allegiance or debt
She urges them to leave and pray’s that God will bless them for their kindness to her family and give them a new family of their own.
Naomi desires that they find “rest”, that they find comfort, love, security, that they could have a family; all of the things that Naomi herself has lost.
And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
At first both ladies refuse to leave, so Naomi appeals to logic/reason
I am old and have no husband
I don’t have any sons for you to marry
Even if I had sons tonight, would you wait for them to grow older?
Do you want to live your life alone with no husband?
Naomi says, what has happened is bitter for me, there is no need to put yourself through any more pain…you have suffered enough.
Naomi credits God’s hand of discipline is the cause of her pain.
So she is returning to God, but she is unsure what kind of future she will be returning to.,
Will she always be under His wrath?
Is there any forgiveness/reconciliation in her future?
We often wonder we experience hardship, why we must go through valleys/trials
Sometimes we experience pain or trials because we live in a fallen world and not because of specific sin in our lives.
We live in a fallen, imperfect, broken world
We are broken people, surrounded by broken people
This result of this universal brokenness, is that we will experience angst, pain, suffering…the world is broken
Sometimes, as Naomi realizes here, God will discipline His people in order to bring them to repentance.
We sin against God and with our sinful choices, come painful consequences
As a parent directs, disciplines their child, God also will lovingly and patiently discipline us to realign our thinking and our actions to Jesus
The Bible says that God’s providential hand is at work in all things, working all things together for our good (seeing,desiring,imaging Jesus).
When you make a cake, you may add vanilla or almond extract…bitter ingredients, but stirred into the batter, the end result is something good, something sweet.
The story of Ruth, and all of Scripture does not ignore the existence of suffering, but it responds to it, it meets it with hope.
Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
Orpah leaves, but Ruth clings to Naomi
Ruth’s action of clinging shows a strong commitment,
Ruth’s words show the recipient of this commitment is more than just the woman Naomi....but to God.
How many of you used these words in your wedding?
They show a strong commitment and love, not only to another person, but to God.
Your journey will be my journey
Your people (customs, traditions) will be mine
Your God will be my God
This commitment is longer term…to death
Where you are buried I will be buried
Where someone was buried, and who the people they were buried among was of great significance, your eternity will be my eternity.
Ruth was saying, Not only will I follow you, I will follow/serve/obey/worship/trust your God
What gives Ruth this desire for God?
We have already said, word traveled fast, perhaps she has heard the stories of Creation, Flood, Abraham
She has heard that God is in the act of moving now
Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’ ”
Ruth has heard of the work of God in His people, and this produces a desire to follow this God.
Another side note here: Do people see and hear the goodness and faithfulness of God in my life to the point that they say “let us go with you”?
This is discipleship, this is the mission of the church, who is a city on a hill, a light in the darkness…
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
The whole town was stirred...
This word means “murmur”
Can you image?
You leave God’s land and God’s people
You move to a “forbidden” land, enemy territory
Your husband dies, your sons die
You come back empty handed, and bring with you a Moabite woman…an outcast!
Imagine the rumors, the gossip, the glares…the judgement
Is this Naomi?
You’ve let yourself go
You really made a mess of things
You poor soul (“she had it coming”)
Don’t call me Naomi (pleasant)
Call me Mara (Bitter)
Why call me pleasant when I have tasted the discipline and judgement of God?
I left full, but I have lost everything.
Almighty God is sovereign in my fulness and in my emptiness…and He has brought me back
We need to know that our God is in full control
Nothing happens that He does not cause or allow
He is a God who sends blessing and curse
He is the God of natural disaster, of disease, of cancer of all of our circumstances.
If anything the Sovereign hand of God should bring us comfort and peace in suffering…because He is not powerless to intervene, to restore, to redeem our situation for good.
These things still happen…and yes, He is still great
Many people love to quote Phil 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”
Do we really “get” this verse? Why Paul wrote these words?
Listen to the whole conversation…Philippians 4:11-13
Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
This isn’t about being good at football, or baseball
This verse isn’t about being successful, that Christians will have a blessed, successful life
These verses are about having hope, being content even in our trials, in those seasons where we experience suffering rather than success.
The Christian reality is not that there is no suffering, but that even in suffering we can experience true peace and even joy because we live looking forward, anticipating/expecting a day of future restoration...
So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
So Naomi returns
This journey begins with Naomi’s repentance
This journey begins with a bad situation ending
This journey begins in the wake of despair and disaster
When disaster comes, when hope is lost
God is able to draw straight lines with crooked sticks.
Naomi is empty, but she is about to be filled
Naomi is bitter, but joy is coming
The Harvest is coming, there is hope
Where is your hope? What is your greatest need?
D.A Carson “Praying with Paul”
If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death, and he sent us a Savior.
Naomi’s story is not over
Naomi has a need that a son, a husband, a grandchild, a land cannot fill…her greatest need is a Savior.
God has not just lead her to repentance
He is leading her to refuge
He is leading her to rest
He is leading her to redemption
There is another story that springs from this one, a day when God would again visit His people in Bethlehem....and this time bring hope for the entire world, through our Savior Jesus.
Your story is not over....
Maybe God is leading you to repent of your rebellion
Maybe God is leading you to take refuge in His strength
Maybe God is leading you to rest in His provision
Maybe He is leading you to trust in His redemption