Ruth Sermon 2: A Family in Crisis
Ruth – A Family in Crisis
1 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. 2 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. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. 6 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.
1. Introduction – Last week we started into a study through the book of Ruth.
a. Last week we looked at the historical setting of the story.
i. And that’s really important for us to understand…Elimelech, Naomi, Ruth, Boaz, they were really people…
1. Living at a real point in history, during the period of the Judges.
a. They had culture like we do, they had issues and problems like we do.
i. And since this is a real story about real people and a very real God, we can relate to this story.
1. We can see how this story lines up and intersects with our own stories.
b. So, we looked at the historical setting. We looked briefly at the characters mentioned, at the structure of the book…a some of the major themes.
i. Today, we are still in the introductory phase of this study.
1. Today, we are going to get into the story of Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Chilion, Orpah and Ruth.
a. But as the scene is set for us today, we’ll see that things get off to a rather tragic start.
i. Hear God’s Word – Ruth 1:1-6.
c. Here’s what we are going to explore today.
i. We’ll look at the reason or reasons behind the famine mentioned in v.1
1. We’ll look at the importance of the phrase “went to sojourn in Moab.”
a. We’ll look at the tragedy surrounding Naomi.
i. She goes through a lot in these verses, we’ll look at the situation and the plight surrounding these widows.
1. And as we close today, we’ll loo kat what happens when God shows…though we’ll see that he’s been there the whole time.
2. A Famine – We looked extensively last week at the phrase “in the when the judges ruled…
a. And today let’s pick up the next phrase of v.1 – there was a famine in the land.
i. Now, we have to ask ourselves the question…why did this famine happen?
1. Obviously, famines take place when there is a lack of water.
a. And with no irrigation system in place…with no water, meant to corps, no crops meant no money for the people…no food for the people.
i. In an agrarian society, anything that damages the crops was absolutely devastating.
1. Be it famine or flood, or blight or plague.
ii. Remember when we studied the book of Joel…a locust plague came and wiped out all the crops.
1. It not only affected that year’s harvest, but the years following.
a. A famine or drought would do the same thing…affect the people and the economy for years to come.
i. But why? Why did this famine happen?
1. Was it simply a meteorological event? The rain simply stopped falling?
a. Possibly, but there is another reason.
b. Remember last week when we talked about the phrase, “In the days when the judges ruled…”
i. We talked about how those days were dark and bleak – people were constantly rebelling against God.
1. There was no king in Israel and everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
a. So – could it be that there’s a connection here between the ruling judges and the famine. The spiritually dark times and the drought???
i. Absolutely there is a connection.
ii. You see, we can’t read the book of Ruth in isolation…without understand what came before it and what comes after it.
1. So what came before it??? Genesis -Judges.
a. So we have to understand the events of Ruth through the lens of what was written and taught and what happened in those books.
iii. And in particular – when we put it all together – the bleak days of the judges…the famine tearing through the land…
1. We should understand this in light of the covenant blessings and curses that are recorded for us in the book of Deuteronomy.
a. Because in the book of Deuteronomy a covenant is made between God and the people of Israel.
c. What’s a covenant? Well, think about your wedding…on your wedding day, you stood up in front of God and your witnesses…
i. All googly eyes and madly in love…and you entered into a covenant relationship with your spouse.
1. And your covenant has promises. It was founded and established on certain terms.
a. Love and cherish, have to hold, for better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health…until death do us part.
i. Meaning, you won’t bail when hard times come…money won’t divide you…neither will health problems…
1. Only death will be able to separate you…that’s a covenant
ii. Well, God and Israel also made a covenant together.
1. And in their covenant, there were stipulations – we call these stipulations the 10 Commandments.
a. No other gods before YHWH. No graven images…not misusing God’s name…and so on down the list…
i. And if Israel obeyed these stipulations, things would go well for them.
1. They would thrive in the land…their crops would grow in abundance and they would have peace from their enemies.
iii. However, if they broke the covenant stipulations – worshipped other gods, made idols…misused God’s name…
1. The covenant also had curses. Punishments for not holding up their end of the covenant agreement.
a. In Deuteronomy, the covenant between God and Israel is renewed…
i. It’s an incredible scene – half the people are on one mountain shouting out the covenant promises…
1. Half the people are on another mountain, shouting out the covenant curses…
a. And Moses is in the middle leading the ceremony.
d. I say all of this because in the covenant curses there is mentioned a familiar word – famine.
i. Israel said, if we don’t hold up our end of the bargain…if we are unfaithful to you…bring these curses upon us.
1. Bring a famine on our land. In Joel, mentioned earlier, the locusts came not as a natural event, but as a punishment for their constant straying from God.
a. So, in the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land…why?
i. Not a meteorological event, but a sign that God was holding up his end of the covenant…even when Israel wasn’t.
ii. In the days of the judges – everyone did what was right in their own eyes…worshipping this god and that god…
1. But even though the nation was oppressed by other nations…even though there was a bitter famine – it doesn’t mean God abandoned his people…actually it’s just the opposite.
a. He was still being faithful to his part of the covenant.
i. He was visiting them with judgment…just as Israel asked him to during their covenant renewal ceremony.
1. God was being faithful, even when Israel was being unfaithful to him.
3. Sojourn to Moab – So because of this famine – brought on my Israel’s covenant unfaithfulness, a man from Bethlehem took his family and moved to Moab.
a. Now, when we think about this from a 21st century human perspective, this seems like a noble thing.
i. Bethlehem was ravaged by famine – but apparently a country just to the south was fine.
1. Again, confirms the reason for this famine – spiritual…not related to weather patterns.
a. And it seems noble that the man would want to provide food for his family.
i. Noble that he doesn’t want his wife and kids to starve to death.
1. The logical move is to go to a country where there is no famine.
b. It seems noble, until we look at this move from a biblical perspective.
i. It was not God’s will or God’s plan for his people to move out of the Promised Land.
1. God, the Creator of heaven and earth made this land…
a. And the Creator God promised that portion of his creation to Abe, Ike and Jake.
i. He gave that land to their descendants…to his people.
1. It was God’s plan for his people to live in that land, to nurture and work and cultivate that land…
a. It was God’s intention for his people to live under his rule in that land…
i. Trusting him to provide for them in the land that he gave to them.
2. It wasn’t his plan to have his people up and leave the land whenever they wanted.
c. So, here’s Elimelech, who’s name, by the way, means “God is my king” – here’s Elimelech, and instead of obeying God’s commands…
i. Instead of seeing Israel’s rebelling and leading the people to repentance…
1. Instead of trusting his God and king to provide for him in Bethlehem…
a. Elimelech chooses to leave the promised land and move to the unpromised land.
i. Even though his name is a testament to God’s kingship – Elimelech’s actions betray him…and shows the reader that he doesn’t trust his king to provide.
1. Instead, he takes matters into his own hands and leaves the brown and baked out fields of Bethlehem for the green fields of Moab.
a. A case of the grass being greener on the other side.
d. And isn’t it true that sometimes we do this?
i. We leave the place or the circumstances that God has placed us in because they are trying…they are hard…not what we imagined them to be.
1. Sometimes we lack a fundamental trust for God to provide for us where he has placed us.
a. For Elimelech, the food of the unpromised land seemed real, tangible and easily available…
i. In contrast with God’s provisions, which tested and stretched his faith and trust.
ii. Sometimes we choose the green fields that are outside of God’s will and God’s intentions – simply to satisfy our own desires.
1. The temptation to chase after the world’s provisions or the world’s way of life is very strong…especially when the provisions from heaven seem scarce.
a. So like Elimelech sometimes we chose the green and easily accessible fields – we chose the easy road…instead of walking the road that God has laid out for his people.
i. A path that my not always be easy, but is a path of faith and trust and ultimately leads to a satisfied and complete life.
4. How’d it Go?
a. So, how did the move to Moab turn out for this Israelite family?
i. Was it a bountiful and prosperous time?
1. Well, we don’t know anything about what the farming was like…but this is what we do know…it was a time of tragedy and loss. Especially for our main character, Naomi.
a. They went to Moab for greener pastures…but what did this family get? Death.
i. Naomi became a widow…what a tragic thing to lose your spouse.
1. Back then it was a completely male-dominated society…being a widow was a rough existence.
a. That’s why God commanded his people to care for the resident alien, the orphans and the widows. Care for the vulnerable in society.
ii. But the sting of her husband’s death would be mitigated by the fact that she still had 2 male heirs to provide for her.
1. They could work, bring home food and money and care for Naomi in her old age.
a. They were married, so they could also provide grandchildren – who would also help provide for her.
b. But there’s a problem…a big problem…infertility. For ten years both Mahlon and Chilion were married to Moabite women…we aren’t sure which one married Orpah and which one married Ruth…
i. But for 10 years…both of these marriages were marred by infertility.
1. And then tragedy strikes again…both Mahlon and Chilion die…leaving behind no male heir…and leaving behind 3 widows. Now things will get really tough for the women.
ii. Who would now support them? A foreign widow…in her declining years…
1. No family meant no food, and there wasn’t a government sponsored welfare program in Moab.
a. She was a stranger in a strange land…a widow of no significance in a family-oriented culture.
c. Don’t mise the desperation that’s found at the beginning of this story. Feeling these tragedies will help us appreciate the resolutions at the end.
i. No male protector or provider in a male dominated world…no male heir from either of her sons…it was a dire situation for an aging lady.
1. So what was she to do? The options available to some widows didn’t apply to her.
a. Some widows returned to their father’s house. Well, if Naomi is old, then her parents are most likely long dead.
i. There was the possibility of remarriage in order to have another son….but she is well passed child bearing years.
1. Or she could support herself through some kind of craft or trade.
d. Her options are limited given the tragedy she has experienced. First, famine, then death, then infertility, then more death…she is being emptied…what will happen to her?
5. God Visits – And as we close today, I want us to look at v.6. We’ll come back to this verse next week too.
a. There are a few details in this verse that can’t go unnoticed. Introduce them today, develop them further next week.
i. First – Naomi is working in the field. She heard in the fields of Moab.
1. Even though she was living through tragedy…grieving…a widow…old…a stranger in strange land…she was still working in the field in order to eat and live.
ii. Secondly – notice she hasn’t lost hope – she still has her ears working.
1. She was listening to what was going on around her in the fields.
a. She was still attentive – not cut off from the rest of society because of her grief and situation.
iii. And lastly, notice this line…God visited his people.
1. Isn’t that a great line? Visited his people…only it gives the sense that somehow God has left his people or abandoned his people.
b. But, I spent the first 10 minutes of this sermon showing you that even though there was a famine, god was still being faithful to his people.
i. God was still with his people – but he was with them through punishment for their unfaithfulness.
1. But in v.6 -we see God gave them food…which means this…there was renewal and repentance in the land of Israel…and God was once against bring covenant blessings on his people.
c. You see there’s a misconception, then…and now, that God is not present in the hard times of life…but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
i. God didn’t visit his people…after having been away from them…he was always there…
1. Pleading with them, calling them back to himself…do so through enacting the covenant curses on them.
a. And for us – the Christian life never promised to be a happy go lucky life – everything will always be sunshine and rainbows…
i. There will be tough times…but God is still with us in those tough times…and God uses those times to strengthen and refine his people.
ii. He uses though times to cause us to grow in our faith, our reliance, and our trust in his provisions.
1. What will you do when tough time arise?
a. Will you run to the greener fields of Moab? Or stay in the place God put you, and rely on his power and strength to see you through?