2019-07-21 – Ruth 1 – Understanding Commitment
Bible Text: Ruth 1 | Preacher: Pastor Jerry Higdon | Series: Ruth | 2019-07-21 – Ruth 1 – Understanding Commitment
(Baptism, Business Meeting, 6 New Members, VBS starts Monday)
Good morning everyone. It is so nice to be able to spend some time with you all in fellowship with the Lord. Thank you and God bless you for being with us today.
Last week we went through the book of Jude in the New Testament. Jude, who is the half-brother of Jesus, warned us that there are a lot of people that go directly against God’s word, and that we should not be swayed by them, God will not be mocked. Jude also conveyed that those who place their faith and trust in Jesus Christ are secure in their salvation, not because of anything we have done to earn it, but because of what Jesus did for us on the cross at Calvary. Amen?
Today we are going to shift gears a little. We are going back in time to Old Testament scripture book of Ruth. The book of Ruth is a narrative of love. The timeline of this book is intertwined during the period of the Judges. The author was anonymous but some believe it was perhaps written by Samuel the prophet. It was written about 1046 B.C. Its purpose was to demonstrate the kind of love, and faithfulness that God desires for all of us. My prayer is that you learn to love this book of Ruth, as well as all of God’s wonderful Word.
Please turn in your Bibles to Ruth 1, pg 229 in the Pew Bibles, The Inspired, Infallible and Living Word of God, and let us start with Prayer.
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sov’reign will.
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
This is the first part of a heartfelt poem that was composed by William Cowper in 1773, just before the onset of a depressive illness. He was a close friend of John Newton who wrote the song Amazing Grace. They were both from the same town
My aim over the next four weeks is to preach through the book of Ruth—one chapter each Sunday. Like the letter-books of John and Jude we have been reading through these past months, Jude is also a very small book but filled with truth. It takes about 25 minutes to read the whole book at a leisurely pace.
It’s a story that shows how, as the poem conveyed, “God moves in mysterious ways, his wonders to perform.” It’s a story for people who wonder where God is when tragedies attack their faith. It’s a story for people who wonder whether a life of integrity in tough times is really worth it. And it’s a story for people who can’t imagine that anything great could ever come of their ordinary lives of faith. It’s a refreshing and encouraging book, and I want you to be refreshed and encouraged by it.
Ruth 1 verse 1 (CSB) Naomi’s Family in Moab
1 During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi.
The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the fields of Moab and settled there.
3 Naomi’s husband Elimelech died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two children and without her husband.
Again, according to 1:1, these events took place during the time of the judges. There was a 400-year period after Israel entered the promised land under Joshua and before there were any kings in Israel (roughly 1500 BC to 1100 BC). The book of Judges comes just before Ruth in our Bibles. The very last verse in Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” So it was a very dark time in Israel. The people would sin, God would send enemies against them, the people would cry for help, and God would mercifully raise up another judge to deliver them. Over and over again the people rebelled against God, but then Ruth came along and changes everything. She demonstrates unfailing love for God during the worst of times.
Verses 1–5 describe the misery Naomi was living with. First there is a famine in Judah where Naomi and her husband Elimelech and their sons Mahlon and Chilion lived.
Then Naomi’s husband and sons die (1:13), and she felt it was a judgment of God that had followed her and even added more grief to her already dire situation. Have you ever felt that you were going through something really tough and you wondered where was God in that situation. Or maybe you felt like Naomi, that it was God who was punishing you in some way. Of course we all are guaranteed to go through some tough times in our lives, but it is the tough times that demonstrate what we are truly made of. Tough times test of our faith.
Naomi’s two sons take Moabite wives, one named Orpah, the other named Ruth. And again the hand of God falls down upon them. They had a famine, a move to the pagan city of Moab, the death of her husband, the marriage of her sons to foreign wives, and then the death of her sons—blow after blow, tragedy upon tragedy. Life is looking very bleak for poor Naomi. Verse 6 continues:
6 She and her daughters-in-law set out to return from the territory of Moab, because she had heard in Moab that the Lord had paid attention to his people’s need by providing them food. 7 She left the place where she had been living, accompanied by her two daughters-in-law, and traveled along the road leading back to the land of Judah.
8 Naomi said to them, “Each of you go back to your mother’s home. May the Lord show kindness to you as you have shown to the dead and to me. 9 May the Lord grant each of you rest in the house of a new husband.” She kissed them, and they wept loudly.
10 They said to her, “We insist on returning with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi replied, “Return home, my daughters. Why do you want to go with me? Am I able to have any more sons who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters. Go on, for I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me to have a husband tonight and to bear sons, 13 would you be willing to wait for them to grow up? Would you restrain yourselves from remarrying? No, my daughters, my life is much too bitter for you to share, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me.” 14 Again they wept loudly, and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15 Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods. Follow your sister-in-law.”
So Naomi felt she had nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. Her condition is even worse than theirs. Naomi knows if they try to be faithful to her and to the name of their husbands, they will find nothing but pain. So she concludes that God is against her and that the daughters would be better off if they left and went back home to their families.
Sorrow and pain is tough to bear. Many times when we go through something, we want to pull away from even our closest friends and family, and maybe even God. Have you ever been there? Please know that is not God’s will for you to pull away in these types of circumstances. God gives us family and friends to help get us through the difficult times. That is also why we were gifted this thing called church. People helping people, that is God’s will for us. And we will see that same dynamic play out in the rest of this book of Ruth.
These last verses we read here also address a custom under the Old Testament that when an Israelite husband died, his brother or near relative was to marry the widow and continue the brother’s name and support her. That is what Naomi was wrestling with. Even in the New Testament Jesus addressed this issue himself.
In Matthew 22 some Jewish Sadducees questioned Jesus: they said, “Teacher, Moses said, ‘If a man dies without children, his brother should marry the widow and have a child who will carry on the brother’s name.’ Well, suppose there were seven brothers. The oldest one married and then died without children, so his brother married the widow. But the second brother also died, and the third brother married her. This continued with all seven of them. Last of all, the woman also died. So tell us, whose wife will she be in the resurrection? For all seven were married to her.” Jesus replied, “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God. For when the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage. In this respect they will be like the angels in heaven”.
The main point here, is that as was customary, Naomi was rightfully looking after her daughters-in-law. We too should be caring for the people God puts in our path as well, especially family. But a second truth here (not related to Ruth) is there is no Marriage in heaven. Other religions attempt to disregard this teaching, but what it means is that we all will be even closer to each other than what even a marriage represents here on earth. A Godly designed Marriage is very vital and precious in the here and now, and it is the only rightful way for us to “be fruitful” as God intended us to be. But the main learning for us today in these last verses is that God wants us to continue looking after one another. That is what Ruth was attempting to do, and we should be doing likewise. Verse 16 of Ruth continues:
16 But Ruth replied: Don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. For wherever you go, I will go, and wherever you live, I will live;
your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me, and do so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.
This type of true commitment seems very rare these days indeed. It reminded me also of the verse Jeremiah recited this morning from Joshua 24, “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” These types of proclamations stand out and get attention because they demonstrate commitment and dedication. I like what President Alexander Hamilton once said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”.
The more we ponder Ruth’s words the more amazing they become. Her commitment to her destitute mother-in-law Naomi is simply amazing. First, it means she will be leaving her own family and land. Second, it means, as far as she knows, a life of widowhood and childlessness lay ahead. Third, it means going to an unknown land with a new people and new customs and even a new language. Fourth, it was a commitment even more radical than marriage. She said, “Where you die I will die and there be buried”. In other words, she will never return home, not even if Naomi dies.
But the most amazing commitment of all is when she said, “Your God will be my God” (v. 16). In spite of everything she was up against, Ruth forsakes her religious heritage and makes the God of Israel her God. Somehow or other Ruth had come to trust in Naomi’s God in spite of Naomi’s bitter experiences.
Here we have a picture of God’s ideal woman. Faith in God that sees beyond the many present and bitter setbacks. Freedom from the securities and comforts this world has to offer. Courage to venture into the unknown and the strange. Radical commitment in the relationships appointed by God. May we be so bold in our faith. Verse 18 continues:
18 When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped talking to her. 19 The two of them traveled until they came to Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, the whole town was excited about their arrival and the local women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara,” she answered, “for the Almighty has made me very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has opposed me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”
22 So Naomi came back from the territory of Moab with her daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabitess. They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
So Naomi is unshaken and she is sure about three things: God exists. God is sovereign. God has indeed afflicted her. Her spirits are about as low as anyone can get I would argue. Unlike Ruth who finds faith strength in the middle of her circumstance, Naomi is depressed to say the least. I guess that is why this book is called Ruth and not Naomi.
But Ruth is a blessing indeed, and not only to Naomi, as we will see in the chapters yet to come, Ruth is a blessing even to us today. She is a truly wonderful and inspirational example of godly faith. Ruth eventually pulls them out of this tragic story-line spiral and it will lead to something magnificent in the end.
I present to you four lessons to go home with today:
God is in control: God the almighty reigns in all the affairs of men. He rules the nations (Daniel 2:21) and he rules families. His providence extends from theUnited States Congress to your kitchen. God is in control, He has always been in control.
“God moves in a mysterious way”: He knows what He is doing. Sometimes we might get a hint of understanding, but many times we have to just rely upon His sovereignty, His wisdom and His providence. None of us will escape the reality of struggle at times, but when it comes, give your burdens to Jesus, and lean on your church family for prayer and support. Trust that God has a plan and He loves you so. If anything this summer has fallen in on you to make your future look hopeless, we can learn from Ruth that God is right now at work for you, to give you a future and a hope.
Don’t give up: When you choose to believe in God, like Ruth, please know that He loves to work mightily for those who trust him, it gives us a freedom and a joy that can’t be shaken by hard times. This book of Ruth gives us a glimpse into the hidden work of God during the worst of times. As Paul says in Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope”. This book of Ruth was written that we might abound in hope.
In closing, I will share that the poem by William Cowper I started with this morning was only the first half. Here is the remainder:
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flow’r.
Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan, His work, in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He, will make, it plain.
God loves you dear church
Please Rise, Let us Pray..