Needing Redemption

Posted: July 9, 2009 in Ruth

Ruth 1, “Needing Redemption”

Welcome to Ruth! After the tough, sordid history of Israel during the time of the Judges, the book of Ruth is a welcome change. But at 1st glance it doesn’t start that way. Ruth is the story of one family’s descent into tragedy, and when things look their worst, they begin to hope in God & see His providential provision in every area of their lives.

The overall theme is Ruth is one of redemption; more specifically – a redeemer. There is much theology behind redemption (as we’ve seen in Hebrews), but we’ve got a problem if we let that theology stop at our heads & don’t let it become more than Bible trivia. Our redemption was bought by a very Personal Redeemer: Jesus Christ… In the Book of Ruth, that’s exactly what we see: people in need of redemption, but not just some truths…they need a person. They need a redeemer to bring them from the brink of death to abundant life.

Ruth 1 (NKJV)
1 Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.

A. Provides the overall context. We don’t know exactly when Ruth was written (or whom it was written by), but we do know when the history took place: “in the days when the judges ruled…” It seems that the author is looking back in time somewhat at those days (implying that at least some generations have passed & it’s at least being written during the kingdom years; if not the exile)…but the placement of the book in the canon fits well where it is. We just got done reading about the “days of the judges,” and they weren’t exactly good times… …

B. How bad was this particular time? “There was a famine in the land.” … We can probably assume this was during one of the times of national apostasy when the Lord allowed Israel to experience the consequences of walking away from Him; otherwise they would have experienced blessing…

C. What was this man’s response to the discipline of God? To walk even further away from Him. He left Judah “to dwell in the country of Moab.” Not that he went there to go buy food & return; he left the inheritance God had given him & his family & abandoned his people to dwell among the pagans… It probably seemed practical (or even logical) at the time to do this; a great man-made solution to this problem outside of his control. Right? Wrong. 1st of all, this was a problem likely caused by carnal methods to begin with (thus the discipline of the Lord). 2nd, this was only a carnal solution to the carnal problem. What Elimelech should have done was repent & seek the Lord! Instead, like the judges ruling the land, he does “what is right in his own eyes” and walks even further away from God.
__a. How do we respond to the lean times with God? The three main characters in this chapter respond decidedly different from one another. But beyond the theoretical, this is something we need to be prepared for, because there WILL be times that we have our faith tested. Are we prepared to say “God is good all & time…” & mean it? May God give us grace for those times, if you haven’t experienced it already.

D. Note the city: Bethlehem. Obviously this story provides some key background to the genealogy of David & ultimately the Son of David: Jesus Christ… In fact, that would seem to be the primary point. Two women (a Hebrew & a Gentile) who were destitute & without hope needed a redeemer & God provided one. Likewise, two people who are otherwise without hope (Jews & Gentiles) need a Redeemer & God provides One: Jesus Christ.

2 The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion— Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there.

A. Many of the names are going to be pretty significant in this book…we’ll be taking the time to look at their translations…
__a. Elimelech: My God is King. Rather ironic. This man actually left his King (God was the King of Israel), not trusting in His provision to go live elsewhere. Elimelech certainly didn’t act as if God was King. (Our actions often reflect what we believe – people can see if Jesus is really our Lord by what we do far better than what we say.)
__b. Naomi: Pleasantness or Delight. As long as she experiences the blessing of the Lord, she wants to be known as Pleasantness. When the lean times come, she’ll change her name to reflect her attitude & emotions.
__c. Mahlon: Sick. Chilion: Pining or Weakness. Both names are fitting!

B. Who were they? “Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah.” Family name (their clan). Otherwise, it looks like your typical American nuclear family: husband, wife, 2.5 children & a dog. 🙂 There’s nothing overly significant about them…there’s not any indication of nobility among them or any mighty warriors. They’re just normal people. Tells us 2 things:
__a. Bad things happen to normal people. Sometimes we fall into this trap of thinking, “I don’t know why things are so tough for me! I work, pay my taxes, go to church, and I’m kind to children and small animals. I didn’t think bad things were supposed to happen to good people!” Technically speaking, you’re not a good person outside of the goodness given you by Jesus Christ… But that aside, bad things still happen to normal people. The only difference between most suburban homes & people living under a bride is a couple of really bad months. … Look at Job! Here was a guy who had it all: riches, family, favor in the sight of God – and he lost everything in less than a day! Job’s response? Job 1:20-22 (20) Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. (21) And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.” (22) In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong. []
__b. God often has incredible plans for people who are otherwise obscure. From this ordinary family (who, by all circumstances should have died out), came the royal line of Israel & the Messiah & Savior of all the world. Those are some pretty big plans! That’s not to say that our children are necessarily destined for the Supreme Court, or that every evangelist is going to the next Billy Graham… But we may never realize what God has in store for “ordinary” families. Missionaries you support might win whole villages for Christ. People you pray for may experience the healing you interceded for. Whatever it may be, when we seek for God’s will to be done & for Him to be glorified, we can be assured that He’ll do it!

C. Where did they choose to dwell? “Moab” – this was definitely the wrong direction! [MAP] They left Bethlehem (“House of Bread”) during a famine to find food in a country that was born out of sin & opposition to God (Lot & daughters). In essence, they were leaving the Land of Promise to backtrack over Joshua’s provision into a land completely outside of the Lord.

3 Then Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died; and she was left, and her two sons. 4 Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. 5 Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband.

A. Talk about your hard times! Put yourself in Naomi’s sandals for a minute. Not only did you pick up your children & move far away from all the friends & family you’ve ever known – not only are you living among people who are strangers to your God – but your husband dies leaving you widowed, which is bad enough in itself, but it also precludes you from any remarriage due to the fact you’re surrounded by pagans & far from home. At that point, your only hope for physical & financial support is in your adult children – and then not just one, but BOTH of them die in this strange land. Now you have not only your grief, but the responsibility of caring for their widows with absolutely no chance of being able to provide for them. At this point, Naomi was facing abject poverty and starvation…

B. Who were the daughters-in-law? Orpah (not Oprah 🙂 ), meaning “the neck” or “the gazelle.” Ruth, meaning “friendship”. Scripture doesn’t give us any background on either one. Ruth definitely lives out her name, as we’ll see through her loving friendship with Naomi.

6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had visited His people by giving them bread. 7 Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.

A. Returning to Judah… The “House of Bread” had been given bread again & so Naomi decided to go back. Could say she ‘repented’ in that she had a change of direction. Her heart & mind is still going to take some time.

B. It seems that the daughters carried on with her for quite some time… However, Naomi has good reason to send them back; not for her sake, but for theirs. They would have greater family ties in Moab & more opportunity to remarry & bear children.

8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The LORD grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

A. Naomi gives them her blessing to leave & remarry… Obviously they were pretty close – leaving each other is a painful thought.

B. Beyond giving them her own blessing, she blesses them in the name of the Lord (even though Orpah will return to idolatry). Specifically, she says “The LORD deal kindly with you…” The Hebrew there is significant in that she’s blessing them (1) in the name of the One True God… and (2) she’s asking for His loyal covenantal love (‘chesed’) to be shown unto them. Basically, her prayer is that God would treat these two pagan women as His own children.
__a. Any equivalent to this today? Sure: intercession! When we pray for a loved one’s salvation, this is basically the same request Naomi had…that God would show mercy upon someone who doesn’t deserve His mercy & draw them to Himself for salvation & adoption into His family.
__b. Who are you interceding for?

10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me!”

A. Naomi’s argument against the daughters-in-law carrying on with her: she doesn’t have any more sons to give them. It may sound a bit strange for us, but this was the custom of the day… If a man left a widow, his brother was supposed to marry her & raise up children in his brother’s name. Deuteronomy 25:5-6 (5) “If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the widow of the dead man shall not be married to a stranger outside the family; her husband’s brother shall go in to her, take her as his wife, and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. (6) And it shall be that the firstborn son which she bears will succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel. [] (We’re actually going to see this whole section in the law play out at the end of Ruth…)
__a. This is what the Sadducees were trying to trip Jesus up with… (Matt 22:23-33) How sad is it when people who supposedly worship God try to use the loving provisions of God to stumble someone else? … That’s exactly what happens with legalism!

B. Naomi’s whole point is that although she would encourage any of her other sons to take on these daughters-in-law, she has none to give. And if she ever did bear another son, the age difference would be insurmountable.

C. One big problem here (that we’ll see repeated later) is that Naomi blames God for this. “…The hand of the LORD has gone out against me!” The good part here is that she still wants to go back to Judah & that she understands the Lord is sovereign over all. The bad part is that it seems her whole view of God is wrapped up in her circumstances. When things are good, the Lord is personally blessing her; when things are bad, the Lord’s hand is personally against her. There is an element of truth in this in that God certainly allowed her to go through these things. But God is most definitely not to blame for her tough times & tragedies!
__a. The fact is: we live in a fallen world. We live in a world where people die, creation groans, earthquakes happen, cancer happens, all sorts of disease take place. And all of it has the same source: when Adam & Eve ate of the tree in the Garden of Eden & the resulting curse. The good news is that in Jesus, all of this is reversed! Rev 21-22 paint a wonderful picture of a restored creation – life as it was originally meant to be. Death is removed & life remains in Christ Jesus… Our problem is often we are looking for that restoration here on earth, when the Bible tells us expressly that we’re not going to get it. This place is going to be burnt up & done away with (2 Pet 3:10). For now, we’re to persevere in Christ Jesus! He gives us strength to walk with Him in times of abundance & hunger (Phil 4:12-13), and will continue to do so till we see Him face-to-face in glory!

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

A. Orpah left; that’s the last we see of her.

B. Ruth’s reasons for staying with Naomi are some of the most beautiful statements of love & commitment in the Bible! See vs 15-17…

15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, And there will I be buried. The LORD do so to me, and more also, If anything but death parts you and me.”

A. Ruth commits to Naomi’s presence, “wherever you go, I will go”: Whether in life or in death, Ruth declares that she will be with Naomi, no matter what. Moving is not easy for us today; it wasn’t any easier for the ancients. It meant giving up any claim to land or any familiarity with the place she once called “home.”

B. Ruth commits to Naomi’s people: The closest equivalent for us would be to change our citizenship to another country. This is a big commitment for Ruth; she’s closing the door to going back to Moab & her own personal family.

C. (Most importantly) Ruth commits to Naomi’s God. Unlike Orpah who returned to her pagan idolatry in Moah, Ruth is so committed to her love for Naomi that she even converts to a worshipper of the One True God. Note she doesn’t only refer to God as “God,” but by His covenant name “LORD”…that’s a profession of faith for her.

D. More than just a commitment to her beloved mother-in-law, Ruth provides a great example of what it means to follow the Lord. What does it mean to pick up our cross & follow Christ?
__a. It means that we’re dead to our old life, just as Ruth left Moab behind. We reckon ourselves dead to sin & alive in Christ (Rom 6:11).
__b. It means Jesus is more valuable to us than any old friend, ties, & even family members. (Matt 10:37)
__c. It means that our entire life stops being about us & starts being about Jesus & His glory…we follow Him simply because He is our Lord! Matthew 16:24-25 (24) Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. (25) For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. []

18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her. 19 Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the LORD has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?”

A. Naomi’s bitterness against the Lord is in full swing here. “Mara” = “bitterness.” She renounced her name of the past (“My delight/pleasantness”) & took a name that reflected her outlook upon the Lord & what she thought He had done to her.

B. To be honest, Naomi has every reason to be hurt & sad & grieving. Scripture would not deny her any of those emotions – and neither should the church with those among us who are grieving for various reasons. We’re to rejoice with those who rejoice & weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). But how ought Naomi have responded with God? By standing on faith! She understood mentally that God is still the Almighty One Who is sovereign over all things. But instead of looking for God’s sovereign provision during her tragedies & trust in His mercies & grace, she chooses to blame God & accuse Him of directly afflicting her.
__a. Contrary to what many people believe, God is not up in heaven with a giant magnifying glass shining down on us (the ants)! He does not sit around dreaming up ways to make our lives miserable. 1st of all, that’s an incredibly egotistical self-centered thought… 2nd, it denies God’s basic nature: He loves us! He cares for us! He has thoughts of peace toward His people (Jer 29:11), He desires for us to experience abundant spiritual life in Christ Jesus (John 10:10).
__b. This is where faith comes in. Other than Job, it’s tough to think of someone in the Bible who was in worse straights than Naomi was at this point. But even in her circumstances, it’s vitally important to walk by faith. We know that God is good, so we trust Him in His goodness. We know that God is faithful, so we trust Him for His promises. We know that Jesus will never leave us, so we trust Him for His presence. Instead of getting bitter, Naomi ought to have continued to trust in the God, who she claimed to trust in.

22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

A. Now we have a Moabitess (a Gentile!) living in poverty with her depressed & impoverished mother-in-law in Bethlehem in Judah. Sets up the scene for Ch 2 & the next person we meet…

B. Looking back well over 2000 years later, it’s easy for us to say, “Cheer up! Things aren’t so bad. God has arranged things ‘just-so’ in order to give birth to David & ultimately to give birth to Jesus!” But we need to remember that to Naomi & Ruth at the time, they didn’t have a clue as to what God had in store. All they knew is that they loved each other & wanted to care for one another…they didn’t have a plan of how it was going to work out.
__a. This is exactly where faith comes in. When we face this kind of point in our lives, we could easily consume ourselves with anxiousness and worry, wondering what WE were going to do to survive. But although we always need to be diligent to do what God has in front of us, WE ultimately don’t provide for ourselves; that comes from the Lord. (Consider the lilies… Do not worry about what you’ll eat or wear – Matt 6:31-33) Philippians 4:6-7 (6) Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; (7) and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. []
__b. God is obviously going to provide for them (which is evident from the text: Naomi left during a famine, but returned during a harvest). But He’s using this trial in their life to provide for so much more than just them; but to provide a Savior for the entire world…

So how do we face trials in our life? We get three possible examples in Ruth 1:
A. Elimelech: instead of seeking the Lord, he sought a carnal solution. Ultimately, he ended up with more problems than what he started with.
B. Naomi: she got bitter & blamed God. She knew God, but her heart didn’t match her head. She’ll learn what it means to walk in faith.
C. Ruth: She did what was right. She committed to continue to walk in love towards those around her & she committed herself to trust the Lord God. She left her old life to fully walk with the Lord…no turning back.

No one pretends that any of this is easy… It’s definitely not. To face trials and hardships with utter faith goes against every natural bone in our body! But we need to remember two things:
(1) We died to that carnal natural stuff; we’re new creations in Christ!
(2) God is sovereign & in control! He is good all the time – and when we come across things in our lives & walk with Him that we don’t understand, we fall back on the things that we DO understand about God. We understand that God is righteous – holy – sovereign – loving – compassionate – our Savior, and much more.

These people were in need of redemption, and although much has to play out before they’ll see it, God will indeed provide it. WE were in need of redemption – even before we knew it. … But God provided it through Jesus Christ. Praise be to God for His sovereign provision!

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