Romans 8:28 (ESV)—28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Work all things together: distasteful individual ingredients can be mixed together, baked in the heat of the oven, and come out tasting wonderful.
Theme of Ruth 1: Even when we cannot see it, God is at work during the darkest of times, and believers ought to live according to what will be.
Overview of Ruth:
- Israelite family fled to Moab (not good). The two sons married Moabite women (not good), then died before having children (not good, especially in that culture).
- Their mother, Naomi, returned to Israel (Bethlehem). One daughter-in-law — Orpah — stayed in Moab (bad), but one — Ruth — returned with her (good).
- Ruth met Boaz, who became interested in her. He was a kinsman redeemer (good), but not the first in line (not good). He pursued Ruth by settling accounts with the first in line (good). They married (very good).
- They parented Obed, who grandfathered David, making them David’s great-grandparents. (very good). David would become the ancestor to Jesus Christ (incredibly good).
God Works During Disastrous Times (1:1-5)
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.
The situation was all bad.
- 1 Famine in the land: Not good. Bethlehem means “house of bread,” but there was no bread there. For Israel, famine was caused by disobedience.
- 1 Sojourn in the country of Moab: Not good. The Moabites were the enemies of Israel who abused them when they passed through on their way to Canaan (Numbers 22-25, Balaam’s doctrine). They endangered the Messianic line.
- 3 Elimelech…died: Not good.
- 4 These took Moabite wives: Not good. Again, these women seduced men in Israel to engage in Baal worship. It became known as the sin at Peor (Joshua 22:17).
- 5 Mahlon and Chilion died: Not good.
- 5 The woman was left without her two sons and her husband: Not good.
1 In the days when the judges ruled: But all of this bad flowed from the national scene — the time of the judges.
- Judges 21:25 (ESV)—25 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Purpose of Ruth: Beautiful story worth telling at that particular time.
The beginning of the book is all death and aloneness, but the end of the book is all birth and community.
This is the way God often works:
- Baal worship in Northern Israel vs. Elijah’s 7K remnant
- 1 Kings 19:18 (ESV)—18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
- Israel’s spiritual condition at Christ’s first coming vs. the birth of the church
- The religious leaders vs. the tax collectors and sinners
- Gospel itself: Romans 1-3 vs. Romans 4-8
God Works Despite Despairing Thoughts (1:6-13)
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. 7 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.
6 Return / for she had heard in the fields: Out in the Moabite fields, she heard God had begun blessing Israel once again, so she began to return.
8 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. 9 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.
8-9 Kindly / Rest: Covenant kindness (hessed) and rest from the house of new husbands!
10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 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?
11 Have I yet sons in my womb: This is a reference to Levirate (Latin — a husbands brother) marriage — an ancient custom in practice at that time. She had no available men to offer these women.
12 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, 13 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.”
12-13 Too old / If I should say I have hope / Would you therefore wait / Exceedingly bitter / the hand of the Lord has gone out against me: Too old / No hope / No time / Horrible situation / God is against me.
God works despite despairing thoughts. Naomi’s attitude would not stop God’s work — at least not here.
This is the way God often works:
- Red Sea panic vs. Red Sea victory
- Psalm 106:7 — they “rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.”
- Elisha’s servant vs. God’s armies
- Storm: Panic vs. Sleep
- Mark 4:38 (ESV)—38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”
Can you believe this?
Let God build you up like He built up Joseph — Psalm 105:19 (ESV)—19 until what he had said came to pass, the word of the Lord tested him.
God Works With Absolute Departure (1:14-18)
14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
14 Orpah kissed / Ruth clung: Orpah departed, but not Ruth.
15 And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 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. 17 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.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
16 But Ruth said: Words of extreme devotion, but also of departure from Moab so that she could adopt Israel and Israel’s God (go, lodge, people, God, die, buried).
This is a conversion. This is Ruth’s Jordan River — for there is no going back from this. She is like Christ who gave up everything to get us.
God works with absolute departure.
- Orpah stayed in Moab — and was never heard of again.
- Elisha burnt the yoke and oxen when called by Elijah (1 Kings 19:21).
Half-steps won’t do.
Mark 1:17–18 (ESV)—17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.
God Works To Give Actual Fullness (1:19-22)
19 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?”
19 Is this Naomi?: It has been over ten long years.
20 She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 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?” 22 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.
20 Naomi / Mara: Pleasant / Bitter. 21 I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty: As Ruth stands there.
Naomi was clueless. Her definition of full was incredibly weak. That was not the full life.
We often do this (none of these are mutually exclusive):
- Full retirement, but empty life.
- Full schedule, but pointless existence.
- Full of friends, but no real depth.
Sometimes our problem isn’t that we are looking for satisfaction, but that we to easily think we’ve found it.
She was working in man’s mathematics, but she needed God’s. She actually went out empty, but came back full.
God works to give actual fullness.
The full life — Mark 8:34–35 (ESV)—34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.