#1 (THE "BOOK OF RUTH" SERIES)
TEXT: Ruth 1:1-22
INTRO: The book of Ruth is an interesting story, one that makes us quite uncomfortable ... because we find believers who suffer severe pain and loss without explanations as to why. Tragedy strikes godly people without reason and bitterness sets in along with despair. This makes the book of Ruth a “must read” for every believer!
In this story however there is also a message of hope even though the explanation or WHY for suffering is not always answered! It is also the story of how an outsider brings back hope through love; no answers, just love! Maybe it isn’t the questions that can’t be answered that should concern us the most but how we minister when there are no answers that should concern us most!
Several things become apparent that can make us a little uneasy in a world where we want quick fixes and easy explanations and an easy faith:
a. Senseless tragedy can strike godly people!
b. Bitterness does happen to people of faith!
c. Loss of hope for the future does occur even in the best of believers!
d. Ministry to help heal us can come
from strange places! (Ruth was a
Moabitess -- they were pretty much despised by
e. Ruth never offers a theological answer to the dilemma of Naomi's loss, she simply loves Naomi and commits herself to her!
f. No answers are ever given in the book as to why Naomi suffered so, but God brought healing to her by way of this outsider Ruth's love!
g. Faith in God is difficult and demands that we love unconditionally, the only way to heal the broken is to love them, not by winning every argument or debate with them!
h. Love means embracing another's pain, not lecturing them over their pain.
ILLUS: ELTON TRUEBLOOD IN “THE YOKE OF CHRIST” SAID THIS: "THIS THEN IS THE ADVICE TO GIVE ANYBODY WHO NEVER WANTS TO BE HURT: DON’T CARE! DON'T CARE AND THEN NOBODY CAN EVER SAY, ‘I TOLD YOU SO.’ DON'T CARE AND YOU CANNOT BE WOUNDED BECAUSE OF THE CARING. IF YOU DON'T WANT TO BE HURT, DON'T MARRY, THEN YOU CAN'T LOSE. IF YOU NEVER WANT TO BE HURT, DON'T HAVE A CHILD. A CHILD WHOM YOU LOVE SO MUCH COULD BE A TERRIBLE DISAPPOINTMENT. IF YOU NEVER WANT TO BE HURT, DON'T ENTER THE CHURCH. EVEN THIS REDEMPTIVE FELLOWSHIP ON WHICH CHRIST DEPENDS CAN ITSELF BE DISAPPOINTING AND MANIFESTLY UNWORTHY. DON'T CARE AND THEN YOU WILL BE SAFE! BUT THOSE WHO TAKE THIS ROAD TO SAFETY PAY A HEAVY PRICE, THE PRICE OF TURNING THEIR BACKS UPON ALL OF THE BEST THINGS IN LIFE!" -- Source Unknown
The goal of the Christian life is not to be right or have all the answers, it is to bring healing to the broken and love to the hurting, to “be a friend that sticketh closer than a brother” because of our faith in God!
PROP. SENT: The Bible teaches us that we are to demonstrate our faith in God by our commitment to love the broken, the lost, the despairing, and the confused -- not to offer explanations but to offer ourselves and God’s love!
I. FORMIDABLE CALAMITIES! 1:1-5
A. Public 1:1-2
1. Elimelech and his family -- Naomi, Mahlon, and Kilion, decide to leave the Promise Land during a particularly tough time in Judah, during a famine!
a. Believers everywhere were struggling and many were hurting!
b. Was it due to sin in their personal lives? NO! It was due to no rain for a while!
c. Sometimes suffering comes to us just because it does! Mat “… He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”
2. Fortunately for them no one condemned them for leaving at this time.
a. The super spiritual in Judah might have suggested they didn't have enough faith like the rest of them to stay and trust God!
b. Others might have challenged their commitment to the rest of the people who did stay!
c. No doubt after they returned there could have been some who might have suggested that the deaths of the husband and two sons were related to Naomi’s lack of faith to stay put, or the sin of the sons marrying Moabite women!
3. This was a very public ordeal, both the good and evil were suffering equally!
4. In many Christian circles today you won’t hear talk about suffering, rather you hear teaching about how you can escape all pain if you are living right before God and if you have adequate faith! This is simply nonsense!
a. The Bible is full of stories of godly people who suffered, and while there were “some who received back their dead” or had their afflictions healed there were also many who did NOT and the writer of Hebrews said of those who “DID NOT RECEIVE” answers to prayers, Heb 11:38 “…the world was not worthy of them.” (Read Heb. 11:35-39)
b. Faith does not prevent suffering; it just puts a different perspective on it!
5. The best ministry to people is not so much giving them all the "answers" as much as it is giving them “presence” – both God’s and ours!
ILLUS: A CHILD WHO HAD TO WALK EACH EVENING PAST A DARK, SPOOKY HOUSE WAS ALWAYS SO FRIGHTENED. SOME ADULTS SOUGHT TO GIVE THE BOY COURAGE. ONE HANDED HIM A GOOD LUCK CHARM TO WARD OFF THE GHOSTS. ANOTHER HAD A LIGHT PUT ON THE DREADED CORNER. STILL ANOTHER SAID EARNESTLY, “IT IS SINFUL TO BE AFRAID! TRUST GOD AND BE BRAVE!” THE ADVICE WAS GOOD, BUT HE OFFERED NOTHING MORE! THEN SOMEONE SAID WITH COMPASSION, “I KNOW WHAT IT IS TO BE AFRAID. I WILL WALK WITH YOU PAST THE HOUSE!” HE DID NOTHING TO REMOVE THE FEAR ... EXCEPT TO LIFT IT FROM THE CHILD'S SHOULDERS AND PLACE IT ON HIS OWN! "PRESENCE" CAN BE A BETTER MINISTRY THAN "KNOWLEDGE"! -- Source Unknown
B. Personal 1:3-5
1. They arrived in the land of Moab at a time when Moab and Judah were at temporary peace with each other!
a. They had a long history of being at odds with one another!
b. Here their boys found wives among the "outsiders" -- Moabite women!
2. While the law did not outright forbid marrying Moabites it did consider the children of such a marriage as "unacceptable" until the 10th generation before they could be accepted into the “Assembly of God!” (See Deut. 23:3)
3. The national tragedy now had a personal tragedy added to it, their boys were in mixed marriages that would make any return very unpopular for them!
a. Imagine the accusations that could arise when Naomi returns with the news of her husband's and her sons' deaths when she arrives with a Moabite daughter-in-law!
b. The super spiritual would have a hay day in attacking Naomi for all this!
4. Her husband dies, whose name Elimelech meant "God is King."
5. Her sons both die, their names were interesting too: Mahlon meant “Weak or sickly!” and Kilion meant "failing or pining!"
a. Boy could this set the stage for accusations too!
b. Naomi's pain was great!
6. No doubt the question came up in her mind: "What did I do to deserve this?"
a. No answer to this question is ever given in the entire book!
b. God does not answer all our questions here and now! (Sorry ... but it is true!)
c. But, at the same time God does not leave Naomi without comfort or help either … He still is in control and has not forgotten her.
ILLUS: WARREN WIERSBE NOTED THAT WHEN GOD PERMITS HIS CHILDREN TO GO THROUGH THE FURNACE HE KEEPS HIS EYE ON THE CLOCK AND HIS HAND ON THE THERMOSTAT! -- Source Unknown
7. For an Israelite woman in the day of the Judges Naomi could not have been worse off!
a. No security!
b. No future!
c. No companionship ... except Moabites!
d. No peace!
II. FACING CHOICES! 1:6-18
A. Promise! 1:6-9
1. A small glimmer of hope emerges right at this time; the famine is finally over back home!
a. Though a small comfort ... it was something positive!
b. Rather than totally give up she chooses to go home, and though bitter she makes a good choice and returns to God's people!
2. Her Moabite daughters help her get ready to leave and even travel a ways with her.
3. It becomes clear here that there is a real love relationship between these women and Naomi.
a. Though they no doubt saw things differently they cared greatly about each other!
b. Naomi seeks to release the girls to go back to their own homes and people, her love does not demand their presence!
c. She praises the girls’ care for her and her sons, though from very different worlds they had learned to care about each other deeply!
4. Their reaction to her suggestion to leave her and return home indicates great love, “they wept aloud!”
a. The Moabites didn't believe in one God, they believed in many gods! (Polytheistic)
b. The Moabites had very different
values and ideas from
5. Naomi's love does not obligate these women, love never does, it does not demand its own way as Paul wrote in I Cor. 13.
6. The girls offer no reasons for Naomi’s tragedy, they simply love her and weep for her and with her!
a. This can be the best ministry when people suffer losses!
b. Too many times we want to wrap up uncomfortable things in tidy intellectual or Biblical-theological answers when what we need to do the most is simply be there for people!
ILLUS: A WOMAN WAS HAVING ONE OF THE WORST DAYS OF HER LIFE -- THE WASHING MACHINE BROKE DOWN, THE TELEPHONE KEPT RINGING, HER HEAD ACHED, AND THE MAIL CARRIER BROUGHT A BILL SHE HAD NO MONEY TO PAY! ALMOST TO THE BREAKING POINT SHE LIFTED HER ONE YEAR OLD INTO HIS HIGHCHAIR, LEANED HER HEAD AGAINST THE TRAY AND SHE BEGAN TO SOB! WITHOUT A WORD HER BABY SON TOOK HIS PACIFIER OUT OF HIS MOUTH AND STUCK IT INTO HERS! HE HAD MORE WISDOM TO MINISTER TO HIS MOM THAN THE GREATEST THEOLOGIAN! HE OFFERED WHAT HE HAD, HIMSELF AND WHAT HE HAD, NO ANSWERS, JUST PRESENCE! -- Source Unknown
7. They would part as friends who cared and loved each other! At least Naomi could return home again!
B. Possibilities! 1:10-15
1. At first both girls refuse to leave Naomi, their love and compassion for her and her suffering puts her need before their own!
a. They had every right to return to their own people but love gives up its rights for others.
b. Is it possible to love like this!? YES!
2. Naomi however is more practical, she instructs the girls how impractical their love for her is, they should return to their own kind and marry again.
a. She is too old to have any more sons to give to them in place of her dead sons, the normal practice of that day when a daughter in law lost her husband.
b. Even if she did have more sons born they would have to wait almost 20 years for one of them, it would be too late for them by then! (Besides, Naomi herself would have to find a new husband first herself!)
c. It was not a reasonable thing for them to stay with her!
3. Orpah (whose name by the way probably means something like "stiff neck") listens to reason and decides to take Naomi’s advice and return back to Moab and her own people!
a. Before we are too critical about Orpah however remember that a sign of respect then was to take the advice of the elderly, which is just what Orpah does here!
b. This is not coldness on Orpah's part ... but unlike Ruth who wished to stay a daughter Orpah wishes to be a wife again!
c. Unlike before, this time Orpah is the one to offer the kiss, her way of finalizing her decision to return to her people and to her gods!
4. Ruth however has a different response: She "clings" to Naomi and won't let go!
a. This is godly love, she knows Naomi needs love; Naomi is bitter and struggling with her faith!
b. Ruth's decision is not just
emotionally based, it meant renouncing her own identity as a Moabite, it meant
not being fully accepted by Israel, it meant rejecting the Moabite god called
"Chemosh" for the God of
c. It meant turning her back on everything she knew to accept a God she didn't understand and a people who were vastly different from her!
5. Ruth (whose name meant something like "pleasant") will choose Naomi over self, the true God over idols!
a. Naomi has some new possibilities through love!
b. She won't be alone!
c. She still has no answers for her suffering and Ruth offers none, just herself!
d. Ruth does not try and condemn Naomi's bitterness, she just seeks to console her.
6. Love will open up a whole new set of possibilities for both Naomi and Ruth! This is the power of love!
7. Naomi's faith, though damaged, with love will return to wholeness in time!
ILLUS: NATURE REVEALS THAT LIFE CAN BE TRANSFORMED BY TAKING SOMETHING UNATTRACTIVE AND CONVERTING IT INTO SOMETHING OF BEAUTY. BY ITS CHEMICAL MAGIC, A TREE OR PLANT CAN TAKE THE DARK DIRTY SOIL AND THE WASTE CARBON DIOXIDE IN THE ATMOSPHERE AND COMBINE THEM WITH THE AID OF SUNLIGHT AND PRODUCE GREEN LEAVES, BEAUTIFULLY COLORED FLOWERS, AND A MILLION DESIGNS! FAITH MIXED WITH LOVE CAN TRANSFORM SIMILAR DIRTY DARK AND WASTED MOMENTS OF OUR LIVES INTO SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL IN TIME TOO! ALL IT NEEDS IS THE LIGHT OF THE SON! -- Source Unknown
C. Permanent! 1:16-18
1. Now in one of the greatest passages about self-sacrificing love, (see 1:16) Ruth commits her “presence” to Naomi for life!
a. Ruth was quite clear on all this meant, it meant permanently leaving behind her former way of life as a Moabitess, including all her false gods!
b. It meant an active commitment to God's people and to God Himself!
c. This was akin to making a confession of faith in the God of Israel!
d. Naomi finally accepts this "pleasant" gift. (The name Ruth means "Pleasant")
2. There will be no turning back for Ruth, this will be permanent!
3. Ruth will no longer think of her own life apart from Naomi's life, love does not make a commitment only when it is convenient or easy.
4. While Ruth lost a husband Naomi's bitterness was greater because she lost a husband and also 2 sons and any future grandchildren; to a woman of that day it meant sure poverty and no future!
5. Ruth is willing to embrace being an "outsider" to the Israelites in order to love a bitter old woman.
a. Notice that Naomi adopts for herself a new name, "Mara" which means “bitter.”
b. She has nothing to offer Ruth, but Ruth has much to offer her!
c. It really was not a "mutual" relationship! But when has love ever demanded everything be "equal!"
6. Ruth will "carry" her in love even if it means giving up everything that could have been hers!
ILLUS: 2 SOLDIERS WHO HAD BEEN RELEASED FROM A PRISON CAMP IN SIBERIA FOLLOWING WW II TOLD THIS STORY. WHEN IT WAS TIME TO START LETTING MEN GO FROM PRISON THERE WAS ONLY A SMALL NUMBER OF MEN THAT COULD BE RELEASED BEFORE THE COLD WINTER SET IN AGAIN BECAUSE OF THE SIZE OF THE BOAT. AMONG THOSE WHO WERE ANXIOUS TO LEAVE WERE 2 MEN THAT HAD BECOME BEST FRIENDS IN THE CAMP. WHEN THE SELECTION TIME CAME FOR THE FEW WHO WOULD BE ALLOWED TO LEAVE, ONE OF THEM WAS SELECTED, THE OTHER WAS NOT. AN ORDER WAS GIVEN THAT THOSE LEAVING COULD TAKE ONE IMPORTANT ITEM OF LUGGAGE. THE MAN SELECTED TO LEAVE WENT TO HIS BUDDY THAT WAS SUPPOSE TO STAY AND HE TOOK FROM HIS LUGGAGE ALL HIS WORLDLY GOODS AND ASKED HIS FRIEND TO GET IN HIS BAG, THEN CAREFULLY LIFTING THE BAG OVER HIS SHOULDERS HE BOARDED THE SHIP WITH HIS FRIEND, HIS SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT POSSESSION! -- Source Unknown
7. Love found a way!
III. FELLOWSHIP CONTINUED! 1:19-22
A. Perspective 1:19-21
1. They arrive in Judah back in Bethlehem.
a. They whole town is stirred when they come in, suggesting that Naomi's family had been one of importance in the community and probably wealthy!
b. Naomi is hard pressed to accept her own name ... she is “Mara” instead -- bitter!
2. Just think how the Israelites could have judged her showing up in poverty, having left them instead of trusting God and staying there with the rest of them. Now showing up with a Moabite woman as a daughter-in-law and her husband and two sons dead!
a. The gossip mill would have had a great time coming up with reasons for all this misery no doubt!
b. Certainly Naomi deserved some kind of lecture about faith! Yet no one gives her one!
3. She left full, she returned empty!
a. How many have had this experience before in their journey of faith!
b. How many have experienced bitterness for things they cannot explain, and all the theological explanations in the world can't answer or help?
4. Yet, there stands Ruth next to her in love!
ILLUS: SOMEONE ONCE WROTE THIS: "DON'T WALK IN FRONT OF ME, I MAY NOT FOLLOW, DON'T WALK BEHIND ME, I MAY NOT LEAD, JUST WALK BESIDE ME AND BE MY FRIEND!" -- Source Unknown
5. In the whole book we can never find answers to Naomi's suffering, just an example of what love and friendship does!
a. Perhaps we spend too much time on trying to figure out the right and wrong answers all the time to tough situations!
b. Maybe we would do better learning to love rather than learning to answer everything!
6. Ruth never seeks to correct Naomi's perspective, she only seeks to give her love and herself! The answer was a friend!
B. Provision! 1:22
1. Though the bitterness is still there and the questions still remain God is providing a way of ministering to those deep hurts and sorrows in the person of Ruth!
2. It was the Spring, a time for a new harvest, the hope of prosperity again!
3. God was surrounding Naomi with fellow believers again and a loving daughter in law who cared about her a great deal!
4. Ruth was no theologian, no trained counselor, no great philosopher, no rich kid who could solve her financial problems, not even from her same background, yet:
a. In Ruth Naomi would slowly find her bitterness subside!
b. Ruth would help heal the hurt in Naomi in time!
c. Love takes time!!!
5. Ruth offers no simplistic answers, just her presence and a loving hand!
ILLUS: A MAN FELL INTO A PIT AND COULDN'T GET HIMSELF OUT, SEVERAL PEOPLE CAME AROUND BUT ONLY ONE HELPED HIM ... HERE ARE THOSE WHO SHOWED UP!
A SUBJECTIVE PERSON CAME ALONG AND SAID: "I FEEL FOR YOU DOWN THERE!"
AN OBJECTIVE PERSON CAME ALONG AND SAID: "IT'S LOGICAL THAT SOMEONE WOULD FALL DOWN THERE SOMETIME!"
A CHRISTIAN SCIENTIST CAME ALONG AND SAID: "YOU ONLY THINK THAT YOU ARE IN THE PIT!"
A PHARISEE CAME ALONG AND SAID: "ONLY BAD PEOPLE FALL INTO PITS!"
A MATHEMATICIAN CAME ALONG AND SAID: "LET ME SEE IF I CAN CALCULATE HOW YOU FELL IN!"
A NEWS REPORTER CAME ALONG AND SAID: "CAN I GET THE EXCLUSIVE STORY ON HOW YOU FELL INTO THE PIT?"
A FUNDAMENTALIST CAME ALONG AND SAID: "YOU DESERVE YOUR PIT!"
CONFUCIUS CAME ALONG AND SAID: "IF YOU WOULD HAVE LISTENED TO ME, YOU WOULD NOT BE IN THAT PIT!"
BUDDHA CAME ALONG AND SAID: "YOUR PIT IS ONLY A STATE OF MIND!"
A REALIST CAME ALONG AND SAID: "THAT'S A PIT!"
A SCIENTIST CAME ALONG AND SAID: "I COULD FIGURE OUT HOW MUCH PRESSURE IS NECESSARY TO GET YOU OUT!"
A GEOLOGIST CAME ALONG AND SAID: "LOOK AT AND APPRECIATE THE ROCK STRATA IN THE PIT!"
AN EVOLUTIONIST CAME ALONG AND SAID: "YOU ARE A REJECTED MUTANT DESTINED TO BE REMOVED FROM THE EVOLUTIONARY CYCLE ... IN OTHER WORDS, YOU ARE GOING TO DIE IN THE PIT SO THAT YOU CANNOT PRODUCE ANY "PIT-FALLING OFFSPRING"
A COUNTRY INSPECTOR CAME ALONG AND ASKED: "DO YOU HAVE A PERMIT FOR THAT PIT?"
A PROFESSOR GAVE HIM A LECTURE ON THE "ELEMENTARY PRINCIPLES OF PITS"
AN EVASIVE PERSON CAME ALONG AND AVOIDED THE WHOLE SUBJECT OF PITS ALTOGETHER!
A SELF-PITYING PERSON CAME ALONG AND SAID, "YOU HAVEN'T SEEN ANYTHING UNTIL YOU'VE SEEN MY PIT!"
A CHARISMATIC SAID, "JUST CONFESS THAT YOU'RE NOT IN THE PIT!"
AN OPTIMIST SAID, "THINGS COULD BE WORSE!"
A PESSIMIST SAID, "THINGS WILL GET WORSE!"
JESUS FINALLY CAME ALONG AND PULLED THE MAN OUT!
HOW DO YOU MINISTER TO OTHERS IN TROUBLE!!? -- Source Unknown
6. Healing is not the result of proving who is right or having answers to difficult questions, it is loving the bitter, being present with the suffering, committing oneself to others!
7. Ruth renounced herself, her gods, her past, and made herself available to love others unselfishly ... have we!?
a. The power of the Gospel is not found in creeds, it is found in credible witnesses!
b. The answers the world is looking for are not found in pages, they are found in people!
CONCLUSION: Sometimes God ministers to us from the most unlikely sources! Too often WE want to have quick easy answers to life's tough spots. Do bad things happen to good people? YES! God however is always at work to shore up our faith and sometimes this takes place in ways we don't always anticipate! What is certain are the choices we can make at such tough times, to embrace the pain and embrace God and His people! LOVE!