Ruth

Ruth 1:1-7 – God is a God of New Beginnings

Ruth 1v1-7.

 

God is a God of New Beginnings.

 

Introduction.

 

When you watch TV, or listen to the radio, or read your newspapers and you learn about the macro issues of life – International politics / multinational conglomerates / vast amounts of money that sound unreal. Do you ever ask yourself “Well who am I anyway?” “Does my life have any significance in the midst of all this?”

If that is how you feel / have felt at times then this little Book of Ruth will be a great encouragement to you.

 

Ruth 1:1  In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a [certain] man from Bethlehem in Judah, …. (NIV)

 

We will look in a moment at the background of the Days of the Judges – BUT grasp the significance of this statement. Against the background of national and international wars, political manoeuvring and natural disasters the story focuses on a certain man and his family. Not on the King of the military leaders but Joe Public.

 

If the Book of Ruth teaches us anything – and it teaches many things – it teaches us that God is interested in the lives of individuals and families. He is interested in what happens to YOU!

 

The Book of Ruth is a story about very ordinary people facing very ordinary events. Economic hardships / moving house / marriage / death / ……

 

Background.

 

Ruth 1:1  In the days when the judges ruled, ……

 

What was it like in the time of the Judges. The Israelites had been rescued from slavery in Egypt / wandered for 40 years in the desert / they had captured the land of Palestine under Joshua. After they were a kind of confederation of tribes

Led by Judges – not legal courtroom judges but political-Military leaders.

They were not a cohesive nation util the time of King Saul.

During this time the Israelites had to learn to settle into an agricultural lifestyle as a nation under God while surrounded by Canaanite tribes and culture.

 

The challenges that the people of God faced then are very similar to the challenges the Church faces today.

 

 

Challenge #1. The lure of other deities.

 

What they desired is what people today want – they wanted to find the secret of prosperity / they want a sound economy / a good standard of living / etc…

Theirs was, of course, a agricultural economy therefore they needed fertile land, fertile animals and fertile marriages to provide workers in due course to work the farms.

The Canaanites believed in the fertility god Baal and his female partner Ashtaroth. The fertility or barrenness of nature was linked to the sexual intercourse of Baal and Ashtaroth. The worshippers were not just spectators in all this – their desire was to bring to the attention of these fertility gods the needs of the land and animals. They did this by imitating what they believed Baal and Ashtaroth should be doing. Thus on hilltop all over the land in full view of the gods male and female cult prostitutes engaged in all manner of sexual activities with the worshippers.

 

This proved appealing to many Israelites and they turned away from the true and living God to these false gods to provide their needs.

God had promised to bless Israel if they remained faithful to him BUT the lure of the other gods was too strong.

 

Our society doesn’t worship Baal and Ashtaroth – But what about humanism [man-centredness], materialism [people and things are valued by their monetary worth] and naturalism [this world is all there is and it happened by chance]?

Even as Christian we are prone to forget that it is not sound economics / a free market economy / or democracy that ultimately prospers a nation – but trust in God.

 

Our society like in the days of the Judges has been quick to go after other gods.

 

Challenge #2. The Temptation to serve two masters.

 

The tension for the people of God in the Days of the Judges was to live by God’s principles while surrounded by others god worshippers.

The Baal worshippers sought to control their gods to meet their needs.

The true worshippers of the true God know they cannot manipulate God but only worship him in responsive obedience.

 

In the Days of the Judges the problem was that many Israelites tried to have the best of both world. They wanted Yahweh in one area of their lives and Baal to met the naturalistic areas.

Yahweh could take care of military crises while Baal could look after the agriculture!!

 

We can shake our heads and say “How foolish!” BUT how easy it is to make God safe by relegating him to just the areas that we are comfortable with.

How much of our Christianity can more correctly be called Christianised Hedonism – i.e. What makes us feel good is what God wills. In other words we measure God’s will by the amount of benefit it brings us.

G. Leonard, “To put is crudely, it is an attitude which regards God in terms of his usefulness rather than as an object of adoration and love.”

 

Challenge #3. The Problem of Evil.

 

We must not think that the Days of the Judges were totally devoid of any faith in God – that is not true. There were many faithful worshippers of God. BUT the problem of evil abounded.

Evil was in abundance – pillage and rape / murder and war / immorality and social degradation etc…

Why did God allow this? What about God’s covenant blessing with Israel?

 

Judges 21:25 25 In those days there was no king in Israel: everyone did that which was right in his own eyes. (KJV)

 

Everyone was a law unto himself – no one ruled – not even God!!

One of the signs that a society is moving away from God is lawlessness – Let me pose a question // Why do we need so much new legislation about so many areas of life that in other times wasn’t needed. E.g. Business law when in the past a man’s word was his bond!!

 

In the midst of this society that was in such turmoil we have the story of Ruth. A shining light in a Dark world!!

 

  1. 1.     In God’s eyes everyone is significant.

 

Ruth 1:1  In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man from Bethlehem in Judah, …..

 

In the midst of all the nation God is interest in one man and his family. It reminds us that even our small ordinariness is not insignificant or unimportant to God – we all fall under his providential care!

 

  1. 2.     The circumstances of life.

 

This certain man lived in Bethlehem – and there was a famine. There is a certain irony because Bethlehem means ‘house of bread’ – because it was a particularly fertile area.. But there was very little bread.

Was the famine a natural disaster or was it due to the scorched earth policy of the enemy, the neighbouring Midianites. We don’t know! Given the circumstances the man decides to move his wife and family to Moab. Now it was a curious place for a worshipper of the God of Israel to go.

The Moabites were descendants of Lot, Abraham’s nephew, – they had not been particularly friendly to the Israelites and the Israelites were forbidden to have anything to do with them because they worshipped a god called Chemosh to whom human child sacrifices were made.

 

Elimelech, who is this certain man, possibly saw the famine as a mark of God’s displeasure and decides he is better off somewhere else / anywhere else!

Given what happens with all three men in the family dying the move did not achieve what Elimelech hoped for – to escape death from famine. He escaped the famine but not the death.

 

Was it a lack of faith on his part?

 

As we will see from the story – in spite of his apparent foolishness and lack of faith, God graciously and providentially provides for his widow and her daughter-in-law.

God’s grace is never restricted by our foolishness. God’s providence covers even our unwise mistakes.

 

Maybe you have done things in the past – wilfully gone your own way / simply made an error of judgement or unwise decision. Let me assure you God’s grace is sufficient to cover that. If we return to him he is forgiving and always offers a new beginning!

 

  1. 3.     The circumstances of life.

 

Ruth 1:2-5 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

3 Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. (NIV)

Names in the Bible are very significant. It is not just a label but tells us something about the person. To know a person’s name is to know his character, to know him. Thus when Abraham becomes a new person he gets a new name. Jesus changes Simon’s name to Peter {rock}.

 

Elimelech means ‘My God is King!’ Did he live up to his name? Did his actions express the fact that ‘God is King’?

As Christians that too is our name – God is King – Jesus is Lord. This is not a promise of a trouble-free life. It is a promise of his providential care. It is an assurance that we do not need to be morbidly anxious about tomorrow.

Matthew 6:25-26 25 “.., do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

 

Believing in God’s providence does not exempt us from activity or at times having to make tough decisions – but it expresses faith in God who gives us help to cope with life’s uncertainties.

Did Elimelech live up to his name?   Do I live up to my name “Christian”?

 

Naomi – means pleasant, lovely, delightful. The tough times she had in Moab saddened and embittered her so when she eventually returns to Bethlehem without her husband and sons she says to the women of the town – Ruth 1:20

20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. (NIV)

 

What did being a worshipper of God mean to her now?

How do the hard knocks in life affect your faith in God? Do they strengthen your faith and draw you closer to God or do you withdraw from God and become cold and bitter?

We all have times when we struggle and our faith weakens – but when we persist in our self-pity and bitterness we end up being miserable.

 

  1. 4.     The hard knocks of life.

 

Naomi immigrates to Moab with her husband and two sons. No doubt things went well to begin with.

Going wilfully our own way against God doesn’t always bring immediate disaster – sometimes it may even appear to improve life – but the long-term consequences are what we need to consider!

 

In due course her husband and two sons die. There is something very unnatural about death and yet it is the inevitable end for all of us. Somehow when it is premature it seems all the more difficult to bare.

 

To loose one member of your family is traumatic, but to loose three in such a short space of time and in a foreign country with no extended family and friends was devastating – Why should one person be called upon to suffer so much?

Surely it was unexpected! Surely undeserved!

 

Why does God allow these things to happen?

At times our pain seems unbearable – our circumstances seem so unjust – AND our questionings remain unanswered!

Faith, as we will learn from Naomi as we follow this story, sometimes means a willingness to leave such questions in the mystery of God – believing that in the long run he will prove himself trustworthy.

 

ILLUS.: The Weaver

 

  1. 5.     The Lord visits his people.

 

Ruth 1:6-7             6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. (NIV)

 

It is apparent that Naomi has kept open the lines of communication with the people at home. It is also clear as we go on in the story that Naomi in spite of her many heartaches had kept her faith. She had been a witness to her Daughters-in-law to the point where Ruth had adopted her faith in the God of Israel.  In spite of the dark days she had been through she had not forgotten her God – and he had certainly not forgotten her.

 

One of the many things we learn from scripture is that it is good to remember and to recount the past blessings of God. This is esp. true during the difficult times. Meditating on God’s great acts of the past helps us through dark times.

Naomi’s heart had remained in Israel and her ears were alert to news from home.

 

The KJV says -.. that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread…

The writer could have just said “The famine is over the rains have come” or “There has been an upturn in the economy” or “The threat of war is over”. Any of these could have been the reason for the Famine. BUT with the eye of faith the believer sees God behind these events.

 

The Bible sees all of life under the gracious hand of God.

When the Lord visits his people it is ether in judgement or blessing. Now God has visited his people in blessing and the famine is over – a new beginning, for the people of Bethlehem and for Naomi – and through Naomi the blessing spreads to Ruth.

 

The psalmist picks this up – Psalm 132:15  I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor will I satisfy with food. (NIV)

 

God visiting and blessing it seen ultimately in the coming of Christ – Zechariah the priest prophesied – Luke 1:68 68 “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel,

because he has come [visited] and has redeemed his people. (NIV)

 

Whatever the cause of Naomi’s problems – Moab was not the place to run to – BUT the Lord has visited his people and she can return.

 

The Lord’s invitation to all people is to return to him. We are all by nature separated from God – BUT in the person of Jesus God has visited us in order to redeem us.

But as Christians we can like Naomi and Elimelech go off into a foreign country spiritually speaking. But as in the case of Naomi there is always a way back and a new beginning.

Naomi was hurt and angry and bitter – and maybe you have feelings like that towards God. Those feelings won’t go away as long as you stay away. As the story goes on we see how Naomi is restored because she returned to the Lord.

If we hope to deal with all our mixed up feelings before we come we will never come.

 

Isaiah 44:22 22 I have swept away your offences like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” (NIV)

Jeremiah 31:18 Restore me, and I will return, because you are the LORD my God.

Matthew 11:28  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (NIV)

Maybe like Naomi you have been through Dark days – maybe the days are dark now – Remember what the Lord has done – he has visited his people and he will in the end restore.

 

ILLUS.: Poem “The enshrouding darkness..” by Elizabeth

 

 

 

 

God is a God of New Beginnings

Ruth 1v1-7.

 

Background.

 

Challenge #1.

The lure of other deities.

 

Challenge #2.

The Temptation to serve two masters.

 

Challenge #3.

 The Problem of Evil.

1.       In God’s eyes everyone is significant. v.1

2.       The circumstances of life. v.1

3.       The characters in the story. v.2-4

4.       The hard knocks of life. v.3-5

5.       The Lord visits his people. v.6-7

 

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