Sunday, February 20, 2011
Ruth Chapter 1
- How many times during the time of the judges did the people of Israel turn away from God? Every time we turn around, one of the judges is tearing down statues and telling the people that in order to be free from their oppressors, they had to repent and turn back to God. The precursor to almost every new judge's introduction is something to the effect of “and the Israelites did evil in God's sight... again...”
- At the end of the section on Gideon, it says “as soon as Gideon died, the Israelites prostituted themselves by worshiping the images of Baal...” They didn't wait 10 years to grow apathetic or get a little lazy... nope... it was right away. They were just waiting to sin.
- Judges 6-8
- This is the time of the book of Ruth. In the middle of this time of turning to God in desperation and then turning away when He's no longer immediately needed.
- So when I read that there's a famine in the land... it hardly seems surprising... there is more than a few times in scripture that God punished the people by sending a famine on the land or allowing the enemy to tear out all the crops...
- Judges 2:16-23
- Jeremiah 31:20-40
- Hosea 4, 5, 6, 7, 10:1-4
- So during this time, Elimelech picks up his family and leaves Judah. Doesn't say anything about God speaking to Elimelech to say “there's food in Moab.” Just that Elimelech and the family got up and left. There has been speculation that the reason Elimelech and the sons ultimately died, was because they didn't wait on God's direction, but rather decided to do what they wanted to do. Or perhaps, once they got to Moab, their hearts were changed... maybe while in the foreign city, their hearts started to wander away from God... and they weren't going to want to go back to Judah.
- However, I also think that God looked down and saw Ruth in Moab... This faithful heart... And I think that yeah... maybe they went of their own accord and maybe they didn't pray for guidance... but regardless, God used them, maybe even in their disobedience, to get Ruth exactly where He needed her to be. We know that God DID move His people sometimes... He moved Jacob and his family to Egypt during the seven year famine... And God had a purpose in that move...
- Jeremiah 29:11-14
- Matthew 7:21-23
- Psalm 23
- Proverbs 3:5-8
- I think it is to be noted however, that the sons did not marry until after Elimelech died. They may have just not been of age until then... or perhaps he would have disapproved of their marrying outside of Israel.
- Footnote- “Friendly relations with the Moabites were discouraged, but probably not forbidden, since the Moabites lived outside the Promised Land. Marrying a Canaanite (and all those living within the borders of the Promised Land), however, was against God's law. Moabites were not allowed to worship at the Tabernacle because they had not let the Israelites pass through their land during the exodus from Egypt. As God's chosen nation, Israel should have set the standards of high moral living for the other nations. Ironically it was Ruth, a Moabitess, whom God used as an example of genuine spiritual character. This shows just how bleak life had become in Israel during those days.”
- Judges 3:12-30
- Ten years after their marriages, the sons both died... childless. Childlessness sometimes was also a form of punishment. It was looked upon as a disgrace. After ten years of marriage, neither son had a child. So perhaps, God looked into the hearts of those sons and decided they'd had enough chances to repent... but it also could have been because they weren't supposed to intermarry... and they did... ... but then later, when Boaz married her, it was okay... but it may have been a heart condition thing. Ruth was part of Naomi's family at that point, and Boaz, wasn't rebelling against God in marrying her, he was redeeming the name of an Israelite family. It was a difference in attitude and execution.
- I think too it is a picture of the entry of the Gentiles into the family. We married in so to speak... and because we are a part of the family now, we have the same rights as did the Jews at the beginning... and the same rights as heirs with Christ. Because Ruth chose to come back with Naomi, chose to separate herself from her family, her gods, her home... she is now instead, a part of Naomi's family—the tribe of Judah.
- Romans 8:1-17, 9:1-33
- And of course, had they had children, there would have been no need for Boaz as redeemer later. Unless for Ruth herself... but not for Naomi's family...
- I don't know anything about the way marriage worked in Moab... but I've been reading a lot about marriages in Israel. Tradition said that if a husband died, then his brother was to take his wife. In Genesis 38 we see this tradition played out. Judah had a son named Er. Er married Tamar... but Er was wicked and God killed him. So Judah's second son Onan was to marry Tamar. Her first child by Onan would technically be Er's. To carry on the name of the first husband as per tradition. But Onan prevented Tamar from getting pregnant. So God killed Onan as well. So Judah has a third son, Shelah... but Shelah wasn't old enough to get married. So Judah told Tamar to go home and when Shelah was old enough, he would call her and Shelah would marry her. However, Judah didn't do this... because he was afraid that Shelah would also die... So Tamar took matters into her own hands... but that's another story... : )
- Deuteronomy 25:5-10
- However, in this story, even though Tamar returned to her father's house, she was still under the rule and direction of her father-in-law. But Orpah and Ruth's father-in-law was already dead... so I don't know if that means that the girls would have been released back to her parents, or if Naomi continued to have rule over the them.
- So whether out of love for Naomi, or because they were still bound to her, Naomi and the girls all packed up to go to Judah when they heard the famine had ended.
- Whether Naomi started to feel guilty for taking the girls away from their home, or she realized she was taking two Moabite girls home to meet the family, or because she just wanted to be alone... Naomi turns and tells the girls to go back home. “Go back to your mothers' homes.... May the Lord bless you with the security of another marriage.” Naomi was in effect releasing them to their freedom. If there was any formal release needed, this was it.
- If the girls returned home to their families, they had a chance for a second marriage... a chance for children... if they went home with Naomi... they had none of that.
- Both the girls initially refuse to leave Naomi. This bespeaks a deep love for this woman. They were willing to forgo the chance of husband and children in order to comfort this woman in her old age.
- “Why should you go on with me? Can I still give birth to other sons who could grow up to be your husbands?” Without having another son, Naomi was dependent on her own relations. Jewish tradition says that a man who dies leaves his property to his closest relative. If there is no son, then it goes to a brother, or nephew, or cousin. The widow is included in this property. The relative then has the responsibility to care for her... but it's not required... it's a choice.
- Naomi was heading home to depend on the mercy of her relatives. There was no guarantee that her relatives were going to care for her... much less if she came home with Moabitess in tow... She's too old to marry again to have children even if they would accept her... They are heading back to Judah to spend their days in poverty and disgrace...
- Orpah is finally convinced... and she turns to go home. Back to hope. Back to the easy way out... She loves Naomi... but... it's not worth living in poverty and disgrace... better to go back home where she can have something better. How many times do we do the same thing? “God, isn't there an easier way? Where's the shortcut?” or “Well I'd like to commit... but I'm afraid of the cost... I don't want to be a persecuted Christian... I don't like confrontation...” Remember the rich young ruler in the New Testament? He went to Jesus and said “hey, I've followed all the commandments, I've always been good, what else is there to do?” And when Jesus said, go give everything away and come follow me... it was like... “whaaaaaaaaat??? But... God, I've done everything I was supposed to do! You mean I have to do more??? What more do you want from me??? I can't DO that right now... how about next week?” (Matthew 19:16-30)
- Matthew 8:18-22
- Ruth however, clings to Naomi. Her response always hits me hard... She is desperate for water. Desperate for this God that she knows so little about. Desperate to stay with this woman who loves her... even if she's not really showing it right this second... Desperate to have a life she knows is better than the one she's lived in Moab...
Oh that we could all be so desperate for the things of God.
I don't NEED anything else! I will go wherever you want me to go, only let me serve you! Let me stay with you! Let me be your child! I don't care how hard things look! I don't care how difficult this road seems! I just want to be with you! Please! Let nothing but death itself come between you and I! I will die before I leave you!
- John 4:4-42
- Luke 10:38-42
- Psalm 42, 107
- Isaiah 55
God is not a hard-hearted God... He's waiting on you to run into His wide-open arms... waiting to be able to tell you how much He adores and loves you.
Will you respond accordingly? Will you run to God and cling to Him? Will you beg Him not to let you go? How deep are you willing to go for water? Will you dig in and seek God? Will you forsake all others and follow the call... even into the unknown?
- This woman just gave up her only chance of having a life of honor and distinction. She is walking into a foreign land, as a widow, with another widow, with only poverty and dishonor to look forward to... all because she loves this woman, and she has a heart that longs to follow after God. There is something in this God and this faith that is drawing her in and she can't escape it.
- So they go on to Judah. When they arrive in Judah, they are greeted excitedly. The townspeople are glad to see Naomi... but Naomi does not respond likewise. “Don't call me Naomi, instead call me Mara.”
- Naomi means pleasant... and Mara means bitter. When the girls were telling her that they were going to go with her to Judah, Naomi made the statement that “the Lord Himself has raised His fist against me.”
- Proverbs 14:10
- She is looking at her life and seeing nothing but bad. She is allowing her circumstances to make her heart bitter.
- Naomi is wallowing in self-pity. She is allowing everything that has happened to change her heart for the worse. Yes our circumstances change our hearts, and change our way of looking at the world, but we shouldn't allow circumstances to make us bitter.
- There's a lot of bad things that happen in this world. Life is not easy, and it's not fair... I know a lot of people who have gotten bitter when a loved one has died. Or when they get divorced. Or when they don't get something they think they need or want. Or they lose their job... so on and so forth...
- However we are not defined by circumstances. Our life is not a definition of our life experiences. Our definition should first come from being followers of Christ... and our definition should not be one that is given by the world's view of us, or even our view of ourselves... but rather, it should come from how GOD sees us.
- Ruth, was a Moabitess. She's a foreigner. She comes from a line of people that were enemies of Israel. Her people were idol worshipers. She is a widow. Her definition says that she is worthless in Israel. She should have been the lowest of the low. Why should God pay any attention to her?
- Because God saw a heart desperate for Him. He saw something in that girl that made Him smile.
- yes our life experiences and our background shape us. They may even form our morals and our consciences, and our way of thinking about things... But to define who we are in Christ and who we will become in the same? Never.
- Is it okay to feel discouraged? Bitter? Hurt? Yeah! Life happens! We were made to experience a lot of different feelings. We have the capacity to express those feelings. But it doesn't mean that we dwell there. And it doesn't mean that we let that become all that consumes us. Nor does it mean that we start yelling insults at God or blaming God for everything.
- footnote- “Naomi had experienced severe hardships. She had left Israel married and secure; she returned widowed and poor. Naomi changed her name to express the bitterness and pain she felt. Naomi was not rejecting God by openly expressing her pain. However, it seems she lost sight of the tremendous resources she had in her relationship with Ruth and with God. When you face bitter times, God welcomes your honest prayers, but be careful not to overlook the love, strength, and resources that he provides in your present relationships. And don't allow bitterness and disappointment to blind you to your opportunities.”
- You know, we have the story of Job as an example of living through hard times... to the extreme... and still having the attitude that God is in control and will do what is best for us. The end of the first chapter in Job ends with “I came naked from my mother's womb, and I will be naked when I leave. The Lord gave me what I had, and the Lord has taken it away. Praise the name of the Lord!”
- Will you choose to praise the Lord in every and any situation? Will you sing praises in prison and chains with Paul and Silas? Will you lift up your hands to the One Who made you, Who loves you, and still CHOOSE to say, “I will follow You”?
- I Thessalonians 5:16-18
- Philippians 4:4-9
- Ephesians 5:15-20
- Hebrews 10:19-39
- James 5:10-11
- Job (his story in general, but especially the last few chapters.)
- I Peter 5:6-11
- Romans 5:1-11
- “Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord punish me severely if I allow anything but death to separate us!”
- What a statement... Can we say the same to our God?
- Chris Tomlin has a new song out that uses some of those lines.
- To abandon all to follow God... no matter where.
- The book of Ruth is about commitment... and love... and about God choosing to use people that wouldn't necessarily be seen as... perfect for the cause.
- Ruth was a Moabite. She wasn't an Israelite... and yet she became King David's grandmother... because her faith was strong and she committed herself to Naomi and to her God. God looked at Ruth and saw a committed and faithful heart.
- Just as God said that David was a man after His own heart... so I believe that Ruth was a woman after God's heart.
- When we look at the story of Ruth... can we apply this same story to our lives? Can we look at the life of this woman and make the same statement of faith? Will we follow God's leading even though circumstances look bleak at best?
- As we study the life of this woman of faith, I hope we can begin to see her faith reflected in our own lives... just as strong and as dedicated.