“Where you go, I will go.. and where you stay I will stay, your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will Die…. And may God deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates us…”
Anyone recognize those words? They are the words of a young widow by the name of Ruth who has found herself lost in real life on the brink of finding true life.
If you are familiar at all with a young widow by the name of Ruth and her story found in the Old Testament, you know that her story is one of redemption. It is one of being utterly lost in the real circumstances of a life without God that is turned upside down when she makes the choice to place her every day, ordinary life – her sleeping, eating, going to work and walking around life before God as an offering.
Let’s begin in Ruth, Chapter 1, Verse 1: “In the days when the Judges ruled” – right off the bat, God gives us our historical timeline and sets the stage. A man named Moses had led God’s people from slavery, captivity, to the brink of a land promised to their forefathers, a land that was rich with food, houses and cities already established. Joshua, who had been faithful from day one of the exodus, took over when Moses died and led God’s people the rest of the way into Canaan. It was their opportunity to start over and live a life sold out to God. But it was a land that had been occupied by people who didn’t follow God. And after Joshua’s death, rather than living as salt and light, as sojourners, they sadly, repeatedly, gave in to varying temptations. God would raise up men and women called judges to lead the people out of their sin, but just as soon as the judge died, the people would return to their rebellion.
“In the days when the Judges ruled, there was a famine in the
land.” The scripture doesn’t come out and say it, but if not every time, almost every time famine is mentioned in scripture, it is in conjunction with God’s judgment against his people. Because they chose to rebel, turn away from Him, God would allow a surrounding nation to come and take their harvest, or a time of drought to threaten their food supply until they called out again to Him.
“In the days when the Judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. And a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife, and his two sons.” (Ruth 1:1)(NIV) Here we are introduced to a family that were worshipers of God. They believed in God, they served God, they went to church, shared community with other believers, but there was a famine. And in the middle of this difficult season of life Dad makes a decision. “Do we stay committed, or do we relocate, move, some 50 miles away where there is no famine?”
Now, this is an important detail. 50 miles away people seem to be just fine, everything seems “Normal”. And so what this man determines to do is not deal with the underlying spiritual causes of the famine at home - the sin and rebellion, their disobedience toward God. Instead of turning toward God for help, or trusting God to feed his family, He instead relocates his family to Moab, which at first glance doesn’t seem like such a bad move, but ultimately it is, because Moab is no place for God’s people.
If you know the story of the Moabites, they are the product of incest from a man named Lot having sexual intercourse with his own daughters in Genesis 19. One gives birth to a son named Moab. From that boy came the tribe, the race, the people group, the Moabites. They were considered an incestuous, sexually perverted group of people. The Bible tells us they didn’t worship Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They worshipped a false god named Chemosh.
This man moves his wife and their two sons away from church and fellowship, and worship of God to a place where they, in all likelihood, would be the only God fearing family. A place where there was no community of believers for support. And interestingly their Physical Famine is Traded for Spiritual Famine. I want you to think about this as we move forward. Spiritual Famine has Real Life consequences. When you and I choose to live life separated from God. When you and I choose to distance ourselves from His lead. When we resist his warning to turn our heart back to Him. When we choose to reject what He says, not only does physical famine come, but spiritual famine comes as well. And this spiritual famine shows itself in our relationships, our health, work, finances, time…
The story continues, verse 2. “The name of the man was Elimelech,” which means “My God is King,” which is ironic, because he doesn’t act like it. If God is his King, why does he run to Moab instead of staying it out, addressing the underlying reasons for the famine, trusting God for his daily provision….. “And the name of his wife was Naomi,” which means “pleasant” or “sweet” or “sweetheart.” Which will become ironic in a moment. “And the name of their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion,” “They were from Bethlehem in Judah. They went to the country of Moab and remained there.” What was to be a temporary stay, became permanent.
Now, for all of us men, Elimelech serves for us as an example of the significant decisions that we men make. Decisions that impact our wife and our children. As the head of our household, called by God to lead our family, we are to put food on the table, roof over their heads, see that they get a proper education, take care of the basic needs of our wife and children that God has entrusted to us. Elimelech was obviously thinking of these things when he decided to pack up and move his family. And in this, he serves as a tragic example of the man who either didn’t consider or ignored the spiritual responsibilities he had as a husband and father. See, when we decide where we will live and how we will raise our children, we are deciding what activities they will be involved, the people they will be around and be of influence to them. And when we decide that fellowship with other believers or church attendance isn’t important. When we forget that who we put before them as examples and who we put in front of them to build relationships is critical to their future, we set our families up for Real Life significant problems.
In deciding to go to Moab, Elimelech chose to leave church, leave worship of God, fellowship, accountability. He left no one for his wife to have for a friend, that loved God. He left no one for his children to love and marry that loved God. And interestingly he did this thinking that he was sparing his family from death.
Verse 3: “But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi Died.” Why did Elimelech move to Moab? So that he wouldn’t die. What did Elimelech do in Moab? Died. “Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died. And she was left with her two sons.” Verse 4 says: “They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.”
Now the story gets even sadder. Are God’s men to marry Moabite women? (No) Why? Because they worshiped a god named Chemosh. They had a completely different set of standards to live by… This creates problems in the home, raising children. It’s also one more tug on this family that worshiped God, that had now isolated themselves from God and his people.
Mahlon, Kilion. They married two Moabite women.“The name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other was Ruth. They lived there about ten years.” Verse 5: “And both Mahlon and Chilion died” Why did Elimelech move to Moab? So that he and his sons would not die. What happened? They died. In Moab.
I can think of nothing worse than burying your spouse, your children. And this is what happened to Naomi. Her entire family was gone. Vs 5: “And there she was left in Moab with no church, no community to pray for her and to walk with her and to encourage her, without her two sons and her husband.” And looking ahead to Verse 20, she was bitter. “Don’t call me Naomi she said, but call me Mara, because my life is bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)(NIV) I love the honesty of scripture. I love the fact that scripture talks about life with the same degree of pain that we experience it.
Naomi has been away from home, Bethlehem, for a long time. What was to be a short stay in Moab, became a lifetime – 10 years. In Moab her husband died, Her sons are married, now her sons are dead. Trading physical famine for spiritual famine brings disastrous consequences.
Verse 6, and this is when the story takes a turn: Naomi hears that the famine had lifted in Bethlehem, her home town, the place where she had friends and so “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab to Bethlehem, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.” (Ruth 1:6) (NIV) And here we begin to see the theme of the book of Ruth unfold. God’s desire for his people to return to Him. God’s willingness to use even the most devastating decisions of our past for Good. That God is patient, merciful, compassionate, that He is good and He is also Sovereign – God works out everything in the end for his redemptive good.
Verse 7: “So she set out from that place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to return to the land of Judah.” Notice at this point, Naomi and her two daughters-in-laws make a conscious choice to turn to God. They are on their way back to where God is blessing, where God’s people are.” People who, notice, didn’t leave during the famine, and they survived, they stayed and addressed the spiritual issues, turning to God….
As Naomi, Ruth and Orpah travel, they stop to have a conversation. Verse 8: “Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law” – “Go, return each of you to your mother’s house.” And then she prays. There are many prayers in the Book of Ruth and the interesting thing is that every single prayer is answered by the end of the book. Naomi prays: “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and me. The Lord grant you that you may find rest, each of you, in the home of another husband.” She says: “My prayer for you girls is this. I have nothing to give you, but our God is loving, and gracious, and merciful, and kind, and I pray that he will bless you. I can’t. I have nothing. But even if you go to Moab I pray that he will bless you there. I pray you get remarried that you make babies, and that life gets better, and that the last chapter is not the funeral.” (Sarah recently said to me after 12 years of marriage that when I’m gone, she’s done. She doesn’t plan to remarry.)
In Verses 9-12 Naomi kisses them goodbye, they begin crying and say “no we are going to go with you, we are going to live with your people, we are going to live a new life. And in Verse 13, Naomi does something interesting. It’s as if what she does is counter to what we should do when we are trying to win people over to the Lord. She says: “No, my daughters. For it is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!”
Who does Naomi hold as ultimately responsible for the suffering and the pain and the devastation that has come upon her? God. I don’t know about you, but as I’ve read the book so far, it seems like her husband has something to do with this. The guy who moved them to Moab. Yet she knows even if her husband is to blame in part, that God ultimately could have stopped the move, could have corrected them. God could have done something! And now, even through she going home, she is unsure of God’s redemption. Will his hand continue to be against her?
Verse 14. “Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.” Orpah is going to do what we would consider ordinary. She goes home. Ruth is going to do what is extraordinary, and she will refuse to go home. And in this we see that Orpah, when it really comes to an issue of faith and trusting this new life in Bethlehem, this new life not only with Naomi, but with God, she turns back and goes home. Verse 15. “And then Naomi says to Ruth, - “See your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods, go back with her.” Now, why would Naomi insist that the girls go back home? I think She wants it to be their choice. She knows she has made some choices like coming to Moab with her husband that didn’t work out, and she sees this as a defining moment for these two girls in their faith that Naomi is bringing them to.
Verse 16: “But Ruth said,” – here Ruth speaks, the first time in the book. Her words are legendary. Here she speaks them as a vow to her mother-in-law, and ultimately to God. ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God.” (Ruth 1:16)(NIV)
Ruth, at this moment, is literally at the proverbial fork in the road. “I go back to Moab, and I worship Chemosh or I go to Bethlehem and I worship God.” Her decision: “I’m going to Bethlehem.”
Now this is a bold move for a young woman, especially a woman from a culture that wasn’t accepted by the culture she was moving to. She is going there with no husband, no home, no friends, no family, no job, no food. This is a woman of extraordinary faith.
She goes on, verse 17. “‘Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’ And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.” (Ruth 1:17-18)(NIV)
What we are seeing here is point #2: The power of the Second Family is significant to overcoming Spiritual Famine. Scripture says that you and I have two families: Our family of birth, and our family of new birth. Family knit together by blood and family knit together by the blood of Jesus Christ. That second family is the church. Now, if you’ve got a great family by birth and a church family by second birth you are doubly blessed. But many of you don’t have such a great family by birth and so your church family has become even more precious to you. When trial and hardship come, you run to your second family, the church.
Ruth, when left with the decision to decide between her family of birth, and the potential family of new birth, the church, that awaits her in Bethlehem, she chooses to sojourn with the family of new birth. She sees this hope in Naomi, even though she is bitter, Naomi is returning to a people that she can be vulnerable with, people she can say – yes I’m bitter with God. I’m empty, I’m hurt….. And in verse s 19-21 Naomi is greeted by the people who knew her 10 years earlier and they surrounded her and listened to her story and hopefully began to pour back into her the truth of God’s love.
The author ends the first chapter this way in Verse 22: “So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. (Ruth 1:22)(NIV) At the beginning of barley harvest, what is that? That’s hope. The famine is gone. God’s kindness and blessing has arrived. It’s a whole new season in Israel. And we are about to see it is a whole new season in the life of Naomi and Ruth.
Let’s finish up this way: Who, so far in this story, do you identify most with? Any of you guys connect with Elimelech? Maybe you’ve not experienced a food famine, but what about tough times financially because of the debt we carry or the challenges of getting work. What about the activities our kids are pulled to be a part of that leave us with the tough job of choosing for them. Maybe your wife has one health or emotional challenge after another and it has left you famished. Do we choose to stay committed to God and his people or do we slowly let more work hours, more time away at activities, our exhaustion, pull us away? And what started as one weekend away, turned into several and not just weeks or months, but years later we realize that we’ve put before ourselves, even our children, an environment, people, a life style that has pulled us away from God and his people..
What about Orpah? At one time you tried Christianity, maybe as a child, maybe with a boyfriend or girlfriend you knew a Church Person and all you could see was their brokenness, maybe they too were bitter or really lived no differently than you do, and so you went back to doing life your way.
Anybody relate to Ruth? If you do, this is a challenging time for you I’m sure. You’re trying something new, you’ve made a commitment and now you are asking for faith to move forward. And what you need to know is that following through opens the door for God to do some amazing things in you and through you.
How many can relate to Naomi? You’re that brutally honest frustrated person that knows you’ve been party to some bad decisions that have left you empty and you need to know just how Relentless God’s love for you is. You need him to restore your faith, you’re broken, and you need to trust what he says. And so you are making the journey home.
The reality is, if we’re honest, we all find ourselves at varying seasons in our lives identifying with each character in the story. But the heroes are Ruth and Naomi because they do two things. They run to God, and his people. That’s what they do. They go to God and to the church. And that’s what God is asking us to do right now. He is asking us to come to him at whatever fork in the road we are at and choose Him, choose to follow Him. What new normal are you looking for in your life right now? What real life change are you wanting to make with God? You don’t have to be lost in real life.