“Providence in Pain” Ruth: Week 1 (Ruth 1:1-22)
Have you ever been through such a painful experience that you become blinded to God’s blessings? Sometimes our blessings take the form of an opportunity or position, spouse or child. At the beginning of the book of Ruth, we are told of two different women – Naomi and Ruth – affected by the same tragedy. One woman is blinded to God’s blessings and the other seeks Him out despite the circumstances.
- Don’t Buy the Lie from Pain that God is Not Sovereign
- Don’t Let Pain Blind you to What God has Given you
- Emulate the Commitment of Ruth
- Don’t Forget God’s End Game of Sending Jesus
I’m giddy with excitement this morning because we get to turn to the book of Ruth together. If you brought your Bible with you, go ahead and take it out now. Get ready. We’re going to be looking at these first 22 verses, all of chapter one, and looking at God’s providence in pain. I don’t just mean pain in general. I want you to make it personal this morning, in your pain, that you would feel Naomi’s pain this morning and that you would see his good hand of providence in it and through it. This could be, if you let it, maybe one of the most comforting and encouraging books that you will ever study, but it’s going to take some work on your part because I started going through the message and putting it together over months past. This week, I’m not going to be able to get all the good stuff in, just going to give you a heads-up right now. You’re going to have to do some of the work outside of our congregational meeting in your small groups, in your life groups, on your own to draw every ounce of goodness from this book.
If you’ll do that work, and you’ll listen faithfully, take notes, God will show you his hand of providence, not only through the life of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz, but in your own life. That is where the comfort will come from. Seeing God’s providence, which just means his will, being done in your life through, sometimes despite, the circumstances that you are surrounded by. Sometimes God’s providence can seem tough because you can’t see it. Other times, it’s maybe fulfilling because you do see it. John Piper says it can be both bitter and sweet, depending on how it strikes you and what particular circumstance you are in at the time, but I want you to see through the book of Ruth whether it feels good or not, whether it tastes sweet or bitter, God’s providence is good for you because he is God and he is always good. If you love him, meaning you have a relationship with Jesus Christ as a New Testament follower of his way, it will work for your good, whether it feels that way in the moment or not. Church, this will help you if you let it sink in. We’ll get started on the journey this week and then we’ll continue to see it as the story unfolds.
What we find in Ruth chapter one, in the life of Naomi, her family, and then even as it carries into Ruth and her sister-in-law, can only be described as a tragedy, but even through the tragedy, God’s hand of providence can be seen, but not just to be seen, it can be seen as good. This is a wonderful book, especially for those who love God. It brings to life the verses of Romans 8:28, which says, “We know that all things work for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.” Church, when you walk away here today, I want you to walk away with this, that I understand and God understands that it’s difficult to see his goodness, his good hand of providence in the pain of life. I would encourage you when you walk away today, do it anyway. Even though it may be hard or difficult, make an effort to see his good hand of providence anyway.
The book of Ruth is a narrative. It’s, in fact, a pretty short narrative. It can be described as a short story. In this short story, you’re going to be captivated by the characters. You’re going to be captivated by Naomi this week in her pain. It’s going to kind of consume. You’re going to be captivated in this chapter by Ruth in her commitment. In chapters following, you’re going to be captivated by Ruth in her boldness and Boaz in his love for her. You’re going to be captivated by God in his sovereign plan. Because there’s so many good themes in the book of Ruth, I don’t want you to miss this, the main purpose I believe why the book of Ruth is in the metanarrative scripture is so you can be exposed that it leads to the bloodline of Christ. I know it’s kind of skipping to the end, but if we go to chapter four and verses 21 and 22, you’ll learn that from the union between Ruth and Boaz comes the bloodline of David. From the bloodline of David comes the bloodline of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
This is God’s endgame, to show you that through, yes, even the tragic situation of Naomi’s life, God has his providential plan in place to bring about the Messiah, the Savior of the world. I say that in the beginning because the love story scenes are going to be so great and so impactful I want you to bring that with you every week. I want you to bring the end goal with you every day that you study the book of Ruth. Therefore, it will not only be an Old Testament story about God’s providence, it will be an Old Testament story that is thoroughly, through and through, Christ-centered. I did say love story, but I don’t want you to get this modern idea of a love story like The Notebook or something like that. There may be moments of those impassioned love that you’re thinking of between Ruth and Boaz, but it’s on a whole nother level. You see the love story between God and his people. You see this love story between Ruth and her commitment to Naomi when Naomi told her, “You’re going to be poor and childless and a widow your whole life.”
Really more of the word I want to use, I want to use a Biblical term. Instead of love story, I want to call it a hesed story. Hesed is this Hebrew word that’s a theme that is woven throughout the book of Ruth. Almost want to call it the gospel of Ruth. There’s a book written by a woman named Colleen James, wrote a book called The Gospel of Ruth, and I think it’s very accurate. This term, hesed, is seen in the book of Ruth. It’s translated under English Bibles. If you look at Ruth chapter one verse eight, it’s translated usually as kindness, the kindness of God shown to his people, especially when they don’t deserve it. The word hesed in Hebrew carries this idea of God’s covenant love or covenant commitment to his people even when, especially when, they’re not committed to him. I was thinking this week, “What’s a good English word to describe the Hebrew idea of hesed?” Here’s the truth. There’s no good English word. We may use the word love. I say okay. Benevolence, yeah. Charity, yes. Grace, yes. Mercy, yes, all of that and more. It’s basically God working through the circumstances for your good whether you seek your good or not. This is God’s covenant commitment to his people.
Now, this is what we see. We not only see it in Ruth 1:8, as she’s describing God’s kindness to the daughters-in-law that she’s trying to send back to Moab, but we see it not only in word several times in the book, but we see it in the characters. We see it in Ruth. She has a hesed commitment, a covenant commitment to Naomi when Naomi didn’t really deserve it and wasn’t really earning it. She kind of forgot about Ruth. Ruth says, “It don’t matter. I’m committed to you.” That’s a great example of God’s hesed love. We see it in Boaz. Marrying a Moabite? What? That shouldn’t have happened, but she was converted and it did happen. We see God’s hesed, his commitment love through Boaz in his commitment to Ruth. Chiefly, we see it in God, his hesed, his covenant commitment to his people, we see it in the story through the characters that he puts in the story and ultimately, through the line of David, we see it culminate in the birth of Jesus Christ who’s the Savior of the world. Such a good book.
Let’s start together. In Ruth chapter one verses one and two, the author here lays some context, some groundwork that you need to understand as we move forward. He says, “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed.” Underline that. That’s a key contextual clue about the spiritual reality that Israel was living in. “There was also a famine in the land.” We read famine and we brush right over it. Oh, don’t rush past the word famine. “And a certain man of Bethlehem,” I believe because of the sinfulness in the times of the judges and because of the famine in the land, “went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons.” What were their names? Well, “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, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah.” That’s where they were from and where they were going because of this famine in the time of the judges. “Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.” There’s a whole lot of stuff that you need to know.
First of all, let’s take this concept. During the time of the judges, how many of you were here in the series that I preached through Judges called Unfiltered Truth? It had the picture of the guy holding his hand over his mouth. Remember that? Okay, if you haven’t, go and listen to it. If you’ve studied Judges, bring that back up in your mind right now. That’s going to give you a spiritual picture of what’s going on in Israel. The book of Judges describes a time in Israel where there was no king in the land. They had no real leadership. The people in Israel, they were Yahweh worshipers, but they abandoned their worship of Yahweh and started worshiping the Pagan gods of the nations that surrounded them. Not only that, but probably the key feature of the book of Judges tells you that every man, every woman was doing what is right in their own eyes. The book begins like that. God sends these judges over and over again. There’s a sin cycle. Remember the sin cycle. They keep repeating themselves.
Sadly, the book ends on that same note. There was no king in the land. They abandoned their worship of Yahweh. Every man did what was right in his own eyes. It created this spiritual sick environment where there was morbid immorality, there was deep depravity, there was sinfulness and idol worship all around. Basically, the things that God abhors, the things that breaks God’s heart, those things were being not only done in Israel, but they were being celebrated in Israel. Not only was it being celebrated, but then there was a pressure on the rest of the faithful followers of Yahweh that you need to celebrate the things that breaks God’s heart as well. Otherwise, you don’t fit in. That probably doesn’t sound familiar to anybody, does it? You’ve never been in a time like this, have you? Yeah, you’re living in it right now, where the things that breaks God’s heart are being celebrated and the pressure’s on you to celebrate them as well. If you don’t celebrate them, you’re labeled a what? A bigot or a racist or any other inflammatory term that they can throw at you. This is your season. The timeliness of Ruth is on point for our lives today.
This is the time of the judges, that 400 years between Joshua and the first king of Israel, Saul. That’s one level of bad, but it gets worse and Naomi and her husband were living in it. There was a famine in the land. I hear you say it because I say it too. We say things in our modern vernacular like, “I’m starving,” but you don’t know what starving is, do you? I’m willing to wager that none of you have ever really been through a true famine. Some of you, your parents or your grandparents may have gone through The Great Depression, but, church, I hate to break it to you. That wasn’t even a famine, not widespread famine. It was a hard time. A famine is like what you can see in West Africa, where a mom will travel 100 miles with her three children, lose two of them to starvation on the way, just to save one, even sacrificing her own life just go to the UNICEF station that’s 100 miles away from where she lives. No water, no rain, no food, death all around you in crops, in livestock, and in your home.
This is the situation that Israel was in. It shouldn’t surprise you, should it, to find out that Israel was in a famine because they were being disobedient to the Lord. The Bible tells us in Leviticus chapter 26 and Deuteronomy chapter 28 that there are blessings for those who obey him and there are curses for those who don’t. I believe Israel is going through one of those divine curses because of their disobedience. There was a famine. Who’s in charge of famines? Who’s in charge of the rain? Who’s in charge of the crops growing? Who’s in charge of the crops not growing? It’s not your agricultural genius. It’s God. They’re in this season. Elimelech takes his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, and he says, “We’re out of here.” I’m not saying that was a good decision. I’m just saying I need you to understand the context for why he probably made that decision.
Let’s go ahead and take it a step further. Not many people do this. We might even be able to assume that they were a faithful family. They were tired of all the muck and the mire and the death and the disease and, most of all, the sinfulness. They could have, I’m not saying they did, they could have left for that. Whether it’s the right reason or not, I think it was a bad reason. They leave Bethlehem and they travel to the land of Moab, which Israel hated and the Moabites hated the Israelites. It was not a love-love relationship. It was a hate-hate relationship. It was political unrest. Violence was shared between the nations. I don’t even know how Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, and their two sons even survived as foreigners in that land, but they did. They arrive in Moab and it goes from bad, church, to worse. We don’t know how long that Naomi was living there with her two sons and her husband, Elimelech, but the next valley that Naomi would have to walk through as I’m starting to help you just kind of understand her pain, I want you to feel her pain, her husband died.
It was hard enough being a woman in the ancient world, but being a woman who’s now a widow with two sons in a foreign land with no friends and no family to help you, that was a desperate situation. Doesn’t get any better. Her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, they marry Pagan wives. Think about that for a second. That wasn’t probably an easy process. The Moabites didn’t like the Israelites. What Moabite father would have said, “Okay. You, Israelite, can marry my Moabite daughter”? Now you’re starting to think, “Did they have the cream of the crop?” Probably not. God’s hand of providence, how did they get Ruth in the family? God uses that. Ruth is one of the wives and then Orpah is the other wife. They live there and then it gets worse. Naomi had already seen her husband die. She was a widow. Her sons are probably having to take care of her, but now they have no children.
The Bible tells us that after 10 years her two sons were married to these two Moabite women, they produced exactly zero children. Let the weight of that rest on you a little bit. For a woman in the ancient world, her worth was directly connected to her ability to bear children. Ruth and Orpah had no children for 10 years. It wasn’t like they were planning to not have children. We do that today. That wasn’t in their mindset. That means every cycle where the woman should have been fertile, however many times that happens a year, over 10 years, these women were anticipating having a pregnancy announced into their family to bring some comfort to their husbands who have married these women whose wombs are barren and to bring some comfort to Naomi who’s lost her husband and has no grandchildren. Every time that happened, no children, no children, no children. Multiply that times 10 years. Do you start to feel the weight of the situation, the desperation that this family is in? Then, her two sons die. After 10 years, barren wombs, now there’s three widows in the family, Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah. They are in a beyond desperate situation. They have no ability in a man’s world to provide for themselves. Ruth says, “We’ve got to go back to Bethlehem.”
I want you to notice the play on words between Bethlehem and Moab. Anybody know what Bethlehem means? It means house of bread. They left the house of bread because they were physically starving and they went to Moab, which could be described as spiritually starving. Now they’re going back to the house of bread because Naomi heard that maybe the famine that was on God’s people had lifted. She heads off with her two daughter-in-laws, freshly widowed, and we don’t know how far she got. Naomi’s walking, probably broken over the loss of her sons and her husband and having now I got to take care of these two girls. It hits her, “Wait a second. I’m going back to my homeland. I’ll probably be welcomed, but I’m coming with two Moabite widows. They’ve got no chance to survive.” She stops. She talks to them, “Hey, girls. Listen. You’ve got to go back home.” I’m not saying it was the most spiritual decision she’s ever made. Naomi probably wasn’t strong in her walk with the Lord at this time. She’s worried about surviving. There could be a whole nother message preached on when we take the gospel to people and we ignore their physical pain or their emotional pain and all we do is just bring the gospel. Yeah, we’ve got to bring the gospel, but sometimes we’ve got to bring help. Back up, that’s not today’s message.
She says, “Y’all need to go back for survival purposes. Go back to your mothers and your fathers. You’re young enough. They will take you in and maybe you’ll be married again.” That’s the idea that she has. They cling to her and they start weeping, “No, we want to go where you go. We want your people to be our people.” This is already in their mindset. She goes, “You don’t understand, girls. I’m too old to get married again. There’s no chance for me.” Do you hear the pain speaking? Not even truth at this time, just bitterness and pain speaking. Bitterness had already taken hold. She said, “Even if I could be married to a man tonight and we were to have sons tomorrow, are you going to wait for them to grow up to 16 or 18 years old? Are you not going to marry until they become old enough for you to marry? You can’t wait that long, girls. The only thing that’s waiting for you is poverty and desperation. Go back home.” Orpah makes a logical choice. She goes back home.
What do we find Ruth doing? We find Ruth clinging to her mother-in-law. Naomi says to Ruth, “Ruth, sweetie. Follow your sister-in-law and go back to your home. God has dealt bitterly with me. He is against me. It is worse for me than you. You can not survive where I’m going. You’ll be a widow. You may starve to death, never hope of having children.” See the picture she’s painting is ultimate desperation? That sets the context for some of the most powerful verses ever spoken or written in all of scripture, Ruth 1:16. Ruth said, ““Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Naomi, your people shall be my people, and,” listen to this, “your God, my God.” She was a Pagan. “Where you die,” she goes further, “I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you from me.” Naomi responds to this beautiful statement with silence. She doesn’t say, “Thank you.” She doesn’t say, “That’s great.” Silence.
They walk probably in silence all the way to Bethlehem. When they arrive, all of Bethlehem is in an uproar. They see Naomi coming back. She left with a husband. She left with two sons. She comes back what she would say is empty-handed with this Pagan Moabite woman with her. She hears them saying the name Naomi. Look what she says in verse 20. You can hear the pain dripping off her words. “Do not call me Naomi.” She says, “Call me Mara, for the Almighty,” she gets that he’s her God. She gets that he’s even in control of the situation, but says, “The Almighty, El Shaddai, has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty has afflicted me?” The word Naomi means pleasant, means pleasing. That’s who she was, a pleasant woman full of joy. She says, “Don’t you call me pleasant anymore.” In her pain, she says, “You call me Mara.” It means bitter. The Lord is bitter against me and he has embittered me. She’s embittered to him. She’s in a sad state.
You think it can get no worse, and then a ray of hope comes in at the end of the chapter. Look at verse 22. It’s small but it’s significant. All of the chapter has been focused on Naomi’s misery and we learn that they arrive in God’s providence, bringing a Moabite Pagan to Bethlehem. They arrive when? Right when the barley harvest was taking place. Church, this is not chance. This is God’s providence. That fact alone that we just glance over probably allowed Naomi and Ruth to survive because the harvest was plentiful and they could eat. Church, this is such an amazing book. This is such a powerful chapter. I want you to continue your study this week. There’s some books I want to recommend to you. John Piper wrote a book called A Bitter and Sweet Providence. Read that as we’re going through this. It’s going to help you. Another woman named Colleen James, she wrote a book called The Gospel of Ruth. That will help you. Continue to study this. What I want to leave you with is just four ideas that I believe are powerful that I believe will help you if you let them.
Number one, don’t buy the lie of pain that God is not sovereign. Sometimes when you’re in the desperate pain of a circumstance or even in the desperate pain of punishment because of your sin, sometimes you think to yourself, “This has to be some kind of divine accident. God couldn’t be sovereign or provident in this. Why would he allow me to go through this?” Two things are true in this chapter. One, Naomi’s pain and, two, the providence of God or the sovereignty of God working through her pain. Being able to blend those two together, church, that’s where comfort is waiting for you. What do we learn about the famine? Leviticus 26 verses three through four will clear that up for you. In one of his covenant blessings, God says, “If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit.” What is that verse telling you? What are those verses telling you? That God is sovereign. There’s the rub, isn’t it?
How can God be sovereignly good and still allow such a tragic situation to happen in their life? You may be asking today, “How can God be sovereignly good and in control of my life when he allows me to be going through so much pain?” I want to give you the freedom today to ask questions like that. The Bible is full of examples of that. What we sometimes do is we try to cover up for God. We didn’t mean for that to happen in your life. He would have never wanted that. That must be some kind of accident or mistake. You’re not helping anybody when you say that. Listen, I also want to tell you this. God doesn’t need your help to make excuses for him. He is God and he will be good and will be God long after you either understand or stop understanding his hidden hand of providence. God does not stop being good just because you don’t understand his loving and good hand of providence in your life. Can I say that again? God doesn’t stop being good just because you don’t understand or you can’t see his hidden hand of providence working in your life.
I don’t know if I’ve had the distinct blessing or pain to know a lot of people in pain. That’s one of the things you become acquainted with as a pastor, people who suffer. Let me tell you what helps people who are suffering in pain 0% of the time. It does not help someone in pain to tell them that God is not in control. It didn’t help me when I watched my mother suffer for 11 years slowly and painfully as she died of the disease multiple sclerosis to say that God was not in control, that God had made some kind of mistake, that he either doesn’t care for her, can’t hear her prayers, or can’t do anything about it. The only thing that brought be comfort was knowing that God had a plan, whether I understood it or not, and it was his plan for his glory working through her and it was for her good. Once I stopped buying the lie that this was some kind of divine accident, you know what came flowing in? Truth. The Bible tells you that truth will set you free. What came in on the heels of truth was comfort. I had no comfort when I thought that God was not in control of it, but then I had comfort to know that though I didn’t understand it at the time, he was sovereign it and through it.
My mom saw it long before I did. I didn’t have to blame God for giving my mother multiple sclerosis. I simply had to see his hidden hand of providence working in it and through it. There’s a man named William Cowper. You spell it C-O-W-P-E-R. He got this. He wrote hymns in the 1700s and he also wrote poems. You may recognize one of his hymns entitled There Is a Fountain Filled With Blood. Go look that up and listen to it this week. It’s good. He wrote that hymn after going through a bout of insanity where he tried to kill himself three times. After he was unsuccessful those three times, he felt such guilt and shame for trying to take his own life and his own pain that he could barely function.
He wrote that hymn to remind himself of God’s providence and his hand of guidance through life’s circumstances. He also wrote a poem I’d like to share with you today, just one line. It’s entitled God Moves in a Mysterious Way. We’ve taken that and created the phrase from this poem, “God moves in mysterious ways.” Any of you ever said that? It comes from William Cowper. This is one line of that poem says, “Judge not the Lord by feeble sins, but trust him for his grace. Behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.” Church, when all you can see is the dark clouds of frowning providence in your life as you suffer and you’re going through pain, if you’d ask God to show you and you’d be able to see his smiling face, the comfort will be found.
Naomi, she didn’t miss God’s sovereign hand. She saw it. She simply thought that it was against her. What she could not see, what she did not allow herself to see was God’s smiling face. Don’t be too quick to judge Naomi. I’m not saying she made all the right decisions, but let us not judge her because she was a woman in pain. Doesn’t mean we need to emulate her, but maybe we can understand her a little bit. See, Naomi reminds me of another Biblical character that we give much more credit to. His name was Job. Now, we get extra information with Job that clarifies it for us. He was a faithful man. We get the backstory that God was making this basically wager with Satan that he would stay faithful even when he brought the pain.
Job was a faithful man. As a faithful man, what did life do to him? It struck him in the face and in the life and with his children over and over again. Job didn’t understand it when it was happening to him. It took a lot of years and God speaking to him in truth before he ever really understood it. Naomi not only lost things like Job, but she also lost her husband. He did not lose his wife. She lost her children like he did, but she was a woman in a man’s world and she was in a foreign land. I’m not trying to say look at her as a hero. I’m just saying maybe understand her pain. Maybe she was caught up in some of the circumstances of pain and circumstances of sin that surrounded her, but I want to take it one step further because there is another option.
There’s another option to say that all of Naomi’s pain was self-induced because of the sin that she went through and participated in, in herself going to Moab and allowing her sons to marry Pagan women. Even if you think that Naomi’s pain, which I don’t necessarily believe that, is directly related to her sin, that only makes God look more beautiful because when he takes the time to redirect her life and to bring his hesed love back to her and his commitment for her, if it was all due to her own sin because of her life choices, it makes God look all the more good because he did it despite her. Maybe it’s like Job and the circumstances are surrounding her. God’s providence was still working through that. Either way, whether you are in sin and experiencing God’s judgment or you’re just walking through life and it’s tough circumstance is not caused by you, God is still good and God still works all things according to his will for your good. I hope that I’m not the only one that’s ever told you this in your life.
Ephesians chapter one verse 11 says, “Also we have obtained an inheritance as believers, having been predestined according to His purpose.” Who does what? “Who works all things after the counsel of His will.” There’s his providence through everything. What about you? What about Romans 8:28? All things work together not only for his will, but for your good if you love him and you’re called according to his purpose. We can learn from Naomi, church. We can follow her example but not believe in the lie of pain that God is not sovereign. He is, but then we can take it one step further, which she did not take it to. We can see that not only God is sovereign, but we can see what she could not see, that he is for you. He’s not against you. If you love him and you follow him, his providential plan is not only good for his glory, it’s good for you as well.
Then, as we transition to the next point, not only can we see that we shouldn’t let pain cause us to be believing that God is not sovereign, but also don’t let the pain blind you to what God has already given you. Don’t let the pain blind you to what God has already blessed you with. Naomi had gone through a lot. I’m starting, as I study this book, to feel the weight of her pain and it’s almost unbearable, but she did have some blind spots in her spiritual life because of the pain that she let seep in instead of giving it to God. Blind spot number one is that she forgot about Ruth. Think about when she arrived in Bethlehem, husbandless and childless. Ruth is right next to her. Ruth had already told her, “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die. Where you’re buried, I’ll be buried too.” It’s a huge commitment, but as Naomi walks up with Ruth and she meets her friends, she says, “Don’t call me pleasant. Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara.” She says, “Why? Because I left here full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.”
What if you’re Ruth and you’re standing next to her? You’re like, “Empty?” She probably didn’t say that because she’s a holy character. Empty? Ruth chapter four will tell you that at the end of the story all of Naomi’s friends say that Ruth is to you, someone that is better than seven sons. That’s a big statement to make in the ancient world, but Naomi is so overcome with pain that she’s blinded to the blessings that are standing right next to her. Not only that, not only has her pain blinded her to the blessings that God has already given her, her pain has also allowed her to over-exaggerate the situation that she’s in. If you’ll go back and look at her interaction with her two daughter-in-laws in verse 12 and 13, Naomi basically tells them that there’s no hope for you to go with me to Bethlehem because I have no more sons. That was true, but she’s over-exaggerating her situation and it caused her to forget about this idea of having a kinsmen.
See, there was this Jewish tradition that if a Israelite man died, his brother or the next closest male kin could come into his life and redeem his property, redeem his land. If there was a widow, he could marry that widow so that the name and the bloodline of that family, particularly Elimelech, would carry forward. Ruth says, “We’re hopeless. I have no more sons.” She forgot about, as we continue this story, at least two kinsmen that could have redeemed the situation. One of them that she forgot about that will be brought before her eyes in the later chapters, his name was Boaz. Church, let me ask you, have you ever been so struck with a tragedy that the pain of that tragedy has blinded you to the blessings that surround you? Have you ever walked through so much pain that you over-exaggerate the situation that you’re in?
I want to tell you many times when you forget the blessings in your life, those blessings in your life have names. I’ve known couples that have gone through a terrible tragedy of losing a child. Many couples who lose a child together, they separate and many of them get divorced I believe because of the pain. They’re blinded to their spouse that’s sitting right next to them or sleeping right next to them. Maybe you’re going through a pain today and the person that you’re blinded to that loves you the most is sitting right next to you. It’s your spouse. Maybe your pain has blinded you to the blessing that God has given you in that friend that is always there for you, but you ignore them because you’re just sitting in the misery and the depression of your pain.
Maybe that is a child that you still have or you do have that is waiting to bring you the joy that they used to, but you’re not seeing it because the pain is consuming you. Naomi could not see Ruth. If God didn’t move one more inch for Naomi or on her behalf and she died of starvation in Israel, she still had Ruth for that time period, though she couldn’t see it. Even if she died and she did not have Ruth, who else did she have? Church, she had God himself. When you’re walking through your pain, what I’m trying to tell you is that you’re never alone. Don’t let the pain blind you to the blessings that God has already given you, chiefly himself and the others who have surrounded you in your life.
Also, don’t let it exaggerate the situation that you’re in. See, all of these tragedies in the life of Naomi and even in Ruth gave way to David, the line of David being born from Ruth and Boaz and Matthew tells us that ultimately led to Jesus, the Savior of the world. What I’m trying to tell you today is that God did not waste the pain of Naomi. In her own life, she had Ruth, but because of God in her life and because of Ruth in her life, all of them, we too today have a Savior. We’ve been focused a lot on Naomi’s pain, but I also don’t want you to miss before we leave here today the faithfulness of Ruth. Emulate the commitment that Ruth showed in this chapter. We’ve talked a lot about Naomi and her pain and how you can be like Naomi in your pain and see the good hand of God or the smiling face of God working in his sovereign plan through the circumstances of your life, but I want to tell you today sometimes God’s not calling you to be Naomi. Sometimes God’s calling you to be Ruth, the one who was faithful and committed to God and her mother-in-law despite when life was hateful to them.
Let’s rehearse the words of Ruth again, “Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people and your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die. There, I will be buried.” You know what kind of commitment Ruth had to Naomi? Naomi was a foreigner in Moab, but as she went back home, she was a foreigner no longer. Ruth says, “I’m willing to leave my family. I’m willing to leave my friends. I’m willing to leave my future. I’m willing to leave my future husband. I’m willing to leave my future children. I’m willing to go with you as far as life will take you. Your people will be my people.” She says, “Even where you die, I will die.” When Naomi died, Ruth wasn’t going to go back home and be buried on her family’s plot of land. She says, “I’m going to be buried right next to you,” but the most radical thing that she said, her conversion experience I believe happened on the way to Bethlehem. God showed up and she says, as a Pagan, at some point, this clicked in her mind on the way there, “Your God, Yahweh,” not gods, “your God, Yahweh, will be my God.”
Church, this reminds me of the commitment that I see of women throughout the scripture who cling to God and his promises even when the future looks dark and bleak. It reminds me not only of the commitment of women and men that we see in the Bible that is like fuel for our soul, but it also reminds me of particular women in my life that I grew up with and that I now live with and their commitment is like fuel for my soul. My mom, when she walked through multiple sclerosis, it’s like the deeper the pain got, the more she clung to Jesus. She was first diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in her early 30s, like the age of 30, between the transition of 29 and 30. She was in a Bible study with our neighbor. I was just reminded of this this week. The first thing that went was her vision. She had perfect vision but then her eyes went shaky. She didn’t give up on the Bible study. She got glasses.
Eventually, when the disease would take her vision later in the nursing home, she would have the Bible stories or the Bible read to her, would listen to it on her headphones on CD. It would eventually take away her sure footing. She didn’t give up. She got a cane. When the cane didn’t work and she was bound to a wheelchair, she would have the people in the nursing home wheel her and push her to the worship services. There, she would sing. When she lost her voice, she would go and she would just sing along with her mouth and let her voice be the tears that were streaming down her face. Church, that is like fuel for my soul. When I reflect on her commitment to God and her commitment to me in that situation, it fuels me.
My wife’s been the same way. She was committed to me before my call to ministry. It was a shock when I got called to ministry, but she was there with me through it. Now, she stays with me in it. She’s gone to places where I know she didn’t want to go and she’s let me go to places where she wasn’t sure if I would ever come back from. Her commitment was like fuel for my soul. Ruth’s commitment to Naomi should have been and could have been fuel for her soul. Here’s my question for you today. Whose life do you need to be a Ruth in? Who should you have this level of commitment towards? If you don’t see it yet and you’re married, let me help you. It’s your spouse. That’s why we use verses like this at wedding ceremonies.
For your spouse, you need to say with all integrity, “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people.” That means they’re not their family. It’s your family as well. Not only that, your God, it has to work like this, “Your God is my God. Where you die, I will die. I’m committed to you for a lifetime and I want to be buried right next to you.” If it’s not your spouse, maybe it’s a family member or another friend. Chiefly, first and foremost, like Ruth, that commitment has to be to God and he will show you who to be committed to as well. We are out of time so I’m going to finish quickly with one more reminder. Never forget God’s endgame is Jesus. Turn with me to Ruth 4:21 and 22.
We read, “And to Salmon was born Boaz, and Boaz, Obed, and Obed was born Jesse, and Jesse, David.” This story’s so good that you may get caught up in the storyline and miss the reason that God brought a Pagan Moabite woman to Bethlehem to marry a man named Boaz. Here’s the reason. 1,000+ years later, Jesus Christ, the son of Joseph, the son of David, the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz and Ruth, the Moabitis, would be born in Bethlehem and he was and is the Savior of the world. Never forget as we study the book of Ruth together that the providence of God and the circumstances of Naomi’s pain and the circumstances of Ruth’s commitment culminated in the birth of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. Church, he was born into man flesh to die for man’s sins. He rose from the dead. He gave you the ability to be forgiven because the price that was paid on the cross. That commitment was pushed all the way in time past to Ruth and Boaz and everybody before them who believed in the promise. It was pushed and allowed to flow into time future, which is for you and me today and everybody who would believe. Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s sovereign plan of everything.
If you’ve yet to repent and believe upon Jesus Christ for forgiveness of your sins, I challenge you do so today. If you’re already a believer like me, would you walk with me and make an effort with me as we walk through the series to see God’s sovereign hand through the circumstances of your life? Don’t buy the lie of pain that says God is not sovereign. He is. Not only is he sovereign, he’s working it for your good if you would see it. Don’t let pain blind you to the blessings that surround you. Surely, don’t let pain cause you to over-exaggerate your situation. God is always with you if you’re a believer. He will never leave you and he will never forsake you in Christ. Finally, emulate the commitment of Ruth to God and to other people in your life this week.
May 12, 2019