Empty and Alone
This week we will be starting a new sermon series on the book of Ruth. This short poetic book about loss and Pain but with a beautiful story. The book is wedged between the book of Judges and 1 Samuel. Two books show the rebellion of God’s people and their unfaithfulness. Both Judges and 1 Samuel are gruesome and gory books that show epic battles and warriors. Ehud, the left-handed warrior who stabs Eglon the King of Moab, which the Bible says, “a very fat man.” The fat closed over the blade (Judges 3:12-30). You can think of Jael driving the tent peg into the head of Jabin, the king of Hazor (Judges 4:17-24). The gory stories continue, then you turn to the book of Ruth. This love story, from an action movie to a love movie. We see faithfulness in unfaithfulness.
I. Time of Rebellion
The opening of Ruth begins with a line, “In the days the Judges ruled…” This statement teaches us about the period in history that the book of Ruth was written. Finally, after wandering in the wilderness, Israel had conquered the land, and now, they lived in the promised land, promised to Abram in Genesis 12. However, when Joshua died, they entered into the cycle of sin, which was mentioned in the previous devotion. The second part of this comment shows the spiritual estate of Israel during the book of Ruth. At the end of Joshua, the people of Israel said, “We will serve the LORD.” (Josh 24:21). You then Joshua dies, and we read in Judges 2:11, “The people did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served Baals.” The new time shows their rebellion against God and his voice. They worshiped other gods and became just like other nations. The book of Judges ends with the famous verse, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg 21:25). The period of the book of Ruth was set in a dark and depressing time in the nation of Israel’s history. However, even during this dark time, we still see God working and flickering light in the corner.
II. Time of Famine
Not only was it set in a terrible time in the life of Israel, but it was also a terrible time because we learn next that there was a “famine in the land.” The land promised to Abram and they wandered the wilderness for forty years to wait to inhabit. The land that was flowing with milk and honey is now dry. The famine meant there was no bread, even in Bethlehem, which literally means House of Bread. Deuteronomy 28 speaks of the Blessings and curses of what will happen when the people of God go into the promised land. When they serve other gods and not the true living God, enemies will come in, and they would hunger and thirst (Deut 28:47-48). Even in Leviticus 26:26, it says, “When I break your supply of bread, ten women shall bake your bread in a single oven and shall dole out your bread again by weight, and you shall eat and not be satisfied.” The darkened room becomes even dimmer. God’s judgment is upon the nation of Israel.
III. Time of Sojourning
This famine was such a severe that one family in Bethlehem left to sojourn in the land of Moab. This is similar to what happened to Abram in Genesis chapter 12:10. We learn more about this man and his family in verse 2. Names are important in the Bible. Noah means Rest, Able means fleeting. Their names are prophetic of the life that they will live. However, some names are the opposite of their life. Samuel’s two sons are called Abijah and Joel. Abijah means ‘YWH is my Father,’ Joel means ‘YHW is God.’ However, they did not seem to reflect their names that perverted justice and took bribes. This makes it difficult to understand the sojourning of Elimelech to Moab. Elimelech means ‘My God is King,” does this mean Elimelech was a faithful remanent in Israel like everyone else in Israel who did what was right in their own eyes? The text does not explicitly say, Abram did the same thing in Genesis 12, and it was unwise. The same could be said about Elimelech, two options, the first is sojourning was sinful, the second is that sojourning was not evil, but staying and taking residence in Moab was sinful. This decision might have been made with good intentions to provide for his family but ultimately did not look after his family. His two children, Mahlon and Chilion, which mean’ sickly/weak’ and ‘come to an end.’ Maybe he moved because he was worried about putting food on the table? However, we can only speculate to the extent of this choice, and the Bible does not explain all the details. Elimelech also takes his wife, Naomi, which means lovely. This book might be better titled ‘the book of Naomi.’ We will talk about this more later. They also sojourn in Moab, one of Israel’s first enemies (Judges 3 and 11). Elimelech leaves the promised land to return to wandering and being a sojourner.
IV. Time of Loss
We can ultimately see the impact of this decision because it leads to great loss in the household of Elimelech. Elimelech passes away, so now Naomi is left in a foreign country with her two boys. So they go and find wives from Moab. Orpah (Top of her head) and Ruth (Companion or friendship). But they no longer are sojourners. They make their home in the nation of Moab. They live their ten years. They become permanent residences. During this time, they most likely did not truly worship YHWH, although it is not mentioned in the text. However, during this time, they do not have any children. After being there ten years, both of Naomi’s sons pass away. Their plan keeps getting worse. Now instead of having one widow in the household, they have three widows. Israel’s laws protected widows (Ex 22:22, Deut 10:18). However, they are not in Israel but in Moab. The story goes from bad to worse. They have no place to call home, no provision to provide for food, no children to be able to continue their line, and they are in Moab.
V. Time of Hope
Throughout these five verses, we see the Pain of Loss and hunger, sickness, and death. In a dark time in the nation’s history, in a dark time in the town of Bethlehem, and dark time in the household of Elimelech. The first five verses paint a gloomy picture of Naomi and her future. However, we know this book is called the book of Ruth, we know there are four chapters in this book, and we are only at verse five in the first chapter. Within all this darkness, there is a flickering light, and her name is Ruth. It is a flickering light because Ruth’s name appears in the New Testament one time in Matthew 1:5, in the genealogy of Jesus. Ruth, a Moabite woman, in the genealogy of the promised messiah. However, if you were to summarize the book of Ruth in one verse, Romans 8:28 might be a good verse to use, “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” God’s hand of providence is working through famines and choices to rouse a deaf world. CS Lewis says,
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
Elimelech’s decision to sojourn to Moab and Mahlon and Chilion’s decision to take Moabite wives, the death of the three men sets the scene to place Ruth’s name in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. William Cowper wrote a poem called “God moves in a mysterious was.” This poem was turned into a hymn. One line in the poem says,
“The bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.”
The opening five verses are the bitter bud that will turn into the sweet flower. Famine led to sojourning in Moab, which leads to death, marriage, and death, which all sets the stage for Ruth to become King David’s great grandmother. Seemly ordinary situations can turn into strange providences. Looking back on your life, you can think about these peculiar providences, the visit to the doctor that leads to the discovery of cancer or losing a job. We call these blessings in disguise. We might not know what the Lord is doing in these difficult times. We might not know exactly the outcome. We see the first five verses leave us still in this dark time. We have the bitter bud, tear-filled prayers on a winter’s night by the flickering light. The believer’s life is not lived-in heaven. We still have tears and sorrow and Pain. We still have a loss. They will work together for good, but that does not mean that they are good right now.