Sunday, September 16, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “Ruth and Naomi"

“Ruth and Naomi”
Gleanings from the Book of Ruth
September 16, 2012
Ruth 1:1-22

If your Bible opens automatically now to the Book of Judges, just go to the end and turn the page, and you’ll be at Ruth chapter 1. And we’ll see why in just a second. Ruth chapter 1.

I’m going to call this short series (I think it’s going to be 3 messages), “Gleanings from the Book of Ruth.” 

That, of course, for those who know the book has a double meaning.

Because there is gleaning, agricultural gleaning, in the story itself. Gleanings of barley which is what you see pictured here. I know that because Google told me so. So if that isn’t barley, Google was wrong, not me.  Either way, it’s a much more encouraging picture than the one we had up all Summer, right?

Of course, we are into theological gleanings here, not just agricultural gleanings.

What can we glean about God and His ways from the Book of Ruth? 

And what difference does it make to our lives?

Today, we’re just going to read and apply chapter 1 of the Book of Ruth.

And we’re going to call this message, “Ruth and Naomi.”  Which the whole book could be called that because these two ladies are 2/3 of the main characters in the story, and the story comes at us from their perspective.

I love that about the Bible. Some people think that the Bible is a woman-hating book, anti-woman, but stories like Deborah’s in the last book and stories like Ruth’s in this book really show that to be a myth.

The Bible is pro-woman and has some amazing women in it from whom we can all learn a great deal.

This week, Ruth and Naomi.

Now, I’ve said this before again and again, the best way to encounter a story like this one is to pretend (at least on some level) like you’ve never heard the story before.

To enter into the story like the first readers would have.  And discover what they discovered as they first encountered the story.

“In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 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.”

This story takes place (v.1) “in the days when the judges ruled.”

It was not a good time.  We’ve spent the last 3 months find out how dark and difficult that time was.

And, in fact, there was a famine in the land of Israel.  Perhaps this famine was caused by the Midianites and their locust-like raiding of Israel. Remember that from the book of Judges?  

Or maybe it was a judgment of the Lord, stopping up the heavens from raining because of the rampant idolatry of the people. He had promised to do that sort of thing back in Deuteronomy.

It doesn’t say where the famine came from, but that it was a severe trial.

And there was a man from Bethlehem, named Elimelech.

Now, the last two stories we read had men from Bethlehem in them, and they were bad stories. This story, starts out bad, and we’ll see how it ends.

Elimelech and his wife, Naomi make a difficult choice. They choose to leave the Promised Land and go over the Jordan river to the land of Moab.

They feel forced to do that because their home has no food.

The name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread” in Hebrew. But the house of bread was empty.

Now, I hesitate to judge Elimelech’s actions because I don’t know what I would do in the same situation, but it was probably not based on faith that Elimelech left the Promised Land and went to Moab.  He took his family, his wife and his two boys, Mahlon and Kilion and settled in Moab.

But it did not go well for them. V.3

“Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. [A widow. But at least she had the boys. V.4] They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.”

We cannot begin to realize how devastating those three sentences really were for Naomi.

First, her husband died.

Second, her sons married Moabite women which might have been technically legal but definitely undesirable for a good Jewish family at that time.

And they continued to live in a foreign country where people worshiped other gods.

And then the boys died, too.

Ten years, no grandchildren[!] to carry on the line, and now three widows.

To be a widow in those days was a vulnerable thing, much more vulnerable than it is here in our country today.

A scary position unless you had a great extended family to take care of you and handle your legal affairs.

Naomi has no one.  At least, that’s how it seems. No one close enough.

Especially while they live in Moab.  And it’s not just one widow. It’s three!

Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth.

Three women in a precarious position.

A seemingly hopeless situation fraught with grief.

What is going to happen?

Have you ever been in a situation that seemed hopeless, and you didn’t know what was going to happen?  Where you felt like the carpet was pulled out from under you and your world was going into a tailspin?

That’s the feeling here. That’s the situation.

It’s the time of the judges and Naomi has lost everything that was her security in life.

Everything, but her two daughter-in-laws. V.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.”

The LORD had been gracious to His people again and provided food. And when she heard about that, Naomi headed home to Bethlehem. The house of bread had bread again. V.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. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’”

I think that Naomi is trying to help these ladies. 

It’s possible that she’s just trying to get rid of them–they are dead weight around her neck.

But that’s not how it feels. It feels like she cares about them and thinks it would be best for them to find new husbands in Moab.

She probably figures that it’s more likely that they will find husbands in Moab, infertile as they appear to be. They are Moabite women. They might have a chance.

At the same time, it’s probably foolish of her to send them back–because all true blessing from the God of Israel.

That’s Whom she asks to bless them in verse 8.  I love what she says in verse 8.

“May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me.”


That word translated “kindness” in verse 8 is a very important word. It is the Hebrew word, “hesed,” and it can’t be translated with just one English word.

Kindness is good, but lovingkindness, covenant loyalty, mercy, love are all other words to try to capture the idea. 

One scholar I read this week defined it this way.  “...hesed (NIV "kindness") cannot be translated with one English word. It is a covenant term, wrapping up in itself all the positive attributes of God: love, covenant faithfulness, mercy, grace, kindness, loyalty. In short, it refers to acts of devotion and lovingkindness that go beyond the requirements of duty.”  [Daniel Block, NAC Judges, Ruth, pg. 634-635]

At the end of the 23rd Psalm, David asks that “goodness and mercy” will follow him all the days of his life. That’s goodness and “hesed.”

And that’s what Naomi wants for Ruth and Orpah.

She wants them to experience the hesed of the Lord.

Kindness beyond duty, beyond what they deserve.

We use the word “grace.”  

Naomi wants Orpah and Ruth to know the grace of God.  To experience it for themselves.

What a great prayer!

We should pray that way for others. Pray for the hesed of the Lord to rest upon the people we love.

But notice that it is not just a prayer.

It is what she has experienced from Ruth and Orpah. V.8 again.

“May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and me.”

Kindness is not just something that God does. It is something we can show to others.

Naomi had experienced their loyalty, their kindness, even beyond what was due her.

Before asking yourself to whom you could show this kind of kindness, ask yourself this question first.

Who has shown you lovingkindness?

We’ve all experienced that kind of grace.

Don’t you just love it when you see someone go beyond what they have to do to extend kindness to someone else?

Who has done that for you?  Is there anyone that you can thank today?

The other side of the coin, of course, is who should we bless today with the kind kindness that the Lord has shown to us?

The Lord blesses those who are kind.

Love is patient. Love is kind.

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness.

This word hesed is going to show up again and again in this short book.  Ruth is going to experience blessing, in part, because she is kind.

Naomi is trying to be kind by letting her daughters-in-law go. But they don’t want to. V.9

“Then she kissed them and they wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me–even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons–would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!’”

Do you see what she’s saying?

Naomi is talking about Levirate marriages where her new sons (if she could have them) would take the place of her old sons and carry on the family line.

Not. Going. To. Happen.  She says.

So, what future do they have in Israel?


“At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her. ‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’

But Ruth replied, ‘Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. 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 there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’”


What a beautiful statement of commitment!

Ruth clings to Naomi and offers commits herself to her and to her God.

“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”

Ruth is forsaking all other gods and committing to the LORD.

That’s amazing, considering how Naomi doesn’t seem to completely trust the LORD.

But Ruth does.

And she sides, not with Chemosh, the god of Moab, but the LORD, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.


You’ve probably heard this passage read or sung at a wedding, and the words definitely would fit there. But this wasn’t Ruth getting married.

This was Ruth promising to take care of her mother-in-law.

And it was Ruth trusting her life to the LORD.

Have you trusted your life to the LORD?

Like this?

Have you said, “I will leave all other gods and follow you?”

No turning back?  No turning back.

That’s what v.17 means when it says, “May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

No turning back.

Total commitment. Total surrender.

Some people want to accept Christ like pressing the “accept button” on their computer for some program.

“I have read and accept the terms and conditions.”

That’s just something to get out of the way so that you can get on with life.

Some people want to just add Jesus to their list of gods:

Money, Entertainment, Family, Sports, Popularity, Prestige, Power....and Jesus.

But Jesus wants to be God in our life, alone.

He wants this kind of commitment.

“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 there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.’””

That’s faith. And that’s the kind of kindness we saw in v.8. 

And it’s true commitment.

Does that describe the state of your heart?

The Lord Jesus Christ committed to us when He died on the Cross paying for our sins.

And now that He’s come back to life, He calls us to commit our lives to Him.

Naomi sees that Ruth means business.  V.18

“When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi?’ [I remember Naomi! She was always so pleasant....That’s what “Naomi” means, pleasant. V.20]  ‘Don't call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara [Bitter], because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’”


This isn’t a happy homecoming.

Even though she has Ruth with her, she just about ignores her.

“I went away full.”  Really?  Didn’t you go with an empty stomach?

Yeah, but I had a husband.  And now, I don’t have anything.  And Ruth is standing right there next to her.

Naomi was bitter.

And it’s sad.  She said she was bitter in verse 13.

She says she should be called “Bitter” now.

How would you like the nickname “Bitter?” or “Sour?”  I wouldn’t. But Naomi would.

We need to be careful about judging her.

We need to feel for her.  This is very sad. She has been devastated. It is trouble. It is trial.  It is pain. It does hurt.

Christianity does not discount the pain.

And Naomi is right in seeing the LORD has sovereign over the pain.

“The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

God is sovereign over our troubles.

But that does not mean that He is against her.

Naomi almost seems to blame God and think that God is blameworthy.

And that’s where she is wrong.

That’s where her bitterness comes from and it’s called bitter for a reason. It tastes terrible and makes your stomach all messed up.

The antidote is contentment.


Which is easier said than done.

I don’t know that I would act any better than Naomi in the same situation.

But I do know that she doesn’t have to respond this way.

Other people have experienced this and worse and responded not with bitterness but with contentment.

Think of Job.

“The LORD has given and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

We don’t have to respond to the trials in our lives with bitterness.

We can say, “God is enough.”

Even if everything gets taken away from us, God is enough.

There are 10,000 reasons to continue to bless the LORD.

Naomi can’t see the whole story.

She thinks the story of her life was that God had blessed her and then He took that away.

End of story.

Do you know what’s going to happen in the next chapter of your life?

We act like we do, but we don’t.

We can’t read the next chapter yet.

But we know the author, and we should know that His plans for us are ultimately GOOD.

And a hint of hope breaks into the story in verse 22 with a little foreshadowing. V.22

“So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.”

I wonder what is going to happen next?

Are you going through a famine right now in your life?

Has the rug been pulled out from under you?

Do you feel like you are tumbling down the stairs and you don’t know what’s at the bottom?

Don’t give in to bitterness.

God is enough.  He has a great end of the story planned for you.  Wait for the next chapter.

And in the meantime, remember the kindnesses of the LORD to you so far in your life and how others have shown you kindness.

And pass some kindness around.

The world needs it.

The LORD is good and trustworthy and worthy of our total committment.

No turning back. No turning back.