The following is a transcript of a sermon I preached at the Alpine Chapel in Telluride, Colorado.
Last week we began our journey through the Old Testament Book of Ruth, the 8thBook in the Old Testament, that is only 4 short chapters, but packs a mighty punch. It’s a love story that contains many beautiful pictures and lessons for those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ. Last week we were introduced to a woman named Naomi, who lost her husband, and then her two sons. We talked about how she and her family had fled from Bethlehem-Judah (The House of Bread and the Place of Praise) during a famine and run off to Moab (which is a picture of the sinfulness of this world). We talked about how oftentimes, we Christians are tempted to do the very same thing spiritually; leave the House of Bread – the Word of God and the intimate relationship we have with the Lord during times of spiritual famine. When things are dry… instead of staying put and crying out to the Lord (as 2 Chronicles 7 describes), we can tend to “flesh out”… run off to something sinful. When that happens, the thing that dies first is the “KINGship” of Jesus, which is followed up by the loss of the praise (song) on our lips, and then the satisfactiondissipates as well.
Today, our story pics up with the widow, Naomi, and her two widowed daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth heading out of Moab and going back to Bethlehem-Judah, the House of Bread and Place of Praise. We’re going to see these three ladies, all of which are grieving – they just lost their husbands! But we are going to see that they each have very different reactions, which I find interesting.
Everybody responds to bad things happening to them in different ways, right? Especially, when we’ve lost someone or something that was very close to us: Whether that be a loved one passing, or a relationship ending, or even a job not working out like we had hoped. When life throws a curve-ball at us, it’s going to hurt… and as Christ-followers, it unfortunately hurts no less. However, as Christ-followers, how are we to react in the midst of our grief? Our text today gives us 3 possible ways
Let’s pick up where we left off last week…
(Ruth 1:6)“Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heardin the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread.”
How sad it is when people only hearabout God’s blessing, but never experience it themselves, because they are not in the place where God can bless them. Naomi had left the House of Bread and Place of Praise, and now she hears how Bethlehem is being blessed, and those who waited it out there, were receiving bread. It’s always that way.
(Isaiah 40:31) “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”
(Gal. 6:9) “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”
Again, the lesson from last week: Stay at home! Cry out to God… wait on Him… don’t grow weary in doing good… God ALWAYS shows up… eventually!
I also think it’s interesting that Naomi only heard that the famine had ended in Bethlehem AFTER her husband and sons had died. Was it her loss that led her to finally listen?
C.S. Lewis once said, “God whispers to us in our pleasure, but He shouts to us in our pain.”
Let’s read on…
(Ruth 1:7-13)“7 Therefore she went out from the place where she was, and her two daughters-in-law with her; and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 And Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each to her mother’s house. The Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each in the house of her husband.” So she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “Surely we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Are there still sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go—for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, if I should have a husband tonight and should also bear sons, 13 would you wait for them till they were grown? Would you restrain yourselves from having husbands? No, my daughters; for it grieves me very much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me!”
So, Naomi says to her daughters-in-law, “Go back to your hometown of Moab. Go back to your people… go back to your false gods… go back to the life you had before you ever met me or my sons. Go back to the life you had before you ever met our God.”
This is odd to me. Why would anyone want their loved ones to go back to their false gods?
I mean, Naomi is being pretty adamant here. In Numbers 10:29, we read where Moses is talking to his father-in-law, begging him to go with them the place the Lord had promised to the Israelites. The father-in-law didn’t want to go, but Moses kept insisting, saying, “if you go with us…whatever the good the Lord will do to us” the same will be done for you (vs 32). But Naomi here is doing the exact opposite! Why would she want them going back to the old life, worshipping false gods… living amongst pagans?
Perhaps Naomi didn’t want to take Orpah and Ruth to Bethlehem because they were living proof of her past sin; that she and her hubby had permitted their two sons to marry women from outside the covenant nation?
(Proverbs 28:13) “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
When we try to cover our sins, it’s proof that we really haven’t faced them honestly and judged them according to God’s Word. True repentance involves honest confession and brokenness within.
(Psalm 51:17)“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, You will no despise.”
Instead of brokenness… Naomi had bitterness. We’ll talk more about her bitterness in a moment…
(Ruth 1:14-22)“14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.15 And she said, “Look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you,Or to turn back from following after you;For wherever you go, I will go;And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;Your people shall be my people,And your God, my God.17 Where you die, I will die,And there will I be buried.The Lord do so to me, and more also,If anything but death parts you and me.” 18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.19 Now the two of them went until they came to Bethlehem. And it happened, when they had come to Bethlehem, that all the city was excited because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?”20 But she said to them, “Do not call me Naomi;[a] call me Mara,[b] for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. 21 I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me? 22 So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.”
We see these three women, who are all hurting and grieving, yet they each have drastically different responses in their grief.
First, Naomi.Naomi is, apparently, very bitter. We see this in how she is behaving, but also she tells us… when she arrives in Bethlehem the whole city is excited to see her (which is pretty cool by the way… whenever a person who has walked away from the House of Bread and the Place of praise… even if it was due to their own sin… that’s who the people who hung around should respond, right? Remember the story of the prodigal son, he took off to enjoy sin for a season, and when he realized that it was a mistake and he wanted to come home, of course the Father is excited – God always is when prodigals come home! But remember the older brother? He was NOT excited! He was mad! “I’ve been here the whole time, what about me?!” These people are excited to see their friend and sister come home. So too, should we be.) So Naomi arrives and everyone is excited, and the women of the area say, “Is this Naomi?” (It’s been over ten years). Naomi responds, “Don’t call me Naomi (“pleasant”)… call me “Mara”,which means ‘bitter’…for the Lord has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, and the Lord has brought me home again empty. Why do you call me Naomi, since the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has afflicted me?” Sounds a lot like what she told her daughters-in-law, up in verse 13, “…the hand of the Lordhas gone out against me!”
Naomi is interpreting her hard circumstances as coming from God’s hatred toward her; as the rest of the Book will make plain… but she is mistaken. God didn’t hate Naomi… He simply allowed some things into her life – not to punish her, but to correct her and get her back on track. God still allows things like this – never to punish, but always to correct. Listen, God is not mad at you, angry with you, or disappointed in you, but loves you and wants to speak to you and get you to where He can bless and use you best.
I wonder if Naomi’s bitterness towards God, and her blaming God, is what led to Orpah going back to Moab? I wonder if she had properly represented the Lord, if she would have brought back with her TWO trophies of grace, rather than only one (Ruth)?
Quick side note: Can I just say… God doesn’t like us to MIS-REPRESENT Him? If you don’t’ believe me, just read Numbers 20:2-13, where God asked Moses to go before the people and speak to a rock so that water would overflow and quench all the people’s thirst, but because of Moses’ anger and bitterness towards the people who were doing nothing and complaining – rather than speaking to the rock, as God instructed, Moses struck the rock twice with his staff. God still poured out water and quenched the people’s thirst, because He loved them and cared for them always… but God wouldn’t allow Moses to enter into the Promised Land. Why? Because Moses hit a rock a couple of times? No. Because Moses MIS-REPRESENTED God. God wasn’t angry, and Moses made Him out to be.
Bitterness will always eat up a person and cause them to MIS-REPRESENTGod. If we are going to call ourselves ‘Christians’ – “Christ-followers”… then bitterness has no place in our hearts. Even when we think we have every right to be upset, angry, and bitter… we must always remember that the world is watching.
I’m NOT saying that we can’t grieve… and be sad… but in our grief, we must remember who God has called us to represent: Him.
Second reaction I see is Orpah’s reaction: She goes back to the old life… the old hometown… the old gods… the old sin. Granted, her mother-in-law was begging her to go back, and the witness was awful, but ultimately, every person is given a free-will, and Orpah ‘choose’ to go back on her own volition.
What I find very interesting about Orpah here, is that she is totally filled with emotion.
I mean, they’re all weeping, and the original language makes it sound like they’re being LOUD about it! She is showing LOTS of EMOTION… verse 14even says that Orpah kissedher mother-in-law before heading back to the old life.
I think we see this a lot in the Body of Christ, the Church, today. People filled with lots of emotion… but no real DEVOTION. It’s easy, maybe, for them to seem “all-in” one moment, outwardly passionate… but inwardly, it’s not AUTHENTIC. The first chance that comes… the first chance some other Christian is a poor witness – perhaps because their eyes were on a person, rather than on Jesus? – they turn back to the old life.
Hebrews 12:1b-2a– “…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”, Other translations will interpret that as, “fixing our eyes on Jesus”. In other words, letting NOTHING else… or NO ONE else… get in the way to distract us from looking unto God alone.
Men and women will always let you down, even those men and women in the Church… but Jesus will never let us down. We must look to Him alone. Yes, Naomi was a poor example and witness, but Orpah apparently never really had any DEVOTION to Naomi’s God… just Naomi.
So… guess what? She had lots of EMOTION… but no DEVOTION. How many Christians today, in churches all across the world… have lots of EMOTION (they love the goose-bumps and the happy feelings they get from religion and church), but their hearts are far from an authentic relationship with the living God?
The third reaction, Ruth’s reaction, is the one that is the perfect example for you and I this morning: Authentic DEVOTION.
Read: (Ruth 1:16-18)“But Ruth said: “Entreat me not to leave you,Or to turn back from following after you;For wherever you go, I will go;And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;Your people shall be my people,And your God, my God.17 Where you die, I will die,And there will I be buried.The Lord do so to me, and more also,If anything but death parts you and me.” 18 When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her.”
Notice the radical stubbornnessof Ruth? Verse 18 says that Naomi even stopped talking to Ruth! Can you imagine that? Ruth is DEVOTED!
“I’ll go with you!
I’ll stay with you!
I’ll die with you!
Your people will be my people!”
This is radical, right? I often use these words in wedding vows, when I’m officiating a wedding. To me… these words are unbelievable!
I mean, listen…
Ruth is hurtingtoo.
Ruth is grievingtoo.
Ruth has a poor witness exemplifying Godtoo.
Ruth has friends and familyback in Moab too.
But there is something inside of Ruth, that won’t let her go back to the old life, and I think it’s a lot more than just a really awesome mother-in-law!
Psalm 34:8– “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good; Blessed is the man who trusts in Him!”
What have you and I tasted? Have we tasted the real thing?
Those that are willing to ‘WAIT’ on God, knowing that He will renew our strength!
Those that guard our hearts from becoming ‘BITTER’, even in the midst of trials.
Those that ‘NEVER MIS-REPRESENT THE LORD’… knowing that the world is watching.
Those that are not only filled with “EMOTION”… but authentic “DEVOTION” for God… always FIXING OUR EYESupon Jesus.
Those that would be radically stubbornfor our God, willing to lay everything else aside, in order to gowhere He leads… and BE who He has called us to BE.
May we truly walk with the Lord this week… TASTING and SEEINGhow good He really is!
[*I use The New King James Version, and most quotes from the Bible will be from NKJV, unless otherwise noted. Also, I use various books and commentaries when preparing a message. I have NOT given credit in each instance, but will say that I do not use on-line commentaries such as Blue-Letter Bible, or other on-line sources. I use the following on a pretty regular basis, because I own them: The Wiersbe Bible Commentary, Jewish New Testament Commentary, The Complete Biblical Library (NIV), Skip Heitzig’s ‘The Bible From 30,000 Feet’, William MacDonald’s ‘Believer’s Bible Commentary’, Matthew Henry’s ‘A Commentary On The Whole Bible’, Jon Courson’s ‘Application Commentary’, Holman’s Study Bible, The Archeological Study Bible, ESV Study Bible, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, William Barclay’s Commentaries ‘The Daily Bible Series’. I think that’s about it.]