Text: Ruth 1:6-22, Title: A Tale of Three Widows, Date/Place: LSCC, 4/30/06, AM
A. Opening illustration: talk about weddings and the words of Ruth in v 16-17
B. Background to passage: After forsaking God and country and moving to Moab, as we saw last week, the hand of the Lord was against Elimelech and his family. After all the tragedy, we are left with the three widows helpless and alone. But life goes on, they realize that they cannot sit by the graves of their husbands forever if they want to survive. And after having heard of the Lord’s provision in Judah, Naomi knows that she must return the land of promise. So they begin the process of deciding what each will do with very different logics, motivations, and outcomes.
C. Main thought: in this text we will see the testimonies of these three women.
A. Naomi: Bitterness and Self-Pity (v. 8-13, 20-21)
1. God had left Naomi with no options in Moab, so she felt compelled to return to Israel, which is always God’s design for people who fall away from God. She had heard of God’s supernatural provision for the people that stayed in Bethlehem, therefore going back sounded pretty good, at least the clan might help her. But even in the fact that she is returning, we don’t see a confession of sin. She is still seeking after bread alone. Throughout the passage, we see her hopelessness, not faithless, but hopeless. She maintains a faith in an absolutely sovereign God who harden whom He will and has mercy upon whom He will to accomplish His purposes. In fact she invokes His covenant name as a blessing upon the daughters. She is convinced that she is the enemy of God. In her self-pity and pain, she begins to make poor decisions. She decided to cut herself off from all blessings by sending her daughters-in-law home. She is designing their deliverance for them. It’s a page right out of Elimelech’s playbook. It is possible that she was trying to hide the sin of her time in Moab. But think about the spiritual desert that she was sending them back to. The logic was good, impeccable. She really was kinda mean to them. She never even acknowledges Ruth as being there in Bethlehem. She is constantly dwelling on her loss, and not on her blessedness, and therefore becomes very bitter. Think about her two prize possessions: the Living God who exercises hesed, and Ruth whose womb is full of promise. Remember that from God’s perspective, Naomi was in a great spot, richly blessed, and full of potential.
2. Heb 12:11-15, Phil 4:8, Rev 3:7, Ps 34:13, 37:8
3. Illustration: the woman who always gave the preacher a list of all the bad things each week, “You know, young man, when God sends tribulation, He expects you to tribulate!” after the Civil War, Robert E. Lee visited a Kentucky lady who took him to the remains of a grand old tree in front of her house. There she bitterly cried that its limbs and trunk had been destroyed by Federal Artillery fire. She looked to Lee for a word condemning the North or at least sympathizing with her loss. After a brief silence, Lee said, "Cut it down, my dear Madam, and forget it." It is better to forgive the injustices of the past than to allow them to remain, let bitterness take root and poison the rest of our life. Bruce Goodrich was being initiated into the cadet corps at Texas A & M University. One night, Bruce was forced to run until he dropped—but he never got up. Bruce Goodrich died before he even entered college. “I would like to take this opportunity to express the appreciation of my family for the great outpouring of concern and sympathy from Texas A & M University and the college community over the loss of our son Bruce. We were deeply touched by the tribute paid to him in the battalion. We were particularly pleased to note that his Christian witness did not go unnoticed during his brief time on campus.” “I hope it will be some comfort to know that we harbor no ill will in the matter. We know our God makes no mistakes. Bruce had an appointment with his Lord and is now secure in his celestial home. When the question is asked, ‘Why did this happen?’ perhaps one answer will be, ‘So that many will consider where they will spend eternity. Scottish preacher George Morrison used to say “9/10 of our unhappiness is selfishness, and is an insult cast in the face of God.”
4. If you are under the chastening hand of God, practice true repentance. Don’t go back simply for the blessings, but go back for your relationship with the Lord. Even though her motivations were probably good intentioned, she was not thinking them through. Guard yourself from making major life-changing decisions in times of intense pain or grief. God’s plan and purpose for our lives is not always logical. And so don’t plan your own way out, let God open the doors. Guard your speech in times of distress. Bitterness and anger can be a reaction to intense pain in our lives. We become angry at people about their decisions, but really our anger is a God for allowing this to happen in our lives. Forsake anger, kill bitterness. Don’t focus on what you lost, but upon what you have. You must train your mind to focus on God and blessings. Trust in an absolutely sovereign God who has the best plan for you. You may not be able to choose your circumstances sometimes, but you can always choose your attitude.
B. Orpah: Apostasy (v. 14a)
1. I don’t want to linger too long over Orpah, because the text does not, but I do think there is one important lesson to learn from her. And I may be reading too much into the text, for the bible does not condemn her explicitly, for she would have been under the authority of her mother-in-law in the event of her husband’s death. What we see in her is initially she stands shoulder to shoulder with Ruth in telling Naomi that they will stick with her all the way to the end. But after many tears, ridicule, and logical arguments, Orpah decides to return to her people and to her god—Chemosh. She is a picture of apostasy. Define it as: a willful defection or falling away from the faith. She lived for at least 10 years within a family that taught about a loving, holy, covenant keeping God, and never believed fully.
2. The book of Hebrews is written to Christians who were in danger of falling away—3:6, 14, 4:11, 6:4-6, 10:23, 26-29, 38-39, parable of the soils,
3. Illustration: I can give you a list of people from LSCC that have made professions of faith, even were baptized, that are no longer a part of our church, not because they went other places, but because they forsook the faith. "Sweetie, don’t you remember about letting your light shine for the Lord before men?" The girl blurted out, "Mom, I have blowed myself out." Mark Twain married a Christian lady. She at first didn’t want to marry, but later did. He at first went through the motions of religion with her, but later said he couldn’t keep up the hypocrisy. In time, she came to the place where she no longer believed in a personal God. During a time of deep grief, Twain said to his wife, “If your Christian faith will comfort you, go back to it.” She replied, “I have none.” Ted Turner said he had a strict Christian upbringing and at one time considered becoming a missionary. “I was saved seven or eight times,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. But he said he became disenchanted with Christianity after his sister died, despite his prayers. Turner said the more he strayed from his faith, “the better I felt.”
4. The clear teaching of the NT is that true believers are eternally secure and will persevere until the end, and not finally fall away. But the corollary to that is that there are some, in fact many, who have been exposed to the teaching of scripture, even moved on by the Spirit, possibly a part of the Christian community or church, who will chose not fully follow and forsake the faith. This is not to cause doubt, or insinuate that one could lose salvation that they had, but to say that there are many people who have been deceived by others or themselves, as well as those who are hypocrites, that are not true believers. If people ultimately reject the faith, they were never really there!
C. Ruth: Faithfulness and Gratitude (v. 14b-17)
1. The bible says that Ruth “clung” to her. Same word used in Gen 2:24 about a man and wife. Now we must remember that Ruth had been through similar hardship, and yet did not turn out bitter. She chose to look at what she had gained instead of what she lost. Instead of being angry with life and God about her loss and hardship, she was grateful that she got to know God at all. She no longer had to pray to a demon that demanded child sacrifice to gain his favor. She also had a wonderful mother in law who everyone liked. She might have said, “Hunger and grief are temporary, but the joy of the Lord is eternal.” Ruth was the kind of person who was willing to allow her new faith to shape her outlook. Ruth was one who was willing to forsake all to follow God and stay with Naomi. She would have little chance of marrying in Bethlehem, so she was resigning herself to a life of poverty, for the sake of knowing God. Ruth was looking to God in gratitude, hope, and faith, that He would work things out for the best. All the while exercising hesed.
2. 1 Thess 5:18, Rom 8:15-18
3. Illustration: story of the two boys with a hard life—p. 35 A Conspicuous Love, Ziesler, my testimony of hardship pointing to salvation, Derek, Crystal’s son being saved, “when you can’t trace His hand, trust His heart,” –Spurgeon, story about the kid who prayed for ice cream giving the ice cream to the lady who made fun of him,
4. We are not simply products of our environment and upbringing. You cannot use your past or your circumstances present to justify wrong behaviors. We can choose to be faithful even when others are not being faithful to us through Christ. Allow Christ to show hesed to others through our lives. Gratitude should be our attitude, even in the face of absolute loss. We must train our minds to look at our gain, not our loss. Not only are most of us financially blessed, but we are blessed in many other ways. And of course, as Ruth might testify, we have the most valuable thing in the universe in Christ. When you learn things about God in a time of distress that is a valuable gain. Remember life is not about life, it is about God, and His glory, and His Kingdom.
A. Closing illustration: Larry the guy whose wife ran off with the pastor: a reason for bitterness?
C. Invitation to commitment