Summary: Bitter Beginnings, Kindness Shown, Redeemer Found, Unexpected Endings
THE FAITH OF A FOREIGN WOMAN
CHAPTER 9, “THE STORY”
We are studying the Bible this year from the beginning to the end. We are watching as God enfolds His Story for us to see. We are seeing how God weaves together lives, purpose, sin, attitudes, mistakes, humble willingness, and now even disasters all for His Glory. The Book of Ruth comes in your Bible after the Book of Judges, but before 1 Samuel. It is a short book of four little chapters, but it has much to say and has a story to tell all its own.
As we move through The Story, we want you to see the “Upper Story” which is God’s redemptive hand at work all throughout history. We also want you to see the “Lower Story” which is how our lives interact with that “Upper Story” and what it means for each of us. Today, when we look in the Book of Ruth, the “lower story” becomes very real.
I. SCENE I: BITTER BEGINNINGS
Our historical Biblical story begins as all good stories should… once upon a time. The time and setting of the Book of Ruth is set when the judges ruled the land which places the life of Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Kilion, Ruth, and Orpah somewhere in the time span of the Book of Judges. The Book of Judges gives us an overview of the time in Israel’s history between the death of Joshua and the installation of kings in 1 Samuel. The Book of Ruth is a special narrative from the time of the judges.
The Bible uses the word râ`âb to describe the hunger of the people that came to pass… it was a severe famine. The same word is used in Genesis 41-47 to describe the famine that drove Jacob and his family to travel all the way to Egypt in search of food. According to worldhunger.org, there are specific reasons a famine may occur in our world today and probably in history as well. First, it may happen because of poverty; people do not have the resources to buy food or grow food. Second, conflict and war has created situations where people are cut off from food or the growing cycle has been interrupted or crops have been destroyed. Third, climate change such as drought, flooding, and storms may combine to produce a famine because people cannot grow food properly. To be honest, we are not told why, in verse 1 of Ruth that a famine exists. I can imagine based on reading the Book of Judges that it is most likely that a battle or war occurred and that crops were destroyed and that also because of the faithlessness of the people and God’s removal of blessing, a drought occurred. The famine is so bad that Elimelech decides to uproot and move to Moab, a neighboring country, to provide for his wife and kids.
Whatever the cause, the Book of Ruth begins with hardship. We are not told the reason for the famine and we are not told the reason for further hardships either because the hardships increase as we move along the page and further into the book. We don’t get past verse 5 before further heart-breaking life-changing disaster strikes. Elimelech dies. His two sons die. Elimelech’s wife Naomi is left along with her two daughters-in-law… Ruth and Orpah… we don’t know why. Naomi is experiencing life that seems unfairly difficult and it leaves her feeling empty and her emptiness turns to bitterness. Naomi tells her daughters-in-law in verse 13, “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!" In fact, when she returns home to Bethlehem, Ruth 1:20-21 records her words to her welcoming neighbors, “Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 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."
Naomi blames God for the famine. Naomi blames God for the death of Elimelech. Naomi blames God for the death of Mahlon and Kilion. She blames God for being destitute and hungry and lonely and for grieving and ruining the lives of Orpah and Ruth and this blame towards God has taken root in her heart and it turns to bitterness.
We know of course that there are situations that we bring on ourselves because of our sin and the bad choices that we make. If you make a series of bad life choice, chose to sin, there is little room for blame as you have brought disaster upon yourself. However, we live in a sinful world and disasters just happen sometimes. There are hard situations that we can anticipate, but other times it comes on us with a surprise. Ecclesiastes 9:12 tells us, “Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come: As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.” Job 5:6-7 tells us similar things, “For hardship does not spring from the soil, nor does trouble sprout from the ground. 7 Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” What do these verses tell us? It tells us that bitter times just happen and sometimes they are no one’s fault. We live in a sinful world that groans under the yolk of sin (Romans 8:22) and bad things occur and we are left to deal with them.