Ruth 1 - Tragedy
We are beginning a new series for Advent. Advent means "coming towards" in Latin. Advent means the days approaching the coming of the Christ on earth. We take these four weeks to celebrate the coming of Christ years ago. So you may be wondering why I am having us read from the Book of Ruth? The story in Ruth and the story of Christ’s birth take place in the same city - Bethlehem. So we are going to be reading a pre-quel of the real Bethelem story. I like to call it "the Bethlehem story before the real Bethlehem story." It is the pre-quel story that sets up the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
You may have heard of movies being made to establish the beginning of a famous story. They fill in the history so that the real story becomes richer and more meaningful. They did it with Star Wars, by sharing a prequel of stories to help you understand how Anakin Skywalker, the father of Luke Skywalker, became Darth Vader. They did in the Batman series of movies with the movie Batman Begins to help you understand how Bruce Wayne really became Batman. They are doing it now by bringing Ian Fleming’s James Bond character more depth in the new film Casino Royale. You see how James Bond becomes the spy that he is in the later adventures by watching him develop in the first adventure.
In the same way, the Book of Ruth shares with us the story of redemption. It takes place in the city that will become the future birthplace of our Redeemer Jesus Christ. By looking into the story that is in the Book of Ruth, we can begin to see how God fills in the Christmas story that we know. This story is here to help establish the kingship of Jesus Christ. The Book of Ruth also shows us a story of a foreigner who sees God and receives salvation. This has significance for us as internationals living today.
The story begins with a tragedy. Every good story has its valleys before its mountain peaks. That is what makes it a great story.
Jesus went to the cross before He was resurrected, as Philippians 2 shows. Everyone is a slave to sin until we accept Jesus. At which point, we have freedom in the Spirit, as Romans 1-8 describes. Job lost everything before God restored him. Here in Ruth, three women lose their husbands while living in a foreign land.
ELEMENTS OF TRAGEDY
1. Economic tragedy (1:1) - Famine
Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehem, Judah, went to dwell in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. (Ruth 1:1 NKJV)
The first element of tragedy is a famine. This story takes place during the time of the judges. This was a period of political instability. The summary of the political atmosphere of the country can be seen as we read these verses in Judges:
From time to time, the LORD would choose special leaders known as judges. These judges would lead the Israelites into battle and defeat the enemies that made raids on them. In years gone by, the Israelites had been faithful to the LORD, but now they were quick to be unfaithful and to refuse even to listen to these judges. The Israelites would disobey the LORD, and instead of worshiping him, they would worship other gods. When enemies made life miserable for the Israelites, the LORD would feel sorry for them. He would choose a judge and help that judge rescue Israel from its enemies. The LORD would be kind to Israel as long as that judge lived. (Judges 2:16-18 CEV)
Some of us can relate to an economic tragedy. You lose a job; you run out of food. Farmers could not work the land. Merchants could not sell their products because there was no food. The food prices would therefore rise. All of this forced Elimelech to move south. He had to go where there was a job. So he took his family into a new country and worked as a foreigner.
Adjustment/Coping with the Tragedy: You move. You go where the jobs are. You find the food. Sometimes these are hard choices.
The name of the man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion--Ephrathites of Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to the country of Moab and remained there. (Ruth 1:2 NKJV)
2. Personal Tragedy (1:3-5) - Family
Naomi goes through a series of tragedies in her life in Moab. Her husband dies. Naomi is left to raise two boys without her husband. She adjusts to her tragedy by taking the self-initiative to raise her family. It must have been hard as a foreigner to raise her children alone. There probably was no government assistance.
So the boys grew up and they each married Moabite women. This is in itself also a tragedy. You do your best to raise your children with the right influences. Yet they go off and marry women of a different faith. You try to teach Christian values to your children. They marry foreign, and faithless wives. How do we know this?
Ruth will later come to faith in God. Orpah will stay in her own culture and not accept her mother--in-law’s faith. The Bible shows examples of the dangers of interfaith marriages. This is one of the hardest difficulties of raising children in a different culture. We have to learn to accept the culture of the other person, but maintain the Christian faith. This is what the Bible teaches. The negative example is with Solomon.
For it was so, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the LORD his God, as was the heart of his father David. (1 Kings 11:4 NKJV)
Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, on the hill that is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the abomination of the people of Ammon. (1 Kings 11:7 NKJV)
Then the king defiled the high places that were east of Jerusalem, which were on the south of the Mount of Corruption, which Solomon king of Israel had built for Ashtoreth the abomination of the Sidonians, for Chemosh the abomination of the Moabites, and for Milcom the abomination of the people of Ammon. (2 Kings 23:13 NKJV)
After ten years of marriage, the husbands of these two ladies die. Noami loses her only two sons.
Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband. (Ruth 1:4-5 NKJV)
Adjustment/Coping with the Tragedy: You do your best to help your children receive the best life they can have.
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? 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, 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!" (Ruth 1:11-13 NKJV)
All along, you wonder about God. You wonder where is God in the midst of tragedy. Then, slowly but surely, God answers. We never once hear God talk in this book. But we do see God act. Notice how God is starting to reveal Himself in this chapter.
HOW GOD SPEAKS TO US DURING DIFFICULT TIMES
1. Naomi hears that God has brought the Israelites bread. God ended the famine. God is working and the people talk about it. Naomi hears it as well.
Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had visited His people by giving them bread. (Ruth 1:6 NKJV)
God was ending the famine. God was bringing the bread. Can’t you feel the expectations and excitement here. God is coming. He is really coming.
2. One of your daughters-in-law comes to faith in God.
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. 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." (Ruth 1:16-17 NKJV)
In these verses, which are often quoted in weddings, Ruth places her faith in the God of Israel. In essence, Ruth comes to faith in God. She does not turn to her Moabite religion. How excited this should make Naomi.
3. You are not alone as a family.
When she saw that she was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her. (Ruth 1:18 NKJV)
Noami and Ruth join together on this return journey to Bethlehem. Naomi is not alone.
But even though is God is working all around Naomi, Naomi doesn’t see it. This leads me to the truth of this sermon.
Tragedy can cause me to be bitter or be better.
You and I can easily let tragedy cause us to be bitter. But God wants to use tragedy in your life to make you better.
VISUAL: How do you see tragedy? Do you see your tragedy with bitter glasses or with blessing glasses?
When we look at our situation and circumstances, it is like looking an object that should be seen in 3-D. It looks clumsy and blurred. You can make our some shapes, but things are just not so clear. When we look at our past tragedy with bitterness, it is like this. Our vision is damaged and hurt by our bitterness. We can’t see the next step or the next person. We are too occupied with our bitterness. But when we take our vision and see with God’s view, it becomes more enhanced. It is richer and fuller than we had first imagined.
Some of us here need to take our bitterness glasses off, and put on a pair of blessing glasses.
HOW WE TURN TRAGEDY INTO BITTERNESS
Naomi looked at her circumstances and chose to become bitter.
1. She turned bitter on those closest to her (1:18)
Tragedy can cause us to be bitter to the ones that love us the most. Look at the passage. Naomi went hundreds of kilometers back to Bethlehem and did not speak to Ruth. How bitter can you be that you don’t even talk to the people most closest to you. Ten years of relationship and Naomi doesn’t want to strengthen it up with Ruth. Instead, she wants to stay bitter. Naomi starts to throw a pity party. Ruth wants to help her, and comfort her. But look at how selfish Naomi acts. Woe is me. And now I am going to give you the silence because you can’t possibly help me. How selfish of Naomi. Maybe you can relate to Ruth. Maybe you are relating to Naomi. Husbands, how many times have you given the silent treatment to your wife. Wives, how many times have you turned your bitterness against your husband? Parents don’t speak to their children. Children become bitter at their parents. Brothers and sisters, and close friends stop talking. Christmas is a time to change that.
Christmas gives us the opportunity to stop staying bitter and start making our relationships better.
2. She looked at her circumstances and turned bitter. (1:19-20)
Even when Naomi gets home, she is still fuming over the tragedy of losing her husband and her sons. The friends and neighbors are happy that Naomi is back. But Naomi can’t see nor share in that happiness. Christmas is a time to reflect on the goodness of God. We should want to come to Him and enjoy the party. But we take Christmas and we say that we are lonely. We are not lonely. We have a Mighty God who wants to be involved in our lives. We should take Christmas as the opportunity to strengthen our relationships.
3. She took her tragedy and became bitter at God. (1:20-21)
Sure enough, when the tough times comes, who is the first person she blames? God Almighty. The Lord. We do the same thing. When things turn sour, hard, difficult, dangerous, and hurtful, who do we blame? We blame God. It’s not right. But it is a reaction that we have when we don’t notice that God is working. We look at what we think is important, not what God thinks is important. We turn our selfishness and use it against Him. God does not need our bitterness.
Naomi thinks God has been bitter at her. She never could see that God has a bigger plan in the tragedy than Naomi realizes.
We share the same problem as Naomi. We look at isolated events and we focus on them. We think that our lives don’t seem to be working. It seems like one hard time after another. But when we look at the entire string of events, we should be prepared to see God in our lives. But for some of us, that is too hard to do.
We get hung up and angry.
God doesn’t bring children.
God doesn’t bring that job.
God doesn’t bring the security that I want.
So God must be angry at me.
But if we would just look at the bigger picture in our lives, we might recognize this truth. I say it again:
We take tragedy and we can make ourselves bitter. But we should take tragedy and see how God is going to make us better.
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. (Ruth 1:22 NKJV)
Can’t you see God is beginning to take this tragedy and use it so that He can change and use us. Do you see the loaded anticipation at the end of Ruth 1. It is like the end of that prequel movie, when you realize that the adventure doesn’t end. It is just beginning to get interesting.
The barley harvest is coming. The famine is over. Naomi and Ruth are coming to Bethlehem. God is going to meet them there. God is going to meet Naomi and Ruth at the barley harvest. Naomi’s emptiness, her spiritual famine, is going to be filled. God is going to fulfill Naomi’s life.
God is inviting you to come and meet Him in Bethlehem. There may have been tragedy in your life. But God is coming. God invites you to meet Him. Whether it is a recognition that you need Jesus, or that you simply need to have God help you with your troubles, He invites you to come. There may be some people in this room who are still bitter. You need to ask forgiveness from your bitterness. You need to switch glasses. You need to stop wearing bitterness glasses and start to wear blessing glasses.
As we end, I want you to take this time and go to someone whom you have been bitter. Ask forgiveness. Share your hurt. Perhaps you are bitter at God. Take this time and come to Him. This will be our altar call this evening. Christmas should be a time when we turn from our bitterness and become better by strengthening our relationships.
God wants to take tragedy and make you better. He invited you to come to Bethlehem, to His Son Jesus Christ today. Meet Him today.