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“Ruth - an outsider welcomed in”
Have you ever heard the saying, “The Lord moves in mysterious ways?”
Every year at Christmas Margaret send a box of special gifts from America to a missionary couple working in Algeria on the edge of the Sahara desert. One year, after the box had been sent Margaret realised that she had accidently packed her reading glasses into the box. A couple of weeks later she received a thank you card from the Missionary couple. “Thank you for all the special gifts – the glasses are especially useful. How did you know what my wife’s prescription was? She can now see perfectly”.
God moves in mysterious ways. He does it through events. He does it through people. One of those events and people is spoken about in Ruth 1:1-22 (Read)
How is this a passage about the Lord moving in mysterious ways?
First let’s start with Naomi.
She has moved from the Promised Land to Moab. The times when the judges ruled was very destabilising and unsettling. So Elimelech and Naomi and their sons moved to Moab to try and find a better life. That seems to make a lot of sense doesn’t it? Until we realise who the Moabites are. Firstly let’s see how the nation started. Genesis 19:30-37
"Lot and his two daughters left Zoar and settled in the mountains, they lived in a cave." This is Lot who lived in Sodom – the town destroyed by fire and brimstone. Lot’s wife was the woman who turned to salt.
One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him. That night the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it." How drunk do you have to be for that to happen? How desperate do you need to be to come up with such a plan?
"Lot’s daughter became pregnant by her father and she had a son, and she named him Moab; he is the father of the Moabites of today." That is how the nation of Moab started. Through deception, drunkenness, and an incestuous relationship.
Such was the distain for these people that this was one of the laws God had written, "No Ammonite or Moabite or any of their descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, not even in the tenth generation." Deuteronomy 23:3
When you are looking for real stability you don’t go to Moab – it’s the place that destroys your spiritual life. Which is exactly what happened.
Firstly Naomi becomes immersed in the ungodly culture. Both of Naomi’s daughter-in-laws are Moabite woman. Which means the religion and the spiritual practises of the Moabite people have been welcomed into the family home. Naomi spends a decade in that culture … only going back because now there is a better offer in Israel. Naomi was at home in the Moabite culture.
But that is not all. Naomi has also become disillusioned with God. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, 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.” Ruth 1:20-21
Basically Naomi is saying, “I am a jinxed person. God has botched up my life and to follow after me is a foolish thing. Look at the way things have unfolded – famine, exile, bereavement, childlessness – and that might only be the beginning. If you follow after me it is bound to bring disaster.”
That’s Naomi. Spiritually struggling because the family felt it was better to trust in themselves rather than trust the provisions of God. It was a shortcut. And often, when you take a shortcut, you just get yourself in bigger trouble.
Neville and Nicole can testify to that one. Their goal was to drive from Binna Burra to Emu Creek, which should have taken about 3 hours. They left at 4 in the afternoon in the trusty Mitsubishi Colt. After taking a wrong turn they asked for directions from the man at the service station who told them about a shortcut.
It seems he thought they had a 4WD as the road was made from rocks, was steep, and very windy. At about 11pm they came across a water crossing. Instead of turning back Nev took a run up and hit the “puddle” at about 70km/hr. Luckily it was a front wheel drive car because they front wheel made it through and pulled us out, all according to plan (apparently). Apart from that the trip was pretty uneventful if you don’t count:-
• a section of driving through grass taller than the car.
• a cow in the middle of the road.
• nearly driving into someone’s house.
• and being so annoyed at each other that they didn’t speak for the rest of the trip.
They finally got there at 1:30am
Shortcuts often don’t make life easier – neither do spiritual shortcuts. The crucial decision of Elimelech to move his family to Moab ended up with three men dead in their graves; and the slow death of Naomi’s spiritual life. It’s a story which is repeated far too many times.
I know young people, too many young people, who have grown up in the church and who have made a public profession of their faith … who then go off to university and – within a short space of time – you hear that their commitment to God has died. They were too busy. They wanted to fit in. It didn’t seem that religious people were accepted. So they changed to fit the culture … and the culture dictated the death of faith.
Or you hear about families that are highly committed to God – who are doing OK financially but they want a little more. So mum goes off to work and the pressure is on to work weekends. Suddenly Sunday has become just another day and slowly but surely the spiritual temperature of the family starts to decline. A decision – which was not necessarily bad in and of itself – has dictated the death of faith.
Maybe it’s at this point we also need to look at ourselves. What is the spiritual temperature like in our homes … in our lives? If it is low, or if it is on the decline, could the issue be that we are trusting in ourselves and pushing God aside for the sake of getting what we think is an easier outcome.
Using work and finances as an answer?
Using our time for all sorts of activities that take us away from things that help us grow in our relationship with God?
Allowing busy-ness to become the determining factor in our lives?
Is there stuff which is happening which is taking us to Moab? To a culture which is spiritually damaging? To life choices which make us disappointed with God – even if only for a moment? Are we taking the spiritual shortcuts which we will ultimately regret when the longer-term consequences become clear?
So that is Naomi. Which makes what happens next quite amazing. That is where Ruth enters the situation. Ruth is the widowed daughter of Naomi’s youngest son. When Kilion died Ruth is put into the same position as Naomi – except she is also very young. Yet, even though mother-in-law and daughter-in-law are going through the same difficult experience of loosing a husband we don’t get the sense that Naomi provided the support Ruth needed. In fact Naomi is the opposite of support. Naomi has become bitter, “This is all God’s fault … it couldn’t be much worse”.
Naomi is a poor spiritual example to Ruth.
Naomi has adopted a culture that is against her religion.
She is angry and disappointed at God.
She wants nothing to do with her daughter-in-laws when it comes time to go back to Israel.
Yet look at the response of Ruth to all of this.
Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me?” … but Ruth clung to her." Ruth 1:11,14 Ruth will not be able to marry unless someone from Naomi’s family is willing to take her in. Ruth will be an outsider, tarnished by the reputation of being a Moabite. Humanly speaking staying with Naomi is a very bad life decision. But Ruth is committed. Why?
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." Ruth 1:16
Ruth knows that she will be a foreign widow in a foreign land – it will be very difficult. Yet Ruth will willingly abandon her family, her familiar surroundings and her religious traditions because she has become convinced that the religion of Naomi is of a greater quality than the religion of the Moabites.
Logically that should not have happened … should it? Once again we are being shown the extraordinary lengths God will take to bring us into His family.
At our night time fuse church people have been sharing their testimonies. Shelley was telling us that her family came to the church because a boy who Shelley looked after at school invited them to a youth group. This boy was a real rat-bag and not a Christian. Yet, God used this boy to transform the family to Jesus.
I read a story of a man who became a Christian despite the fact that his father was an alcoholic. The father professed to being a Christian but didn’t act like it. It was when the father came to his son and said, “I have let you down by not being the father that God wanted me to be.” That statement changed everything.
In the Old Testament there is a man called Balaam. Balaam is living in rebellion to God by going on a journey where he will curse the Israelite people. On the way God uses Balaam’s donkey to speak to him and bring him to his senses.
Logically it shouldn’t happen like that. But God moves in mysterious ways. Which is incredibly comforting and somewhat challenging for us. You see when it comes to telling people about Jesus many of us can feel like Naomi.
We have taken the shortcuts – the spiritual shortcuts – and as a result our faith walk is not where it should be. There are times when we feel distant from God and maybe even having a bit of a battle with God. We look at the outcome of some of the decisions that we have made and we think, “What makes me any different from the non-believing people around me?”
Not only that we are also so aware that we are very comfortable with our culture. We can be just as materialistic as the next person … and just as selfish … and just as longing for respect and affirmation … and just as obnoxious and angry. There are days when standing out for God just isn’t on our agenda – because we want to stand up for ourselves.
And who of us has not found ourselves disappointed with God. He didn’t answer our prayers in the way we wanted. We feel he could have prevented a certain event from happening so that we don’t end up being so hurt. We expected God to act in a very specific way, only to feel that God is distant and uncaring.
Who are we to dare tell others about God? That is the logical question isn’t. But God’s logic and our logic are very different. You see, despite what Naomi has done but turning her back on her God. And despite the fact that she has publically proclaimed that God had made her life bitter and that she have been afflicted. Despite all that this is what happened in the end:-
"Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi: “Praise be to the LORD. This boy will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
God turned bitterness into joy and despair into hope. For Ruth the Moabite there is even a greater blessing.
"This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, Perez, Hezron, Ram, Amminadab, Nahshon,
Salmon the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab,
Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth,
Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of King David."
Somehow … through that poor witness and example of Noami … Ruth saw what really mattered. Ruth the Moabite outsider became part of the family of God – in the genealogy of Jesus no less.
It can happen like this because our inclusion in God’s family is based on the grace of God. God will call people out of all sorts of backgrounds and families and make them committed to Him.
There is no one who has failed so miserably or sinned so grievously that they can’t be put back in service for Jesus. And there is no one who has been damaged so severely by life or by others that they can’t be brought into God’s family. God moves in mysterious ways. He uses unexpected people to be His tools of grace – unexpected people like us. God moves in mysterious ways. He brings into His family those who others would disqualify – people who need us to bring the good news of Jesus to them.
What mysterious events has he got in store for us this week … and in the faith journey ahead?