Famines and Failures
Series: Sermon 1 of the book of Ruth
June 2, 2019
NOTE: A PowerPoint presentation is available for this sermon by request at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please mention the title of the sermon and the Bible text to help me find the sermon in my archives.
TEXT: Please turn in your Bibles to Ruth 1.
Today will be the first sermon in a series on the book of Ruth. Unquestionably, Ruth is one of the most beautiful and captivating books in the Bible. It is special and loved in a unique way because not only is it a splendid spiritual narrative, and a beautifully written piece of literature, but it is also an exquisite love story.
The book of Ruth takes place during the historical period of the Judges, as the author of Ruth tells us in the very first verse of Ruth. The period of the Judges was one of the darkest periods in Jewish history… a time when, as Judges 21:25 says, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes.”… a time of worldliness, apostasy, sin, immorality and idolatry; a time of God’s discipline upon his wayward children, but also a time of God’s deliverance when His people repented and turned back to God.
It was in this dark, violent period of Israel’s history that a beautiful love story takes place between a man named Boaz and a woman named Ruth. The author begins the story by telling us about the family into which Ruth married, what happened to her husband, how she eventually went to mother-in-law’s land, where the love story takes place, and how this literally changed the course of history.
Today’s sermon is titled, “Famines and Failures.”
Let’s now read our text: Ruth 1:1-5 – “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 Bethlehemjudah went to live in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. 2 And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlón and Chílion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 And Elimelech, Naomi's husband died; and she was left with her two sons. 4 And they married Moabitess women; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other was Ruth: and they lived there about ten years. 5 And both Mahlón and Chílion died, so that Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.”
This passage of scripture is a picture of famines and failures in the lives of believers, God’s dealings when we fail and backslide, and the consequences of wrong decisions.
I. FIRST, CONSIDER WITH ME THAT THERE WAS A FAMINE IN THE LAND. – Ruth 1:1 – “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land.…”
In Western countries, we fortunately are no longer experience famines. But we all face personal famines in our lives, don’t we?
1) You can experience a famine in your SPIRITUAL LIFE.
We can lose the excitement of the Christian life. The old fire can fade so that we lose the thrill and joy and expectancy of earlier days serving the Lord. We find ourselves in a spiritual rut, so to speak. We don’t share our faith with the same frequency as we used to; we neglect spending time in God’s Word as we should; our prayer life becomes stale. Maybe it’s caused by sin (Psalm 51:9) or maybe God is just testing you (Psalm 13; 143), but, either way—it’s a famine.
I think we’ve all had such experiences before. What do you do when you face a famine in your spiritual life?
* First, examine your heart and confess sin.
Sin will make your spirit dry up. Confession opens the door again to close fellowship with the Lord.
* If no sin is hindering your fellowship with God, then just keep serving Christ, remain faithful, keep reading God’s Word, and keep praying.
Do all the things you are supposed to do. Yes, sometimes we face these famines from God, not because of sin in our lives, but because God is wanting to make us thirstier for Him—to cause us to cry out to Him.
2) You can also experience a famine because of SUFFERING OR SORROW.
In this world broken by sin, we cannot escape at least some of these things that can bring a famine to our souls. Perhaps you’ve been sick. Maybe pain has been your daily companion. You know what it is to hurt—to REALLY hurt and to hurt often. Or maybe you went to the doctor and he said those dreaded, terrifying words, “Cancer! Malignant!” Or perhaps you have lost a loved one in death.
These experiences exhaust the soul, and sometimes even tempts us to question God. They’re difficult times that cause even the godliest saints to struggle in their spirits, producing a temporary famine in their lives.
Illus. – One of the greatest preachers who ever lived was the great Baptist preacher of the late 19th century—Charles H. Spurgeon pastor of the London Metropolitan Tabernacle, often referred to as “The Prince of Preachers.” Oh, the victories in his life, the Christian workers called into the ministry and the numbers of people brought to Christ by his devotion to Christ, his fidelity to the Scriptures, and his faithful preaching.
But Spurgeon, at a very young age, had serious physical infirmities. Listen to how author Iain Murray described his suffering:
“Not until after his death was it more generally known what great personal trials [Spurgeon] had to pass through. His much-loved wife, Susie, was a semi-invalid throughout the greater part of his ministry. In 1867, when Spurgeon was only thirty-three, his own health began to break down in a bout of severe illness. Two years later he had a first attack of what was then known as gout, a disease which causes painful inflammation of the joints of the body. By the year 1871 he had come to think that sudden attacks of this disease would be what he calls ‘our cross till death.’ That proved to be correct. The disease took its usual course, spreading slowly from the feet upwards. Sometimes Spurgeon spoke of both feet and a hand as ‘a mass of pain’. His condition was generally worse in cold weather and his doctors believed that it was aggravated by excessive mental labor. As well as the physical anguish which attended these bouts, there were experiences which troubled him still more, namely what he calls ‘frightful mental depression,’ There were dark days when he was prostrated by despondency as well as by illness.”
In the past, biographers only hint at Spurgeon’s depression But recent scholarship has revealed deep depressions he would fall into—one that took him two years to recover from and a year out of the pulpit. Scholars think that today he would be declared clinically depressed. What were these bouts of discouragement and despair, and his lifelong physical infirmities?—They were “famines”—famines like those we all experience in our lives.
3) You can also experience a famine in YOUR MARRIAGE.
You might come to church with your smile on your face, but you know that everything is not okay at home. Even the best of marriages have temporary famines—times when the old feelings are not so strong—or even non-existent at times! Yes, there are also more pleasant times when the fires of love are rekindled. But there are also times in most marriages—dangerous times—when two people feel alone together, a famine in their marriage.
We all face times of personal famines like these in our lives. Even godly people—great people like Spurgeon—go through these personal famines.
Now let’s look again at our text, and I want you to see something ironic about this: Look again at verse 1 – “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 Bethlehemjudah went to live in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.”
Where was the famine we are reading about?—In Bethlehem-judah. Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Judah means “house of praise.” So, the famine was in THE HOUSE OF BREAD AND PRAISE!
Folks, there’s no sillier notion than the false view of Christianity known as the “health and wealth Gospel” that portrays the Christian life as an easy life—with never a care, and never any problems, filled with health, wealth and unicorns. Sometimes new believers think they can just traipse through life and never have any heartaches or difficulties, never experience grief, never be hurt, and never know suffering. It won’t them long to realize that such a theology JUST AIN’T SO!
* Number one, it’s not scriptural. – In fact, the Bible promises tribulation and trial in this life.
* Second, such an easy life has somehow escaped even the greatest of saints down through history.
Many of the greatest characters in the Bible had problems and infirmities and struggles and famines in their lives. In fact, it seems that famines are a necessary ingredient to greatness.
* Finally, personal experience teaches that this idea is not realistic.
Who among us has not experienced famines even while we were serving God with all our being? For example, think of Elijah, who, after the great confrontation with the prophets of Baal, fled for his life from Jezabel. When he finally found a brook to rest beside, he stayed there and did nothing but eat and sleep for forty days! That’s a perfect description of a person in deep depression.
But here’s the irony of this whole thing: We can experience all these things right in the presence of the house of bread and praise! You can be in a growing, glowing church and hear the Word and be fed and be growing in the Lord—that is, you can be right in the house of bread and praise—and still experience famines in your life.
You can be in the presence of other Christians who seem to be growing by leaps and bounds, who are excited about serving God, who are in love with the Word of God—and yet find yourself going through a personal famine in your life—right in the house of bread and praise.
“There was a famine in the land.” Where?—In the land of Bethlehem-judah—“the house of bread and praise”—the place of God’s blessings in the will of God.
II. NOTE SECOND––THERE WAS A FAMILY LOST.
Verse 1 tells us that because of the famine, Elimelech made a terrible decision. He chose to remove himself, and consequently, his family from the house of bread and praise and to go to the country of Moab.
Moab literally means “God’s wash pot” and in the Old Testament pictures the world. It’s what the theologians call a “type”—a word picture to describe a spiritual concept or a person. Moab was shorthand for this rebellious, worldly system as opposed to living under God and His authority.
Elimelech gave up on trusting God and left the house of bread and praise! He faced a famine, and instead of waiting it out, and instead of doing something constructive to change his circumstances and conditions at home, he threw up his hands and said, “It’s no use! I quit!”—and he moved to the world—to the land of Moab.
When we face famines in our lives, we may be tempted to forsake the Lord and listen to the siren call of the world. Don’t do it!—It’s a tragic mistake. I’ve known many times when people who at one time were really growing in the Lord began to face some troubles, or were hurt over something, or something happened at church, or they difficult trials—and they went through a famine. Instead of sitting the famine out and trusting God, they gave up and quit on God.
But here’s the really tragic thing about it—All too often, when a man leaves the house of bread and praises, he takes his family with him!
Look at verse 4 – “And they married Moabitess women; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other was Ruth…”
Do you see the problem? – A Hebrew was forbidden to marry a Gentile. It was not a racial thing. It was a religious safeguard to protect God’s people from the temptation to idolatry.
Here we see that Elimelech’s two sons followed their dad in the way of disobedience, and they ended up marrying pagan girls. When someone leaves the house of bread and praise, they take their family with him.
Illus. – I’m thinking of a man now I’ll call Dan who was saved and served God. Dan was faithful to our church in While House, Tennessee where I served as the associate pastor for three years. Dan had a servant’s heart; he lived a godly life; he was faithful to church.
But Dan got mixed up in a little church problem, and though the participants in the situation eventually made things right, the experience caused him to stumble. He couldn’t see this as a temporary famine that would pass. He should have said to himself, “Okay, nobody’s perfect. Let`s forgive and forget the whole thing.” Instead, he just never showed up for church again.
In one week, Dan completely gave up and quit on God. We visited him and tried to help him; we pleaded and exhorted—all to no avail!
What did he do?—He faced a famine, but he couldn’t take it. So, he left the house of bread and praise and sojourned to the country of Moab. He left the will and the fellowship, and the communion with Almighty God and traded it for the world.
And the result in his family was a tragic mess! The oldest son, once a fine, young follower of Christ, became a dope head and a drunkard. The second son too chased after the world, following his brother. The daughter had a baby out of wedlock and has lived with one man after another ever since.
Why?—It all began when a daddy left the place of blessing and happiness and growth and fulfillment and traded it ALL for the world—and he lost his family! “There was a famine in the land—and a certain man of Bethlehem-judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his two sons.”
III. FINALLY, NOTICE THIS: THERE WERE FUNERALS IN MOAB
Verse 3 says, “And Elimelech, Naomi's husband died…”
If we as Christians stay in fellowship with God, God will ultimately give us joy and peace and fulfilment in this life. The Christian life was meant to be ENJOYED. No, it’s NOT always easy; it’s NOT always a bed of roses. Sometimes there WILL be trials and famines—BUT, it can STILL be a life of fulfillment, and joy, and peace, and excitement, and thrill, and expectancy. Yes, we have our share of burdens—but the burden of the cross is nowhere near as heavy as the burden of sin!
When we as believers get out of sorts with God, the burden is heavy, and we’re unfulfilled. When we backslide, life becomes dull and unfulfilling and purposeless. If you leave the land of bread and praise and embrace the world—you mark my word—YOU WILL BE NOT BE HAPPY THERE! And if you don’t come back to God, your heavenly Father, who wants only your best, will arrange events in your life to bring you back to Him.
In Elimelech’s case, God finally took him off the earth. There was a funeral in Moab. I’ve seen that happen before with truly saved, blood-bought believers. It’s serious business! They chase the world and God takes them home.
God took Elimelech home, and afterward, Naomi stayed in the land of Moab. She should have returned to the house of bread and praise, but she didn’t, at least not at first. So, in the end, she also lost her two sons—Mahlón and Chíllion home. Brethren, let me be clear: the price of sin and waywardness is too high; it’s burden is too heavy.
So, let me wrap this up. Here’s what you do when you face a famine in your life, be it a trial, a betrayal, a marital struggle; suffering; depression; pain; or WHATEVER it is!: Hang on!; Don’t backslide; stay close to God; love Him and serve Him, even when you don’t feel like; stay in the house of bread and praise no matter how hard famines of life are; Don’t quit!—Don’t give up!—Don’t throw up your hands; stay in the house of bread and praise, and wait out the famine!
And if you have left the place of God’s provision and blessing—if you have backslidden—do what Naomi did. The rest of the book mostly centers on Ruth, but it is also a story of Naomi’s return to the house of bread and praise that brought about a restoration to her former place in her family and village. If you’ve left the Lord to chase the world, why don’t you come back to God this morning?