IT IS WELL WITH MY SOUL (RUTH 1:1-18)
The hymn “It is Well with My Soul” was written by Horatio Spafford after a series of disasters struck his family. Spafford, a successful businessman and a close friend of the evangelist D.L. Moody, had lost his only son at about the same time the Chicago fire in 1871 ravaged his business.
The worse was yet to come. Two tears later, Spafford’s wife and four children were sailing to Europe for a vacation when another vessel struck the ship and sank it. Spafford was supposed to join them later after he had wrapped up some business. Thirty minutes later, less than fifty of the hundreds on board survived the wreckage.
Three of Spafford’s children were swept away by the waves while the mother fiercely held on to the youngest. A little while later the youngest child, too, was swept from her arms. Mrs. Spafford became unconscious and was rescued by sailors.
Back in the United States, Horatio Spafford waited anxiously ten days for the news of his family’s well-being. His grief-stricken wife sent him a telegram, with two words only: “Saved alone.” As he mourned his family’s loss, he wrote this defiant hymn:
“When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea-billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.”
Ruth was one of the bravest women in the Bible. She was a Moabite, a foreigner, and an outsider, but she was one of two women to have a book named after her and the only Gentile with a book that bore her name in the Jewish Scriptures. How did a Gentile make such a name, leave such a mark, and garner such an honor in Israel in the face of tragedy, disaster, and heartbreak? How could one possibly pick up the pieces after suffering such a shattering loss? Not without toughness on the inside, tenderness to others, and trust in God.
Be Tough on Yourself
14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her.
A problem-plagued daughter complained to her chef father about how things were so hard for her. Her father took her to the kitchen, boiled three pots of water, and placed carrots, eggs, and coffee beans in separate pots. Twenty minutes later, he took them out and placed them in a bowl. What do you see?” asked the father. “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied.
The father asked her to feel the carrot, break the egg, and sip the coffee. The daughter felt the softness of the carrot, noted the hardness of the egg, and tasted the richness of the coffee. She then asked the father what it meant. The father explained, “Each of them had faced the same adversity, boiling water, but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had (always) protected its liquid interior. But after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique however. After they were in the boiling water they had changed the water.” The father then asked her daughter, “Which are you?”
Which are you? Soft carrot, hard-boiled egg, or rich, strong, aromatic coffee?
Ruth displayed a stubborn streak of toughness and a high tolerance of pain when tragedy struck. She was one tough cookie with a tough hide and a tough mindset. She had lost her husband, but she had precious things left: her life, her health, and her sanity. The Gentile widow did not believe in fate, omens, and curses. She did not and would not yield, bow or surrender to doom and gloom. Her grief, pain, and loneliness were unspeakable but to throw in the towel, wallow in self-pity, and to rail at God were unimaginable.
The first solo action of Ruth in the book described the character of Ruth. When the other daughter-in-law Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, Ruth clung to Naomi (Ruth 1:14). She was a clinger, a hugger, and a sticker. She was tenacious, steadfast, and feisty. The feisty daughter-in-law stuck to Naomi like glue, velcro, and gum. That’s who she was and who she chose to be. She was Naomi’s shadow, twin, and angel. She fastened to her mother-in-law before Naomi could turn, look, or walk away. The Hebrew word for “cling” occurs four times in the book, all related to Ruth (2:8, 21, 23). She literally owned, defined and glorified the word in the Bible. In another instance, upon arrival in Israel Ruth stayed kept or stuck close to the servant girls of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished (Ruth 2:23). She never strayed or departed from that way of thinking in her life or in her job, with Naomi or with others, for an entire day or a full season. What a testimony to her tenacity, fortitude, and resolve. She never gave up on life, herself, and others.
Ruth was not afraid of working hard, staring over in a new career, new land, and new status. She worked at a back-breaking and feet-hurting job in heat-sweltering conditions for mere leftovers, the minimum, odds and ends. She did not consider it lowly to pick food from the floor, to depend on people’s good graces, and to live on grains and nuts. She would rather work for the minimum than stay at home, wait for handouts, or stare at the wall, ceiling, or Noami. Except for a short rest in the shelter (2:7), Ruth worked non-stop, on her feet, in the sun, as a picker the whole day and the whole season (2:23), from the barley harvest in April till the wheat harvest in June (ISBE “Harvest”) to make enough for the two widows the whole year.
Be Tender with Others
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” 16 But 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. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
A friend sent me an e-mail with the subject “An Everyday Survival Kit.” However, this survival kit does not have a flashlight, a blanket, food, or the normal emergency-preparedness stuff. Here are its contents:
Toothpick - to remind you to pick out the good qualities in others…Matt. 7:1
Rubber band - to remind you to be flexible, things might not always go the way you want, but it will work out…Rom. 8:28
Band Aid - to remind you to heal hurt feelings, yours or someone else’s…Col. 3:12-14
Pencil - to remind you to list your blessings everyday…Eph. 1:3
Eraser - to remind you that everyone makes mistakes, and it’s okay…Gen. 50:15-21
Chewing gum - to remind you to stick with it and you can accomplish anything…Phil. 4:13
Mint - to remind you that you are worth a mint to your God…John 3:16-17
Candy kiss - to remind you that everyone needs a kiss or a hug everyday…1 John 4:7
Tea bag - to remind you to relax daily and go over that list of God’s blessing’s…1 Thess. 5:18
Ruth was tender to others even when she was wounded and hurting on the inside. She saw the shock, suffering, and struggles of Naomi and tended to her in a tender way. She clung to Naomi (1:14), stating her point loud and clear, “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.” (1:16)
The Hebrew words for clung (or the Hebrew word for cleave) and leave (1:16) were similar words from the vow of marriage in Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united (or cleave) to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
The Genesis commandment was for sons to leave parents and to cleave to their wives, and not for daughter-in-laws to cleave to their parents-in-law; but Ruth made cleaving to Naomi her choice, her business, and her destiny. Further, the vow was meant for potential spouses, and not former daughters-in-law. Now that her husband was dead, that Ruth’s marriage to her husband had ended, and that her brother’s brother was also dead, her obligations to Naomi were minimal, but Ruth applied the vow to herself, volunteered her commitment, and bound herself to Naomi. Ruth was worth more than seven sons to Naomi. Ruth’s support for her mother-in-law was compared to a man’s provision for his wife, and more: “Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” (1:17) Ruth chose the role of being an attending and abiding daughter-in-law.
Ruth was a remarkable woman. She lost her husband of many years in Moab and her mother-in-law did not want her presence in Israel. Naomi urged Ruth to remain in Moab and remarry a local, but Ruth would not listen. She cheered, fed, and inspired Naomi. Having just lost her husband, Ruth understood how Naomi felt. Naomi thought of her past, but Ruth’s thoughts were for Naomi’s future. It was not that Ruth had nowhere to go, no one in Moab, or nothing to do, but Ruth always placed Naomi’s feelings, interest, and well-being first before her own. How many daughters-in-law in their right frame of mind would give a blank check to their mother-in-law, saying, “All that you say I will do?” (3:5) Ruth said it and did it (3:6).
Be True to God
A long time ago, the Pope decided that all the Jews had to leave the Vatican, unless a member of the Jewish community could win in a religious debate with him. Having no choice and no volunteer, a middle-aged man was sent to represent them.
The Pope began by raising his hand to show three fingers. The man raised one finger in return. The Pope waved his fingers in a circle around his head. The man pointed to the ground where he sat. The Pope pulled out a wafer and a glass of wine. The man pulled out an apple. The Pope stood up and said, “I give up. This man is too good. The Jews can stay.”
An hour later, the cardinals surrounded the Pope and asked him what happened. The Pope said: “First I held up three fingers to represent the Trinity. He responded by holding up one finger to remind me that there was still one God common to both our religions. Then I waved my finger around me to show him that God was all around us. He responded by pointing to the ground and showing that God was also right here with us. I pulled out the wine and the wafer to show that God absolves us from our sins. He pulled out an apple to remind me of original sin. He had an answer for everything. What could I do?”
Meanwhile, the Jewish community crowded the man and asked, “What happened?” “Well,” he replied “First he said to me that the Jews had three days to get out of here. I told him that not one of us was leaving. Then he told me that this whole city would be cleared of Jews. I let him know that we were staying right here.” “And then?” asked a woman. “I don’t know,” said the man. “He took out his lunch and I took out mine.”
The widow Ruth trusted in the Lord God, more specifically, His sovereignty, wisdom, and provision. Her faith in God was real. The first words out of Ruth’s mouth were a testament to her unmistakable faith, trust, and belief in God. Like Rahab (Joshua 2:11) and the Gibeonites (Joshua 9:9), Gentile believers who were integral to Israel’s history, Ruth called on the name of God (end of verse 16) and more specifically, Yahweh, the distinctive Hebrew deity (v 17). Naomi asserted that Orpah had returned to her gods (v 15) but Ruth insisted to follow Naomi’s God and called Yahweh (v 17) her God. Later, Ruth’s embrace of the God of Israel would be widely known among the Israelites (Ruth 2:12).
Naomi thought Ruth was a convert or believer by way of marriage, for the sake of love, her husband, and marital bliss, and out of personal convenience, social sensibilities, and domestic harmony. Naomi was wrong. Ruth, who was single and untied, freely made Yahweh her own choice and destiny. Her husband was dead, but her faith was alive. Nobody forced her; one could push her around, religion down her throat. Ruth was ready for death and even burial in Israel. Ruth had to fend off his mother-in-law’s numerous questions, strong resistance and repetitious disclaimer.
A Gentile woman married to a Jewish man was obligated to convert, but a Gentile widow of a dead Jewish husband was free to choose. Ruth’s declaration of embracing Yahweh was her first solo break from idolatrous worship, and the declaration of choosing mother-in-law over parents. Leaving Moab for Israel would be the final break from idolatry. Ruth, as a single, Gentile woman, would rather suffer discrimination, receive rebuke (2:15-16), encounter harassment, experience hindrances, and even tolerate harm (2:22) in the new land than return to Moabite religion and worship.
Conclusion: It’s been said, “Tough times never last, tough people do.” The Bible says, “Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.” (Ps 30:5) Tragedy strikes when we least expect it. Some trip over suffering while others triumph over tragedy. They become better, not bitter; they live triumphant and not troubled lives; and they recover faster than others, while many do not at all.
www.riversidecma.org(For sermon series)
www.preachchrist.com (For Chinese sermons)