Summary: One of the greatest love stories of all time.
*Recently a "Husband Shopping Center" opened in one of our major cities*, where women could go to choose a husband from among many men. It was laid out with five floors, with the men increasing in positive attributes as you ascended up the floors. The only rule was once you opened the door to any floor, you must choose a man from that floor, and if you went up a floor, you couldn’t go back down except to leave the place, never to return. A couple of girlfriends went to the place to find men. On the first floor the door had a sign saying, "These men have jobs and love kids." The women read the sign and said, "Well, that’s better than not having jobs, or not loving kids, but I wonder what’s further up?" so up they went. The second floor said, "These men have high-paying jobs, love kids, and are extremely good-looking." Hmmm," said the girls. "But I wonder what’s further up?" The third floor: "These men have high-paying jobs, are extremely good-looking, love kids and help with the housework." “Wow!" said the women. "Very tempting, BUT there’s more further up!" and up they went. Fourth floor: "These men have high-paying jobs, love kids, are extremely good-looking, help with the housework, and have a strong romantic streak." "Oh, mercy! But just think what must be awaiting us further on!" So up to the fifth floor they went. The sign on that floor said, "This floor is empty and exists only to prove that women are impossible to please."
This morning, I want us to look at one of the greatest love stories ever written. It is found in the book of Ruth. Hopefully, I will open your eyes to a different part of the story than you may have focused on before. Although we will talk about the whole story in the book of Ruth, I want to focus on the scripture passage that many people have in their homes. Due to time constraints, I will summarize the character development that has occurred prior to our passage.
A Hebrew man named Elimelek left Bethlehem, where he was from, because there was a severe famine in the land. He went to live for a while in the land of Moab. His wife’s name was Naomi and he had two sons. Elimelek died and left his wife with their two sons, who eventually married Moabite women. After ten years, the two sons died without having any children. Naomi was left without her husband and her sons. Financially and emotionally, this would have been devastating. Without any means of support, Naomi had no other choice but to return to Bethlehem and look to her extended family for some means of help.
Another great source of sorrow was the absence of any grandchildren. It was the custom that if a married son died without having provided any heirs, the next eligible son would be required to marry his brother’s wife and provide an heir in his brother’s name. However, there were no more sons to fulfill this obligation and Naomi was too old to fulfill this requirement in the future.
Naomi heard that God had provided for His people and had given them food, so she and her daughters-in-law packed up to return to Bethlehem. I want us to now begin to read in Ruth 1:8-18, because I believe that this part of our story is one of the most vivid examples of true love that you will ever read.
Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” 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. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.