Previous Page

The Book of Ruth

Jan 21, 2024 | John Talcott

The Book of Ruth (1) - Returning to the Right Place

Today we’re starting a brand-new message series on “The Book of Ruth.” If the book of Ruth was a movie, it would be a chick flick. In other words, there’s not much action, no Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, no Sylvester Stallone, but just a couple of women doing a lot of talking. In fact, over half of the verses in this book are dialogue which is why I say this could be a chick flick, but I promise you it is an amazing powerful story.

In the next few weeks, we are going to explore the theme of finding God in the ordinary and I believe each one of you are going to experience God in a deeper and more exciting way than you have ever known him before. And yet it is unfortunate that this particular book is most often reserved for Mother’s Day because of the idealistic philosophy of our society that has categorized the value of this text by gender rather than the depth the revelation. But the truth is the book of Ruth is critical because if it wasn’t in the Bible there would not be a book of first or second Kings. In fact, there wouldn’t be any books of history, no Psalms of the psalmist, and the prophets would have never uttered a prophetic word. If the book of Ruth were not in the Bible, all twenty-seven books of the New Testament would have never been written because they are all predicated upon this particular book.

Now, with that introduction, the book of Ruth contains a story of two women who have lost everything. And so, this is a tragedy, much like we have seen in the lives of so many people that we love, but God is exceedingly, powerfully present, just not in the way that we might expect. In other words, you are not going to see any physical miracles from God, no parting of the Red Sea, no healing of the sick, no raising of the dead; but I promise you on every page you will see the presence and the power and the providence of a very good God.

This message series is going to be intimate and life changing, and so if you happen to be discouraged or maybe you have lost hope that God has something better for you, I believe this book is going to speak very personally to you. For others of you who maybe feel like you are stuck in a place that you know you shouldn’t be, the book of Ruth is going to speak to you and encourage you to walk away, because the book of Ruth is really about change.

What is really interesting in our text and in our own lives is that often we pray for change and God answers with disruption. In other words, God sends a disruption to facilitate the necessary change because you can’t have change without disruption. Everything has to be disrupted in order to change, like planting a seed in the ground, because when it begins to grow it is going to disrupt the ground that it was planted in. Or a woman becomes pregnant and her hormones and her waistline are disrupted because that baby is bringing about a change.

And so, the book of Ruth is more than a display of femininity, it is a book of disruption. It starts with disruption and how you handle disruption determines much of the course of your life. And so, let’s dive right into the Word of God in the book of Ruth. The very beginning of the book, chapter 1, verse one, says this,

“In the days when the judges ruled” (Ruth 1:1).

In other words, in the days before there were kings. In fact, we know that because if you look in your Bible and look at the book that comes right before the book of Ruth, it is the book of Judges. And the last verse of the book of Judges says,

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

And so, in the days when there were no kings, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. And as we come to the book of Ruth, “In the days when the judges ruled,” that theme continues because everyone did whatever felt right in their own eyes. I know some of you may be thinking, that sounds a lot like today, and you are right, it is a lot like today.

In verse one, the Bible says, “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.” In those days everyone did as he saw fit but all of that is about to change because God is disrupting things. And so, “A man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons,” were afraid that they were not going to be able to eat. Therefore, they decide that they are going to move and they “went to live for a while in the country of Moab” (Ruth 1:1).

In other words, every disruption presents an opportunity that will only mean something to the people whose lives have been disrupted. And so, if you can’t handle disruption, then you should stop praying for change, because change is disruptive, and no one is exempt from the disruption.

Before us in the text is a disruption and disruptions are always the gateway to a new beginning and new opportunities. This family wasn’t exempt, the Bible tells us,

“The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there” (Ruth 1:2).

This introduction is interesting because there is much to be said about the names, we have this family of Ephrathites which was a designation for the inhabitants of Ephrath. You may remember from Christmas and Micah chapter five, verse two, that Ephratha was just an ancient name for Bethlehem. But not only were they Ephrathites, but we are given all of their names, and so there must be some significance.

Now, in that culture, children were generally named based on what they wanted to see or based on what they saw. And so, let’s take a moment to break down the characters so that we know the main characters in the story. First of all, we have the father, Elimelech and his name means my God is King. Then, we have the mother, Naomi, and her name means sweet or pleasant. Then, we have the two children, and in this case, it seems very likely that they were named based on what their parents saw or experienced as they were being born. Because one son’s name was Mahlon, which means sick or sickly, and the others name was Kilion, which means frail or tired. And so, it’s very likely that they may have struggled when they were born.

Here in verse two, we are introduced to this family. A guy named, “my God is King,” his wife who is “sweet and pleasant” along with their two children named “sick and tired”. I wonder how many of you have ever said that to your children? And so, anyway that’s our family and we are being set up for quite a story as Elimelech leaves Bethlehem and takes his family as migrants to Moab because of the famine.

Now, generally, people don’t migrate to someplace that is less, generally you migrate to something that is better. Elimelech is concerned enough to move his family fifty miles from Bethlehem to Moab which ended up being a horrible mistake. In other words, God had strictly forbidden his people from living in Moab, but as we have already established,

“Everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

Now, maybe you’re wondering why God would forbid his people to live in Moab and it is because of who Moab was. If you want some homework, you can read about him in Genesis chapter 19 this week, but Moab was conceived from an incestuous relationship after Lot and his daughters fled from Sodom and Gomorrah. And not only that, but the Moabites worshiped a false god named Chemosh and part of their worship was to sacrifice children to this idol. And so, both repulsed and infuriated God said of them with great disdain,

“Moab is my washbasin” (Psalms 60:8).

In verse two, Elimelech without a concern about the things of God, took his family from Bethlehem which means the house of bread, fifty miles to Moab, a place where God had forbidden them to go. And so, even though his name means my God is King, Elimelech wasn’t living like God was his king, instead he was doing what was right in his own eyes just like so many people today.

Now, I don’t want to be too hard on him because there was a famine in the land and so he was probably thinking if I go to Moab there is going to be a better economy, I can get a better job, I can provide a better life for my family, and we can understand that. Things were getting tough in Bethlehem, and so Elimelech does what many of us are often tempted to do, he prioritizes economic provision over the presence of God, and he leaves Bethlehem and goes to the sinful land of Moab.

When life gets difficult do you continue to trust and obey God in Bethlehem, or do you leave and go to Moab? I know most of you would say, “My God is the King of my life.” And so, let me break this down for you because the Lord was very clear when he said,

“The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery… drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).

And so, what do you do when it gets tough, because some of you have been dating or considering dating and you’ve got this burning desire. But you know God’s word says we are to have boundaries in our relationships, no intimacy until we are married, because that is reserved for the covenant of marriage. And so, do you trust and obey God, or do you move to Moab?

You say, “I am a Christian, God is the King of my life, and therefore I will honor him with what he has given and will return to him ten percent in the form of the tithe because it belongs to him.” But then money gets tight, or that thing goes on sale, and you want to buy it. Do you trust and obey God or do you move to Moab?

Or maybe you have stopped getting drunk because God is the King of your life and he said, “Do not get drunk… which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). But then you have a really bad day, and you are really stressed out. Do you trust and obey God, or do you move to Moab?

You all are being awfully quiet in here. Where are my real people? You all are acting like you have never been to Moab before. I’ll be honest with you, there are times when Moab looks tempting, and many of us have gone to Moab under far less pressure than what Elimelech was facing. I mean, he was worried about his family, he did what felt right, what seemed right in his own eyes, and they left Bethlehem and went to Moab.

In other words, they lived their own truth, they trusted their heart, they did what they felt was right, and everything worked out okay for a while. But then verse three says this,

“Now Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died, and she was left with her two sons” (Ruth 1:3).

“They married Moabite women.” In other words, they did what seemed right to them. They married unbelievers, one named Orpah and the other Ruth” (Ruth 1:4).

Now, Naomi is in a bad place, she is away from God’s people, and her sons have married women that were not God’s people. But maybe we should give her son the benefit of the doubt because these Moabite women were probably really cute and had great personalities. And so, maybe they thought they would introduce them to their God and they would be saved.

In fact, that’s what many of you are doing or considering doing right now, because they are cute, they even have a job, and so maybe you can bring them to church and they will get saved. But the truth is in God’s incredible wisdom and love for us he actually gives us safe boundaries for this most intimate of relationships. I know most people assume that it is okay to be a Christian and marry someone who is not a Christian, but according to God it’s not okay. He said in second Corinthians, chapter six,

“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14).

And I understand that greatly limits your playing field, but God is not trying to spoil your fun, he is actually looking out for your best interests. He is protecting you so that you don’t spend the rest of your life living in a divided and contemptuous relationship with someone who rejects your God and King.

And so, going back to the story of Ruth, Elimelech left Bethlehem so they wouldn’t die, he did what was right in his own eyes, and the Bible says,

“After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband” (Ruth 1:4-5).

This is the saga of a broken woman. Naomi had left Bethlehem because of a famine, a drought that was so persistent that life was disrupted and she moved to Moab. Now she has lived in Moab for ten years, but how many of you know a lot can happen in ten years?

Now, I have never lost a spouse, I can’t even imagine what that would be like, and now she has lost her children. I don’t even want to talk about it, don’t want to know what that feels like. But in our text, we have a disruption, we have three widows with no money, no hope, and something is about to change. The Bible says that Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them” (Ruth 1:6).

And so, finally, after ten years, Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem. And so, she chooses to migrate, returning to her nomadic roots, because her identity as a child of God was never defined by her location. So, verse seven says,

“With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah” (Ruth 1:7).

She left to go back to Bethlehem, back to the land of Judah, and as she was on the way she said to her two daughters-in-law,

“Go back, each of you, to your mother's home. May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband” (Ruth 1:8-9).

And so, along the way they are having this conversation, they are weeping together, because that is what happens in chick flicks. And Naomi said,

“Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband” (Ruth 1:12).

“At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, 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” (Ruth 1:14-15).

And so, Orpah got to the border and went back, she turned around, because sometimes better feels funny. You don’t really think that you are worthy of better, better can be uncomfortable, and so you’ll go back into something that is lesser. Orpah goes back not because it was so good, she went back because it was safe, it was her normal, but Ruth decides to stay.

She speaks up for the first time in the story in verse sixteen saying,

"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” (Ruth 1:16).

With fierce loyalty Ruth declares her commitment to her mother-in-law, but then most importantly she makes a declaration of her loyalty to God. She says to Naomi,

“Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16).

In other words, Ruth makes this declaration, this profession of faith, this commitment to serve and worship the God of Israel. No longer would she worship the God of Moab, no longer would she go to lesser things, because she has tasted and seen that the Lord is good (Psalms 34:8).

And so, they leave Moab, both Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem illustrating what the Bible calls repentance. They turned away from where they were, turning their back on Moab, and returning to the higher calling of Bethlehem. This is a picture of repentance, turning your back on the wrong place, and moving toward the right place.

That is what Ruth did, she made a decision to turn her back on the God of Moab and go to the God of Bethlehem. This one decision, this one act of repentance, this one choice disrupted her life and changed her destiny. Not only did it change her destiny, but it changed her legacy. Many of you have heard of Bethlehem before, that’s where Jesus was born, and he was a descendent of a sinful Moabite woman named Ruth. And so, her decision to return to Bethlehem set the stage for her to become the great-grandmother of Israel’s King David.

This one decision Ruth made to leave Moab and go to Bethlehem changed the course of the entire world. That is something to shout about, that is worth clapping for, because that is how amazing our God is. All of this came about because of one single decision and one moment of repentance. And so, what does that mean for us today?

Well, I’m going to ask you to be really honest and open to what the Holy Spirit might show you. I want you to ask God,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart” (Psalms 139:23).

Ask yourself if there is some part of your life that is still in Moab? Some area of your life where you are saying, “My God is King,” and yet you are doing what is right in your own eyes?

And so, is there some area of your life where you are claiming to be a follower of Jesus and yet you are following your own truth and not his truth? The Bible tells us, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). In other words, we don’t just want to hear the word, we want to do what it says, we want to make application of the Word of God. And so, what do you do with this?

Well, here’s a question to ask yourself, “What one decision could you make and what one action can you take that would change the trajectory of your life and legacy?” And I want to offer you a couple scenarios to help you process where you might need to leave Moab and return to Bethlehem.

Some of you could cut up your credit cards and begin moving towards financial freedom. Others of you could make the first move to say I’m sorry for my part, for what I did. Others of you could break up and move out, not settling for the lesser things of Moab. And others of you could surrender something to God, maybe confessing an addiction, and asking for help.

But most important, the most important thing that we can all do is to surrender ourselves to God. To offer ourselves as living sacrifices, coming to Jesus with repentance and complete surrender. Falling on our knees before the King of Kings and Lord of lords, but to get to the right place, first you have to leave the wrong place. And so, you make the decision, and you return to God.

This is so important, because when you repent of your sins and return to God, receiving Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, your spirit will be reborn, your mind renewed, your life rebuilt, and you will be reconciled to God the Father by Christ’s redeeming work. And so, as we close in worship, you will reap the rewards of this renewed relationship with God causing you to rejoice as revival breaks out in your life.

Graphics, notes, and commentary from LifeChurch, Ministry Pass, PC Study Bible, Preaching Library, and Sermon Central. Scripture from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

Series Information

Other sermons in the series