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The Book of Ruth

Jan 28, 2024 | John Talcott

The Book of Ruth (2) - Timing is Everything

Welcome to part two of the Book of Ruth. I want to jump right in because timing is everything. And so, let’s review where we left off last week. The book of Ruth is the story of an ordinary family from Bethlehem, but what happened is a great famine came over the land. The famine got bad enough that it affected the crops, it affected the livestock, and when a famine gets severe enough all of life begins to suffer. And so, when people get hungry enough, you won’t have to beg them to move, they will leave even if they have to walk.

The father, a man named Elimelech, was concerned about feeding his family and so he packed up his family went to Moab about 50 miles away. Now, I don’t know why he chose to go to Moab, but this turned out to be a great mistake, because God had said to his people that they were not to even pass through the land of Moab. In fact, he said in Deuteronomy,

"Do not harass the Moabites or provoke them to war” (Deuteronomy 2:9).

In other words, they were not to have anything to do with them, because they were an abomination to the Lord. These were a people that were born out of incest and they actually sacrificed their children to this idol, a false god named Chemosh. God found their sin and idolatry to be so repulsive that he said,

“Moab is my washbasin” (Psalms 60:8).

In spite of the Word of God, Elimelech takes his family and goes to Moab, willing to risk the rejection of the Moabites, rather than to die in Bethlehem.

However, as it turns out, after some time both Naomi’s husband and her two sons ended up dying in Moab. And so, this is a heartbreaking introduction to the book of Ruth because it starts with a famine, and it ends with Naomi facing another kind of famine. But this second famine was tougher than the first, more painful than the first, because it was the result of heartbreak and great loss. It was a famine of love, a famine of relationship, a famine for fellowship, and that kind of famine can be just as destructive as a famine for food.

No longer was anyone waiting in the house to give her a hug. No one wrapped her in their arms at night and told her she was beautiful. No one expressed their love for her as a woman, a mother, or a wife, and so there was a famine, absolutely nothing that she could have thrived off of. And so, Naomi found herself experiencing a famine again… And so, when she heard that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them” she says, “I am going back home” (Ruth 1:6). She announces to her daughter in laws, Orpah and Ruth, “I don’t know what you are going to do, but as for me I am going home.”

And so, she set out on the road that would take her back to the land of Judah, back to Bethlehem, and she encouraged her daughter-in-laws, “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). But weeping, both of them said to her, “We will go back with you to your people” (Ruth 1:10).

Naomi continued to encourage them to go home, to stay in Moab, telling them, “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has gone out against me!” (Ruth 1:13). At this, they wept again, and we are introduced to her daughter-in-law Orpah. We don’t talk much about Orpah, but I want to talk about Orpah, Naomi, and Ruth, because each one of these women is going to teach us about different people that we will deal with in life.

And so, they are weeping again, and Orpah decided to stay. The Bible says, “Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-by, but Ruth clung to her” (Ruth 1:14). "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her” (Ruth 1:14-15). But Ruth would not be swayed, she would not be moved, and she remained loyal to Naomi.

On the other hand, we learn from Orpah that there are some people that when push comes to shove, they will leave you. Even though they started with you, even though they connected with you, maybe they were even related to you, and seemed to be like one of you, when times get tough, they identify themselves as someone else. They identify with another clique, another family, another church, or another denomination. These are those whom the Spirit of God says, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us…” (1 John 2:19). In other words, if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us, but they couldn’t stay, because the commitment wasn’t there, the dedication wasn’t there, and what trust there was is fractured.

Orpah was easily swayed because she wasn’t really invested in that relationship. Her roots were in the past and not in their future, in where they were and not where they were going. And so, even though Orpah was related to Naomi, she wasn’t as related or committed to Naomi as she was to Moab.

It’s unfortunate but there are always going to be people who are related to you, but deep down inside, they are more related to who they are, to their own interests, to their stuff, than they are to you. And so, they will be with you as long as you are doing what they are doing, thinking the way they are thinking, moving in the direction they are moving, but the moment you move away from their lifestyle, their culture, or their environment, they will kiss you goodbye like Judas.

Judas said, “I can’t do that, I’m not going that way.” And so, “going at once to Jesus, Judas said, "Rabbi!" and kissed him” (Mark 14:45). And in the same way, Orpah kisses Naomi goodbye in the spirit of Judas, because Naomi was going the wrong way. When Naomi changed her direction, her interests, and her focus; when Naomi determined to stop compromising her faith, Orpah said, “I am going back to my people and back to my gods.”

Some of you are trying to understand why somebody left you because it feels like rejection, like a betrayal, and if it were an enemy insulting you, you could endure it. But as it is, it’s a man or a woman like yourself, your companion, your close friend and it is painful (Psalms 55:12-13). It feels personal but it isn’t really about you, it’s just that they were more attached to their environment, to their lifestyle, than they were to you. That’s why when there was a change of mind, a change of direction, they were willing to kiss you goodbye, because deep down inside they are only comfortable among the Moabites.

Now, we’ve talked about Orpah, and so let’s talk a little bit about Naomi. She is an older woman; she has experienced the days when love was fresh and everything was simple. She’s had the pleasure of seeing her children grow and become adults, but now as she looks in the mirror not only has her face changed, her hair changed, but her whole perspective of life has changed.

Naomi now sees things from the Fall of life, she knows things that her daughter-in-law’s have yet to encounter, and she has learned to adapt to the different seasons of life. Even though she has experienced devastating loss and great hardship she didn’t allow her emotions to keep her captive. She kept on going even though she had lost her husband, lost her sons, and she teaches us that you can feel however you want to feel but you still need to keep moving.

Even in her later years as bitterness began to creep in, she didn’t allow herself to become entangled in its roots. Naomi kept her wheels turning, her feet moving, because she has learned in her losses as a survivor to keep it moving and keep it fresh. Regardless of the circumstances she didn’t want bitterness growing roots and so she kept crawling, scratching and clawing her way ahead so that no bitter root would grow up. In fact, the Bible says it this way,

“See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Hebrews 12:15).

And so, even in her bitterness, she knew that she would be better off going home to Bethlehem, going where the bread is, where fulfillment is, where the grace of God is manifested. And so, she returns to her roots, where her God is worshiped, because she wasn’t about to let a root of bitterness entangle her and keep her rooted in her circumstances.

You see, Naomi never forgot who she was, she knew the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And even though she had been with the Moabites, living in an idolatrous land, she never forgot who she was, and when you know who you are and whose you are, it doesn’t matter what name you are wearing, because your identity is not found in what you’ve got on. And so, you don’t have to pay the price to wear all those brand names, because God says, “I will make your name great” (Genesis 12:2). And when you know who you are, your identity is not in the name on your shirt or on your shoes. In fact, I can’t even find the name to put on that is greater than the name God gave me.

I believe there are some of you here today whom God is about to make a name for you. He is about to establish you, giving you something that he couldn’t give you when you were younger, when you were unstable, but now you are standing on a firm foundation. And God is getting ready to give you what he promised you years ago, you’re going to come into it, he’s going to clothe you with a robe of righteousness. The Bible says it this way, “You will be called the priests of the Lord; you will be named ministers of our God” (Isaiah 61:6). Some of you know that is your word, you are about to come into it, and that is why the devil fought you like he fought you, because you are about to come into your inheritance.

In the same way, Naomi is about to come into something, she is about to step into something, as she is moving towards Bethlehem. As they are traveling Ruth said to her, "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). Naomi replied, “Why would you come with me, I’m not going to have any more sons, who could become your husband?” But Ruth said, “It’s not about your sons, it’s not about who kissed me last, I am moving out because I am not staying in Moab.”

You see, Ruth had been exposed to the God of Israel, “she had tasted and seen that the Lord is good” and once you have been exposed to the one true God, you will never settle for the lesser things of Moab (Psalm 34:8). And so, she was willing to take her chances, willing to be uncomfortable, willing to be rejected, but she wasn’t willing to go back to Moab. And so, she declared, “Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried…” (Ruth 1:16-17). Once Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying to dissuade her, and they both went on together until they came to Bethlehem.

Naomi who had been a refugee is now back in Judah, back with all of her relatives, but there are things in life that leave you feeling empty. You can find your way back home, finding your way around the house, but you still don’t quite feel like yourself. And so, the Bible says, “When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, "Can this be Naomi?" (Ruth 1:19). In other words, her countenance has changed, she no longer laughed like she used to laugh.

In fact, she has been through so much that she has lost herself. Her name Naomi means, “pleasant one,” “sweetness,” or “delight” but when they called her by her name she said, "Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter” (Ruth 1:20). Mara means “bitter”, she said, “I am bitter.” I am bitter over what I lost because, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty” (Ruth 1:21). In other words, the script that she has been rehearsing, replaying over and over and over again in her mind, telling herself what she has lost, is stealing her joy. And so, even though she loves God and trusts God, she is tortured by her past, saying like Job, “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). Because deep in her heart she feels like God doesn’t care, and so she is hurting, she is bitter, and she says, “Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me" (Ruth 1:21).

In other words, Naomi is her own worst enemy, because she keeps speaking these things over herself, but she is only cheating herself. It’s like trying to weigh yourself, but only putting one foot on the scale. She has put her past on the scale, but not her future, and any time you view your past as if it were your whole life, you are cheating yourself. Because the Bible says, “Though your beginning was small, your latter days will be very great” (Job 8:7, ESV). And so, you’ve got to get both feet on the scale, both your yesterday and your tomorrow before you understand who you really are.

Naomi is torturing herself with her past, but the truth is that nothing she has lost is relevant to where she is going. And so, she needs to stop rehearsing what she has lost and start packing her bags for what she is about to step into. Like Jesus, who gathered together with his disciples at the Last Supper and sang, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalms 118:24). Jesus sang that knowing he was going to the cross in less than twenty-four hours. You see, he never lost sight of the fact that his Father was in control and he had a plan for his life and neither should we.

In fact, I want to encourage you not to let your pain or your past hide your purpose. You see, people will always bring up your past, remind you of where you’ve been, like when Naomi returned from Moab, they said she was accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess (Ruth 1:22). But the truth is that the labels people give you do not reflect the truth, because now they have changed roles, the immigrant Naomi is now at home, and Ruth who was at home in Moab is now an immigrant in Bethlehem.

The Bible says they have moved from Moab to Bethlehem, changing geographical locations, “Arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning” (Ruth 1:22). In other words, it’s not just about changing locations, but it is really about the timing, because if you don’t move at the right time you are going to miss it. And so, you can be in the right place, but if it’s not the right time, you still can’t receive what God has for you.

Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem at the time of the barley harvest. It is the barley that makes the bread, give us this day our daily bread. And so, now they have stepped into Bethlehem just in time to grab a few handfuls of seeds. Divine resources from that place that would become the bread of life and we know that because Jesus said, "I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).

And so, let’s bring this to a point of application and have a moment with God because the truth is that in many ways all of us are a lot like Ruth. In other words, she was a Moabite, a descendent of people who were far from God. And so, like Ruth, we are all Moabites because we have sinned against God, we have fallen short of his standards. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

And like Ruth, we all come to God empty-handed, with nothing to offer, because as the Spirit of God said, “All of us have become like one who is unclean and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). And yet, in spite of ourselves, all of the favor shown to Ruth would be given to us as well. The Holy Spirit said through the apostle Paul, “Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household” (Ephesians 2:19).

And so, we have been adopted, receiving the goodness of God, knowing him as our Father. And just as God is about to bless Ruth with more than she deserved, in the same way, God has blessed us with more than we deserve. Because his grace covers our sins, his power makes us new, “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

I want you to notice, that in the same way Naomi took in Ruth, the Lord Jesus invites us to come to him. He says, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28). In fact, he comes searching for us, knocking at the door and he says, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20). And so, as we respond to him in faith, opening the door, and receiving him into our lives, he invites us to come to the house of bread.

In other words, as we come to his table, as we come to him, he offers us the bread and the wine, his body and his blood saying, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). Jesus demonstrated the significance of the bread of life, his body and his blood, as he ate the Last Supper with His disciples. The Bible says as the disciples sat together, Jesus said to them, "Take and eat; this is my body" (Matthew 26:26). He then gave thanks and offered them the cup saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28).

And so, today, no matter what your past is like, no matter where you came from, the invitation is the same. Repent of your sins and come receive the bread of life, because you can be made brand-new. And even if you have been stuck in Moab, it’s time to make a change, it’s time to turn away from Moab, and return to the God of Bethlehem. Because there is favor in Bethlehem, grace in Bethlehem, bread in Bethlehem. And so, no matter what you are going through today, we want to remember the shed blood of Jesus, being thankful for the blood of Jesus, because God said without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sin.

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.

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