1. The period of the Judges is roughly 1200 to roughly 1020 BC, before the birth of the Christ. It is from the death of Joshua to the coronation of Saul as the King in Israel. This is one of the darkest, wickedest, rebellious, obstinate, unfortunate periods in all of Israel’s history. Rather than living as salt, and lead a countercultural kingdom lifestyle as a witness, they sadly, repeatedly, succumbed to varying temptations, particularly sexual temptations.
2. There was a famine in the land. Moabites were the product of incest from Lot having sexual intercourse with his own daughter in Genesis 19. They gave birth to a son named Moab. From that boy came the tribe, the race, the people group, the Moabites. They were considered an incestuous, sexually perverted group of people. Furthermore, the Bible tells us elsewhere, they didn’t worship Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They worshipped some false God named Chemosh. And so God’s people weren’t to move to Moab. God’s people were not to dwell with Moabites.
RISK 1: Count the spiritual costs of a relocation(v2)
Elimelech makes the tragic decision for himself, his wife and sons. He moves them away from God spiritual people to a place where there is no possibility of God’s blessing. He forsakes all of the spiritual opportunity for food.
When you decide where you will live and raise your children, you are deciding who you will be friends with, If you attend church, which church? And if you have children, what examples will be set before them, in addition to who they will marry? They will marry the people that you put in front of them.
And in deciding to go to Moab, Elimelecj chose to leave leave worship of God, leave prayer, fellowship, accountability. He left no one for his wife to have for a friend. He left no one for his children to fall in love with and marry that loved God. And like so many men do, he simply counted the financial costs, didn’t count the spiritual cost; as a result, relocated his whole family to Moab as perhaps the only worshippers of the real God in all of Moab.
Why did Elimelech move to Moab? So that he wouldn’t die. What did Elimelech do in Moab? Died. Moral of the story: Death is in God’s hands, not ours. We don’t know how he died. Old age? We don’t know. Heart attack? Got hit by a camel? We don’t know. If you’re like me, you read that and you go, “He died. How did he die? Why did he die? Was it God’s judgment, God’s curse? Was it the so-called natural course of events? Why did he die?”
Scripture says nothing. This is so typical of our life, is it not? Something happens – why? Silence. God doesn’t answer. The Bible says that the secret things belong to the Lord, that we know in part, that we see in part. We know everything we need to know. We by no means know everything we want to know. We must live by faith, and we must trust God. And so the story simply continues. He died. Next! It’s very stark in its transition, and so much like our lives, questions are left unanswered. But life goes on.
RISK 2: Count the cost of Marriage.
Are God’s men to marry Moabite women? It is not technically forbidden in scripture, but it is greatly frowned upon. The Moabites were not allowed to enter the corporate assembly of the worship of God’s people.
These were people who were apart from God; they worshipped Chemosh. They’re marrying girls who, in all likelihood, worship another God. I mean, this is devastating, but in some ways, we must fault the father on two accounts.
One, he moved them to Moab, so he only left the boys one option, that being marry a Moabite woman;
Secondly, he apparently approved of these marriages.
Mahlon, Chilion. They married two Moabite women. It is not God’s ideal. “And both Mahlon and Chilion” what? They died, too! Why did Elimelech move to Moab? So that he and his sons would not die. What happened? They died. In Moab.
The story gets as bleak and as dark and as hopeless as it could possibly be.
God is saying, at the worst point in history, the worst things still happen. Can you think of anything worse than burying your children? I can think of nothing more painful than burying my children, and then, burying my wife.
That is what happened to Naomi. She buried her only two sons before she even got grandchildren, and she buried her husband. She was at two, maybe three funerals, and her whole family was gone. Her family had come to an end. And there she was left, in Moab. No church, no women who loved God to pray for her and to walk with her and to encourage her. She is left penniless; she is left broke; she is left destitute. And it says, “She was left without her two sons and her husband.” This is the picture of absolute devastation, desolation, and desperation.
RISK 3: Being honest with God
Whoever the writer of Ruth was, they only mention God twice – chapter 1, chapter 4. God gives food, God gives a baby, God’s a good God who blesses people. Those are the bookends that the story is to be interpreted in, regarding the character of God.
The other 21 occasions that God is mentioned in the Book of Ruth, it is on the lips of the characters who are speaking about God. And he tells us that Naomi was in the fields of Moab, and she heard a report that the famine had lifted in Bethlehem, after apparently many long years. And that God had showed up. And that God was being gracious. And that God was blessing his people.
Who does Naomi hold as ultimately responsible for the suffering and the pain and the devastation that has come upon her? God. I don’t know about you, I read the book, it seems like her husband has something to do with this. The man who moved them to Moab, let the boys marry Moabite girls.
Yet she knows even if her husband is to blame in part, that God ultimately could have stopped the move, could have rebuked them, could have put food on the table. God could have done something! How many of you identify with Naomi at this point? “God, I know I did this and they did that, but you should have showed up. You didn’t.”
And she says “the Lord’s hand has gone out against me.” This is the indication that she’s not seeing God as a friend, but as a foe. “He’s dealt bitter with me. He has, he has made my life hard.” That’s what she’s saying.
CERTAINTY 1: God is Sovereign and Good
God works through history, scripture, and our lives, through two hands. One is the visible hand of miracle. The burning bush has a conversation. Fire comes down from heaven. The Red Sea parts. The virgin gives birth to a son who walks on water and raises dead people.
God also works most of the time through his invisible hand of providence. Some of you may have said, “I wish I could see God at work!” We do all the time, through his invisible hand of providence, that is only seen for those with eyes to see through faith.
God’s providence is acknowledgement that God is at work, not just in human history, not just through kings and queens and rulers and nations. That God is also at work in the everyday details of normal people, like Naomi and Ruth and Elimelech. That you and I are very normal people. These are very normal, average people, and that God is at work in the subtleties and the details of their life. That is his invisible hand of providence.
God is both sovereign and good.
When the Bible says that God is sovereign, that means that he is the highest authority; that he rules and reigns; that there is no one beyond God; that God is over Satan, and demons, and life, and death, and heaven, and hell, and the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, and the beasts of the field. Proverbs says that even when a die is rolled, that the numbers that come up are chosen by God. God rules and reigns, He is God is over all, and God is the one who is the highest ultimate authority.
God is good. In God’s own self-definition in Exodus, he says, “I’m slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, mercy, and forgiving of sin.” God is good.
These two truths must be held at all times. If you cling to one and not the other you end up with a very insufficient and dangerous view of God.
A.If you only believe that God is sovereign, but God is not good, you will know that God is in control, but you will think that he is cruel, that he is mean, that he is unjust, that he is capricious, not unlike the mythical gods of Greek fable and mythology.
There are many things that are not God’s Will. We call them sin. You cannot say that everything that happens comes from God’s will as if God wanted sin.
God gets angry. God weeps. God grieves. God mourns. Jesus cries, sheds tears, what does that indicate? Everything is not in obedience to God. That there is rebellion; that there is sin; that there is evil, and that’s not what God wanted. In him there is no darkness at all. Darkness and evil and sin do not proceed from the character of God.
God is sovereign, but he’s also good. He loves us. He cares for us. He blesses us. He walks with us. He is patient with us. He is good to us.
And the question then is always, “How does this work?” Well what it does mean is that because he is the sovereign and because he is good, God works out everything in the end for his ultimate redemptive good. Genesis 50:20 “What you intended for evil, God used it for good and the saving of many lives.”
That means that God is bigger than sin. God is bigger than evil. God is bigger than we are, and Satan, and demons, and that in the end, as Romans 8:28 says, “God works out all things for good.” That doesn’t mean that all things are what God decreed, or wanted, or willed, or wished.
But it does mean that God is big enough that even when there is sin, and folly, and rebellion, God is big enough to work it out for good, and he does.
He works out all things for good. God wastes not one tear. God wastes not one suffering. God wastes not one hardship, because God is not just sovereign. God is good. Weep with those who weep, and mourn with those who mourn, and tell them, in faith, to continue because somehow God works out all things for good.
B. If you believe that God is good, but not sovereign, you’ll end with an open view of God, which says that God doesn’t rule over all creation. God doesn’t know the future. God can’t bring his will to pass. God loves you. God means well. God intends well. God shares your tears. God was just as surprised as you are, but God couldn’t do anything. That is not God.
Scripture says that nothing is too hard for God. That God sits in heaven and does whatever pleases him. God is good, but he’s not just good. He’s sovereign. And he’s not just sovereign. He’s good.
And here we see that the sovereign God, who is good, shows up through his invisible hand of providence and all of a sudden, what had been to famine in Bethlehem turns out to be a blessing, because now food is on the table, and crops are in the field, and hope is in the heart, and God is in their midst. And the author says, “It’s God.” It wasn’t luck, chance, circumstance, global warming, that brought the rain. It was God that put food on the table, not the grocer.
CERTAINITY 2: God provides a way.
Because God is sovereign and good, we should pray because it is not in vain. In the Book of Ruth, every prayer is answered because God is both sovereign and good. Because he wants to help, and he can, and so he does. So Naomi prays: She says, ““May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and me.”
Then she introduces the Hebrew word, hassed that is exceedingly important for our understanding of God throughout the Book of Ruth. This is the summation of the most wonderful attributes of God, loving, gracious, merciful, compassionate, kind, overflowing with love and blessing and kindness.
She says, “My prayer for you girls is this. I have nothing to give you, but our God is a God of hassed and I pray he would give you hassed, that he would be loving, and gracious, and merciful, and compassionate and kind, and that he would bless you. I can’t. I have nothing. But even if you go to Moab, my God is a sovereign God. He rules over Moab, too. He can bless you there.”
God is a God of hassed. He’s a good God. And Ruth is a woman that models her character after the attributes of God, and so she is spoken of as a woman of hassed.
Ruth says, “I’m not going home. There’s no faith there. There’s no fellowship. You were the only believer in town. You left.”
How precious is fellowship to you? How precious is one Christian friend? What a gift. Ruth, at this moment, experiences what we might call her conversion. She is literally at the proverbial fork in the road. “I go back to Moab, and I worship Chemosh. I go to Bethlehem and I worship Yahweh. I’m going to Bethlehem.” This is a bold move by a young woman. Do Hebrews like Moabites? This takes a lot of faith.
She is going there with no husband, no home, no friends, no family, no job, no food. Ruth’s story is in many regards like Abraham’s. She left her family, her hometown, and her religion to go start a new life in a new town with Yahweh, with one notable distinction, that being God never spoke to her. God never told Ruth to go. Abraham did what God said; Ruth didn’t even have God speak to her. She didn’t have the Word of God to rely upon. She trusts that God is sovereign and good, and that he’ll take care of her when she gets to Bethlehem. She is trusting solely in the character of God. This is a woman of extraordinary faith.
At the beginning of harvest, what is that? That is hope. The famine is gone. God’s providential hand of kindness and hassed blessing has arrived. It’s a whole new season in Israel. Maybe it’s a whole new season in the life of Naomi and Ruth. We have to continue, by faith, to see what God might do.