IMG_0867Ruth 1:19-22

I’m not sure if Bible believing churches down south still do this, but years ago they used to have an annual “homecoming” service. Usually there would be special music, a guest preacher, and of course, “dinner on the grounds”. You can be sure that the dinner would feature fried chicken, baked beans, corn bread, and sweet tea. Since back in those days I was a “preacher boy”, I can attest to the always present chicken. I heard of one rather rotund Southern preacher who said as he pointed to his belt, “You know what this is? It’s a fence around a chicken cemetery!” Anyway, a homecoming service was a happy time, though I can’t actually remember anyone coming home for the homecoming in the church I served, since it was a relatively new church. But every church had to have one.

Our text speaks of a homecoming, and in the culture of that time, it was an unexpected homecoming. We live in such a mobile age, in which we have friends and family scattered around the country and the world, that it is very difficult to comprehend how very hard it was for people to move in that time. When people moved away, you expected your goodbye was permanent. So then, for Naomi to return to Bethlehem was a startling event. But this text speaks of more than one woman’s homecoming.

When Ruth and Naomi arrived in Bethlehem (1:19), it seemed that the men were out in the fields and the women working in town. You can picture the scene. One woman caught a glimpse of Naomi walking into town, and hurried out for a better look, with her daughters close behind. (There was no daytime TV in those days!) She saw her forgotten friend and told her oldest daughter, “Sarah, run over and tell Martha and Hannah that I think Naomi has come home!” As the word spreads, a crowd of women gather to see and to greet Naomi. It was a happy time of year, and they were so happy to see her! “Naomi, is that you? Welcome home! But… where are Elimelech, Mahlon and Kilion?” And one woman said to a friend in the growing crowd, “I bet she has some story to tell. Who needs a daytime soap opera when you have reality TV in our little town of Bethlehem?” You can see the women looking at her clothes, her face etched with grief and bitterness, and her hair sprinkled with gray hairs. They can sense that amid their joy, a long-lost friend has returned in great sorrow. Off to the side stands a young Moabite woman, for the moment ignored and unwelcomed. (Please remember that they lived under the law covenant, and Ruth was a despised Gentile and, even worse, she was from Moab.)

God has made us social creatures, to be part of a community. Being part of a community is an important part of what we are. Tragically, Americans have lost what this means, and millions are suffering the emotional and psychological consequences of the loss of community. The church is Christ’s new community in his better covenant, and each one of us needs to welcome people into our spiritual community. Reach out to strangers and welcome them cheerfully. Your welcome might be their doorway to faith in Jesus.

It is good for women to act like women and to socialize like women—very interested in personal matters! Yet a woman should be godly as well as feminine. So watch out for the temptation to spread malicious or salacious gossip. Instead, look for opportunities to spread the joy and peace of the Lord in your conversations. You know that another woman has the need to be listened to. How can you listen and provide godly hope and comfort? Remember that Christ has selected you as a female ambassador for the sake of his name.

Chapter one of Ruth opened with a famine beginning; it closes with a harvest beginning. So, this was a joyous time in Bethlehem. They were able to see God’s blessing in their fields. God had come back to bless his people! And now the women see a dear friend come back, as if from the dead.

As Christ’s believing community, we need to welcome people home to the Lord. It matters not where they have lived in the world under the cruel oppression of the evil one. And Satan is a cruel destroyer of humanity! We say, “Come in! Make yourself at home! Rejoice with us, because the Father’s grace in Christ is overflowing!

Grace and peace, David

Lessons from Ruth’s Conversion

IMG_0855Ruth 1:16-18

Ruth had chosen to follow the Lord, instead of making the choice for her former gods, as her sister-in-law had. Along with that choice came other immediate consequences that produced a new identity for her. Ruth knew this and was ready to accept it, though she could not realize the dramatic changes would follow. It is only when we begin to experience the reality of following the Lord that we start to understand the radical, new life that results from being part of the family of God.

When we become a believer in the true and living God, the way we look at ourselves changes. As a believer who lived before Christ’s death and resurrection, Ruth became part of the old covenant nation of Israel. She was joined to Yahweh and his people. This meant that she would from that time on live as one of the Lord’s people, keeping the law’s commands and regulations. What she ate, how she dressed, her thoughts, attitudes, words and actions were now within the boundaries of old covenant life. For example, she could longer have a ham sandwich for lunch! She had to keep the Sabbath. She had to keep the laws of ritual cleanliness. Yes, even the basic desire of her heart had to change.  Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:4-5).

As new covenant people, we become part of Christ’s body or church (assembly or gathering). We are united to Christ by faith. Everything in our way of life must change. When we wake up every morning, we must remember we are in Christ and part of the new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We have a new mission statement and a way of life that agrees with it (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:1-4:1; 1 Peter 1:13-2:3; etc.)

With this union with Christ to God the Father’s family, we gain a new passion for life. We stop wandering aimlessly through life and begin to live for the kingdom of God. Ruth’s passion showed up in the strong promise and oath she made (1:17), probably made with a fitting gesture, such as slashing one’s throat. (Remember that when people speak with emotion, we tend to use gestures!) She was very willing to join the people of God and to worship the true and living God the rest of her life.

True Christianity involves living with passion for the story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. The good news has forever changed us, and we want others to hear the good news of Jesus and be saved! And so we gladly make sacrifices of wealth, health, leisure, honor, and perhaps even our lives for the Lord Christ.

Our daughter Sarah once attended at a meeting for managers, where the founder of the company told the story of the start of that company and the sacrifices many had made to launch it. Christ’s church grows in the same way. People make sacrifices for the benefit of others and to extend the spread of the good news. Are you passionate about what the mission of the church, the new covenant people? Are you glad that you’re part of the people that follow Jesus Christ?

Our hardships can become the doorway to faith in the Lord for others. What must have Naomi been thinking as she listened to Ruth’s confession of faith? We are not told! The writer allows us to ponder the scene in solitude. In any case, to the praise of God’s glory, all of Naomi’s complaints failed to have a detrimental influence on Ruth. But clearly, Naomi was not filled with joy at the moment, as this “pest” of a daughter-in-law walked by her side, because Naomi’s words were filled with her bitterness when she arrived in Bethlehem. However, God has told us the rest of the story that neither Naomi nor Ruth knew at that moment. God wants us to share his smile, as his sovereign grace as provided a kind, loving, believing sister-in-the-Lord to walk beside struggling Naomi. For at that time, the story of God’s glory was very much wrapped up in Ruth, and through her, Naomi’s life is about to change from bitter sorrow to sweet joy.

My friend, why not trade in your bitterness, sorrows, frustration, disappointment, and anger for the opportunity to serve the Lord with gladness, because he delights in joy and offers to share joy with you? Life is short. Don’t waste your life being peeved and pouting.

Think on the words of the last stanza of “The Master Has Called Us” by Sarah Doudney, 1871.

“The Master has called us, in life’s early morning,
With spirits as fresh as the dew on the sod:
We turn from the world, with its smiles and its scorning,
To cast in our lot with the people of God:
The Master has called us, His sons and His daughters,
We plead for His blessing and trust in His love;
And through the green pastures, beside the still waters,
He’ll lead us at last to His kingdom above.”

Grace and peace, David

Ruth’s Surprising Conversion

IMG_1100Ruth 1:16-18

Last time we saw that Naomi’s words forced Ruth and Orpah to face the real consequences that their intended return to Israel could lead to. Naomi painted her situation in bleak terms; there was no hope of her providing husbands for them, which was very important in the ancient world. In addition, Naomi said that God was strongly against her. As Orpah heard all this, she made the sensible, but ungodly choice of returning to Moab and forfeited the spiritual blessings that could have been hers. Ruth, however, made the godly and kind choice by deciding to stay with Naomi. But Naomi did not seem pleased with Ruth’s choice. Now what will Ruth do?

In this section, we hear Ruth speak for the first time, and her words are majestic and poetic. Naomi had been telling Ruth to return to Moab. Ruth responded with a command of her own. She told Naomi to stop pressuring her to leave her. Ruth had become a believer in the true and living God, and she wanted Naomi to realize that great change.

What were the basic parts of Ruth’s conversion?

First, Yahweh (the Lord), the true and living God, became her God. Ruth words referred back to God’s promise that forms the basis of his covenant with his people (Genesis 17:7-8; Exodus 6:6-7; Leviticus 26:12; cf. Jeremiah 11:4). When God is your God, he is your boss, your rescuer, your provider, and your confident expectation. You trust and depend on God alone. You acknowledge God’s right to direct the world and your life in conformity with his goals and purposes (Job 2:10). Ruth’s confession showed that she had the same spirit of faith that Abraham had, and in some ways, hers was more remarkable. She left her native land for the Promised Land, but without any promise of land or assurance of God’s blessing that led Abraham out. She went to Israel without spouse or possessions or servants (which Abraham had) toward an unclear future as a widow in a foreign land with another widow. What was the core of Ruth’s faith? She had tasted and seen that the Lord is good; she knew that a person is blessed if he or she takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:8). She delighted in the Lord, not in his gifts.

Second, Yahweh’s people became her people. Ruth changed her “people group” from Moabite to Israelite. When you trust God, you become part of his people. It’s a package deal (cf. 1 John 4:7-8). In Ruth’s day, God’s people were Israel; in our day, it’s the church, Christ’s new assembly, his body and his bride. So Ruth threw in her lot with people whom her native people had formerly opposed. This has happened throughout history when anyone puts his or her faith in the true God. That might turn your former people against you. Depending on the time period, you could be called such hated names as Christian, Anabaptist, Reformed, fanatic, schismatic, Holy Roller, Bible thumper, fundamentalist, born again, etc. You see, people hate real change—a change of worldview and way of life—and so they despise anyone who stands for real change. Ruth had to “count the cost”. She faced an uncertain future as a widow with no apparent way of support among a people that she did not know. She is an example of the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 8:21; 10:37; 19:29).

Too often, God’s people prove to be a disappointment. Some witty Christian put it this way. “To live above, with saints in love, that will indeed by glory! But to live below, with some saints I know—well, that’s a different story!” Or as another wrote more seriously, “So too we may often find the Lord’s people to be a disappointing bunch, exhibiting fewer of the fruits of the Spirit than we would like… Yet flawed as the people of God are, if the Lord is to be our God then his people must be our people, too” (Duguid). When you hang around any true Christian long enough, you are going to see the sad, disgusting work of remaining sin (the flesh), as well as the better fruit of the Holy Spirit.

Third, Yahweh’s promises became her hope. It is easy to pass over Ruth’s reference to burial, until we remember burial customs of that time. (Consider the burial customs of the patriarchs in Genesis.) People were buried with their people, in whatever hope they had of an afterlife. “Given the intimate connection between land and deity in the ancient Near East, and the importance of proper burial for a restful afterlife, this was the ultimate commitment in the ancient world” (Duguid). So then, Ruth cut all ties with her past, including death and burial. She illustrates the kind of commitment Christ requires of his followers (Luke 9:57-62).

In summary, Ruth’s conversion touched all the dimensions of her life: in regard to geography, all locations; in chronology, from the present to the future; in theology, from idols to the living God; and in genealogy, from the Moabites to the Israelites. She committed herself to a new way of life. Though Ruth did not know it, her conversion would result in her becoming part of the line of David and of Jesus Christ. Her conversion was part of a much bigger story than her own.

Grace and peace, David

Two Choices Contrasted

IMG_1105Ruth 1:14-15

Two young women had to make a choice one day, a choice that affected their eternal destiny. Orpah made the sensible choice according to the wisdom of this world and turned back to Moab. Naomi’s arguments convinced Orpah. In Moab there was hope for a new life with a new husband, and probably children to love and care for. Wanting a husband and children is very normal and a good, God-given desire for women. But there is more to see in her situation than that! Orpah saw two alternatives: (Ferguson)

  • Yahweh plus nothing in Bethlehem
  • Everything minus Yahweh in Moab

And so, Orpah made her choice according to human sight and opinion. Orpah looked at her situation in life in exactly the same way that Elimelech had used earlier. The fields of Moab looked greener than the land of Israel, at least from the standpoint of marriage and family. And so with a sensible choice, she walked off the pages of the Bible and into the oblivion of countless others. The living God was missing from all her sensible calculations. “She rejected the road to emptiness, but at the same time unknowingly turned aside from the one road that could have led to a life of lasting significance and meaning. The world’s wise choice to avoid emptiness leads in the end to a different kind of oblivion.” [Duguid]

Someone might object, “Poor Orpah, she didn’t know what God could do!” I’m sorry; that is simply not true. She had only to look at creation to tell her about the God who is there (cf. Romans 1:18-25). But not only is that so, but she had also heard a good word of testimony about the living God. Don’t forget the message of verse six, which is the reason Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah decided to return to Israel! My friend, God is under no obligation to give you overwhelming testimony of his love and kindness. If you only hear once of how the Lord Jesus Christ has changed the life of one of his people, you have a treasure that millions never received. Don’t play games with the goodness of God to you!

Ruth made the godly choice and clung to Naomi. The Holy Spirit choose a word (“clung”) that he used other places in the Old Testament Scriptures to indicate a deep, personal relationship (Genesis 2:24; Deuteronomy 10:20). God then used the words of troubled Naomi to test Ruth’s faith; that is, to draw out from Ruth the reality of her trust in God. God uses this way in the lives of his people (cf. Abraham, Genesis 22; Hebrews 11:17).

  • Naomi’s words revealed the true nature of Orpah’s choice. By leaving Naomi, she was “going back to her people and her gods”. Orpah might have made the “sensible choice” in the world’s opinion, but it was also an ungodly, unkind choice! Why unkind? It was unkind because she left her mother-in-law, who could have used her help.
  • Naomi urged Ruth to go back with Orpah. This is not the preferred way to try to win people to the Lord! But it tested the reality of Ruth’s faith.

What would Ruth do? Her peer in the world said by example, “There’s no hope in the Lord! Let’s grab what we can of the good life now.” And her only friend in God’s people told her “to go back to the world, because the Lord’s hand might make your life as bitter as mine!” But more importantly for those reading this article, what will you do? Will you follow the Lord Jesus Christ, if all you can be sure of in this life is suffering? Will you trust Christ that eternal glory will far outweigh all that you might suffer in this world? Please, please let the challenge of Christ ring in your heart!  Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38).

Grace and peace, David

A Strange Path toward Conversion

IMG_1089Ruth 1:10-18

In late December 1734 in a small town in western Massachusetts, God started one of the largest, culture shaking events in the history of the world. After Pentecost and the Reformation, in the First Great Awakening, the Holy Spirit added millions to the church. The preacher in that frontier church was one of the greatest thinkers that America has ever produced, but it was not his intellect and certainly not his preaching style that occasioned the awakening. Instead, it was his plain and direct preaching of the good news of God in Christ for the justification of sinners by grace through faith that the Spirit of God used to turn many from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God. Edwards wrote an account of the start of God’s great work that others entitled A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls. (They liked long book titles back in that day!) Edwards and others were surprised by God by the sudden conversion of many people.

In our text we read of the surprising work of God in the conversion of one woman, Ruth, who as Paul would later write about other Gentiles, turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Thessalonians 1:9b). The surprising nature of Ruth’s conversion is seen in her personal background, the distressing circumstances of her life, and a rather reluctant evangelist named Naomi, who seemed determined to push Ruth away instead of drawing her new to the true God. Her whole return to God provides us with hope for the salvation for our family, friends, and neighbors. And perhaps if you do not yet know the risen Lord, it will give you new hope for a fresh start in life with God.

The story of Ruth continues as three widows faced reality (1:10-13). We tend to focus on the individuals involved, but remember that God was doing more than bringing these women to a crucial moment in their lives. The living God was about to act through what worldly-minded people consider a very insignificant conversation to lead to a world changing event.

Ruth and Orpah had decided to return to Israel with Naomi (1:10). This was admirable loyalty and continued kindness toward their mother-in-law. In our culture where people wreck their families for silly and selfish reasons, their steadfast love is a bright example that people should stick to basic relationships. However, at the same time, such commitments should not be shallow, or they will fail to produce the ongoing kindness required as life gets tough. At least one of the young women had failed to think through the consequences of her decision. God used the still troubled condition of Naomi’s heart to crystallize the issues for both Orpah and Ruth.

As we think through this, our goal should be to understand the real-life situation that all three women were in. Naomi was returning to the Lord, but that did not mean that her ideas, attitudes, emotions and words were pristine. God welcomes people back with troubles still simmering in our hearts. We do not have to clear or condemn Naomi for what follows. Instead, the Spirit of God tells us the truth about her, in order that we might learn about God’s grace and our needs more completely.

Naomi continued to urge her daughters-in-law to return to Moab (1:11-13). She did this in three ways.

  • She used two questions to drive home the point that no hope for a better future could be found with her (1:11). She was like a failed bank, and they would be unwise to continue to place deposits with her in expecting her to provide them with husbands.
  • They had said that they wanted to return (to the Lord, his people, and the land God gave them) with her. She tells them to “return home” twice. Naomi then gives a hypothetical scenario about how she was totally unable to help them. Even if Naomi could get married that night and conceive children, and in addition those children would be sons, would they wait around to marry them? “Girls, you’re in your mid-twenties now, but you’d be pushing forty by that time—if it could happen at all! Don’t be crazy!”
  • To emphasize her desolate condition, she reminded them of another bitter “fact”, at least from Naomi’s view. She thought that the hand of the Lord was against her! Most translations are rather calm here, at least to our bored minds. So let’s kick it up a notch! Bam! Bam! “Yahweh’s own hand has attacked me!” [Hubbard] The hand of the Lord is an irresistible power. It can destroy oppressing Philistines (1 Samuel 5:9, 11), empower Elijah to outrun a chariot (1 Kings 18:46), and encourage Ezra to trust God for protection (Ezra 7:9, 28). The hand of the Lord can create stars in the heavens (Isaiah 45:12), free his people from bondage in Egypt (Deut 6:21), and execute judgment on the sinner (Judges 2:15; Hebrews 10:30-31). “If even God was after her, to follow her home was to court personal disaster. Her earlier tragedies—famine, exile, bereavement, childless­ness— might be only the beginning” (Hubbard).

Here are couple remarks on Naomi’s view of her condition. We’ll explore this in more detail in the last section of chapter one, God willing.

  • Naomi was right in acknowledging the Lord’s hand in her condition. She was a woman who believed in the Sovereign Lord. She knew that God ruled over all human events.
  • Naomi showed remarkable faith in moving toward God, instead of running from him. If you’re in a mess, you need the God who is big enough to fix the mess you’re in! That will require you to trust him when your life seems dark and troubled.
  • Naomi was hindered by a serious, human limitation. You and I are not big enough to understand and interpret all that God is doing in our lives! Was God attacking her? She assumed God was! But we have a definite advantage over Naomi at this point of her story and even beyond in her lifetime. This book of Ruth reveals something of God’s incomprehensible kindness. Naomi’s grief and tears will be far overmatched by the Redeemer that God is going to send. But Naomi cannot see that part of the story of God’s glory in her life, nor can she know how her bitter sorrows will be worked into God’s story for the joy of God and his people.

Let us praise God for his mercy when we say some less than intelligent and godly statements. He knows that we are painfully short-sighted children at our best. We love to make bold assessments about God and our lives when we know too little. Yet, the Lord can use our failures to help others find their way to him. God used Naomi’s word for the spiritual benefit of both women. If they would decide to return to God (be converted), they would have to choose in full knowledge of the necessity of faith. Conversion involves the repentance or a change of mind. We come to understand about God, ourselves, sin, and Christ and salvation in a new way. But faith or dependence upon God is also crucial.  They would have to enter the kingdom of God consciously dependent on him. Has this happened to you? Are you relying on Jesus Christ for salvation?

Grace and peace, David

Pray for Kindness for Others

IMG_0914Ruth 1:6-9

Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were on the road back to Israel. For Naomi, this was a return to the old covenant people, their land, and their worship of the true God. For Ruth and Orpah, it would be a return to God from idols. For some reason not explained in the Bible (and it is pointless to speculate when the Word is silent), Naomi stopped to talk to the young women about not going with her. One thing is clear, Naomi wanted the Lord’s blessing on her daughters-in-law (1:8-9).

Naomi demonstrated the place of kindness in relationships. The Hebrew word translated “kindness” is a rich word that means “covenantal loyalty, kindness, goodness, mercy, love, and compassion” (Younger). People in covenant relationships (whether to one’s family or one’s local church) are to show kindness to one another. You have a right and an obligation to expect and to give and to receive kindness. By the Spirit, you and I are to bring forth kindness (Galatians 5:22). Naomi acknowledges their kindness in her family. When people act properly, we should commend them for it. She honored them for acting kindly in her family, and especially toward her deceased sons, in the way that they should have. May each of you experience this in all your relationships with your in-laws!

Yet Naomi sought or seemed to seek the end of her relationship with Ruth and Orpah. She unexpectedly did this in two ways. She suggested they return to their mothers’ homes, which is an unusual expression in the Old Testament Scriptures. In the three times it occurs, it refers to marriage and marital love (Genesis 24:28; Song of Songs 3:4; 8:2). So Naomi suggested that they return to their mothers to seek assistance in finding new husbands. She also kissed them goodbye. She intended to seal her permanent separation from them in a loving manner. We are wise to always and only part with true affection for each other, since we do not know if we will ever see each other again in this world. For example, one of my uncles died very unexpectedly in his forties years ago. He and his pastor had been having some sort of sharp disagreement about something. But the last Sunday morning my uncle was in church, he parted from his pastor by saying, “Pastor, you know I love you.” And the pastor said, “Bill, I love you, too.”

As already said, we are not given an explanation in the text for Naomi’s reason. But we should not be overly critical of her. Her life was filled with uncertainties. In addition, in her current condition, Naomi could not make any promises to the young women. She was destitute herself and unable to suggest that they might be able to remarry within the covenant community of Israel. All that Naomi could see for them at this point would be poverty and long lives as desolate, childless widows in a foreign country.

We should also realize that by returning to Judah, Naomi was throwing herself upon the mercies of the Lord, who promised to care for widows. But did her daughters-in-law, who were of a people who worshiped false gods, now really share her worldview? Would they trust the Lord? However troubled Naomi may have been in her friendship with God, she was on the way back to God, to live in conformity with his word. Now, she could give a clear witness of her faith in God. Are we living in faith, so that we can also testify to our reliance on the Lord’s provision? In other words, what is there in your life that provides evidence to others that you are living by faith?

So then, Naomi prayed for God’s blessing on Ruth and Orpah. “It is very proper for friends, when they part, to part with prayer” (Henry). Observe how she mentioned “the Lord” (Yahweh, the living God) twice in her prayers. She consciously uses the covenant name of God to seek blessing. Her prayer was based on the truth that the Lord is God over all nations and can bless in any place.

She prayed that the Lord would show kindness to them. Having heard of God’s renewed kindness for his people, she dared to pray for his kindness for two women from the nations. How much more should we who live in the new covenant pray for God’s kindness on the nations! She also prayed that the Lord would provide both with new husbands. Notice the idea of “rest” for women in the marital relationship. “In essence, it connotes permanence, settlement, security, and freedom from anxiety after wandering, uncertainty, and pain” (Hubbard). Much more could be said on this subject! Ladies, do you pray for your families, as Naomi prayed for her daughters-in-law?  Men, are we concerned that our wives experience “rest” in our marriage? Let us all pray for God’s kindness to produce rest in our families.

Grace and peace, David

Returning to the Lord

IMG_0853Ruth 1:6-9

In our previous article, we saw how God took the initiative to bring Naomi back from her sojourn among unbelievers to return to the Lord and his people. He acted in kindness. What was Naomi’s response to God’s action (1:6b-7)? She believed and acted. When God acts, we are to respond in faith according to his action. This requires us to think upon God and what he does (Psalm 77:10-12; 111:2-5).

So then, Naomi prepared to return home (to Israel) from Moab. Here, we need to know the meaning and importance of “return” in this chapter. The Hebrew word translated “return” is the verbal glue that holds this chapter together (1:6, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 15 [twice], 16, 22 [twice in Hebrew]; cf. also 2:6; 4:3). The chapter talks about the “return” of two women. For Naomi the return is personal renewal of the obedience that comes from faith (cf. Romans 1:6; 16:26; cf. 12:1-2). For Ruth the return is conversion to the true and living God.

This story is about turning back to the Lord. Part of the story of God’s glory concerns the return of people to him. God takes returning people and makes them part of his story of redemption (an important idea in Ruth.) God tells us his story, in order that we might become part of his returning people. How do you need to turn back to him? What parts of your world and life view and the actions that flow from it need immediate change? For example, how does your life honor God everyday? How does love for your neighbor produce generous, self-sacrificial action in your way of life?

When Naomi heard the good news of God’s care for his people, she sensed her need to return to God and his covenant community of people, for whom he provided bread. “Her return is a choice to identify with that community again. It is a return, not just to Bethlehem, but to Yahweh and Yahweh’s people” (Webb, p. 42). Naomi responded in faith to the word about what God had done. She continued to believe that God is gracious and merciful, and that he would receive her back to him and his people. It is important to grasp this in order to understand what follows properly. How can your faith remain strong when you feel crushed by life’s events? Remember what God has done for you in your walk of faith to this point, and consider what the Lord did for others in similar times.

Naomi’s decision influenced Ruth and Orpah to return with her. The people of God act as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). God uses our way of life as a means to draw more people to him. Think of people that the Lord might use you to influence. Her decision produced other consequences beyond Naomi’s control. This is part of faith’s adventure.

Initially, both daughters-in-law decided to go with Naomi. Clearly, they loved her, which speaks well of her previous interactions with them. Godly women should strive to draw their families close with the cords of love. Ladies, is this a priority in your life? Are you seeking to draw your family members to Jesus by the influence of your love for them?

This was an unexpected decision by Orpah and Ruth. “While Bethlehem had once been Naomi’s home, it was never theirs. Her people were not their people. And if Orpah and Ruth came with her, it would mean two more mouths to feed on a fixed and limited budget, two more bodies to clothe and house, all the while dependent on the charity of family members” (Duguid). And those family members knew neither Ruth nor Orpah! But they decided to go with her! As we seek to make other followers of Christ, our lives can become more complex.

Their decision complicated Naomi’s life in many ways. She would be taking two unwanted and widowed foreign women back to Israel. But she allowed them to start on the way back with her. We must appreciate Naomi’s problem. To have them with her would be a reminder of her tragedy. A look at their foreign faces would remind her of the loss of her sons. Consider what a woman goes through when she chooses not to abort a child from an illicit affair or rape, and who also chooses to keep the child! The child can be a sign pointing to her tragedy.

Sometimes we need to weep. Show compassion on people who have suffered terrible events, even if you think they’re to blame! (Why are people who claim to believe in God’s grace so judgmental? Why do they say, “He or she made their bed and now they have to lie in it?” Would they like God to say that to them?) Don’t you rejoice in God’s compassion toward you? Then how dare you not show it to the suffering? Suffering people need daily mercy and grace. I beg you; I plead with you—please show compassion and kindness for Christ’s sake! All of us should make compassion and kindness part of our constant return to the Lord.

Grace and peace, David

The Lord Plans the Way Back

IMG_0982Ruth 1:6-9

In this series we worship the Lord as we listen to his word to us in the book of Ruth. The book is one of the festival scrolls of the Jews. We call it the “scroll of kindness”. In our current text from Ruth, we encounter the idea of kindness for the first time. The Lord speaks to us about kindness, and so may his kindness toward people and our kindness to one another fill our lives.

In the opening section of this story, we have read of the tragic events that came into Naomi’s life. A famine struck her native land, and her husband Elimelech decided to take Naomi and their two sons to the foreign land of Moab, in order to attempt to provide for them. However, everything went wrong in Moab! First, Elimelech died. Next, Naomi’s sons married Moabite women, which because of the law and given the history of Israel and Moab was not a godly marital decision. And then, both of Naomi’s sons also died within ten years of arriving in Moab. So, Naomi was left with the triple of burden of being a widow, childless, and lacking any honorable means of financial support. Her condition appeared to be hopeless!

Many people, including religious or spiritual people, would simply collapse at the terrible blow that Naomi received. There are various ways this personal collapse can happen:

  • Some might abandon belief in God completely and criticize him angrily
  • Some might withdraw into a hermit-like shell of bitterness
  • Some might reinvent their religious beliefs, like denying God’s sovereignty or seeking ways to manipulate God by works and rituals to regain his blessing
  • Some might seek to ease their pain through alcohol and drug use
  • Some might turn to crime to provide for themselves and/or to seek revenge on God and others for their terrible condition
  • Some might commit suicide or make a suicide attempt to gain pity from others

However, Naomi did not give into despair. She did not run from the true and living God in this desperate hour of her life. Instead, she ran toward God with continued belief in his rule over all things and with the deep pain that fills her life. So then, this is a helpful message from God for us to listen to in these uncertain, tragedy-filled days in which we live.

Let’s begin with a great idea. God’s grace is active at the darkest times (1:6a). The Lord took the initiative. The Lord continued to work out his plan, the story of his glory in Jesus Christ. We must keep this in mind, or else we reduce the narrative parts of the Bible to mere moralistic lessons. Naomi’s problems and pain filled her life. But the account is in the Word, not merely to tell us about a woman who endured, and so somehow to inspire hope; instead, it tells how the living God took Naomi into his story as part of the path to Jesus the Messiah.

God set his plan in motion, before Naomi had any reason to hope. For years, she had not heard any hopeful news from her native land, Israel. But at the moment of her worst circumstances, God was already at work to change her life forever and to pursue the goal of his great story. At the loss of her sons, her thoughts were focused on her grief and needs. She had no idea that God was at that same time at work to help her.

She was still in Moab when good news came to her. The Lord did not wait until she was on the way back. No, he set in motion the process that would lead to her return to God and his people. Many times when we are flooded with sorrows and trials, we cannot see or fail to see how God is already at work for his glory and our good. This is part of our weakness as humans, but God knows our weaknesses and does what it takes to draw us to him or back to him. This is a good reason to worship the Lord!

The Lord came to the aid of his people, or more literally, “to take note of or look after”. When God takes note of people, it can be either in a positive or negative sense in the Old Testament Scriptures. Here it is plainly positive, as in Genesis 21:1; 50:24-25; Exodus 3:16; 4:31; 13:19; 1 Samuel 2:21; Psalm 8:4; Jeremiah 15:15; 29:10 Zephaniah 2:7; Zechariah 10:3.

God is in charge of providing food for his creatures (Psalm 145:15-16; cf. Matthew 6:11). Usually God uses what we call “natural means”, but he oversees the whole process and acts in positive or negative ways to give us food. Notice the worldview of the God’s word. It does not say things like, “the weather changed,” or “the raiders left”, or “there is an upturn in the economy”. Instead, the Holy Spirit emphasizes God’s activity. Here, God took note of the suffering of his people from the famine and he sent them bread. We need to restore a deliberate, conscious recognition of God’s care for his creatures. Food comes ultimately from God, not from the grocery store.

The person who believes in God will see God’s action in our present situation. Only if you see God at work now can you pray for his mercy for a recovery. “It is concentration on the Great Cause which teaches us to live by faith” (Atkinson). Look at each day as part of the process in which he acts toward the end of the story of his glory in Christ.

Grace and peace, David

A New Life Begins

IMG_4750Father’s Day was far different for Dave this year, because our daughter, Sarah, and son in law, Matthew, posted on Facebook an announcement! It showed a picture of a Cubs’ cap, a Phillies’ Cap, and a tiny little Phillies’ Cap on top of a baby’s shirt with the words, “Daddy’s Home Run Hero”, all hanging together on their coat rack. They chose this way to announce the coming of our first grandchild on the first day of the new year, 2017! What a special Father’s Day, in anticipation of a little baby coming into our oh, so small family! Life is given to us by God!

God is our Father, and we praise Him for this new little life just forming, taking shape to be what God would have him or her to become. It is His creation! We can only imagine what we will hold when the New Year dawns and we meet this little one. We will begin a new role for us as Grandpa and Grandma!

God specializes in creating life, both our physical life and our spiritual life. Our existence in time began at his chosen moment. We are given a purpose and we live for the glory of God. He plans a time when his Spirit breathes into us and gives us a new, eternal life! It says in the book of John 3:33-35, Whoever has accepted it (The Gospel) has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit! The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (Everything! Our lives, events, family, and friends all are given to us by God. Everything!) Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.(We must come to Jesus the Son of God and  rely upon Him for eternal life!)

These verses tell us a lot! Whoever accepts Jesus and His Gospel certifies that God is truth! Jesus spoke the very words of God! Here is the Trinity at work! It says God the Father is truth. He sent Jesus, the Son to speak His Word, and God gives the Spirit without limit! That means the Spirit of God reaches even to us and to every generation. Even to those yet to be born. Isn’t this the best words we can receive on Father’s Day weekend or any day? Everything comes from Him! That means our life came from God! And our eternal life as well! He wants us! He loves us with an everlasting love and has provided a way for us to come to Him. He will give us an eternal home where we will be with the Father. Jesus said in Scripture, that He is the way there, and He is the truth (to think we have the truth in this world when all around us is lies) and the LIFE.” John 14:6 No one comes unto the Father, but through Him, Jesus.

Do you have that life today? Have you been born into the Kingdom of God? Is your trust in Him? If it is and you truly have, you will give evidence of that life. You will look like your heavenly Father. And as we have read, the Spirit comes without limits! He gives and gives and gives! Believe the Gospel which is Christ crucified, risen and coming again, and begin a whole new life! God’s gift! BELIEVE! By faith!! We haven’t yet seen our grandchild, but in the New Year we will see him or her? Nor can we yet see Jesus, but someday we will! Both Dave and I hope to see you then! Enjoy reading His Word, the Bible till then!

IMG_9850A future grandmother, Sharon

Even to your old age and gray hairs, I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you. Isaiah 46:4 NIV

The Tragic Outcome of the Uncertain Journey

IMG_1017Ruth 1:3-5

We again look at a small family, who left the Promised Land of God’s old covenant people to seek an easier life. It wasn’t a far departure, but it was unnecessary and away from the people and worship of the true and living God. (Remember that under the old covenant, worship of God was closely connected with the place God had chosen for the tabernacle or temple.) What happened to that family?

First, Elimelech died. We must be cautious here, because the Holy Spirit does not say that his death was due to being in Moab or because he failed to return to the Promised Land. Physical suffering and death may come for a variety of reasons. You can be living for God’s glory and still suffer or die. But for Naomi, this was a great tragedy, regardless of its cause. For a woman in ancient times, like Naomi, the death of her husband had serious financial consequences. Most women had no job they could fall back on, and there was no insurance or social security or welfare system. A widow basically had three options: to return to her parent’s home (if she could), to beg, or to become a prostitute. In addition, Naomi and her sons are resident aliens, away from family and the people of God. All that Naomi can depend on, in a worldly sense, is support from her two sons.

Second, Mahlon and Kilion married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. This is to be expected in the circumstances. Young people tend to make friends and fall in love with available companions of the opposite sex. If there are not godly people available, they will be guided by mere physical and emotional attraction. Marriage to anyone from a Canaanite people group was forbidden by the law (Deuteronomy 7:1-4). Although Moabites were not Canaanites, the Lord restricted them from entering the congregation of his people, even for ten generations (Deuteronomy 23:3-6). Later in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, intermarriage with Moabites was considered to be a cause of guilt before the Lord (Ezra 9:1-2; Nehemiah 13:1-3). The Lord wanted his people separate from those who worshiped idols.  How much influence Naomi had over her sons at this point is unclear. Please do not blame either parents or children for the choices that the other generation makes! Parents and children are alike responsible to God for their choices. And do not expect God to bail you out of unwise marital choices! For every Ruth, there is also an Orpah. Now Naomi has to deal with the complications of having Moabite daughters-in-law. Seemingly, they got along well, and everything appears to be viable for Naomi.

Third, Naomi’s sons die by the time they had been in Moab for ten years. Again, the text does not say that her sons were being punished for sin. But it is a reminder that death can strike younger adults. Two of my best friends died around the age of thirty. Seek the Lord while you are young! Now Naomi is left without any provision in a foreign country. Picture her grief and fear as she stands beside three graves. Her hopelessness is accentuated in the story by not mentioning her name. In the Hebrew text (cf. ESV, NASV), she is now simply “the woman”; she has lost her family and with it her identity.

What hope was there for Naomi at this point? Was there any? She was living as a resident alien among an ungodly people and without the protection that God and his law covenant provided for the widow. Had this rushing river of tragedy proved that God has abandoned her? Before you rush to give a “spiritual sounding answer”, please stop and feel the horror of her situation! The Bible seems too good to some people, because they fail to read it as a story of real life. However, the story is filled with many stories of suffering and hardship for even the best of believers. Stop and read thoughtfully. Yet, the good news is that God calls wandering people back to him, regardless of the reasons and ways of their wandering. If you feel “alone in Moab” like Naomi, God welcomes you back home through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ. He says, “Come home! Find friendship and joy with me and my people!” This good news can be yours today. Don’t let pride hinder you. Return to the true and living God today.

Grace and peace, David