08 Lessons from Ruth - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Slippery slopes - Ruth

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Slippery Slopes to sin - Lessons from Ruth

Worldly wisdom
or how careless talk costs lives

Reading: Ruth 1:1-22


Introduction
During the Second World War my mother worked as a telegraph operator. The work was important – she was one of the team that would have communicated the Normandy Invasion orders and as such secrecy and discretion were vital. As the well-known propaganda publicity of the day put it: Careless Talk Costs Lives.

Careless talk or talk inspired merely by worldly wisdom can also cause great damage when it comes to spiritual matters and in the little Book of Ruth we have some examples from which to learn.

As a whole the Book of Ruth is a wonderful little example of God’s sovereign control over the world of men and women as he moved forward his plan of salvation. Nothing that men or women could do would be allowed to frustrate his gracious plans.

Naomi after passing through some grievous experiences was then profoundly blessed with a grandson through her daughter-in-law Ruth.

Ruth was a foreigner belonging to a nation under God’s curse. She is wonderfully and graciously integrated into God’s own people and even given the privilege of being made an ancestor to the future King David and through him, of course, to the Messiah himself.

Boaz was an older unmarried man who was given a worthy wife after he had carried out the responsibilities of a kinsman-redeemer. In carrying out this responsibility he left a clear example of how the Messiah would function.

As we dig a little deeper we discover that in successfully pursuing his plan the LORD had to weave not just the good and faithful behaviour of his chosen ones but also their weaknesses and faithlessness too.

This evening we are going to focus our thoughts on Naomi. She was a genuine believer and member of the people of God but that didn’t stop her from doing some foolish things and from giving some pretty appalling advice.

The Bible does not present us with a succession of one dimensional characters – the vast majority of its heroes are flawed individuals with a mixture of strengths and weaknesses. This is so helpful because we do not live in a one dimensional world and the people we meet and rub shoulders with are also
made up of a mixture of the good and the bad.

It is also helpful because it also shows us that our mistakes and failures neither inhibit God from carrying out his plans nor exclude us from his people.

It does however also supply us with a warning: even believers can do some very foolish things. We should learn tolerance of those mistakes in others and resolve to try not to make them ourselves.


Naomi’s Experiences and her first piece of bad advice
Naomi lived in that period of history when "there was no King in Israel (and) everyone did what was right in his own eyes."

She was married to a man named Elimelech with whom she had two sons and they lived in Bethlehem. All was going very well for Ruth – she would look back on this time and describe it as a time when she "was full" and then the wheels began to come off.

A famine occurred. Now famines had happened before and would happen again but Elimelech took the fateful decision to leave the Promised Land and to look for food elsewhere. Others stayed on in Bethlehem and survived whereas Naomi was to live the next 10 years in Moab.

Both Abraham and Isaac had acted similarly when they had been faced with famine conditions. They followed human logic and worldly reasoning and both ended up in compromised situations as both exposed their wives to serious danger.

There is no hint that Elimelech and Naomi acted any better. It was their decision to leave their home town of Bethlehem – which rather ironically means "house of bread" – to emigrate to nearby Moab. Their decision to leave was hardly brimming with faith.

Moab had been the last country that Israel had passed through on the way to the Promised Land – Moab had opposed Israel then and remained an inveterate enemy. Because of this behaviour Moab was cursed. It was a nation where moral standards were low and where sexual licence prevailed. It was a strange choice for members of God’s elect to seek sanctuary.

While there things went from bad to worse for Naomi. First she lost her husband and then her two sons, after marrying local Moabite girls, also died. Naomi was a believer and she knew that what had happened to her did so under the LORD’s sovereign hand – she had become bitter but had not renounced her faith. When word came that food was again in plentiful supply back at home Naomi decided to return.

It is at this point that Naomi starts to give some very poor advice and served as a poor advert for discipleship of the One True Living God.

Invoking the LORD’s blessing upon her two daughters-in-law Naomi then proceeded to encourage them to go back to their own mothers and so to stay put in Moab. We can put whatever gloss we like upon this action but it was wrong. She followed worldly logic and got things very wrong indeed.

It is again interesting to note that Naomi must have lived up to her name which meant "pleasant" because both of her daughters-in-law are not eager to abandon her. Orpah gave in when Naomi made it look like the only way forward to marriage was to stay in Moab and so she reluctantly left Naomi.

A believer should commend the LORD God to others but her Naomi does just the reverse. She portrays discipleship as hard and unprofitable:

Ruth 1:13 "for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the LORD has gone out against me."


Naomi then turned her attention to Ruth and urged her too to stay in Moab. Her words reveal the seriousness of her mistake.

Trying to convince Ruth to stay in Moab Naomi points to the decision Orpah had taken. But have you taken note of just what she said:

Ruth 1:15 "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law."


"and to her gods"


To stay in Moab meant abandoning the LORD and that was what Naomi was foolishly urging the two others to do. "Careless talk costs lives" what hope of a genuine spiritual life for Orpah from then on?

Ruth however held fast. Not only was she intent on returning with Naomi she wanted to follow Naomi’s God too!

Ruth 1:16 "Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God."


Through Naomi’s witness Ruth had come to desire Naomi’s God whom she knew to be God, the Almighty, the LORD.

The poor, worldly advice that Naomi gave was out of line with her testimony as a true believer. She was still a believer but was depressed and out of sorts and it was as a depressed believer that she made her mistakes. But unwise advice and foolish counsel did not stop God furthering his plans.

There is a clear warning for us here and lessons for us to learn:

  • Don’t give up on a believer because of some foolish mistakes – such mistakes are not the defining feature of the person. Naomi was fundamentally a struggling believer who didn’t act in an exemplary fashion but she was still a believer and God still had her in his plans.


  • Beware lest you are found to be discouraging others from following the LORD. The believer is encouraged in the NT to always be ready to a reason for the hope that is within him (1Pet.3:15) not to be always ready to fill the ears of others with a long list of our struggles and woes as though that was the sum total of our lives as Christian believers.



Back home in Bethlehem
The scene changes and Naomi has arrived back in her home town of Bethlehem along with her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Here she is recognised but at once gives expression to her sadness and bitterness of soul – Naomi really is a depressed believer and her example reminds that this is a real possibility.

One of the problems such a believer has (and I’m using depression in a loose way and not as a medical diagnosis) is that he or she will focus exclusively upon their own appreciation of their immediate circumstances. God’s plans and promises find little or no place in such a believer’s thoughts. Naomi’s faith while still there has become so dull that she exhibits very little trust if any in God.

And none of us is exempt from similar temptations. We are all creatures of time and we can all allow our limited understanding of our own circumstances to dominate out entire outlook. We may, like Naomi, continue to take the name of the LORD upon our lips and all the while fail to trust him because we cannot see what it is that he is doing. It is but a small step from failing to see or understand what he is doing to behaving as though he had no plans.

The end of the Book of Ruth will make it abundantly plain that God had his plans and that he was quietly working his purposes out as year succeeded to year. Naomi will be brought to realise that she is not cast off nor that she has been harshly treated but rather she occupies a place of blessing in his plan. She will become via her daughter-in-law the grandmother of a child from whose line will come King David. And we know that from David would come God’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Naomi wasn’t being discarded but was closely involved with the most important elements of God’(s eternal plan of salvation.

However for the moment Naomi didn’t see that and in her grumpy, worldly state she would continue to make some bad choices and offer some dangerous advice.

Back in Bethlehem it is Ruth who takes the initiative – she and her mother-in-law have material needs and Ruth came up with a idea of how to proceed. She suggested that she should go and glean in the fields during harvest-time. The law made provision for the poor granting them certain rights to gather grain in fields belonging to others and Ruth proposed to avail herself of this right.

It wasn’t an altogether safe thing to do as is brought out in the text. A young woman out in the fields alone might attract the unwelcome attention of any number of red-blooded young men in the vicinity. That such was the case can be deduced from the specific instructions Boaz issued to his own men when he was made aware of what Ruth was doing:

Ruth 2:8-9 "Now, listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Let your eyes be on the field that they are reaping, and go after them. Have I not charged the young men not to touch you?"


For some time day after day Ruth continued to glean in the field’s belonging to Boaz who looked upon her with great consideration.

Then Naomi decided that things could do with a bit of a push, a helping scheming hand.

Naomi knew about the responsibilities of a kinsman-redeemer and she knew that Boaz was a near kinsman – but he didn’t seem to be doing anything. And the harvest was now gathered in – it was time for the barley to be winnowed at the threshing floor.

And Naomi had a plan. Ruth had go to Boaz and effectively make a play for him!

What appalling and dangerous advice this was that Naomi now gave to Ruth. She sent her off alone and at night too with instructions as to have to proceed.

It was dangerous advice – if it was dangerous for a woman to be in the fields during the day-time how much more so to be sneaking around in the dark! And the instructions were very suggestive – it was tantamount to asking Ruth to throw herself at Boaz with a big "Here I am take me".

What a procedure! Hadn’t it crossed Naomi’s mind to speak directly to Boaz? Or perhaps she thought he could be more easily drawn in by a bit of suggestive subterfuge.

Happily for Ruth who, coming from a sexually depraved culture might have known no better, Boaz was an honourable man. He did not take advantage of the situation and acted in a way to preserve her reputation about Naomi seemed to have been totally unconcerned.

In the event all turned out for the best because God can use even the stupidity of human actions designed to secure their own selfish interests to accomplish his plans.

God providentially overruled all the details and Boaz did the right thing. He didn’t abuse his position but acted uprightly through it all. Like Joseph before him he had shunned temptation and proceeded to do things in a godly manner.

An the outcome? A wedding and later a child. The line of the coming Messiah continued to develop.


Conclusion
How heartened we should by God’s wonderful reign that he can weave even human foolishness into the fulfilment of his plans!

And in the fulfilment of this glorious plan God demonstrates his free grace:

  • To a weak, depressed and faltering believer called Naomi.

  • To a foreign woman who would, without such grace, be forever excluded from the blessings that belong to God’s people

  • To Boaz in supplying him with a wife and placing him firmly in the genealogy of the Messiah.

  • To us – who get not only to see God’s grace at work in the lives of people like us but we also are given an insight of the work and mission of the Lord Jesus Christ in the type of the kinsman-redeemer exemplified in the life of Boaz.


But we are not to misuse these truths and act as though our own decisions and our behaviour are unimportant because God will work things out anyway. We should learn to avoid godless behaviour but without being crippled by fear of being rejected when we do come up short.  

Amen.

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