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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:If God is your King, don't act as if there is none!
Text:Ruth 1:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis
 
Preached:2012-05-06
Added:2012-05-08
Updated:2012-05-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Liturgy from 1984 Book of Praise

Psalm 84:1,2

Psalm 25:2

Psalm 100:1,2,3,4

Psalm 25:6

Psalm 84:4,6

Read:  Judges 2:7-23; Ruth 1

Text:  Ruth 1:1-5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If you still have your Bible in your hands, turn your eyes to the last verse of the Book of Judges, Judges 21:25.

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

This is a bit of a refrain in the Book of Judges: Judges 17:6 says the same thing and chapter 18:1 and 19:1 also mentions the fact that Israel had no king. 

The days of the Judges, when there was no king in Israel, were terrible times of lawlessness and disorder, of rape and murder, of godlessness and misery and disaster.  There is nothing pretty about everyone doing what is right in his own eyes:  take away all restraints and it is as though we turn into something worse than animals.  The desire to be independent of God and His Word, to be free, to throw away all moral restraint, to re-write our definitions of good and evil, might sound appealing but it ends up in lawlessness, misery and the death of society.

You need to know that because what happened in those days of the Judges is not so different to what we see in the world around us today.  We observe a rejection of God and His law in the halls of Parliament and the changing laws of our land.  We also observe it in entertainment establishments of our city, and in our homes and suburbs.  The Christian foundations on which this country was largely built are crumbling and the kingdom that is being established in its place is one where collectively and individually, we do whatever is right in our own eyes.

But let us not just point the finger at the world around us.  Instead look at yourself, at your own heart.  Because the reason why we so quickly act as if there is no king and why every man so quickly does what is right in his own eyes is because of the sin that is lurking in the heart of each one of us.  Sin is lawlessness, 1 John 3:4 says, and indeed it is.  All the way back in Paradise, in Genesis chapter 3, when Adam and Eve fell into sin, they chose not to follow the ways of the LORD but to do what was right in their own eyes and to follow the ways of lawlessness.  And today it is the same old story.  For all our talk of independence and self expression and the rejection of absolute truth and universal norms, all this is just another way of rejecting the authority that God claims over your life.

In the days of the Judges there was no king in Israel, and every man did what was right in his own eyes.  But in those days there was a man whose name was Elimelech.  Elimelech: a name which means “My God is King.”  It was a good name but sadly Elimelech did not live up to it.  Like the rest of his generation, Elimelech forgot his name, forgot that the Lord is King, and lived as if there was none.

But what about you?  Your name might not be Elimelech, but you do have another name, the name of Christian.  And as a Christian you belong to Christ.  And Christ is God’s anointed King.  He is your King.  But do you live up to your name?  Do you follow your King or, when it comes to the crunch, do you too find yourself doing what is right in your own eyes?

And so I preach to you the Word of the Lord under the following theme:

If God is your king, don’t live as if there is none!

1.    Forsaking the Breadbasket of Israel

2.    For the Badlands of Moab.

1. Forsaking the Breadbasket of Israel.

It was only a few generations ago that the people of Israel had entered the Promised Land.  In Exodus 3:8 the LORD had told Moses that He had come to deliver His people out slavery in Egypt to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.  And indeed it was.  When the twelve spies who were sent by Moses to spy out the land in Numbers 13 came back, they said in verse 27,

“We went to the land where you sent us.  It truly flows with milk and honey . . .”

And then they showed the people of Israel pomegranates and figs and a cluster of grapes that was so big that two men had to carry it between them on a pole.

Forty years later, under Joshua, the people of Israel finally entered the Promised Land and each tribe was given its inheritance and each family received its own place.  The forefather of Elimelech was given a portion of the fields of Ephrathah at Bethlehem.  It was a good land in the hill country of Judah, a land for growing wheat and barley and for farming sheep.  It was a land of plenty, and this was reflected in the name of its town, Bethlehem, which means “House of Bread.”  Bethlehem:  the breadbasket of Israel.

But in verse 1 of Ruth 1, the Breadbasket was empty. 

“Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land.”

Now this was not just any land, and so it was not just any famine.  It was the Promised Land of milk and honey, the land in which the LORD God chose to dwell with His people.  The Lord had promised them that if they served Him as their King, He would bless them.  He said in Leviticus 26:3-5,

“If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments, and perform them, then I will give you rain in its season, the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit.  Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely.”

But the Lord also said something else.  If Israel despised God’s laws and judgments, did not keep His commandments and broke His covenant, then, Leviticus 26:19,20, then

“I will make your heavens like iron and your earth like bronze.  And your strength shall be spent in vain; for your land shall not yield its produce, nor shall the trees of the land yield their fruit.”

In Old Testament Israel, therefore, a famine was not just a common natural disaster: a famine was an expression of God’s displeasure at His people for their rejection of Him!  What God was saying through the famine to Elimelech and the rest of the inhabitants of Bethlehem, the House of Bread, was that they must repent and once more serve the Lord as their God and King.

For in the days of the Judges the people of Israel had forgotten the LORD and did not live in covenant obedience to Him.  We read together from Judges 2 and it is quite shocking to read in that chapter just how quickly the people of Israel forgot the LORD their God.  Towards the end of his life Joshua had said in Joshua 24:16,

“As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD”

and all the people had said to Joshua “We too will serve the LORD.”

And the people did indeed serve the LORD for that generation.  But listen to what it says in Judges 2:10,

“When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the LORD nor the work which He had done for Israel.”

In spite of the fact that the LORD had given the Law to His people and commanded that they read this regularly and that His people be instructed in His ways, the people of Israel forgot.  And forgetting the LORD, they turned to idols, the gods of the people around them and they bowed down to them.  And the people of Israel began that steady spiral downwards as described in the Book of Judges. 

In many ways the book of Judges makes for depressing reading.  As Judges 2 describes, the people forgot about the LORD who had established His covenant with them, had brought them out of Egypt and given them this land of milk and honey where they would live before Him.  Instead of serving the LORD they turned to the false gods of the people around them.  This then provoked the LORD to anger and He punished them by sending enemies against them.  The people then suffered greatly at the hands of their enemies and in their distress they cried out to God.  In His grace and mercy the LORD heard their cries and raised up Judges, leaders who rescued them from their enemies.  But when the Judges died the people returned to their rebellious ways.  They forgot the LORD their God and once more turned to idols.  But the book of Judges does not just describe an ever-repeating cycle: it describes a spiral, a spiral going down.  Until in Judges 17 – 21 the situation got so bad that all manner of wickedness took place.  And so came the conclusion to the book of Judges,

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

And now, in Ruth 1, there was a famine in the Breadbasket of Israel, in Bethlehem.  The exact time in the days of the Judges that the events of Ruth 1 took place is not clear, but most commentators think it was in the days of Gideon.  In those days food was in short supply and the famine was caused by the Midianites, who ravaged the country, stealing whatever food they could lay their hands on.  (You can read about that in Judges 6.)  If the events of Ruth 1 did take place in that time, this would make sense as to why there was a famine in Bethlehem but food in Moab, a place that often received less rain and was not so far from Bethlehem, on the other side of the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea. 

Now in Bethlehem there was a man named Elimelech, My God is King, who was married to a woman named Naomi, which means “pleasant, lovely, or delightful” and they had two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.  And when the Famine struck Bethlehem and the Breadbasket was empty, Elimelech did not stay with his people, nor in the land of his inheritance, but he took his wife and two sons to dwell in the country of Moab. 

Now perhaps according to Elimelech’s own view of things, the move made perfect logical sense.  In Bethlehem things were tight, while on the other side of the Jordan, in Moab, there was food and a (temporary) future for his family.  Wouldn’t you have done the same?  Wasn’t it the wise thing to do – get out while you’ve still got the chance and move to a place where things are better?

But moving to Moab was not a reasonable choice and it was not right in God’s eyes for Elimelech to do this.  For the LORD had not given the land of Moab to His people, but the land of Canaan.  In fact, the LORD specifically told His people in Deuteronomy 2:9,

“Do not harass Moab, nor contend with them in battle, for I will not give you any of their land as a possession.”

The land of Moab was not for the people of Israel to take, and God’s people had no right to live there.  And not only that, but the Moabites were godless heathens while Israel was to be a nation set apart from the nations around them, holy to the LORD.  And so leaving Bethlehem for Moab was not an option:  Elimelech should never have done this.  Instead, he should have seen the famine for what it was:  the chastisement of the LORD, a punishment sent by Him to call His people to repentance and faith, that they might once more call upon Him to provide for all their needs.  Elimelech should have acknowledged the LORD his God and then called his family and his neighbours, the rest of the people of Bethlehem, to repent and to once more serve the LORD as their King.  By leaving the Breadbasket of Israel for Moab, Elimelech was denying his own name.  For instead of submitting to God his King, he acted as if he had no king.  He did what was right in his own eyes.

But what about you?  For you are a Christian.  You were baptised into God’s covenant and congregation, you have been marked as one holy unto the Lord.  How do you live?  What is it that causes you to make the choices that you make in your daily life, your work, your choice of job, your friendships, your marriages, and so forth?  What is it that motivates you to do the things that you do?  Is it your comfort and security?  Is it the pursuit of earthly treasures for your family? Your happiness and success?  What ultimately feels good, seems good, is good in your own eyes?

We can so quickly become what is sometimes referred to as practical atheists.  We can so easily profess our faith in Christ but fail to live for him, disregarding God and His Word in our life or conduct.  Although God is our King, we sometimes still find ourselves living as if we have none.  But He is our King, and when we serve Him as our King, walking in His ways, obedient to His Word, we will be blessed.  No, it is not the same for us as it was for Elimelech.  For the people of Israel in the Old Testament the Breadbasket was promised to always be full when the people turned to Him in faith, and famine would come when they forsook the LORD their God.  Today we live in different times and the Holy Spirit directs to look not for physical bread as a sign of God’s pleasure but for our partaking in the Bread that came down from heaven, Jesus Christ.  But for us too, the way of unfaithfulness leads to death, while the paths marked out by God our King brings us life.  And so turn to the LORD, trust in Him and walk in His ways.  Proverbs 3:5,6 says,

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

2. The Badlands of Moab.

The story gets worse.  Not only did Elimelech leave Bethlehem, the Breadbasket of Israel, but he left it for . . . the badlands of Moab! 

The Moabites were descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham, who committed incest with his daughters.  (You can read about that in Genesis 19.)  The Moabites lived on a strip of land about 20km wide, between the Jordan Valley and the Syrian desert.  Some of their land can indeed be classed as badlands, with steep, washed out gullies and deep gorges, barren lands towards the Dead Sea with little or no topsoil.  But there was also land that could be cultivated, a land that may have received less rainfall on average, but was quite similar in nature to the fields of Ephrathah in the region of Bethlehem.  And it was likely to those lands, or the cities in those lands, that Elimelech took his family.  What they planned to do there is not clear.  Perhaps they went as nomads; perhaps they joined those who managed flocks of sheep.  Perhaps they used what money they still had to conduct some form of business or to secure the right to farm a small piece of land.  But Elimelech took his family there to dwell there at least for a time believing it to be a good land where they could live and prosper and be happy.  But it was not a good land: it was a bad land – for Elimelech, that is, - and the family did not find life but death, they did not find happiness but pain and bitterness.

But why was it such a bad land for Elimelech to take his family?  Why was it that in taking his family there Elimelech, who’s name means “My God is King” acted as if he had no king? 

Well if Elimelech knew his history, he should have known how wrong it was not just to leave the Breadbasket of Israel, but to leave it for Moab.  When the people of Israel wanted to pass through the land of Moab on their way to the Promised Land, the Moabites did not treat them well.  They refused to sell them food and drink and they refused to let them pass through their land along the road that passed through their territory, the King’s Highway.  And then the king of Moab, Balak, hired the prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel.  And then even worse, in Numbers 25, the men of Israel committed harlotry with the women of Moab and the women of Moab invited them to join in with their wicked idol worship.  And this was so terrible that not only did it lead to the death of  those who joined in with this wickedness as well as a further 24,000 Israelites, but the LORD forbade the Moabites from entering the assembly of the LORD, the Tabernacle, to the tenth generation.  And concerning the Moabites He also said in Deuteronomy 23:6,

“You shall not seek their peace nor their prosperity all your days forever.”

But Elimelech ignored all of this, he did not listen to the command of the LORD, but he did what was right in his own eyes and went to Moab to dwell there.  And while he may have gone there on a temporary basis, once he was there, Elimelech and his family settled down.  The end of verse 2 –

“And they went to the country of Moab and remained there.”

It should not surprise us, therefore, that the LORD did not bless Elimelech in his move to Moab.  Instead of life and prosperity and happiness, the family was met with death, poverty and bitterness.  First Elimelech died.  Then his sons took wives from the people of Moab – a thing they were forbidden to do – but for the next ten years neither Mahlon nor Chilion received any children.  And then Mahlon died, and Chilion died.  And only Naomi, along with her two Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, were left.

And if that is where the story ended, and that is where the LORD left Naomi, to die a lonely death in bad land, separated from her people, void of her inheritance, and outside of the covenant of God’s grace, He would have been just.  As a family they did not obey God as their King, and these were the consequences.  You can expect to reap what you sow.

But wasn’t that the same for Adam and Eve, after they had sinned in Paradise?  Wasn’t that the same for Abraham after he had gone down to Egypt and got himself into a mess there after saying that Sarah was his sister?  Wasn’t that the same for the nation of Israel, when, on their way to the Promised Land they had had failed to trust that God would give them the victory over their enemy?  Wasn’t that the same for the whole nation of Israel in the days of the Judges?  Wasn’t that the same for the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 who ended up destitute and feeding pigs in a foreign land?  Wasn’t that the same for you and for me? 

But this is what the book of Ruth is all about: how God in His grace reaches out to a people who failed to serve Him as their King in order to provide them with a king after His own heart so that His people might once more live with Him as children of His covenant.  And as, God Willing, we go through the Book of Ruth in the coming weeks we will see how the LORD shows His grace to Naomi, to Ruth, and ultimately to Israel and to us all.  Today we will leave Naomi in the badlands of Moab with no husband, no sons, no future and no hope.  But having read the first chapter of Ruth we already know that she will not stay there: she will arise and return to her God and her people in Bethlehem.  For God meets us in our rebellion.  To quote from one Bible commentator, Iain Duguid,

“God’s grace transcends our rebellion, and not only leaves the door open for us to retrace our steps, but stirs our hearts to see our folly and the welcoming arms that await our return.”[1]

And whenever one of God’s children turn back to Him, His arms will always welcome them in.  His arms are also there for you.  His arms are also there for me.  Also when we, in our folly, did not serve God as our King but did what was right in our own eyes and reaped the consequences of it, we can turn back to Him.  No matter where you have been or what you have done, the beginning of the journey back is always just one step away. 

If God is your king, don’t live as if there was none.  But if, one day, you come to your senses and find that you have not served Him as your King but did what was right in your own eyes, then take that first step, and then another, and come back.  And then, trusting in Him, and relying on His grace, do not stop or falter.  Come back to be fully embraced in His covenant love, come back to be counted in as a member of His Church, come back to enjoy your full place as a citizen of His Kingdom.

And God will receive you.  For He was pleased to call back Naomi and with her Ruth.  And from Ruth came the line of David which ultimately led to our great King and Saviour, Jesus Christ.  And in Him we who left our King to do what was right in our own eyes, are forgiven and restored to life and the fullness of joy at His right hand.  Amen.



[1] Iain Duguid, “Reformed Expository Commentary: Esther & Ruth”, 2005, P&R, p136.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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