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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
Title:Leaving God is leaving life!
Text:Ruth 1:1-5 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Maintaining the Antithesis

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

NOTE:  all songs from the 2010 Book of Praise

Psalm 75:1-3, 6

Psalm 14:1,2 (after the law)

Psalm 34:1-4

Psalm 56:1,5

Hymn 66

Scripture reading:  Judges 2:11-23

Text:  Ruth 1:1-5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus,

We live in a culture of death.  It’s not always in your face, but it’s always there.  If you want proof, consider this:  any baby born alive recently is a survivor.  Every nine months at least 48,000 unborn children are murdered in this country in clinics and hospitals.  Thousands of abortions take place every month in Canada.  It’s gruesome, violent, and deadly.  It’s take place behind closed doors so it’s easy to forget, but the reality cannot be denied.  It’s a culture of death. 

If you need further evidence, recently there was a major event in the entertainment industry.  A video game was released.  On its launch day, it made $800 million.  On its second day, it surpassed the $1 billion mark.  In Grand Theft Auto V, players have the opportunity to torture and “kill gratuitously, graphically, and repeatedly.”  The game reportedly offers “an exaggerated world of violence, crime, and sleaze.”  It’s blatantly “violent, crude, and sexual.”  This is what our world values for entertainment.  It’s a celebration of death and violence.  It’s what you would expect to see in a culture of death.  I could give you many more examples from TV, movies, and music.  It’s all around us.

This morning we’re beginning a new series of sermons on the book of Ruth.  If there is one thing that is clear right from the start of this book, it’s the difference between life and death.  The entire Bible teaches us quite clearly to love life and treasure it.  This is the message of the sixth commandment.  It’s not only that we do not kill, but also that we do everything we can to promote life and protect it.  God wants us to turn away from death and killing.  He doesn’t want his children to think that these things are to be celebrated or embraced.  God wants us to have life and he wants us to love life.  That’s why he teaches us in our text this morning that leaving God is leaving life.  We’ll look at this Israelite family mentioned here and the:

  1. Drought they suffered
  2. Decisions they took
  3. Death they met

The book of Ruth begins at a low point in the history of God’s people.  It takes place at some point in the period of the judges.  The last verse of the book of Judges says it all, “In those days there was no king in Israel.  Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  What we read from chapter 2 of Judges expands on that.  The people of Israel had just been delivered from Egypt.  They had been brought into the Promised Land.  Joshua died and then soon afterwards, says verse 13, “They abandoned the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth.”  They served idols, “they whored after other gods” says verse 17 of Judges 2.  That had consequences in every area of life.  When you don’t serve the true God, you don’t care about following his commandments in any realm.  In your mind you become your own master, you follow your own will and just do what you want.  That’s what was often happening in the period of the judges.  People didn’t want to serve God as king, so they just did what was right in their own eyes.  Periodically, God would raise up a judge and there would be some improvement, but this was only a temporary fix.  The overall picture of the book of Judges is one of apostasy and unfaithfulness. 

God had promised that this kind of apostasy, this turning away from him, that would catch his attention.  He would do something about it.  He was in a covenant relationship with Israel, and under the terms of that covenant, God promised that he would do something if his people were unfaithful.  This is clear in Deuteronomy 11:16-17, “Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you.”  This speaks of God disciplining his people with a drought.  If they would abandon him, he would send a famine to get their attention.  He would take away his blessings from them.  That’s exactly what he did in the days of the judges, at the beginning of the book of Ruth.

Verse 1 of our text tells us that there was a famine or drought in the land.  This was a serious situation.  Today we live in a world where food can be transported almost anywhere.  But in those days, a famine meant death for many people, especially the elderly, the young, and the sick.  A famine meant inevitable death because of a lack of food.  With every gnawing hunger pang in an Israelite stomach, God was trying to wake up his people so that they would see their spiritual state, their lostness and brokenness.  He wanted them to see their sins and turn back to him and live.  But the people were stubborn.  They would rather have had no food and die, than give up their idols, turn to God, and live.  In that you can see the utter foolishness of sin.  “The wages of sin is death,” but yet people choose it anyway.  How foolish!  And we can apply to ourselves too and all the times that we choose sin over obedience.  It makes no sense.   

Then we have this man Elimelech.  His name means “My God is king.”  His life says something else.  He lives in Bethlehem.  Bethlehem means “house of bread.”  There is little bread to be had.  The irony in these names is pretty hard to miss.

Elimelech and his wife Naomi were part of the people living under the covenant curse of drought.  Scripture doesn’t tell us that they were believing people who followed the ways of the LORD.  Instead, there are several indications that they were anything but.  Like the rest of their countrymen, they were walking in apostasy and unfaithfulness.  Instead of turning away from their sin and seeking God and encouraging people around them to do likewise, they decided to run away from their problems.  Elimelech and Naomi didn’t want to continue living under the covenant discipline of the LORD and they thought that they could escape by going to another country.  They decided for Moab.  Moab was not very far away and the famine was not in that land.  Moab had abundant food and Elimelech and his family could live quite comfortably there.

Now in one sense we can understand why Elimelech took that decision.  He wanted to provide for his wife and two sons.  It’s a noble thing to want to take care of your family.  But in another sense, it wasn’t right.  He was running away from life in the covenant.  He might have been happy to receive covenant blessings, but curses were unacceptable.  Later in the chapter, Naomi seems to understand this.  In verse 21, she says that the LORD has testified against her.  That language indicates awareness of wrong-doing.  At that point, she knows that she has been in the wrong.

The land of Israel had been full of death, but within the covenant the possibility was there for life.  The people could have repented.  They could have sought the LORD with tears.  They could have gone to the tabernacle and offered the sacrifices that spoke of forgiveness and reconciliation through blood.  They could have benefitted from that sacrificial system which pointed ahead to our Lord Jesus and his sacrifice for sin.  The way was open to the mercy of God.

Instead, Elimelech and Naomi took a decision to go look for life elsewhere.  They thought that they would find life in Moab.  Now, of course, Moab was a pagan country.  The Moabites were descendants of Lot by an incestuous union with his daughter.  They were regarded as Gentiles.  Not only that, but they had been a thorn in Israel’s side.  During the Exodus, the king of Moab tried to get Balaam to curse Israel.  On the plains of Moab, the Israelites were enticed to idolatry by Moabite women.   I’m sure you remember Eglon the king of Moab.  He attacked Israel and put them under his yoke.  Left-handed Ehud finished him off with a sword to his belly.  The Moabites were not allies of Israel and they were certainly not worshippers of the one true God.  They were idolaters and they had a reputation for that.  Elimelech would have known that.  But he didn’t care.  As the spiritual leader of his family, he was supposed to bring them closer to God.  But instead, he took a decision to bring his family to live among pagan idolaters away from God, away from the tabernacle, away from any possibility of forgiveness and reconciliation with God.  Did he think that the LORD would bless this?

Well, he didn’t.  At the beginning of verse 3, Elimelech meets death rather than life.  This nominal Israelite thought he could escape God’s judgment, but it caught up to him.  The day came when he left this life and had to meet his Judge and Maker.  Whether in Israel or in Moab or anywhere else, when you die, you still have to face the LORD.  You might think you’re running away from him here, but he always catches up to you. 

Elimelech’s death left Naomi a widow.  Back in those days, a widow could be in serious trouble.  But Naomi would have been okay because she had those two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.  If your husband died, sons could be just as protective as a husband.  Widows were vulnerable and they could easily be taken advantage of by the unscrupulous.  Widows could have land and possessions stolen from under them.  But if you had sons, especially grown-up sons, you could count on male voices speaking up for you and defending your interests.  You were safe with sons. 

In verse 4, we find that these sons Mahlon and Chilion decided to get married.  They took wives for themselves.  However, they didn’t go back to the Promised Land to find good, godly wives from among the Israelites.  They didn’t search for women who would raise their children in the covenant.  Instead, they married women from Moab.  They married women who didn’t believe in the one true God.  From front to back, the Bible tells believers something different.  The classic passage is 2 Corinthians 6:14-15, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers.  For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness.  Or what fellowship has light with darkness?  What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what does a believer share with an unbeliever?”  What does Moab have to do with Israel?  As Israelites, Mahlon and Chilion should have married in the LORD.  But they decided to follow their own wisdom, just as their father had done in moving to Moab.  And what about Naomi?  Did she protest when her sons got into relationships with these Moabite women?  Scripture does not say that she did.  Given the nominal character of this family, it’s fair to conclude that she said nothing of the sort.  She allowed her sons to get married to these women from outside of the covenant.  It was a sort of permissive love that did them no favours, a permissive love that would not serve their eternal welfare.

The women were Orpah and Ruth.  We’ll hear more about them as we move on in this series of sermons.  But I’m sure you already know about Ruth.  You know that she ends up being a godly woman.  Someone could read this then and say, “Sure, maybe it was wrong for Mahlon and Chilion to take Moabite wives, but it all worked out.  Ruth ended up being a believer.”  Then the temptation might be there to rationalize our own actions.  After all, if it worked out then, maybe it will work out for me too.  The problem is not only that God’s Word tells you to do otherwise, but also that you don’t know how things will work out.  It’s a gamble and the odds are against you enormously.  Over the years as a pastor, I have dealt with marriage problems, more than I care to remember.  You know, many of those problems involved a believer getting married to an unbeliever, to someone who did not believe in Jesus Christ in a real and meaningful way.  Typically within ten years things unravelled.  Loved ones, I urge you to listen to the wisdom of God’s Word.  What they call “flirt to convert” almost never works.  There is almost never a real conversion through a romantic relationship.  What happened with Ruth is the exceptional exception.  It can happen, but it is rare.

Moreover, people often forget about Orpah.  How did it work out for her?  After Naomi leaves, Orpah continues worshipping her idols.  Being married to an Israelite did her no spiritual good.  Rather than look at Ruth and think that our situation is going to be like hers, we need to realize that Orpah is the norm.  What happens with her is what typically happens.

Back to our text and let’s look at what it says at the end of verse 4.   It says that “they lived there for about ten years.”  For a whole decade, the family of Elimelech lived among the Moabites.  That’s telling us that they didn’t stay there a little while.  No, they got themselves very comfortable in that heathen land. 

Then we come to verse 5 and we find something shocking.  Both Mahlon and Chilion die too.  That means disaster for Naomi – she’s left all alone.  Now she is a true widow, no male family members in her life to protect her.  She has nobody left except her two daughters-in-law.  No husband, no son, and no grandchildren.  That last point is worth noting here.  Ruth and Orpah didn’t have any children with Mahlon and Chilion.  Verse 4 makes it sound as if they were married for ten years.  In those ten years, both couples were childless.  This was not a coincidence, not a freak occurrence.  In Deuteronomy 28, the LORD had warned that apostasy would result in a curse on the fruit of the womb.  If God’s people refused to listen to him, they would be barren and left without a coming generation.  This childlessness is another sign of God’s withholding his blessings from the family of Elimelech.  He was trying to get their attention so that they would repent and return to him.  The wombs of Orpah and Ruth were as good as dead.  So when Mahlon and Chilion die, there are no grandchildren, there is no future.  The family is at a dead-end.

Death had come after the whole family of Naomi.  Death took her husband away and then her two sons.  They thought that they would find life in Moab.  They thought that running away from God and his covenant would bring them blessings and a bright future.  But it brought nothing but death and loneliness.  There was so much hurt and brokenness because they refused to submit to God and follow his ways.  They chose their own foolish path and disaster after disaster ensued.

Loved ones, in some ways things have not changed.  Like this Israelite family, we belong to God’s covenant.  Like them, we have received great promises.  Unlike them, these promises are all the more vivid because we live after the coming of Christ.  And to whom much is given, from them much more will be required. God will hold us all the more accountable for what we did with his covenant promises.  If we turn our backs on the LORD, we can count on big-time death coming after us.  Perhaps your spouse and children won’t die, but we ourselves shall die someday, unless Christ returns first.  When you die, you will stand before God.  He will judge you and what you have done, also what you did with your baptism and the promises that were made there.  If you’ve turned your back on him and unrepentantly gone your own foolish way, eternal death awaits.  Death will be your first, middle, and last name.  Death will be your past, present, and future.  Death will be to the left and to the right, up and down, all around.  You will know nothing but death and horror into eternity.

Brothers and sisters, our text warns us not to turn our backs on the God of life.  Instead, we are called to turn to God with true faith in Christ.  Our Lord Jesus called himself “the life.” In John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.”  And he said in John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.   He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”  You see, if we turn from our sinful foolishness and turn to Christ, accepting what God has promised us, we will have life, we will have it abundantly, and we will have it forever!  That’s God’s good news that addresses the bad news sinners make for themselves.

Now if we believe in Jesus, that means we are united to the one who called himself “the life.”  We are joined to him through faith and through the Holy Spirit.  Being joined to “the life” has got to have an impact on how we live in this culture of death.  Being joined to Christ means that we love what he loves.  He loves to follow God’s will – we want to love to follow God’s will, also when it comes to turning our backs on death.  Loved ones, because we are in Christ, we cannot participate in the culture of death.  We have to be pro-life.  That means doing everything we can to put an end to the abortion holocaust in our country.  But it also has implications for how we relate to the entertainment that our culture offers.  That music that glorifies darkness and death – that’s not fitting for Christians.  Movies which feature gratuitous violence and bloodshed – it’s not fitting entertainment for those united to the one who said he is “the life.”  Video games which draw you in and have you wantonly and graphically ending lives, participating in torture and murder – what can a true Christian have to do with any of that?  That should be repulsive and disgusting to us, not entertaining.  If we’re in Christ, we’re going to love life and promote it, because this is what we’ve been saved to do.  Life is what Christ came to give us, but also what he called us to.  Life is what living for God is all about. 

In our text for this morning, there is a glimmer of life.  At the end of verse 5, not everyone is dead.  God has kept the weakest people in our text alive.  He has allowed three widows to go on living.  That’s for a reason.  He is going to use these widows in his bigger plan.  He is going to bring life through these poor widow women, specifically through Ruth and Naomi.  Through Ruth and Naomi, God is also going to work to bring life to us.  You see, Ruth is an ancestor of our Lord Jesus.  In his providence, God brought Jesus into this world through Ruth.  There will be more to say about that in the weeks to come as we work our way through this book.  But for now, see this:  the people in our text left God and left life.  It is only because of God and his grace that there is any life left at all.  When people try to be in control, there is no hope, only death.  But with God there is hope and there is life, there is salvation.  AMEN. 


O God of life,

Left to ourselves, we wallow in death.  We make sinful foolish choices that destroy ourselves and others around us.  In our old nature, we have a love affair with what will kill us.  We need you and we need the life that you offer in Jesus Christ.  Please help us all to look to him for life.  Please help us with your Spirit to look to him in faith today and always.  Please strengthen our bond with Christ so that we would love what he loves, so that we would love life and turn backs on death and everything associated with it.

We pray for this culture of death in which we live.  Father, we think especially of the holocaust of abortion in our land.  We pray for those who are diligently working to end it, to save lives, to promote justice.  We pray for our government, that they would see the need for a law to protect the weakest members of society.  We pray for pregnant women who might be tempted to have an abortion – please bring them the help they need so that they choose life.  We pray for those who have had abortions too, we pray that you would help them to find forgiveness and healing in the one who said that he is “the life.” 

Father, we pray that this culture of death in which we live can be rolled back.  Please use us to help direct people away from this foolishness and to your wisdom and your life in Christ.  We ask you to give us opportunities to speak about true life in Jesus.  We pray that you would give us courage to take those opportunities when they present themselves. 

And we pray for our children.  Please help them as they grow to embrace the promises of life signed and sealed in their baptism.  Please work in all of them through the Lord and Giver of Life, your Holy Spirit.  Help them to love the life that you give in Christ.  We pray this because we love them, but we also pray it because we long to see your Name glorified in them.                              


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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