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Author:Rev. David Stares
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Congregation:Reformed Church of Masterton
 New Zealand
Title:God's Daughters Come Home
Text:Ruth 1:1-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Rev. David Stares (transcription credit - Seth and Esther de Reus)

Ruth Chapter 1: God’s Daughters Come Home

The book of Ruth is no doubt well known, and if you have been part of a church for some time, you have probably heard this story. I imagine many of you children could tell me what happens in this book. It is well known in part because the story is so beautiful. It is a story that bridges the hopelessness in the story of Judges and the hope in the book of First Samuel. It is a book of tragedy and despair, of romance and restoration – this story has it all in these four brief chapters and is a story of the great grandmother of King David.

As we look at chapter 1, we will see that this chapter is about choices. That there are people in this story who are identified outwardly as the people of God, and they make choices. Some of the choices are good, many are bad, and some are mixed – it is hard to tell what the motives are. Each choice that is made demonstrates the heart commitment of the person in question. As a result, some are punished and some are blessed, but all are led by the grace of God.

And because he is the one true God, we will not walk away from following him. We will be looking at this chapter under two key themes: 1) Choosing Moab, and 2) Choosing Israel.


1) Choosing Moab

We are given an important detail in verse one. “Now it came about in the days when the judges governed”. The setting is in the time of the judges. And the problem of the story is that there is a famine in the land. And those are two very important details. God had promised his people they were entering a land flowing with milk and honey. They would not need anything.

But God told them in his law that if they were disobedient, the land would not flow with milk and honey anymore. In Deuteronomy 28:11-12 we read And the Lord will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give you. 12 The Lord will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.

But Israel is not obedient to God’s commands. Verses 18 tells of the consequences: Cursed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock. The background of this story is the time of the judges, when Israel has been faithless and   disobedient, and brought famine on themselves. And to be honest, that is typical of the time of the judges - that Israel is being disobedient.

If you have your bibles open, flip back a few pages to the end of judges, where we read a common refrain throughout the book. Judges 21:25 “in those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in his own eyes”. This is the theme verse in the book of Judges – the people did not follow God. If you wanted to, you could add an uninspired segue between Judges and Ruth. “In those days, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did what was right in their own eyes. For example, there was a man named Elimelech”.

We are introduced to Elimelech, whose name means “My God is King” but who doesn’t live like God is king. Because when he comes under the pressure of this famine in Israel, he has a great idea. This great idea is not to turn back to God, not to confess his sin and pray to his heavenly Father, but he is going to leave Israel. He’s going to leave the land promised to his fathers, the land supposed to be the inheritance of his children, and he’s going to go seek prosperity in Moab. Moab, the land that was produced by the relationship between Lot and his own daughter, after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. And he goes, we are told, to sojourn in the land of Moab.

Now sojourning is not a good thing if you are an Israelite. When Scripture talks about sojourning, it talks about “Israel sojourning in Egypt” or “Israel sojourning in the wilderness”.

But Israel had been brought by God to a place of their own inheritance, where they could build houses, grow families, become a nation to worship the Lord. They were not supposed to be sojourning any more. They have a home now.

Leaving Israel should not be an option. 

After the coming of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were sent out into the whole world, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. But that’s not how it worked in the Old Testament. Before the coming of Christ, if you wanted to be a member of the People of God, you didn’t set up a church where you were, you moved to Israel. You had to move in to the Kingdom of God. Israel was meant to be a light to the world drawing everyone towards themselves.

But Elimelech chose to be a sojourner once again, and why?  Because life will be better in Moab. There’s opportunity in Moab while there is famine in Israel. In a very real way, Elimelech is imitating Lot who followed prosperity to Sodom and Gomorrah, in contrast to Abraham, who chose worse land but in a better location.

Elimelech goes to Moab because he imagines life will be good there again, so he sojourns to this miniature Egypt, this new promised land, and how do things actually turn out when he gets there? Verse 3: then Elimelech Naomi’s husband died. He died in the land of Moab, and all his plans for long term prosperity are shattered. They have come to nothing.

He dies away from the land of Israel, away from God’s presence, away from the Tabernacle. While we don’t know Elimelech’s heart, we can see from his actions that it was not important to him to be near to the presence of God, to be able to offer sacrifices to God.

His sons, Mahlon and Killion are left in charge of the household. Do they take the hint, and return to Israel, do they take wives in Israel, do they undo the mistake of their father? No, Mahon and Killion make exactly the same choice Elimelech makes. They take foreign wives, they take Moabite wives, and they spend ten years in the land of Moab.

Now I want to point something out. Mahlon and Killion are married, and then dwell ten years in the land of Moab. What is absent form the story?

Children. Mahlon and Killion do not have children with Orpah and Ruth. We should take note of this.

In a worldly sense, children were important – they grew up to take over the farm, they worked the land, and they supported parents in their old age. But in a more spiritual sense, the people of Israel were to be looking forward to a promised child who was coming. In a sense, every child that was born in Israel could be the Messiah that they had been looking forward to since Genesis chapter 3.  When God withheld children in the Old Testament, it was a sign of the curse. When God didn’t give them children, it was punishment. Mahlon and Killion should have realised that God was chastising them, that he was calling them back to Israel. But instead they were happy with this situation, with the prosperity of Moab.

In a sense this should make all of the parents in this room tremble. To see that Elimelech sought prosperity of Moab, and Mahlon and Killion learned from their father. They learned what they should value from their father.  And they received the same punishment. They died outside the land of Israel.

We might want to say to these men, how could you be so blind? How could you abandon God’s people, abandon what God is calling you to do, just for the sake of some personal success?

We should ask ourselves if we have the right to think that we are so much better than Elimelech, and Mahlon and Killion. In fact, I have a bit of sympathy for them. It seemed to them that this was a life and death situation - they had to choose between eating and not eating, feeding their family or not, dying in Israel or living in Moab.

We can be put into that position, can’t we? I am sure that there are people here today looking for work – looking more work, for better work, for a job that better fits with your skills? Work is a good thing, but how do you know what job to take? What new position to accept? How do we know where we should work?

Well, one question that we should ask ourselves is does this new opportunity require us to abandon where God wants us to be? Where God requires us to be?

If you take this job, will you be prevented from worshipping on Sunday?

If you take this job, will it remove you from opportunities to fellowship with the saints, or to be an active member of your church?

Will this job require you to be absent from your children? From your wife or your husband?

Will this job take you from the places that God requires you to be?

We can get so focused on worldly tasks and demands that we can abandon our spiritual responsibilities. I am sure there are people here who like to work long hours, and end up too exhausted to speak to their kids at the end of the day. There are people who would rather work long hours than serve in a volunteer capacity in their local church.  There are people who would rather afford a yearly holiday than be home at dinner time to read the Bible to their children.

We are all guilty of abandoning our responsibilities to seek prosperity.

It is not only work that causes us to sin against what God requires. Every single command that we break is because sin is telling us that there is a better life away from God. Sin holds out a promise that if you do this your life will be better. If you push away the authority God has placed over you, your life will be better. If you gossip and slander, you will feel better, happier or more popular. If you take that thing you really want, you’ll be more prosperous, your life will be better. if you lie selfishly you will be able to get what you want, or get away with that thing you did.

Sin holds out the lie if we sin our life will be better than it was before.

And we have all fallen for that lie. We have all turned towards Moab, and if we were left to ourselves, we would die there. But if you can say of yourself “I have willingly stepped into sin because I believed the lie it told me” then fear not – what we read in Ruth 1 is that God is not done with this family. He will not abandon His daughters who are far from home. No, in His grace, He is going to draw them back to Himself.


2) Choosing Israel

In verse 6 we find Naomi in the depths of despair. “Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the land of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.”

She is alone. Her husband and sons are dead. She is a helpless woman in a foreign land. But you’ll notice that she doesn’t immediately think right away “Oh, I should go back to Israel.” Instead, she goes out into the fields of Moab, and there she hears the news, that God has begun to bless the people of Israel once again. It’s almost like the story of the prodigal son, who is dwelling in the pit, wanting to eat the pods given to the pigs, and he thinks if I could only dwell as a servant in my fathers house, life would be better. She has this revelation – there is a light in the distance, she hears that there is food in Israel.

If you are expecting Naomi to be a beacon of faith, you are going to be very disappointed. Even now it’s prosperity that’s drawing her back to Israel. There is hope – not in God, but in the security of being among her own people. And even if you go right to the end of the chapter, Naomi is bitter at God. “Call me Mara…I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty”. She says to the Lord, “I was happy in Moab. God, I wish you had left me there, and left me alone”.

But that is exactly the problem. And that is the problem God is going to fix.

What Naomi doesn’t realise is that God is telling her she needs to come home. God has a better plan than letting her die in Moab, let her die away from Himself, outside the people of God. And so He is chastising her, as a father, knowing that the sorrows of this present life are nothing compared to the glory that will be revealed in her. Through this whole book, the Book of Ruth, which might be more accurately called the Book of Naomi, God is refining her faith, God is going to bring her back to Himself. He will not only be the God of Naomi’s fathers; He will be her saviour as well. He demonstrates His character, His grace, His lovingkindness. God loves Naomi and is bringing her back to Himself, to the joy of His presence.

And this, brothers and sisters, is the hope of all who love the one true God.

That even though our lives are characterised by disobedience. By compromise. By failing to live up to God’s commands, that we so often would be happier living in the land of Moab, sojourning in Egypt, living lives of sin. Nevertheless, God made a way, God paid for that sin through the blood of Christ on the cross, so that there is now no condemnation for us, who believe in Jesus Christ. He will not hold our sins and failures against us for His sake.

It is on this basis that God calls sinners to repent. God calls sinners to turn back to Him, to come and dwell with Him in His presence, to be received with joy, not with condemnation. It is on that basis that God calls His people to return to Him, to be welcomed in His prescience, so that He can work in us to slowly but surely change our hearts, to change our priorities, to make us less like Elimelech, and more like Ruth.

Ruth is the example of faith in this chapter. Originally, when Naomi decides to go back to Israel, there are three women going: Naomi, Ruth and Orpah. We see that along the way Naomi hesitates. And she proves herself to be a failure as an evangelist. She has these two women coming from Moab, who want to join of the people of God. And she says “actually it would be better for you to stay here, with your family and with your gods”, rather than coming to be one of God’s people in Israel.

Perhaps there were reasons why she thought that they should stay in Moab. Perhaps they would be a reminder of her sons that died, or she was afraid she would become the talk of the town that she brought Moabites back with her. But the main one she points to is that there is no future for them in Israel.

She says “Return, my daughters, for I am too old to have a husband”. I can‘t bear sons for you. What goes unstated in this passage, what is unsaid, is that you women are Gentiles.  There is no husband waiting for you in Israel. There is no hope of a family or a future for you in Israel. So stay here in Moab, find a husband among your own people.

And Orpah agrees with this, and goes back. But not Ruth. Ruth persists. Ruth in fact does the unthinkable. In verse 14 we read “And they lifted up their voices and wept again; and Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. This is a word we shouldn’t ignore.

In Genesis 2 God says “therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and he shall cling to his wife”. When we read Ruth clung to Naomi this is the word used. Of course, this not a marriage, but notice the context of the passage. Naomi is saying “stay in Moab and find a husband here”, but Ruth says “I will abandon any hope of a husband and I will cling to you”.

This is a radical decision.

One commentator says this: “A young woman has committed herself to the life of an old woman rather than search for a husband. One female has chosen another female in a world where life depends on men. There is no more a radical decision in all the memories of Israel”. Of course, it’s even more than that. It’s more than just Ruth choosing to follow Naomi. Ruth is choosing to follow Naomi’s God. Naomi says go to your people and to your gods and Ruth says “I will follow your God.”

The covenant formula that God speaks to his people “I will be your God and you will be My people” is echoed by Ruth: “Your people will be my people and your God will be my God”. Ruth takes these covenant words on her lips and demonstrates that she has more faith than Elimelech, and Naomi. She has had these terrible examples of what someone who follows the God of Israel does, how they live their life, and based on what little she knows, she makes the choice that everyone else in the story has failed to make.

She shows faith by choosing to follow Naomi back to Israel. Back to God. The one true God.

While Elimelech followed prosperity away from God, Ruth abandons prosperity, and all hope for a future in order to follow God.

And so, brother and sisters, because He is the one true God we will not walk away from Him. Because we too struggle day after day with temptations even as we walk by faith, the world is holding out all manner of pleasures and prosperity and temptations. It says “you will have all this happiness only if you abandon God; if only you reject authority you will be truly free; if you only become sexually active, then you will find love. It says to adults, if only you will worship work you will prosper; if only you will do spiritual harm to yourself and your family, if only you will walk away from God you can have anything you want.”

But look at our text. We need to look at ourselves, to see where we have failed, to see where we have turned towards Moab, and we need to turn to our God of Grace, knowing that He calls us back to repent and return to Him, and we will be welcomed with joy. And we seek as His people to live lives that will abandon those false promises that require us to walk away from Him.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. David Stares, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. David Stares

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