1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.Ruth 1:1-5
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Redeeming Love: A R&R Bible Study of Ruth — Episode 4 – Refresh & Restore | A JustKeithHarris.com Podcast
It has been a few weeks since we have joined each other for Bible Study, and I am excited to begin a new study together today and embark on a journey through the book of Ruth, looking at a beautiful story of God’s redeeming love!
Welcome to Ruth
Today’s devotion will serve as an introduction for our study and help us to get our heads around this book.
First, we need to understand that the book of Ruth is different from 1 John (which we previously studied). It is different because it is a book of the Old Testament which occurred before the arrival of the Messiah, Jesus. It is also a narrative, meaning it is told like a story. This is different than the epistles (letters) of the New Testament which were intended to relay information clearly to a certain audience in specific ways.
The beautiful thing about these differences is that we get to see how God intersects Himself into the life stories of regular, everyday people – how He brought His redeeming love to bear in their lives. This helps us see His fingerprints in our own lives! We will see people who experience the same sorts of troubles and joys that we experience. And we get to see the way that God works in these times – the bad as well as the good – to carry out His redemptive plan.
Second, we need to understand the time in which this book took place. While it simply says, “In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land” and sets up its narrative, there is more than meets the eye – more is meant to give us context.
The time of the judges was a crazy era in Jewish history. There are two verses from the book of Judges that give a clearer picture of the world in which they lived. The first is Judges 2:16: “Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of those who plundered them.” The nation of Israel during this era repeated a nasty cycle of 1) being warned by God about the consequences of their sin (really, He is describing the blessings of following Him), 2) willfully committing the sins they were warned against (therefore willingly forfeiting the blessings), 3) finding themselves experiencing the consequences God promised would occur, and 4) repenting of their sin, crying out to God to rescue them – which He faithfully did every, single time they repented (it happened 1, 2, 3, 4 over and over throughout their history – and honestly, ours, too).
The second verse is found in both Judges 17:6 and 21:25: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” And somewhere in between Judges 2:16 and 17:6 is exactly where we start the beginning of the book of Ruth. God’s people doing what is right in their own eyes, fully experiencing step 3 and too hardhearted to reach 4.
Setting the Stage for a Big Move of the Lord
What a context – everyone doing what they wanted to do and treating it as if it were right. Sound familiar? Yet that is exactly where we find our family at the beginning of Ruth’s narrative. You see, before God’s people ever set foot in the Promised Land (the place they left when the famine hit them), He laid out all the blessings He would give them if they followed Him (Deuteronomy 28:1-14) as well as the consequences of their sin, two of which being infertility and famine (Deuteronomy 28:15-68; cf. v. 18) which Elimilech and Naomi’s family experienced!
Since I laid out the cycle for you above, what needs to happen to get out of their predicament? Step 4 – repenting of their sin and crying out to God to rescue them! It seems simple enough, yet they chose another path – one that led them out of the Promised Land, away of their home in Bethlehem (Heb. “house of bread”), and beyond the land of God’s promise. Elimelech and Naomi dug in their heels and decided to take an alternate path out of God’s punishment of sin. The only problem is that there is no alternate path, and the Bible is clear on this. The “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). And death is what they found in Moab.
Elimelech and Naomi thought they were leaving famine to save their lives, but they only found death. They missed the fact that God had sent them a great warning sign of repentance by striking the “house of bread” with hunger. The shelves were empty, and so were their hearts. The message was clear, and not just because of the name of their town; Elimelech is Hebrew for “My God is King”, and Naomi is Hebrew for “pleasant”. Yet Elimelech sought to be the king of his own heart and strike out to leave the Promised Land to take care of himself despite the warnings of the King.
“My God is King” and “Pleasant” had two children, boys named Mahlon (Heb. “sick”) and Chilion (Heb. “frail/mortal”). And, during the decade they were in Moab, “My God is King” died. It turns out that Moab was not beyond the reach of the wages of Israel’s sin. “Sick” and “Frail” grew up, married Moabite wives, Orpah and Ruth, and continued living in Moab – that was until they lived up to their names and died.
Can you imagine the heartbreak that these women felt – especially Naomi? When “My God is King” died, “Pleasant” became a widow, but there is no term for a parent who loses a child because it is a reality too unimaginably heartbreaking to be labeled.
And it is in this heartbreak that our story of Redeeming Love is set – in death and sorrow and loss, in a foreign land filled with foreign gods and strangers. One could argue that “Pleasant” was not alone, that she had her two daughters-in-law with her. But when one experiences grief, loneliness generally accompanies it.
Hope in the Midst of Sorrow
As we look at the beginning of the narrative Ruth, I find that I have a few things in common with the people we meet here. I often try to live as if I am king and can decide that what I want is right. That is called sin. I am a sinner. I often decide to delay repenting because I am angry that I am not God. That, too, is called sin (and idolatry, too). I also find myself identifying with Naomi and the pain that comes with grief.
What she did not know – and really what none of them could know, since they lived in OT times, was the hope that comes only from Jesus. I do not think I need to declare a “spoiler alert” here since the Bible allows us to know Jesus, the King of kings and Lord of lords has already won, but He is the ultimate hero of the book of Ruth (in fact, He is the only hero of the Bible!). The beauty of the way that this book points to Jesus shares in the same beauty as when Jesus arrived on earth, with a birth.
Ruth 4:18-22 give us a genealogy bridging the gap between Judah, father of Perez (whose mother was Tamar – Genesis 38), father of Hezron, father of Ram, father of Amminadab, father of Nahshon, father of Salmon, father of Boaz (whose mother was Rahab – Joshua 2), father of Obed (by Ruth), father of Jesse, father of David, who is the great-great-many-times-over earthly ancestor of “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matthew 1:1).
God struck the “house of bread” with a famine and events of incredible sadness occurred when His people decided not to repent. But God, in His sovereign and redemptive plan used those sad things to highlight the good news of Jesus, “the Bread of Life” (John 6:48). Although Naomi and Ruth, in their grief and mourning, do not realize it, “weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5); joy in their case would come later when their hearts become as full as their bellies, when God does what He does in redeeming sinners. The cry of a baby will bring joy into their lives just as that baby’s many-times descendant would do for all who put their hope in Him throughout the ages:
“I have said these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”John 16:33
So, as we walk through the lives of Naomi and Ruth in the coming weeks, let us fix our eyes on what is to be while we are seeing the redemptive plan of God work out in their lives. And maybe – just maybe, we will begin to see how God is working through the sad and unfortunate things in our own lives.
It is my prayer that we, because we can see more than Naomi and Ruth by having the finished Story, can rejoice that our “light momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17) if we put our hope and trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord (Romans 10:9-10). Then, and only then, can we realize the beauty that comes with rejoicing “in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Hallelujah, and Amen!