Ruth – Part 1

Ruth – Part 1

Choices have consequences.

God has been faithful. Man, I’m grateful for that song. God is faithful. He is good. What a perfect song to lead into the series that we’re going to look at. We’re going to be in the book of Ruth. If you want to take your Bibles, turn to the Old Testament book of Ruth. We’ll look at chapter one this morning. Ruth is a story of God’s faithfulness. It is a love story.

I think I made fun of this last year, and as long as I’m your pastor, I’ll probably do it every Christmas. How many of you have started watching the Hallmark Christmas movies?  Like every female. Husbands, men, how many of you have started making fun of every Hallmark Christmas movie? That’s right. Yeah, they’re all the same. Every one. I mean, different actors, but every movie has the exact same plotline, but they’re good movies. I will confess that I watch them from time to time. There’s even one or two that has brought a tear to my eye…out of laughter.

But Ruth is like the greatest of all the Hallmark stories ever, cause it is a love story. It is a story of redemption and restoration. It’s a story that, in the midst of heartache and tragedy and opposition and adversity, there is a happy ending, not just for Ruth and her family, but for all of us.

Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers, was an ambassador to France. He was a member of a literary society, and they would just get together and talk about stories. On one occasion, Benjamin Franklin told a story. He told a love story, and it was so good that the people of this society looked at Benjamin Franklin, and they said, listen, you’ve got to give us the rights to the story. We’ve got to publish this story. The world needs to read this story. Benjamin Franklin laughed and said that this story has already been published. It’s in the Bible. Now, these were atheists. It’s in the Bible that you despise so much, and it’s the book of Ruth

It is a story that impacts everybody. It is a love story, but ultimately it is a love story about how God loves his people. God is the hero of Ruth’s story. God is the hero of this book. We’re going to see through 4 chapters how God works in such a powerful way to ensure the royal lineages of David and Jesus are sustained, and so that’s where we’re going to be at – taking a look at Ruth, chapter one this morning.

Just to give you a little bit of the setting of the story – you can see it in the very first little line there in chapter one. It’s during the time of the judges. Now Judges is the book that comes before Ruth, and it is a dark time for the people of Israel. Judges is not a very happy book of the Bible. It’s very dark. It is filled with mayhem and anarchy, and people are just doing whatever they want to do and there’s a pattern throughout the book of Judges that is very clear: the people rebel against God.

That’s the first thing that happens. God sends judgment on the people – most of the time through the oppression of a foreign nation. So, they’re conquered – a foreign nation comes in, conquers the people of Israel, and oppresses them. The people cry out to God. God raises up a judge or a redeemer or a hero who leads the people to get rid of the oppressive nation and repent and turn back to God and everything is good for a while. That’s the book of Judges. It’s good for a while. They rebel. There’s an oppression. There’s judgment; there’s a judge. That’s just the whole thing.

These are dark days, and at the very end, if you just kind of look over to the last page, the last sentence or the last verse in Judges, here’s what it says. “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did whatever seemed right to him.” On a very physical, materialistic, human standpoint, there is no earthly king. These guys don’t exist, and the reason is that God desires to be their king.  God’s hope is that the people wouldn’t need an earthly king because He was their ultimate King. And so, when this last sentence says there was no king in Israel, it’s really talking about the fact that these people didn’t recognize God as their king. And when it says they did whatever they wanted to, what they’re saying is they were ignoring God’s ways and God’s laws. They thought they knew better.

This is the setting of the book of Ruth during these dark days, but what we’ll see is that in the midst of these dark days, Ruth stands out as a bright, shining star.

It’s just a wonderful story about how God continues to work through the judgments, through the bad decisions, through the mayhem. through the anarchy. God never abandons his people. That is what we are looking at. So, here’s Ruth, chapter one.

We’ll read the 1st 5 verses, then we’ll kind of pick up the story a little bit later.

Ruth 1:1-5 – During the time of the judges, there was a famine in the land. A man left Bethlehem in Judah with his wife and two sons to stay in the territory of Moab for a while. The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife’s name was Naomi. The names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the fields of Moab and settled there. Naomi’s husband, Elimelech, died, and she was left with her two sons. Her sons took Moabite women as their wives: one was named Orpah and the second was named Ruth. After they lived in Moab about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, and the woman was left without her two children and without her husband.

A man left Bethlehem. By the way, this is so fascinating to me. There’s a famine in Bethlehem.  Bethlehem means the house of “bread.” How awesome is it, by the way, that Jesus, the Bread of Life, is born in the “house of bread?” But at this point in time, it’s like going to Panera Bread down in Salisbury and ordering the bread and them saying we don’t have any bread. There’s no bread in the house of bread. There’s a famine going on. Now, that is God’s judgment. The people have turned their backs on God, and God is judging them through this famine.

Mahlon and Chilion.  Those are really cool names, right? Like Star Trek names, you know. Don’t name your kids these cause it means sick. I think if I remember correctly, Mahlon means “sick” and Chilion means “dying.” These two children, their names are sick and dying. OK, so don’t name your kids that. They were Ephrathites, which is the royal line from Bethlehem in Judea.

As we look at these first five verses, I want us to examine this morning the bad decision. In fact, this whole story we’re looking at today and this introduction is about how decisions impact destiny.

Every decision that we make can impact our destiny.

Now we all face little decisions. I mean, some of you have already started talking about where you want to go eat lunch, or I want to go here and you want to go here with your husbands and wives and families. You struggle over where to go eat lunch, then you get there and the menus are so big. What do want? Do I want this? Have you ever regretted ordering something off the menu? It’s like, I wanted the cheeseburger, but I got the chicken sandwich, and you’re like, ah, we have these little decisions.

But there are big decisions in life. There are huge decisions of where we’re going to work. Where we’re going to go to school. Those decisions impact our destiny. The decisions that we see in Ruth impact the destiny of this family. The first is this wrong decision by Elimilech, and there’s a couple of reasons why he made this wrong decision. First, he’s going to Moab, that’s a wrong decision because Moab is a bad place. Moab is completely against God’s will. Moab is under a curse from God. By the way, Moab in Judges 3, conquers Israel. Moab is one of the nations that God uses to oppress and bring judgment on the Israelites. For 18 years, they treat the people of God terribly. And yet Elimelech wakes up one day and is like, there’s no bread here, but they got bread in Moab. Let’s go. Does that seem like a good decision to go to a place that has oppressed you and hated you? They’re a pagan place. It’s an obscene place. They worship all kinds of false gods. It’s a bad decision because these are bad people. These are people that God’s people shouldn’t associate with.

Now, I know here’s the question that people think of. Aren’t we called to take the message of God to these dark places? Yes, absolutely. But when a missionary goes to a dark place, the missionary’s goal is to transform that place, not to conform to that place. Elimelech is taking his family out of the Promise Land, out of God’s land, turning his back on God, and taking them to conform to idol worshippers. That’s why it’s a bad decision.

Another reason this is a really bad decision is he is seeking the wrong thing. He’s seeking the physical. Now, you might be sitting there thinking, well, if it was my family and there was no food, yeah, I’m going to do it. And on a pragmatic level, it sounds good, but on a theological level, it sounds bad because he’s not seeking God’s ways. Listen, this famine is because of judgment. God uses famine. God uses judgment to get people to repent, to get people to turn back to God. Elimelech turns his back on God. He is seeking his selfish desires instead of God desires.

Jesus puts it this way. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all things will be given to you. If Elimelech and the people of Bethlehem would have turned back to God instead of turning away from God, then God would have provided for their needs. God would have ended the famine, but nope. Elimelech says, you know what, I’m going to seek my will and my desires. I’m going to seek the food that I want. So, I’m going over there where the grass is greener. By the way, in life, when you think the grass is greener on the other side, it’s often not greener on the other side.

Another reason it’s a bad decision is because he lacked faith in God to provide for his family. You know, faith is knowing that God is going to get you through whatever situation you face, no matter what it is. Faith is saying, you know what? I don’t see what’s over this mountain. I don’t see what’s on the other side of the famine. I don’t even know when the famine is going to end, but God does, and I’m going to stay here and I’m going to live my life for the Lord. That is faith. Elimelech says I don’t have faith in God to pull us through this. But yet, those people – they got all the food we need. So, it’s a bad place. He had wrong motives, and he lacked faith in God.

Every decision we make in life has a consequence. Do you know that? By the way, we are free to choose anything we want. You’re free to choose. We have that freedom. God gave us free will. Free will exists in this world. We are free in this country. We have the freedom to choose. You know what we’re not free to choose? The consequences of our choices. We are not free to choose how our decisions impact ourselves and others. I am free to eat 6 hamburgers in a day. I’m not free to choose what’s going to be the result of that. I mean, I know the results of that.

We are free to make choices, but we are not free from consequences. Elimelech’s decision may have had good intentions. He wanted to take care of his family. He never would have wanted to hurt his family, but this bad decision had unintended, unwanted consequences, and it affected not just him, but it affected his whole family. It affected everybody. Our decisions can have long-lasting impacts.

The first one is this: his family conformed to Moab. That was the consequence of this decision. If you read it, it says we’re just going to go for a while. We’re just going to go hang out, get some food. When the food comes back to Bethlehem, we’ll go back there. But then it says they stayed. They went for a while, and they settled. You know, you hear me say a lot that we want to get in the Word of God, so the Word of God gets into us, right? Elimelech took his family into a pagan world. The pagan world got into him. And he stayed.

His kids married Moabite women. That’s not good. The Bible talks against that not because they’re a different ethnic group or a different race, but because they have a different religion. They’re not to be yoked to those godless people. But they married the women. They built a house. They conformed to that way of life. They felt more at home – listen to this, don’t miss this – they felt more at home in the land of compromise than in the land of promise. They felt more at home in the world than in God’s Word and in God’s Holy Land. I want to ask you – do you feel more comfortable in the land of compromise or in the land of promise? Do you feel more at home when you are living the way the world tells you to live, or in the way God wants you to live? Where are you most comfortable?

Romans 12 tells us we’re not to conform to this world, but we’re to be transformed by God. Elimelech conformed to this world because he felt more at home in the land of compromise than in the land of promise.

Another consequence – it brought death. And you may be thinking, well, they would have died anyway, and that’s the point. Elimelech took his family away from famine because he wanted them to survive. He wanted to experience blessing. He tried to outrun death. And he still died, and his kids died. Death is reality.

There was this rich man one time. He had a servant. The servant comes running into the house of the rich man. The rich man says, “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?” The servant said, “I’ve got to get out of here. You gotta give me your best horse, and I’ve got to go to Smyrna. I’ve got to get out. I’ve got to go.” And the rich guy asks why. The servant said that he was just in the marketplace and bumped into this guy and he startled me because I saw his face, and his face was death, so I got to get out of here. I got to get away from death. So the rich guy gives his servant his best horse, and the servant rides to Smyrna. So the rich merchant goes down to the marketplace and he finds this character. He says, “Death, why did you startle my servant? Why did you scare him so bad?” And here’s what death said. “I didn’t mean to startle your servant. I was surprised to see him here, cause I’ve got an appointment with him in Smyrna later today.”

You can’t outrun death; you can’t get away from it. Elimelech tried to run away; he tried to get away. Death still found him. The consequence of this bad decision was his death and the death of his two sons, which brought the third consequence of bitterness and heartache to his wife.

It brought sadness and bitterness. Naomi’s name means pleasant. Naomi means good cheer. It is this pleasant name. And yet, when she goes back to Bethlehem, she says my name is Mara, meaning bitterness. She has this conversation with these two daughter in-laws where she really says that God has turned his back on me. God has cursed me, so she now has this wrong view of God because of this decision. She sees God as this judge Who has just ruined her life. She blames God, for you know, oftentimes we make decisions, and we suffer consequences of those decisions, and we blame other people. We’ll blame God and say God, why did You do this, and God says, why did You make that choice to begin with? Elimelech’s choice has now brought sadness and bitterness to this family.

And so, they hear that God has brought food back to Israel, so they began to go home, and you can read about that on your own.

This week, there’s a conversation that takes place, and Naomi says go back to your mom’s house. There’s nothing for you in Israel. You go back to your land, you go back. My God has turned his back on me; there’s nothing for you in Israel. They don’t want to at first, but she continued to plead with them.  She says, listen, if I were to have a husband today and get pregnant today, would you wait for my kids to be old enough to marry you? Go back home, go back to the land of Moab, go back to your gods, go back to your family and one of the most tragic verses in the whole Bible is this – Orpah did that. Naomi is going to look at Ruth and say look, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and her gods. That’s the last time you hear of Orpah in all of the scriptures. She made the decision to go back to Moab and back to her gods. It is such a tragedy to see that happen.

And yet, Ruth…Ruth says I’m not going back. So, we’ve seen the wrong decision. We’ve seen the consequences and the reasons for the wrong decisions. But now, when we look at Ruth, we see the power of a wise decision. We see the results of a wise decision. I want you to read and start in verse 16.

“But Ruth replied, don’t plead with me to abandon you or to return and not follow you. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God.”

That’s the decision. Your God will be my God. Where you die, I will die. There I will be buried. May the Lord punish me and do so severely if anything but death separates you and me. Ruth decided to stay. By the way, she shows greater faith than Elimelech. Do you see the differences of faith? Listen, Ruth and Naomi are homeless, helpless and hopeless.  They have lost their provider. They’ve lost their protectors. They have nothing. They have no one to give them food. They have no one to provide them shelter. They have no one to go to the other men in the community and bring home groceries.

They’ve got nothing, and Ruth, all she knows is that her and Naomi are going to be going back to Bethlehem. And that’s it. Where are we going to stay? I don’t know. What are we going to eat? I don’t know. Who’s going to take care of us? I don’t know. And yet, she shows great faith. To say that your God will be my God. She made a decision to follow the Lord, and a decision that changed her destiny. Because you’re going to read about her for a long time. She made a decision. She got a whole book of the Bible named after her. Changed her destiny.

Can I tell you something? It changed our destiny, too. Elimelech was a part of the royal line of David. He died. His sons died. That royal line is dead. There’re no more sons in it. And yet, you see God working in the heart of a foreigner, in the heart of a Moabite woman, so that she decides to follow Him. And as the story unfolds, this decision will preserve the lineage of David and Jesus.

This decision changed her destiny. She said yes to God. In that moment, I firmly believe in the moment where she said yes to God, she went from a foreigner to a family member. She went from a foreigner who was outcast on the wrong side of the tracks, spiritually speaking, to having faith in God.

I want to ask you this morning. Have you made the decision to say You are my God? Have you made the decision in faith to follow after the Lord Jesus Christ? Deuteronomy 30:19 says this: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse, therefore choose life that your offspring may live.”

Ruth chose life. When we choose Jesus, we are choosing life, and you are free to choose. You are free to say I’m going to follow the Lord. You are free to say God, you would be my God, and you’re free to say I don’t want to have any part of that. You are free to say I’m not going to follow Jesus. But the wages of sin is death, the Bible says. The consequence of a decision to say no to Jesus is to spend an eternity separated from God in hell. But the decision to follow Jesus is a life-changing, life-giving, destiny-changing decision to say yes.

On this day today, I’m going to choose life. I’m going to choose the Lord. I’m going to follow the example of this Moabite woman, and I’m going to repent of all my sins. I’m going to repent of everything I’ve done, and I’m going to choose God. Do you need to make that choice today?

But I want to show you this. Now listen, Naomi, who seems to hate God right now. She’s not an atheist. She hasn’t lost faith. She’s just upset with God. God’s still working. Through the bad decision of Elimelech, God still worked. Through the heartache, sadness, and tragedy, God still worked.

It’s kind of like last week. If we’ve wandered away from God, God doesn’t turn his back on you. God hasn’t wandered away from you. He’s working to make a way for you to come home.

So, if you’ve been wandering away and making decisions contrary to God’s Word, if you’ve been living in the land of compromise, come home to the land of promise, cause God’s not done with any of us yet. God’s not done with any of us, and we’re going to see as this story unfolds, God is a God of grace and mercy. It is because of His grace and mercy that Jesus hung on a cross to die for our sins. What decision is the Spirit calling you to make today? How is God wanting to change your destiny?

Let’s pray together. Father, we are thankful for this woman named Ruth, this Moabite, this foreigner, this godless person. We’re thankful that you worked in her and you stirred in her heart where she made the decision to say your God will be my God. I will be in the family of God. We’re grateful that you have worked in such a way where we, as we think about Christmas, and we think about the coming of a Savior and the coming of a King, as so many thousands of years ago You were working in the heart of one person, today, you may be working in the heart of someone here. You may be stirring them to make a decision that would forever change their life. The choice is clear. We can choose life, or we can choose death. I pray that we would all choose life, that we would choose Jesus. We ask these things in Your Name, Amen.