Sunday, June 12, 2005

Studies in Ruth (1)

Set in the dark lawless period of the Judges, this is a little gem of a book.

We see running through the book of Ruth the threads of love, loyalty and kindness. And it would be easy to read the book solely on that level.

But this is a book not about Ruth and her love, but a book about God and his love. That is why his name is mentioned 23 times in under 100 verses.

This is a book specifically about God's redemption, his plan of salvation and his redeemer. This is the key thing to remember as we read this. There will be a lot of valuable lessons along the way about love, about obedience, about faith, but first and foremost this is about God's redemption.

Boaz is a picture of Jesus, and Ruth and Naomi are pictures of us.

The opening 6 verses of the book teach us that:

We make a bigger mess when we do things our way rather than God's way

What's the first thing we are tempted to do when we get ourselves in a mess? We try to get out our way. That's exactly what Elimelech did. We see it in the very first verse
"In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab."
When we read that it seems to our minds a fairly obvious choice. There was a famine, he had a family, there was food 50 miles across the border. Why not just up and move? But we need to see things in the light of scripture.

God had brought his people to this land. He had said that he would always provide for their needs as long as they were obedient. Famine in Israel wasn't a climate problem, or an agricultural problem. It was a punishment from God because of a heart problem. (Leviticus 26:13-42)

And he had brought famine to Bethlehem - because there were problems in the hearts of the people there. Bethlehem means House of Bread. The irony is unmissable - in the place of plenty there was famine.

And so Elimelech hears in the famine the voice of God's displeasure and what does he do? Instead of saying "we need to mend our ways" he up and heads for Moab. In the famine God was busy calling his people to repentance and renewal, but Elimelech was having none of it.

When God brings hardship into our lives we need to look at our hearts and ask ourselves - "What is God trying to tell me?" Sometimes like Elimelech it will be a call to repentance. Sometimes it will be a call to persevere. Sometimes it will be a call to move closer to him. Whatever it is we must listen to his voice.

Elimelech left the country of God and went to Moab. He didn't allow his trials to bring him closer to God. Instead, the man who name meant "My God is King" headed out of God's land. He took himself to the fertile plains of Moab. Because it seemed like a good idea.

Moab! They had just spent 18 years being suppressed by the King of Moab. Moab was the country that refused to give the Israelites bread and water when they wandered I the wilderness. Moab that sent for Balaam to curse the children of Israel. Moab that sacrificed children to their god Chemosh. And Elimelech goes to Moab! And he takes his two marriageable sons to Moab that God had said, "You are not to give your sons in marriage to their daughters."

There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

This was the most logical solution. It was the most sensible option. If you left God out of the equation.

And let's not pity Elimelech. He had the promise of Almighty God that if his people humbled themselves and turned from their wicked ways he would hear and answer. To underline the folly of going our way and not God's way - what happened to the people who didn't flee? Boaz did pretty well for himself. It looks like the rest of the town turned back to God. And God turned back to them.

Not only that but look at what Naomi says in v21, "I went away full". Is it possible that they didn't move because of real hardship, but because there comfortable way of life was going to have to change because of God's dealings with them and they didn't want that?

The image isn't one of poor helpless starving people fleeing a drought and staggering over the border into Moab and falling face down at the nearest stream, not a moment too soon. It seems more like a wealthy family feeling the pinch a little, God's ways were cramping their lifestyle a bit, so they decided to ignore God's voice, and to do what seemed like a good idea to them.

Friends. Look at this story and let it be a sombre warning to us that when we ignore God's dealings with us and make our decisions based on logic or feelings, and not on obedience to God's word, but simply on "Well it seemed a good idea at the time" - such disobedience will lead only to hardship. Elimelech dies. Mahlon dies. Kilion dies. All in the space of 10 years. Naomi has lost everything. Everything. No family. No inheritance. She is a stranger in a strange land. And a nobody in her own were she to return.

All because of sin.

Notice the path to sin: It seems a good idea at the time, Elimelech intended it only to be a temporary thing. - the passage says he meant only to stay there a short time. But time passed and he was still there. Sin has this way of catching up on us and sucking us in, and ensnaring us.

There are decisions that we make without thinking about what impact this will have on our spiritual lives. And the consequences are deadly. And they are deadly for generations after us. Here is a solemn lesson to be very careful with the decisions we make.

Young people, if you are following Jesus Christ, do not even begin to think about going out with someone who doesn't share your spiritual interests. Let me be abundantly clear - do not go out with or marry someone who isn't a Christian. God has something much better in store for you. Go to places where you will find Christian men and women. Elimelech certainly wasn't going to find them in Moab.

Some of you will be going away to study or to work away from home. Make sure that you only go somewhere where there is a good church to worship in. Elimelech wasn't going to find a good church in Moab.

There are decisions where all the reasons point in one direction, but we know in our heart of hearts that it is wrong biblically. And it may be financially viable, it may mean a better standard of life, it may mean opportunities for our children that we never had, but what use is that if they die like Mahlon and Kilion, outside of the people of God.

Are there things in your life that interrupt with your relationship with God - then get rid of them. We don't want to end up like Elimelech - A man with a great name among the people of God, but a man who lost all he had amongst the people of God, all for the sake of an easy life.

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