Thursday, June 16, 2005

Studies in Ruth (2)

We need God to rescue us
This book starts out with a very real problem. Perhaps we don't grasp the seriousness of the problem. The problem isn't the famine with which the book opens. The problem isn't just that these woman are sad and grieving over the loss of their husbands.

There were no social services, there was no benefits system. To be a widow was sad, but to be a without sons was a tragedy. It was a disaster because she had no-one to provide for her, to work, to look after her.

But it was worse than that. It was seen as a disgrace, because a man lived on in his sons. They carried the family name. They took up the family property. Israel was given its land by God. Joshua had divided it up between the families. Each family had its portion in the Promised Land. It was their inheritance, their place in God's kingdom. It was the sign of a true Israelite. Foreigners were not allowed to own land. The land was a gift from God to his people. And for God's people to lose their land was not just an economic disaster, it struck at the very heart of your relationship with God. It was God saying, "You are no longer part of my Kingdom."

The land was passed on from generation to generation. It wasn't allowed to be sold. That's why Naboth couldn't and wouldn't sell his vineyard to Ahab. It could be rented out to others, it could be sold for a time but every 50 years all lands were returned to their rightful families. It had to stay in the tribe. Naomi mustn't have been part of Elimelech's tribe. Ruth certainly wasn't. The land must revert to Elimelechs family.

So here was a family who were about to lose their land. There were no sons to pass the land on to. They had no heirs. No support. No future. No land.

This is utter disaster. Penniless widows without hope of marriage. Without heirs, without someone to keep the name going, it would be as if they had never existed. No name, and no land. No place in the people of God.

This is why Naomi returns and says, "Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty."

They needed someone to rescue them. They needed a redeemer. Someone who would provide an heir. Someone who would take them under his wing and provide for all their needs.

And that's what the book is about. God's provision of a redeemer. A saviour for them. It is a little picture of our salvation.

Naomi needed rescued because she had wandered far from God. She is a backslider. Naomi says so in v 21. "The LORD has testified against me."

Testified against me, that's a legal word; she has been tried and found guilty. Naomi starts the book as all of us - guilty in the sight of God. That's our greatest problem.

Ruth needed rescued for another reason.

Ruth never had been part of God's people. She was in a real predicament. She obviously had no claim on anything back in Bethlehem. As Naomi points out she would have a much better prospect in Moab among her own people. For her to return to Bethlehem with Naomi was a bizarre choice which speaks of a much deeper change as we will see next week God willing.

But what we need to notice this week is that Ruth is a great picture of each one of us. We are born outside the family of God. We are born in fact as enemies of God. Ruth was an outsider, an enemy, and had nothing. She came before God with nothing to her credit.

Just like each of us. In desperate straights and needing to be rescued. No future. Guilty of disobeying God.

But unless we see the terrible predicament that they are in we will not understand the wonder of the rescue. And likewise unless we understand the terrible predicament we are in as sinful human beings in the sight of God we will never understand the wonder of the good news of the gospel.

God works his rescue in the lives of ordinary people
Here's the good news. God's has a rescue plan.

Ruth is a very ordinary book. There are no miracles like in the previous books of Joshua. There are no mighty and majestic men or women of valour as in the book Judges, larger than life figures whom we could never hope to be like. In fact the women in the Ruth demonstrate more spirituality than most men in the entire book of Judges. What a rebuke to men. And there are no direct words from God, no prophets.

It is a book dealing with ordinary everyday matters and concerns. Food, home, moving home, marriage, land, work. Yet in the midst of all this, as we move to the climax of the book we find that from this family comes King David, and from the line of David comes the Saviour.

All through the book of Judges, God's plan of salvation seems to be on hold. Nothing seems to be happening, other than ugliness and sin and wickedness. It is a bleak book to read. Nearly all the heroes in it are deeply flawed men. And as you read through it and come especially to the ugly chapters at the end of Judges you are inclined to ask, "What is God doing? Where are the signs that God is working out his plan of salvation?" But when we move on from the book of Judges and move to the book of Ruth, which takes place inside the time frame of Judges we see that God was at work, very definitely at work. And it was in and through the lives of not the big personalities of the day - Gideon, and Samson, and Deborah, and Jephthah - but it was in and through the lives of these ordinary believers, who had no visions, worked no miracles, that he was working out his plan of salvation.

And it was in Bethlehem. Bethlehem was at this stage just an ordinary town. It wasn't the birthplace of Jesus. It wasn't the birthplace of David. It was just like any other village in Israel. There are hints as we read the book that all isn't well even in Bethlehem. Boaz says to Ruth - don't work in other fields, people will take advantage of you. Eat with my workers and you will be safe.

This then is the sphere of redemption, the type of situation that God works in. A bleak world, where sin and lawlessness abounds. In a small town, where the people are very ordinary.

This is great for us. Because we are ordinary people who live in a world where sin and lawlessness abound, who have made a mess of our lives, and who stand guilty before God. And we desperately need God to work in our lives. And we see that he doesn't always work through the spectacular means, the big personalities with tremendous gifts, but he also works through ordinary everyday people like you and me. The work of his kingdom isn't always advanced by miracles and prophets, but God is at work through the nitty-gritty details of your lives.

And we see as we read this book that God is interested in the nitty-gritty details of our lives. This book is a book dealing with ordinary everyday matters - things that concern each one of us. And we see that God does care for every part of our lives.

He comes to unknown men and women, and he comes to them in the on going everyday routine of everyday life and in ordinary details of their lives. Although he is a God who governs the affairs of the nations, He is just as interested in the obscure unknown apparently insignificant family group and he is concentrating the same energy on the work of redemption in them and through them as he is anywhere else. And the writer is telling us that this is equally important because it is still God at work. God is focusing on these people and these problems in order to further his eternal purposes.

Do you see who wonderful this is? Who knows where God is furthering his purposes and with whom he is furthering his plans. The very thought of it should encourage us in every detail of our lives.

You ladies in your routine every lives, in the home or in work - you do not know what God is doing through you, what great plans and purposes he is working out through you.
You men as you go about your work, the regular routine of unexciting toil - who knows what God is doing. Week by week year by year, and you may wonder why am I here - but we just don't know what God is doing - but we know that he works in the short and simple lives of ordinary everyday people.
In our tragedies, sickness, illnesses, bereavements, hardships, discouragements, disappointments - we just don't know what God is going to do. That is precisely what this book is about.

The last place that people would have thought to look for where God was working would be Bethlehem. But that's where he was at work.

Your little corner and your brief lifespans are the very things that God uses to further his plans in this world. That's what this book teaches us. This is the wonderful hope that we have in the Christian life. You may be a nobody in the world's eyes. You may be up to your ears in just living, but God can be at work in the very ordinariness of it all. You never know what God is going to do.

God isn't just a God of church and Bible study, but his redemption covers all of life, and when you put your trust in him, all of your life is under his special care.

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