Thursday, July 28, 2005

Ruth Chapter 4 - The Redeemer Redeems (3)

The Blessings on the Redeemed v11-22

This book of Ruth with its happy ending shows us what happens to those whom God redeems. I read a book called “A fine Balance” – a book about India. Two men from a low caste tribe, make a success of their lives tailoring, they break the system, but the book ends in tragedy. There is no happy ending. A miserable book. Possibly very true to life. But miserable. But for the man or woman who puts their hope in God there is hope.

The life of the redeemed is blessed by God. Naomi, is no longer empty, but her life has been turned around. Ruth the widow, for whom it would have made more sense to stay in Moab, but who committed herself to following God, she finds herself with a husband, and inheritance, a son. She who didn’t belong, finds herself belonging. God is no woman’s debtor, or no man’s debtor. If you commit your way to the Lord he will pour out blessing on your life. Not material blessings, but certainly spiritual ones, ones that can never be taken away.

We see some of them here in the closing verses of Ruth 4:

A place in God’s kingdom

Ruth’s son will bear the inheritance that was assigned by God to his father Mahlon. Ruth now has a place in the Kingdom of Israel. She has her tact of land there. V 10

Friends – if you are a believer you have a place, no less real than Ruth place, in the Kingdom of Heaven. It is your inheritance. It is being prepared for you right now. It has your name on it. I’m not talking a piece of heavenly real estate, but a place in the presence of God, where you will enjoy him forever.

A place in God’s people

The words of the women of the town as they speak their blessing on the wedding reinforce that Ruth the outsider has been brought in. They want her to be as blessed as the founder of the town of Bethlehem, Perez. There is a great sense of belonging here. It doesn’t matter what background you come from – there is no tier system in God’s kingdom.

You have a place in God’s people.

Ephesians Ch 2:11-21 is the New Testament equivalent of this passage.

You belong. See how both Ruth and Naomi have been given a new family. You too have been given a new family when you came to Christ. New brothers and sisters, a new elder brother, a new father. It doesn’t matter if like Naomi you grew up among the people of God, or whether you are like Ruth and have no Christian background. There is no such thing as a second class Christian.

A part in God’s plan

The elders on the day of the marriage pronounce this great blessing on Ruth and Boaz. But as they pronounce it they have no idea of how it will be fulfilled. They pray for honour and blessing to be on them. They pray for fruitfulness.

But little did they know what that honour and fruitfulness would mean. The family tree that the book ends with shows Ruth and Boaz place in the line of the greatest of Israel’s Kings. King David. And from Matthew ch 1 we see them again in the family tree of David’s greater son, King Jesus.

When God redeems people he has not just a place for them, but a purpose for them. And that purpose far exceeds anything you can imagine. And as you seek to live your life here with commitment and faithfulness, God will work through you. And although you may see nothing come of it – Ruth would have been in glory by the time David became King – Heaven will reveal to you what God did through your life. The effects of your prayers, the effects of your words. So don’t be discouraged or become weary in doing good.

A present provision from the hand of God

Amongst all the sorrow of the opening chapter, it would have been hard to explain to Ruth and Naomi the outcome. Naomi was so convinced of the harshness of her life, that she changed her name. Yet God had other plans. He provides the whole way through the book. And God provides, not just a redeemer for Ruth, but in the child, he has also provided a redeemer for Naomi. V14

And this child will provide and sustain Naomi for the rest of her life. Friends in the words of the townswomen we have a great description of the blessings of our redeemer – one who restores life, and who sustains us.

This book teaches us that no matter how dark the days are, and how stress filled, we have a father in Heaven who provides, and brings great blessing to those who commit their ways into his hands.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Ruth Chapter 4 - The Redeemer Redeems (2)

The Redeemer Pays a Great Price

And watching and waiting for the man and when he appears Boaz says, “Come over here my friend and sit down.” It is interesting to note that Boaz doesn’t call him by his name, but by a strange expression – to put it in our language today – it is as if Boaz calls him Mr thingme, Mr so and so, Mr whatever your name is. Boaz must have known his name, and probably used it. But the narrator of the story purposely leaves it out, and does to in such a way to tell us that he is leaving it out. This man’s name is not worth recording. And we see why.

And so Boaz explains the situation v3 “Naomi has come back from Moab and is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought that I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people.”

And the man initially replies “I will redeem it.” But then it is as if Boaz says – oh there is something else v5 “On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire the dead man’s widow in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property.”

And it is this extra information that changes the man’s response, He won’t do it now “You redeem it yourself I cannot do it.”

Why the change? Well when there was only Naomi to deal with that was Ok. He would buy the farm. Naomi is an old woman – and as soon as she dies he being the closest relative will get all – it is only an investment, better than money in the bank.

But this news about a young woman and the aspect of preserving the dead man’s line things are different. If he marries Ruth and she has a son, then the land automatically reverts to him, in which case he loses both the money he has laid out in his initial investment and the land. The land will never be his, for the land would go to any son who in law was the son of Mahlon, that they would have.

And so his true colours can be seen. He won’t redeem for there is nothing in it for him. Can you see why his name isn’t recorded?

You see this man’s name will not be recorded in the Word of God, there is no place for him amongst God’s people, as he turns his back on God’s Word. He is a selfish self centred man.

But how different is Boaz – he is willing at great personal cost to redeem knowing that the land will never be his. He paid an actual price for the land, but there was the further price of that investment wouldn’t be for his benefit. The land would belong to the family of Mahlon. Not only did he have to pay the price, but he was paying a price for the benefit of someone else.

And can’t we see again the great Redeemer. To redeem the lost there was a great cost. A substitute was required, someone who could pay an infinite price.

And so Jesus came born of a woman to redeem those under the law. And He willingly laid down his life, even death on a cross.

Fellow Christian our redemption cost Christ His life. It cost the Father His unique son. Some of you have sons – can you imagine any situation that you might sacrifice their lives for some stranger, some enemy. That is what God did.

The cost was real and great. See how He loves you. Having done this great thing will He not also give us all that we need for this journey?

What lengths Christ went to to save sinners. Why is it then that some people try to get right with God by good deeds. Imagine a wealthy father, son has wandered off but despite his wanderings the father at great expense wants to set his son up for life. And the son say – keep your gift I don’t want it, I’ll do it myself.

Could it be someone here today doing that with God. What lengths the Father has gone to save sinners like you – but throwing it back in his face saying keep your old gift.

Boaz, the redeemer, pays.

Challenge – because as Christians we are to be like our saviour in this regard – we are called to follow him wholeheartedly – to be willing to pay the price. And here from this Mr Nobody we learn the lesson, that there is a price to pay for not paying the price. Jesus demands and deserves, and his cause demands and deserves that we sacrifice whatever gets in the way, no matter how precious it is to us. And this man who was unprepared to make that sacrifice disappears off the record of the people of God, as someone whose name isn’t even worthy of mention.

The Redeemer Guarantees the Redemption

Much of the events of chapter 4 happen at the city gate – it was the civic centre of Bethelehem, the court of justice, high court. Boaz has gathered up 10 elders of the town. And Boaz sets all this up so that everything will be legal and guaranteed, and nothing ever called into question.

Boaz paid the price in full, to take on all the responsibilities in providing for these two desperate women. And he was going to be seen to be above board about it all - hence all this business about exchanging sandals - the equivalent to a signature at the bottom of a contract, in full view of witnesses. The sandal possibly assumed this symbolic significance because if you owned a piece of land you were free to walk over it, wherever and whenever you wished. Boaz paid the price in full, and this sandal exchange, and his words in v9-10 to the witnesses demonstrate that Boaz wants all and sundry to know that Ruth and Naomi have both been redeemed.

And when it gets to the wedding bit these civic leaders who are invested with legal authority are witnesses v9,10,11. Boaz is making sure that Ruth’s redemption is fixed for ever, without a shadow a doubt.

It is rubber stamped

It is witnessed by many witnesses

And isn’t the same true of the work of the great redeemer. His work has been guaranteed. When Jesus Christ rose from the dead it was God declaring for all time that the Redeemer’s work was guaranteed. The resurrection is the rubber stamp, the divine seal of approval on the work of Jesus.

You will remember how after the resurrection there were multiple witnesses. The work of Jesus Christ on the cross was accepted, the cost was paid in full.

The rest of scripture seeks to make it clear that our redemption is secure. The saints in Heaven are certainly more comfortable, but they are no more secure than you.

The apostle Paul tells us in Roman, “There is now no condemnation for those who ae in Christ Jesus.”

The price has been paid and we have the receipt stamped across it paid in full. Isn’t that one of the reasons we love this day, the Lord’s Day. It is the day that He rose, and as every Lord’s Day dawns it is as if God is writing out again the guarantee – the price has been paid.

If you are not yet a Christian – what is holding you back – salvation is certain in Christ. Redemption is guaranteed to all who are in Christ.

This is all part of the work of a redeemer. Ruth didn’t have to look over her shoulder all the time wondering whether the dream would break, wondering if she was really redeemed. Boaz made sure.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Ruth Chapter 4 - The Redeemer Redeems

The Book of Ruth has everything to make a good story - death, romance and a happy ending. But it is much more than a good story. There is a deeper story, a deeper romance - I hope you have seen something of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God.

We have seen our desperate need for redemption.
We have seen the commitment required of us in redemption
We have seen the character and goodness of the redeemer
We have seen the manner in which we are to come to the redeemer

As we come to Ruth 4 we see the Redeemer redeeming. And we see not just a wedding, but a birth of a child, a child that brings joy and happiness and purpose to the lives of many.

We see the work of the Redeemer and the blessings of the redeemed

The Work of the Redeemer v1-10
Now from one point of view, Naomi's story is the story of everyone in Israel at the time of the Judges. There was no king and everyone did what was right in his own eyes. Which is exactly what Naomi's husband, Elimelech, had done. He had deserted the land of promise and had gone over to pagan Moab, bringing his wife and family to the brink of ruin.

Her only hope was to turn for home, and throw herself on the mercy and provision of God. And as we have seen God had provided a way - a way in his word, the provision of a kinsman redeemer, and he had actually provided a good and godly man who would fulfil that role and ensure that not only would the family name continue, but family land lost would be secured - redeemed.

However, not only is this the story of one family and one nation, it is your story and mine. For we too have behaved in a similar fashion. Rejecting God as our rightful ruler, we have wandered off doing what is right in our own eyes, bringing ourselves to the bring of eternal ruin.

We too can no more rescue ourselves than could Naomi, we need someone to look upon us in kindness, so as to provide a way whereby we can be restored and have a future hope, an inheritance which will last into eternity. And that is precisely what the final chapter of this story promises - a kinsman-redeemer who can begin to mend the most messed up of lives, restore us to God, and secure for us a destiny which no one can ever take away.

Something I haven't thought of until now was this fact - Boaz had to be some sort of relation in order for him to rescue Ruth and Naomi. That is why the NIV calls him a kinsman redeemer. He was one who was from the same family as Naomi. Our redeemer is one who was made like us, who was God and is God, but who became man in order to rescue sinners. To rescue us he had to be God, to take our place and pay for our sins, he had to be man, a kinsman. He is our kinsman redeemer. How thankful we should be that God the Son came to earth and took on human likeness and was made in appearance as a man, and humbled himself and was obedient to death even death on a cross.

There is part of the character of the redeemer - like us, and yet not like us. Boaz was like Naomi, in that he came from the same family, and he was not like her, in that he had the means to redeem, to do what she couldn't do.

The Redeemer Does All That Is Necessary
Last time as we worked through the third chapter we saw how Ruth approached Boaz the Redeemer and asked him to marry her, to answer the prayer that he had earlier prayed for her.

Throughout the book Ruth has been the one who takes the initiative. She has been centre stage. She returned from Moab. She spoke out. She went into the field to glean. She went to Boaz. She asked.

But now as we come to ch 4 when it comes to the actual act of redemption in chapter 4 there is not the least mention of Ruth doing anything more. Boaz is now centre stage. Previously Ruth had come with her need and now this chapter is given over to all the work that Boaz the kinsman redeemer has to do.

He is busy with the task of redeeming Ruth. In v1 Boaz seems to have been up early that morning and goes to the city gate

Ancient cities were fairly compact, filled with narrow streets. The gate area provided a spacious spot for people to gather and do business. In general there was a large area outside the outer wall, and perhaps another bench lines area just inside the wall. was a It was the place where prophets would later address kings, and where Ezra would read the Law. It was the equivalent of the public square or the market square. But most importantly it was the courthouse, the place where public officials sat to administer justice and to oversee legal transactions.

Boaz arrives there and he sits and waits for the arrival of the other closer relative. Most cities only had one main gate. So everyone entering had to go through it. So Boaz gets there early to make sure he doesn't miss this relative. In those days most people would have lived in the city for safety, but their lands were outside the town walls.

v2 he has taken 10 elders with him, he has a quorum of the town council gathered up to oversee proceedings.

As we look at these verses we see that Boaz has taken everything into consideration. He has worked out a careful plan and he carries out every detail of that plan - the interview with the other kinsman, the gathering of witness and the marriage to Ruth. Boaz does everything that is needed to redeem this needy woman.

And is that not the same with our great Redeemer, Jesus Christ?

But God did all that was necessary for our redemption. There was a plan made in the counsel of God before the beginning of time. There was the election of a certain number to everlasting life. Jesus Christ came and lived the life of obedience that God's law demands. He died, taking the punishment that our sins required, and rose making the way possible for redemption, and the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of the work of Jesus Christ to all who have been chosen from eternity past.

The Redeemer does everything. And the only thing that we contribute is our sin, our need.

Now of course that is not a message that fallen mankind likes. We like to think that we have something to give in return. This message that God does everything wounds the pride of fallen man.

It ought to remind us of our inability to do anything to please God before we are Christians.

It ought to humble us. And for the Christian there is great assurance in this - for if our salvation is all of God we are safe and secure forever.

And for the person not yet a Christian - what hope this brings. There is an answer, given by God to your deepest needs.

The redeemer does all that is necessary. There is a great difference between us and Ruth. Ruth in 3:18 is told to wait until the matter is settled. The KJV has it "He will not rest until he has finished the thing". She is told that Boaz will finish the thing. So Ruth, and the reader are on the edge of their seats as we enter into ch4 - will Boaz be able to redeem. Will he be able to finish what he set out to do? How happier it is to be on this side of Calvary. Ruth looked forward and hoped that her redeemer would be able to finish the thing, but not us, there is no edge of seat stuff for the Christian. Our Redeemer has already said, "It is finished". All that is necessary for salvation has been done.

The Redeemer Is Motivated by Love
In these verses we are introduced to the other nearer kinsman redeemer. He happens to pass by. There's that phrase again that we met in Ch 2. Its funny how co-incidences happen! For God there are no accidents. He is the one who orders everything for the well-being of his people.

Here again we are reminded that Boaz is not the closest relative to the dead, there is another one closer than Boaz. As we saw last week Boaz was therefore under no obligation to take up the task of kinsman redeemer. It was within His rights to turn and walk away from the whole situation.

What is it that motivates this man to do this? He did what He didn't have to do because He loved her.

That is made clear by the reaction of the other kinsman. When he hears of property that could increase his bank balance, he is all interested, and is willing to redeem, even willing to pay a price.

This is brilliant story telling - as you read it you, think "No! Boaz has lost out, its all gone wrong."

It teaches us the lesson that sometimes things will look as if God's plans have been thwarted, but they are never thwarted.

But when he hears that it will involve taking a Moabitess under his roof, and marrying her, and having children with her. He suddenly backs off. This man appears in the story as a artist paints a shadow, to make the focus of the painting stand out all the more brightly. And this man's money centred, land grabbing motives cause Boaz's love to stand out in all its brilliance. He is going to redeem Ruth because he loves her, not because of what he can get out of it.

Just like Jesus, the great redeemer.

John 10:11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

John 15:13 Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

The great Triune God, Father Son and Spirit, was complete, and completely content before time began. He did not need to make us. He did not need to redeems us. He wasn't lonely. He wasn't needing anything. He simply chooses to.

He looks at you, helpless, sinful, and he chooses to redeem you. Why? Because he loves you!

Its worth noticing here that anything else that seems to offer hope and salvation in this life is just like this other redeemer. Not motivated by love for you. Only interested in lining it's own pockets. Only interested in you for what it can get out of you. We see that clearly with alcohol. We see it clearly with drugs. We see it clearly with sex outside of God's design in marriage. These things offer love or peace or promise to forget the past, but they are only interested for themselves. Some people give themselves to pleasure - it will chew them up and spit them out. Some people give themselves to being famous - and they are famous, but only for a short time. And that fame brings its own price.

Only Jesus is motivated by unselfish love.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Ruth Chapter 3 (2)

Christ redeems us voluntarily v12
As I thought through this passage there was one thing I couldn't get my head around. All along I've been saying that Boaz is a picture of Jesus. He is the one who shows us what a redeemer is. Why then does he say to Ruth in v12

"Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I."

Does this mean that somehow our redeemer might not redeem us, even when we ask him? No. I think the reason why God has ordered the events in the book of Ruth in this way was to show Ruth that Boaz wasn't doing this because he had to, but because of love.

Boaz was under no obligation to take up the task of kinsman redeemer. It was within His rights to turn and walk away from the whole situation. What is it that motivates this man to do this? He did what He didn't have to do because He loved her. Boaz is filled for compassion of this needy woman and pledges that he will do all that is required to see to her redemption.

Why did God plan out and carry out every detail for redeeming sinners. Why did He establish a plan from before time, why did He send His Son, why did the Son lay down His life?

Was God under some sort of obligation? No, none at all. "For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish nut have eternal life."

Our redeemer did it solely out of love for us. It was love, loving kindness, grace and mercy that motivated our redemption.

Our Redeemer wants to give us more than we ever dream of asking for
Where man's ways, even though they might seem wise, lead to a loss of our integrity and our honour, the ways of the redeemer guarantee our personal integrity.

And before daylight begins to dawn Boaz takes care to send Ruth away v14 so that her personal integrity will be protected.

And she is not to leave empty handed either - she has six measures of barley. Huge quantity - lays it on her - 6 or 7 stone bag.

There is a hint here that Boaz has heard of Naomi's bitter complaint in ch 1.

20 "Don't call me Naomi," she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. 21 I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty.

And so as he sends Ruth back with this huge bag of grain, it isn't just so that she'll look like someone out carrying grain, look at what he says,

"He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, 'Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.'"

The Redeemer is the one who supplies our greatest need, but he goes far beyond that.

I think these ladies are a picture of some people today. Still at a distance from the one who can truly satisfy. I think that Ruth is here a picture of many Christians picking around the edge of the fields of God's provision, but not walking close with Jesus, feeding off scraps each Sunday. Will you draw close like Ruth did and find that your Saviour will provide more than you ever dreamed possible?

And isn't she a picture of the unconverted person also. That person who is perhaps on the periphery of the church, quite enjoys picking up a few spiritual morsels at the edge of the field of the church service, or a Christian home but as yet does not know Christ for themselves.

Why would you stay at the edges, come close, and have your greatest need met, and provision made for your life?

Friday, July 22, 2005

Ruth Chapter 3 (1)

Coming to our redeemer
We have been seeing that the book of Ruth is in some ways a picture book. In Ruth herself we have seen a picture of us all by nature, weak, helpless, hopeless, no place amongst the people of God. In Ruth we were given a simple picture of conversion. In the changed Ruth we can see the Christian - all her needs met by someone very special.

And then in this book we have seen in a very clear way that Boaz, the kinsman redeemer is a picture, an illustration of the Great Kinsman Redeemer, the Lord Jesus.

And we have seen what sort of a redeemer he is - kind, generous, protective, loving.

In chapter 3 we see Ruth coming to her redeemer. And how it is that we should come to Christ.

4 main lessons in this chapter for us:

Christ redeems us, not because of our efforts v1-6
Do the opening verses of this chapter strike you as odd?

Naomi's actions have puzzled me for years. Her suggestion to Ruth that she get all dolled up and go and get under the blanket with Boaz in the dead of night, seemed more than odd, it seemed downright dangerous. But I always assumed that what she did was strange to me, but must have been ok then. Perhaps it was some strange custom.

But as I've looked at it over the last number of weeks, the more and more unhappy I've become with it.

And I think it teaches us the very serious lesson that you can go about the right thing in the wrong way.

There are a number of factors that contribute to this:

It seems to me that Naomi is guilty again of using human reason, instead of relying on God. We have seen this before. Naomi and her husband Elimelech reasoned that it was better to go to Moab, than to stay in Bethlehem because of the famine. A seemingly good idea, except that it ignored God's word. Then there was her terrible advice to her daughters in law "Go home to your gods and you'll be more likely to get a husband there - again very practical, very true, but utterly unbiblical. And here she is again in Chapter 3 giving advice that seems tinged with the same disease. Its full of human wisdom, but utterly lacking in godliness.

She is putting Ruth's virtue and her reputation on the line, and as well as that she is putting Boaz's reputation and his virtue on the line. She is playing with fire, and it isn't herself that she puts at risk it is two other people.

It is the end of the harvest, a time of celebration and enjoyment. The threshing floor, would be a place where the barley would be threshed with a heavy sledge dragged over the grain, or cart-wheels. The aim was to separate the husks from the kernels. Then with a fork or shovel the whole lot would be tossed into the air, and the breeze would blow the chaff, husks and stalks a short distance away, while the heavier kernels would fall nearer the winnower. The men would winnow the barley, and eat and drink there, and stay to guard the grain.

It wasn't an ideal place to send a young woman, dressed to kill, and scented with fine perfume. Naomi herself knows this and warns her to be sure to wait until everyone in asleep, and to be sure to go to the right man, because there will be others present. And to tell her to get under the blanket, admittedly at his feet, is almost beyond understanding.

Naomi doesn't want anyone to see Ruth, because she knows, as Boaz makes clear later in v14, that it will destroy her reputation if it were known that she went to the threshing floor. At best her reputation could have been irreparable damaged, at worst she could have been raped. Naomi is a giver of bad advice. So why should we follow her example here any more so than when she allowed her sons to marry unbelievers?

Not only that, but we see from Boaz reaction. In the middle of the night, for some reason he is startled, perhaps his feet are cold, since Ruth has lifted back the blanket. The word is "trembled" - he awakens, something is at his feet, and as the fog of sleep clears, an unusual scent hits his nostrils. It certainly isn't the aroma of sweaty farmers after a days threshing. There is a woman in the threshing floor, and she is at his feet! Is it any wonder he asks, "Who are you?"

And his reaction shows us that the last thing he expected was to find a woman at his feet. Least of all Ruth.

The goal was a good one, but Naomi went about it in completely the wrong way.

It becomes all the more apparent that it is the wrong way to go about things when we think of what is happening here on a spiritual level. This whole incident is designed by God to be a picture of the sinner coming to the redeemer. Is this how a person is to come to Christ? All dressed up in their own efforts, and putting on their best appearances? Certainly not.

What are you dressing yourself up in to come to Jesus? The rags of your own good works? Your own reputation? Christian do you think you are more acceptable to Christ because of your good reputation?

Boaz was a man who looked on the heart. Our Redeemer is one who looks on the heart.

You can do about a good thing in completely the wrong way. And it not just when we become Christians that we can make this mistake. That is a disease that many modern Christians are susceptible to - they seek to do a right thing in the wrong way.

They follow their own thinking, rather than God's instructions. Certainly, like Naomi, they have admirable motives, but it doesn't make it any less wrong or dangerous.

We want to see our friends or our colleagues converted, or even our own family members and so we push Christianity down their throats day and night. This can especially happen with our children. Like Naomi we can be so keen for a good thing to happen that we go about it in the wrong way. And we can get their backs up and put them off altogether.

Or as we tell people the gospel, we don't want to offend and so we maximise the bit about going to Jesus, and we play down their guilt.

Just the other evening a young man said to me, "This one is interested in me, she's doesn't go to church much, but I'm taking her to such and such a church event, and I'm praying that God will make it clear what I should do." Here is a young person who thinks like Naomi. He wants to witness to this girl, that's a right thing, but he's going about it in entirely the wrong way, by going out with her. That's asking for trouble.

A good idea - a wrong way to go about it

There are many lessons to learn from Ruth and Boaz here - don't play games with your reputation. Don't put yourself in a situation that you know is wrong, no matter for how many good motives. Here are Boaz and Ruth in a situation that can make or mar them. Our whole reputation can hang on one decision. Don't go to places where you know a Christian shouldn't be seen. Don't put yourself into those situations - Ruth shouldn't have been where she was.

Young People - Getting married is a good thing, but you can go about it in entirely the wrong way. There will be times perhaps when a boy or girl shows interest in you, and I know that its hard to find a Christian partner, and you may be tempted to see this as God's providence - Boaz could have seen this as God's providence - Nice evening, under the stars, and a beautiful woman under your blanket. Don't read into circumstances things that aren't there. If a non-Christian is interested in you - it is utterly against God's word, without a shadow of a doubt. Don't follow your instincts, follow God's word.

The situation might arise when you find yourself in a situation like Boaz and Ruth where no-one else is around, and the temptation is there, and no one will know. Like Boaz, the night was silent, the person beautiful, the invitation plausible, but he restrained his lust, putting godliness first. And he has no intention of taking advantage of the situation. He assures her, in v11, "Do not be afraid… tomorrow." He knows that his own reputation as well as Ruth's could be in tatters. And it is in your reactions and responses that you will be seen for what you are. It is not the crisis that makes the person, but the crisis always reveals the person for who they really are.

Be like Ruth she had set her heart on this man of God. Set your heart only on men and women of God.

Young people and all of us - let us learn to rely on God and his timing, rather than taking things into our own hands. Marriage isn't the be-all and end-all. Don't make it a god.

And be careful who you take advice from. By all means take advice from other Christians. That is what they are there for. But always measure it against God's word. And be very careful with the advice given by another Christian who is backslidden like Naomi was. If you don't see them living out the Christian life, and talking out the Christian life, be very careful what advice you take from them.

And you older Christians be careful with the advice you give - is it scriptural?

I can't help thinking that if Naomi had listened to her own advice in v18, it would have been a much better situation.
"Then Naomi said, 'Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.'"

Wait on the Lord.

Christ redeems us when we humbly ask v7-11
Ruth, a newcomer to the ways of the people of God, does what most in her situation would do - she takes the advice. She doesn't know any better. But when it comes to the bit, she departs from Naomi's advice in one crucial area

Naomi told Ruth to go and lie down at Boaz's feet, and to wait for him to tell her what to do. But instead of waiting for Boaz to tell her, Ruth instead makes a request:

9 "Who are you?" he asked. "I am your servant Ruth," she said. "Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer."

Now let us not imagine that there was anything untoward going on here, there is not even a hint of moral impropriety. This seems to be the equivalent of a proposal. Asking someone to spread their garment over you was asking them to protect and shelter you. And there is a play on words here. Earlier Boaz had said, (Ruth 2:12) "May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge."

The word 'wing' and the word 'garment' here sound very alike. So Ruth is saying, "Will you be the one God uses to provided refuge". Ruth takes matters into her own hands and she asks. She doesn't rely on her having washed herself, or beautified herself, she just asks that Boaz would fulfil his role as redeemer. That he would be her saviour.

Now that was all that was needed. Why this whole elaborate scheme? Dressing up, dolling herself up? All she had to do was ask. This didn't have to be done at night, this didn't require any great scheme. See how willing Boaz is. V10,13.

And we know from the character of Boaz that it isn't outward appearances that impress him. He has seen Ruth dusty and sweaty in the field gleaning, but instead he focuses on her character - "Ahh you are the one that came back with Naomi, May the Lord bless you richly for what you have done". He has heard all about her, and what she has done has made an impression. And again in v11 he speaks about her character, "All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character."

Boaz is a man who looks at the heart, at the inner beauty of a person, at their relationship with God and how that relationship works itself out in their lives.

All she had to do was ask. Which is what she did. And Boaz responds with "Yes".

And here is the lesson for each of us here. It isn't our good deeds, or our idea of how clean we are that impresses our Redeemer. Naomi's is a gospel of good works. Ruth instead relies on grace. She comes to the feet of Boaz, a sign of humility. She takes up her position there.

So here we see to great lessons about coming to Jesus - Jesus isn't interested in the outward appearance. He is much more interested in the heart. And the sort of heart he wants to see is a humble heart that comes asking him to redeem us.

Think for a moment what Ruth is asking him to do. She isn't just asking him to marry her. She is asking that he will go to great costs to redeem her. He will have to pay a price as we will see God willing next week. This will involve personal expense.

In reality these two ladies are still beggars, they are still living on the scraps that are around the perimeter of the fields, they still have no future, no permanency among the covenant community of God.

But Ruth does not remain a beggar with scraps she makes every effort to come close to the kinsman redeemer. And she comes humbly, asking to be redeemed.

When you come to Jesus you need to come humbly, acknowledging that we have no right to be there. You need to come humbly admitting that you need his help, admitting that you are in the wrong, that you have broken his commands and his laws, admitting that you deserve his punishment. And when we come humbly and ask him to redeem us, he will.

All you need to do is ask

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Studies in Ruth Chapter 2 (3)

Enjoying God's Provision
Not only do we see God's providence in the life of Ruth, and then in Boaz do we see our Redeemer's Protection, but we also see our Redeemer's provision.

Here is something that stands out in this chapter. Boaz doesn't just protect, he doesn't just leave her to get on with gleaning in the field. Provision is made for Ruth. Three words describe this provision:

Gracious Provision
Ruth was a foreigner. Boaz was obliged to let her glean by law. But the law said nothing about providing her with water and with lunch. Yet…

9 And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled."

14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, "Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar." When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.

When you become a Christian, you are not left to fend for yourself. God provides graciously, freely. You don't have to earn your salvation. And you don't have to earn his help in daily life. God will provide for you daily freely. That is what the Lord's Supper reminds us of. This isn't just a looking back to a great event when Christ provided for our salvation. This is a looking forward to Monday, when Christ will provide for us again, and again and again.

And when you feel like you don't deserve God's provision, that's exactly true. But it free. It's a gracious provision. You are like Ruth, you are working in his field. And he comes and says here, refresh yourself with this. Strengthen yourself with this.

Loving Provision
It is a love story. You can smell it a mile off. V14 oozes tenderness and love.

At mealtime Boaz said to her, "Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar." When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over.

He invites Ruth the outcast into the circle where he sits. He treats her as one of his own. He serves her. This is a loving provision.

What motivates Boaz? Love. What motivates our Redeemer? Love. Note what Boaz offers as well as some of the grain they have been harvesting which they have roasted: "Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar." Bread and wine - a sign of his loving provision. Hmm - where have I come across that before?

The Lord's Supper is a loving provision. It is a reminder of past loving provision and a guarantee that further loving provision in the future. And it is personally provided by our saviour for us. And he invites us the outcasts of Heaven to come and sit with him and to eat with him in his kingdom.

Abundant Provision
Gleaning was not a profitable way to get a free meal. Harvesters weren't wasteful. They didn't drop much. This was survival rations. But yet Ruth returns home with 30lbs weight of barley. At a time when workers were paid in barley this equalled somewhere between 3-4 weeks wages. It is a staggering amount. And it explains Naomi's reaction.

19"Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!"

She knew that someone had be generous. Look at Boaz generosity in v 15-16. Better to translate it "Even between the sheaves she may glean, and don't embarrass her." It is permission. To glean in the rich pickings area. Then he adds, "Pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up".

This is sheer grace not just law. This is abundant provision. This is superabundant provision. This is what our saviour does to all who come to him in repentance and faith.

Philippians 4:19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.

Ephesians 3:20 Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

Boaz' generosity borders on the extravagant. Ruth and Naomi need have no fear for the future. When we look at what God has provided for us, his salvation, his righteousness, Heaven, adoption, justification, sanctification, his promises, daily strength. Its abundant provision.

What sort of people then ought we to be? People who hold on to God's faithfulness, facing tomorrow knowing that we have a God who will provide, provide lovingly, provide freely, and provide abundantly for whatever situation he brings us into in his loving providence. He will supply all our needs.

So hold on to God's faithfulness. When all else is bleak, come close to God, and he will supply.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Studies in Ruth Chapter 2 (2)

Encircled by God's protection
The scene is set for Boaz. In Elimelech, Orpah, Naomi and Ruth we have seen pictures of ourselves. Today we come to look at Boaz. Boaz stands apart from the other characters. He is a picture of Jesus.

He is one of the outstanding characters of the Old Testament. But more than that, when Ruth arrives home and displays to Naomi the fruits of her day's gleaning and reveals in whose field she has been, Naomi exclaims, "That man is one of our redeemers". Boaz is a redeemer - a saviour like figure. Here again was provision God had made in his law for any Israelite who had to sell his land, or himself into slavery, that he could be redeemed by a near relative. The Redeemer was the one who paid the price, so that a relative could go free. He was the one who brought for them their inheritance in the Promised Land.

In this practice God is providing for us a picture of what Christ would do for us. We were slaves to sin. We had lost our inheritance. And Christ comes and pays the price so that we can be set free and he pays the price so that we can have our inheritance in the Promised Land of Heaven.

Boaz is a Redeemer. He is a picture for us of Jesus, and we see that reinforced in different ways in the text. He comes from Bethlehem, where the Great Redeemer would be born. His mother we learn from Matthew was Rahab - a woman who had a dubious history. Like Jesus Boaz would have known what it was like to have aspersions cast on his parents.

We see his Christ-likeness in his actions - in his compassion on the outcast, and the needy, the way he goes out of his way to meet Ruth at the point of her need.

And as we look at how Boaz takes care of Ruth we see not only are God's people blessed by the providences of God, but they are encircled by the protection of God

As we look at the passage we see the Great Redeemers protection of his people lived out in Boaz the Redeemer's protection of Ruth.

From Boaz's words to Ruth about where to glean, and his warnings to his workers evidently Bethlehem was not an idyllic little county town. It had its dark places, and to be a foreigner and a female was to be particularly at risk. And yet see what lengths Boaz goes to reassure this one who has placed herself under the care of Jehovah God, that she will be safe.

We see it in his words

Throughout the chapter Ruth shows that she is very aware that she is a foreigner. She has evidently introduced herself to the foreman on the job as a Moabite, Naomi's daughter in law. And what are Boaz's first words to her, v8 "Listen carefully my daughter" - what beautiful words of acceptance. See how he sweeps aside any doubts she might have about being accepted. "My daughter".

Our Saviour does the same for us, we are overcome with doubts and fears about our acceptance with God - we can be very much aware that we are foreigners and outcasts, and yet he comes to us and puts away our fears:

John 1:12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God--

1 John 3:1 How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Christ's words should bring comfort and a sense of the great wall of protection that is around us as we too live in a world where there are dangers, and where Satan is out to harm us and to cause us to stumble. They should comfort us when we feel particularly as no doubt Ruth did at times that she was a foreigner, and didn't belong. There will be times when we will wonder do we really belong. And part of the Lord's Supper is Jesus saying to us - you belong.

Boaz's words set Ruth in the right path.

V8,9 So Boaz said to Ruth, "My daughter, listen to me. Don't go and glean in another field and don't go away from here. Stay here with my servant girls. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the girls."

An invitation to stay in his field, and when the workers move on to another field, she is to follow them. In the mishmash jumble of patchwork fields she could easily find herself working in someone else's patch, where she wouldn't be so welcome. But Boaz tells her to be sure to follow his workers on to the next field.

He sets her in the right paths, paths that will be safe. How often our saviour does that for us. He lifts us out of our sins and sets us on a firm place to stand, he sets our feet in his ways, ways that are safe. He provides us with faithful examples in his word, and around us, and bids us follow them so that we will be safe.

And wherever we go in following the commands of our Saviour in his word we will be safe.

John 10:27 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.

Boaz protects her from harm. He instructs his men not to touch her. Perhaps her unease showed in her face, perhaps she had her own concerns about her safety. But Boaz assures her and sets her mind at ease.

V15, 16 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, "Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don't embarrass her. 16 Rather, pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don't rebuke her."

Again his words guard her from danger. And you get the feeling from the general thrust of these words that Boaz was going to hold them personally accountable for the welfare of Ruth. His instructions here are to the all the workers, not just to the foreman. He wants them all to know that she is to be kept safe.

She is encircled by his protection.

Think how secure she must have felt, hearing Boaz give these commands. Think how grateful she must have felt towards Boaz. If Christ is your Redeemer then he has encircled you with his protection. His death protects you from the punishment you deserve from Father, Son and Spirit. His victory at the cross means you have been set free forever from Satan's grasp. His command and authority protects you from attack from Satan which you cannot by his strength withstand. He is present with you, His angels surround you - you are encircled by his protection. And although like Ruth we were from an enemy tribe, and we deserve not protection, when we like Ruth put our trust in God - we are encircled by his protection.

Hear Jesus' words
John 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-one can snatch them out of my hand.

Christ has paid. We are free. And although this life is a battle, nothing can overcome us, because he who is for us is greater than he who is against us.

And see how gentle his care is. See how Boaz goes out of his way to reassure Ruth, so our Saviour goes out of his way to reassure his people of his care for them. And he is gentle - Isaiah says of him "A bruised Reed he will not break, a smouldering wick he will not snuff out." Is that how you feel? Then be assured that your saviour cares for you in the same tender and gentle way that we see Boaz provide for Ruth here. Are you feeling stretched in every direction, or anxious about the future? Be assured your saviour will not let you be tested beyond what you can bear, but will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Studies in Ruth - Chapter 2

The God who Provides
What happens when you trust God? What does it mean to be under God's care? Can God be trusted with the details of my life? Will he take care of even the smallest thing? What happens when a person leaves the security of living their own way and throws themselves on God's care?

In Ruth we can see the answers. They are acted out in front of us. And the great theme of chapter two is that God blesses abundantly those who trust in him.

As we come to the start of ch 2 we are aware that Ruth and Naomi have arrived back in Bethlehem and are penniless widows with no visible means of support. The question still hangs over them - who is going to provide? They have entrusted themselves into God's keeping, they have brought their lives into line with his word and his will, but still they are homeless and hungry. And as we look at these two without visible means of support we find that we see that the following verses unfold for us the invisible means of support that God provides for them.

These verses are a living example of the truth of Romans 8:28

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Experiencing God's Providence
Consider the closing verse of chapter 1:
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.

They had just travelled somewhere in the region of 40 to 50 miles, on foot, from the low lying fertile plains of Moab up 1300m up through the desert mountains up to Bethlehem which was high above the plains. They complete this journey just as the barley harvest in commencing. Now the barley harvest only lasted a matter of days. And so Ruth allows herself no times for recuperation after their arduous journey. She loses no time at all in getting out into the fields to see about getting some means of support for herself and Naomi.

But let us note God's provision in this. We see it in each of the 5 verses from ch1:22 to 2:4

No.1 Just in Time
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.

They arrive just in time. A few days later and they would have missed it. A month or two earlier and they would have had a long wait. God brought them to Bethlehem at just the right time. To do that the news of his provision that we read of in 1v6 had to get to Naomi at the right time. She had to leave, and get to Bethlehem. And yet God ordered all these things just so that they were perfect. God orders even the details of our calendars.

No.2 Just the Man
1 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband's side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz.

Another providence of God. We are introduced for the first time to the man who will transform the story. Boaz, the redeemer. Naomi hasn't been left entirely helpless. God has provided someone. God does that for his people - he provides others to be there for them, to help and to encourage. He often goes before us into situations and has someone there. He provides for his people.

No.3 Just the law needed
2 And Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, "Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favour." Naomi said to her, "Go ahead, my daughter."

Ruth asks to go out and glean in the fields. Again this is the providence of God. God had decreed in Lev 19:9-10

When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the LORD your God.

He reinforced in Deut 24:19-21

19 When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow

When his people harvested the land they were not to harvest right to the edges and right into the corners of the field, nor were they to gather anything that they had dropped. Instead they were to leave that for the poor, the fatherless, and the foreigner. Ruth was all three. But God had provided for her in his law.

No.4 Just the field
3 So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech.

There were no fields as we know them. Just vast open tracks of land. Divided and subdivided without fences or hedges. Each owner knew his land. It would have been marked off with a boundary stone at the edge. He may have had several pieces of land, not necessarily side by side. But to the outsider it would have looked like a jumbled patchwork. Of all the fields in Bethlehem she could have picked with the patchwork facing her, Ruth happened to pick Boaz's field. The Hebrew of this verse is great - The author literally writes, "Her chance chanced upon a field belonging to Boaz". One commentator says, "you can imagine the author with his tongue firmly in his bearded Jewish cheek saying, "As luck would have it.". Here is God at work behind the scenes again, directing and guiding her to the right place. See how God directs even our footsteps!

And then the fifth of these five co-incidences:

No.5 Look who just turned up
4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, "The LORD be with you!" "The LORD bless you!" they called back.

Ruth happens to pick the right field, and "Just then" Boaz happens to come along to see how the workers are getting on!

In the life of Ruth it looked like a series of co-incidences, but for a sovereign God there are no accidents.

So it is in your life. God is at work behind the scenes. He is ordering everything. It is no accident that you are living where you are, when you are. It is no accident that you are doing what you do and living where you are any more than it was an accident that it was these particular workers in this particular field in ancient Bethlehem.

God weaves the threads of our lives. Think of what strange threads God has been weaving in your lives. The providences that for some of you brought you to Christ. The people who spoke to you. Or the providences that brought you to this church. Or the providences that happen each day - some are painful providences, some are delightful. God is at work. He is working all things together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose.

God has placed you here for a purpose. He has orchestrated the events of your life thus far for a reason.

If you are not a Christian, it is to continually point you to the God you need, the God who gives you everything, the God who is at the same time giving blessings to you, and yet angry with you.

And if you are a Christians that is immensely comforting. And we need to learn to see his handiwork in these things and to praise him for it, and even when things seem to be dark and dismal here is a truth we can still cling to - God is sovereignly orchestrating the events of your life, so that like Ruth you will reach a point, where you can look back to the hard times and see the reason why they happened, and how God had meant it for good.

Doesn't it excite you to know that everything in your life is under God's control - that even your past can be used by him, that whatever circumstances you are in God has brought them about for your good! That doesn't mean you can sit back and do nothing - Ruth has just walked 40 miles, climbed a mountain and now is out working in the heat of the day to scrape together enough food for herself and her mother-in-law to live on. She isn't swanning around the field, fluttering her eyelids, looking for a man to marry. Neither is she sitting at home feeling sorry for herself, waiting to see what God is going to do - she is out there working for all she is worth. But as she throws herself into living her life, and providing for those that God has placed in her care, then God guides her in the paths she should go in.

How wonderful and exciting. As you seek to follow, and to get on with living your life God's way - he will orchestrate everything for your good.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Studies in Ruth (6)

Ruth - Committed, whatever the cost
Here are some of the most beautiful words in the English language.

16 But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me."

Here is a woman who has counted the cost of returning to God. Of going to be part of God's people. She knows it will mean never seeing her own family again. She knows that likely it will mean hardship, and even persecution, being isolated. She knows that it will likely mean no marriage, no one to provide for her in her old age. She knows that it will mean being a stranger in a strange land.

But here we see the response of someone who has grasped what it is to know God and to be part of God's people. Whatever bad we may have said about Naomi - her witness nevertheless had a powerful impact. And there is encouragement in itself. But here is a woman from an utterly godless background who only has heard a little about God, but what little she has heard has made her want to know more. Here is a woman who is turning to God for the right reasons. She knows it will be a difficult life. But nothing is going to shake her. Not even the repeated pleas and the leaving of Orpah. Still she stays on.

It is a personal conversion. Through the quite gentle witness of Naomi, Ruth has come to know the true and living God. Even at this stage Ruth has found that knowing this God and belonging to his people is worth forsaking everything.

Here is what following God is really about. Putting God above all else - our comfort, our family, our lifestyle, our reputation, our desires.

This is what those great biblical words like repentance, conversion, faith are all getting at. In the life of Ruth you can see these words in action. She turns away from here way of life, going her way, doing her things, putting herself first, and she turns to God, to God's way and to following God.

It's as if she says, "There's nothing in Moab for me anymore. It holds no attraction. God's land, God's people and God himself are all I want." Ruth is a great illustration of the person turning to Christ, and becoming a Christian.

She turns away from following he own ways, and turns towards God. She puts her trust in God to provide for her needs.

And the words of Jesus echo:
Mark 10:29 "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields--and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first."
Turn and Trust. Repent and believe.

Not many trod the path from Moab to Israel. Orpah picked the broad road return to Moab, and Ruth chose the narrow path, the road less travelled and that made all the difference.

God - Welcoming the repentant sinner
There is an ever-present fourth character in these verses. True he does not appear visibly, nor does he speak. But he is spoken of 11 times in 17 verses.

6 times Naomi calls him LORD - that special name that speaks of a personal relationship.

And that name too is important 'The Lord' which appears seven times in chapter 1 alone. It is the covenant name, like the name of a caring husband, a name which speaks of a love which will not let go, a love which has his people's long term interests at heart, the tough love of a mother for her children who will sometimes insist on the hard medicine when the voice of reason is spurned.

Twice she calls him "Almighty" - a name that speaks of his power and faithfulness.

This is the God, all powerful, all knowing, all loving to which she decides to return. This is not so much a prodigal son ,but a prodigal daughter who decides to return.

And Ruth has picked up these themes. She doesn't just refer to him as God, but she recognises the personal element - Your God, My God. And Ruth calls him LORD.

God is the ever-present figure in this chapter. Because he is the God that welcomes returning sinners. He is like the father in the parable of the Prodigal son - watching and waiting, ready to run to welcome. Here we have two prodigal daughters coming home.

Here is part of the reason why the Book of Ruth is in scripture - to show us that God welcomes those who come to time - doesn't matter what background or past. It doesn't matter whether you have been a believer and have slide away, and are now returning, or if you are someone with a lot of baggage and background like Ruth. God is a God who welcomes those who come to him in repentance and faith.

And a God who is mighty enough to take our lives and transform them, scars and all.

Naomi can come back. Ruth can come. What a great God.

Here then is a call for all of us to stop in our lives and to turn again to God. To cast ourselves on him in desperate confident despair.

We don't have to, we can go on like Orpah and wander off the pages of the history of God's people, into oblivion. Or we can turn to God and seek his help to change us and to forgive us.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Studies in Ruth (5)

Continuing on in Ruth 1:7-22. Having looked at Orpah we look now at Naomi.

Naomi - Not perfect, but going in the right direction
Naomi is a highly complex character. But from her we learn this lesson:

The Christian is never perfect in this life, and so the Christians life is one marked by a continual returning to God.

Obviously throughout her years in Moab she must have been a particularly outstanding mother in law. For her daughters in law do not want to leave her. And not only that but she has kept her faith a live, and when she hears in v6 that God has visited his people she knows where she wants to be. It isn't in the fertile plains of Moab, but home in Bethlehem, where God was at work. She has been a witness to both of them of the one true God. So much so that Ruth has seen enough to want to commit the rest of her life to following this God. And to Ruth and Orpah, Naomi has demonstrated whom a Israelite widow can lean on. They have seen her faith. Why else would Ruth say to her, "I want your God to be my God."

Unlike her husband who ignored the voice of God speaking in the famine, Naomi listens to the voice of God when it speaks in the provision in Bethlehem and she decides to act. Her speech is filled with references to God. And not just to God, but to him as the LORD - the personal God. She describes him as the Almighty - she has been thinking about his power.

So she may have lost her husband but she has not lost her faith. She may have lost her sons, but her relationship with God still has life.

Yet we have the bizarre advice in v8-9 about Ruth and Orpah returning to Moab. We see her make the same mistake as her husband and rely on human wisdom. Perhaps she didn't think about what she was saying, or perhaps she was guilty of having small thoughts of God. After all, how often have we done the same? We look at problems from a human perspective. And where were they going to get husbands from? And who was going to provide for them? And so she looked at her life without thinking about the power of God.

Add to that the traces of bitterness in her words in v13, 20, 21. When Naomi says, "Call be bitter" - she is saying "This is how I am to be known". This is who I am. My life is too badly disfigured for God to change it - so I will have to change my name. Because it is easier to change my name than for God to change my life.

And why did she not want two loyal daughters in law to return with her? Was it that they would be a perpetual reminder of her and her husbands sinful folly? Was it pride that she didn't want others to know that she Naomi, married into the noble family of the Ephrathites had allowed her sons to marry Moabites? There is in this godly woman tints of bitterness, faithlessness and selfishness and perhaps pride.

And so we see here that it is possible for a believer to both have a faith in God, and at the same time think without God. It is possible for a Christian to make good godly choices and in the next breath turn round and give woefully bad advice. We see that it is possible for a Christian to have a limited vision of what God can do in their lives and in the lives of others around them. We see that it is possible for a believer to focus on the past -

And these are attitudes that need to be repented of. Naomi the woman of faith and no faith, of great blessing, and godless bitterness; of love and selfishness.

She's just like each of us. A mixture or faith and blemishes. We are more like Naomi than perhaps we want to admit. And like her we need to return to God.

And Naomi points us in the right direction. We need to hear God speak to us. And when we hear his voice we must not ignore it. It would have been easy to sit in Moab and to ignore the news coming from Israel. It would have been easy to say, "Its too embarrassing for me to return." What an admission of defeat. And yet that willingness was what saved her, and brought her into the people of God. We see it in her words in v 21, "I went out" - the 'I' is emphatic. I am to blame.

That's where each of us must start.

Whatever our problems in life are, we need to say, "I have gone away from God. I need to come to God."

I am a sinner. I have been guilty of a lack of faith. I have been guilty of bitterness. I have been guilty of not trusting God with the present or the future. I have been angry at God for what he allowed to happen to me. I have been selfish in how I have thought everything revolved around me.

Sometimes things happen in our lives that maybe aren't our fault. We have had little say in the matter. What is the answer? We stand at a crossroads. We can either go down the route of self pity, and bitterness, and anger and hopelessness. Or we can turn to God.

Naomi shows us that she is not going to allow the past, and she is not going to allow the present to rob her of the future. She is not going to allow the despair of the past, or the distress of the present to stop her going on with the Lord into the future. There is the danger that we can just reach a point where we give up, where we believe all is lost. How many believers have had a wilderness experience, either their own fault, or the fault of others and they can become bitter and resentful or resigned. In such situations we must never allow ourselves to stay where we are. There is forgiveness, restoration, renewal and a chance to start again.

The danger is that at such a time, that if you do not respond to the voice of God, but simply wallow in self pity, you can lapse into lifelessness and despair. But God is the God of second chances and he says "Come back". Maybe you have to do some coming back to God. It isn't easy.

God doesn't wave a magic wand and make the past go away. The scars still remain. Naomi was still a widow, her sons were still dead. There are some loses that can never be recovered. But there are also blessings that are still to be attained. Blessings that will outweigh the tears. But we need to come back to God.

Christians need to learn to live with scars, we need to learn to deal with the reminders of our past - whether actions done by us or to us. Like Naomi as we return to God, and let go of our bitterness and anger he will take the hurts of the past and use them for blessing.

Later on Naomi will see the blessings of God, but she has to return to following him first. And later on she will see the meaning in her tears.

When we bring our failures and even our hurts to God, and repent of the wrong in holding them to ourselves and return to his love - we will see them become a blessing to ourselves and through us to others.

Do you need to return to God? To draw closer? Is it pride or bitterness, or anger, or frustration or just a gradual growing cooler? Come back to God.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Holidays and Ruth (4)

Hi there. Sorry for the long delay. I've been away on holidays for the last three weeks. It was a great time away with Judith and Eva, plenty of time to relax, read books, cook, play with Eva, fly Judith's kite, watch Judith fly her kite, eat more food, read more books, play more silly games with Eva... Anyhow, we're back now, and ready to pick up with some thoughts on Ruth. This next sets of studies focuses on Ruth 1:7-22.

Returning to God - The Crossroads
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I --
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Robert Frost

Somewhere between where they lived in Moab and Bethlehem, where they were going, Ruth, Orpah and Naomi stop. They have reached a crossroads. I don't know if it was a literal crossroads, but they have reached a point and a decision must be made. Two roads divirge...

Will they go on to Bethlehem, or will Ruth and Orpah return to Moab? Now will decide the rest of their lives.

In these 17 verses the word 'return' is found 12 times. v6,7,8,10,11,12,15(2), 16,21,22(2).
It is a significant word. It's not just a word for return. It is also translated 'repent' in other places. And that nuance gives us a clue to what this chapter is about.

Naomi isn't just returning home. This journey of hers taken at a time when people didn't travel the world, is a much bigger statement. It is about her wanting to be identified with God's people again. To live in God's kingdom under God's rule. This is spiritual homecoming.

And that's why Ruth is said to return as well. Because she too is repenting - turning from one way of life and turning to God.

In using this word so often the author Ruth is telling us that this chapter is about returning to God, about repenting. Here's the theme. We start off with problems for Naomi, Ruth and Orpah. These problems have been caused by disobedience, and an unwillingness to trust God. And having established that base the author tells us now that the way to deal with problems is to return to God.

But these women have travelled a bit. Like each of us. They are not still in Moab. Naomi is returning and Ruth and Orpah have gone a little of the way. They have shown some interest. They had heard and learnt something of the truth. But now they have a decision to make.

Six of those 12 'returning' words speak about returning to Bethlehem, and six about returning to Moab. So in a very real sense these three women are standing at a crossroads. They have left their home, they have headed for Bethlehem, and Naomi has brought them to a halt. And they are faced with a decision. Which way are they going to go? Are they going to go to God's country, or are they going to go back to their old way of life?

That's a question we all have to face.

Which way are we going to go with our lives? We have all come to a crossroads.

Three women: one believer who has wandered in her faith, and has been struggling; and two non-believers who have seen and heard about the real God. And now each of them in presented with a choice: Which way will they go?

Each of us comes to this crossroads in our lives. For those of us who have put our faith in God, we always face a choice - will I turn to God for strength, or will I allow Satan to triumph in my life? My way, or God's way? Perhaps as a believer you are a bit more like Naomi, than you would like to be - and you have wandered a bit and old habits and sinful thoughts and fears have been, and you have to return to God. Some of you perhaps haven't put your trust in the Lord Jesus yet, but now you have been given enough glimpses to see that he is worth following. And you have to make your mind up - Which way are you going to go?

Lets look at the responses of each of these three women:

Orpah - All the right noises, but no real change
Orpah starts off well, v6. She displays the same resolve as Ruth, v9-10. But that resolve wasn't to last for long. For when Naomi spoke again and urged them to reconsider, we read in v14-15:

"At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her. "Look," said Naomi, "your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods.""

Orpah got up and packed her belongings and set out to go to Bethlehem. I don't know whether it was a genuine decision or not. To be fair to her it would have been the easiest thing in the world to stay in Moab. It was her home after all. But yet she packs her belongings and sets out for Israel.

But somewhere along the way doubts start to set in. And when Naomi speaks for the second time Orpah is persuaded. It would be easy to blame Naomi, and I believe Naomi was utterly wrong to speak as she did, but yet Orpah left and Ruth remained. And so although Orpah wept and cried, she still returned. But she returned not to Israel but to godless Moab.

Deep down she didn't really want to go. She was going because she thought it was the proper thing to do. And when Naomi spoke to them both, it became clear that this returning to God would involve a very real cost. Who in Israel was going to want to marry Moabite widows? She could much easier find a husband at home - that's probably the significance of "return to your mother's house". Who was going to provide for her in Israel? But yet she had her own family in Moab who would take her in.

And when she counted the cost of following God - she felt it was too high. And so she turns for home. And at the crossroads of life her life ceased to be spiritually significant. Because the crossroads proved to be the turning point where she went back. "What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?" - Mark 8:36

And if you and I had seen Orpah standing by the roadside weeping and wailing, we would have said, "look, there's a changed person" - but you can make all the right noises and even set out on the road to salvation, but turn back and lose everything.

You see beginning the Christian life is not enough. You have to go on in the Christian life. The evidence of past conversion is present convertedness. You need to continue to Bethlehem and not turn back for Moab. I suspect Orpah was utterly sincere in her desire to go at the start, and it is possible to have some great emotional experience, and yet to be lost.

How many times have we seen this happen - people make a profession, they follow a bit of the way. And then they say, "Its too hard." Or more commonly they just stop coming to church. And what we see here with Orpah is a small picture of the whole of the history of God's church. Orpah appears briefly on the page and passes through and is never seen of again. How many have come in through the doors of churches for a few weeks or months; they appear on the page, and then pass through, never to be seen again. The pull of Moab was too strong for them, because they weren't prepared to follow no matter the cost.