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.

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