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.

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