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.

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