I. There is a certain man in Hollywood who wields tremendous power. No, he is not a movie star, and neither is he is a producer or director.His name is Don Phillips, and to many people he is simply called "The Eye." Don Phillips, you se, is able to spot star quality. He can spot what makes one actor right for a part, and another one wrong for it. He doesn't have any special formula, but he can just look at an actor or actress and tell if they have an ability for a certain part. So when a casting director is having trouble choosing a lead actor, he calls in "The Eye" to look them over. Mr. Phillips can choose instantly which one will work.
B. In a similar way, in the life of God's people, the Israelites, when life had just fallen apart, it was evident many times that they needed God's help to put the pieces back together. And, the book of Ruth shows us that God is the "Divine Eye." He takes all of the actors of history and He's able to use them in just the right way, unbeknownst to them. Only God has the divine discretion and wisdom to do that.
Today, we are starting a new, four-part sermon series on the book of Ruth. Today is "In the Land of Boaz," based on the 1st chapter. Next Sabbath you will hear "In the Field of Boaz." And after that, on October 18, will be "In the Heart of Boaz." And then on October 25 will be "In the Home of Boaz."
You're welcome to open your Bibles to look at these verses as I come to them. We're going to start off, first of all, with Ruth 1:1, Now it came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. That's the opening verse of the book and the first chapter. This first chapter contains all of the human heartache as the backdrop for all of God's best work. Chapter 1 sets the human stage for God's redemptive actions and for what will happen later. But remember that the events of chapter, though, do not show what God has been doing. But God is active, preparing to work behind the scenes.
The basic story goes something like this. Because of the famine, Elimelech's family leaves Bethlehem in Judah, and they move to Moab, the land of the people who were the descendants of Lot's incest with his daughter. It's kind of a wonderful place to move to. This is a family who has a background of strong faith, as demonstrated by both Elimelech's and Naomi's names. Hers meant pleasantness. His meant "My God Is My King." In fact, when he was named as a little boy, it could have been when some people were clmoring for a king. you know, during the time of the judges. Only a family of faith would name a child by that name: "My God Is My King." Remember that this period of time is a very dark phase for Israel. The Hebrews would probably have wished that the whole of the book of Judges had not been written at all. Perhaps the most notably ugly experience was that of the Levite and his concubine. In the background of this comes the story of the book of Ruth, sort of like a bright sunny flower in the middle of a dark forest. So this family with such a great heritage of faith moves to Moab, the very place that is associated with apostasy and immorality and idolatry in the minds of the faithful.
And that is when the real trouble begins. The father, whose name means "My God Is My King" dies while they are in Moab. And everything gets much, much worse before anything gets better. The famine and the necessity to move to Moab was just the tip of the iceberg for their troubles. Born before the move, the boys' names were probably given to them after a common custom to name children to indicate what the family's experience was. One son's name meant sickness. The other's name meant wasting. How would you like to be called, Sickness, or Wasting? You wouldn't like it one bit. One physician has even wondered if the father was battling not some kind of cancer but tuberculosis, a disease that can be described by first sickness, then a wasting away. Tuberculosis can also be a very communicable disease within a family, passing from one generation to the next. It's a disease that can also take a long time to do it's destructive damage. All of this could explain why the sons also died many years later.
Chapter 1 tells us that the two sons married Moabite wives. I would imagine that would that thatwas probably a disappointment for Naomi because God had told the Israelites not to intermarry the people the lived around them, not to get caught up with their life. Perhaps, to Naomi, that seemed like part of their troubles—intermarriage with pagan, idolatry-worshiping families.
After a decade passes comes the final blow for Naomi. Ruth 1:4-5; a very bried description of what happened in history for them. Now they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth. And they dwelt there about ten years. Then both Mahlon and Chilion also died; so the woman survived her two sons and her husband. Afterwards—maybe we should call her "Mrs. Pleasant"— Naomi hears about God blessing Israel again with food. The famine was all over. Ruth 1:6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had visited His people by giving them bread. b. So they began to head back to Bethlehem, but Naomi instinctively knew that it would be better for her daughters-in-law if they stayed in Moab, and so she tried to persuade them to stay, to turn back from this journey they had started. Orpah decided to return back to Moab, but Ruth would not be persuaded to return. Soemthing was different about Ruth, a genuine convert. She was not someone who just happened to be married to a believer at one time. She had became a true and genuine lover of God. And she was fully committed to her mothe-in-law, Naomi. Don't you love those beautiful words in Ruth 1:16? "Wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God"?
So what are the themes here? Why is this story even told? There could be several themes that we're meant to pick up as we read. It could be telling us that the power of a quiet, godly life cannot be underestimated. After all, it's not every day that a mother-in-law wins the hearts of her in-laws. There must have been something about Naomi that showed seemed different, that showed God in a winsome way. Naomi was certainly unselfish, thinking of what was best for her son's wives in contrast to the customs of that time. The daughters-in-law were to stay with their families.
Rick Warren, in The Purpose Driven Life, says "One of the ways God measures spiritual maturity is by the quality of your relationships." Wow, that could be scary. As judged by her daughters-in-law, Naomi rates quite high here. It's true that some of Naomi's words might have been construed to mean that she had lost all faith in God but that is just not the case. She is faithful to God. She is returning to the land of the faithful. She shows kindness to her daughters-in-law. She is a true example of genuine faith in God. It's true that she was full of anguish over what had happened to her family—wouldn't you?—losing so many loved ones, but she still loved God. I beleive we must think of her words in the same manner as we do with Job's words, <b>"Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."</b>, Job 13:15. So despite the sound of her words at times, it seems clear that she had a trusting relationship with God. Naomi was like Pastor Jess Moody's mother, Connie, who was dying of cancer. One day, Jess preached on loving God with the best that was within people, the best that is within you. His mother remarked that she had lost much of what was "best" in her life. The one most central thing in her life was pain and so she made a vow that she would love God with all her pain. I don't fully understand that. She would give her pain to God as a sacrifice of praise. ai think that was similar to Naomi's experience. She loved God despite of, and with all of her pain of loss.
What else can we see in this first chaper of Ruth? Remeber of course the backdrop of the entire book is all of the ugliness of the time of the judges. Even in the worst of times, the story of Ruth and Naomi shows us that God was still working among His people. Judges 21:25 tells us that <b>"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." </b> But God still had people who were faithful to Him as we shall see later with Boaz. When tragedy seemed to take over the lives of God's people, the story of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz gives us shining examples of faith and faithfulness. Because we know the rest of the story, Ruth became a part of the human lineage of Christ as we read in the first chapter of Matthew. But to those people, none of that was evident at that time. They didn't know how God was going to use them in His grand plan.
I'm told that airplane pilots are always taught to put all their trust, not in thier own senses but in the accuracy of their navigational instruments. They are told to never trust their own sense of direction or altitude, because the human body can play tricks on a person. One tool that is especially helpful in teaching this concept is the Barany Stool, a stool that can spin around. In this exercise, the pilot is blindfolded, and he's strapped onto the stool, and he's spun around. Then he's asked to indicate the direction of his spinning by pointing his thumb: this way or that way. The chair is then slowed down and spun in the opposite direction. After just a few minutes of this spinning, most pilots lose track of their direction. They may point left while the stool is actually spinning right. When they remor the blinfold from this pilot-in-training, he usually experiences great disorientation. This exercise teaches a memorable lesson in trusting instruments more than your own senses in trusting instrument more than your own senses.
The same is true in life. The answer and meaning to life are not necessarily evident by what we see and hear with our senses, or feel with our emotions. Many times we are far too close to all of the pain and the heartache that we go through. We can only depend on God to provide that meaning to life because He is the One who sees the larger picture. It would be well to remember that when we see only disaster and heartache, God is still working to accomplish His will, quietly and imperceptibly at times. As with Job and Naomi, we may only see the evil and the heart-ache, wondering where God is at. We may even be tempted to think that God's hand is against us. We don't see things as God sees them. We don't see the big picture as He does. So, when our life seems to be more bitterness than pleasantness, we are not seeing the entire picture. We're not seeing the rest of story. Ruth 1, and really the whole book of Ruth tells us that God is somehow working behind the scenes in a redemptive manner. I'm thankful that God's purposes have no hastiness or no delay. Now, we make our plans, and they may be interrupted by one disaster after another, from our viewpoint. But, slowly and surely, God is still working to complete the puzzle of our life, to complete the puzzling events of our lives, working out the grand design of His will. We have to remember, though, that God is not the One who causes evil or sickness, but He can bring good things out of them. Sometimes it may be years or decades before we see the clear footprints of God in our lives. It may even be on the other side of the resurrection when we see how God unfolded His will in His plan. But for right now we are to remain trusting and obedient. For right now we are to remain in relationship with Him.
So those are the two themes of Ruth 1. First of all, don't forget the power of a godly and unselfish life as a witness for God and for truth. And remember that what we see is not the big picture. Only God can see how the events of one life will connect with the faith of another person's life. Our heartaches provide the opportunity for God to create faith, to creatively be Ruler over all circumstances.
A little boy ran to answer the phone for his mother. He picked up the phone and then told his mother about the phone call. His mother called from the other room, "Who is it?" The boy answered in a way that indicated the stage of his thinking power, "I can't tell who it is, Mommy. The holes in the phone are too small." That's the way it is with our vision.
Let's remember that while our vision is so limited, God's vision is perfect. It's God's vision that enables our vision to see better. God's vision enables us also to not just look at the future for meaning and for the answers, but also to make the steps of our life now more orderly.
For years a certain pastor fought what seemed to be a losing battle with a troublesome temper. One day after a violent outburst, he buried his head in his arms in absolute despair as he sat at his desk. In spite of his best efforts he had experienced one defeat after another. Emotionally exhausted, he fell asleep. In his sleep dreamed that he was in his study, and as he looked out the window, he saw a glorious light. As the light approached him, he realized that it was not just a light, it was actually a man who evidently intended to be his guest. The pastor became conscious that his study was untidy and in no condition to receive such a guest. Frantically the pastor swept and dusted the room, but the more he worked, the worse it looked. As he wondered what to do, he heard a knock at the door. "I can't let him in while the room is in this condition," he thought to himself. He continued his efforts to improve the appearance of things, and after a time the stranger knocked again. What should he do? All his efforts seemingly were in vain. When the stranger knocked the third time, the distraught pastor, who had exhausted all of his resources, flung open the door, saying, "I can't do any more. Come in, if you will enter such a room." As the pastor looked up, (in his dream) he recognized the stranger as Jesus. The Master entered the room, and strangely, as He did so, the dust seemed to disappear and everything suddenly became orderly. All was bright and clean and joyful. The Master's presence had done in a moment all that his feverish efforts had failed to accomplish.
Perhaps the first chapter of Ruth is telling us, despite our best laid plans for life, we can't save ourselves from sin or free ourselves from the habits of sin that hold us in bondage. 1. Only God has the answer. And when we choose to invite Jesus into our hearts, and when we do, a miracle takes place. A process of change begins that continues as long as we allow Him to control our lives. The story of this little book tells us that though wrong and evil seems so strong so often, God is still the Ruler. It is to Him that we can be thankful.
Hymn of Praise: #256, Ye Servants of God Scripture: Ruth 1:15-17 Hymn of Response:#92, This Is My Father's World
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last updated 10/13/2003 by Bob Beckett.