Ruth: A Woman of Extraordinary Faith
Grace Community Church
July 15, 2018
Grace Can Turn a Dead End into a New Beginning
This morning we’re starting a new study in the book of Ruth so if you have your Bible please turn with me to Ruth chapter 1.
Years ago, when I was in my early twenties, a movie called Tender Mercies came out and one day the family I was staying with put it on. I knew nothing about the movie but they said it was good so I decided to watch it with them. I had high hopes that it would be a great movie but by the time we got halfway through it I began to suspect that this was a movie that lacked all the things that make a movie truly great. There were no car chases. There were no buildings exploding. There wasn’t a murder mystery that needed solving. By the time it was over I would have settled for a good old fashioned fist fight but even that was missing. It was just a quiet story of a man whose life and marriage is destroyed by alcohol, but just as he hits bottom, he finds redemption in the love of a woman and child and a return to the Christian faith. The movie won five academy awards (even without a car chase) because it touched on the complexities of life and the ways God can redeem a life. It was a movie about God’s tender mercies.
The book of Ruth is little gem in the Old Testament. It’s a quiet book, no car chases or gun fights. It’s the story of an ordinary family that make some bad choices, suffer some heartbreaking tragedies, and yet unexpectedly see God’s tender mercies quietly working to redeem their story and turn it into a story of grace.
Our God still works that way today. God can take our bad choices, our mistakes, our trials and tragedies, and weave a redemptive story out of them. Ruth reminds us that God is at work in our lives, even when our lives feel like a mess. Most of the time God’s grace doesn’t burst into our lives with explosions, it comes into our lives in small, quiet, tender mercies. Let’s begin by reading the first 5 verses.
1 In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Have you ever considered the power your choices have had on your life? If life is a journey, every choice we make helps determine which road we take, and which roads we don’t. After I spent a year in a community college, I decided to attend a summer program put on by a Messianic ministry called Beth Yeshua. That choice changed the trajectory of my life in ways I can’t calculate, but chances are I wouldn’t have gone to the Bible school I did five years later or met my wife, which means Jenn, Jared, and Matthew wouldn’t exist. We wouldn’t have planted Grace which means you probably wouldn’t be here this morning. Like the picture in Back to the Future, changing that one choice would cause much of this present reality to disappear. You have made choices like that too, choices that affected the trajectory of your life in a thousand ways.
The story of Ruth begins with a really bad choice that forever changes the trajectory of a Jewish family. It takes place during the time of the judges, which is a really messed up time. The slogan of the day was “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” When a famine hits Israel, a man named Elimelech makes a choice that results in heartbreak and tragedy and some more really bad choices.
Elimelech’s bad choice #1 was to move his family to the land of Moab. The Moabites were the sworn enemies of Israel and a really degenerate people whose family tree began with scandal. If a Moabite were to order a 23andme test they would find out that their ancestry began with an incestuous encounter between Lot and his older daughter (Gen. 19). It can’t get much worse than that. The Moabites were a underhanded and immoral people who later hired a prophet named Balaam to curse the Israelites and when that didn’t work, they sent their women in to seduce the Jews into worshipping false gods (Num 22-24). God despised the Moabite people so much He declared that the Moabites were forbidden to enter His assembly even down to the 10th generation (Deut 23:3). Basically God was saying the Moabites were irredeemable.
When Elimelech stood at the fork in the road of this choice, one road was to stay in Israel and trust God to provide, the other road was to go where there was food. He decided to go down the road that compromised his obedience to God in order to get the comfort and security that the Moab road seemed to offer.
There are defining moments in our lives when we will be faced with a choice between hardship that requires trusting God or immediate comfort and security if we’re willing compromise our obedience to God. At the moment it may seem like compromise is the best way to get instant blessings but in the long run that road is never the right road. What’s easier in the beginning will be much harder in the end. Compromise eventually leads to a dead end. That’s what happened to Elimelech and his family.
They were only supposed to be in Moab for a short time. The word “sojourn” means a temporary stay. But a short stay turned into a long stay (“they remained there”). Then Elimelech died leaving his wife and sons in Moab. At this point, Naomi could have taken her sons and returned to her people, but they put their roots down in Moab even deeper as her sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Ten years went by with no children and then both her sons died and Naomi was left alone in a foreign land.
It’s hard for us to comprehend how alone and destitute Naomi is. It was hard enough being a widow in Israel; Moab would have no social net for her and no motivation to help her. But more devastating than that, she has lost her family, and has no children to care for her or carry on their family line. To the Jewish mind, passing on their lineage was the most important thing and her lineage has come to an end. To Naomi it is as though God has taken every bit of hope from her and there is nothing left to her life. Nothing. It is the ultimate dead end. Let’s read vv. 6-14
6 Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother's house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. 10 And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
When the report reaches Naomi that there is food in Israel again she decides to return to her people. Her daughter in laws start to go with her, but she tells them to go back to Moab and their people where they are still young enough to remarry and raise a family and have a good life. In Naomi’s mind God’s hand has gone out against her and there is no hope and no future for them with her. Naomi probably has mixed motives. She definitely doesn’t want her daughters in law to be futureless like she is, but she also knows that if they go back with her it will be obvious to her people that her sons disobeyed God and married Moabite women. She was probably ashamed. With many tears Orpah reluctantly sees the wisdom in Naomi’s words – there is no future with Naomi. She won’t marry again, and even if she did, they’d never be able to wait for her to have another son and for him to grow up. With bitter tears Orpah kisses Naomi and turns back for home. But Ruth clung to her. And it’s here that we begin to see God’s grace – His tender mercy – turn a dead end into a new beginning.
15 And she [Naomi] said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more.
Naomi is the one who was raised among God’s covenant people with God’s word. But she has no faith left. In her mind, God has punished her for her choices, and life is over. She urges Ruth to cut bait and move on. But Ruth has this amazing love for Naomi, and an amazing faith in Naomi’s God. Her declaration is among the most powerful and beautiful in all the Bible:
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
At the core of this statement is a confession of faith: Ruth has chosen Naomi’s people for her people, Naomi’s God for her God. When she says, “may the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” she’s not talking about one of the Moabite gods, she’s talking about Naomi’s God, the God of Israel.
Here’s a woman who can only expect the Jews to reject and despise her if she goes to Israel with Naomi. On top of that, God Himself has forbidden her to get anywhere near His assembly. But her faith believes something better than that. She is trusting that somehow, someway, God is going to be good to her and Naomi. She binds her life to Naomi, Naomi’s people, and Naomi’s God and calls down God’s judgment on her if anything but death separates her from Naomi.
God’s tender mercy to Naomi is beginning to reveal itself. At this point she probably just thinks that Ruth will be a companion to her for the rest of her hopeless days, but God has better things in mind. Through Ruth, God is going to provide comfort to Naomi, food for Naomi, and eventually, a lineage for Naomi that will be greater than anything she could have imagined because through Ruth’s line will come King David, and eventually, King Jesus, the Messiah. God in His grace will turn this dead end into a glorious new beginning.
Maybe you feel like you made a choice that you regret but there’s no undoing it now. There are defining choices that really do effect the trajectory of our lives, and maybe you have made a choice that led you down what seems to be a dead end road. Maybe it has been a series of choices, like it was for Elimelech and Naomi. One bad choice led you to another bad choice that led you to another bad choice. You said things to someone you can never unsay. You did something you can never undo. You chose a dead end road and all you can think about are the possible roads you could have chosen but didn’t and you dream about what might have been and what has been lost.
Or maybe it’s not something you chose – maybe it’s some hardship or heartache that chose you. Some roads we choose, some roads choose us. The loss of a loved one. A pink slip telling you you’re fired or laid off. A phone call from the doctor that changes everything. An accident that hijacks our ability to do what we once were able to do. Whatever it is, we look at the Polaroid picture and all the hopes and dreams we once had for our future are, one by one, disappearing.
Ruth reminds us that God can redeem our bad choices. He can redeem our failures. He can redeem our mistakes. God can even redeem our tragedies and bring something good out of them. There is no dead end that God can’t turn into a new beginning! Whatever you might be facing, believe that God is with you and He will have the last word.
Ruth reminds us that God blesses faith. Naomi didn’t have any – like zero faith. All the blessings that came to Naomi didn’t come because of her faith. But that’s not to say that faith didn’t play a part in Naomi being blessed, that faith didn’t play a part in her dead end turning into a new beginning, because those blessings came to Naomi through Ruth who had incredible faith! She was willing to put it all on the line believing that she would have a better future following Naomi’s God into uncertainty than returning to her people the Moabites and their gods even with all of the material security and comfort they could offer.
If that’s where you’re at, I want to encourage you to stop looking at the Polaroid at what you feel isn’t there but you wish was. Stop believing that your life has come to a dead end, and look up to your faithful, loving Heavenly Father. Believe God to redeem your bad choices. Believe God to make a way where there is no way! Believe God to turn that situation that seems like a curse into a blessing.
In the NT God gives us a promise in His word that we can hold onto when we feel like our lives have come to a dead end:
28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Rom. 8:28
Is there a situation in your life that seems like it’s a dead end? A relationship that’s gone sour, a hope that’s been dashed, a failure that seems final? Do you feel like Elimelech, where all your choices seem to end badly? Every road you choose ends with a brick wall. Maybe it’s not a dead end, maybe it’s a disappointing end. Where the road took you isn’t where you wanted it to take you. Or it may be that others have made the choices that landed you where you are. Sometimes I think about what it would have been like to grow up in an intact family. To have both parents involved in my life every day. To come home to a mom instead of an empty apartment. Their divorce when I was six years old wasn’t my choice. It happened to me. Maybe there’s something you’re thinking of that happened to you, you didn’t have a choice. It doesn’t matter how you ended up where you are, the Bible promises us that if we love and trust God, all things work together for good. Will you believe that again?
As we close this morning, I want to encourage you to get some time alone with God. Take a walk in the woods, or find a quiet room and get on your knees or whatever you prefer but talk to God and tell Him where you’re at. Confess your bad choices. Confess your discouragement and fear of the future. Ask Him to turn that dead end into a new beginning by His grace.
God is good at redeeming bad choices and dead end roads. The darkest, most horrific, and evil moment in history was when lawless men crucified the Lord of glory. And the brightest, most glorious, most good moment in history was when the heavenly Father allowed His Son to be crucified for it was through the cross that we are saved by grace through faith. What seemed to be a dead end for the disciples as they laid Jesus in the grave was really a new beginning – a resurrection beginning. That’s what God does best. Take that burden to the Lord and talk to Him about it and believe that He can make something beautiful from something bad. God’s grace can turn a dead end into a new beginning.