Ruth: A Woman of Extraordinary Faith
Grace Community Church
July 22, 2018
When a Bitter Place Leads to a Better Place
For those visiting us this morning, welcome! I am Pastor Allen, it’s great to have you with us. Last week we began a series from the book of Ruth last week, so if you have your bibles please turn with me to chapter 1. We will also be putting the verses up on the screen so you can read along.
Let’s just recap briefly. When a famine hits Israel a Jewish man named Elimelech makes a really bad decision and moves his wife and two sons to Moab. This was a really bad decision because the Moabites were sworn enemies of the Jews and a spiritually and morally degenerate people. Think of them as an ancient version of ISIS – there was just nothing redeemable about them. The Moabites traced their ancestry back to an incestuous relationship with Lot and his older daughter, and they just never seemed to rise above their scandalous beginning. It was the Moabites who hired a prophet named Balaam to call down curses on Israel, but God wouldn’t let Balaam curse the Jews, so instead they sent their women in to seduce the men’s hearts and lead them away from the Lord. That was their goal: to lead them away from God and destroy them. For these reasons and more, God said I don’t want any Moabites allowed in the assembly of my people down to the tenth generation. God rejected the Moabites as a people and forbade them to enter His presence with His people. So for Elimelech to move his family to Moab was an extraordinarily unusual choice for a Jew and a really bad decision.
After a time Elimelech dies and his two sons marry Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. Then the two sons die and Naomi is left alone with no husband, sons, or - just two Moabite daughters in law. She decides to go back to her people and urges Orpah and Ruth to return to their people the Moabites where they can marry and have children and have a future. There is no future with her. She feels her life has come to a dead end.
Orpah takes her advice and tearfully says goodbye and goes back to her people. Ruth, however, refuses to leave, instead declaring her allegiance to Naomi, Naomi’s people, and Naomi’s God. We read her beautiful declaration beginning in verse 15. (Read vv. 15-18)
So together they head back to Naomi’s hometown. (Read vv. 19-22). Let’s pray and ask God to bless our time in His word.
Most of us tend to see our lives in snapshots – what’s going on right now. If I were to ask you, how are you doing? How’s life going? You’d probably look at the current snapshot of your life and based on what you see, say I’m doing well or life’s not so hot right now. We live in the present so we tend to assess our lives by the present moment - snapshot. But a lot of times snapshots don’t tell the whole story. Consider with me these three real life snapshots:
In 2001 53 year old David Lee Edwards win 27 million dollars in the powerball jackpot. 27 million! Snapshot says, what a lucky man! His life is going to be great from here on out!
25 year old Chris Logan decided at the last minute to go with a friend to a professional golf tournament and while standing with the crowd near the 18th hole he got hit in the temple by a errant
golf ball. Snapshot says, how unlucky can a man get? Why did I decide to go to this tournament? This has turned into a really bad day.
Dave was earning a quarter of a million dollars a year and had a $4 million real estate portfolio when unpredictably things went south and within two short years he lost everything. Literally everything. Snapshot says Dave is a failure and his life is ruined.
What does your snapshot say this morning? Life is great! Life is horrible! We tend to see our lives in snapshots, but when we fast forward, we see that those snapshots don’t tell the whole story:
David Lee Edwards blew through his 27 million dollars and five years later his wife left him and he died alone and penniless living in a storage unit.
Chris Logan was being examined by a doctor after getting hit by a golf ball when the doctor noticed a lump on his neck that turned out to be thyroid cancer. Getting hit by a golf ball probably saved his life.
Dave is Dave Ramsey, who motivated by his failure and loss, changed his thinking about money and debt and now teaches biblically based financial principles to millions around the world. And he has a net worth of over $55 million (so he’s doing ok).
We tend to see our lives in snapshots but those snapshots don’t tell us the whole story and can be deceiving.
When Naomi returns home after being away for many years, the snapshot says she’s hit bottom. She has hit bottom so hard that when the women from her town ask “is this Naomi?” she answers, I’m not Naomi (which means pleasant) anymore. I am Mara (which means bitter). God has dealt a bitter hand to me. I left Bethlehem full, I’ve come back empty. The snapshot of Naomi’s life looks bleak and hopeless and no future.
Naomi could see in the snapshot that God had brought her to a bitter place, what she couldn’t see yet was that God had brought her to a bitter place in order to get her to a better place. Naomi isn’t unique in that - God often does that in the lives of His children. God is a faithful and loving Father and sometimes He knows that He needs to introduce hard things into our lives in order to bring good things to our lives.
Sometimes God leads us to a bitter place to get us to a better place
If you look at your life this morning and don’t like the snapshot you see, I want to share two encouraging principles taken from Naomi’s life:
Sometimes God leads us through a bitter place to get us heading in a better direction
There’s a saying that the three things you look for in real estate are location, location, location. The three things we want to look for when we are assessing our lives are direction, direction, direction. If I were to ask you how you’re doing, you’d probably do what I tend to do: look at location. Where is my life right now? Am I in a good place? A tough place? A sad place? A peaceful place? A financially hurting place? A failure place? We look at location, location, location.
But the more important question is, what is the direction of your life? Are you heading towards the Lord or are you heading away from the Lord?
Look at verse 21: I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. See the direction? I went away…the Lord has brought me back. She and Elimelech walked away from the Lord when they left their people and joined themselves with a people who stood against everything God stood for. Their sons married into a people God said have nothing to do with. They were moving further and further away from the Lord and yet even as they were moving further and further away from the Lord, Naomi saw their lives as full. Now through deep bitterness the Lord has brought her back to Himself and back to His people, and she sees her life as empty.
Naomi is reading the snapshots and all wrong. Everything Naomi thought she had in Moab – security, comfort, food, an intact family – these are all blessings, but they can’t make life full without the Lord. When Jesus asked what would it profit a person to gain the world and lose his soul, he was telling us that everything in the world isn’t enough to make our lives full if our soul is lost in the transaction.
Naomi’s mistake is one we are all prone to make: we assess what makes for a good life or a bad life from a momentary snapshot. We look at David Lee Edwards winning $27 million and we think he’s just had the good life handed to him. It’s hard for us not to view life by what’s happening now, this minute, this week, this month, this year, but God sees our lives from beginning to the end and His word advises the wise to live with the end of the matter, what the Hebrew calls the “acharit”, in view.
None of us envy David Lee Edwards because we see what his end would be just five short years later. The snapshot said, “multi-millionaire!” but the direction he was going in was towards a lonely, penniless death in a storage unit.
If you want to know how you are doing, don’t look at the snapshot of this moment. Snapshots can be very deceiving. You can feel like life is great or you can feel like life is terrible based on the snapshot of the moment, but snapshots can’t tell us the whole story. The thing to look at is, what direction are you going in? Is your heart being drawn towards the Lord or is your heart moving away from the Lord? I’ve observed that people who walk away from the Lord rarely do it in one big jump but in small, incremental steps. Moving away from the Lord is often a slow and gradual process. The important thing isn’t the speed, it’s the direction.
If we could see our lives to the end, we’d see that everything we want is all that God is. Christ is all our hearts deeply long for. Naomi thought her life was full in Moab and now is empty, but really her life was empty and is about to be filled. She thought God’s wrath had come against her, but really God’s love had come for her, to get her, to bring her to a bitter place in order to bring her to a better place – a life lived in God’s presence and by God’s promises. God’s love, not His wrath, let her to this bitter place.
God loves you and me too much to leave us wandering far from Him and sometimes He will bring us through bitter times and bitter places in order to bring us to a better direction. That direction is always towards Him. Ps 16 says, You make known to me the path of life (that is, the direction that leads to life); in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Ps. 16:11. The direction of the path of life is towards God’s presence.
Whether you’re in a bitter place or not, don’t focus on your location – consider your direction. Where is your heart heading? Towards the Lord? Or away from Him? If it’s towards Him, keep going! If it’s away from Him, won’t you return to Him? Only Christ can offer us a full life.
Sometimes God leads us to a bitter place to bring us to a better blessing
Naomi had good reason to say call me “Bitter”. She had taken some really bitter hits: her husband died, her sons died, she was alone with no grandchildren to raise or carry on their name. These are bitter things and God doesn’t discount the pain she felt or the tears she wept. God doesn’t discount the pain we go through either.
The place God brought Naomi to was a bitter place. What she couldn’t see was how God was working in that bitter place to bring to her life a better blessing. The word “bitter” has a history in the Old Testament. When Moses was leading Israel through the desert, after three days of wandering without water they finally came to a pool of water but it was too bitter to drink. So they named it Marah – bitter. But God instructed Moses to throw a log into the water and God made that water sweet. They named it Marah, a bitter place, but God worked a miracle to make it a place of sweet provision.
Naomi couldn’t see it but God was working in her bitter situation to bring sweet provision. The sweet provision of a young daughter in law who loves her and is trusting in her God more than she is at this point. Ruth is a sweet provision to Naomi from the Lord. And as Naomi returns to Bethlehem, God is working to bless her. We see those blessings begin to unfold in verse 22: And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
The timing of their arrival was no coincidence, God was working. It’s a seemingly inconsequential detail, almost like a throwaway line, but everything God is going to do will pivot on that one detail, the beginning of barley harvest. God is planning and working to bless Naomi’s life beyond anything she can imagine.
God is working in your life. Maybe you find yourself in a bitter place. Maybe it’s hard for you to see what God is doing. God isn’t asking you to do is to pretend it isn’t bitter. To act like it’s no big deal. We live in a broken world and we all go through some really bitter places. The pain is real. The tears are real. The disappointment is real. The bitterness is real.
But God’s word assures us of this: God’s faithfulness is more real. God’s love is more real. God’s commitment is more real. God hasn’t abandoned you and He never will. He is working through the bitter to bring you to a better blessing. Believe it.
And you know what? If you’re like Naomi and you’re having a hard time believing it, I pray that the Lord brings friends into your life to believe for you. That’s what Ruth was to Naomi. She didn’t rebuke Naomi, or look down on her in her faithless state, she stood by her side. May God give you a friend to be there in your weakness. May God help us to be that kind of friend. Church, we don’t want to be the kind of people who kick people when they’re down or look at them with contempt when they have the courage to admit they are broken and maybe even a little bit bitter. Part of being a faithful brother or sister in Christ is being a faithful friend. That means coming alongside of them in their bitter place and loving them in it and through it. Isn’t that what Christ did for us? God brought His Son to a bitter place, in order to bring us a better blessing.
I want to close by sharing a story that has always touched my heart.
Most of you have heard of Joni Eareckson Tada and how when she was seventeen years old she dived into a lake only to hit her head on a rock, becoming paralyzed from the neck down. Talk about a bitter place! Even though she was a Christian, the reality of living life paralyzed devastated her view of God and life. One night shortly after her accident, as she lay in her bed in the geriatric ward, lights out, alone in her room, she was in a dark place in her soul too, questioning God, not wanting to live, wanting to die, but unable even to take her own life, suddenly in the darkness she saw a figure crawling on the floor. It frightened her at first until she realized it was her high school friend Jackie crawling toward her bed. Jackie quietly climbed into bed with Joni and this is what Joni writes:
As high school girls often do on sleepovers or high school pajama parties, she snuggled in close to me, and put her head on my pillow, right up against mine. She intertwined her hand in mine and raised it in the air. I could not feel it, but in the shadowy light, I could see her fingers intertwined with mine, clenching my hand tightly. She turned her head toward me and very gently, very quietly in the night, began to sing to me:
Man of sorrows, what a name!
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim,
Hallelujah! What a Savior!
Something changed in Joni’s heart in that moment, and she began to look for meaning right where her life was – meaning that was wrapped up in loving, serving, and trusting the Savior who drank of the bitter cup of God’s wrath and died for her. Joni has gone on to live a life that has brought hope and comfort to countless people who are suffering, and she has helped to lead countless people to faith in Christ. Hers has not been an easy life, but it has been a full life. And in a very short time, she will stand before the Savior, completely healed, and she will hear Jesus say “well done, good and faithful servant. Using the arms and legs that now work perfectly, enter into my rest!”
God sometimes leads us to a bitter place to bring us to a better blessing. And sometimes God wants to use us, like Ruth, to help someone else who is in a bitter place to get to that better blessing. In the end, fullness of life is in Christ and Christ alone. Let’s stand and worship.