David Jeremiah - Ruth: Overcoming Bad Decisions
Tonight, I want to tell you the story of a woman whose name was Ruth. The story begins in the first chapter of Ruth, and here, as we look at this, we have to realize that the book starts on a negative note. You see, men and women, these were brutal times. The story of Ruth takes place in the days of the judges, and when you read the book of Judges, you encounter a lot of backsliding and a lot of brutality.
As you read through the book of Judges, it's easy to see a cynical pattern. The people would backslide and become corrupt. God would punish them with famine or conflict or with their enemies, and the people would repent and turn back to God. Over and over, the Lord raised up leaders to come in and try to lead his people back to himself. Some of these leaders are famous people that you and I know, people like Gideon and Deborah and Samson. And these judges would lead them to some victory or another, but when the people began backsliding again, here we go, back to the issues of the stories of the Bible that tell us what happens when we walk away from God. And these breakdowns and this time of total disregard for the rule of God in their lives, that's the time when the book of Ruth was taking place.
And it's likely the famine in Bethlehem was a time when God was applying discipline to his people, seeking their repentance and the word "Bethlehem" means "house of bread". Because of sin, there was no bread in the house of bread. There was a famine. What should we do when we recognize that our sins have gotten us in a bad place? Well, don't use the book of Ruth as an illustration because what happened to them should never happen to us. There's no indication that Elimelech or Naomi or their boys did the right thing. Instead, they made a series of really bad decisions. They packed their bags and they went down to Moab which was about 50 miles away, just like the prodigal son did when he left home and went into the far country.
The text doesn't tell us they looked to God or prayed or trusted. They just decided on their own to flee to Moab. Leaning on their own understanding, the Israelites were to have nothing to do with the Moabites and they knew it, but they went there anyway. Let me say to you tonight, men and women, you cannot end up where you want to be by making decisions God does not want you to make. Wrong decisions don't lead to good outcomes. Wrong decisions take us further away from God's plan. Story didn't turn out very well.
Ruth 1:3-4 says: "Then Elimelech, Naomi's husband, died". They've gone to the foreign country of Moab and now Naomi's husband dies. "And her two sons and she were left alone. And they took wives of the women of Moab: the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other was Ruth". They went out of God's will and now they're married to two women who are not Jewish. They are totally outside of the will of God. Everyone in this family made bad decisions. Elimelech and Naomi decided to leave the land of God and go to the Moabites, and their two sons married women outside of the covenant of God, so now we've got all these bad decisions ganging up at once.
Now here comes some of the bitter outcomes. We have one bad decision after another, and look how it turns out. As you read verses 4 and 5 it says this. Not only did Elimelech die, the Bible says after they got into Moab and got married, the two boys died. And now this woman is survived her two sons and she survived her husband and she's all alone. Naomi had taken a wrong turn and now all she had were three tombstones in the sands of Moab. Brutal times and bad decisions often go together. That's a principle of life you simply can't escape. And for Naomi, it led to emptiness and ruin.
In verse 6 of chapter 1, I'm glad to tell you the story doesn't end where we are right now. That's the beginning of the story. This is a story of repentance. Ruth 1:6 says: "And she arose with her daughters-in-law that she might return from the country of Moab," a good point, "for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had visited His people by giving them bread". These were some first steps back in the right direction. Maybe you've walked away from the Lord and you think there's no way back. There's always a way back and there are always first steps on the way back.
There in Moab, Naomi took those steps. They're literal steps toward getting herself back to where she needed to be. And it was a process. It took quite a while for her to overcome the bitterness of her family's bad decisions. The amazing thing is that her determination to return had a huge effect on her daughters-in-law, and especially on Ruth. And that brings us to verses 16 and 17, "Entreat me not to leave you, or to turn back from following after you; for wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God, my God. And where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me".
This amounts to what we would call Ruth's conversion. This is where Ruth got right with God. This was her declaration of faith. Naomi's desire to return had an immediate impact to her own daughter-in-law. Whenever you start making good decisions, it will always influence people around you. Ruth and Naomi are getting ready to do the right thing. Their decisions have moved off of the negative part of the ledger and onto the positive.
Notice what happens in chapter 2. The decisions made by Naomi and Ruth led to a revival. That's the third aspect of the book of Ruth. It's the story of revival. And it's not limited to Naomi and Ruth. I believe the entire town of Bethlehem was in the process of returning to God and experiencing revival. The last verse of chapter 1 says: "So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. Now they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest".
Revival brings harvest. It is a fascinating thing to compare the first words of this chapter and the last words. Verse 1 says: "It came to pass, in the days when the judges ruled, and there was a famine in the land". But now they're coming back and there's a feast and there's a harvest. Ten years later, this is what has happened. They come back to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest and the first chapter of Ruth begins with a famine and it ends with a feast. God knows how to restore the years that the locusts have eaten and when you come back to God, he wants to restore your life back to you, and that's what's happening here in this story. Revival brings harvest and revival brings happiness.
As we continue reading through the book of Ruth, we're struck by the joyful atmosphere that seemed to pervade the entire city of Bethlehem. Listen to these words from Ruth chapter 2: "There was a relative of Naomi's husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech. His name was Boaz. So Ruth the Moabitess said to Naomi, 'Please let me go to the field, and glean heads of grain after him in whose sight I may find favor.' And she said to her, 'Go, my daughter.' And she left, and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers. And she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Now behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem, and said to the reapers, 'The Lord be with you!' And they answered him, 'The Lord bless you!'"
This is why I believe Bethlehem was in the midst of a revival. Notice how the people greeted each other. I mean, the wealthy landowner showed up to inspect the harvest and he didn't say, "Hello," or "How's it going? How we reaping today"? He said, no, "The Lord be with you". Very unusual for that particular culture, and they responded with, "And the Lord bless you". The kind of greeting occurs throughout the entire book of Ruth.
I don't know any book in the Bible where people are invoking God's blessings on each other like the four chapters of the book of Ruth. These people in Bethlehem were continually praying down blessings from God on each other. And throughout the remainder of the book, I think you'll see there is joy in Bethlehem. And he can send a personal revival to any of us if we'll just come back on his terms. There can be happiness in your life. When you turn in your tracks and head back toward God, he knows how to send refreshing into your heart, and by the way, what I just said is the most biblical definition of repentance.
Do you know what repentance means? It means to do a 180. You're going this way, you're going away from God, you're not honoring God, and God intervenes in your life, maybe in a message like the one tonight or someone you heard at your church, and the Holy Spirit intersects with your life and immediate, you know you're going the wrong direction and repentance means stop dead in your tracks and go back toward the right way. That's what repentance means. And that's what happened in Bethlehem. And that's what happened when Ruth and Naomi went back.
Revival also brings harmony. The Jews and the Moabites hated each other, and the tension between these two people became an epic struggle in the Old Testament. But notice how wonderfully Ruth, the Moabitess, was accepted. Boaz and his workers and the people of Bethlehem opened their arms to this woman from another culture, from another race, from another nation, and throughout this whole book, even when the people had to deal with a challenging legal issue, there's nothing but harmony. They're getting along. The Moabites and the Jews are getting along. Revival brings hope.
In our story, Ruth the Moabitess gleans in the field of Boaz. You know the story. And he instructs his workers to leave a little extra for her. And she returns home that night with a bushel of grain and Naomi is amazed. And in verse 19 she says, "Where have you gleaned today? And where did you work? Blessed be the one who took notice of you," like she didn't know. "So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, 'The man's name with whom I have worked today is Boaz.' And Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, 'Blessed be he of the Lord, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!'"
These are the first positive words Naomi speaks in the whole book of Ruth. Did you know that? That's really interesting. She has been bitter and oppressed in her spirit, but now suddenly she cries out, "Blessed be the Lord". Naomi has even herself partaken in the revival. When you come back to the Lord, he takes over. He directs your steps. You can get your footsteps going in the right way, in the right harvest fields, and God knows how to put hope back in your heart. Maybe you're here tonight and you've kind of lost hope. Turn toward the Lord and get back to him as fast as you can. He will revive your soul, he will bring you a harvest of righteousness, a sense of joy and happiness. He will bring harmony back into your relationships and hope in your heart. And you'll begin to realize there is a God and it's the God I serve, and his Son Jesus Christ is in my heart.
Now we come to a little bit of a parentheses in this story, and I'm gonna cover this quickly, but it's too good to leave out, and it's part of the book, so this is a story of romance. Now, we come to chapter 3, and we find this is not just a story of ruin, repentance, and revival. It's a story of romance, with Naomi playing the part of matchmaker. Here it says in Ruth chapter 3: "Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, 'My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you?'" In other words, "Can I get on your team and help you get this right"? And she came up with a plan. In other words, Naomi had a plan for getting her daughter established and she was asking for permission to implement the plan. "Will you let me help you"? Naomi said in effect, "Do you want me to help you find a husband? I have somebody in mind".
Ruth must have nodded yes because Naomi went right on in verses 2 through 4 to explain her plan. Here's the plan: "Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do".
Now, that needs explaining. That needs explaining. I mean, that's in the Bible? I mean, that's the kind of story I hear all the time when I go to work. This is in the Bible. And Ruth said, verse 5: "All that you say to me I will do". Now, this is interesting. This has to do with the Hebrew law of redemption, which we'll see in just a moment. This is a strange custom to us, as it was to Ruth who, being from Moab, didn't know what the Jewish culture was all about. So her mother-in-law told her to, step by step, what to do in keeping with Jewish cultural patterns. She was to go down and present herself humbly at the feet of Boaz, letting him know of her need and openness for his help.
What Naomi suggested was not immoral; it was simply a culturally accepted way in those days of Ruth letting Boaz know she needed him to redeem her, that she wanted to marry him. From the very beginning of chapter 2, we've sensed the love developing between these two, and now Ruth is going to express her need for Boaz's love. And this turns out to be a proposal in the Old Testament way. She does exactly what her mother-in-law tells her to do.
Verses 6 through 9 continues the story: "So she went down to the threshing floor and did according to all that her mother-in-law instructed her. And after Boaz had eaten and drunk, and his heart was cheerful, and he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain; she came softly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Now it happened at midnight that the man was startled, and turned himself; and there is a woman lying at his feet. And he said, 'Who are you?' And she answered, 'I am Ruth, your maidservant. Take your maidservant under your wing, for you are a close relative.'"
That was tantamount to asking Boaz to marry her. I'm happy to report there was a positive response. "Then he said, 'Blessed are you of the Lord, my daughter! For you have shown more kindness at the end than at the beginning, in that you did not go after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not fear. I will do for you all that you request, for all the people of my town know that you are a virtuous woman.'" In other words, Boaz said yes to Ruth's proposal, and there was one hitch. And that brings us to the great theme and thought that runs through this whole book, and we're almost done, and that is the story of redemption. Ruth is a story of ruin, of repentance, of revival, and romance, but above all, Ruth is a story of redemption. I'm sure you've noticed the phrase, "close relative". "Take your maidservant under your wing for you are a close relative".
The law of the redeemer was this. In the Mosaic law, God made some special provisions for widows whose husbands died without leaving them children or whose properties and wealth were lost. A near relative could redeem the situation. He could step in and make sure the relative was redeemed from slavery or her property was restored, and in a similar way, provide a way for a man to marry the wife of his deceased relative to carry on the family name and the chain of inheritance. In other words, if you were a close relative, you could come in, let's take Boaz in this situation, and you could come in and you could redeem that person because they had lost their father, they had lost their husband.
And so this entire process is complicated to explain, but in simple terms, a kinsman redeemer could restore what was lost. That's really the theme of the book of Ruth. Biblical experts tell us that the word "redeem" occurs over 20 times in this little four-chapter book. Now, this all is really so exciting, and it's a wonderful short story, and I'm sure I could have told it better. I've been in a hurry 'cause I wanted to get it all in. But let me tell you where this all ends up because this is the most precious part of the whole thing.
Verse 13 of the 4th chapter says: "Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the woman said to Naomi, 'Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better you than seven sons, has borne him.'" Now, here's the important post script to this story. "And they called the baby's name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, and the father of David".
Ruth and Boaz became parents of a little boy who would later be the grandfather of King David and the line of promise that led to the birth in that same little town of Bethlehem of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the Redeemer. In the same town, later on in the story, was born the Redeemer of the whole world, the Lord Jesus Christ, isn't that amazing? And if you read those hard-to-read passages in Matthew 1 beginning at the beginning of the book, you will see the name of Boaz and Ruth: "Boaz begot Obed by Ruth, Obed begot Jesse, and Jesse begot David," from whom came our Redeemer.
So Almighty God, in his timeless wisdom, slipped these four little chapters into the early books of the Old Testament because he knew the story was critical to the coming of our kinsman Redeemer and he has come to redeem us, even as Boaz came to redeem Ruth and restore to her hope and future. My question to you tonight is this: "Have you been redeemed"? God has done all the work. Christ has paid all the penalty. But he's not going to force his redemption upon you. He asks you to come and receive what he has done.
Let me tell you what that means. That means if you're not a Christian, if you have never accepted Christ as your Savior, as your Redeemer, you are a legitimate candidate to become a Christian. And Almighty God loves you so much that he sent Christ into this world to be the person who would save you from your sin. He is the only one that can do it. "Jesus said, 'I am the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through me.'" From all over this place, wherever you are, whoever you are, it doesn't really matter, if God has spoken to your heart, I want you to come. And if you're a Christian and you've gone down to Moab, I want you to come back home tonight. Come back and get your life back in line with what God is saying to you.