************ Sermon on Ruth 1:1 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on October 20, 2019
Ruth 1:1; 4:14a
"Famine in the Land"
World Hunger Sunday
"There was a famine in the land." Was it caused by drought or hail? Was a plague of devouring locusts responsible? Did an invading enemy destroy the crops? We aren't told. But we do know that in the Old Testament famine was often a sign of God's displeasure and judgment upon His people (Lev 26:18–20; Deut 28:15, 23-24). For instance, during the time of the Judges, Israel repeatedly turned from God and worshiped the idols of the heathen nations around them and God had to discipline them (Judges 2:10-19).
"There was a famine in the land." What land? The Promised Land. A land of plenty. A land of rest and security. Twenty-four times the Promised Land is described as the land that flows with milk and honey (Ex 3:8, 17; 13:5; 33:3; etc). Yet, we are told there was famine in the land. How ironic, also, that there was famine even in Bethlehem, which means "house of bread"!
"There was a famine in the land." Which means people were hungry. In the three thousand years since then things have not really changed, have they?! As we observe World Hunger Sunday we know people continue to be hungry around the world and even here in America. Hunger involves people so let's look at the people Scripture tells us about.
A Our first character is Elimelech. The name Elimelech means "my God is king." As we will see, the Lord was not king in Elimelech’s life.
First, Elimelech walked by sight and not by faith. Abraham made the same mistake when he also faced a famine in the land. Instead of waiting for God to tell him what to do, Abraham fled to Egypt and got into trouble. No matter how difficult our circumstances may be, the safest and best place is in the will of God.
God has ordained that "the righteous will live by faith" (Hab 2:4; Rom 1:17; Gal 3:11; Heb 10:38; 2 Cor 5:7). What does it mean to live by faith? It means to claim the promises of God and obey the Word of God, in spite of what you see, how you feel, or what may happen. It means to commit yourself to the Lord and rely on Him to meet your needs. When we live by faith, it glorifies God, witnesses to a lost world, and builds Christian character. Elimelech did not live by faith.
Second, Elimelech focused on the physical and not the spiritual. A husband and father certainly wants to provide for his wife and family, but he must not do it at the expense of losing the blessing of God. That's Satan talking. Remember Satan's first temptation of Jesus? He tempted Jesus to satisfy His hunger rather than to please the Father (Mt 4:1-4). Jesus warns us about gaining the world but losing the soul (Mk 8:36).
Third, Elimelech sold out to the enemy. By going fifty miles to the neighboring land of Moab, Elimelech and his family abandoned God's land and God's people for the land and people of the enemy -- but more on that in a moment.
B These three points are confirmed by what happened in Moab. First, Elimelech's two sons married women of Moab: Mahlon married Ruth and Chilion married Orpah (Ruth 4:10). Jews were forbidden to marry Gentile women, especially those from Ammon and Moab (Deut 7:1-11; 23:3-6; Neh 13:1-3; Ezra 9:1-4). The sons of Elimelech mingled the holy race with the peoples around them (Ezra 9:2). Second, Elimelech and his family fled Judah to escape death, but the three men met death just the same. Third, the family planned "to live for a while in the country of Moab" -- for a while; instead, they were there for ten long years (Ruth 1:4).
C There is a lesson we can learn from Elimelech as we respond to world hunger. We need to keep in mind the words of Jesus and Moses: "Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Mt 4:4; cf Deut 8:3). Yes, we want to help people. But, we must also tell them the Word of the Gospel. Our response to hunger is Word & Deed.
A Our second character is Naomi. When she heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of His people by providing food for them, she decided to return home. Naomi's decision was right, but her motive was wrong. Like her husband, her main interest was food, not fellowship with God. She looked at life, at fullness of life, in terms of bread and food and material things. She also needed to learn man does not live on bread alone.
B You don't hear Naomi confessing her sins to God. She was returning to her land but not to her Lord. Whenever we have disobeyed the Lord and departed from His will, we must confess our sin and return to the place of blessing. Abraham did that: he left Egypt and went back to the altar he had built at Bethel (Gen 13:1-3). When Jacob left Laban he, too, had to go back to Bethel (Gen 35:1). The repeated pleas of the prophets to God's people was that they turn from their sins and return to the Lord.
C Do you know what else was wrong? Naomi did not want her two daughters-in-law to go back with her. If it was right for Naomi to go to Bethlehem, where the one and only true God was worshiped, then it was right for Orpah and Ruth to also go there. Naomi should have said to the two girls what Moses said to his in-laws: "Come with us ... for the Lord has promised good things to Israel" (Num 10:29). Instead, Naomi urged them to go back to their families and their false gods (cf Ruth 1:15).
D One last thing: Naomi blamed God for her troubles. Listen to what she says:
(Ruth 1:20-21) "Don't call me Naomi, " she told them. "Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. (21) I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me." (cf Ruth 1:13)I was talking about God's providence to one of our members this week. I quoted the Catechism which tells us to be patient when things go against us, to be thankful when things go well, and to be confident about the future that nothing will ever separate us from God's love (Q & A 28). We see none of that in Naomi. Instead, we see bitterness.
Again, the proper response to world hunger is Word & Deed. Man does not live on bread alone.
A Our third character is Ruth. She impresses me. A lot. What a source of encouragement she is to the people of God. I want to start with her conversion:
(Ruth 1:16-17) 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."
Ruth's statement of conversion is one of the most magnificent confessions of faith found anywhere in Scripture. She confessed her faith in the true and living God. It was this God she wanted to worship. She knew what was at stake: she was leaving father and mother and country and people. She was living up to the ideal announced by Jesus:
(Mt 10:37) "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
B Any Israelite who heard the story of Ruth and her conversion would be shocked -- I mean, total denial. Why? Because six times she is identified as "Ruth the Moabitess." The Moabitess. The Moabitess. Moab, you need to know, was under the curse of God -- from its cursed beginning already. Moab began in a dark cave -- the result of incest between Lot and his oldest daughter -- the grossest kind of relationship.
Centuries later the Jews suffered opposition from the king of Moab. Remember how Balak the king of Moab hired Balaam to pronounce a curse on Israel as they traveled through the wilderness? When this didn't work, Balaam came up with plan number two. He advised the women of Moab to go into the camp of Israel, to seduce the men, and as part of that seduction to invite the men of Israel to participate with them in the worship of Baal (cf Num 25; 31:16).
In the days of the Judges Israel endured oppression by Moab (Judges 3). For eighteen years they were subject to Eglon king of Moab (Judges 3).
Moab was idolatrous. Moab did not worship the one true God. Moab worshiped a god by the name of Chemosh -- and in the worship of this god the Moabites offered infant children as sacrifices on an altar, as burnt offerings (cf 2 Ki 3).
Because of all this, God pronounced a curse on Moab. And Ruth, being a Moabitess, was under that curse. Through Jeremiah and Amos and Ezekiel God announced the destruction of Moab (Jer 48; Amos 2; Ezekiel 25). The curse on Ruth and all of Moab reaches its most severe expression in Deuteronomy:
(Deut 23:3) No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation.
This creates a problem, doesn't it?! Ruth, the Moabitess, was not allowed to worship God. Yet, here she is on the way to Bethlehem. She wants to worship this one true God. And she can. Why? Because no one who repents of their sin and turns to the Lord will be rejected. And that includes Ruth the Moabitess.
You know the story. She meets Boaz. They get married. They have a child. And she -- the Moabitess -- ends up in the family tree of King David and the Lord Jesus Christ. How did a cursed Moabite get into the line of Messiah? How can she worship the one only true God? Because God provided for her a redeemer.
In the same way, the hungry and heathen around the world can also worship the one only true God. Why? Because God has provided a Redeemer.
A Speaking of a redeemer brings us to Boaz, our fourth character. Boaz is identified as "kinsman-redeemer" (Ruth 4:14).
We all know the word "redeemer." But most of us don't really know what it fully means. We think, right away, of Jesus Who redeems us from sin. The problem with this is we limit who Jesus is and what He does. The Gospel is more than justification. And, Jesus is more than Savior. Jesus is Redeemer.
So what is a redeemer? In the Old Testament a kinsman-redeemer acted on behalf of a relative who was in trouble, danger, or need and brought them into the father's house. He delivers or rescues, he provides, he buys back property and persons. One such kinsman-redeemer was Abraham. Why did Abraham rescue Lot when Lot was captured? Because Abraham was a kinsman-redeemer.
Ruth, and Naomi, needed a redeemer. They were penniless and without a male protector. So what did Boaz all do as redeemer? Ruth was gleaning in his field. He told the harvesters not to bother Ruth. He told the harvesters to leave stalks for her to pick up. He fed her so much she had enough left to also feed Naomi. Ruth needed a redeemer. So Boaz covered her with his protection, redeemed her, and made her his wife. He bought back the land of Elimelech at great personal cost; and, get this, it wasn't his land; rather, it belonged now to the family or heirs of Elimelech.
Boaz was the kinsman-redeemer. He saw a need. He saw two helpless women. He took them into his house. He looked after them.
This doesn't mean hand-outs. Look at Ruth. She had to work. She had to glean. This is hard work and, for a single women, it is dangerous work. She doesn't have an entitlement attitude. She knows what the Bible says: those who don't work don't eat. And, she looks after Naomi. She collects not just for herself but also for her mother-in-law. She is an example to children everywhere of how to honor and respect one's parents.
B The teaching of the Bible is that God is Israel’s Redeemer, the one who promises to defend and vindicate them. He is both Father and Deliverer (Ex 20:2). He rescues the weak and needy (Ps 82:4; Dan 6:27; Jer 20:13). He is the preserver of the sheep of Israel (Ezek 34:10-12, 22).
In the New Testament, it is Christ who is our kinsman-redeemer. Hebrews presents Him as our brother (2:11). He is the one who brings us back into the Father's household where our needs are met and we are cared for. Christ does for us what Boaz did for Ruth. Ruth was needy, unable to rescue herself, and requested that Boaz cover her with his protection, redeem her, and make her his wife. In the same way, the Lord Jesus Christ bought us for Himself, out of the curse, out of our destitution; He made us His own beloved bride; and He promises us His protection and His love for all generations. He is the true kinsman-redeemer of all who call on Him in faith.
"There was famine in the land." We live in a world filled with needy people. People are hungry, sick, lame, blind, feeble, old, lonely, poor, homeless, uneducated, and lost. They need a redeemer -- not just Christ but also you. Because of Christ, we -- like Abraham and Boaz -- are the kinsman-redeemer of the needy people around us. They need you to look after their needs. Seen this way, Christian parents function as a kinsman-redeemer; you make room for a child in your home; you protect and love and care for this child; you bring this child to the Father's house. Through our deacons and our benevolence fund you, congregation, are a kinsman-redeemer. And, this coming week, through the Peter Fish and our offerings for Word & Deed you, congregation, are a kinsman-redeemer. Through individual acts of kindness and love you, congregation, are a kinsman-redeemer. But, don't forget, we do this by Word & Deed. Because man does not live on bread alone.
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