Elijah – came to rock bottom because he obeyed God’s call on his life and found himself burned out and the Lord went out of his way to restore him.
With God there are no scrap heaps
Jonah – came to rock bottom because he disobeyed God’s call and the Lord went out of His way to get him back on track.
With God failure is never final
Looking only at those two characters we might be forgiven for thinking that when hardship strikes it must our own fault in some respect.
So today I want to look at one lady for whom that could not possibly have been the case.
She is a lady for whom life was just tough.
She was caught up in circumstances completely beyond her control.
Life sent a curved ball her way and it brought her to the end of herself – and still God went out of his way to help and restore her. Because that’s what He’s like.
With God we are never alone in hardship.
She is tucked away in the OT in the book of Ruth
It’s a very poignant story
Naomi is the mum in a family who hit hard times
the story is told very skilfully – there’s hardly a word to spare – almost every sentence is integral to the plot and worth pondering on
a classic example of the story-teller’s art
When Benjamin Franklin was in Paris as the American Ambassador to France, he would often converse with members of the ‘Infidels’ Club’, a group of philosophers who rejected the Bible.
These intellectuals spent much of their time searching for and discussing masterpieces of literature and art.
For his amusement, Ben Franklin announced that he found an ancient manuscript worthy of their consideration. “We must hear it!” they exclaimed.
Franklin then read to them The Book of Ruth, changing the names of the characters and places to throw them off the scent.
When he was finished, the Infidel’s club hearers were unanimous in their praise. “We have never heard anything like it”, they said. “It is one of the most touching stories we have ever heard.” “You must tell us where you found it!”
You can imagine Franklin’s delight when he announced that it was a story from the Bible,
“It’s in the Bible you love to ridicule “.
I recommend you read the whole book it at one sitting
It’s a powerful story
because behind the events – tragedy, falling in love, marriage – there are wonderful pictures of what God is like. – He bring us restoration, renewal and recovery.
it speaks deeply to any of us who have experienced tragedy, anyone who has faced loss through no fault of their own.
I believe revival can happen in the church – you will find the basic principles here.
Naomi faced tragedy (possibly similar to the one you were thinking about)
It’s about God taking the toughest situations in life and turning them round to our blessing and His glory. >>>
Culture of Success?
This story flies right in the face of some of the assumptions in our contemporary culture – especially our attitude to success. Here are some quotations (thanks to Google):
“There’s nothing that breeds success like success.”
“If you work hard enough, if you’re sufficiently committed you will reach your goal – whatever that goal is”
“Success is always there for the taking – you just have to believe in yourself “
“When the going gets tough, the tough get going!”
“When I dare to be powerful – to use my strength in the service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.”
even “Use other people as your ladder to climb on”
All aggressive swashbuckling stuff!
It’s also catastrophically self-centered and it has no answer to give the majority of us who don’t achieve fame or notoriety or fortune.
Where do you go when, through no fault of your own, you don’t achieve your goal. You reach for the sky, you work your socks off, you commit everything you’ve got – and success doesn’t happen?
Where do you go when life deals you a bad hand?
What happened to the athletes who gave it their all but never made it to Rio?
What do you do if you create a business, give it everything you’ve got and then the bottom falls out of the market and you lose it all?
Where do you go when your daughter discovers she’s diabetic, slips into a coma and passes away? (That was our experience) Was it her fault, was it ours? Did we do something wrong here?
(Any of you who have read our book will know that we asked questions like that.)
Why do bad things happen to good people? And what do those good people do when they hit tragedy?
That’s where Naomi has much to teach us. It’s a message of hope and assurance
The book of Ruth is like a play in several acts
the backdrop to Naomi’s life
Ruth 1:1. In the days when the judges ruled
These were days marked by darkness, violence, faith heroes and failure. Cycles of faith and failure >>>
A traditional Israelite family Elimelech and Naomi – happily married
Hebrew names have meanings – sometimes assigned later in life (We’ll see example later)
Elimelech – God is King – a man who wanted to have God as king of his life.
Naomi – sweet – a pleasant personality
They have two sons – that makes them very blessed indeed! “Sons are a heritage from the Lord!”
They had everything going for them >>>
There was a famine in the land – a tragic situation
But what we have here is not only the story of a mass movement but the struggles of just one family.
Famine in Bethlehem – significant because Bethlehem = “The house of bread”
Bethlehem was a fertile area – if there was one place you’d expect to find bread, it would be Bethlehem
Circumstances utterly beyond their control force them to leave the home they love. So in desperation they depart Bethlehem and go ‘for a short time’ to Moab
This famine gave rise to mass migration – of the kind that we’re seeing today >>>
Moab was a particularly dangerous place for the Children of Israel.
For example – King Mesha had a stele engraved. In it he describes slaughtering 7,000 Israeli men and taking their women to ‘give to their gods’
Elimelech went ‘for a short time’ v1 to the country of Moab
Significantly – to go to live in Moab was to leave God’s land.
his intention was only to stay for a short time but he never returned –
a warning to all Christians not to think “I’ll just go outside God’s plan this once …”
“I can handle a small amount of this sin – the Lord will always forgive me…”
“It will only be a sojourn – a short outing” – just a little lowering of the standards won’t hurt
Tragically, Elimelech never returned.
Perfect storm of hard times
3 Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.
Tragedy! The closest, most valuable relationship Naomi had was severed by death!
At least she wasn’t destitute because she had her two sons to look after her. But life was not going to be that simple.
To cap it all the
4 They married Moabite women one named Orpah and the other Ruth.
Another tragedy – they would have been expected to marry Jewish girls.
These Moabite women would not be allowed into ‘the assembly of the Lord’ Deut 23:3. Such marriages were not forbidden, but niether there were they encouraged and this penalty for so doing is a significant one. The danger is not so much one of racial purity, but losing touch with God.
4 … After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died,
Another tragedy >>>
Their names are full of meaning too. Mahlon is close to the Hebrew verb for ‘sickness’ and Chilion comes from the word ‘failing’
so Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband
Triple bereavement. Loss of husband, loss of sons, loss of future, loss of security >>>
To be left a widow in your own country, too old to have children, was bad enough.
The situation was compounded by this happening in a foreign land – her position was hopeless.
Life can’t get much worse!
… and then it does
Loss of security
There’s another tragedy hidden in the background. There is no talk of grand-children. Having been married fro 10 years a family would reasonably expect to have some children, but neither couple were able to have any.
In their society this meant only one thing – God’s judgement!
But here he hadn’t and I can imagine all these thoughts of worthlessness and condemnation swirling round in Naomi’s mind!
But something happened
the turning point (Naomi)
Naomi, living in in Moab, heard that the LORD had come to the aid of his own people by providing food for them,
“had come to the aid of”
Primary meaning “to review, to take note of, to notice”.
She heard that the Lord had taken notice . Israel was no longer abandoned!
God threw out the life-line! – Here’s God at work – The Lord reached Naomi with a message of recovery, even when she was in the foreign land. He’s a gracious and compassionate God!
You might be many miles from him this morning but his message is the same “there is recovery and renewal available in my house!”
It’s there for the taking – “come home!”
6. Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there.
What a picture of revival!
Here is someone who had been outside God’s orbit for years and now hears that God is at work – and something within her dances for joy!
I don’t know where you stand this morning. – But if you’re one of those people who has been out of the Lord’s loving orbit, I want to tell you there’s bread in his house! He longs to feed you on a rich diet!
With God’s people there is loads of spiritual grub to be had!
Her turning round and heading back home is a picture of repentance.
There was probably remorse in Naomi’s heart about leaving her land and her people, and now that she’s going home, that’s repentance. Repentance is the act of turning around!
the trek home
In the NT there is the prodigal son – he hears about the food back in his father’s house and he heads off, regardless of what people will think of him.
Naomi is a prodigal daughter!
taken up residence in a foreign land
married her sons to foreign women
invested her life in a foreign culture
Not because she’s disobedient, but out of expediency
This trek began in remorse for what she had done in going there.
This is significant:- Naomi could have seen the situation as all her fault
she decided to go in the first place – leaving the protection of God’s land and God’s people
she married off her sons to non-Israeli girls
and now she is utterly alone
It’s often characteristic of people who are going through depression and feeling despair that they crave being alone
6 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
It was her own decisions that caused all this trouble – can God ever accept her back? answer ‘yes!’
Lesson – even if we divert from the Lord’s plan for us knowingly and by our own deliberate fault
he is still able to recover, restore and renew
If the message of the book of Ruth is anything it’s all the re- words!
renewal, restoration, revival, refreshing
THAT’S WHAT IS THERE IN GOD’S HEART FOR HIS PEOPLE!
she tries to get her daughters to return to their home
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
We are meant to notice this! The two sisters behaving completely differently!
Orpah leaves, Ruth clings
Orpah stays, Ruth goes
Orpah gives in, but Ruth perseveres (she has no idea how difficult it could be in Israel for her)
Orpah goes for the known, the familiar, Ruth opts for the risky and the unfamiliar
BUT just see how Orpah heads off into the rest of life alone, Ruth has a companion.
God gave Naomi a friend and companion
A poignant statement of devotion
16 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.
This was going to be a lifelong commitment!
May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”
(= wording of a covenant)
18 When Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Ruth is willing to give up everything!
home, family religion – all the things we put our security in.
Why? Because in spite of her current bitterness, Ruth has seen something of the LORD in her mother-in-law.
She will go with a destitute ageing depressed widow who has nothing to offer her. This is a risk of faith!
cf wedding promises “until death parts us”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara
Naomi = sweet, Mara = bitter.
Hebrew names attributed as a result of Character – sometimes in later life.
Call me something different – I’ve come back a different person from the one who left – give me a new name – call me ‘bitter’.
the Lord’s hand?
because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.
A difficult subject where there are not slick answers. God’s permissive will –
He allows certain things to happen to us that are painful at the time but ultimately for our good and his glory.
We see success as a sign of God’s favour (which often it is) but we are too quick to jump to the conclusion that tragedy is evidence of his disapproval when in reality He’s often doing something deeper, much weightier, in our lives.
And we can drift into thinking that because we’re struggling, we’re of no use. My friend don’t let anyone make you think you’re worthless because you’ve hit a rough patch that a loving God has allowed to come across your path.
22 So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.
A highly significant detail
God’s solution to her predicament is on the way. food can be found here!
Here’s a lady with a broken life, partly by circumstances beyond herself (the famine). Partly of her own decisions and her own making
But look what God does for her
He turns her round
gives her a companion (Ruth)
gets her home
provides for her needs when she arrives.
If you’re like Naomi the Lord will do the same for you.