“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. 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. 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. 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. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 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? 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, 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.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 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. 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.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.” (Ruth 1:6–22, ESV)
Let’s begin by considering three important questions.
- How do the circumstances of your life impact your theology?
- What has the greatest impact on what you believe about God?
- Is your opinion of God formed by the time in which you live or is it formed through God’s self revelation of Himself in the pages of Scripture?
Those three questions are answered in the life of Naomi. Last week I pointed out that the events of the book of Ruth took place during the times of the judges. The time of the judges in the words of Scripture was a time in which everyone did that which was right in their own eyes. I don’t think that it is unfair to compare the days of the judges to the culture we find ourselves living in today. And even if that is just a little bit true then we must make sure that we don’t fall into the trap that Naomi fell into. She let the times in which she lived and the circumstances of her life shape her perception of God rather than relying upon the revealed record of God to provide her with an accurate understanding of God and how he works in our lives.
The Book of Ruth helps us to understand that despite the downward spiral of our culture and the feeling of hopelessness created by our culture’s collapse God is still working to accomplish his purpose.
Let me set the scene. A famine has created a flood of hungry families in the Land of Israel. The famine was God’s judgment against Israel’s disobedience and rejection of His law. A man named Elimelech took his wife Naomi and their two sons to the land of Moab to escape the famine. While Elimelech may have had the best of intentions things did not work out according to plan. He died, later his two sons died leaving behind three widows.
The author of Ruth wants us to pay attention to what happens next, he wants us to play close attention to how each of the characters in the book respond to the circumstances they find themselves in.
As one commentator says “One of the keys to understanding the events of the book of Ruth is by understanding that in Hebrew Narrative (which is what Ruth is) that the characters are developed more by dialogue than by description.”
That is the Scholar’s way of saying listen to what they say.
Therefore we must to pay close attention to what each one of the characters say because…
- Their words reveal the condition of their hearts.
- What they say reveals their beliefs.
- Their words communicate the condition of their character.
In particular this morning I want to look at the words of Naomi and make some observations based upon her own words.
Let’s begin by examining her words in verse 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.”” (Ruth 1:13, ESV)
Naomi spoke these words to her two daughter-in-laws that were planning on going back to Israel with her. She says in essence “What’s the point?” I’m too old, I’ll probably never find a husband at my age, and even if I did I’m told old to have any more sons. And if I did would you two be willing to wait around until they are grown?
Before either of the young ladies could respond she reveals her true feelings about God with this statement; “No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”
Here is the first false belief that Naomi held…
False Belief #1: Naomi believed that God was her adversary rather than her advocate.
Where did this belief come from? It came from looking at her current circumstances and based only upon what she was currently experiencing she concluded that God was out to get her. Based upon the famine in Israel, coupled with the death of her husband and sons which resulted in her being virtually destitute she concluded that God was her adversary.
The problem is that Naomi is doing the opposite of what the Bible tells us to do. Are we as Christians supposed to walk purely by sight – purely by what we see going on around us – or are we to walk by faith?
That’s an easy question to answer but sometimes difficult to live by. As believers we are to walk by faith and not by sight. We are to walk according to what God has written in the Bible rather than what we are experiencing in the moment. As believers we are to put more trust in what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ and what He has promised he would do. Our opinion of God is to be shaped by what God has done and what God has promised to do rather than our current circumstances.
Those whose faith is only as large as the eye can see will never be of much use to God or be used by God because they are guilty of disregarding all of the promises of God. They are failing to trust God and if you fail to trust God you will never take a risk for God and without risk this is very little if any accomplishment.
We need to ask ourselves if we are like the disciples. When Jesus wanted to feed the multitudes. The disciples looked around them and saw the thousands of people and then they looked at five loaves of bread and a couple of fish and immediately concluded that the situation was hopeless, there was no way that Jesus could feed so many people with so little food.
What were they doing? What were they guilty of? They were guilty of trusting what they could see rather than what they couldn’t see. They were guilty of letting their current circumstances dictate what could be done.
Isn’t this way of thinking an ongoing struggle for believers today? We look around and because we can’t see all that God is doing we think He’s not doing anything. We can’t see beyond our current circumstances and therefore we conclude that the way things are, are the way things will always be.
Naomi looked around her and concluded I’m old, I’m widowed, I’m a stranger in a foreign land and this is the way it’s always going to be.
Naomi is like many of us, we believe in the sovereignty of God we just don’t believe that he uses his sovereignty on our behalf. We believe he uses his sovereignty to judge us, to make us miserable, but we don’t’ believe he uses that same sovereignty for our good.
Naomi let her current circumstances dictate her understanding of God’s sovereignty. She looked at her current situation and concluded that the bitterness she was currently experiencing was going to be the reality for the rest of her life. That was her truth as she saw it.
False Belief #2: Naomi believed that God was great but not good
“She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”” (Ruth 1:20–21, ESV)
Naomi uses two different names for God. First of all she calls him “The Almighty” which emphasizes God’s superior power over humans and she believed that he had exercised this power to make her life bitter. A literal translation would be that God had done evil to her. Naomi believed that God was in complete control of her life but that control in her case was not tempered with any hint of kindness.
The second name of God she uses is LORD all caps – which emphasizes the responsibility of relationship between God and his people. And in this relationship God did not treat her right, that he had brought calamity upon her.
But is that really what happened? Did God single out her family for retribution? Again her words reveal the condition of her heart, her words reveal her character.
It seems to me that Naomi has had a break with reality. Notice she begins with a desire to change her name. She says don’t call me Naomi – which means sweet and pleasant – don’t call me sweet and pleasant because of what God has done to me just call me Mara – which means bitter. But what is missing here?
What is missing is any sense of personal responsibility for the decisions made that took her from the Land of Promise to the land of compromise.
Second notice that she says “I went away full”. Really? If life was so great then why did you boot scoot your way to Moab? If life was so grand in the Promised Land then why would you go live among people who were off limits to you?
Notice again she does not deny that God was at work in her life, she acknowledges that God is the One who has brought her back even if he has brought her back empty.
By the way I wonder how Ruth felt when she heard Naomi say that God had brought her back empty? If I was Ruth I would have been thinking what a miserable ingrate you are Naomi! I’ve left behind my family and my homeland for you and you can’t even acknowledge it!
What we repeatedly see from Naomi is her total and complete self-absorption. It’s all about Naomi!
Again she concludes that God is great but he is not good. He’s ruined my life!
She had as one commentator describes is a circumstance-dependent theology.
Just as that was a danger for Naomi it is still a danger for us today. How easy it is to look around us, to take stock of our current circumstances and draw the conclusion that based only upon what we can see that God may be great but He doesn’t seem to be all that good.
What is the antidote, the cure for this deficient way of thinking? It’s the gospel! In the gospel, in the incarnation of Christ, in the life of Christ and in the death and resurrection of Christ we see that God is both great and good.
He is all powerful and he has exercised that power on our behalf and for our good.
The problem with Naomi was that she was took quick to draw conclusions before she knew the rest of the story. And don’t you and I have the same problem? We are far too quick to draw conclusions about what God is doing or many times what He is not doing before we know the end of the story.
You say how can we know the rest of the story? God has shown it to us! “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” “And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
See if you are a believer you know how it is all going to work out! Therefore do not make the mistake of forming your opinion of God based on your current circumstances.
False Belief #3: Since God is great but not good it doesn’t matter who you worship
“And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”” (Ruth 1:15, ESV)
Aren’t those shocking words to hear from one of God’s chosen people? That’s almost unbelievable that one who was a part of God’s covenant community would tell her daughter-in-laws to go back to your own gods?
What was Naomi thinking? It simply demonstrates what little faith she had. I have to wonder if she had any faith in the God of Israel or understood that one of the reasons they Nation of Israel existed was to be a witness to the Gentiles?
Shocking, but I wonder with the constant beating of the drum of pluralism that we hear incessantly in our ears if we are not tempted to believe that all gods are the same, all beliefs are the same.
The Bible says they are not! We must not fall prey to that line of thinking because that will rob us of any motivation to spread the fame of God’s name among the nations!
How does this relate to the great Commission?
First of all if you make your decisions about God and what He is doing or not doing purely on what you can see then based upon what you see or don’t see you may incorrectly conclude that God isn’t doing much so why bother with missions? Why bother with inviting people to church? Why bother with taking a risk and sharing the gospel with your coworker? Why should I give to missions because on the surface it seems as if that would be simply throwing your money away?
Second if you think that God is great but he is not necessarily good then why would you be zealous to tell others about him? This line of thinking if we fall prey too it will rob us of the desire to share the gospel. God may have saved me but he’s not been good to me after that so why tell others about him?
Third if we listen to the siren call of pluralism we will never see the urgency in calling people to Christ.