God in my Wandering: The Dangers of Disobedience (Ruth 1:1-6)
Welcome to EFC. I am excited about our new series we are going into for the next few weeks. We will be going through a short book of the Old Testament called “Ruth.” I mention this at the outset so that you will have adequate time to find it in your Bibles by the time we get to the actual text. You are allowed to use the index if you want to! It is the eighth book of the Bible, tucked between Judges and 1 Samuel.
What we will do first is to get a quick overview of the book, fly over the forest, if you will, and then come back and walk by the trees. Here is some background info:
A. General Info
1. One of two books named after a woman. The other being Esther. Actually did you know the book of 2nd John was written to a woman?
2. Ruth is a Gentile who married a Jew, while Esther is a Jew who married a Gentile. Ruth begins with famine and ends with a birth. Ever see the movie, “Four weddings and a funeral?” Ruth is “Three funerals and a wedding.” Esther begins with a feast and ends with death.
3. Author: Unknown. Some have attributed this to Samuel, but no one knows for sure.
4. Time written: Debatable, but most think it is during David’s time around 1100 BC.
5. Time of story: The author tells us it is “in the days when the judges ruled.” We will explain this further when we get to the text.
6. Most of the book (over 50%) is dialogue. This is because two primary characters are women! They always want to talk about everything!
A lot of men think of Ruth like the “chick flick of the Old Testament.” There is this hopeless woman and her husband dies and she is on welfare and finally a prince shows up and rescues her…it’s so cute and sweet! It’s so romantic! Well, it’s more than that! It’s more than a love story. There are two underlying themes that run through the book.
1. The Providence of God.
This doctrine brings together two aspects of God’s character: God’s sovereignty and God’s goodness. God created the world and we as His creatures are dependent on Him for existence, but He also sustains and rules the world, so that we are dependent on Him for everything else as well! This means we don’t believe that He created the world and walked away (deism) or that everything is God (pantheism) or that everything is by chance or blind fate, but that God is both powerful and personal. He is above and yet below. Wow, we saw Christ as God with these attributes in Colossians 1!
So we believe He rules the world, but He is also good. He is above everything, yet in His goodness, He allows us to have the freedom to make choices, though still dependent on Him to make the wisest choices. Yet in all of it, God orchestrates events and things in life for “the good of those who love Him” (Rom. 8:28). God rules, but He also over-rules, guides, cares, protects and provides. That is the providence of God! This theme will be undergirded throughout the book of Ruth.
2. The Hesed of God.
I normally do not like to bring up Hebrew or Greek words, but there is no understanding of God, especially in the Old Testament, without understanding the word “Hesed.”
I love this word! The only problem is that there is no real good English equivalent for it. Probably the best is “God’s loyal covenant-keeping love for His people.” Some translations call it “lovingkindness” or “mercy” or “kindness” or “steadfast love.” It is most often mentioned with God as the subject and His people or humanity as the object (3:1). Humans also can also show “hesed” to one another. It is found 246x in the OT and 127x (over half in the Psalms). It is found in 5% of Psalms (read Psalm 136 for a psalm full of them), 4% in Jonah (that’s interesting!) and Ruth comes next with 3% in Ruth (see chart).
Someone has defined it as “the consistent, ever-faithful, relentless, constantly-pursuing, lavish, extravagant, unrestrained, furious love of our Father God!” Amen! This is a word that will be like the word “Supremacy,” which I will try to drill into you until it becomes a part of you! Hesed shows up everywhere in Ruth and in looking at it in light of the New Testament, we know it is God’s hesed that is shown in Jesus Christ and keeps us in Him.
It is God’s providence and hesed in Ruth’s life that took her from tragedy to triumph; from loneliness to love and bitterness to blessedness for Naomi. It is the providence and hesed of God that can take three funerals in the beginning of this story and turns it around to a wedding by the end! Look at the end of Ruth (Ruth 4:18-22). Ruth is the great-grandmother of King David! And then turn over to Matthew 1:5-6. Ruth ends up in the lineage of Jesus Christ! That is called the providence and hesed of God that orchestrates the lives of His people despite their unworthiness to His glory to their good. By the end of this story, I pray we will realize we are all Ruths, outcasts, foreigners and unworthy, but redeemed and brought into the family of God by His grace.
This word “hesed” has so impacted us as a family that we gave it to our daughter as her middle name. Jenny was pregnant during a time of uncertainty for us as I was unemployed and we were living with my in-laws. It was a time where sometimes our faith wavered, a time where we had some disappointments and doubt, but when we were faithless, we found our God to be faithful. His hesed/steadfast love never ceased (Lam. 3:22). So we wanted Abbie to know that she can put her whole weight on the fact that our God is a loyal, covenant-keeping God, who never fails!
So the title of the series will be called, “From Tragedy to Triumph: The Story of Ruth.” So with all of that by way of introduction, let’s get to the story! We have to talk about the tragedy before we get to the triumph.
We have all had defining moments in our lives. Think about it. Haven’t there been times when you were forced to make a decision and now because of that decision, you are who you are today?
I can think of a few in my life already. The first is definitely when I became a believer. I heard the gospel, God moved in my heart and I made a decision then to follow Jesus for the rest of my life. This is definitely the most defining moment of my life. Who knows where I would be if that never happened…in jail? Then when I was about 20, the Lord impressed on my heart to go to school at Wheaton and I went and that was a defining moment, because I am still in Illinois, married, raising a child here and here at EFC (also all defining moments).
We all make choices. Hopefully we make wise choices as we trust God with them and those choices lead to lifestyles and if God was in it, we experience the blessing of it. But if God was not in it, we reap the dangerous consequences of what we sow (Gal. 6:7). A lot of defining moments are like that.
There are also defining moments that we just end up with, because we are fallen people who live in a fallen world. A husband or wife dies and a widow or widower is left with young children. There is a crippling accident or a life threatening disease. A hurricane comes and destroys a city. Your job is lost and you are forced to relocate. Those things also define us.
This is what Ruth 1 is about. There are some poor and wise choices that have defined the character’s lives and defining moments thrust upon them they have to deal with. In the first five verses, we see the danger of disobedient choices. Why is disobedience so dangerous? Let’s start with this thought:
II. The Story
1. The promise of disobedience is always deceptive (Ruth 1:1-3)
Look at the text: “In the days when the judges ruled.” The author is giving us an idea of what the times were like. Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, starts like this: “It was the best of times and it was the worst of times.” Here, however, if Dickens was writing a similar intro, he would say, “It was the worst of times.” Thankfully, we will find out that that the worst of times is the best time for God to work!
But it was a dark time in the lives of God’s people. By the time of the judges, they were stuck in a vicious cycle. They got out of Egypt and slavery in Exodus, given commands on how to live for God in Leviticus, didn’t obey them and as a result wandered around for awhile in Numbers, given the commands again in Deuteronomy and were finally getting a land of their own, the promised land, in Joshua. By the time Judges rolled around, they had no King except God, but the people kept falling into a cycle.
The cycle looks like this: It starts out with disobedience. They get tempted by the gods of their neighbors and fall into sin, often sexual sin. God is not going to share His glory with another so He disciplines His people by allowing other nations to defeat them. So disobedience followed by discipline results in defeat and slavery. The people repent and cry for deliverance and God sends a deliverer, only for them to fall back into disobedience. With each cycle, their sin gets worse and worse and eventually God has a hard time finding even a good deliverer and then the repentance slowly starts to disappear. Does that cycle sound familiar? We are no different, except that we have one deliverer who paid for our sins once and for all. Amen for that!
The author of Judges tells us what life was like to live in the time of the Judges at the end of the book. Flip back one page and look at the last verse (Judges 21:25): “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Hey, this sounds like America! I like how real the Bible is and how relevant it is!
So to live in the time of the judges is not exactly a wonderful time. Now the question is which part of the cycle were the people of Israel in? Notice it says that “there was a famine in the land.” The author does not say why there a famine, but it must because they are caught in the disobedience part of the cycle and God was forced to send the famine.
Back in Leviticus and Deuteronomy (Lev. 26:18-20, Deut. 28:15, 23-24), according to the covenant God made with His people, if they disobey, famine and barrenness along with a lot of other “curses” would come upon them. The ironic thing about this is that this family we are going to learn about came from Bethlehem in Judah. Bethlehem means “house of bread” and Judah means “praise.” There is no bread in the House of Bread! And soon the place of praise will be gone as well, at least in this family’s life.
Let’s meet the characters. There is this man named Elimelech. His name means “My God is King.” He is married to Naomi, whose name means “pleasant.” They have two sons: Mahlon and Chilion. When we did Colossians 4 and went through those 10 names (Col. 4:7-18), I did recommend those names for your children, but here I will not recommend these names! Mahlon means “sickly” and Chilion means “wasting away.” Hi, these are my kids, “Walking Bird Flu Epidemic” and “Bubonic Plague.” I don’t know why they named their kids that (were they born with any disabilities or premature?), but they did.
Now here comes the decision in Ruth 1:1. The text says that they went to “sojourn” in Moab. The word “sojourn” means “dwell as alien, live as a stranger, be a guest, i.e., be in a place with a focus that one is living as a guest or stranger in a place.” In other words, Elimelech did not plan on filing his citizenship papers when he got to Moab. It was just going to be on an immigrant visa. I wonder if part of him knew that God was not fond of His people taking a break outside the promised land?
By the way, Moab had its start in a cave (Gen. 19:30-38). Lot’s daughters seduced their own father and had relations with him. They both get pregnant by their own father (you thought things are bad now!) and the names of their children are Moab and Ben-ammi. The Moabites and Ammonites, both enemies of Israelites, had their origins there. A seemingly small decision on the part of the daughters led to the birth of nations who worshipped idols and troubled the people of God for generations. The national deity of the Moabites was Chemosh, a god who required human sacrifice to satisfy him. Later, God calls Moab a “washpot” in Ps. 108:9. A more modern translation would be, “toilet bowl.”
Elimelech made a choice. He was deceived. As the head of the household, he wondered how he was going to put food on the table and roof over their heads. There is no food anywhere! He goes outside and notices the sun high in the sky. It is dry and hot and he can feel his lips dry up as he walks around. The fields are empty since there is no wheat or barley to winnow. Walking by the market, he notices a sign that says, “Closed.” He goes over to the grape vines, bends down to look at it and sees shriveled grapes. It is all withering away. He puts his hand on his head, wipes the sweat away and takes a deep breath.
How is he going to feed his wife and two boys? He must have thought, “I am not going to have my kids die here. I have to do something.” He is the bread-winner and when there is no bread to win, he decided to take matters into his own hands. So Elimelech, “My God is King” decided that “I am my own god and king.” It’s getting tough in the House of Bread, so let’s go swim in the toilet bowl for a while.
Somehow he heard that just 50 miles away southeast, on the other side of Dead Sea, there was no famine there. It would take about a week to get there, so it is not far and it takes just a week’s journey, so they can just come back when they need to and it is just for a little while. So he thought! Did he have a legitimate need? Absolutely! But the way the Enemy works is to take a legitimate need and tell you that you need to meet them illegitimately. Remember Jesus in the desert. Hunger is a legitimate need, but Satan wanted Jesus to meet His need illegitimately. Remember how Jesus responded, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but from every word to proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:1-4). In other words, REGARDLESS OF HOW CONSUMING HIS HUNGER, JESUS WOULD RATHER BE FED WITH THE SMALLEST CRUMB OF HIS FATHER’S WORD THAN TO INDULGE INTO AN ENTIRE LANDSCAPE OF FRESH BREAD FROM ANYWHERE ELSE.
But Elimelech does not go that route. He runs from the problem. He is convinced he needs to fix this problem on his own. Growing up in an agricultural society, Elimelech should have known that whenever you plant something, you always get more than you planted. That is how the law of sowing and reaping works. You always reap more than you sow. But it is also true with the decisions we make. You sow a small thing in your eyes, but it unleashes a harvest of trouble. A small act (in your eyes anyway) of disobedience can lead to huge consequences. The reason we disobey is because we are deceived by what sin promises. We are promised much, but delivered little.
The application here is that we need to be farsighted when we make important choices. Jesus said, “What king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? (Luke 14:31). Here are three areas where we need to be careful in making wise decisions, so that we will not be deceived at the end.
- College. Some of you are preparing to go to college. Yeah, freedom! So you think. You start choosing questionable friends and questionable places to hang out and then you start missing church one Sunday and then another before you know it, you are in big trouble. You are not free, but in bondage. So have some convictions now. I am going to join this Christian campus group. I will ask so-and-so for accountability. Get some things right in your mind now. Because when you get lonely and things get tough, taking a dip in the toilet bowl will not sound like a bad idea. Don’t be deceived!
- Moving out of state. So often I hear of people moving somewhere to get a “better life,” but they do not consider the spiritual benefits or cost of the move. Sure they went and made sure they got the right job, the right house, in the right school district, but if they forget to check out a church community to see if it is available, they are in big trouble. I can think of several examples of people in my mind right now. All are in bad places, spiritually in their lives. They are isolated, some with their marriages struggling, some with rebellious children, and some totally lost. Don’t be deceived.
- Marriage. The worst is to hear of believers deciding to marry unbelievers. Sure God can redeem such relationships, but that is not always a guarantee. Some guys are like, “But she’s hot!” Yeah, but so is hell! Do your homework. Does she know the Lord? Does he know the Lord? Don’t be deceived!
Are there important choices in front of you right now? Ask yourself what are the spiritual benefits in making these choices? The risk to do anything outside the will of God will always leave you destitute. Choose to sin, choose to suffer. You will be taken farther than you ever wanted to go and asked to pay more than you ever wanted to pay and you will stay longer than you ever wanted to stay.
The Enemy is like a chained dog. He will only get you once you enter into his reach and into his circle. Why is disobedience so dangerous? Because the things it promises are deceiving. This leads us to the second thought here:
Remember the plan was to “sojourn.” But look at verse 2, they “remained there.” Then look at verse 5: “They lived there about 10 years.” A short vacation leads to a permanent residence. They are out of the land, out of God’s will and away from God’s people. See the progression. It is always that way. You give the devil an inch, and it will become a mile. You give him a foothold and he will make it a stronghold.
So Elimelech takes his family to Moab and in verse 3, it says “But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died.” See the irony? Why did he leave the House of Bread and the Place of praise? To avoid death. But what happens? He dies! We do not know how he died? Natural causes? Heart attack? Got hit by a camel? Was it a judgment from God? The author does not tell us, but if you were reading this in that culture, your heart breaks. It is dangerous to try to live outside the will of God.
But it gets worse. The sons end up marrying Moabite women. It all started with a little idea for a short trip and now look what you have: a dead husband and your two sons marrying women who worship Chemosh. So Mahlon marries Ruth (Ruth 4:10) and Orpah marries Chilion. But Naomi had some hope. See, even though these women are pagan, their male children can pass on the family name. Only one problem though: they do not have children. Another judgment of God? The text does not say, so we can only assume.
But it gets worse. Mahlon and Chilion die. Again, we do not know how they died. To accentuate the horror of this tragedy, the author writes in Ruth 1:5: “The woman was left without her two sons and her husband.” Why did Elimelech come to Moab? To escape death and save his family. What happens in Moab? Elimelech and both sons die. Moral of the story: death is the hand of God. You cannot run away from it.
But see the progression: sojourn—remained there—lived 10 years. It is always downward. Hey disobedience, which way are you taking that person? Downward! How about tomorrow? Downward. How about later this month? Downward. It’s quicksand. It is always easier to go down the hill and then go up right? There is no resistance going downward. One wrong step and it’s like a water slide.
Notice the progression in Lot’s life. Turn to Gen. 13: 8. He and Abram were traveling together and they realized they needed to separate since it was getting crowded with all their stuff and animals. Besides, their people were fighting each other. You know, too many cooks in the kitchen! So Abram says, you choose first the way you want to go. Look at Gen. 13:9. He was blown away by how beautiful the land was—you see, your head follows where your heart is—and so he travels east. But by Gen. 13:12, the guy was pitching his tent near Sodom. Turn over to Gen. 19:1. Lot is a business man by the gate of Sodom! The promise of disobedience is always deceptive and the progress of disobedience is always downward. Look at the third thought:
3. The product of disobedience is always devastation (Ruth 1:5)
Naomi is in a foreign land and now a widow, which is the equivalent of being homeless in our society. Without a male protector, she has no social, economic or political status.  Also, it is shameful to be buried outside the land. Your whole life is tied to the land. The choice that Elimelech made for his family led to its pretty much extinct status. Naomi is devastated.
When we sin, we think we are the only ones affected, but it affects everyone around you. Think of the minister who fails morally. The name of Jesus is dragged in the mud. His family is ashamed. His wife, if she does not divorce, will have a hard time trusting her husband. His congregation will be in turmoil. Unbelievers ridicule God. It’s train wreck. It is a domino-effect of devastation.
Look at the devastation in the life of David (2 Sam. 11). King David was lazy and was supposed to be at war, but instead was wandering around his roof. The idle mind is a devil’s playground. He sees this beautiful woman taking an evening bath Why don’t people put their curtains down right? But that’s no excuse. The seeing turns into wanting and wanting turns into adultery and finally murder. David, where did disobedience take you? Downward! What happened to David after his one-night stand? His baby died. His beautiful daughter, Tamar, was raped by her half-brother Amnon. Amnon was murdered by Tamar’s full-brother Absalom. Absalom came to so hate his father David for his moral turpitude that he led a rebellion under the tutelage of Bathsheba’s resentful grandfather, Ahithophel. David’s reign lost the smile of God. His throne never regained its former stability. God forgave him, but the consequences left him never the same.
4. The primary solution for disobedience is always decisive repentance (Ruth 1:6)
Naomi in Ruth 1: 6 makes a defining moment decision. She hears “in the fields of Moab” that the famine was over. Aren’t you glad that we serve a God who comes to us in the toilet bowl? What a wonderful shepherd who chases us down in our valley of devastation. There is no pit where the love of Christ is not deeper still. She heard it while she was in Moab! But she heard and she acted on it. Blessed are those who are not just hearers of the Word, but doers of it! (James 1:22).
Repentance is a change of mind that produces a change of way. She did not have everything together as far her relationship with God. I mean, 10 years of being away will do a number on your soul. But nevertheless, she took the step to leave where she was and move to where God was. This was a defining moment in her life because when she took one step, God took ten. But repentance must be decisive, otherwise it is not repentance. It is a decision to say, “I am done with this kind of living! I am turning 180 degrees to the Lord.” We will explore this further next time.
Are you toying around with sin? Is there disobedience in your life? Are you justifying it by saying it’s just a casual glance, a small thing? Maybe your devotions have been dry and you decided to swim in the toilet bowl for a while. Today hear the Word of God. Come back! There is food waiting for you!
When I was studying at Wheaton, I heard Jill Briscoe speak at chapel. She is a well-known writer and speaker. She shared a story which I never forgot. She talked about the time when she was 17 and hanging out with her boyfriend at her parent’s house. No one was home that day and her boyfriend suggested they go upstairs to the bedroom. She figured out from his suggestion he had other things in mind. She refused. He kept urging her and in frustration asked, “What’s wrong? Are you afraid of what your father will do to you if he found out?” She looked at him intently in the eye and said, “No, I am not afraid of what my father will do to me, but I am afraid of what this will do to my father.”
See, disobedience is a stab into the father’s heart. He is hurt by it. It breaks His heart and we suffer for it. It is deceiving promising much, delivering nothing; the only path it takes us is downward and the only thing we are left with is devastation. Thankfully, we know when we turn our heart again to the Father, He runs to us, always ready to receive us.
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