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Studies in the Book of Ruth (2)

I Steele, Glenburn

The Famine

Down to Moab (vv.1-5)

Perhaps Elimelech’s intentions were tempered with caution even if completely misguided. We are told that he went to sojourn, indicating he meant it to be a temporary stay. However, the family continued there, and after he died they remained for about ten years (v.3).

What does Moab speak of? Moab was the offspring of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his elder daughter, and became an inveterate enemy of Israel along with his half brother from whom the Ammonites were descended (Gen 19.30-38). Isaiah writes, "We have heard of the pride of Moab; he is very proud: even of his haughtiness, and his pride, and his wrath" (16.6; see Jer 48.29). Moab, therefore, represents the pride and arrogance of men in the world and the scorn and disdain with which they view the people of God. Balak the king of Moab sought to bring a curse upon Israel at the mouth of Balaam (Num 22.1-7) but God prevented him. Moab was out to bring down the people of God and what they could not do with a curse they accomplished through corruption and moral evil.

Zephaniah writes, "I have heard the reproach of Moab…whereby they have reproached my people, and magnified themselves against their border" (2.8). It is that aspect of the world that reproached and reviled our blessed Lord, and we too are called to bear His reproach and not to capitulate to it. We cannot overcome Moab by natural means. God used a left-handed man, Ehud, to destroy Eglon the king of Moab (Judg 3.15-22). The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual, mighty to the pulling down of strongholds. Deliverance can be achieved, and after the victory of Ehud the land had rest for eighty years.

After the death of Elimelech, his sons Mahlon and Chilion married wives of the women of Moab. Such behaviour was forbidden: "Neither shalt thou make marriages with them; thy daughter thou shalt not give unto his son, nor his daughter shalt thou take unto thy son" (Deut 7.3). God desired Israel to remain separate from the nations of the land. This principle remains the same today. Paul writes with abundantly clarity, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness?" (2 Cor 6.14). Perhaps they were attracted by their outward appearance for Orpah means "Fawn" and Ruth, "Beauty", but such is no criteria for the marriage of God’s people. Marriage is to be only in the Lord, which signifies not only common salvation but also mutual interests and desires for spiritual things (1 Cor 7.39).

The discipline of God then fell with a further double blow - Mahlon and Chilion died also. How sad to die away from God and His people in the midst of an idolatrous world, and in dying leave others there as well!

The pathos and stark loneliness of Naomi can be felt in the statement, "and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband" (v.5). The woman was left! What had she now in Moab but three graves and empty memories? It seems, nevertheless, by the providential dealings of God that she wasted no time, for "Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return" (v.6)!

On the way back (vv.6-18)

It is a blessed consolation to know that God leaves us a way back. Let us endeavour to create conditions in the assembly which will be spiritually attractive to those who have gone away. Naomi may have been ten years in the wrong place, but she was still at least partly in touch. "She had heard" (v.6), and what she heard was good and was the means of motivating her to return to Bethlehem. What are others hearing about us outside the assembly? Paul had to state in 1 Corinthians, "I hear that there be divisions among you" (11.18); not exactly conditions in which to experience the blessing of God. Here Naomi hears of divine visitation! This is what we need today. Divine visitation is the answer to barrenness (1 Sam 2.21), hopelessness (Lk 7.16), darkness (Lk 1.78), and waywardness (Ruth 1.6). They start off together but Naomi brings the challenge of two worlds to her daughters-in-law: "Go, return each to her mother’s house" (v.8); "Turn again my daughters: Why will ye go with me?" (v.11); "Turn again, my daughters, go your way" (v.12). She was powerless to satisfy their natural desires; "Orpah kissed her mother in law", but "Ruth clave unto her" (v.14).

She tells Ruth that Orpah has gone back to her people and her gods and urges her, "Return thou after thy sister in law" (v.16). Ruth more than meets the challenge and she demonstrates a determination which we would all do well to emulate. Ruth’s devotion is made plain in her wonderful response in vv.16-17. She shows conviction for the path before her as she says, "Whither thou goest, I will go". Are we willing to walk the unseen path with God? She also had contentment with the place Naomi was leading her to. She declared, "Where thou lodgest, I will lodge", and it would be there in the House of Bread that she would meet with Boaz and forge an intimate relationship with him. Next she affirmed her desire for companionship with the people of God as she cried, "Thy people shall be my people". Would that we would learn to make such a choice as Moses also did when he chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin which are only for a season (Heb 11.25)! How wonderful to see her commitment to the true and living God. Ruth declared, "Thy God my God" and left behind forever the idols of Moab. Finally she demonstrated the consecration of her life that was bound up in her resolve - "Where thou diest, will I die". Perhaps we need to make the challenge of commitment to God more forceful to draw out the devotion and loyalty that ought to be forthcoming to the Lord Jesus Christ. Those who gladly received His word surely made that kind of commitment (Acts 2.41-42).

The strategy of Naomi changed when she saw that Ruth was steadfastly minded to go with her (v.18). The margin says that Ruth "strengthened herself" and this convinced Naomi that she was prepared for the life of a stranger in Bethlehem-Judah. Are we strong for God today to do His will and work for Him whatever the cost? It is "the people that do know their God (who) shall be strong and do exploits" (Dan 11.32). Are we "stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord" (1 Cor 15.58)?

Bethlehem-Judah (vv.19-22)

All the city was moved about them. It’s not often we are moved as God’s people! Maybe we need a few things to happen to stir us up. At times we settle into our routine and we do not want any ripples on the waters. God blows with His wind and we should be moved. Sometimes it is for our encouragement, sometimes for our correction. We are told of Ahaz the son of Jotham the son of Uzziah, that "his heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as the trees of the wood are moved with the wind" (Is 7.2). The confederacy between Syria and Ephraim caused serious waves amongst the people of Judah. Likewise here, the return of Naomi with Ruth caused a reaction and they said, "Is this Naomi?". She went out as "My pleasant one" but she confessed that this pleasantness had been replaced with the bitterness (Mara) of experience and emptiness! So will the child of God be impoverished who chooses friendship with the world.

However, if she was impoverished through the choices made she acknowledged twice over in the title she uses that God was not and could not be impoverished. "The Almighty (Shaddai) hath dealt very bitterly with me". This is God all sufficient, able to succour and support His people. Some say He is the "breasted God", with infinite supply of resources. Paul discovered this: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness" (2 Cor 12.9), and stated that "our sufficiency is of God" (2 Cor 3.5).

Naomi could not return and remain empty. God had wonderful provision in store for her and for Ruth. The anticipation of this is surely given in the last verse of the chapter, for they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. The beginning of barley harvest prefigures the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It was at this time that the firstfruits of the harvest was gathered in and the wave sheaf was presented in the presence of God (Lev 23.9-12). Christ is the firstfruits (1 Cor 15.23). That resurrected Man has been openly manifested before the face of God for us, and the truth that He is there in heaven means that soon we shall be there also. The remainder of the harvest will be gathered in at the coming again of the Lord Jesus when the dead in Christ will be raised.

To be continued.


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