This week, Pastor Dan began a four-week series on the book of Ruth, which takes place during the time of the judges in Israel. We learned during the series of messages Pastor Doug finished last week that the time of the judges was filled with immorality; however, today’s message demonstrates that not everyone was corrupt in those days. Our story begins with a family from Bethlehem; a dad (Elimelech), mom (Naomi), and two sons (Mahlon and Kilion). At that time there was a famine in Israel, and so they decided to move to the neighboring country of Moab. Shortly thereafter, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi a widow in a foreign land. Her sons married local girls and lived there for about ten years. Then, Mahlon and Kilion died, as well.
At that point, Naomi decided to return to her native Israel, and advised her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth to return to their own mothers’ homes. Weeping, Orpah and Ruth told Naomi they wanted to stay with her, but Naomi refused. Orpah kissed her goodbye and went her own way, but Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back.” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more.
When Naomi and Ruth arrived in Bethlehem, the entire town was excited about their arrival. “Is it really Naomi?” the women asked. “Don’t call me Naomi,” she responded. “Instead, call me Mara, for the Almighty has made life very bitter for me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me home empty.” Naomi thought she had nothing left, but in fact she had real riches; she had Ruth. In her discouragement, she overlooked her gem of a daughter-in-law. Furthermore, they arrived in Bethlehem in late spring—at the beginning of the barley harvest. The famine is over. The Lord did that. Our God provides. The evidences are everywhere—if we’ll just look with the eyes of faith.
Naomi should have practiced the “glance and gaze” principle. Glance at your circumstances, but gaze at God. Don’t ignore your circumstances; instead, bring God into that experience. No doubt, the death of her two sons did it; Naomi stopped gazing at God. For ten years she had been a good witness to her pagan daughters-in-law—as evidenced by Ruth’s extraordinary love for her.
One of the marvelous things about God’s word is that timeless truths about God and life are embedded in real-life stories that happened thousands of years ago. Cultures and circumstances change, but God and people don’t. So, from this ancient incident we can pull out life-lessons that relate to us in the 21st century:
Elimelech almost certainly evidenced faithlessness when he took his family to Moab during the famine. God wanted to use hardship to bring about repentance. Instead, Elimelech took his family to a pagan land….a faithless act.
Mahlon and Kilion married women who did not believe in the Lord. God’s people are not permitted to do that; it was a faithless act.
Naomi, overwhelmed with grief, overlooked evidence of God’s faithfulness in her life; a loyal, loving, sacrificial daughter-in-law; the end of the famine; and the beginning of the barley harvest. Naomi had suffered loss, but she wasn’t “empty.” That was a faithless statement—and no doubt a painful one for Ruth to hear.
Although Naomi experienced a phase of faithlessness, it is clear that the general course of her life was one of faithfulness. She had lived her life in such a way that Ruth wasn’t about to go back to her stone god. Naomi clearly invested herself faithfully in redemptive relationships for the long-haul.
Naomi suffered some devastating losses. No, she should not have been bitter and she should not have blamed God for it. We should not excuse her, but we should understand her. Let’s extend grace to each other. Let’s bear with one another. We don’t perform faithfully all the time, and we would want others to treat us gently in our grief. Ultimately, we would want them to point us to God and help us regain perspective. But we would want them to do it gently, lovingly, and humbly.
So let’s give each other grace. We each have a responsibility to counsel and cultivate redemptive relationships with one another, whether it’s your children, friends, community group members, or coworkers. At TCC, we believe we are all “people in need of change, helping people in need of change.” Naomi teaches us that.
Application / Challenge
- In the midst of difficulties practice the “glance and gaze” principle. Glance at your circumstances, but gaze at God. The Psalms show us how to practice the glance and gaze principle: Read one Psalm per day. Observe how the psalmist is honest in the description of his circumstance but his focus is on God’s provision.
- From time to time we all falter in our faithfulness. What matters is direction, not perfection. What is the overall direction of your life? When you recognize the sin that puts you off course, confess and carry on.
- Give each other grace – while not neglecting our responsibility to help each other grow in godliness. We are people in need of change helping people in need of change!