Saturday, May 10, 2003

Ruth 1:1-5

Meet Ruth
May 2003
Cornerstone Covenant Church

Are you having a good day?

Not all days are equally good. You know you’re having a bad day when you put both contacts into the same eye. You know you’re having a bad day when your twin sister forgets your birthday. You know you’re having a bad day when you wake up and your braces are stuck together. You know you’re having a bad day when it costs more to fill up your car than it did to buy it. You know you’re having a bad day when you show up for work and you’re greeted by Mike Wallace. You know you’re having a bad day when your doctor tells you that you’re allergic to chocolate. You know you’re having a bad day when you wake and find your waterbed has sprung a leak and then realise that you don’t have a waterbed

Sometimes that’s the way things go. And sometimes it’s not just a bad day but a series of bad days – maybe bad weeks – even bad years.

That’s how it was with Naomi.

Look at the beginning of the book of Ruth with me.

“In the days when the judges ruled in Israel, a man from Bethlehem in Judah left the country because of a severe famine.”

This was disaster #1 – the famine. They had to pack up and leave everyone behind because there was nothing to eat.

“He took his wife and two sons and went to live in the country of Moab. [2] The man’s name was Elimelech, and his wife was Naomi. Their two sons were Mahlon...”

This is bad day disaster #2 – Mahlon means “sickly.” This was not exactly a healthy son.

“...Their two sons were Mahlon and Kilion...” This is bad day disaster #3. It’s not perfectly clear what the name Kilion means but the best we can tell it means something like “failure” or “loser.” One son was sickly and the other was a loser!

“They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in the land of Judah. During their stay in Moab, [3] Elimelech died...”

Bad day disaster #4.

“...and Naomi was left with her two sons. [4] The two sons married Moabite women. One married a woman named Orpah, and the other a woman named Ruth. But about ten years later, [5] both Mahlon and Kilion died.”

Wow! Take about disasters! It doesn’t say how they died – only that they died.

“This left Naomi alone, without her husband or sons.”

This last line is the great summary of the situation – “left alone.”

I was watching the movie Young Sherlock Homes on television a few weeks ago and Holmes was having a discussion with the young not-yet-doctor Watson. They were talking about what they wanted for their lives. Watson was saying that he wanted to become a doctor to help the world. And Sherlock Holmes said that his one desire in life was to “never be alone.”

I thank that’s true for most of us. We don’t want to be left alone – even those of us who enjoy solitude don’t really want to be stuck with aloneness. But that’s what happens to Naomi. Her husband moves her to a foreign land – they have two problem children. But then the husband and the sons all die! And she is stuck in the middle of nowhere with responsibility for two daughters-in-law.

She feels terribly alone – deserted by family and God.

Over the next several weeks we’re going to walk through the story of Ruth so that we can listen to what God has to say to people who feel abandoned.

My goal this morning is to wet your appetite – maybe even to encourage you to read the book of Ruth this week. And I want to give you a brief introduction to the book so that we can jump right into it next Sunday.

You’ll notice on the message guide – which is on the blue insert in the bulletin – that I’ve jotted down a few details about the book.

First of all, the setting of the book of Ruth is the era of the judges.

“In the days when the judges ruled in Israel...” (1:1)

After the Israelites entered into the promised land and before they had kings – the tribes of Israel functioned with an informal system of government which relied on charismatic leaders called judges. They were not judges in the sense that we use the word – but they were leaders that God raised up to meet specific challenges.

The period of judges was not a particularly stable era – there was a lot of unhealthy compromising – where the Israelites allowed themselves to get sucked into the pagan practices of their neighbors. And there were wars and there was judgment. All of this was about 1400-1050 BC.

Secondly, the story as we have it was written after King David – at least after 1000 BC – probably even later than that. Notice how the book ends – with a genealogy that leads right up to King David – the greatest King of Israel. The teller of the story is wanting to show the connection with the golden era of Israelite kings.

Third, Moabites were foreigners. Moab was southeast of Jerusalem across the Dead Sea. It was not a part of Israel. It was foreign territory and the Moabites, while not great enemies of the Israelites, were outside the covenant. So all of this transpiring with a Moabite heroine is pretty radical. And God is encouraging his people to see beyond their own parochial boundaries. Is it possible that God is at work outside Israel? Is it possible that outsiders are a part of God’s plan?

Then, fourth, just a few themes to look for as you are reading through the story this week. Note the depths of despair – the outrageous acts of faithfulness – how foreigners fit into God’s plan – God’s sovereignty – the recurring theme of hope – even though I think the word is used only once at the beginning of the story.

Note, too, that this is a great love story – on many levels – but it is not about romance. Try to distinguish your understanding of love from contemporary concepts of romance.

Note, sixth, that there are three key characters besides God – Naomi, Ruth, and very unusual and very wonderful man named Boaz.

Then as you are reading I’d simply draw your attention to chapter 2 verse 12 – which is a kind of key verse encapsulating the message of the whole story – “May the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge, reward you fully.”

Then, note, too that I’ve provided a bit of a outline on the message guide. The story starts out with deep despair (Naomi has a series of bad days) – but there is a slow opening of the curtain to reveal more and more hope – and ultimately a surprise ending – at least for the Jewish reader.

So, your homework assignment this week is to read through the story of Ruth a couple of times – just to become familiar with the flow – and to begin to hear what God is saying to his people about hope – a very appropriate message during this Easter season.

Look what happened to the cross! It started out as a bad day – but three days later it had become a symbol of hope and salvation.

It may seem like things are in pretty bad shape in your life right now. Maybe you’re having a bad day – a bad week – a bad month – a bad life! Hey, is it possible that there is cause for hope?

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