the Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide
Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.
In the last verse of judges (just prior to the Book of Ruth) is this sad note: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” Judges 21:25 (KJV) Whenever a nation turns from God as their King, they will end in either hedonism, or hard oppression. They will look for another king who will not care for their souls. This is how the Rook of Ruth opens in the midst of that famine.
It is puzzling to us that God’s people simply cannot seem to ‘stay put’ where God has told them to stay. Abraham could not seem to remain at Bethel but kept going down into Egypt and other places where God had not told him to go. In every case, he experienced troubles and shortcomings. The same is true of Isaac and Jacob. Now we see that Elimelech opts for the temporal pleasures of Moab over the blessings of a famine-stricken Bethlehem. His experience will teach us that it is far better to suffer the famine-chastening of the Lord in the right place and among God’s own people than to enjoy opulence among the heathen and cursed races of people.
Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and two sons – Mahlon and Chilion – out of Bethlehem-Judah (House of Bread and Praise) into a land that God had cursed for its disdain for the Children of Israel while they struggled in the Wilderness. It was a place of dying, and the place where Moses is buried beside the slopes and streams of Mount Nebo in an unmarked grave. Moab and Ammon were the two lands founded by the sons of Lot after an incestuous relationship with his two daughters outside the ruins of Sodom and Gomorrah.
Elimelech was not a poor man. He was a man of means who owned lands and property; yet, he left these to go to a place that offered, in his mind, a better opportunity to increase his wealth rather than suffer the mundane cessation of crops in his hometown of Bethlehem which was stricken by famine sent by God. We all have acted as foolishly as Elimelech, haven’t we? Always believing the grass to be greener on the other hillside, we cross bog and marsh to get to that ‘greener’ grass and find that it is loco-weed or sagebrush.
The Prodigal Son of his father did the same. He would take his inheritance and live ‘high on the hog’ in a far country; but instead of living high on the hog, he wound up living amongst the hogs and desiring to eat their slop. This is the poison of materialism over spiritual character. Opting for the glitter of Las Vegas, we take our treasures there and, if we return at all, we come back empty-handed and in want of bread.
What happens when a man, or woman, journeys out of the will of God where He has called them? What happened to Abraham in Egypt? What happened to the Prodigal Son in a far country? What happened to Elimelech in Moab? Let us see about that in the account given in the Book of Ruth.
The Book of Ruth is the eighth book of the Bible. Biblically speaking, the number eight symbolizes “New Beginnings.” It is a Lone Mountain of Grace emerging from the swamps and wilderness of the law and judgment of the Old Testament period from Eden to Judges. It follows immediately on the last verse of Judges which reads: “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25) Actually, there truly was a King in Israel – the Lord God Almighty, but the people rejected Him and desired a king like all of the other nations round about. “Men did that which was right in their own eyes.” Lawlessness is godlessness! Godlessness always begets famine. And so the Book of Ruth opens with a famine in the land. Many will happily endure the years of plenty in God’s blessing, but they want to forego the famine that God sends for their lack of fidelity to Him and their lawlessness. But, as Jonah learned, the man of God cannot go far enough to be beyond the reach of God. When we go from the place God has appointed, trouble ensues.
The man, Elimelech, not only took himself, but his wife and sons into the accursed land of Moab – not out of necessity, but perhaps out of greed or contempt for the place God placed him. “Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons.” It is dangerous enough for a man to carry himself out of the will of God, but to carry his family into such danger-ridden terrain is sheer foolishness. What happened to Elimelech in Moab? “And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there.” Elimelech was tempted by the better conditions that seemed to exist in Moab. He went to sojourn there (temporary visit) but what happened. He forgot his sojourn and made it a permanent stay – he ‘continued there.’ We often feel that we can touch the hot stove briefly enough not to be burned, but our scorched fingers testify against our assumptions. Lot “pitched his tent TOWARD Sodom” and wound up a judge in the gate of the city. A righteous man does not even take a step toward the wretched tree of Eden. “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” (Psalms 1:1) The righteous man does not go with the crowd of the ungodly; he does not stand with them in their discourses; and he does not sit down with them and make himself at home in their misery.
“And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons.” Poor Naomi would now mourn the loss of her husband in this dark land of Moab. But she yet had her two sons. She would be well-advised to leave this accursed land while she still had them. But God will work His will even when we are in an accursed land. The two sons no doubt had grown to like the new land of Moab. They were at home in this strange land. They may have not listened to their mother even if she insisted on leaving. She was left with her two sons in this unblessed land. So all three remained there. “And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth.”
The whole sordid affair would have been a disgraceful failure except for the last name mentioned in this verse – RUTH! To know Ruth is to love Ruth! Now that her sons were married to Moabite women, it would take a team of wild horses to drag them out of Moab – or death! “ . . . and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them.” The sad truth is that there is never any gain in going out from the will of the Lord. After her husband died, Naomi was left with her two sons. Now that the two sons have died, she is left with only her two daughters-in-law. But one of them is a golden treasure. “ . . . and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband.” Naomi had come to Moab with an Israelite husband, and two Israelite sons; now all she has remaining are two Moabitish daughters-in-law.
Just as the Prodigal Son “came to himself” in a far country and resolved to return to his father, so Naomi awakens to her depravity in Moab and resolves to return to the place of Bread and Praise. “Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the LORD had visited his people in giving them bread.” (Ruth 1:6) Yes, the chastening of the Lord can be very hard. It may remind us of what favor we have left in the House of Bread and Praise to the Lord. Jonah suffered being thrown into the depths of the sea, swallowed by a whale, and being vomited up on dry land before he realized that he could not outrun the Lord.
We, too, often must learn that lesson the hard way. It would be far easier to submit to the Lord and obey His calling rather than kicking against the prods. Paul asked, “Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5) Many good men have tried to escape the Lord’s call to no avail. God has been compared to the Hound of Heaven who never loses the trail, the scent of his object, or expires in his dogged pursuit. Sooner or later, the rabbit-like man must stop in exhaustion and do as the Lord commands.
Has God called you to a place of service? Have you decided to sojourn elsewhere believing that the Lord will not notice? Have you found the way hard and the going rough? Did you awaken to memories of the House of Bread and Praise as did Naomi, and begin your return to that favored place in the Heart of God?
As an ending to the sojourn in Moab, Naomi resolves to leave. He daughters-in-law begin the trip with her; yet, on the way, Naomi asks them to return where they can have a fair living. Orpah reluctantly does return, but Ruth is steadfast in her love for Naomi. She gives the most beautiful testimony of love in the Old Testament.
16 And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: 17 Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. 18 When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her. Ruth 1:16-18 (KJV)
If home is where the heart is, then home is also the place of love. What is the perfect measure of love? I am sure you already know that it is the love of God. If love is sacrificial, and it is, no other has ever sacrificed His innocent blood in the place of your putrid and sin-laden blood but Jesus Christ. In fact, God is love, and that is His essence. He loved us first and thereby enables us to return that love. But love also cleaves to the object of its affections just as Ruth “clave unto her” (Naomi). “And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her.” (Ruth 1:14) In Christ, we have “a friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” Ruth is an exemplary example of that love because it came to her heart from God’s endless fountain of love. Love will never let go. Love will lay down its life for its friends. “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
The tender expressions of love that Ruth avers and extols (in verses 16-18) should be enshrined in the central chamber of every heart that loves God. Apart from the powerful examples of Christ, there are no greater terms of unconditional love found anywhere in Scripture – and it comes from the heart of a virtuous Gentile girl toward a Jewish mother-in-law. One message of Ruth that God would have us see is that the Gospel is open to both Jew and Gentile. Ruth was a Gentile, but even one from an accursed land; yet, she was transformed by the Holy Spirit into a child of God as much as any – even becoming an ancestor to the line of the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us consider:
- She was willing to desert her old acquaintances, culture, religion, family, and familiar home.
- She was launching out into the deep of uncertain destiny – a land of different religion, culture, language, and people.
3.She was going to face the prospects of a life of hardship, hard labor, and poverty with an aging mother-in-law (Naomi).
- Ruth swore an oath of fealty to Naomi and her God.
- Ruth’s decision was irrevocable, unqualified, and unwavering. She hesitated not for an instant in giving it. She made the decision with her eyes open after having counted the cost. But, truly, love knows no cost at all.
- It was a decision without limits. It was not for a while until Naomi was settled, but forever. It was the kind of vow that a woman and man make under the vows of Holy Wedlock; and the kind of commitment the convert makes to Jesus Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church.
- Ruth said, “Do not entreat me to leave thee, or to return from following after thee ” for she would not forsake Naomi even if asked. When I was a young boy, an old hound dog ‘sojourned’ to our house and ‘continued’ there. It thought it had found a home, and surely it had. Despite attempts to scare the old dog away, he would slink back to the porch where we stood – half crawling, and half slithering. Finally, my mother could not bear to dispense with him, and he stayed with us until he was buried in our back yard. He came to stay, and no manner of treatment would convince him to leave. That was the steadfastness of Ruth! Her mind was made up, and that was that!
- Though Ruth had no idea where Naomi was going, that was not an issue: “for whither thou goest, I will go.” What a precious young lady is Ruth! Love makes no conditions when it is divine.
- Ruth knew not where Naomi would sleep, and that, too, was no issue: “where thou lodgest, I will lodge.” Are you, too, not beginning to fall in love with this beautiful woman of virtue?
- Ruth was leaving her people. But she loved Naomi and would readily accept Naomi’s people as her own even without knowing of them: “thy people shall be my people.”
- Next is a comment of profound meaning and application to husbands, wives, and neighbors, and the Church: “thy God (will be) my God.” What was the power that brought Ruth to accept our God? Was it not an unyielding love for Naomi? If we love our lost husbands or wives enough, will they not be drawn to accept the God we love and serve? When neighbors see our love, and return it, will they not be drawn to the same God we serve?
- We see that Ruth’s commitment was unending by the next comment: “Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.” Not only would Ruth live with Naomi in this new land of Bethlehem until Naomi slept with her fathers, but she would remain afterward to be buried there as well. Naomi’s land would become, in every way, the land of Ruth. Ruth would be buried, decades later, nearby to Naomi.
- Ruth sealed her vow by the name of the Lord in whom she had come to trust through Naomi: “the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.” Every time we mention the Lord’s name, either in prayer or in a vow, we must mean it with all of our hearts, else we have taken the name of the Lord in vain. Ruth did not – she MEANT it, and she DID it!
When another speaks with undeniable conviction and resolution, there is no point in arguing with them:
I wish I could meet such a lady as Ruth, and witness her heart of love and loyalty. If I guard my own heart in faith, I surely shall be privileged to do so in the eternity to come.
There is such beauty in Ruth that no artist could possible portray on canvas. It is humbling to undertake to capture such beauty by mortal hands. Just as an artist attempts to imitate the beauty of God’s Creation with his brushes, so do we undertake with our little pens to describe that beauty in the words of mere man. It cannot be done! But I strive to capture as much beauty as my unclean hands can write. I love this story of redemption – it is a perfect picture of Christ and the Church as we shall later see. How wonderful it is to see this promise related in word-pictures in the midst of the Old Testament! Just remember the story centers, at first on two women – one Jewish, and another a Gentile. These two women travel to Bethlehem Judah where the Gentile woman (Ruth) meets with her Kinsman-Redeemer. Perhaps you have met with him, too, as you traveled from the sinful land of perished hopes and dreams (Moab) to Bethlehem (Christ).
n this Book of Ruth, we are given the beautiful descriptions of seed-time and harvest, of gleaning behind the reapers that none should be lost. We will see also that the Kinsman-Redeemer who redeemed Ruth was not the nearest of blood kin to Naomi and Elimelech – there was another that was more closely and naturally related. Who might that be? It was another descendent of Adam whose blood is tainted with the poison of sin; but Boaz, is the redeemer who will pay whatever price he is able to pay to redeem the treasure of his heart (Ruth) – even the price of the cross – in latter days.
Please read this book with your spiritual eyes open, for it is a veritable treasure as you will see – the Lord give us light to see the Light of Christ revealed in the shadows of its tall trees.
“Prenez en Gré”
In Christ Alone during Epiphany
† Jerry L. Ogles , D.D.
Anglican Orthodox Communion Worldwide & Chancellor, Faith Theological Seminary
“Metus improbo compescit, non clementia.” – Syrus, MAXIMS: Fear, not kindness, restrains the wicked!
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer – HOLY SCRIPTURE:
“If there were any word of God beside the Scripture, we could never be certain of God’s Word; and if we be uncertain of God’s Word, the devil might bring in among us a new word, a new doctrine, a new faith, a new church, a new god, yea himself to be a god. If the Church and the Christian faith did not stay itself upon the Word of God certain, as upon a sure and strong foundation, no man could know whether he had a right faith, and whether he were in the true Church of Christ, or a synagogue of Satan.”