And they said to her, No, we will return with you to your people. 11 But Naomi said, Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me. 14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother- in- law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 And she said, See, your sister- in- law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister- in- law. 16 But Ruth said, Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. 18 And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. ESV
In late December 1734 in a small town in western Massachusetts, God started one of the largest, culture shaking events in the history of the world. After Pentecost and the Reformation, in the First Great Awakening, the Holy Spirit added millions to the church.
The preacher in that frontier church was one of the greatest thinkers that America has ever produced, but it was not his intellect and certainly not his preaching style that occasioned the awakening. Instead, it was his plain and direct preaching of the good news of God in Christ for the justification of sinners by grace through faith that the Spirit of God used to turn many from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God. Edwards wrote an account of the start of God’s great work that others entitled A Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God in the Conversion of Many Hundred Souls. (They liked long book titles back in that day!) Edwards and others were surprised by God by the sudden conversion of many people.
In our text we read of the surprising work of God in the conversion of one woman, Ruth, who as Paul would later write, turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God (1 Th 1:9b). The surprising nature of Ruth’s conversion is seen in her personal background, the distressing circumstances of her life, and a rather reluctant evangelist named Naomi, who seemed determined to push Ruth away instead of drawing her new to the true God. Her whole turning to God provides us with hope for the salvation for our family, friends, and neighbors. And perhaps if you do not yet know the risen Lord, it will give you new hope for a fresh start in life with God.
I. Facing reality (1:10-13)
A. Ruth and Orpah decide to return to Israel with Naomi (1:10).
1. This is admirable loyalty and continued kindness toward their mother-in-law. In our culture where people wreck their families for silly and selfish reasons, their steadfast love is a bright example that people should stick to basic relationships.
2. However at the same time, such commitments should not be shallow, or they will fail to produce the ongoing kindness required as life gets tough. At least one of these young women has failed to think through the consequences of her decision. God will use the still troubled condition of Naomi’s heart to crystallize the issues for both Orpah and Ruth.
Comment: As we think through this, our goal should be to understand the real-life situation that all three women are in. Naomi is returning to the Lord, but that does not mean that her ideas, attitudes, emotions and words are pristine. God welcomes us back with troubles still simmering in our hearts. We do not have to clear or condemn Naomi for what follows. Instead, the Spirit of God is telling us the truth about her, in order that we might learn about God’s grace and our needs more completely.
B. Naomi continues to urge her daughters-in-law to return to Moab (1:11-13). She does this in three ways.
1. She uses two questions to drive home the point that no hope for a better future is to be found with her (1:11). She is like a failed bank, and they would be unwise to continue to place deposits with her in expecting her to provide them with husbands.
2. They had said that they wanted to return (to the Lord, his people, and the land God gave them) with her. She tells them to “return home” twice. Naomi then gives a hypothetical scenario about how she is totally unable to help them. Even if Naomi could get married that night and conceive children, and in addition those children would be sons, would they wait around to marry them? “Girls, you’re in your mid-twenties now, but you’d be pushing forty by that time—if it could happen at all! Don’t be crazy!”
3. To emphasize her desolate condition, she reminds them of another bitter “fact”, at least from Naomi’s view. The hand of the Lord is against her! Most translations are rather calm here, at least to our bored minds. So let’s kick it up a notch! Bam! Bam! “Yahweh’s own hand has attacked me!” [Hubbard] The hand of the Lord is an irresistible power. It can destroy oppressing Philistines (1 Sm 5:9, 11), empower Elijah to outrun a chariot (1 Ki 18:46), and encourage Ezra to trust God for protection (Ezra 7:9, 28). The hand of the Lord can create stars in the heavens (Is 45:12), free his people from bondage in Egypt (Deut 6:21), and execute judgment on the sinner (Jdg 2:15; Heb 10:30-31). “If even God was after her, to follow her home was to court personal disaster. Her earlier tragedies—famine, exile, bereavement, childlessness— might be only the beginning” (Hubbard).
C. A couple remarks on Naomi’s view of her condition – We’ll explore this in more detail in the last section of chapter one, God willing.
1. Naomi was right in acknowledging the Lord’s hand in her condition. She is a woman who believes in the Sovereign Lord.
2. Naomi shows remarkable faith in moving toward God, instead of running from him. If you’re in a mess, you need the God who is big enough to fix the mess you’re in! That will require you to trust him when your life seems dark and troubled.
3. Naomi is hindered by a serious, human limitation. You and I are not big enough to understand and interpret all that God is doing in our lives! Was God attacking her? She assumed God was! But we have a definite advantage over Naomi at this point of her story and even beyond her life. This book of Ruth reveals something of God’s incomprehensible kindness. Naomi’s grief and tears will be far overmatched by the Redeemer that God is going to send. But Naomi cannot see that part of the story of God’s glory in her life, nor can she know how her bitter sorrows will be worked into God’s story for the joy of God and his people.
Apply: For now, let us praise God for his mercy when we say some less than intelligent and godly statements. He knows that we are painfully near-sighted children at our best.
II. Two choices contrasted (1:14-15)
A. Orpah made the sensible choice and turned back to Moab. To Orpah, Naomi’s arguments are very convincing. In Moab there is hope for a new life with a new husband, and probably children to love and care for. Wanting a husband and children is very normal and a good, God-given desire for women. But there is more to see than that!
1. Orpah sees two alternatives: (Ferguson)
a. Yahweh plus nothing in Bethlehem
b. Everything minus Yahweh in Moab
2. And so, Orpah makes the choice according to human sight and thought. Orpah looked at her situation in life in exactly the same way that Elimelech had used earlier. The fields of Moab looked greener than the land of Israel, at least from the standpoint of marriage and family. And so with a sensible choice, she walked off the pages of the Bible and into the oblivion of countless others. Someone was missing from all her sensible calculations. “She rejected the road to emptiness, but at the same time unknowingly turned aside from the one road that could have led to a life of lasting significance and meaning. The world’s wise choice to avoid emptiness leads in the end to a different kind of oblivion.” [Duguid]
Apply: But someone might say, “Poor Orpah, she didn’t know what God could do!” I’m sorry; that is simply not true. She had only to look a creation to tell her about the God who is there (cf. Rm 1:18-25). But not only is that so, but she had also heard a good word of testimony about the living God. Don’t forget the message of verse six, which is the reason Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah decided to return to Israel! My friend, God is under no obligation to give you overwhelming testimony of his love and kindness. If you only hear once of how the Lord Jesus Christ has changed the life of one of his people, you have a treasure that millions never received. Don’t play games with the goodness of God to you!
B. Ruth makes the godly choice and clings to Naomi. The Holy Spirit chooses a word (“clung”) that he uses other places in the OTS to indicate a deep, personal relationship (Gen 2:24; Deut 10:20). God then uses the words of troubled Naomi to test Ruth’s faith; that is, to draw out from Ruth the reality of her trust in God (cf. Abraham, Gen 22; Heb 11:17).
1. Naomi’s words reveal the true nature of Orpah’s choice. By leaving Naomi, she was “going back to her people and her gods”. Orpah might have made the “sensible choice” in the world’s opinion, but it was also an ungodly, unkind choice!
2. Naomi urges Ruth to go back with Orpah. This is not the preferred way to try to win people to the Lord! But it tests the reality of Ruth’s faith.
Apply: What will Ruth do? Her peers in the world are saying by example, “There’s no hope in the Lord! Let’s grab what we can of the good life now.” And her only friend in “the church” tells her to go back to the world, because the Lord’s hand might make your life as bitter as mine!”
But more importantly for us gathered here today, what will you do?
Will you follow the Lord Jesus Christ, if all you can be sure of in this life is suffering? Will you trust Christ that eternal glory will far outweigh all that you might suffer in this world? Please, please let the challenge of Christ ring in your heart! [Read Mark 8:34-38.]
Pastor Dave Frampton
When push comes to shove there is usually nothing more satisfying than for a saint of God to have at his or her disposal a source of biblically sound instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The faithful and spiritually profitable labors of Dave Frampton are here at CMC to be a blessing. Bible teacher and student alike will profit much from his labor in the God’s Word. Visit Newtown Square Baptist Church.