Sermon: God’s Sovereign Grace (Ruth 1:6-22)

God’s Sovereign Grace

Ruth 1:6-22 (ESV)

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food.  [7] So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.  [8] But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.  [9] The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.  [10] 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.

[19] So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?”  [20] She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  [21] I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

[22] So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

As we learned last week, the Lord had visited His people with a bitter providence.  Their fields dried up and a famine was the result.  Now in verse six, we learn that the judgment was over.  The storm of wrath had passed over and Bethlehem once again had grain in her fields.

We really get a sense here of Divine Grace.  It doesn’t say that the people in Bethlehem or Naomi in particular repented.  It seems as if God’s grace was at work.  Naomi hears the good news that the famine is over and she responds.  She arose and returned to Bethlehem from the land of Moab.  I believe this is a picture of how we respond to the call of God.  We don’t repent and then God saves because of our repentance.  God saves and then we respond.

It’s like the account we have of Lazarus.

John 11:43-44 (ESV)

When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”  [44] The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Lazarus was dead and couldn’t respond.  When Jesus called him he came to life, got up and came forth.

The author wants us to understand that Naomi’s coming back to Bethlehem is in a sense a resurrection.  She was destitute and left empty and alone.  In the midst of her struggle, the Lord calls her home.  She hears that the Lord had visited His people with kindness.  She doesn’t stay in her former condition but rises and goes to the Lord.

It’s very clear in the text that it was the Lord who visited His people and it was the Lord who provided food for them, just as it was the Lord who caused the famine.

1. Naomi’s Bitterness (Ruth 1:7-14)

[7] So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah.  [8] But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.  [9] The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.  [10] 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.

Naomi urges both her daughters-in-law to return to their families.  She thanks them for their kindness in which they have shown her and to their husbands while they were alive.  At first, both of the girls refuse to return, however, after Naomi’s urging Orpah goes back to her people.

In the midst of this dialogue, we learn of a Jewish custom.

Naomi introduces the readers to a Jewish custom that will pop up again later in the book, the custom of the kinsman redeemer.

Deut. 25:5-10 (ESV)

“If brothers dwell together, and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the dead man shall not be married outside the family to a stranger. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her as his wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her.  [6] And the first son whom she bears shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out of Israel.  [7] And if the man does not wish to take his brother’s wife, then his brother’s wife shall go up to the gate to the elders and say, ‘My husband’s brother refuses to perpetuate his brother’s name in Israel; he will not perform the duty of a husband’s brother to me.’  [8] Then the elders of his city shall call him and speak to him, and if he persists, saying, ‘I do not wish to take her,’  [9] then his brother’s wife shall go up to him in the presence of the elders and pull his sandal off his foot and spit in his face. And she shall answer and say, ‘So shall it be done to the man who does not build up his brother’s house.’  [10] And the name of his house shall be called in Israel, ‘The house of him who had his sandal pulled off.’

This was the custom of caring for widows and making sure the family name continues.  The inheritance would be kept within the family and the family name would continue.

Naomi has this in mind when she declares…

[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?

She believed the best chance for a good life for her daughters-in-law would be for them to remain in Moab.  She argues that they cannot possibly have any kind of fulfilling life if they were to stay with her.

Through these events, Naomi’s faith had been extremely shaken.  She believed that the Lord’s hand was against her.  In her bitterness, she would rather her daughters-in-law remain in the land of useless idols than return to the land of the living God. It’s almost as if she was afraid that if they returned with her more bad things would happen to them.  Naomi is not a very good evangelist.

So far we’ve been focusing on Naomi.  However, Naomi is not the main character in the book.  The book is called Ruth, not Naomi.  However, the main character in this account is not Naomi.  The main character is Ruth, the Moabite.

2. Ruth’s Determination (Ruth 1:14-18)

[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.

Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye and remained with her people in Moab but Ruth was determined to remain with Naomi.  There is something supernatural at work here in this text.  Both daughters-in-law experienced the death of Naomi’s husband.  Both of them lost their own husbands.  Both were Moabites.  Both, as we learned last week were from a cursed people.  Now we clearly see a difference.  The difference is not Naomi’s pleading because she was telling them to remain.  She was telling them to stay in this pagan land with their pagan gods.

We saw all the similarities between these women.  Now lets contrast them…

Orpah had gone back to her people and to her gods;

Going back to her people clearly meant also going back to their god’s.  That’s why in the Bible God warns us about marrying unbelievers.  They will cause us to turn from God to a different lifestyle with different worship.

Ruth clung to her.

This word cling has been used to describe the closeness a husband and wife share.  Ruth makes a tremendous confession of faith in the following verses.  In the midst of trial, in the midst of the loss of her husband, and in the midst of Naomi trying to convence her that her idols are better than the real God because the real God will ruin your life.  In the midst of all this we see Ruth exercising supernatural faith in the true and living God, the God of the Israelites.

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.

How was it the in the midst of unbelief and bitterness, Ruth began to exercise faith?

The grace of God is at work in this little Moabite girl.

In the OT when a person made a promise or an oath, they would swear by their God.  Ruth does not make her oath in the name of Chemosh, the god of the Moabites but Yahweh, the God of the Israelites.  A conversion has taken place.  What Ruth is saying is that she will entrust her future to the God of the Bible.  This is remarkable when we stop to think of the terrible events that have unfolded in the life of Ruth.  Bitter providence will now give way to sweet providence.  The writer begins to weave the tapestry of Ruth’s life as she submits herself to the true and living God.

She would not run from God but run to God.  Ruth’s commitment was so great that it’s as if she leads her mother-in-law back to God also.

Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Naomi was bitter under the hand of providence but Ruth ran to God for comfort.  At some point during her time with this family Ruth’s heart had been opened and she believed God.  At some point she was converted.  Her conversion shows in her commitment to the God of Israel.

Her commitment is remarkable.  She is willing to break all ties with her homeland Moab.  Remember from last week that Moab was a cursed land and its people were a cursed people.  They did not receive God’s favor but were judged because of their treatment of the Hebrews coming out of Egypt.  Here in this text God’s grace is given to Ruth.  For no apparent reason other than it was God’s will to bring her out.

[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.”

In the ancient world it was important to be buried in your homeland.  Do you remember Jacob’s request to be buried in the land of Cannon in Genesis 49?  He made Joseph promise him that he would be buried with his people.  When Ruth states that she wishes to be buried with Naomi’s people she is making a complete break with the Moabites.  No more would they be her people and no more would Chemosh or the other multiple gods of the Moabites.

The Lord had opened her heart even in the midst of trials to love and trust Him.  Four times Naomi has tried to get both of the girls to return to their people and their gods.  This is very troubling and shows the current attitude and lack of commitment to Yahweh.  If this was typical, it’s no wonder the Lord had sent a famine to bring about repentance.  To place Ruth’s faith in perspective it is compared to Naomi’s lack of faith.  While Naomi was returning home because there was food.  Ruth was leaving her home where there was food to a foreign land.  One is reminded of Abraham.  Abraham was given a promise by God that He would lead him to a land and make him into a great nation.  Ruth has no such promise, yet her commitment seems unwavering and determined.  God has done a work in her heart.

3. Naomi’s Theology (Ruth 1:19-22)

[19] So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?”  [20] She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  [21] I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”

[22] So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

Like you and me, Naomi interprets the events in her life through her theology.  In other words, what she believes about God comes out in how she interprets events in life. One wants to give Naomi the benefit of the doubt, however, the text is crystal clear.  She is a very bitter old woman.  She has tried to get her daughters-in-law to go back to pagan gods rather than worship the one true God.  She saw a better possible life for them in paganism than worshipping Yahweh, the God whose hand has gone out against her.

Naomi’s theology is about half right.  I’d like to take a moment and analyze the things she believes.

–         She believes God is sovereign.  I will affirm her belief in the sovereignty of God.  So far she is right.  By sovereignty, we believe God orchestrates all events to their final end and for His glory.  By sovereignty we don’t mean God allows trials but, in fact, is the cause of them.  He brings about all events.

–         She did not see any human part in the famine or in her circumstances.  As we saw last week from Deuteronomy, God warned His people that if they disobeyed He would bring about a famine.  They were sinful and rebellious and God simply did what He said He would do.  God also warned His people not to seek the aid of the Moabites because they didn’t come to the aid of the Israelites as they left Egypt.  He promised that death would happen quickly if they did.  Death visited this family just as God promised.  So Naomi doesn’t see any fault on their part in the events that took place.  She isn’t brought to repentance or even acknowledgement of sin.

–         She fails to see God’s grace in the situation.  She sees sovereignty without compassion, justice without mercy.

We must be careful that when we form our theology that we see God clearly and in a balanced way.  He is sovereign and He is merciful.  God is just and He is gracious.

Naomi left Bethlehem 10 years before as a sweet, pleasant woman and has returned a bitter old woman.  When asked by the towns people

And the women said, “Is this Naomi?”  [20] She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  [21] I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty.

Can you see how her poor theology has corrupted her thinking?  She was not returning empty, Ruth was with her.  If she had things her way, she would be coming home empty, however, God had worked in the heart of Ruth.  Ruth would prove to be Naomi’s greatest asset in the weeks to come.

I wonder what Ruth thought when Naomi was interpreting her situation.  Ruth had also lost her husband to the hand of God but she didn’t become bitter.  What made the difference?

How do you see God?  When trials come to you do you become angry and bitter toward God or do you respond like Ruth and cling to Him even more?

The writer gives us another ray of hope as we close this section of the book.

[22] So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabite her daughter-in-law with her, who returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.

The providence of God is working.  A ray of light has shown through the dark clouds.  The judgment of God is lifting.  The same hand who was bringing calamity will now work to guard and provide for Ruth and Naomi.

We have a sovereign God and we have a gracious God.  Neither of these women deserved God’s goodness.  God is good.

What about you?  Have you undergone some trial and you just can’t see the goodness of God?  Are you currently in a trial that is testing your faith?  Look to Naomi and learn from her mistakes.  Look to Ruth and allow her to be an example of godliness through struggle.  Most of all look to Christ, the author and finisher of our salvation.  Praise the Lord for His care especially while we are in the midst of life’s struggles. I pray you experience God’s sovereignty and especially His sovereign grace.

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