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The Life Obedient

The Life Obedient

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06/16/2009

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The Life Obedient Ruth 2 Cascades Fellowship, JX MI February 9, 2003 We live in a culture of skeptics.

As a rule, we think that we know what is best for us. The speed limit says 70MPH; we drive 75. The directions on the bottle of pain reliever say a dosage of two capsules – we take three and sometimes four. The airlines suggest that we arrive at the airport hour and a half before our scheduled take-off, we swagger in 45 minutes to an hour ahead. “recommended course” are many. What is most peculiar about this tendency of ours is that when things go astray we tend to blame everyone but ourselves. When we run into that trooper that believes in the letter of the law, who actually pulls us over for going 75MPH, he’s the jerk. When the lining of our stomach gets damaged because of the pain-reliever we have taken in such abundance, we blame the pharmaceutical company for putting out a dangerous product. When we get held up by security and miss our flight, which takes off on time for once, we blame the airline for actually following their published schedule. This is not new to human nature. Adam, having disobeyed God’s prescribed will for life in the garden points the finger at anyone other than himself. He blames Eve for giving him the fruit; by the way, this is something we men never do today – blame our wives! Adam also blames God for giving Eve as a helpmeet. “Why, if you had left well enough alone once you created me, God, I wouldn’t be in this fix!” It is strange, but true, how when caught in disobedience, our response is rarely to accept responsibility. And it The examples of how we scoff at the

is stranger still that we rarely learn from those times when we are caught. We continue to play the odds. Think I am exaggerating? Let me ask you something – how many of you have ever got a ticket for speeding? Of those caught speeding, how many of you drive the speed limit or less? We tend to believe that we know best and act on that belief. This is also true when it comes to our life before God. One of the greatest struggles of the Christian life is fully submitting ourselves to Christ. In principle we agree with the Lordship of Christ. As Calvinists, the sovereignty of God is a primary tenet of our faith. But in practice, we are often not so discriminating. We play the odds, toying with the edges of disobedience; thinking in shades of submission rather black and white – either we obey or not. Last week we began looking at the Book of Ruth. We looked at the first chapter and asked the question about where is God when we suffer. We noted that Naomi’s life was emptied of everything that made her existence significant. She became a sort of unperson. We concluded by saying that God walks through the suffering – in fact, he shares in the suffering – with us. Because of his great love and out of his immeasurable grace he chose to identify with us, especially in our suffering. This week, we pick up in the second chapter of Ruth – but our focus is a little different this morning. This morning our focus is what our response should be in the face of suffering. So that we recognize the message embedded in the story of Ruth, there are a few things we need to clarify about chapter one. The first is this – even though we said last week that there is evidence throughout the Book of Ruth to suggest that the family of Elimelech remained faithful followers of

Yahweh, there is still a question concerning them. Why? Because they left the nation of Israel to escape the suffering brought upon the Israel by its continued disobedience. Remember that Elimelech and Naomi lived during the times of the judges – a time marked by apostasy and the oppression of the weak. In order to escape the just judgment of God brought upon the nation – judgment not meant to punish, but to remind Israel from where she received her security and to call her to repentance – Elimelech fled the Promised Land. Within the rabbinical teaching tradition, when the Israelite heard this story, they understood the flight to Moab as the abandonment of the promise of God. It paralleled Abraham’s flight to Egypt recorded in Genesis 12:10-20, abandoning the place of blessing when the trial came. Rather than submit to the God’s government over the nation of Israel and endure with patience the rod of correction, Elimelech separated himself from the people of God and severed himself from the protection of God. By going to Moab, Elimelech walked in disobedience rather than suffer in righteousness. Compounded to this departure from the path of righteousness was the marriage of the two sons to women outside of Israel. In Deuteronomy 7:3 the Lord commanded that the Israelites should not intermarry – to do so was like taking fire to the bosom. Intermarriage meant the introduction of foreign gods into the people of Israel by which they could be led astray – led into violating the first table of the Law. That which Christ summarized as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Then in Deuteronomy 23:3 God forbade the Moabite to enter the

assembly of the Lord – they were excluded from the life of the Temple, because the King of Moab had tried to curse Israel as they wandered in the wilderness. So, in essence, Elimelech’s response to the tribulation he faced in the famine was to abandon both God’s promise and command to enter and dwell in the Land given on oath to his forefathers. Instead, he trusted in his own understanding – he believed he knew what was best and acted on that belief. And sadly, his sons followed suit. Much like Abraham, their acting on that belief brought about many undesirable results. But for God’s providential care and gracious intervention, Naomi too, would have perished in Moab and the name of Elimelech would have been lost to Israel forever. Now, considering all of this, what possible evidence is there that Elimelech and his family were faithful to Yahweh? If he abandoned the promise of God and if his children intermarried, how good of followers of Yahweh could they have been? We have a hint of how good in Ruth’s declaration of commitment and love to Naomi in Ruth 1:17. But the real evidence comes in chapter two of our story, so let’s take a closer look at our text for today. One thing we must realize when we read the Book of Ruth is that we are in the hands of a master storyteller. Some impartial historian just trying to present the facts did not write this story. It is carefully shaped and presented to impart a message. It is rich with images, with archetypes – paragons or models to be emulated – foreshadowing the ultimate yet to come. And as a skilled bard, the narrator of Ruth captivates us with suspense and expectation. Look at how chapter two begins.

Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, from the clan of Elimelech, a man of standing, whose name was Boaz. Who is Boaz, and what has he to do with Naomi and Ruth? We know from this passage that he is a relative of Elimelech’s and that he is a rich man, but what does he have to do with the story? It’s like watching one of those old mystery movies where you see the guy in the background, somehow significant, but enigmatic. He stands just on the periphery – but something about him seems remarkable. Have we caught sight of him in a previous scene? Why is he there? You can almost here the mood music beginning, building the sense of suspense. The plot thickens. Then, after the brief introduction of this mystery man, the narrator returns to the plight of Naomi and Ruth. Here is where we find the evidence of the faithfulness of Elimelech and his family. Ruth knows what to do. She is among people she doesn’t know, in a foreign land and yet she knows she is permitted to go into the fields and glean from what the harvesters miss or leave behind. How has she come to know this? One must assume she learned of it from the family of her husband. Surely, as Israel often did when driven into exile, the memory of God’s people was kept alive among Elimelech’s clan by meditating on the Law of God and recalling God’s mighty deeds. Ruth was married to her husband for some time – ten years. Certainly long enough to be inculturated into the life of Israel. What is more is that takes the initiative to exercise her right as both a widow and an alien in Israel. Now, let me say something here. It is of some significance that Ruth – the Moabitess, the one from outside of Israel – is the one who is ready to exercise the right

given by God’s decree. Naomi had this same right, but does she go to the field? No. Only Ruth goes out into the field. How interesting it is that the one who has known Yahweh all her life has abandoned all hope of seeing love and joy restored to her. Yet the one who has known him a for comparatively shorter time and has professed her trust in him an even shorter time than that is willing to act upon the promise of sustenance for the weak spoken in the Law. Isn’t often that way even today? Those of us who have long walked with Christ and have had our faith buffeted by trial and loss, our hearts become jaded and we accept the suffering as something to be endured. Our faith doesn’t persevere, we do not grow in our faith and understanding through the suffering, instead we close our eyes and grit our teeth and wait for the pain to pass. And by closing our eyes, we fail to see God at work in the trial; by gritting our teeth, we fail to hear his voice, speaking words of comfort and strength. But the one who is new in Christ, who still takes God at his Word – somehow she finds the power to persevere. How seriously can we take God? Let me put it to you this way. You have already trusted him for eternal life. You’ve already cast your lot with him for your eternal future; don’t you think he’s trustworthy with your momentary present? The question is not really how seriously can we take God, but how seriously do we take his Word? When God says he will never leave us of forsake us, do we believe him? When he says that he works all things for the good of those who love him, those called according to his purpose, do we believe him? Do we believe our Lord Christ when he says in Matthew 7:7-11

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Naomi had begun to think dreadful things about the Lord. She still believed he intended good for Israel, but for her – God was against her. Call her Mara, she said. So when Ruth goes out to put into practice what God had spoken to his people, Naomi stays behind. So Ruth goes into the fields and begins to seek a place where she can glean the corners of the field and among the grain missed by the harvesters. She acts upon the Word of God. Don’t miss that. Ruth – though she is a Moabitess and an alien in Israel – she responds to her destitute position by walking in obedience to what God commands. She goes to the field to glean and look at what the narrator says, v.3 So she went out and began to glean in the fields behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she found herself working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelech. Wow! Talk about tongue-in-cheek! It’s subtle, but its there. Let me offer you a paraphrase that might make it clear. “So she went out and started gleaning. Being new in the neighborhood, she wasn’t quite sure what to do so she looked around for a moment until she saw a man whom she thought looked kind. Biting her lip for courage she walked up to him. Her eyes glued to her feet, she asked in a quiet rush “Can I glean here? I have an elderly mother-in-law at home, maybe you heard of her – Naomi? Anyway, we really need food and well, your God said that you were supposed to let

widows and aliens glean the corners – by the way I’m both.” Strangely enough, even though Ruth had no idea, she was talking to the manager of the fields of Boaz, the kinsman of Elimelech. Can you believe the coincidence? Now granted, there is a lot of imagination in that paraphrase, but that’s the sense this verse is trying to get across. And behind the narrator’s statement “and it happened” is the proverb found in Proverbs 16:9 In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. Remember, this is a story of God’s chosen people – a people who quite frankly did not believe in coincidence. By making a reference to it in his story, the narrator is actually making a veiled comment on the sovereignty and providence of God. Folks, what we have here is not a coincidence. It is not by chance that Ruth happens upon the lands of Boaz. It’s a divine appointment. It is by the hand of God, to whom she has come to seek refuge under his wings – as Boaz puts it in v.12 – that Ruth is guided to the fields of Boaz. Why? Because God works all things to the good of those who love him, those he has called according to his purpose. But there is so much more to this appointment than just finding a friendly field in which to glean. In v.4, Boaz himself arrives. The suspense the narrator injected into the story at the beginning of the chapter starts to resolve. Since I am getting a little long here, let me get to the point. Once Boaz comes on the scene, something new is added to the plot. Through Boaz, the floodgates of God’s grace and providence are thrown wide open and Ruth receives blessing upon blessing. In

Boaz, the God whom the Moabite widow has taken as her own and determined to walk in obedience to his Law is imaged. First, Boaz invites her to continue to glean throughout the harvest in his fields. Don’t go anywhere else he says. In fact, Boaz tells her to glean among his own

harvesters – to follow right behind them lest she stray into another field. In other words, Boaz says to Ruth, “I will provide for you and protect you.” As a Moabite and a widow, she stood a good chance of being abused in Israel during the time of the judges. In Boaz, God ensures that Ruth will experience his good and kind intentions. Second, Boaz invites Ruth to share the food of his table and the water of his house. In other words, he treats her as a kinsman. In fact, his provision for her is so abundant that she has enough left over for Naomi. Isn’t that just like God? When we were separated from the promises, when were destitute and without hope he came to us and said, “Glean among my riches.” He offered everything he had to us, sat us at his table and showered us with grace. He could have despised us – and with good reason – instead he enfolded us. He spoke words of grace and comfort to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Our narrator closes the chapter again on a note of hope so bright that even the emptiness of Naomi begins to be filled. Hope dawns in her heart again when she learns

that Ruth has gleaned in the fields of Boaz and that he has been generous to her. Look at v. 20 The LORD bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers.” Kinsman-redeemer. We will cover the kinsman-redeemer in detail next week. This week, suffice it to say that in Boaz, Naomi recognizes a chance for redemption. She sees in him the hope that name of her husband might yet be remembered in Israel and the inheritance the Lord has promised to his people might still be enjoyed by her and her descendants. She begins to dare to hope that what was lost as she and her family walked in disobedience might now be restored. We began this morning by asking how should we respond in the face of suffering. Often our response is to ask, “Why me, why now?” And that’s okay. It doesn’t catch God by surprise. He understands and what is more, he walks through our suffering with us. But our response needs to be more than asking “why.” If that is the extent of our response to suffering, we can begin to think dreadful things about God. How do we respond? With obedience. We continue serve, we continue to pray, and most importantly we continue to seek our God with all our heart. We continue – or maybe even start – to trust wholly in his Word. Rather than lean on our own

understanding, we entrust ourselves to his. In prayer we remind him that he has promised to be an ever-present help in trouble. Rather than allowing the pain to drive us way, we draw nearer to God. Rather than letting the unresolved question jade us, we let it refine us. Rather than shut our eyes and grit our teeth, we keep our eyes open and focused on

Jesus Christ and we open our mouths and let the agony pour past our teeth in prayer. We respond by taking God at his Word and then keep our eyes open for those divine appointments. Those chance meetings or circumstances in which God comes to us and offers us the grace, the strength and the resources we need to weather the storm.

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