Ruth 1:1-18 ~ "Leaving and Cleaving"
Christians should desire to be people who understand and talk about eternal truth. Now this certainly shouldn’t separate us altogether from the daily going-ons of the world around us. Paul speaks about this very thing to the church of Corinth. “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 1 Cor. 5:9-10. But the temptation to become completely captivated enveloped by them is a dangerous thing. If we can’t see outside of the present circumstances, then objective eternal truth gets lost in the ferocious whirlwind of the present and subjective influences.
As the book of Ruth begins, the time of the events is placed with the period in which the judges ruled over Israel. This was a very tumultuous time in the land. The people would follow the direction of a strong and righteous judge and experience peace and prosperity. After the judge, the people would fall from faithfulness to God and suffer oppression and hardship at the hands of an enemy until the cried out to God and He delivered them through another faithful judge. Again and again, up and down the cycle went. Now being a narrative work of history, the book of judges records the events of the history while not actually condoning them. That’s very good because there are some very strange and sinful things recorded in the history of the judges. Perhaps the best definition of the time comes from Judges 17:6, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” This was the time in which Ruth lived. How strikingly similar to own time. This is a very real attack that we face every day. Every day, the idea that concrete and absolute truth actually exists is being challenged. Case by case, people are looking at individual situations with extreme circumstances that are very complex and emotional. And if we don’t wrestle with them and see how God’s eternal truth still perfectly applies, then we simply throw our hands up and follow along with the current. We become ruled by the subjective. The subjective is what I see, what I think, what I feel. If there’s no absolute truth, then no matter how tempted we may be to say that what someone is thinking is strange or even wrong, we have surrendered the authority to give any correction. Thus every one can do as they deem right. They can do as they please. And of course, we know exactly what to expect from sinful selfish desire; less restraints with more and more gain/ access/ permission to anything we desire. In a time such as the judges, in a time such as our own, when the people as a whole are arrogantly deciding their own truth and their own rules, this story of Ruth cuts through as a beacon of hope and truth. We see this story of a few individuals which celebrates and proclaims the sovereignty and providence of God!
As we read through this particular passage, certainly one of the powerful verses that is sure to catch your attention is verse 16 and 17 where Ruth makes a beautiful promise to Naomi, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 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.” Even though Ruth makes this covenant with her mother-in-law, the deep commitment of this vow is so evident that many people use this verse for their own marriage vows. This vow is very fitting to capture the deep committed love that describes the incredible bond that is marriage. On one hand, marriage is like all relationships in that we understand the function and purpose of relationships based on our relationship with our Heavenly Father. We know how we should interact with each other because of how God interacts with us, never the other way around. We don’t look at our brothers and say oh yeah, God is like my brother, I will treat God like my brother, but God gives us that kind of relationship first that directs us to pure and committed brotherly love. He defines the roles of relationships. In that way, marriage is like all relationships.
But on the other hand, marriage is special because of the beautiful way in which it illustrates our most blessed union with Jesus Christ. The Gospel is that Jesus is the Son of God, that He came to this earth and lived a perfectly pure and holy life, that He freely surrendered himself as a sacrifice to die in the place of sinful mankind, that in His perfect righteousness he conquered the grave and was risen from death. We must recognize that He is Lord of all, creator and giver of life, master over all, even death. When we understand that all and ask Him in faith to have mercy on us and forgive us, it is only then that we are forgiven as our faith unites us with Christ’s perfect righteousness and His victory over the grave. Being united with Christ through faith, just like we see reflected in marriage, through a covenant of faith we become one.
A helpful way to understand the unity of marriage is with a simple illustration. If you’re on cross country trip, you might meet people along the way who are headed to the same destination. In this discovery you strike up a friendship. Now being in different vehicles, you will likely have different people in your car, different music playing in that car. You stop off to eat at different places. And perhaps you even take different routes within different timeframes. You might decide to first veer south to stop off and visit an old friend while the other car might go north and see a historical sight. But because you are now friends and going to the same place, you meet up again at your destination. This is like Christian friendships, especially capturing of the relationships that we from First Baptist Kamloops have with our sister churches and missionaries. But when you get married, you get in the same car. You take the same detours. You eat at the same restaurants. You stay in the same roadside motels. Although your music preference might drastically differ, when you turn the volume up you’re still listening to the same thing. In marriage, you say that you are partners and that you are making the same trip together. And when we unite with Christ in faith, trusting in His perfect wisdom, we let Him give the directions.
Having that understanding, let’s now look at Ruth and Orpah and the relationships they have with their mother-in-law, Naomi. During the times of the judges, there was a famine. Naomi and her husband Elimelech determined that they could not survive with their family in their home of Bethlehem, so they took their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, and moved to Moab, just on the other side of the Dead Sea. Although their journey might have been as little as 40 miles, they were still far from home. The people of Moab worshipped the false god, Chemosh. Elimelech and his family remained there for about 10 years. During that time, Elimelech’s sons both took Moabite wives and all three men die. At the point in time in which we pick up the story, all three women are widows. They have no husbands, they have no children, and they have no ability to attain income for their livelihood without husbands. They hear that the famine is over in Bethlehem, so Naomi decides to return home and urges Ruth and Orpah to remain in Moab. Both women object. They insist on following Naomi. At this point, Naomi stresses the need for a husband to provide. She also points out that there is no way that she can provide a husband for the women from her family.
At this point, Orpah returns to Moab. She was likely what we would call “a good woman.” Naomi has already shown an expression of love for the commitment that Orpah had shown to her deceased husband and to Naomi. Naomi then said go home, and she refused at first. But ultimately, when faced bluntly and directly with the depravity of her situation, she parted from Naomi. She stayed in Moab to find a husband and provision. And what’s more, verse 15 reveals that she has not only returned to her people, but also to her Gods. When we approach the issue of marriage, it can be very tempting to compromise here.We may find a good person who treats us well. But good is not the same as Godly. Marriage is beautiful, but difficult. It’s difficult because of what it demands. It demands trust and surrender. How can a believer be completely one with a non-believer. How can they truly be one? They’re not headed for the same destination. One is headed for God and heaven while the other is headed for self desire and hell. But so many Christians settle here. We settle for a good person in order to attain the wants that we convince ourselves are our needs. For the believer in that relationship, they still need to act in Godly ways to their spouse and the decisions they make together, but it’s very difficult. And unfortunately, we see many relationships end in divorce, even Christian couples. The road gets too hard. They fall out of love. Love is not something you can fall out of because it’s not something you can fall into in the first place. Let’s look back to our perfect example with the Father. You don’t wake up one morning, go to work, and accidentally drink a cup of holy water at the water fountain that someone prayed over that saves you from your sins. God’s salvation is not a hidden pit of quick sand. It is a free gift of grace that He offers to those who would receive it through a humbled surrender and plea for mercy. We surrender and commit to Christ. So also, we surrender and commit ourselves in Godly marriage. If we happen to be like Orpah, a good person who does right and even goes further than what might be expected, but we do it on our own strength based on our expectations and not from faith, then our faith will not be found to be a saving faith. We we find ourselves falling out of love with God, falling short of his salvation, and resting on our own ability to save ourselves.
Just before we look at Ruth, let’s look at verses 8-9 [Read Ruth 1:8-9]. Naomi spoke this to Orpah and Ruth. But we need to look very closely. When Naomi says “May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me”, there’s a number of things happening. First of all is that our English language falls very short. The original form of this word “kindly” is “Heced”. It’s meaning is much deeper and complex than “kind” or “nice”. It means “loving kindness”, and this loving kindness has a specific context. It’s a covenantal loving kindness that refers to the way in which the Heavenly Father mades his covenant with man in His ongoing expression of mercy and undeserved love. This is the covenant in which God does the saving work, it’s not a 50/50 agreement. It is not an agreement of works and performance. It’s a covenant of grace.
The second thing to notice is Naomi’s contradictory use of t here. She points out the covenantal loving kindness which Ruth and Orpah showed to their husbands. Naomi says they also showed that to her, but then she essentially calls for the commitment to end, which is a breaking of the covenant. Orpah concedes to Naomi, so she does not continue to show a commitment to loving kindness. The covenant ends and Orpah leaves. But Ruth does continue in Heced. We are wowed at the power and beauty of her vow to Naomi, but a true Heced would require nothing less.
Now that we’re on the topic of dissecting Naomi’s plea to Ruth and Orpah, we have a few more things to consider. There is a tendency to point to Naomi as a beacon of Godliness. Her pleas, they argue, are completely selfless and loving. But that’s wrong. I’m not saying she’s a terrible and wicked person. In fact, I will argue some of her positive attributes in just a moment, but Naomi here distorts the demands of obedience to God’s love. Look at verse 13.[READ Ruth 1:13] Naomi has no hope of providing a husband for these girls whom she loves. In that day and age, it meant she had no means to provide for them. And being Moabites, their prospects of marriage in Bethlehem were very poor. In the realization of that reality, Naomi becomes bitter toward God that He would put this pain and hardship on her and those whom she loves. Rather than urging obedience and true faith in God, and trusting Him to provide, she urges Orpah to go back to her people. And of course, there’s no way Orpah could get a Moabite husband if she made herself an outcast and rejected the god of her people. So Naomi essentially said that following the Lord is too difficult. The cost is too great. Go back and do what you gotta do. How sad!
We want to be loved. We want to be liked. You’re not very likeable when you give people bad news. Thusly, we water down the demands and the full truth of the Gospel of salvation, and the doctrines of sanctification. Following God is not easy and we do not need to be ashamed of that! What do we say of God when we make apologies for what he says about holiness and obedience. We say that He is wrong. We insert our own ideas and solution based on subjective circumstances. If God is true, then we must simply proclaim what He has already revealed. This in no way neglects the need for grace and patience, but there is nothing gracious about half truths. When we stand on the Word of God, God will lead us through these fine balances. If we are in a constant state of witnessing to someone for years, but we never actually say to them that without Jesus as their Lord that they will die and go to hell for eternity, then you’re not really witnessing anymore. In the same way, if you allow sin to go unchecked in fellow believers because we’re afraid to confront them, then you’re not really helping that person see and understand truth or obedience. God’s demands for salvation are simple, but not easy. And they are wonderful. When we make them easy, they’re not so wonderful and not so saving any more.
Out of the three women in the scene, Ruth alone seems to grasp and show Heced, Godly, covenantal, loving-kindness. Verse 14, “And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.” Here we see hints of marriage language again. Ruth is obviously not marrying her mother-in-law, but she is making a significant covenant with her. Ruth shows a love and commitment to Naomi which is undeserved. Ruth clings to Naomi just as a man leaves and cleaves to his wife. Genesis 2:24 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” We all must show a similar leaving and cleaving with God. You cannot be forgiven of your sins if you are not one with Christ. You cannot be one with Christ without clinging to Him. You cannot cling to Christ if you are clinging to you own desires which set yourself up as king of your life. Therefore, you cannot cling to Christ without leaving the pursuit of all else behind.
And now look more closely at Ruth’s vow, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” Ruth is not simply a better person than Orpah who is more committed. At the core of Ruth’s pledge is the cornerstone of faith in God. Ruth can only make this deep commitment because of her commitment to God. If God were not in this pledge, it would likely be the empty marriage vow of someone who couldn’t hack it in the difficult times. Ruth vows to follow the one true God. Ruth vows to make the Jews her people because she is one of God’s people now. She recognizes that if God is the everlasting God of true covenants, unbreakable promises, and limitless merciful love, then her commitment to Him and His ways and His people likewise has no ends.
God’s demands of sanctification, the daily ongoing process in which we are transformed into his likeness, do not end at the same moment that our salvation begins. And we are not sanctified on our own. Part of Ruth’s pledge is to make Naomi’s people, God’s people, her people. We commit to God by committing to His people. This is a truth which many Christians subvert. The idea of formal church membership seems very exclusive and out dated to many people. However, as we’ve already seen, when we stand on God’s word, His truth isn’t easy and yes, it makes demands, and yes, it is exclusive. Without spending another 30 minutes here I will simply say that with the indwelling Holy Spirit in us, we are God’s royal priesthood with the authority to bind and loose. If that makes no sense to you, then come talk to Pastor Al, or any of our wonderful Tennet Talk leaders, or myself. We would love to have coffee with you and unpack those concepts at lengths. If you simply attend church, you are likely not living out God’s covenantal loving kindness with His people. If every time we get offended, are wronged, do wrong to others, or are simply discontent with the style of things, if every time this happens we move on to another body, then we are not people who model the grace and reconciliation found in Christ. Who then who are we committed to? I’m not saying you’re not a Christian, but this person’s commitment to the Gospel will rarely go beyond themselves. God’s plan is revealed within His body. The healthy church must demand the kind of covenant that God demands. We cannot be satisfied with attendance and tithes. We must demand that our relationships are founded on mutual sanctification.
That’s exactly why we put emphasis on covenantal church membership. But it’s not to be entered into lightly. Naomi was certainly a woman with baggage. She was so blinded by her hurt and bitterness, that she discouraged others from following God. But Ruth shows Heced, undeserved, covenantal loving kindness. She says to Naomi, “Your God will be my God. Your people will be my people.” Naomi is no different than every single member of First Baptist; she’s messed up and she makes mistakes. But why is Ruth saying these things about Naomi in the first place. She doesn’t possess a personal knowledge of God. She would’ve known basic knowledge simply by being part of a bordering nation. She is choosing a path of probably destitution and loneliness in order to commit to an old woman who has in fact tried to release Ruth from any obligation. She is committing to Naomi because she is more importantly committing to God. She is trusting Him. She trusts that He’s real. She didn’t learn that from Moabites. She learned it from Naomi and her family. Whatever shortcomings Naomi possessed, it should not be doubted that she had true faith in the living God, a faith which no doubt she displayed for Ruth on many other occasions.
Godly wisdom would also have us learn from John 6. Jesus had drawn great crowds, a mega church. They were ready to make him their King. Instead He spoke words that cut them to the heart and caused them all to walk away except a few. “So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God. – John 6:67-69” Your covenant with believers must first rest centrally on the saving work that Jesus does. If there’s hints of works, then that’s of man, not of Christ. If there’s promise of material reward and wealth, that’s not of Christ. It must also stand on Christ’s Holy Words, His direction, His leading; an agreement to stand oh God’s inerrant Scriptures. This is what led the disciples to forsake all for the pursuit of Christ. That is what Ruth did also. Nothing less is demanded of us. If we commit, or perhaps don’t commit based on our subjective preferences, then our covenants won’t really be covenants. And our friendships will either become popularity contests based on trendy fads and good feelings OR they will become legalistic contests. The people we commit to will not be perfect, but we commit with them to ever pursue Christ’s holy perfection.
One also cannot be committed to God’s people if you are not also committed to God’s commission to take His gospel to the ends of the earth. The book of Ruth might seem like a very strange place to begin a conversation about mission, but it’s actually a wonderful place. We tend to put missions in a separate box of church life. If our church is big enough, if my job is secure enough, if I get a case of wander lust, that’s when missions can happen. But look at Ruth’s surrender to God. We may not ever consider her a missionary, but just like a missionary, her surrender to serving God demanded she leave behind her people, her home, her life, and her all in order to pursue worship of the true King. We already know that God’s call to the great commission will not have us all leave our home. What I’m saying is that full surrender to God must challenge every element of our life.
We have talked about salvation. We have touched on covenantal church membership. We are now discussing missions. These are not separate topics, they share a common thread. Ruth displays for us a beautiful and full surrender to God. That type of surrender must be found in every Christian or else that person is not in Christ. We also don’t get to put limits on that surrender. Commitment to God’s people and a passion and commitment to missions are not separate from each other and they are not separate from our initial surrender to God. There’s not levels of Christianity. We act like being committed to God’s people is at level 51 and missions is at level 79, so feel free to hang out in the lower 50 levels, it’s much more comfortable and convenient there. Self-forsaking loving kindness begins at level one, it begins at the very moment our salvation begins. Committed churches and mission minded churches go together.
Finally, look at verse 18. “And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with he, she said no more.” Ruth was determined. Her covenant was unending. Our covenants, just like our marriages, are supposed to be unending because of who they represent. Our relationships are designed to portray God. If you have one foot out the door of the church you’re attending and you’re just waiting for the shoe to drop, if you’re constantly anticipating the next disagreeable event, then I ask you: Have you committed to God’s people and life with them based on a convicting knowledge and faith of who God is and a desire to serve Him? If not, then you need to reflect on the reason why. If it’s an issue of hurt or pride or lack of surrender, then you need to resolve that first with the Father. If it’s a matter of finding a faithful church, I pray that we are just that. But perhaps life takes you elsewhere? Being part of a faithful church is so essential that you should commit to one, or move to where one is, or help to build one. Godly, unfailing determination to continue serving and seeking God.
“Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” Treat your church as your family. Treat your church as if their part of your own body. Resist the temptation to make Christianity easy. In the bleakest and darkest times of your life, committing to the Father and his people and His ways seems hard. We want to say “Not now, perhaps when life is a little more manageable.” However, in all times, in the trials especially we commit and press further in not as a declaration of our strength and power, but as a humble declaration of God’s power. To properly serve God is to declare His Heced. The way that we declare God’s covenantal loving kindness is to show in every way that He is the one carries us. He is the one who does the work. He did all the work of the cross and salvation. He does the work of sanctification. We must recognize the true Heced that God shows to us and respond in the only fitting way, full surrender to Him and His ways. In so doing, even though the rest of the world is embracing foolish self desire, we shine as a beacon in the dark by declaring with our lives that whatever may come, that we trust in the providence of our sovereign Lord.
Obedience in everyday life pleases God. When we reflect His character through our interactions with others, we bring glory to Him. Ruth’s sacrifice and hard work to provide for Naomi reflected God’s love. Boaz’s loyalty to his kinsman, Naomi’s husband, reflected God’s faithfulness. Naomi’s plan for Ruth’s future reflected selfless love.
~ Chuck Swindoll