Romans 8:28 – And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
In this one verse, we’re told so many things. First off, we’re told we know something – really, what do we know? We know that in all things, not just some things, but in all things, God, not us, works for the good, not bad, not so-so, but the good of those who love him. That means us, who have been called, not ones who stumbled onto this, or came here by chance, but who have been called, according to his purpose, according to his will, to his intent, to his desire. So, today as you pray, let’s read this again together and this time, let’s emphasize the underlined words. Today as you read, pray declaring that this is what God does in our lives! And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Ruth 1:19 – So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
So we pick up in verse 19, where the two women arrive in Bethlehem and the women there ask, “can this be Naomi?” And instead of a touching reunion scene, we get Naomi’s bitter complaint. However, this should of, could have been a sweet time for Naomi, to fall into the arms of her people, to rejoice that she’s back where she belongs, to repent and say “I should have never left but am so thankful to God he has brought me back.” But instead, Naomi’s response is “Don’t call me Naomi” she says, “call me Mara.”
What causes complaint and bitterness in our hearts? Perhaps we thought our lives would turn out one way, but it’s turned out another or we never thought we’d experience this type of difficulty? All the fullness she was referring to was about a marriage, children, hopes for grandchildren and food to eat – that’s all she had in Moab. Isn’t this what it boils down to, our grand dreams are actually so small, so mundane, so common, so basic, it’s actually not fullness at all, but can be pretty empty. The fullness that God wants to give is of Himself. To be in the midst of God’s plans and purposes among His people. In many ways, our emptiness allows there to be God’s fullness.
Today, may there be a fresh surrender of our old plans, and receive the fullness of His plans. Worship with the song “Fullness” (Click here).
Ruth 1:20-21 – “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”
While there is some truth in what Naomi is saying, there is also a lot of clouded thinking. In her hopelessness, she wrongly accuses God of turning against her. Naomi is lost in her self-focused misery, “woe is me” mindset. Perhaps we have found ourselves in those moments, where instead of letting God’s sovereignty bring peace, comfort, hope; we let troublesome circumstances dictate—we grumble, we lose faith, we accuse God of wrongdoing. And the more we look at ourselves, our lives, our troubles, the less we see of God, the less we care about others. We may not intentionally mean to come to wrong conclusions, but we often do. We think or say things like, “stay away from me, I’m cursed”, feelings like “it’s better for people to not be around me b/c of my problems”, or “God is punishing me,” or “I’m a lost cause.”
In those moments, may we be quick to be humble, quick to turn, quick to repent, quick to follow Him.
Psalm 139:7-12 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.
As Naomi returns to Israel, she returns empty, broken and bitter. However, the Lord does not leave them (us) in that place. In this situation, by giving Naomi (and Ruth) no other option but to return, the Lord is the one who brings them back into the depths of His grace and redemption. Indeed, though Naomi and her family had left God’s covenant, it is clear that the Lord’s hand was still upon them.
The more the story seems to hide the hand of God, the more it actually affirms, even more firmly, His total sovereignty. For the great theological insight revealed here is that God does not act intermittently, but continuously. Though He may appear to step into the scene at given key moments, He is actually and actively there every moment, albeit hidden. [David Jackman, The Preachers Commentary-Judges/Ruth, p. 309]
Today be encouraged that His covenant of love—His care for us never leaves us! Worship with the song “Singing Over Us” (Click here).
Ruth 1:11-13 – But Naomi said…”Return home, my daughters…It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
Here we find Naomi and her daughter’s in law, instead of having things work out for them, they are left having experienced death, sickness, destruction and emptiness. With this background we are presented with the question, what is to happen to someone like Naomi and Ruth? What is the hope for their lives when everything has fallen apart? How does the Lord respond and act towards them?
Naomi expected a meager existence and a life of bitterness, but as we will see the Lord has in store abundance and fuller redemption. This is the gospel. However, it all begins for Naomi when she sets her foot onto the road of returning to the Lord. This is the road where one leaves the old life of sin, and also having settled in the wrong places. The road that leads us back to the Lord is never closed. Grace and mercy of God means that this road is always open.
The heart of this message is one of redemption and where the Lord redeems them to a place that was way greater and beyond what Naomi and Ruth could have ever dreamed or imagined.
Today consider the depths from which we have been rescued, and the depths of mercy to which we have been taken to. Worship with the song “Your Grace Amazes Me” (Click Here).
Even though Naomi was a “wandering sheep”, among the three widows, she was the sole Israelite… someone who had a history with God, knew about His promises and grew up among His people. Compared to Ruth and Orpah, Naomi knew where to go when she caught wind of God’s good news.
Read Psalm 147 once more in light of Ruth 1: The Lord delights in those who fear him, Who put their hope in his unfailing love. Extol the LORD, Jerusalem; Praise your God, Zion. He strengthens the bars of your gates And blesses your people within you. He grants peace to your borders And satisfies you with the finest of wheat… He has revealed his word to Jacob, His laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; They do not know his laws. Praise the LORD.
(Psalm 147.11-14, 19-20)
We don’t realize how precious it is to have God’s Word, access to the gospel and God’s people. It’s within the community of God’s people we are blessed. No other community on earth has God’s revelation or knows God’s ways… His ways for life… His purpose for life… His plans for us. Stay secure within these borders and be satisfied in the way only God can satisfy. Be thankful that you had someone like Naomi (even with all her own troubles and issues) in your life to help set you on the road home to God. We were made to live in the very center of God’s love.
Let’s read parts of Psalm 147 again to highlight themes related to Ruth 1: The Lord builds up Jerusalem; He gathers the outcasts of Israel… He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel. He has done this for no other nation; they do not know his laws. Praise the Lord.
(Psalm 147.3, 19-20)
The Lord’s objective is to establish and build up His people… that’s what He’s preoccupied with. And He gathers the outcasts… people like Naomi, who used to be in the center of things, but suddenly outcast because of her own decisions in response to life circumstances… but also, people like Ruth, who was never in the center of God’s plans, never had received God’s revelations, never was exposed to God’s ways… except by God’s sovereign wisdom, he allows her to marry into a wayward family. Out of the three widows, Naomi is the only one who knows the way home. Home is where God is working, where God is actively providing for His people.
“’[Jesus] himself carried our sins’ in his body on the cross. He did it so that we would die as far as sins are concerned. Then we would lead godly lives. ‘His wounds have healed you.’ ‘You were like sheep wandering away.’ But now you have returned to the Shepherd. He is the one who watches over your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)
He watches over us… all of us… to return us to our Shepherd. It’s so much better His way! Let’s close worshipping to this song – “Defender” (Click here) by Upperroom.
Ruth 1:6-7 – “When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.”
How did Naomi find herself so far removed from God’s blessings? …all she did was try to make sensible decisions to preserve herself and family… How did she end up in Moab? Yet God’s grace found her… the good news of God’s salvation reached her.
But how do you get from here, Moab… brokenness, loss, regret, fear… to over there, Judah… the center of God’s activity, presence, people, provision? Sometimes you hear a powerful testimony of God’s work in someone’s life… you wonder, “How can I experience God’s power like that?” Basically, how do I get from here… to there?
If we were to make a movie of Ruth 1, within minutes decades fly by and already three characters are killed off. Then the pace drastically slows, the dramatic action is given in multiple angles… Naomi prepares to return home… she leaves the place where she was… she sets out on the road… the road that will return her home… to where God is, where God is working, where His people is. Pray to return to the center of God’s activity, work and people… “God will make a way”! Let’s close worshipping to this song – “Not Afraid” (Click here) by Jesus Culture.
Ruth 1:3-5 – “Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.”
Read the following verses from Psalm 147 to find themes related to those found in Ruth:
“Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds… Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; His understanding is beyond measure… Praise the Lord.”
(Psalm 147:1-2, 5, 20)
Naomi’s name means “pleasant”… and she is someone we can all relate to. She wants a pleasant life, raise a family… nothing crazy… a reasonable, “normal” life. She made sensible decisions, just like we would. But her life is anything but pleasant… it is completely upended… she lost everything. Not only far from God’s promised land, people, presence… but now bereft of husband and two sons… she is utterly destitute. A brokenness only the Lord can heal and wounds only God can bind up. Apart from Jesus we can do nothing (Jn 15:5). But when we are with Him…Pray for the pleasantness (enjoyable life) that comes from being in His presence. Sing praises and let God fight for you as we worship to this song – “Surrounded (Fight My Battles)” (Click here) by Upperroom.
Ruth 1:1-2 – “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.”
These judges were not magistrates overseeing legal matters in a courtroom. These judges were tribal, military leaders. The famous slogan from the book of Judges is “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” It was a violent and chaotic time.
It was like this because there was no king in Israel. And so, we meet Elimelek, whose name means “My God (is) King”. Curiously, Elimelek and Naomi decide to leave their King’s country for the sake of survival. Abandoning Bethlehem (literally “house of bread”), in search of food, they end up in Moab… far from God’s promised land, people, word and activity… but apparently they have bread there.
Has living in “survival mode” taken you far from God’s promises, people and activity? Maybe you have bread to eat… but, “Can [you] live on bread alone?” (Mt 4:4). Come to Jesus, the bread of life, so that you may never be thirsty again—Jn 6:35. Pray that you would live under the rule of our King Jesus! Let’s sing “All Hail King Jesus“! (Click here)