As God’s people we can face each loss, each trial, each hardship with hopefulness, knowing that the providence of God is intertwining every event to create something beautiful for us, for His people, and for the world.
Good morning, today we begin a new series in the book of Ruth. If you have a Bible, please be turning to Ruth chapter one. It’s found near the beginning of the Old Testament, after Judges and before Samuel.
We’ve titled this series, Under the tapestry, let me explain why:
Weaving is the ancient art whereby thousands of pieces of thread are carefully intertwined to create one beautiful image. The thread by itself is meaningless and random, but in the hands of a craftsman beauty springs forth and story is unfolds.
In the hands of a master weaver no thread is wasted, no knot is made that doesn’t serve a purpose. Of course if we were to the museum of Tapestry in France and behold the Apocalypse Tapestry, for instance, we wouldn’t notice the individual threads, we wouldn’t zoom in and trace the seemingly haphazard weavings of the craftsman, we would just see the completed picture. But without each individual thread, the bright and the dull, the long and the short, the fine and the coarse, the beautiful and the plain, the final picture can’t be completed.
This is the story of the book of Ruth: ordinary people, in an ordinary town, in ordinary times in which it seems that God is doing ordinary things. Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz find themselves under the tapestry of God as He takes these ordinary moments of life and weaves them together into a beautiful picture of faithfulness and love.
Yet in the middle of the story Ruth and Naomi didn’t know the ending. The events of their lives didn’t seem incredible…they seemed terrible ordinary. It was just life, with all its ups and all its downs. It wasn’t until the end that they saw the hidden hand of God in every moment.
We must remember this, because this story is our story, every moment, every event in our life is pointing us toward some glorious end. God is using every moment in your life: the big important moments like marriage or promotion, the small inconsequential moments like commuting or eating lunch, the thrilling exciting moments of vacation, the boring mundane moments of work, the joyous moments of birth and the sorrowful moments death, the times of delight, the times of despair, the moments of kindness bestowed upon you, the moments of evil perpetrated against you are ALL threads that God is using for some glorious end.
We may not get that in the moment…so take hope that God was working in Ruth and Naomi’s lives even when they couldn’t see it, and God is working in your life, even when you can’t see it.
This is what William Cowper, a man who knew life’s ups and downs, who suffered his entire life with depression, wrote about in the Hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way.”
Take courage now you fearful saints
The clouds you so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head
His purposes will ripen fast
Unfolding every hour
The bud may have a bitter taste
But sweet will be the flower
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Five short verses that are packed full of hope and loss, in other words, it’s full of life. Yet if we fast forward to the end we will see that God is using that hope and that loss for a good end. There are four scenes we will zoom in on this morning: Decay, Drought, Displacement, Death.
Let’s look at scene one
- Decay v. 1
In the days when the judges ruled.
Here’s the hope:
The backdrop for this story is in the days when the judges ruled and it seems that the lives of Ruth and Naomi happen earlier rather than later in the history of the judges. And at first it seems to be a good period to be born in. They’re not slaves in Egypt. They’re not sojourners in the desert. They’re not soldiers in conquest of the land. The people have yet to reject God as King in exchange for an earthly King. No Naomi and her family find that they’ve settled in the land, the war over land is over, the promise land has been conquered. They’re most likely sitting under, or just missed sitting under the greatest of all the judges. And so it seems that they get to sit back and enjoy the benefits of those who came before them. In other words, life is good.
But it’s not long before the joys of life are met with sorrow.
I say that because verse one continues…
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land.
Famines don’t always come about because people have been rebellious, but throughout the story of judges, anytime a famine happens in Israel we know why it has happened…the people have backslidden. Sin has crept into the land of Israel as it crept into Eden as it creeps into our nations, neighborhoods, homes, and lives.
11 But the land that you are going over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water by the rain from heaven, 12 a land that the Lord your God cares for. The eyes of the Lord your God are always upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year. 13 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the Lord your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul, 14 he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain…16 Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; 17 then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the Lord is giving you.
And so the good moral environment that Naomi and her family had experienced took a turn and Naomi finds herself thrust from the top of the cycle of Judges, covenant faithfulness, to the very bottom, rebellion.
And it seems that when one found themselves at the bottom of the cycle they found themselves in an environment that might be describe as our own today:
Judges 21:25 – In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
It seems our world has gone crazy with gender confusion and distortions of sexuality. We live in a world that says, follow your heart, do what make YOU happy. We live in times where we are compelled and threated to compromise our belief systems in order to fit into the fabric of society. Where right is labeled wrong and wrong is called right.
Do you feel that? There’s a lot of good in this city, but there’s also a lot…a lot of evil. There are demonic strongholds in this city and the fallen state of souls we pass by every day and the evil that we see rejoiced in every day should move us to brokenness. We should never become numb to the heinousness of sin.
But here’s the danger in living in a time of moral decay, we can begin to wonder what on earth God is doing.
This was Jeremiah’s experience:
Jeremiah 12:1 – Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
This was the Psalmist’s experience:
Psalm 82:2 – “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked?
This was Habakkuk’s experience:
Habakkuk 1:2 – O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save?
And if we’re not careful we begin to think that we alone are left standing for God and we begin to feel lonely and when loneliness sets in so too can depression and we begin to question the point of living in a world where it seems God is blind to my suffering on His behalf:
This was Elijah’s experience:
1 Kings 19:14
14 “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Maybe you’ve felt that way: alone in your company, alone in your workplace, alone in your family, alone, perhaps even in your church. And what does God say to this?
18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
You’re not alone. The Lord does see. And the pain you experience from moral decay isn’t wasted. It’s just one of many threads He is weaving for some great end.
What does the Lord say to those who feel frustrated over being placed in a spiritually difficult environment?
Matthew 5:6, 10 – 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied…10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
What you call a burden, God calls a blessing.
What you see as persecution, God sees as purification.
I don’t know the spiritual state of Naomi and her family. I don’t know if they were like Lot in Sodom, whom Peter describes as a righteous man whose soul was daily tormented over the evil that he lived among, or if they were more Sodom than Lot.
2 Peter 2:7-8
…righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked 8 (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard).
But I know this: In the midst of all that Moral Decay the Lord was working in their life.
If the people hadn’t sinned the famine wouldn’t have come and if the famine hadn’t come, as we will see, the family wouldn’t have moved to Moab, and if the family hadn’t moved to Moab, as we will see, the greatest good in all the world wouldn’t have come about.
It may seem random, it may seem as if evil is reigning, but rest assured that the Lord’s hand is holding firmly onto even the threads of evil and rebellion.
- Drought – v. 1
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.
Here again is a high and a low of the story. They were Eph-ra-thites who lived in Bethlehem.
They were literally, fruitful people who lived in the house of bread.
Ephratah (ef·räth·ē’) – “Fruitful”
Bethlehem (bāth leh’·khem) = “house of bread”
In other words, Bethlehem was a very prosperous town in terms of agriculture. They were known for their abundance of corn (for making bread), and in addition figs, vines, almonds, and olives. And this is where we find Naomi and her family.
So once again we see life happening with Naomi. Before v. 1 takes place…Life is good. Food is on the table. Children are being provided for. There’s laughter in the home, and ease, and life seems to be without struggle.
But it’s not long before the joys of life are met with sorrow.
As with life, disaster strikes, for the verse tells us that all of a sudden, in the house of bread, there was no bread…that the fruitful home of Naomi has become fruitless.
Isn’t that just like life, tragedy sometimes strikes in the most unlikely of places…In Bethlehem…house of bread – Crops failed, cattle died, people starved. And so too with us we are just living life and all is well and good and it seems that God is for us…and then…we receive that phone call, that email, that bill, that brings it all crashing down around us.
For Naomi it was a famine, economic insecurity…poverty…a financial crisis…a job loss…a concern over where the next meal would come from…how would they pay rent…how would they even survive till the next month. And you too have perhaps been here, and maybe even now this is where you find your lot.
And if you’re not careful you begin to believe the lie that God is against you, that He has not treated you justly. You’ve done all the right things, you’ve walked with integrity, you’ve loved Him and served Him and this is how He rewards you?
There is a great cancer in Christendom that says God wants everyone to be rich and so you lot in life, if you have faith, is wealth…but they neglect the widow of Zarephath who was down to her last morsel of bread, they neglect the poor widow who gives out of her poverty, whom Jesus honors as a person of faith, they neglect the poor saints in Jerusalem, they neglect those Christians in Macedonia who were found to be without much money, they neglect Paul who wrote in Phil. 4:12 – I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need., and most importantly they neglect Jesus, who had no place to lay his head, who taught that the poor will always be among us, who told the rich man to give away his wealth in order to discover true wealth, who told us to store us treasures in heaven and not put our hope on the things that are passing away.
I call it a cancer because it’s a false hope and a distortion of the gospel. It shouts, treasures on earth are what matter most. It sets people up for failure, disappointment, and most tragically, bitterness toward God. Don’t buy into the lie that if you have enough faith everything is going to go the way you want it to go.
It may be that tragedy strikes you and you find yourself in financial peril. Your resources, be it vast or meager is a thread that the Lord’s hand holds onto and He is doing something even when it seems otherwise.
When resources are low we are often tempted to get angry at God, to doubt God, to lose faith. But let me remind you, the hands that hold the scars are the very hands that hold your financial status…if you can trust Him in the piercing, you can trust Him in your poverty. He’s the one who cares for you, the very one who says in Deut. 15:7:
“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, 8 but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.”
What does Jesus say about poverty? If you’re stuggling to make ends meet, if you find yourself in dire needs, He says this:
Luke 6:20-21 – “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.”
This is hard to hear over a growling stomach…but it’s true. Ruth finds it to be true…It was her poverty that drove her to Bethlehem, that led her to the fields of Boaz, that, as Ruth 2:12 says, led her not just a land or a man…but to God himself as she had no where else to take refuge other than under the wings of God.
If you find yourself like Ruth today He is gently guiding you under his wings as well. And at City Church we believe He ordains the means and the end and we take seriously Deut. 15:7 – We want to hear about your need, because God has called us to be the means by which you receive His steadfast love.
- Displacement – v. 1
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons.
Here perhaps more than anywhere else we find that life is a mixture of joy and sorrow. They’ve made a home in Moab which has brought them food, income, stability. Moab brings the joy of marriage.
I don’t know if it was lack of faith for them to leave Bethlehem – should they have trusted God and stayed in the land of promise rather than the land of cursing (just do a word search on Moab if you don’t know why I call the land cursed). Maybe it was sin on their part, maybe not…the text doesn’t say.
I don’t know if it was sin on their part to marry two Moabite women. Maybe, maybe not…again, the text doesn’t say. But this I do know: Moab brought both joy and sorrow. Can we not identify with that? Have we not left our home to come to a foreign land? Have we not cried, having to say goodbye to friends and family? Have we not struggled through learning a new culture, new language, new way of doing things that seem foolish at times? Have we not been called an outsider, treated as an outsider, perhaps even discriminated against because of where you came from? Have you not missed out on celebrations of births and weddings having to settle for photos instead, have you not mourned over being away when tragedy strikes at home – a death, miscarriage, national crisis, where you grieve alone and are unable to receive a virtual hug from a loved one, or process your grief with a community that is experiencing what you experience? Have you not felt the loneliness that comes with being a stranger in a strange land?
But at the same time, there are joys are there not? New friends, new traditions, new community, new experiences. The life of an expat is a strange life indeed. As you absorb new cultures you find that you’re never really at home anywhere and you begin to question yourself…was it worth it? Did I make the right decision? Have I completely ruined my life by making this move?
Here’s the hope, God used Naomi’s displacement to bless Ruth. Later Ruth will say, “Your God will be my God.” This would not have been possible if they had not set out for Moab.
Naomi and Elimelech most likely didn’t set out from Bethlehem to be a blessing to a Moabite. They most likely didn’t think, let’s go to Moab and share the love of Yahweh with a people that have rejected him, but that’s exactly what they ended up doing. And perhaps you didn’t set out from your homeland to come to Beijing and be a blessing to the nations…but you’re here and it very well could be that the Lord wants to take hold of your thread of Displacement and weave it in such a way that the cursed come into the community of Christ and are declared clean!
If you begin to think to yourself, I’ve given up much and suffered much in my displacement…ask the Lord to redeem it and cling to the words of Jesus:
“Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, 30 who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Scene Four, The most bitter scene of all:
- Death – v. 3-5
3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, 5 and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
When the Lord takes hold of the threads of death and start to weave it in and out of our lives, it inflicts pain like nothing else.
Life was going well in Moab, things looked promising and then suddenly Elimelech died. But at least she has her two sons, and by this time they have married, which means the name of Elimelech can be passed on, that although he might lie in the grave his story continues, he will not be forgotten. Except it seems that the land in Bethlehem isn’t the only thing that is barren. These two couples are married for ten longs years and neither Orpah nor Ruth can conceive an heir to carry on the name of Elimelech. And then suddenly Mahlon and Chilion die. All hope is lost. Naomi is too old, her sons proved unhelpful in producing a child to provide for her in her old age, to carry on the family name. And now she feels the weight of her loss.
Perhaps you too have been here, when the unthinkable happens and you’re confronted with life without a spouse, a child, a friend, a parent.
The news that the book of Ruth gives us in regards to death is good news, but it is news that is hard to bear. Even in death God is doing something.
But when we are in the midst of death we don’t care that God is doing something. Naomi certainly didn’t care that God was doing something in her life through the death of her husband and sons. All she cares about is that they are dead…why would you allow that God?
Later, Naomi, whose name means pleasant, will change her name to Mara – Bitter. She will say, the Lord has dealt bitterly with me. I don’t care that He’s doing something, I just know that those whom I loved are gone and I wouldn’t have traded them for anything in the world…but it wasn’t my choice, I didn’t get a say in the matter.
But there will come a day when Naomi’s heart will turn and her feelings change. If you’re in the midst of the bitterness that Naomi felt…know that there is hope. That one day you will wake up and the Lord will have healed your heart. Not that the pain is ever taken away, not that the reminders are removed, but that the bitter bud has bloomed and that which was once unbearable is bearable.
What does Jesus say to us who have felt the sharp turning of this thread?
Luke 6:21 – “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.”
Oh how this came true for Naomi,
For Ruth will return to Bethlehem. If her husband hadn’t of died, there would have been no reason to return. But he did die and Ruth did return. And Ruth returns without a child…ten years of barrenness. Imagine if she returned with a child. There’d be no need for a redeemer to perpetuate the name of Elimelech. But she did return barren, there was a need for a redeemer, and she will meet Boaz and the womb that was once barren will conceive a child. And the people will say, “A son has been born to NAOMI.” This is not Ruth’s child…It’s Naomi’s and the child will perpetuate the name of Elimelech. And Naomi will 16 Then take the child and lay him on her lap and become his nurse. And that child will become the father of Jesse, and Jesse will become the father of David and from David will come Jesus.
In death Naomi was not forsaken, nor was Elimelech. Elimelech’s name is, “My God is king,” and through his death that that King would come to Earth
Three Tiers – Biblical Theme, Israel, Individual….truth is, in your circumstances He’s doing something good for himself, but also for the church and also for you.
Where is God?
Bring the people to repentance
Bringing a harvest back to the Land
Expanding His Kingdom – not losing culture, gaining a Kingdom perspective
Honoring the dead
Proving for His people’s
Conc: what’s your story?
God was there, present with them in the Decay, in the Drought, in the Displacement, in the Deaths. And God is there with you as well in all of life’s ups and downs. His hands are on every thread of your life, the threads you choose and the threads that are chosen for you.
Think of it with me:
No sin, no famine
No famine, no Moab
No Moab, no Ruth
No death, no Return
No Return, no Boaz
No Boaz, no Marriage
No Marriage, no Child
No Child, no David
No David, no Messiah
No Messiah, no Salvation.
I’m not saying God couldn’t have worked it out another way…he could have. Here’s what I’m getting at: God uses the highs and the lows, the bright threads and the dull to weave together something beautiful for His people.
Naomi and Ruth found themselves under the tapestry of God. We too, if we but open our eyes to the scriptures will realize that we too are under that same tapestry.