Sunday, 12 January 2014

Ruth (Episode 2)

Hello All,
The part of the poem that we will be emphasizing on today is highlighted in blue. The black colour text in the poem is a recap of what we have already done last week.

Before I begin, I would like to give credit to Gordon Stead for I have used his sermon notes again to pen the ‘Points for Reflection’ section for Episode 2.

Let us now continue our story with the second episode of Ruth…

Ruth (Episode 2)
By Joanne Liaw Sook Ling (3rd October 2013)
'Go to bed my dear child,' said Grandma Naomi
As she bent down to kiss his forehead tenderly
Obed was wide awake so he looked pleadingly
And said, 'Grandma, please tell me a bedtime story'

Naomi tried her best to think of an excuse
A valid one which she could effectively use
To lovingly and gently but firmly refuse
Her little grandson's request for her to amuse

But his pleading eyes completely melted her heart
His whims and fancies she had often failed to thwart
She sat by his bedside and pondered how to start
A true story of which she played a vital part

'In the days when the judges ruled in our homeland
There was a great famine which we could not withstand
Elimelech, your grandfather, of Bethlehem
Sojourned with my sons and I to another land

For ten years we settled in the land of Moab
Elimelech's death left me despondent and sad
Mahlon and Chilion, my dear sons, were all I had
They each took a local Moabite woman to wed

And then my dear sons died, leaving their wives and me
Orpah, Ruth your mother and I grieved mournfully
The widows were left childless and I’ve bitterly
Lost both my sons and blamed the LORD for judging me

And so I arose to return to Bethlehem
For I heard that God had given food to the land
Orpah and Ruth insisted to follow my plan
To return with me to Judah as helping hands

'Go and return to your mother's house,' I urged them
'May the Lord bless you abundantly in this land
For your kindness to the children of Abraham
May the good LORD bless you to marry other men'

Then I kissed them good-bye and they broke down and cried
They said ‘No, we'll go with you and be by your side'
'Turn back, my daughters, why follow me?' was my chide
'Return now to your homes and be other men’s brides'

'Have I yet sons in my womb that you may marry?'
'Turn back, for I am too old for matrimony'
'Even if I should marry miraculously
And bear sons, would you wait till they reach puberty?'

'No, my dear daughters, for it is exceedingly
Bitter to me for your own sake, regretfully,
That the hand of the LORD has gone out against me'
Then they lifted up their voices and wept sadly

Orpah kissed me good-bye and left accordingly
However, Ruth clung on to me obstinately
'See, your sister-in-law has just left and gone free
Return with her to your people and gods quickly'

'Do not urge me to leave you,' Ruth said tearfully
'For where you go I'll go,' she said with certainty
'Where you lodge I will lodge,' she clung on more tightly
'Your people shall be my people,' she said surely

'Your God shall be my God,' she said resolutely
'Where you die I will die,' she said devotedly
'And there will I be buried,' her kind words touched me
'May the LORD God do so and more also to me'

'If anything except for death parts you from me'
So determined was she that I had to agree
So the two of us started out on our journey
Until we reached Bethlehem, our little city

The whole town was stirred and asked 'Is this Naomi?'
'Do not call me Naomi, but Mara, for He
The Almighty has dealt with me so bitterly
I went away full but He's brought me back empty'

'Why call me 'pleasant' and why name me Naomi?
When the Almighty has testified against me
And the LORD has struck me with such calamity'
It was now the start of the harvest of barleys'

'My dear Obed, it is now time to go to bed'
'But Grandma, it's still early and not even late'
'My little child, you have heard what I have just said'
'Say your prayers now and then get ready for bed'


Points for Reflection:
She [Naomi] said to them, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.
(Ruth 1:20)
·         Last week, we saw that despite Naomi’s grief over all the bitter calamities that had befallen her, she made the right decision to return to God by heading back to Bethlehem after many years of living in Moab.
·         Her heart ached with the death her husband and then her sons. The pain proved too much for her. Although she could not understand why God had allowed such misfortunes to happen, she made the conscious effort to draw closer to God instead of abandoning him.
·         Have you suffered much grief from the death of someone very dear to you? Are you overwhelmed with the bitter calamities of life? How have you reacted to those misfortunes? Has grief drawn you closer or further from God? I pray with all my heart that you will run to God instead of shutting him out of your life.

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. 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.”
(Ruth 1:16-17)
·         And finally we have our main heroine of the story – Ruth.
·         Ruth teaches us to forsake everything to follow God.
·         Ruth had an inauspicious entrance to our story: she was a pagan Moabite woman married by one of Elimelech’s sons - a marriage which was hardly a good thing! In the past, Moabite women had enticed the Israelite men into sexual immorality and idolatry in the book of Numbers. And 24,000 people died in a plague of God’s judgment as a result. So, we do not expect much from Ruth!
·         But what an amazing faith this woman had! Over the years, presumably through the Israelite family into which she had married, she heard of Yahweh, the LORD, the God of Israel. And she placed her trust in him.
·         When Ruth and Orpah, Naomi’s two daughters-in-law, started back with her to Bethlehem, Naomi tried to get them to wake up and face the facts: they would not be accepted in Bethlehem of Judah! They were Moabites! It was far better for them to turn back to Moab.
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?
(Ruth 1:11 ESV)
·         Well, the facts were true. The outlook was bleak for these two younger widows. The prospects were dire. From their point of view, Bethlehem of Judah had nothing for them. Why not go back to Moab and find happiness and security in marriage there? On a human, physical level, the argument was pretty flawless. Orpah saw this. And just like Elimelech, her father-in-law, she decided to live by sight instead of faith. She returned to Moab.
·         Naomi said in verse 15 that Orpah had returned to ‘her gods’. But not Ruth! She had put her trust in Yahweh, the LORD, the God of Israel. She stayed with Naomi, abandoned Moab and fled to Bethlehem and the LORD.
And she [Naomi] said, “See, your sister-in-law [Orpah] has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
(Ruth 1:15 ESV)
·         Ruth had grown up a Moabite. She grew up worshipping Chemosh, a hideous pagan god to whom the Moabites would sacrifice their children. She had heard of the LORD, but all she had experienced so far was his judgment through the death of her husband. Her sister-in-law had done the only sensible thing (in human terms) by forsaking this LORD to return to Moab. Yet… Ruth trusted in him.
·         Would you trust in God if all you knew of him was that? Would any of us?
·         Ruth did! She counted her own pagan religion, her own gods and even her own family as nothing compared with the treasure of having Yahweh, the God of Israel, as her God. Even if that meant a life in Bethlehem of hardship, rejection, singleness and poverty. She forsook Moab and all the happiness and security she could have there, so that she could be one of the LORD’s people. She threw herself on him in trust and dependence.
·         The LORD is a wonderful and powerful God! True faith in him, even if based on a little, true knowledge of him has astounding power and effect in people’s lives.
·         And so the two women arrived back in Bethlehem ‘at the beginning of the barley harvest’.
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.
(Ruth 1:22 ESV)
·         The episode started with famine, and that problem had been solved – the people had repented and they had food again.
·         But what about these two women at the centre of our story? They may have food, but apart from each other they had nothing – no husband, no money, no land and no security.
·         Naomi called herself bitter and Ruth was known as the Moabitess – a title to ensure your rejection if ever there was one! The next 3 chapters show how the merciful and powerful, loving and sovereign God met their needs, for they trusted in him. (So stay tuned for the unfolding of those chapters in the next few episodes of the poem!)
·         But most of all, we have learned from Ruth the beauty of true faith in God!
·         She may have come from a background of hatred of God, from a people alienated from God. But Ruth did not let that stop her!
·         She did not follow the example of Orpah. She knew that the LORD was merciful and she threw herself completely on his mercy.
·         True believers come from every background. No friend of yours is beyond the saving power of Christ. No matter what race or religious background! No matter what their family might say, or the expectations of their culture. If a Moabite could become part of God’s people, the modern day Buddhist from Tibet, Shintoist from Japan, Hindu from India, Muslim from Saudi Arabia or Atheist from the West can come to know Jesus Christ. Have you received Jesus as your LORD and Saviour?
·         For us today, following Jesus may mean we have to abandon the security and prosperity the world offers. But Ruth shows that those things are worth nothing compared to the unfailing and abundant love of the LORD. How does your faith match up to Ruth’s? She did not have the background. Her knowledge of God was pretty scanty. Enough to truly trust him, of course, but she certainly had not benefited from week after week of Biblical sermons, Bible studies and Christian devotional materials!
·         But even more importantly, unlike us, Ruth did not know the complete depths of God’s love, as demonstrated in the death of Jesus on the Cross, for people like you and me, when we were still sinners. We do. We have had far more spiritual benefits than Ruth! Those to whom much is given, much will be required.
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
(Romans 5:8)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places
(Ephesians 1:3)
·         Are you willing to give up everything, as Ruth did, to follow God? Do you count the ways of the world as rubbish compared to knowing and following Jesus? Or have you begun to compromise, indulging in the world’s ways, even just a little, rather than clinging wholly to God?
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2)
·         Yes, I’m certainly put to shame by Ruth’s faith too! We all mess up, we all go astray and wander time after time – that’s why Jesus died for us, that’s why we confess our sins week by week.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
(1 John 1:9)

·         But be encouraged by Ruth’s amazing faith! Follow her example by throwing yourself on the love and mercy of God! And when you fail, know that like Naomi, you can return to God. God is God of great, incredible loving kindness. Let’s follow the example of those who turn to him and trust him!