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Author:Rev. Stephen 't Hart
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Baldivis
 Baldivis, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/baldivis/
 
Title:The Big Picture
Text:Ruth 4:17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose
 
Preached:2012-10-07
Added:2012-10-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Songs from 1984 Book of Praise.
Bible translation:  NKJV

Psalm 40:1,2

Psalm 147:4,6

Psalm 128:1,2,3 (collection)

Psalm 40:4,7

Psalm 73:8

Read:  Ruth 4.

Text:  Ruth 4:17.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Not so long ago if you needed to find how to drive from one place to another, you would pull out a map, unfold it and unfold it again, and then again, and then determine where you are and work out the best route to get where you want to go.  Today it is much simpler.  Yes, you can still buy the maps and some of us use them, but it is becoming more common to pull out your “Smart-Phone” or to type in the place you want to go into your Navman or other GPS system.  Your GPS will work out the best route for you and so long as you follow the directions, you will normally get to where you want to go.

These relatively new devices are most convenient and generally work well.  But with the demise of those large, broad-sheet maps, we have lost something.  Yes, those maps can be cumbersome, and they never seem to want to fold up neatly, but they did help give you a broader perspective, a bigger picture of where you are and where you are going.  Using a Navman or some other GPS navigation system enables you to zoom in on a very small area, even to zoom in on a particular street.  But, due to their size – and how many of us use them – what they fail to do is give us the bigger picture of where we are going.  And so while it is helpful to zoom in on a particular road and be instructed where and when to turn, it is also helpful to zoom out and to see where you are in the context of other streets, the rest of a town, or even the state, the province or the country you are in.

The Book of Ruth presents itself as zooming in on the days of the Judges, on the tribe of Judah, on the Ephrathites of Bethlehem, on the family of Elimelech on what happened to Ruth and Naomi.  The book seems at first glance to present itself as simply telling us of the extraordinary events that took place in an ordinary family.  But then in the last verses of Ruth 4, after describing the scene of old Naomi with baby Obed on her lap, it is as if the camera zooms out and we learn that this is not just the story of Naomi or of Ruth; it is also Bethlehem’s story, Israel’s story, David’s story and Christ’s story.  It is, in fact, a story for the whole world.  And so in the last verses of the Book of Ruth, God lifts the curtain, so to speak, and shows us how, through the life of a seemingly insignificant family in a small town in Judah, He was carrying out His great plan of salvation.  And so, in line with the book of Ruth itself, I would like to conclude this series of sermons on the book of Ruth by looking at “the big picture” of what the LORD was doing in and through Naomi and Ruth and Boaz, and to remember how the Lord is bringing about His purposes through us also.

I preach to you the Gospel as it is proclaimed to us in the book of Ruth under the following theme:

The LORD works through a faithful Moabite widow to bring us His King.

1.    His providential care.

2.    His purposeful plan.

1. His providential care.

The events that are recorded in the Book of Ruth took place in the days of the Judges.  These were often dark days for the people of Israel.  The book of Judges ends with a verse that  is repeated a number of times in the book:

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”

It is noteworthy that the godlessness that characterized this period of the history of Israel was linked to the lack of a king.  It was God’s intention from the very start for a king to rule over Israel.  Such a king was not to be like the kings of the nations around them but was to be a godly man, humble and wise.  In Deuteronomy 17 the LORD said that the king was to read and study His law so that he might learn to fear the LORD and to be careful to walk in His ways.  He was to do this, the LORD said in Deuteronomy 17:20 so

“. . . that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.”

In the book of Ruth also we see the need for a king after God’s own heart to rule over His people.  The story begins in chapter one with recording that there was a famine in the region surrounding the small town of Bethlehem.   In that town there was a man named Elimelech, a name that means “My God is King”.  But sadly Elimelech, like many in Israel in those times, lived as though there was no king.  And so when the famine came, rather than humbly accept the famine as God’s punishment for sin and then call the people of Bethlehem to repentance, Elimelech took his wife and his two sons, left the Promised Land, forsaking the “breadbasket of Israel”, in order to seek their fortune in the “badlands of Moab”. Elimelech left the House of Bread in an effort to find bread.  He left the family of God in an effort to preserve his own family.  He did not live in the confession that the LORD was his king, but he did what was right in his own eyes.

But when we neglect the law of God and do what is right in our own eyes, we can not expect to live under the blessing and the provision of our heavenly Father.  And that was the tragic reality that fell upon the family of Elimelech.  Some time after coming to Moab, Elimelech died.  But rather than learn their lesson and go back to Bethlehem, Naomi’s two sons Mahlon and Chilion chose to marry Moabite girls, Orpah and Ruth.  But over the next ten years we read of no children being born.  And then Mahlon and Chilion both died and all that was left of the family was the wife of Elimelech, Naomi, and her two Moabite daughters-in-law.

It was only then, upon hearing that the LORD had visited His people and had once more provided the people of Bethlehem with bread to eat, that Naomi decided to leave Moab and go back home to Bethlehem.  But upon arriving in Bethlehem she said to the women,

“Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  I went out full, and the LORD has brought me home again empty.”  (Ruth 1:20,21)

“Call me Mara.  Call me “Mrs. Bitter”, because the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.  The LORD did not provide for me in Moab, but took everything away.  I’m left with nothing.  My house, my money bag, my family, my heart – it is all empty.”

And that, no doubt, is how it looked to everyone who met Naomi.  The LORD had left her destitute.  She had come back to resume her place in Israel, but there was no place for her.  Her family was dead and soon she would be also. 

But in the midst of all that pain and darkness, the grace of God was already beginning to shine through.  For although the house of Elimelech had, by going to Moab, turned their backs on the LORD, the LORD had not turned His back on them.  Naomi claimed that she came back empty, but she did not; with her came Ruth, a daughter who would prove to be of more value to Naomi than seven sons.

Up to this point of time, Ruth had seen little more than the chastisement of the LORD, and her mother-in-law, Naomi, had even blamed the LORD for the death of Ruth’s husband.  But Ruth looked in faith to Israel’s God, trusting that her future would be secure in Him.  Ruth declared to Naomi,

“Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.  Where you die I will die and there I will be buried.”  (Ruth 1:16,17.)

Ruth promised to cling not just to Naomi, but she sought to have her place in the house of Israel and to seek for shelter under the wings of Almighty God.  Ruth pledged to be faithful in the midst of a house that had shown itself to be unfaithful.

And the LORD blessed the faithful service of Ruth. 

We first get a hint of God’s providential care for Ruth and Naomi in the last verse of Ruth 1 where we learn that they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.  A bountiful harvest was a sign of God’s covenant faithfulness to His people, and the LORD had provided this harvest not just for the farming community of Bethlehem but also for the Naomi.  In His care for the poor the LORD had given strict rules that the people of Israel would care for the poor and the aliens, allowing them to glean at harvest time, taking the grain from the corners of the fields and picking up the pieces of grain that fell from the hands of the harvesters.  (Leviticus 19:9,10)

But then in Ruth 2 we see God’s providential care specifically for Ruth and Naomi.  Verse three says that

“she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech.”

But we know, of course, that this was not something that happened by chance; this was the Lord’s doing.  Just as it was the Lord’s doing that shortly after, Boaz himself should come from Bethlehem, should notice the hard-working Moabite woman and should ask about her.  Naomi herself was quick to recognize this and exclaimed in Ruth 2:20,

“Blessed be he of the LORD, who has not forsaken His kindness to the living and the dead!”

And in His care for His people, the LORD had also provided a way for a family’s name to continue and for them to keep their place and inheritance in Israel even if a husband died before having children.  A close relative could marry the widow and then their first son would be counted as the son of the husband who had died.  Naomi knew this, and so she soon realized that she could hope for more than just a little bit of barley from this godly man Boaz, who was one of her close relatives.  And so in chapter 3 Naomi encouraged Ruth to meet Boaz under the cover of night and to ask that he take her under his wing, that he marry her, to secure the future not just of Ruth but also of Naomi. 

And so in all that happened, we see the hand of the LORD, His providential care over Naomi and Ruth.  And then Ruth and Boaz were married,  And then in verse 13 of Ruth 4 we read,

“the LORD gave her conception, and she bore a son.” 

In Deuteronomy 7:12-14 the LORD had given specific promises to His people when they turned to Him in covenant faithfulness.  He said,

“Then it shall come to pass, because you listen to these judgments, and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you the covenant and the mercy which He swore to your fathers. 13 And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you. 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples; there shall not be a male or female barren among you or among your livestock.”

And now Ruth the Moabitess, who had joined herself to the LORD and to His people and walked in God’s ways, received the blessing of a child.  And by the grace of God, not only was Ruth blessed, but also her family, that is, the family of Elimelech.  It could therefore be said that a son was born not just to Ruth and to Boaz, but also to Naomi.  And for the women of Bethlehem this was confirmation that the LORD had not rejected Naomi nor the house of Elimelech.  Naomi may have come back to Bethlehem empty and may have wanted to be called Mara, but the LORD blessed her through the faithfulness of her daughter-in-law Ruth, and the godly behaviour of her relative Boaz. 

But for a moment let us ask the question: what if Ruth had not been faithful?  What if she had not come back with Naomi?  What if she had given up her determination to live with Naomi among the people of God the first time she received a racist taunt or a leering whistle?  What if she had, as Boaz suggested she could have done, what if she had gone off to find a younger man, a marriage partner who may have appeared more suitable for her?

In one way these questions will always be hypothetical, because Ruth was faithful and she did submit herself to God and to his ways.  But what we do see in all of this is that it was through her faithfulness that the LORD granted His divine blessing both to her and to Naomi.  It is, as we sang from Psalm 40, when we wait for the Lord, trusting in Him and following His ways that we can rejoice in His providential care.  No, this does not mean that everything will go according to script – to our script, that is.  It is not as though all will be well in our families.  Even with Obed on her lap, Naomi’s pain of losing Elimelech, Mahlon and Chilion would not have gone away.  And nor would Naomi have lived long enough to gain a fuller understanding of what God was doing through the events of her life.  She would never get a glimpse of God’s greater plan, of raising up a king, David, through Ruth and Boaz.  Likewise we too will not always see the bigger picture of God’s providential care.  But in the story of Ruth we learn that being faithful and following His ways is what God wants of us, and that He does bless our faithfulness and He does work all things for good.

This was an encouragement not just for Naomi and Ruth but for all the people of Bethlehem.  In the days of the Judges, the LORD often seemed so far away.  What had happened in the time of the Exodus, when Israel had been redeemed from Egypt and had received the Promised Land, seemed so far away and Bethlehem, the House of Bread, had just gone through a long and difficult famine.  No doubt even the faithful people who were in Bethlehem were plagued with questions: Would the cycle of turning away from the LORD, being afflicted with war and famine, never end?  Would there be no end to trouble and grief?  Was God there?  Could He be trusted?  Could they depend on Him for help?  Would He be so gracious as to send them His blessings when they turned back to walk in His ways?  But now they had living proof of the providential care of God the Father.  Here was Naomi with a close relative, a son who would redeem the line of Elimelech.  Here was Naomi with one who would be the restorer of life and a nourisher in her old age!

And in the book of Ruth you too may be encouraged to learn of the providential care of the LORD and how He works all things for good.  Naomi could not see all that the LORD had purposed to do through Ruth, but she saw enough to have reason to rejoice in His goodness. But for us the LORD has revealed more; He has revealed that through the son born to Ruth and Boaz, through Obed, came the line of David.  We will see this further in our second point.

2. His purposeful plan.

The Book of Ruth was set in the dark days of the Judges.  These were difficult times when the future of God’s people was in doubt.  Would the people of Israel hold on to the Promised Land, a piece of land placed squarely between large continents, between great and warring nations?  Would the people of Israel remain faithful to the God of the Covenant?  Would there be a nation of Israel left to greet the coming Messiah?

And it was in those days that a wonderful birth took place in the little town of Bethlehem.  The LORD gave a child to Ruth and Boaz, who in turn became a restorer of life and a child for Naomi and the house of Elimelech.  And so the women named him Obed, which means “Servant” for Obed would serve Naomi and the family of Elimelech as their close relative, their kinsman redeemer.  Through Obed, Elimelech would continue to have a name and a place in the nation of Israel until the Messiah came and God’s promises would be fulfilled.

His name was Obed, for he would serve the family of Ruth and Naomi.  We can be confident that Naomi was delighted with Obed and saw him as the one who would save her husband’s line from extinction. 

But Obed was not God’s final answer for Naomi.  She may never have known, but from the line of Obed the LORD would raise up a king after His own heart.  He would raise up David to unite the people of Israel under God.  And here we see that through a faithful Moabite widow, through Ruth, the LORD brought about His purposeful plan.

But for us it does not even stop with David.  David also was not the One who could fully redeem us.  David too was sinful and there was great sinfulness in his family.  David also needed another Servant, another Redeemer.

But God had a plan for that too.  From David’s line would come another baby.  Many years later a young woman named Mary would give birth to a Son and would call Him Jesus.  From the line of Elimelech, from the son of Ruth, from Obed, would be born Bethlehem’s Great Son.  And this Son, Jesus Christ, would be the Great Obed, the True Servant, who would redeem us that we might be in the family of God forever.

And here we see the marvellous ways of the LORD.  We can see more than Naomi – or Ruth – ever did.  We can see that God’s providential care for Ruth and Naomi was a part of His purposeful plan.  We can see that God’s love and mercy extended far beyond Ruth and Naomi.  He did not just want to make Naomi “full” again, but He wanted to use this situation to bless all of His people.  Here we see how the LORD works in and through all things – even sinful events - to accomplish His purpose. 

And in the story of Ruth we also see an example of how the LORD uses the faithful service of His people to accomplish His plans.  Ruth went into the field of Boaz to pick up individual sticks of barley in an effort to put a meagre meal on Naomi’s table.  But the LORD worked through the faithful service of this Moabite widow to bring us His King.

Ruth could never have dreamed of the eternal significance that we now see in what she did.  It was a significance not just for her future – her future as a daughter of Israel and her future with God in heaven – but for the future of Israel and the whole world.  But it has been revealed to us, and looking back at all that happened after Ruth, we can see it. 

But now what about you?  You will never be in the direct lineage leading to the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ since He has already been born, but as you faithfully live out your life, the LORD is using this in the bigger picture of His purposeful plan.  Making a school lunch, tucking your child into bed, building kitchens or roofs, or working in a clothing store, or even flipping hamburgers, may seem pretty ordinary and inconsequential.  And indeed, it is hard for us to see the big picture, because we are limited to one lifetime and live life one day at a time.  And sometimes we just don’t get it.  Sometimes we can not understand what is happening or how God can use a situation for His glory, to accomplish His purpose. 

But just as in the life of Ruth, for you also, through your faithfulness and as you live out your life, the LORD is bringing about His purposes and His Kingdom is coming.  The process of history is not random or haphazard.  There is a purpose in it all, and the purpose is of God.  And so let us be faithful in doing the Lord’s will, believing that through this His Name will be glorified and His Kingdom will come. For indeed it will.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Stephen 't Hart, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2012, Rev. Stephen 't Hart

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