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“... I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” - Ruth 1:21 (NIV)
We’re looking at the book of Ruth this week, the story of a family of four, which becomes three, then two...Ruth and Naomi. In chapter one we meet Elimelech and Naomi, a married couple with two sons. They were experiencing scarcity because of a famine, so they loaded up a little U-haul and moved away to a place called Moab. Life was good there, for a while. The boys married, Elimelech found work… then tragedy struck… All the men died, leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters-in-law; three widows in a foreign land with nothing to show for the time spent there but three fresh graves. So Naomi, accompanied by Ruth, decides to go back home to Bethlehem, and as we’ll see, a story unfolds that changed the world. But chapter one ends with Naomi saying, “Just call me ‘Mara,’ because the Lord has made my life very bitter.” (vs 20) Ever been there? Yeah, me too.
Can I ask you a question? If God said, “I’ll give you Plan A and your most cherished dreams will materialize—spouse, children, job, health, prosperity, etc. OR...I’ll give you Plan B which will be considerably more difficult, even very painful at times, what’s your choice?” Hey, no-brainer, right? Most of us would stand in the long line labeled “Plan A.”
But there are two things we’d miss there: 1) We’d never learn how to truly depend on God, and 2) We’d miss seeing His magnificent ability to bring beauty out of ashes. Perhaps we’re too quick to choose easy paths, but we only learn that on the other side of suffering. We also learn that Plan A usually brings glory to us… but Plan B brings glory to God. We’re gonna see that all week. Hop aboard and ride along!
Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?” - Ruth 2:5 (NIV)
Yesterday we watched Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, entering Bethlehem—two widows, destitute, with little hope for the future. Fortunately, Ruth was able to land a job gathering pieces of barley left behind in a field owned by a man named Boaz. (Ruth 2:3) It was strenuous work, but God had led her there for a reason. She was about to meet a man who could become her kinsman-redeemer. Basically that meant he could make Naomi and Ruth his own family and give them a very bright future. God had a plan! He always does… but at this point, no one knew.
I’ve shared before about having a horrible auto accident at age 16. In the wake of it my girlfriend broke up with me, my dad filed bankruptcy, my parents divorced, and we lost our house. Like Naomi, I was “Mara,” meaning “bitter.” But, on the other side of the pain, I met my future wife, found a new family, and came to know the God who would adopt me as His own. Did God cause the wreck? No. Did He use it? Absolutely.
A Facebook friend describes herself as an “adoptive, foster, and autism mama” of four little girls. Jacqueline, her oldest, adopted on her birthday, is deaf. Her mom said, “We all started weeping at the part where the judge asked Jackie if she understood what adoption was.” Jackie replied in sign language, “I know they love me forever, I’ll get a new name, and I’ll be their daughter always.” She showed the judge a poster that her new mom had made for her, “I am chosen, loved, adopted, forever.” Then she clicked the heels of her fancy new shoes and signed, “There’s no place like home.” Twice.
As we’ll see, Ruth’s adoption story is as beautiful as that one, but under much different circumstances. We’ll learn more tomorrow!
"Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live." - Ruth 1:16 (NLT)
Nothing is sadder than holding the hand of a widow at a graveside, except maybe holding the hand of a mother. I’ve done both. It’s horrible. Neither believes they’ll ever smile again, and if they do, surely they’ll feel guilty.
In the book of Ruth we’ve met three widows from the same family, with no children or grandchildren. That’s very rare. Naomi, a widow and a mom, had a pretty unimpressive Facebook profile: Status? “Widow. Penniless. Homeless.” Interests? “Being left alone.” What makes you happy? “Nothing, my nickname is ‘bitter.’” Future plans? “None, zero.” Frankly, for a widow in those days, that wasn’t far from the truth. But Ruth loved Naomi… with a forever kind of love. It was really quite extraordinary, which is why this little book is so special. People read it often at weddings, and they should.
So the two widows come to Bethlehem; neither looking for a husband. Naomi doesn’t want one; Ruth can’t get one… because she’s a Moabite. The number of eligible Jewish men in Bethlehem who would marry a “pagan” Moabite? Zero. Case closed.
But God always has a Plan B, as we suggested on Monday. Enter Boaz, who meets Ruth and is immediately enamored with her. She’s impressed with Him, too, and tells Naomi about it. I can picture the scene over a cup of tea: “Boaz?! Honey, he’s a distant relative!” Ruth: “So?” Naomi: “He could be our kinsman-redeemer!” Ruth: “What’s that?” Naomi: “Baby… let’s talk!”
I’ve learned over the years that no one gets more excited than a matchmaker! So Naomi launches a plot to get Ruth a man. My guess is they talk ‘til the wee hours of the morning. Wow, Naomi feels alive again! Hope will do that for you, won’t it…? Especially when you thought it was gone forever.
Wash, put on perfume, and get dressed in your best clothes. - Ruth 3:3 (NIV)
There’s nothing like Prom Night—horrendous for parents, a blast for teens. (I’m a dad; what’d you expect me to say?) Yesterday, we listened in on a conversation between Naomi and Ruth about “Prom Night,” so to speak. Let’s tune in again:
“Honey, Boaz can become our kinsman-redeemer. He can buy back the family farm. He could even marry you and restart our family line, so you get all gussied up, and I’ll tell you what to do next…”
It was an interesting plot. It was Ruth’s place to ask Boaz to be a kinsman-redeemer, meaning she had to propose to him! So Naomi said, “Tonight, after he’s asleep by the threshing floor, remove the blanket from his feet and lay there until he wakes up. When he does, pop the question!” This isn’t as seductive as it sounds, believe me. Cold feet will wake anyone up! Then, they could talk! Ruth 3:8 says, “Boaz was startled to find her there.” That word, “startled” can also be translated, “he shivered.” Ha! God has a sense of humor.
So they talked. We’re not told how long, nor do we get all the details, but basically Boaz said, “Ruth, I will do everything you’ve asked of me.” In the Hebrew it could be translated, “Yeeeehah!” (Just kidding!) Let’s just say Boaz was one happy guy, and Ruth was one happy girl. “I can’t believe you love me,” she must’ve said. “Sweetheart, I fell in love with you the first time I saw you in the fields.” “Me too,” she said, “Me too.”
I’m guessing Naomi sat up all night, waiting. Can you even imagine the cartwheels she attempted when Ruth got home? It must’ve been quite the sight!
Sometimes… everything changes! You’ve waited, prayed, begged, and pleaded; you’ve made deals with God, put out fleeces… even cussed a little along the way because… there was NO answer. Then… suddenly… everything changes. Question: Are you sorry you kept hoping? No Way. Don’t ever forget that.Share Tweet
Then Naomi took the child in her arms and cared for him. The women living there said, “Naomi has a son!” - Ruth 4:16-17 (NIV)
Everybody loves a happy ending; we’re just wired that way. Ruth’s story began in a pagan land with the death of her husband and two in-laws. Then she moved to Bethlehem with Naomi, her mother-in-law, a woman who’d nicknamed herself, “bitter.” Those were some hard days… but then… she met Boaz! Welcome to the happy ending, a love story for the ages. Grief had been a cold, heavy blanket on her soul, but now, joy pushes grief to the curb. Obed makes an appearance; her beautiful baby boy. Interesting that everyone exclaimed, “Look Naomi has a son!” The one who had lost the most now has joy. I’m sure Ruth clapped and cheered.
Larry Crabb told about a friend who was raised in an angry family. Mealtimes were brutal and the boy would excuse himself whenever possible, then go down the street and sit under the porch of a neighbor’s house, listening to the sounds of laughter, dreaming of being inside. Larry said, “When he told me that story, I asked him to imagine what it would’ve meant to him to accept an invitation to sit at that table, then accidentally spill a glass of water, and hear the father roar with delight, ‘Get him some more water! And a dry shirt! I want him to enjoy the meal.’”
Crabb added, “We need to hear the Father laugh. Change depends on experiencing the character of God.” Can I ask you a question? When’s the last time you laughed… I mean a throw-back-your-head, gasping-for-breath, deep-in-the-belly kind of laugh? You know something? Our Father wants that for you, just like He wanted it for Ruth; she just needed to persevere through the pain. How about you?