Ruth: Hope in a Hopeless Situation
Hope is defined as : “ a feeling ( emotion) of expectation and a desire for certain things to happen”. We all have to have hope. “ Now faith is being sure of what you hope for…” (Hebrews 11.) This is a story of hope linked to faith in Almighty God. Romans 15 tells us: “.everything that was written in the past was written to teach us so that through endurance and the encouragement of Scriptures, we might have hope.” And later on in that same chapter, Our God is described as the “ God of all Hope.” We know and believe God does not change. When God gives you a promise, He will keep that promise for it is impossible for God to lie. So we have this hope as an anchor for our soul, firm and secure. When a ship faces a storm in the open seas, it drops its anchors to ride out the storm or else it risks being blown off course. Even in the harbor, one drops the anchors in the case of sudden storms that cause the ship to collide with other ships and suffer damage. Build your home on the rock, the solid foundation the Word of God and it does not mean you will not have storms, it means your home will not fall.
Life is hard. Sometimes we turn a corner and run into unexpected problems- we must make a decision. But actually the decision must be made before hand. For you see when this occurs, there will be the temptation to take the path of least resistant, the easy way out- to manipulate our way around the problem. Sometimes we take the world’s solution and a shortcut to get away from the problem. Beverly Sills the acclaimed opera soprano said: “ There are no shortcuts to anyplace worth going.”
God wants us to become people who are committed to trusting Him in His character and His promises, and that requires faith. “ Now faith is being sure of what we hope for…” God’s way is usually the harder way, for it is by this route that He shapes our character and strengthens our faith. It requires that you are committed totally to His Will, and must be willing to submit to the refining process. This is not just a story of hope in a seemingly hopeless situation. Ruth and Naomi are helpless- but not hopeless. And it is because of the commitment of Ruth. God is our very present help in time of trouble. If we obey God in life, everything holds together. If we disobey God- everything will begin to fall apart. This little story is packed with great truths and encouragement: hope, love, a beautiful picture of our Kinsman Redeemer, and commitment we see in the life of this young Moabite widow,Ruth.
The story of Ruth is connected to the book of Judges, for the setting is in the time of Judges. Verse 1 tells us: “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah , together with his wife and two sons went to live for a while in the country of Moab.”
As we just completed our study of Judges, we realized it was one of the most disturbing stories in the Bible which was magnified by the fact that it was God’s people who were doing the most disturbing things imaginable.
The first verse tells us this man, Elimelech , his wife Naomi and two sons- Mahon and Kilon left Judah to go and dwell in the country of Moab due to the famine. It reminds us of the time Abraham went to Egypt during the famine.(Genesis 12). Abraham was trying in his own wisdom to solve his problem. When he went down to Egypt- it was a picture of a believer turning to the world to solve his problems in their own wisdom. Abram immediately had to lie about his relationship with Sarah and the Pharaoh took her into his harem. Abram benefitted from the arrangement temporarily as the Pharaoh treated Abram well for Sarah’s sake, believing him to be her brother. But it would have lasting consequences ( Hagar) as God had to rescue him from his own wrong decisions.
And thus our story of Ruth begins with a man of God, ( the name Elimelech means “My God is King”) and he was from Bethlehem, a name which means” House of Bread”. However this man’s action are contrary to what his name means and like Abram he turns to the world to solve his problem.
We know from our study in Judges, the cycle that continued was rebellion against God, followed by judgment and then deliverance. Based on this, we can assume the famine in Bethlehem was the judgment of God on the disobedient people of Israel of whom we read time after time- ‘ there was no king in Israel and everyone did as they saw fit.’ Yet here is a man whose very name says- My God Is King.
Elimelech seems to have forgotten what his very name means and tries to solve his problem with his own wisdom, and does what we often do when trouble strikes out- we try to avoid the problem- run from it. Depend upon our own wisdom and the resources of the world rather than turning to our Almighty God who has promised to meet all our needs.
This is a small story, only four chapters, about a small family. As we have seen from the very beginning God has focused on the family with detailed instructions of the role of father, mother, and children. The story of Ruth is a story within a story. It is the story of a sovereign God working all things together for good in spite of the sinful choices of men.
The story will from the very beginning appear to be a series of losses and suffering that make one wonder is God at work here ? Yet in the darkness of this story- we see the light of hope in Jesus Christ, our Kinsman Redeemer who came into a dark world as the light of the world.
It is a story of hope in the midst of heartbreak after heartbreak. We have seen passages in Judges where the character in the narrative goes un- named. Yet here we are given the names of all the characters – so there must be a reason behind the names. We have discovered what Elimelech’s name means- My God is King. Naomi’s name means Sweet/Pleasant. The names of the two boys mean ; Sick and Decay/Dying. Orpah means ‘ gazelle’ and Ruth mean- ‘friendship’. The father is the leader and head of the family, but he has left God out of his decisions. His two sons marry Gentile women, which was forbidden by their law.
We are told in quick succession, Elimelech dies, his two sons who were aptly named, die and Naomi finds herself in a foreign country having buried a husband and her only two sons and left with two foreign daughter-in-laws who are now widowed. Three widows in a foreign country. All of this has occurred in a 10 year period.
Naomi’s life has been emptied of everything she treasured, husband, two sons, no grandchildren and only two foreign widowed daughter-in-laws. Empty. Hopeless. And Bitter.
A father and husband whose name means – My God is King- does not consult the One known as Wonderful Counselor. A wife whose name means Sweet/Pleasant becomes bitter. Two sons whose name mean Sick/Weak and Dying have passed away.
Naomi receives word the Lord has come to the aid of his people and there is food back in Bethlehem. Remember what Jesus called himself- ‘ The Bread of Life.’ Where was Jesus born? In Bethlehem, the House of Bread. Naomi tells her daughter-in-laws to go back to their homes and find husbands. Both refuse to do so- Naomi insists : “ it is more bitter for me than for you, for the hand of the Lord has gone against me.”
In fact, Naomi blames God for all her problems. She is so hopeless. Listen to the lists of her problems and know this is all she has been doing, making a list of all that God has done against her: 1. I have nothing to give you. 2. I am a widow too old to work. 3. I have no more sons to give to you in marriage. 4. I am a bitter old woman and God has done this to me. He is behind this famine, the trip to Moab, the death of my husband and two sons.
Now at this point in the story, looking at the circumstances we cannot help but empathize with Naomi and perhaps agree she has certainly suffered much loss.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and went back to her family. She lived up to her name- Gazelle, and runs off.
Now we will look at where do we find HOPE in a time of suffering. The stage is set- the small family is in misery, hurting and suffering. Where do they find HOPE? For I can testify as many of you can- one of the most devastating emotions to experience is the emotion of hopelessness.
When trouble comes into our lives, we can do one of three things: endure it; escape it, or enlist it. If we only endure it- the problem becomes our master, doesn’t it? We become hardened and bitter, the chronic grouch, pessimists and person with no expectations of anything good. If we try to escape our troubles, we might be able to for a while, but sooner or later, we will encounter them again. We will also, as believers, miss what God is trying to do through the trials and troubles He allows. The third way is to enlist the troubles and trials so they become our servants and not our masters. You know what you need to do? Thank God for this trouble, problem,or crisis in your life. This means we must believe Romans 8:28 that God will work all things together for our good and His glory. This requires one to walk by faith and not by sight. How do you walk by faith? We read this in the Scripture over and over- but how does one actually do this? We walk by faith when we claim the promises of God and obey the Word of God, in spite of what you see, feel or whatever may happen. When a Christian lives by faith, it glorifies God, witnesses to a lost world, and builds our faith and Christian character.
How does one respond to suffering? First of all know this, it is not a matter of IF suffering will occur but WHEN suffering will occur. When it does occur, how will you respond? Here are the options and responses:
- Will I believe God is in control of the situation?
- Will I follow Him, trust Him,even if He does not get me out of it?
- Will I run away?
- Will I try to solve it myself with the world’s solutions?
Suffering is real. It hurts. It keeps us awake at night. It makes us cry out. It makes us desperate and yes, sometimes,it makes us feel hopeless.
There are all types of problems among God’s people thjs very day. Financial, physical, sickness, loved ones in trouble, no jobs, young people with school loans trying to find meaningful work, a world around us which seems to lurch from one crisis to another without any permanent solutions.
The enemy is attacking God’s family and creating this emotion of hopelessness that is leading some of us to doubt God is really in control, has our best intentions in mind, and can God’s Word and His Promises be claimed with confidence?
Let’s look at the characters so far and their response to trouble:
Elimelech controls his suffering by hoping in himself. He walks by sight and not by faith. Need bread- go where there is bread. He puts his hope in his own intelligence, his own wisdom, his own abilities. We do not see or hear Elimelech praying to God and seeking God’s direction in this time of suffering. He does not repent of his sin. He does not seek wise godly counsel. He is pursuing what is needed for his life and life of his family- we all understand that, don’t we? Yet Jesus said, I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. God has promised to supply all our needs. Elimelech leads his family to a pagan land full of foreign gods. By his very actions he teaches his sons you have to do what you have to do to solve your problems. Elimelech does what is’ right in his own eyes.’ When Elimelech left Bethlehem and went to the land of the enemy- he honored the enemy of the Lord by trusting the enemy to supply his needs rather than God.
Orpah runs from suffering. Her hope is in false gods. If we will be honest, we can understand her decision as reasonable. Go home, start over, find another husband among your own people. Forget about this God of Israel. Orpah never did believe in the God of Israel and now she decides the best thing to do is go back to the god she had before. The pain of tragedy upon tragedy will reveal whether one’s faith in God is real or not. For some joining the church is like joining a well meaning civic club. Orpah wants a god that is easy to follow and promises to provide happiness, love, satisfaction and joy without any problems or heartaches. She will run from one god to another to find satisfaction in her life.
Naomi sits in suffering. She will not be comforted. She is bitter. Her hope is in nothing. She is by her own description- a bitter old woman. A widow who has lost her two sons. When she returns to Bethlehem and the neighbors comes out to greet her by her name, Naomi. ( Remember this means God is Sweet.) Her response- my name is Mara- bitter. She blames God for all the calamity that has befallen her. She is overwhelmed with grief that turns into bitterness which produces hopelessness.
One of the dangers of bitterness is it blinds us to the truth. Sometimes we suffer and are in trouble because of our sin or the sins of others. But suffering is also used by God to bring about His plans. ( Just look at Calvary- where Christ died, the Just for the unjust.) Today you often hear people in America say- ‘ our government is broken; our schools are broken; the family unit is in a mess, our economy is broken. Realize the Bible reveals God uses brokenness to rescue a broken world of broken individuals. He is too wise, to be mistaken. He always uses the best method to get the best results for the most people for the longest period of time.
I wonder if Naomi did not want these two daughter-in-laws to go back to Bethlehem with her because she was ashamed of what she and her husband had allowed. Was she covering up her sin? In addition what kind of witness is she to these two young women? Would you want to follow the God she blames for all her problems?
Orpah turns back- but not Ruth.
How does Ruth react to suffering? This non-Jew, a Moabite whose name means friendship. Remember also we have a friend who sticketh closer than a brother, who will never leave us or depart from us. Ruth will not leave her mother-in-law in this condition. Ruth is a picture of commitment. She sticks- when everyone else is leaving. Everything around her presented obstacles. The enemy may have had her targeted for more reasons that are not obvious. If not in the beginning, her very words tell us she is the one with a believing faith in the God of Israel. Now perhaps you will begin to see why God has chosen Ruth as an important ancestor in the line of the Lord Jesus.
Listen to one of the most encouraging and brave speeches made and think of the backdrop against which this confession is made. “ Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” An expression of true love and loyalty- often used in wedding vows. For this is a love story.
How does Ruth react to suffering? With unwavering hope in faith in God. She does not confuse being helpless with being hopeless.
Put on the garment of praise for the spirit of bitterness.
In everything give thanks- including the suffering you are now undergoing.
God is not only for us- He is with us!
As we approach a New Year, let us think of it as a new beginning. Yes we have an adversary- but we also have an Advocate.
God has not abandoned us. He is at work. And He is working all things together for those who love Him and were called for and to a purpose.
Do not try and control your suffering- this leads to hope in self or the world, not God.
Do not try and run from it – for you will run toward false gods with empty promises.
Do not sit and be bitter- hoping nothing.
“ He gives strength to the weary and increases power to the weak. Even youths grow weary and young men stumble and fall, but who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” ( Isaiah 40)
Our hope is in the Lord. He is the God of all hope. If you are without Him, you are without hope. I have been there- and hopelessness is a dark, depressing, place to be. Fortunately I saw the Light- the Light of the World who broke through the darkness of my sin and gave me life.
“ In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The true Light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.” ( john 1)